Are you the type of person who looks at a pit bull, ignores all the negative press they often unjustifiably receive, and see a loving and loyal companion?
Good for you!
It seems as if the only stories you ever hear are ones of these lovable dogs attacking, without any context surrounding the incident.
For the sake of fairness, I won’t pretend for a moment that these attacks never occur, but I speak with confidence that they are very rare.
Because the phrase “pit bull” covers such a variety of breeds, it has quickly become the norm to unfairly lump all dog attacks under one heading. Also contributing to this is the quantity of dogs labeled (sometimes incorrectly) as being an actual pit, as they take up a large percentage of the dog population.
Lastly, as someone who has spent the past 4 years volunteering at a local animal shelter, I have been bitten and nipped by almost every breed — Labrador, Collie, Chihuahua, you name it — yet I have not once felt even remotely threatened by a pit, because most of the time they are far too busy smothering you with affection.
First in this Petful guide to what you can expect when you’re adopting a pit bull, I have compiled 4 helpful tips for those who have fallen in love with a pit bull. Then I offer some more in-depth advice on what to expect when you bring your newest family member home.
1. You are now a breed ambassador.
I occasionally take pit bulls out of the shelter for weekend adventures and socialization, and by no small margin get the widest spectrum of reactions from people:
- You will have your fanatic pit bull fans, who will gladly talk with you about how wonderful pitties are, how they are the most loyal dogs in the world, etc.
- You will also get the people terrified to be within 100 feet of one, who will think you have a ticking time bomb strapped to your leash and won’t give you the light of day.
- And then you get everyone in the middle. These are the people you will find yourself answering a lot of questions to. Commonly, “I thought pit bulls were aggressive” and “Aren’t you worried your pit bull will attack you?” This is such a great opportunity to try and remove the stereotype from their mind. Even better, if your pittie is well socialized, let your pup do all the work removing the stereotype himself by letting the person experience firsthand the loving playfulness of your pet.
2. You have to be careful in public dog parks.
No matter how friendly your pit is, no matter how great he or she is with other dogs, no matter how far away you might find yourself from any incident between dogs, you will likely be blamed.
I just do not think public parks are the best place for your lovable pit to roam free, as there have been countless times while at the park a fight would break out among a group of dogs and quickly the public opinion swings negative toward any pit bulls in the area, even if they had little or nothing to do with the incident.
Find other dog people who might be a better fit for dog buddy time, as a large park filled with countless random dogs just is not a good place.
Pit bulls are complete social butterflies, and this exemplary trait might have them sniffing the wrong dog, who might act negatively with little provocation, and I am willing to guarantee people will quickly blame your canine.
3. You might have fewer options of where to live.
If you have pets, you know that renting an apartment that allows your whiskered companions is difficult. If your pet happens to be any type of bully or discriminated-against breed, that difficulty is going to quadruple.
Many rentals that do allow pets still have certain restrictions, including:
Finding a pet-friendly apartment is a cinch compared to locating a pet-friendly apartment that allows any pet — including pit bulls, bulldogs, German Shepherds, etc.
4. You are going to end up with a ridiculously loyal best friend.
We get a lot of pit bulls at our local shelter. They show up more commonly than any other breed by almost double (Labrador mixes are up there, but it’s still not close).
If anyone were to ask me to define a pit bull in one word, it would be “loyal.” There is no other type of dog at the shelter that will be more excited to see you than a pit.
If you don’t believe me, these dogs will undoubtedly speak for themselves. Visit your shelter and meet a couple of them; I promise you your opinion will be drastically reshaped if you have any fear of them whatsoever. Pit bulls are looking for a best friend, and will quickly bestow that honor upon you if you return the favor.
While your pet will quickly attach to you, it is important to socialize the dog with other people as well.
When your pittie sees you being social with another person, they will quickly respond in the same fashion with plenty of licking, tail-wagging and affection, another great way to show someone how great these dogs truly are.
Initial Judgments and Lasting Impressions
Hi, Allison Gray here. I’m popping in for a moment to add a few thoughts to this article because I have personal experience with a bully breed.
People cross the street to avoid my dog Babe.
She’s a 40-pound pit bull with big, worried eyes and a broad chest. Her favorite activities include sleeping and snuggling. But she’s still a pit bull and, to many people who have had no exposure to the breed other than gruesome headlines, my dog represents danger.
People pull their children away from Babe — they scoop up their small dogs and eye me warily. It’s an everyday experience for many of us who have bully breeds.
Despite these consistently negative responses, I’ve truly enjoyed changing some minds about pit bulls.
Given the opportunity, Babe is a social butterfly who enjoys interactions with strangers. She wags and happily accepts petting before trotting away. Many occasions that began with a nervous meeting have ended with strangers telling me how lovely and friendly Babe is.
Sure, I’m not going to convince everyone, but these small victories give me hope for all misunderstood bully breeds.
What to Expect From Your New Pit Bull
OK, so now you’re ready to take on the social stigma of adopting a pit bull?
On to the fun part: what to expect — not from the public, but from your new 4-legged friend — for the first couple of weeks after adoption:
A pit bull is going to look to you to be a leader.
Any pit will quickly stand by your side if you show your confidence and establish that you are in charge. This is why you will often hear of pits being “advanced” dogs. Their intelligence can sometimes be hard to understand because the natural reaction when adopting a dog is to shower them with love.
Pits will turn to you and gauge your reaction in almost any situation before taking any action of their own.
- If they sense you are excited and in a good mood, they will act the same and will be ready to play.
- If they feel tension, do not be surprised if they act on your defense, as they will quickly do anything possible to try and protect you.
In their eyes, you are the best possible friend, and they would be at your side at all moments if possible.
If pitties want something, they will do whatever it takes to accomplish their goal.
- Are they curious and want to explore your neighborhood while you put them out back in the yard? I can guarantee you they will find a way to escape and roam around for a while.
- Do they see a squirrel on the trail and want to say hello? I can promise you the force on the leash will be powerful.
- How about if you leave them at home without anything to keep their mind occupied? I hate to say it, but odds are, you might come home to some less-than-desirable damages to your favorite couch or pair of shoes.
In other words, pits are very smart dogs, and need to be stimulated mentally to keep them from getting into much trouble. This is actually a very fun, rewarding and motivating trait in my opinion, as it keeps you active as well with your new best friend.
And when it’s time to wind down, your pittie will be curled up comfortable asleep right at your feet. Besides, if a pittie wants to give you a big kiss, they will stop at nothing to slobber all over you — totally worth it.
I work with countless breeds at our local shelter, and very few pups figure out new tricks as quickly as our pits. We even taught one to salute. Yes, it was completely adorable and something we used to quickly get him adopted.
This intelligence is important to note for two reasons:
- One thing I commonly see when training a pit is that they can get discouraged if they do not understand something. Yelling “Sit!” over and over at a pit that doesn’t know how to sit will only make it frustrated very quickly. Start slowly, keep training limited to a few minutes in a row and make sure the treats are plentiful.
- The second thing is this intelligence must be encouraged. Keeping your pit active and social, working on training, etc., especially during formidable years, will give satisfaction to your pup, which will pay off in the long run of ownership.
The average pit bull is going to want to say hello to everyone and everything.
We recently adopted out a pit to a family that had cats. She was far too quick to say hello to these lovely kittens and got her nose smacked by an unwelcoming claw.
Now, according to her new family, she is terrified of the cats, so they’re slowly getting canine and felines on friendly terms.
When you have welcomed guests visiting, your pit will be the first to greet them with lots of licks and tail-wagging. Out in public, your pit will want to say hello to everyone, which for people less familiar with this friendliness might be intimidating, so it is important to be responsible with your introductions.
The truth about pits is that you are going to end up with a best friend, one that will never want to leave your side and will do anything to please you. Once you establish that you are going to take care of them, they will completely give their heart to you.
There is no doubt in my mind that responsible people ready to offer pits some dedicated ownership will be rewarded with several fun, active and exciting years of companionship.
More Helpful Tips for Adopting a Pit Bull
Here are some final actionable steps to ensure you’re prepared for a new pit companion in your home:
1. Check Your Local Laws for Breed Bans
Breed specific legislation — restrictions on “aggressive breeds” — are in effect in certain parts of the country.
So be sure to research your home city ahead of time. The consequences of being poorly prepared could be deadly.
In some places, for example, the city and county claim that second-time offenders of the breed ban will have their dog taken from them, where animal control then determines their fate.
Planning on traveling with your dog? Keep in mind that even if you don’t live areas where there’s a breed ban, you could still be fined — or worse — for transporting your dog through those areas.
No matter where or how far you’re traveling, plan in advance to avoid any mishaps along the way.
2. Talk to Your Landlord
If you are a renter, make sure your future pit will be welcomed with open arms. If they aren’t, prepare to convince your landlord why they should be.
For example, create a dog resume, set up a meeting with your landlord or plan to negotiate a larger pet deposit.
There are a number of ways to give your dog a better chance of being accepted.
3. Plan on Lots of Exercise
Pit bulls are known as a high-energy dogs. To keep them healthy and happy, they need exercise.
If you’re rescuing a pit, spend at least 30 minutes playing and exercising every day. You don’t always have to take them out for a run or gut-busting hike, but you do need to set aside at least half an hour for fully engaged activity.
If you want to mix it up, try tug of war, agility courses or even Frisbee.
4. Be Prepared to Rehabilitate
Many pit bulls end up in shelters after being abused, abandoned or tied up and left for dead.
Every dog will react to their past circumstances in their own way, but most will require at least some sort of rehabilitation.
Here are some tips:
- Give your dog their own space at home. Let them know their bed, toys, food and water bowls are theirs and there to stay. Help them feel comfortable and safe at home.
- Use positive reinforcement when training. Your pit won’t respond well to harsh training methods. Always show them love and affection for good behavior.
- Ease them into new routines and socialization. Never force your pit into anything that obviously causes discomfort or fear.
This adorable pit bull wants to make friends with a flowering plant:
5. Know How to Stand Up for Your Pit
With so many people misunderstanding this loving breed, you’ll undoubtedly run into discrimination along the way after you adopt. You might even experience it with friends, neighbors and family.
Breed discrimination can feel deeply offensive and hurtful. So stand up for your pup companion in every way you can. Of course, some responses are more efficient than others.
Try to educate or, better yet, show people how sweet pit bulls can be — although typically, their minds are made up, regardless of how much your pup tries to smother them with kisses.
If your frustration is too much to keep inside, consider volunteering for pit bull rights or helping out at a shelter. What matters most is that other pits out there are receiving the help they need, too.
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This article was written by Rob Toledo, with contributions from Allison Gray and Kristen Youngs. This article was last reviewed and updated March 2, 2019.