Pit bull breed debated

This pit bull puppy was rescued from an Albany residence believed to have been involved in a dogfighting operation in 2010.

This pit bull puppy was rescued from an Albany residence believed to have been involved in a dogfighting operation in 2010.

ALBANY -- Are pit bulls safe to have as pets or to be around? The breed has been blamed for a recent rash of killed animals and even one threatened human. Some are wondering whether something should be done, perhaps to the point of banning the breed.

One problem, it seems, is coming to an understanding of just what constitutes a pit bulldog in the first place. Speaking to sources including trainers, veterinarians and kennel clubs, at least four common distinctions are found: The AKC's current representation is the American Staffordshire terrier, a heavier version of the English Staffordshire, which was its predecessor. The dog was originally bred as a hunting or "chase" dog from blending the strength and other attributes of bulldogs with the tenacity or "gameness" of terriers. The result was a very strong dog that would never give up. Eventually, it underwent further breeding for the activity of fighting other dogs. A number of those familiar, including the AKC, say a lot the gameness of the Staffordshire has since been bred out of the dog. Others disagree.

The United Kennel Club's American pit bull terrier is a close relative to the Staffordshire, sharing its 19th century English origins. The breed, which was recognized by the club in 1898, is generally considered more aggressive to other animals than is the Staffordshire, though neither the pit bull terrier nor the Staffordshire are thought to be more aggressive to humans than most other dogs.

Becoming more popular is the American Bully, a dog similar to the other bull terrier types, but even heavier and broader. Breeders claim the gameness has been eliminated from those dogs.

Finally, there's the so-called "pit bull," a dog of mixed and "indefinite origins," likely to include some input of registered Staffordshire or pit bull terrier breeds, according to Cpl. Bob James of the Dougherty County Police Department.

James founded the department's K-9 Unit some four years ago and has been a dog breeder and professional trainer. He said that many times offending "bad dogs" destroyed by animal control agents are classified as pit bulls because they "look like them."

There is no easy evidence that the breeds generally thought of as pit bulldogs are more naturally aggressive toward humans than any other breed. While it's true that pits were bred to fight other dogs, a loving, loyal attitude toward humans was in the mix as well. Pit bull owners testify of their dog's sweet dispositions and their closeness with children.

Dr. Haley Clark, a veterinarian with Leesburg Animal Hospital, thinks most of the aggressive pit bulls are owned by unscrupulous people who "game" their dogs in the fight rings and routinely mistreat the animals.

"Pit bulldogs are some of my best customers," Clark said. "They're a lot less eager to bite me than most of the other dogs we see here. We don't see them being aggressive to people at all."

Clark said she wouldn't hesitate to recommend pits bulldogs as pets, even for families with children. She stressed that precautions should be taken that any breed -- not just pits -- not show aggression to family members or other people.

Clark did say that while most pit bulldogs she encountered were not aggressive toward humans, they probably were more aggressive toward cats and other dogs.

"We require animals here to be on leashes," Clark said, "so there are never any fights. But they do seem to want to fight other dogs sometimes."

Dr. Frank Spells, a veterinarian with Spells & Masters Veterinary Clinic, agrees with Clark, saying that the term "pit bull" is "almost an insulting category" in which to lump all pit-related breeds.

"A properly bred and cared for pit bull terrier makes a wonder companion and pet," Spells said. "The biggest problem giving dogs bad reputations is that so many people aren't responsible for them. If you throw the animal in a little fence or chain it a tree and then mistreat it, you could have an aggressive animal."

Spells said to avoid aggression in any dog, the most important thing is "to be honest with yourself" and determine if you're really ready for the responsibility for pet ownership. After that, prospective owners should do their homework and be ready to pay enough for the dog.

"If you go down to the flea market and pay $10 for a surplus pit, you're liable to get an aggressive dog," Spells said. "Go to a good breeder and be ready to pay several hundred dollars. Look at some related dogs and spend some time with the dog's parents if you can. How the dog is treated is important, but bloodline matters, too."

Spells agreed also that pit bulls, because of their breeding, can be aggressive toward other dogs, an issue for many people -- not only for the safety of their animals, but potentially for their children as well.

A disturbing scenario, offered by some, is the neighboring pit bull attacking the family pet. The average pet has no chance against the pit, which was bred for the power and gameness to kill in short order. A small child, horrified his pet is attacked, tries to separate the two. It's easy to imagine a confused pit -- normally not aggressive toward humans -- turning on the child. James says it could happen.

"Under such a circumstance, a pit bull terrier or similar dog may very well react against a child or anything at all getting in the way of his prey," James said. "Get a bucket of water or ammonia or anything you can to separate them. Just don't touch the dogs."

According to James, it would be a mistake to make eye contact with any kind of threatening dog. The animal may take the contact as a signal to attack. There are other guidelines as well, he said.

"The old story about dogs being able to smell fear is true," James said. "When people are afraid, they generate adrenaline and that makes chemical changes dogs can smell. Try not to approach a dog you're afraid of."

James also said never to run from an attacking dog.

"Play dead," James said. "Try to stay still even if he bites you. What the dog wants is the chase and the fight. If you don't give it to him, it won't be long before he leaves."


waltspecht 3 years, 9 months ago

For what it is worth, I am no expert. My training was raising and training several fully trained Dogs from Staffordshires to Airedales to Boykins (Boykins are by far the easiest to train and the most people friendly dogs I know). You buy a dog for it's breeding, and you usually pay for it. That way you can tell pretty much tell what you are buying. A reputable breeder will also not inbreed, causing dogs to become unstable. Look and work with the parent dog and you should have a good idea of what you have. Know the excentricities of the particular breed, and check with your Vet. I found out that some advice on the Internet to use a cheaper alternative to heartworm pills would save money. It might on some breeds, but on Australian Shepards it can affect their brains. Heartworm dosage is extremely critical with that breed. Thats why you have a Vet that knows your dog. Any dog, of any breed will chase something that runs from it. Pepper spray works wonders on dogs, bears too. If a dog comes for you, stand your ground and if you have to, and can, grab the collar and give it a full twist, the dog will go down. If the dog is serious, and you are going to get bit anyway, put your fist down it's throat. I learned that from a man that handled and rented out junkyard dogs. Either way works, and the dogs spirit will be broke. They will never bother you again. It's mean, but it works. As to sheep killers, I believe a Poodle would run and attack sheep if given half a chance.


TrixibelleBento 3 years, 9 months ago

I've had 2 pit bulls in my life and they were lap dogs. It's how people train and treat their animals that matters. I had to call Animal Control on a neighbor who got a pit pup and tied it to a fence in the summer with no food and an often upside-down water bowl. The dog disappeared soon after that. I don't know what came of the poor little guy, but I'm glad I don't have to stare at its pitiful face as it boiled in the heat with no care from its owners.


tocar 3 years, 9 months ago

Although I dislike and do not trust a pit bull, the news media should not have been in his face.


Starainatu 3 years, 9 months ago

Thanks tocar! by the way if you ever want to get to know a pit just to see for yourself, let me know. I know some super awesome ones. Their are bad dogs in every breed. Before everyone had and hated pitbulls they hated dobermans, and german shepards, and rotweilers. Every dog is different - just like every cat is - every person is. Thank you though for recognizing the fact that no one should put them selves at risk with ANY animal - key word here - ANIMAL... they need to be approached with respect and caution- shitzu to lion, horse to bird. :)


Starainatu 3 years, 9 months ago

Any animal is just that an ANIMAL. It does not matter to me if it is a poodle or a doberman pincher...i am not running up on it and putting myself in danger. Any animal can hurt you, even a horse or cow. I think that people forget that sometimes and when you have any large animal that could have more potential for damage - you most ceritanly need to respect that animal and its natural instincts and boundries. Some people should not own dogs at all. Pit bulls - come in so many sizes and shapes and backgorunds they are an easy target. If you look on the web sites right now for any of our local shelters - they do not have a clue what these animals actually are - so how can the general public? Anything with muscles seems to get lumped into the pit bull category. Boxers and Dalmations have such high territorial instincts that they are risky too... Weenie dogs are known to commonly bite people (look it up). My point - know the animal you are getting or around. It is stupid to think your cat will not chase a mouse, or that your dog will not chase a cat. They have natural drives - if you dont know that or understand your pet - how can you be a responsible and good pet owner. That is true for ALL animals. Not just dogs. Certianly not just pits. That does not make them bad. Of all the dogs I have been around, i would not trade my pits for the world. I had a dalmation that bit a kid because it ran toward my kids (actually several bites in seconds), I saw a siberian huskie that bite a teen - later they found out it was in pain and had heart worms , i have been bitten by two weeine dogs and a mutt through out the years with no reason other than i was there. My pits - are by far the most reliable in their temperment. But that is not just by good upbrining and chance- i respect their natural instincts and their needs. I provide them an environment and life that allows them to get the exercise and love they need. I keep them fed and healty. I never hit them. I demand their respect and they give it because i earn it. Anyway - All i am saying is no specific breed is bad. each animal and circumstance is different. (by the way it has been proven that pits jaws do NOT lock either). Here is fun quiz. can you find the pit bull in the attached picture? there is only one actual pit bull in the whole page. got to this link: http://love-a-bull.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/findtheAPBT.pdf Have a great day!


Starainatu 3 years, 9 months ago

Food For Thought: 7600 deaths a year from OTC medications, 16,926 from illegal drugs, 32,000 deaths from precription drugs, 110,640 deaths from alcohol, 443,000 tobacco related deaths, 33,808 car crash related deaths, 223 motorcycle accident deaths, 34 dog bite related deaths in the US annually.... what should we spend our time and money regulating and banning? Just saying....


atina3438 3 years, 9 months ago

So many dogs have an inherent vicious nature, and no matter how docile and cunning they seem, they rise to the occasion if called on to do so. I would never walk past a yard with a baby (or any other family member, for that matter) and pit bull together in that yard. Get my point?


TamewRod 3 years, 9 months ago

The two sweetest, most gentle dogs I've ever seen in my life are pit bulls. There is nothing wrong with the breed, just the people who train them to be killers.


Mr_Heatmiser 3 years, 9 months ago

What I've always wondered is, why would someone own one of these dogs unless they have some sort of psychological issues? Are you trying to show how "tough" you are? Are you just trying to prove a point that even though this breed alone is responsible for the overwhelming majority of all dog attack incidents, it's just the owners' fault? There are 120 other breeds of dog out there which are better than pits in every single facet, except for killing & mauling. Why not just get one of those? Even if it is all just a bad stereotype, why would you want a dog with such an atrocious reputation & stigma attached to it?


SouthwestRC 2 years, 10 months ago

Breed specific legislation is ignorant and unfair. In addition, the vet's name in Albany is Dr. Spelts. If you're going to interview a doctor, make sure to spell his name correctly.


Oldguy 2 years, 10 months ago

The subject of Pit Bull dogs comes up often. Why doesn't the Albany Herald send a reporter to interview several vets on the subject and punish their responses. I do not mean one or two vets interview five or sin or more. Then do not change or edit their pertinent remarks. If you guys can not do it I will gladly donate my time and efforts to do the story. Perhaps that would give the general public an insight into these dogs and the problems they seem to cause.


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