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Canine Behavior/pitbull and families


My wife and I decided to get a pit bull puppy, we have a 3 month old and as soon as her parents found out we were going to they have done nothing but fill her head with the idea that he's going to eventually turn on us and that there's nothing we can do to prevent the fact that he's going to rip our baby to pieces when he gets bigger and they can't be trusted and that every website they look at says they are the worst family dog but have never truly lived with and been around them so its all based on what they've heard and what ppl say. I'll admitt I used to be terrified of them, than I lived with 2 and I loved it they were by far the best dogs I've ever been around and were amazing with kids so I came to an expert to ask if there's any validity to there notion and to ask someone whose not the media and not partial to one side and will answer truthfully are they good family dogs? Can they be trusted around kids? Are they all born with an inate ability to turn n snap for no reason? When trained properly from a puppy are they gentle caring loving dogs? Thank you

Thank you for your question, and for seeking unbiased and honest information. For the purpose of this response, I'm going to assume that you are actually referring to the American Pit Bull Terrier (fans call them Pibbles), and not to any of the 20 or so other breeds that are often referred to as pit bulls - such as Staffordshire Terriers, American Staffordshires (Am-Staffs), Cane Corsos, etc, etc.

The Pibble was long considered the "nanny dog" (well over 150 years) because they were the most reliable and gentle dog with children. It wasn't until some thug-ish people decided to use them for fighting other dogs that they got a bad reputation. Breeders for dog fighting began breeding for dog-dog aggression, making the dogs much more volatile and prone to being reactive toward other dogs. But even then, these breeders weren't interested in getting attacked themselves and so bred dogs that were dog-dog aggressive, but not particularly dog-human aggressive.

In about 4 decades, the reputation was soured and breed specific legislation came to the rise for these dogs. Their popularity with gang members, drug dealers and the like, failing to socialize them and training them to be guard/attack dogs further damaged their reputation.

Also, important to note is that the amount of mis-identification related to dog bites is astounding. Not only are there about 20 breeds that are collectively known as "pit bulls", but when a dog bites, the knee-jerk reaction of the victim or witness is to declare that it was a pit bull. There have been accounts of Golden Retrievers, German Shepperds, Boxers, Rottweilers, Weimeraners, Cocker Spaniels, Jack Russell terriers, etc, etc all reported as "pit bulls" when they bit someone. So determining the actual statistics on the prevalence of bites by a given breed within that umbrella of "pit bull" is nearly impossible.

In recent years, since dog fighting has been banned, reputable breeders are going out of their way to again breed for sociability and stability of personality/temperament.

For a brief history of the breed, and some great vintage photos of Pibbles and their kids, see this link:

Remember - Petey from the Little Rascals was a Pibble. At the time, the Pibble was the 7th most popular dog in the US precisely because of what a great family pet they made.

Now, all of that said, dogs (of any breed) are individuals with unique minds and personalities. They each have their own set of likes and dislikes, fears and pleasures. They come equipped with a built-in response to perceived threats that will be one of three options: Fight, Flight or Freeze. Most animals will choose Flight if that's an option, though some individuals are more prone to the offensive strike if they feel threatened (Fight). But, even those dogs whose first instinct if Flight or Freeze - if that tactic fails to protect them, or isn't an option (no escape) - they will switch quickly to Fight if they feel they need to protect themselves. This is true for all creatures from lizards to birds to all mammals, including humans.

All dogs have teeth and are capable of using them. That doesn't mean that any dog is LIKELY to bite. And in fact,
“A study performed by the American Veterinary Medical Association, the CDC, and the Humane Society of the United States, analyzed dog bite statistics from the last 20 years and found that the statistics don’t show that any breeds are inherently more dangerous than others. The study showed that the most popular large breed dogs at any one time were consistently on the list of breeds that bit fatally. There were a high number of fatal bites from Doberman pinschers in the 1970s, for example, because Dobermans were very popular at that time and there were more Dobermans around, and because Dobermans’ size makes their bites more dangerous. The number of fatal bites from pit bulls rose in the 1980s for the same reason, and the number of bites from Rottweilers in the 1990s. The study also noted that there are no reliable statistics for nonfatal dog bites, so there is no way to know how often smaller breeds are biting.”

As the above quote mentions. . . the number of dogs of a given breed within the population can make it appear that there are far more bites from that breed than others, even when this is not in fact the case. Example: Let's say that just 1% of dogs bite humans (this is actually a bit high). Now let's say there are 100 Golden Retrievers, 1,000 Chihuahuas and 10,000 Beagles. 1% of each bite - so 1 Golden Retriever, 10 Chihuahuas and 100 Beagles will bite this year. Now, based on this information it would appear that the GR is the 'safest' dog and the Beagle is significantly more aggressive and likely to bite. But in reality, the difference in number is a result of the difference in total population of that breed as the same percentage of Beagles bite as GRs. In other words, if there were also 10,000 GRs, then there would be 100 GR bites as well.

To that end, some actual statistics, which includes total number in the population and the percent of that breed population that has bitten indicate that the percentage of Pit Bulls that bite is about 0.0012% of the total Pit Bull population.

The bigger issue is the incredible popularity of the breed among irresponsible owners.

So... is it OK for your young family to have a Pibble puppy? I don't see a problem with it provided you follow some basic safety rules. But note that these rules apply for ANY dog of ANY breed, not just for the Pit Bull or Pit-type dogs.

The rules:
The dog must be trained using FORCE FREE, POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT methods. This means you DO use things like clickers to mark good behavior and reward with food treats, toys, games, love and affection. You DO use equipment like no-pull harnesses so there's no pressure on his neck that can cause injuries. DO use patience when training - even potty training. You DO take the time to properly socialize the dog to the world - making sure that all his experiences are positive encounters - so that he learns that the world is interesting and exciting and not scary. You DO take the time to teach him to be calm around the baby.

You DON'T use any aversive equipment or techniques such as choke chains, prong/pinch collars, electronic collars of any kind. You DON'T use physical punishment/corrections such as yanking/jerking on the leash, so-called "alpha rolls", poking, kicking, swatting etc. DON'T scold or shove his nose in a potty accident as this will only teach him to fear your presence and handling. DON'T exclude him from family activities with the baby, or he may come to resent the baby.

I encourage you to get a couple of great books that will help make a very solid family pet (no matter the breed).

The first is called Perfect Puppy in 7 Days , by Dr. Sophia Yin (veterinary behaviorist). It's an easy to follow guideline for teaching basic household manners and dealing with or preventing many puppy behavior issues such as chewing, digging, jumping, etc. This book includes a great socialization check list to help ensure that your dog is not only being exposed to all the things he may come across later in life, but to help you track his opinion of those things so you know what needs more happy exposures...

I also encourage you to read On Talking Terms With Dogs - Calming Signals ,by Turid Rugaas. I recommend this book to every client. It walks you through a plethora of rather subtle behavior signals that dogs give when they're uncomfortable, nervous or uncertain. When you know how to read your dog's communication, you will be able to see when he's beginning to feel anxious and can intervene long before he feels a need to protect himself.

Never, EVER leave a child and a dog alone together. Period. This is not negotiable. Even for a second. If it's tummy time and you have to go answer the phone, you either take baby with you or take dog with you. But you NEVER leave them unsupervised. It doesn't matter how well you know the dog or how much you trust the dog - CHILDREN are unpredictable and even infants can do something unexpected that startle a dog or make it feel defensive.

One of the worst tragedies I've ever read about was years ago. It was the family dog with a 3-year old girl. The mother went to answer the door and returned about 60 seconds later to find her daughter mauled to death. Naturally the dog was euthanized. About 2 weeks later there was a followup story that explained the child had a habit of grabbing hold, squeezing and pulling the dog's TONGUE! I expect that dog barely tolerated such an intrusive behavior however many times it had happened before, and this time, with no adult to intervene on his behalf, defended himself the only way he knew how. This was a totally preventable tragedy if only the mother had invited the dog to the door with her or taken her child with her to answer the door.

And, it's not enough to just be in the room. You need to educate yourself about canine body language (On Talking Terms With Dogs, Body Language of Fear poster [below]) so that you can see the early signs of dog stress and intervene (redirect your child) before the dog feels like he needs to protect himself.

Dr. Yin has several great posters that are free to download. You and your wife can print them and memorize them, and as your child grows up, you can teach your child how to interact with dogs appropriately. Much of it is quite simple if you think about it: dogs don't like being hugged or stared at, so teach the child to sit next to and pet the side closest to them, rather than wrap their arms around the dog. When the dog is lying on his bed, the child is to stay away. When the dog is eating or enjoying a bone or other toy by himself, the child is to leave him alone, etc.

You'll need to provide some basic information to access the downloads, but Dr. Yin doesn't spam.

How to Correctly Greet a Dog (known or strange)

Body Language of Fear

How Kids SHOULD and SHOULD NOT Interact with Dogs (2 posters)

Remember, these rules apply to all dogs of all breeds. These are not special to Pit Bulls or Pit-Type dogs.

In honesty, my greater concern in your question is not the breed of dog you've decided to get, but rather the timing. A puppy is as much work as an infant. They can't be left unattended for more than a couple hours at a time. They must be confined where they can't make mistakes (potty, chewing, etc) when they are alone. They require tons of interaction and socialization and training. Having a 3-month old infant means you two are exhausted and your world is filled with taking care of your child - as it should be. My concern would be whether or not you really had the time and energy it requires to raise a puppy to be well socialized and well trained with a baby as young as you have right now. Of course, I can't make that decision for you and I don't know your lifestyles. If you feel you can give the puppy as much time and attention as your infant, then I love the idea of having them grow up together. If you can't provide the puppy equal time, then perhaps a puppy should wait until the child is in elementary school so that the time can be given to properly raising the puppy.

I hope this proves helpful. Please feel free to followup if I can be of further assistance.

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Jody Epstein, MS, CPDT-KA


IF YOU BELIEVE YOUR DOG IS ILL OR INJURED, PLEASE CONTACT YOUR LOCAL VETERINARIAN IMMEDIATELY. THIS IS NOT THE FORUM TO ADDRESS URGENT MEDICAL ISSUES. I AM NOT A LICENSED VET AND HAVE NO DIAGNOSTIC SKILLS. ***I have been answering questions on All Experts for over 8 years now. I enjoy being able to offer assistance in this forum. I do need to be clear, though. If you’re looking for free advice about a specific behavior question, you MUST submit your question to me via All Experts. If you bypass All Experts and write to me directly through my website, I will ask you to submit via All Experts. On the flip side, if you’re local to Los Angeles and you wish to speak to me privately about an in person consultation, please go through my website. I appreciate your assistance in keeping my volunteer work on the volunteer site.*** I can answer questions about the following canine behavior issues: obedience, timid/fearful & fear-based aggression, nuisance behaviors, families that are expanding with either new human or new animal members and many other issues. If you have potty training questions please first read my trio of blogs at If you still have questions after reading the blogs you can post your specific questions here. PLEASE be as specific as possible when asking a question. Give me a detailed example of the situation - dog's behavior, body language, circumstances surrounding the issue, what the consequences are (another dog's response, your response), etc. I can only provide insight if I can get a picture of the whole scenario. If I ask for further details, please provide them. In person I would normally observe for at least 90 minutes to assess the situation and the dynamics before offering tools and suggestions to modify it. In writing it is ever so much more difficult. Thank you for your participation in the process.


I have been a professional obedience trainer for 9 years, and specializing in behavior modification for 8 years. I have owned dogs my entire life. I own my own dog training and behavior modification business called Nutz About Mutz.

I am a Certified Profession Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA), #2133301 ; I am a member in good standing with the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT), #77763 ; I am an AKC certified Canine Good Citizen evaluator (CGC), #71253

Publications ; ; Multiple articles in the local pet magazine Pet Press (found across Southern California)

I have a masters degree (MS) in Animals and Public Policy, with a minor in Animal Behavior, from Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. I also have 3 years of graduate education in Animal Behavior and Learning from UM-Missoula and UL-Lafayette. I continue to educate myself to canine-specific behavior through extensive reading, online interactive workshops, vidoes and attending canine behavior conferences, workshops and seminars. Beginning in March, 2017, I will be the Behavior & Training Manager at Second Chance Center for Animals in Flagstaff, AZ.

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