he American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT) is both the most beloved dog breed I today as well as the most feared and despised. People who know APBTs praise the breed's affectionate nature, intelligence, and wonderful sense of humor. Other people fear the breed's reputation for aggression, strength, and violence. Unfortunately, those who despise the breed are often quite vocal, and in many cities, counties, and states in the United States, Canada, and Europe, legislation aimed at entire breeds, rather than at individual aggressive dogs, has targeted APBTs, as well as other similar and related breeds. (That legislation will be discussed in chapter 2.)
Luckily, the breed has also had its fans. Thomas Edison owned one; as did Teddy Roosevelt. Pete, the Pit Bull star of the Little Rascals and Our Gang comedy series, proved the intelligence and adaptability of the breed by being the only animal actor to make the transition from silent movies to talkies. Author John Steinbeck is famous for his book Travels with Charlie about traveling the country with a Poodle, but he also shared his life with an APBT.
American Pit Bull Terrier is the official name of the breed of dog recognized by the United Kennel Club and the American Dog Breeders Association. Although often referred to as Pit Bulls, the name Pit Bull is actually a generic term that
The Bull Breeds applies to the various breeds that share the same ancestry or have a similar appearance. This includes the APBT, the American Staffordshire Terrier, and the Staffordshire Terrier. Sometimes people even refer to the Bull Terrier, the Miniature Bull Terrier, or the American Bulldog as Pit Bulls. Although enthusiasts of these different breeds can easily tell them apart, to those who are unfamiliar with them many of the breeds appear quite similar.
We'll look at these breeds in chapter 2, as well as their relationships to one another (or lack thereof). Just keep in mind that this book is about American Pit Bull Terriers and not the other "Pit Bull" breeds.
The APBT's Physical Appearance
Most people recognize a specific dog or breed by the dog's appearance. Papillons have butterfly-like ears with sweeping fringes of hair and Irish Setters have gorgeous red, flowing coats. Although personality, temperament, intelligence, and character are vitally important, too, the dog's physical appearance provides people with that important first impression.
In this section I'll briefly describe the APBT. To read the official breed standards, go to the web sites of the United Kennel Club, the American Dog Breeders Association, or the American Pit Bull Registry (they're listed in the appendix).
When looking at an APBT, the dog's head is the first thing that catches your eye. The APBT has a strong head, blocklike in shape, wide between the ears and eyes, with strong, flat cheeks. The muzzle should be of medium length; not long and narrow like a Collie's or short and abrupt like a Boxer's muzzle. The jaws and cheeks are well muscled to provide power to the jaws. The skin of the head should fit smoothly and the lips should not be pendulous.
The ears can be either natural or cropped. Either way, the ears should be set high on the head and should
What Is a Breed Standard?
A breed standard is a detailed description of the perfect dog of that breed. Breeders use the standard as a guide in their breeding programs, and judges use it to evaluate the dogs in conformation shows. The standard is written by the national breed club, using guidelines established by the registry that recognizes the breed (such as the UKC).
Various sections of the breed standard give overviews of the breed's history, general appearance, and size as an adult. Next is a detailed description of the dog's body, including head, neck, back, legs, and so forth. The standard then describes the ideal coat and how the dog should be presented in the show ring. It also lists all acceptable colors, patterns, and markings. Then there's a section on how the dog moves, called gait. Finally, there's a general description of the dog's temperament.
Each section also lists characteristics that are considered to be faults or disqualifications in the conformation ring. Superficial faults in appearance are often what distinguish a pet-quality dog from a show- or competition-quality dog. However, some faults affect the way a dog moves or his overall health. And faults in temperament are serious business.
not be wrinkled. Cropped ears should stand upright (this is known as prick ears). Natural or uncropped ears are usually half-prick ears (they stand upright but then fold over about halfway up) or rose ears (folded back so that part of the inside of the ear shows). Hanging ears (such as seen on Beagles and Basset Hounds) are not desirable.
The APBT's eyes should be round and set far apart, low on the skull. When the outside corner of the eye is in line with the indentation seen directly over the beginning of the cheek muscle, the eyes are set at the most attractive height in relation to the skull. Any color is acceptable, but the eye color should compliment the dog's coat color. The eyes should show animation, intelligence, and a willingness to serve.
An APBT's body should convey an impression of incredible strength; this is a muscular breed with immense power. An APBT should never be soft, flabby, or obese.
The neck is well muscled, slightly arched, and tapers from the head to the shoulders, where it blends smoothly with the shoulder muscles. The shoulders are strong and muscular, with sloping shoulder blades that are well covered with muscle. The chest is deep with wide ribs that provide plenty of room for the big heart and lungs. The back is short and strong. The dog's loin (waist) should have a slight indentation so that he does not appear to be chubby. An APBT with good proportions is a square dog. This means if you measure from the point of the shoulder to the point of the buttock, and then from the top of the shoulder (called the withers) to the ground, the two measurements should be almost the same.
The APBT's legs should be heavy-boned enough to support the muscular dog well, yet not so heavy that they bog the dog down. The pasterns (the area between the wrist and the toes) are straight, the thighs well muscled, and the feet round and strong.
Most APBTs are between eighteen and twenty-two inches tall at the shoulder, with males slightly taller than females. The weight varies, too, from thirty to eighty pounds, with males usually heavier than females. The proportions of each individual dog are more important than measurements; the dog's height and weight should be well balanced.
The tail should be natural and not docked or bobbed. The tail is thick at the base and tapers to a point. When hanging naturally, the tail should end at or just above the hocks (the point on the rear leg that faces backward).
The coat is short and stiff to the touch, but it should be glossy and shiny. All the APBT breed standards
say any color coat is allowed, but dogs have recently been appearing with merle coats and this has raised some questions among APBT experts. A merle pattern is one in which lighter and darker hairs form a variable color pattern that includes spots and shadings of color. Although the merle pattern is very common in some breeds (including Australian Shepherds, Shetland Sheepdogs, and Welsh Corgis) it has not been seen in APBTs until recently. Experts guess this color was introduced into the breed by people who intentionally crossed APBTs with Catahoula Leopard Dogs. The controversy arises, then, over whether the dogs are truly purebreds.
Ask APBT owners about their dogs and words such as "powerful" and "strong as an ox" will be mentioned. But more often you will hear about the breed's devotion, loyalty, intelligence, and sense of humor. The ideal APBT will defend his family against all enemies, even to the death. Yet he will also be a silly, gentle playmate to the children, and a quiet, obedient, companion for mom and dad.
APBTs are devoted dogs. When you're loved by an APBT, you will be greeted with a wagging tail, wiggling body, and grinning smile each and every time you're seen, even if you've only been out of sight for ten minutes. When they're extremely happy, many APBTs also dance on their front feet, lifting them up and down, up and down, as they grin wildly and the rest of their body wiggles.
Even though APBTs love their owners enthusiastically, they are not necessarily one-person dogs. They have plenty of love to give and can also be wonderful family dogs. When they're raised with children, they can be gentle and patient. Their playtime with kids should always be supervised, though, because these powerful dogs, when overexcited, could accidentally harm a child.
APBTs are adaptable companions. If you want to play, your APBT will always be willing to join the games. If you need to work at home, your APBT will grab a spot on the sofa and snooze until you're done. If you're feeling down, an APBT is wonderful therapy, snuggling close and providing all the affection you need.
Although APBTs are always willing to play, don't let the breed's comical side fool you; they can also be protective. At home, the APBT will bark when anyone approaches the house, with the bark turning to joy when the person is recognized. If the person is a stranger, the barking will continue until you say "that's
enough." If the stranger breaks into the house or tries to cause harm to family members, an APBT will not hesitate to use force to defend the house or family.
Some APBTs, especially as puppies, are so cute, so happy, and so overly enthusiastic that owners wonder whether their dog really will be protective if the need arises. An APBT's protective instincts don't kick in until about 10 to 12 months of age. A puppy younger than this who shows aggression may be overly fearful or aggressive and may have problems later.
All APBTs should be well socialized, beginning in puppyhood and continuing on into adulthood, so they can learn discretion. An APBT who has been isolated from everyone other than family members may be afraid of all other people, and this could lead to dangerous behavior.
Not many breeds are smarter than APBTs. This is a very intelligent dog, able to think through problems and create his own fun. APBTs have been known to figure out how to open doors, including sliding glass doors, and the latches of gates. Obviously, intelligence isn't always a good thing!
Luckily, most APBTs also want to please their owners. This desire to please, combined with high intelligence, means that training must be a part of every APBT's life. Training should be positive and fun, yet firm. APBT experts all agree that these dogs must also respect their owners, recognizing that the owner is in control. Otherwise, the APBT may decide to establish his own rules, and that could be a disaster.
APBTs were once bred as fighting dogs (as you'll read in chapter 2), but today they best serve their owners as versatile working dogs. APBTs are working as search and rescue dogs, finding and saving people in urban disasters, wilderness searches, and when the young and old have become lost. APBTs are also serving as drug, bomb, and contraband detection dogs.
These dogs are also well suited to therapy work. With so much love to give, they comfort those who need warmth and affection. APBTs are working in hospitals, hospices, nursing homes, and special education classrooms.
APBTs have also learned to pull wagons loaded with groceries from the car to the house, or to bring that forty-pound bag of dog food inside. They have
competed in weight-pulling contests, invariably beating all other dogs in their weight classes. These wonderful dogs have participated in a number of sports, including obedience, flying disc contests, agility, and flyball.
Numerous myths and urban legends have turned the APBT and other Pit Bull breeds into legendary, almost demonic characters. Most have no basis in fact at all, or the facts have been so distorted they are no longer real. Let's take a look at some of the most commonly heard APBT myths.
When asked about this myth, a veterinarian responded, "What exactly is a locking jaw?" APBTs and the other Pit Bull—type breeds have jaws just like those of other dogs. Granted, the APBT's jaw muscles are stronger, but the jaws do not lock. This myth probably originated because of the APBT's style of fighting: These dogs grab on and hold, whereas most other dogs grab, rip, grab again, and rip again.
Most of the Pit Bull—type breeds were created to fight, both other animals (usually bears and bulls) and other dogs. They do, therefore, have the instinct to fight other dogs. However, a well-socialized and well-trained APBT is usually very safe around other dogs. Many are much safer than dogs of other breeds who have not been well socialized or trained.
APBT owners must keep in mind, however, that some individual dogs of this breed may have stronger fighting instincts and the owners of these dogs must make sure dogfights do not arise. They should focus on obedience training to maintain control of their dog and should not allow other dogs to challenge their APBT.
APBTs are terriers, and terriers are very prey driven. Anything that runs away can trigger the chase instinct, and this is as true of APBTs as it is of Jack Russell Terriers, Welsh Terriers, and Border Terriers. The prey drive of many other breeds, including Greyhounds and Border Collies, is also triggered by movement. Training can help control this behavior, especially a good, reliable "come" command. Keeping the dog on a leash or a long line in situations where running animals may be encountered can also help prevent problems.
APBTs can coexist nicely with other pets as long as they are raised together. These include cats, rabbits, and birds. If the APBT has not been raised with other pets, however, the dog may think of the other pet as prey rather than a family member. The socialization of an APBT puppy should include introductions to a variety of animals.
The sad fact is that thousands of children every year have been killed or hurt by dogs. Dogs of all breeds (not just Pit Bull—type dogs) are capable of harming children. Parents should always be active and attentive, making sure all kids are safe. That means a child and a dog, no matter how well loved and trusted the dog is, should never be left alone together. If the parent is leaving the room for a moment, either the dog or the child should go with the parent. Baby sitters, grandparents, and anyone else who spends time with the child must observe the same rules.
Training the dog to be well behaved and gentle around the kids will also help. Some children are hurt when the dog is playing rough and knocks the kid down, or jumps up on the kid, or grabs a pant leg too roughly. The dog must also be taught that he cannot use his mouth to play with the kids. If the dog is used to grabbing a hand to get the child to do something (such as throwing a toy), that grabbing may become too rough during the excitement of play.
The children must also learn the rules of life with a dog. There should be no wrestling or tug of war games that might overstimulate the dog, and no riding the dog like a horse. The kids should never pull on ears or tails, or poke eyes, or grab toys away from the dog unless the dog offers the toy.
Parents should always supervise all interactions between dogs and kids. If the parent cannot supervise, the dog (or the kids) should go outside or go to another room.
Famous people who have owned Pit Bulls
Anthony Robbins Alicia Silverstone Malcolm-Jamal Warner James Caan Michael J. Fox David Spade Mo Vaughn Shaquille O'Neal Tamika Dixon Robert Ferguson
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