Don't Make These Mistakes

Learn the top 10 Mistakes dog owners make when training their dogs, and what you need to know to avoid them.

Police Shoot 2 of 3 Pit Bulls Dead After Dogs Attacked Man, Killed his Pet in Downtown L.A.

I saw it on the news, and I knew within moments the sensational headline would be blowing up my social media feed.

True to form, within a few short hours the line was drawn in the sand–with the advocates obliterating the anti-pit bull movement, and vice versa.

Hate was out in full force.

I scrolled the conversations for a moment before shutting down the computer and walking away. I couldn’t take it. And I didn’t want to get involved. It wouldn’t help anything.

You see, this is something I’m pretty passionate about.

If you didn’t know, my first dog, Koby, was a pit bull (listed as a boxer mix at the rescue where he came from). Most would be surprised to know that they remain one of my all-time favorite breeds, despite the fact that I don’t own one.

Now, I got Koby back in the Rainbows and Butterflies phase of my life, when I firmly believed I should never, “breed or buy while shelter pets die,” when I thought, “love was all I needed to save the world,” and when I would argue until the death that there are, “no bad dogs, only bad owners.”

Inevitably, my cause quickly became pit bulls. My goal: Get a puppy, and use him to show the world about all of the misconceptions and stereotypes surrounding the breed.

Together, we did the opposite.

You see, I happened to choose a little roly poly pit bull pup with drive – and lots of it. At just 10 weeks old, this little heathen walked into my life and completely turned it upside down.

For a while I blamed myself. There were no bad dogs, only bad owners after all. And as I gazed upon the labs, the border collies, and the hounds who behaved like superstars in our group classes, I felt inadequate. I felt like a bad owner, watching my dog’s eyes bugging out of his head, alligator rolling at the end of his leash, trying desperately to get at any dog he saw.

He was friendly and overzealous at first, completely overstimulated in any new environment. But as he matured, he developed some more serious behaviors including a pretty hefty dose of dog aggression.

I felt fully responsible. And no matter how much help I sought, I couldn’t get a handle on his behavior.

Now that time has passed and I’ve gained significant experience with dogs and working breeds, I can reflect and see the error of my ways. Hindsight is 20/20, right?

I know now that my pit bull was never destined to be an eager lab or a lazy hound. It had nothing to do with how I raised him. He was strong and powerful, drivey and intense. And that was his genetics. It was part of who he was. 

But no one was talking about that. 

Now before you go jumping to conclusions, no, I’m not about to tell you that pit bulls are bad dogs because of their genetics. I’m not here to tell you pit bulls can’t be therapy dogs, can’t snuggle with kids, and can’t go to dog parks. Remember, I absolutely adore the pit bull “breed.” And I certainly do not believe in breed specific legislation. I don’t want to see all pit bulls banned or put to death.

That said, I believe strongly that if we don’t dispel the propaganda designed to save the breed by pulling the wool over really great dog owners’ eyes, we are doing the breed as a whole a disservice.

Here are a few of the common arguments I see that are hurting this breed (and many others), rather than helping it.

Aggression Comes From Trauma – I hear it all the time. In fact, I just read it on a very well known pit bull advocacy website. Heck, I even believed it back when I had Koby. Dogs don’t become aggressive unless you abuse them. Or unless they’ve had a serious trauma. I mean, it makes sense, right? Why else would a perfectly lovable dog go bad?

Koby was my first lesson otherwise.

I had him since he was 10 weeks old, and prior to there was no trauma. We enrolled in only positive training schools, and he had never experienced so much as a raised tone in his entire life. He bit his first person when he was 9 months old, before we had even explored using aversives in our work. And he began displaying dog aggression when he turned a year old.

After much self-pity and blame fueled some serious education and experience, I now know that aggression can come from a number of factors, including over stimulation, excitement, and mismanagement. Not only that, but it can be genetically inherited. It isn’t just abuse or trauma that causes aggression to crop up.

The same holds true for any breed of dogs – this isn’t pit bull specific.

It’s All in How You Raise Them – Our dog’s genetics set the stage for their behavior. In fact, a good chunk of our dog’s behavior comes from who they are, their bloodlines, and their breed. Not how much they are loved in their home environment. Even with the best training, my Malinois, Shank, will never be a squishy lab  I can let kids crawl all over. It isn’t how he was raised. Being squishy isn’t in his genetic makeup.

I want to share a story that will drive the point home. I have three dogs. They are all brothers, all with the same parents, one who is 6 months older than the rest and came to me later in his life. I also personally know one of the other brothers; I’ve watched him grow up.

All of the dogs, except the two I raised together, were raised very differently, with different rules and home environments. All four developed resource guarding behaviors at a young age. All four are very vocal, all four can bark for days, and all four have a propensity for separation anxiety.

Now you could argue that puppyhood created these behaviors. Maybe it was something the breeder did. But I can assure you that is not the case, as I have raised and/or personally trained 10+ dogs from the same breeder. And these four are the only ones exhibiting those behaviors. Genetics play a MAJOR role in our dog’s behavior and development.

Pit bulls will always be pit bulls. Malinois will always be Malinois. Shepherds will always be Shepherds.

Are there lazy and uber sweet Malinois? Are there aggressive labradors? Are there pit bulls who are dog friendly? Absolutely. But is it wise to assume all of these dogs are this way when their breed characteristics say otherwise? Nope.

Genetics matter. More than anything, genetics matter. And genetics are something we cannot neglect.

I wish I would have known this all those years back when I looked upon the lazy labs nailing their sessions in group classes, while my dog foamed at the mouth.

Socialization is the Key – This one is one of my favorites. If you haven’t read my take on socialization, you can do so here. But the prevalent argument says something like, “if you socialize a dog early on with other dogs, they won’t develop aggression. And if you socialize them with people, the same holds true.”

Remember, genetics matter. And aggression doesn’t always come from fear or trauma.

I’ve trained predominantly aggressive dogs for over a decade. And in fact, over-socialization with other dogs in an uncontrolled setting, like the dog park or at doggy daycare, was the leading cause for dog aggression and reactivity, popping up in dogs who were predisposed to it. Perhaps it was a bad experience, perhaps it was too much of the wrong energy, perhaps it was pack mentality, perhaps it was creating too much desire to play, perhaps it was just a ticking time bomb waiting to go off. Whatever the cause, it was nearly always the dogs who frequented the dog park or daycare that came to me for help.

I’m going to tell you something that may not win me any fans. But here’s a bit of tough love. Dogs don’t need help learning how to be dogs. If they had any time with their littermates and mom, even if you don’t think it was enough, your dog doesn’t need to learn how to be a dog and how to interact with dogs. In fact, I hate to break it to you, but even if they don’t have much exposure, they know how to “speak dog” better than you do anyways.

Listen, the more you try to intervene and force the issue, the more structure you put into your dog’s communication with other dogs, the more you believe you know more about being a dog than your dog does, and the more you toss your dog into uncontrolled group settings, the more you are going to screw things up.

So getting them around a bunch of dogs in an effort to socialize them, unless you really know what you are doing, will likely only make them more “doggy” and distracted by their canine counterparts, while increasing your risk of something going awry. It doesn’t stop genetics. It isn’t going to prevent aggression. If your dog is genetically hardwired to be aggressive towards other dogs, they will be aggressive towards other dogs. All you can do is manage it. Be prepared for it. Train for it. But first, you have to get honest with yourself: this is something you may have to face with a strong breed, that you can’t love out of your dog, and that you need to be ready for.

Here’s the thing. Three pit bulls attacked and killed a small dog. The entire story is tragic and devastating. The owner did not have control of his dogs, and as a result they lost their lives, as did the small dog who was their victim.

This isn’t getting sensationalized because it was pit bulls. Had it been any other dog, the story still would have made headlines.

But the thing is, it wasn’t another breed.

Here’s the honest truth: A pack of basset hounds in the same situation likely wouldn’t have had a similar outcome. A pack of border collies would have handled things differently.

But it wasn’t a pack of either of those breeds. It was three pit bulls. Strong  dogs who are characteristically known for dog aggression.

If we want to save pit bulls, we have to get honest about genetics. We have to be completely up front in saying serious dog aggression is a risk you run in this breed. And we have to be honest in that these are strong and very powerful dogs – you can’t take owning them lightly.

We need to equip owners with the correct tools for preventing unwanted behaviors, and we need to educate them about the breed, about containment, and about environmental management. And we need to stop being so judgmental and nasty to dog owners who are trying their best, but who need our help. We have to stop painting them as monsters and painting dogs as saints.

The same goes for other strong breeds. We’ve got to get painfully honest about the good and bad in all dog breeds, so we can properly educate and prepare dog owners for what’s in store. So we don’t leave them feeling inadequate. And so we give them a safe place to come for help.

More than anything, we’ve got to stop mislabeling strong dogs in shelters to make them more adoptable. Pit bulls aren’t “Lab Mixes,” just like Malinois aren’t “Collie Mixes.” Pit bulls are spectacular dogs. We need to own their “breed.” We need to be proud of it. And we need to be honest with dog owners about what they are getting so that we set them up for success. That means sharing with them the good and the bad. Preparing them for potential pitfalls.

Are there absolutely spectacular pit bulls out there? Therapy dogs? Detection dogs? Family pets? Social butterflies? Yep. You bet. But before you run to the shelter to adopt the biggest, blockiest head dog you can find, get yourself fully prepared for the drive level, the sensitivity, the other animal aggression, and the packiness that is typical of the breed–and know that dog parks might not be in your future, despite your best efforts at socialization. And find someone with experience with the breed, who understands strong dogs with drive (if they don’t know what drive is, move on and find someone who does), that can help you get your dog off on the right foot. 

Until we face genetics head on, until we are really honest about who pit bulls are, and until we educate people about their strengths and weaknesses, people will adopt them thinking they can love the genetics out of them. That if they struggle, they are bad owners, and if they socialize them, they will never be aggressive with other dogs.

Our dogs, whether they be pit bulls, basset hounds, or border collies, are a direct result of their genetics. We don’t do anyone any favors when we ignore them.

Meagan Karnes
Meagan Karnes

Meagan has been training dogs professionally since 2002, most recently working with private security, military and law enforcement to provide security and detection K9s for high level applications. She owns both The Collared Scholar, an online dog training academy, and 690 Security Services, a company that trains and deploys Executive Security and Protection K9s to private customers. She recently partnered with both Average Frog and SM Leaders, who repurpose the proven performance principles of the Navy SEALs for individuals and organizations.

    125 replies to "It’s All in How You Raise Him: Are we Really Saving Bully Breeds?"

    • Chris Turner

      So true. Shame more don’t research their breeds before buying.

      • Michelle

        Thank you SO MUCH for sharing your experiences!! I am a very experienced, life long animal owner and trainer of many types of animal and for more than 10years, I’ve lived in shame about the Registered ALL WHITE German Shepherd I got–yet ultimely (before you was 10 months old!) had to return him to the breeder. I’d heard the warnings about Shepherds and White ones, but hey, I believed all those points you made… I’ve handled all kinds of creatures! Nope. NOT THIS dog. He was showing crazy dominant behavior whe he was 12 weeks old–when I got him. He was Gorgeous–but his ‘personality’ was completely set at birth,/conception, I’m convinced.
        I “conviently” always ‘forget’ him when I list all the animals I’ve owned. I named him “Dragon”, and his genetics FAR over-ruled his environment!!

    • Theresa

      Love all your articles but this one really touched home for me. Have had Rotties, Pit Bulls and German Shepherds, you are so right!! Thank you for this well thought out and articulate post!

    • EmilyS

      a puppy that is over-the-top dog aggressive at 10 weeks is not normal. And a dog that bites a person at 9 months old is dangerous. This has NOTHING to do with breed. Human aggression has historically never been sought after in the APBT anyway. And p.s. ANY breed or individual can be “aggressive” (whatever that means, anyway)

      • Meagan Karnes

        Thanks for your comment. Yes, any breed or individual can be aggressive. But the point is that genetics play a major role in paving the road for behavioral problems such as aggression towards other animals, which is common in the pit bull breed. I’m not sure where you are seeing dog aggressive puppies at 10 weeks old. But I’d agree, over-the-top dog aggression would be abnormal in a small puppy, although the warning signs can absolutely be present at a young age. And FYI, I didn’t attribute my dog’s human aggression to him being a pit bull. In fact, human aggression is uncharacteristic of the breed. My point in that portion was that aggression can come from a number of factors, not simply abuse or trauma as many believe.

    • Alex Harris

      One thing that is so annoying to me is when shelters purposefully mislabel Pit Bulls as another more desirable breed. I think this is setting dogs up for failure when they are adopted and don’t meet the expectations.

      • Maya

        Thank you for writing this. Breeding for temperament is basic knowledge. Different breeds have different genetic temperaments. Does it mean all animals of x breed are the same? No. It just means they will have a greater chance of inheriting the temperament traits they were bred for. This applies to all animals, including humans. Pretending it doesn’t apply to pitbull aggression causes a greater problem. I know it’s nice and easy to just turn the other cheek and pretend you can get rid of any aggression with enough love and training, but that’s not going to make the aggression go away. It’s just going to lead to a bunch of attacks that could have been avoided with more understanding. The aggression in this breed is not the fault of the dogs, nor the breed, nor the reputable breeders working to breed it out (pitbulls are not supposed to be human aggressive, this is a serious fault for the breed). I lived in a town where a bunch of guys were breeding and training pitbulls to be guard dogs. They were making dogs that wanted to bite and kill people, so that’s what they got. Pitbulls look scary and have a bad reputation, so this is common. A lot of shelter pitbulls come from people breeding them to be something they’re not (fighters, guard dogs, etc.). Instead of being clear about what these dogs need, people milabel them or come up with ‘love will fix anything’ ideology and guilt people into ignoring reality. Well, wake up call… reality doesn’t go away when you sweep it under the rug. Just like having a child with a mental illness, you can’t just pretend that it doesn’t exist. You will end up with a very frustrated child who is not being treated for their mental illness. Likewise, ignoring innate aggression in any dog may result in that dog not getting the proper care he/she needs to function. Then those dogs end up in the wrong homes, attacking animals and people, and being euthanized because society refuses to address the aggression as anything other than fear based with a ‘just needs more love’ solution and unrealistic prognosis. If we can instead address the genetic aggression that some dogs have, instead of just pretending it doesn’t exist, we can work with it and try to help these dogs and owners handle it better.

        • Shane

          Just one point on breed labeling of mixed breed dogs-it’s notoriously innaccurate. Lots of research has shown that mixed-breed dogs are difficult to label accurately in terms of breed, with labels inconsistent with DNA tests and also observer classifications inconsistent with each other. While I disagree with labeling a dog in a shelter one breed in order to hide another, I also think we need to be more honest in admitting what we don’t know. A lot of dogs out there labeled pit bulls are not and lost the chance for a new home because of being mislabeled.

      • Shay Fowler

        I’m really grateful for your post. It’s one of my pet peeves. I don’t want a small dog, but almost ALL of the medium or large dogs in our area are pit mixes. The shelters will have a block-headed pit labeled ‘lab mix’ or ‘labrador retriever’ and it’s hard to trust them. They’re so blatantly lying.

        I’ve got a granddaughter who’s just a toddler. I need an animal that I can trust around her. They’re setting people AND the dogs up for failure by doing this.

    • Bonita Cheek

      I’m sorry, but I don’t agree with you when it comes to pit bulls. Pit Bulls are my favorite dogs. They weren’t bred to be aggressive. They were bred to take care of the people left behind when the soldiers went to war. The FIRST WAR DOG was a pit bull. He was decorated many times for his services during WWII. They were trained to be this way. To me : they are the most loyal, loving, best friend that you can have. Genetics plays a role, but not to the extent that you say. My Apollo is my companion and my best friend. He loves me as much as I love him. He calms me for my depression and anxiety. He just turned 7 yrs old. He is the love of my life. I’m sorry.

      • Meagan Karnes

        Thank you for your comment! I’m so very happy that you have such a wonderful relationship with your dog. Pit bulls are one of my favorite breeds as well, having trained over one hundred in my career and running a pit bull specific rescue. I can tell you without a doubt that dog and animal aggression is prevalent in the breed. It doesn’t mean that all pit bulls are dog aggressive. It just means it is a characteristic of the breed that should not be ignored.

      • Susan D.

        I do not think that your history is correct. I would love to see your source for this because I have sources that say the opposite.

      • Erin Walsh

        The point made in the article is that pit bulls are typically “dog aggressive” which means aggressive toward other dogs. Your experience with your pit bull is that it is not aggressive toward you. As the author of the article states in response to another comment “human aggression is uncharacteristic of the breed.”

        “Dog aggression” and “human aggression” are different things. Observe the distinction.

        My hound loves other dogs, and running with the pack is his greatest joy. But he has strong resource guarding behavior. Try to take his toy, or, God forbid, his bone, and he will defend it with his life.

        • kellyoc

          Yes! We have a pit mix and a coonhound mix, both rescues both great dogs. THe coonhound loves people and other dogs, the pit is indifferent to anybody but his canine and human family. Well-balanced, confident dogs, both. However, you can literally steal a bone from the jaws of the pit and he will willingly release it to you. Try doing that with the coonhound, even for a used napkin he grabs off the dinner table, and your hand will be bit. That’s the difference between them. It’s instinctual and natural for the coonhound to hold onto what’s his. Not so with the pit.

      • Holly

        Hmm, dogs were used in war/battle prior to WWII, and they weren’t pit bulls.

      • Doug

        “here’s one example that happened to me, so you’re wrong”

    • trish

      a question. if, indeed, it is genetics, could breeders do a better job of who is bred to who??????/// Line breeding, in breeding, could that also lead to certain predispositions in the pup? . Thank you…………..

      • Meagan Karnes

        Yes. And responsible breeders do just that. They breed based on temperament and they screen homes to find owners that are capable. The problem is, many dogs don’t come from responsible breeders.

        • Carolyn

          Dog aggression was so strongly selected for in the foundation of any pit bull type breed that trying to breed away from it now is very hard and that is with a breeder who is trying their best to breed away from dog aggression. Most pit bulls, especially those up for adoption are from unknown backgrounds where likely no one made an effort to use dog friendly dogs or may have wanted to breed dog aggressive dogs. In addition, many pit bull breeders accept dog aggression as an integral part of the breed and do not try to breed away from it.

      • Gini Barrett

        Most of the people breeding pit bull type dogs are breeding primarily for the dog fighting industry and/or the “I want a tough, scary dog” niche. They really market the meanest pups and sell or give the sweeter ones to pet dog owners. But the dogs are from lines that have been selected for dog aggression in most cases. There are a few people breeding pit types for personality but those are not the dogs ending up in most neighborhoods.

      • Lynn

        Ah but here, we get into the spittle-flinging about how much BETTER it is to rescue than to acquire from a breeder, regardless of breeding ethics. One could find a breeder with the most rigorous set of standards in terms of health- and temperament-testing, dogs that are active in the community; work regularly with constructive outlets for their skills (e.g. weight pull, IPO, etc); a contract that protects the interests of the seller, the welfare of the puppy and protects the buyer against lemons; and will STILL be vilified because one is not “rescuing.” What I believe many people, especially first-time dog owners, really need IS a dog from a breeder with such practices and lifetime support.

        They are not prepared to tame/domesticate and then train up a feral from the streets, whether imported from Dixie, their own locale or an exotic international country.

        They are not prepared for the sudden upheaval when their dog turns out to have a chronic condition that requires such constant vigilance or maintenance, either through medical, nutritional or behavioral means. When I say “upheaval,” I mean financial, emotional and lifestyle. It is a serious quality-of-life factor for many people, and they don’t realize what a toll it takes until the examine WHY they got a dog, WHAT they are doing with it now and HOW their lives have been changed, usually for the worse–despite the “love” they feel for the dog and the companionship it provides simply by existing and living with them.

        They are not prepared for the guilt they feel when thoughts of rehoming, surrender or even euthanasia sneak into their head when “love” is not enough. After all, they took the high road and “rescued” a dog. That dog should have a “furever” home–except when it is truly the wrong home for that dog (AND OWNER’S) needs. Even after multiple bites, people still find excuses to keep their dogs alive, even if it means sequestering in a basement kenneled or literally padlocking a leash to the collar because the dog CANNOT be touched and that leash CANNOT come off (yes, I actually have seen this done–the dog’s canine teeth were pulled as well and not for the medical reasons).

        All this aside, we are still dealing with a breed that has been genetically selected in the past for drive in ways that are incompatible with many of today’s schedules and families. I KNOW there are dogs out there in the thousands that have it made for them, either through their stellar temperament/training/socialization skills or their families’ stellar abilities to keep them out of trouble through management/confinement. That is more than fine. I’m just saying that, when something happens, take not only the dog in consideration, but also the background: it is rarely the dogs from good breeders who do the biting.

        If I were someone looking to get a pit bull, especially as a first-time owner, THIS should be the source from whom to seek a future pet.

    • Ruth Hansell

      Megan, thanks for your very clear and well-written article. Mother Nature, in the form of genetics, always bats last. I’ve met some lovely pit bulls. I’ve met some Chihuahuas labs I wouldn’t get near. The difference is I might need to get a tiny little stitch from a Chi attack. I’d likely end up in an emergency room, at the very least, from a pit bull attack.
      I don’t argue with pit bull apologists. I’m not a professional trainer or any kind of expert. And in my experience, people who take passionate social positions very, very seldom change them.

    • Jamie

      I have two little bulls one female she is 2 1/2 she is the best dog anyone can ask for she is so loving and protective of her family she loves her human sister and will protect her to the end of time. She is a nanny dog we can take her to the park and she Dosent care about ducks or other dogs or any other animals she is up playing with the kids on the play ground. We were just at my nieces birthday party and we were at a park there were about 30 kids there she would go around and do a head count. There was a little girl about 15 months my dog Abby kept a extra eye on her. Her mom had gotten side tracked with other kids and the baby wondered off Abby went and really directed the little back to the party. While we have two pit bulls my male is different then my female he will let u know he is there and wants to greet everyone but because of his size and breed people are scared of him. He is alot of bark and no action. He out weighs my female by a good 30 pounds. She is no small fry at 65 pounds. My question if anyone can help me how do I get him to stop running off to greet the neahbor dog or to chase deer we live in the country. And how do I fix him chewing he will tear stuff up u find it or catch him and he knows he is in trouble how do I break him of such a nasty habit? Any advise would be welcomed.

      • Susan D.

        Pit bulls were never nanny dogs. That is a myth. Please don’t leave your children unattended with your pit bull.

        • Johnny

          Yes many pits appear to be wonderful dogs, but as we have seen in report after report, owners cannot believe it when their nice dogs suddenly attack another dog, child or adult. Maybe you will be one of the lucky ones and your dog will be be triggered to attack, but I would not play that game of Russian Roulette, and I don’t think it’s responsible for others to do so. BSL is the ONLY way we can ensure owners are responsible. Owners surely will not practice responsible practices on their own, we know this for a fact, as pitbull owners have a VERY bad reputation for not containing their dogs, for not controlling their dogs, for not stopping attacks by their dogs, and for leaving the scene of attacks and not reimbursing owners for damages!

          • Shane

            There’s very little scientific evidence to support any of your positions. Perhaps you could provide some actual data from scientific studies. Otherwise I have to assume you intentionally posted this to inflame and troll. Hi

        • Beth W.

          There is no such thing as nanny dogs – very young children should not be left alone with any dog. Dogs are dogs not humans, as the author points out “they know how to be dogs”, they do not know how to be humans. They have their own rules and older children should be taught what is acceptable behavior towards a dog before they are left alone with it – any breed. Many dog bites could be avoid with this approach alone.

        • Kate

          Susan, as a pit bull owner for over 60 years, I must disagree with you. Pit bulls were indeed at one time known as the nanny dog. They were deliberately bred by the old time “dog men” to be nonaggressive toward humans. The dog men were in the pit with their dogs as they were fighting, and any dog that bit a human was killed on the spot and never allowed to pass on that trait. The dogs would be fought on Saturday night and babysit the children the rest of the week. This is the true nature of the various breeds collectively known as pit bulls.

          They were originally bred to be an all purpose farm dog, strong enough to pull a cart, brave enough to deal with aggressive livestock, and gentle enough to be trusted around children. These are all qualities bred into them by the old time dog fighters.

          In the 1970’s, the criminal element was looking for a tough, fearless dog to guard their drugs. They chose the pit bull and deliberately bred for human aggression. Many times the dogs were psyched out on methamphetamine to create aggression and paranoia. The result is a dog with some lines tracing back to the original pit bull. It will be trustworthy around humans, accept any abuse from a child while doing nothing to harm the kid other than beating it to death with its tail. Other lines are the result of backyard breeders who want to make money, so they grab any two dogs that resemble a pit bull and breed it without regard to temperament. The dog is fine with their family, so the fact that it must be locked up whenever company comes only means that it is protecting them.

          Owning a pit bull today is a big responsibility. Centuries of dog aggression has been bred into all of them, but some dogs will never display it and happily spend their lives in multi animal homes. My own two live with a Rottweiler and three indoor only cats. Others will need to be kept as the only animal in the home.

    • Eileen

      Meaghan, your point isn’t wrong, breed does matter, but you also point out throughout the article that pitbull isn’t actually a “breed” and hat makes a difference – these dogs are mixes of so many breeds. I have an AmStaff/lab/Sheltie/Akita – yes, he has stereotypical pitbull tendencies like dog aggression in certain situations , but we also have a German shepherd and a mutt of some kind in our neighborhood who are much more leash aggressive than him and go out of their minds whenever they see our dog. I think you’re doing a major disservice to bully breeeds by making an article like this About Them – there are lots of breeds this article could talk about. People are adopting or buying labs and shepherds and chihuahuas without knowing a thing about dog behavior and that’s the problem – your point that pit bulls are strong and some are prey driven or have aggressive tendencies and people should be aware of that is valid, but it is NOT UNIQUE to their breed (whatever that is)–every dog is an individual, and they donhave the capacity to learn if owners invest the time and energy necessary.

      • Eileen

        DO have the capacity to learn.

    • Mary Schmid

      Your Wrong..on this…..

      Humans have changed Everything from the Start of time…..Everything Chained from the begining of the way things came about, with the domestication of dogs,..from wolves.

      It was the Natural Personalties of the these Wild animals, that came forth. That the process of human life forms, back then….were able to unite more easily. The Personalties. that more easily showed, a bit less fear of humans, ended up being domesticated,.,slowly but surely….
      More Amical to Humans and other wolfs..dogs like them and breeding..closer to..more of the same. On and on….. Those animals…dogs were honoured…for what they were and joined in with, …as members of those, back then society.

      The Change,, Needs to come from the beginning of What is needed…the ones who are Great Breeders who have the known . ways… suppose to stay in place. No…not going back to the caveman period…. But what was learned from what is better better breeding. The way t is now……anyone blaming genetics…making it seem like, all this had to be…

      In dogs and humans….genetics have Only changed …is because what humans have done, after the fact….as time went on…. Harming the quality of life, of all concerned…humans and animals. Instead of going back to the knowledge learned, and what really is better…..excuses are made…such as what it seems to be said, in this article. Yes, excuses are made, Towards the opposite side of things, also.

      Humans …went on to make, their own idea, of what is okay. This is what has happened in all ways in our society…..destroying all the basics of life. And what they consider. …A Good Standard of living has…is , destroying so much. It’s greed, it’s a very sick, so called intelligence…of what is the right thing to do.

      The basics of… For Christ sake…our food, isn t even real food anymore. Our society …what is considered a good standard of living…is the farest thing from it. It allows us to kill our planet, killing us all, not even so slowly any more.

      I guess this, must be why, that the best for us all, is the lowered standards that are in place, as okay…makes sense to too many…

      I think it is sick… Stop rationlizing people….go back to, commonsense and logic…

      • Meagan Karnes

        Thanks for your comments. We agree to disagree on many points. Regardless of who created this problem, it is an epidemic now that we have to deal with. We cannot go back and “un-domesticate wolves”. So the point at this stage is moot. And since people are living now longer than ever, I’m not sure our standards of living are killing us. I do believe we could stand to treat the planet better. And I do believe that we will. I also believe we can always do better. Perhaps I have a more optimistic outlook on our world because I inherently believe life, and people are good.

    • Susan D.

      First, get your facts straight. It is not the anti-pit bull movement. It is victim’s advocates who try to raise awareness of the dangers of owning a pit bull. The victim’s advocate are on the front line, dealing with the aftermath of pit bull attacks. They have seen the damage they inflict upon their victims and families, both physical and emotional. There would be no need for Victim’s advocates to raise such awareness if pit bulls would stop creating so many victims.

      • Meagan Karnes

        The anti-pit bull movement is an anti-pit bull movement, is it not? Victims or no, there is a movement to ban the pit bull breed. Am I wrong on this one?

        • Kris

          Thank you for your realistic post about the importance of genetics.

          Most victim’s advocates are for BSL, which is NOT banning.
          BSL requires spay and neuter, licences, adequate fencing, and and insurance. If the pit owners refuse to comply, then their pits would be taken away. BSL would prevent the deaths of literally millions of pit bulls, as every year over 1 million pit bulls (mostly young adults) are dumped at shelters, and approximately 900,000 are euthanized.
          Pet advocates are the greatest enemy of the breed because of their ignorance and denial of reality.

        • Susan D.

          Yes, I am afraid you are. People are not anti-pit bull . If pit bulls were not creating victims every single day in this country, (and make no mistake, they are) there would be no reason to speak out against this particular breed type at all. Clearly, this issue is much more complicated. The need for breed specific legislation is not anti-pit bull. If other breeds were doing as much damage as pit bulls are, the victim’s advocates would be pushing for stronger controls on those breeds. Unfortunately, it is pit bulls that daily cause untold horrific damage to other animals and to humans. Since 2007, pit bull types have been responsible for the deaths of over 200 Americans, half of them children, and have been responsible for the mauling of thousands of humans and the tens of thousands of other pets and livestock. It is simply too easy to label those who fight to raise awareness as anti-pit bull. They are pro victim and their goal is to save another person from the same fate. That is more pro-human than it is anti-pit bull. And to pretend that there is not a need to discuss regulations on a breed that has caused so much human suffering is not reasonable.

          • Kevin

            “Pitbulls,” which could mean a variety of dogs and mixes kill on average around 22 people a year. You are 2-3 times more likely to be struck and killed by lightning. A child is 7 times more likely to be killed by a stray bullet. Stop acting like people walk out the door and are mauled to death.

            BSL typically turns into a capture and kill. It is not a viable solution. It also punishes people who could be responsible dog owners. What needs to be done is severely fine and punish backyard breeders, arrest people if necessary, use that money to fund failing shelters, and create a “vicious” dog law that punishes people and not a breed.

            I suggest you educate yourself more on these topics.

        • Gini Barrett

          A lot of the folks talking about the need to reduce the number of pit bulls are from the rescue movement and, like me, have rescued and rehomed and/or owned pit bulls or pit bull mixes. A lot of us know animal or human victims and have started paying attention to how the pit bull lobby is changing the relationship between people and dogs overall. I have not run across anyone that is concerned about pit bulls that is not from one or both of these groups – rescuer or victim. There is no money funding the movement to increase dog and human safety. There is a lot of money funding the pit lobby.

      • Christie

        Often times, the pit bulls that engage in violence were victims themselves, Susan. You should get your facts straight – evidence does not bear out your argument.

    • Celeste

      And we need to stop being so judgmental and nasty to dog owners who are trying their best, but who need our help. We have to stop painting them as monsters and painting dogs as saints.- Um, no. Who are we going to hold reasonable when dogs kill other animals and people? Their owners. Their owners who are “trying their best”. Tell them to someone who’s been mauled, or who’s dog has been slaughtered. Judgement is not always a bad thing,it can serve as a compass to right and wrong. Because these “gladiator dogs” as Cesar Milan loves to call them, are so powerful and so very potentially dangerous, they shouldn’t be bred, period. Every single day there is another pit bull casualty. When is enough, enough?

      • Meagan Karnes

        We agree to disagree. Thanks for your comment!

      • Kris

        Having rescued 751 dogs, including pit bulls for a heartbreaking, unfortunate time, I agree that pit bulls should go extinct. Dogs are pack animals, and sick humans developed pit bulls with the the drive to kill members of their own pack. Every reputable, knowledgeable pit organization states that you should NEVER trust pit bulls u supervised with other animals, although I know of pits that killed multiple housemates with their owners present. Many pit owners have to use the Crate and Rotate system to keep their pit bulls from killIng each other. Continuing to produce an inherently dog- aggressive breed isn’t fair to pits or their countless victims every year. Pits kill from 35,000 to 50,000 other pets every year, as well as an average of 30 Americans. Pits are wonderful, until they aren’t, and it usually takes lethal force once they start to act out their breeding. Very few pit owners, especially the naive “furmommies” , have the knowledge, strength, equipment ( ie break stick) or proper fencing to contain them. I used to be for BSL, but given the denial and ignorance of pit “advocates”, I am for banning the breed entirely.

        • Celeste

          I really respect Meagan for printing opposing views. The mark of a true professional which allows for equal dialogue.

        • Kendra

          This is an extremely harsh viewpoint. I agree with Meagan 100% that genetics play a huge role in who a dog becomes, but I have met plenty of “bully breed” mixes who are great with other dogs (and own a pit mix who lives with 4 Chihuahuas and I’m not too concerned about her “turning” on them). Advocating for the extinction of an entire breed is taking an argument to an EXTREME place – I think the better argument is Meagan’s, where she is advocating for education, responsible ownership, and better matching by rescue groups and other advocates. And while I’m not involved with breeders or breeding groups, yes, responsible breeding, too.

    • Jennifer

      Genetics play a HUGE roll in the dog’s personality. The dogs we see in shelters aren’t from responsible breeders that have sat going over generations of pedigrees, health testing and physical attributes before breeding a litter. They come from people that have a male and a female and think they can just throw them together and have puppies. I do breed specific rescue with boxers and all sizes of schnauzers. Boxers are not all fun, happy loving dogs. Over 75% of boxers in rescue have same sex aggression problems. My female boxer from a mill was HORRIBLE with dogs she didn’t know. Yet I can go to the boxer nationals and see males and females all hanging out together in a relaxed setting. Why…because their breeders researched the genetics of the dogs they bred. I can go hang out in a herd of giant schnauzers being examined by a stranger in a ring. The ones we get in rescue have to be screened carefully for bit liability. Why…their genetics wasn’t researched when they were bred. Just as in people…nature vs future. In dogs it is the same. You can love a child and give them all the best money has to offer but if they inherit a genetic mental illness…they will always have that mental illness.
      Thanks for pointing out the elephant in the room.

      • Jennifer

        Nature vs nuture, stupid autocorrect.

    • K

      No, no, and no. This is so incredibly ridiculous. You clearly need to have a chat with Cesar Millan.

      For starters, aggression in dogs is generally a sign of unhappiness. I.e., not enough exercise, too much energy, no consistency…. there can be a million triggers to aggression, but breed will NEVER be one of those. You’re correct that it’s not always a result of abuse or neglect, sometimes owners just don’t realize what their pets actually need. As Millan says, “What makes any dog aggressive is how that dog is treated by humans.”

      Secondly, your “genetics” argument is moot. Your example is merely a coincidence. My example? I have a blue nose female that came to me at 6 weeks old. My mother has her 2 sisters from the same litter. My dog never barks, is never territorial, and has literally been attacked and not defended herself. Her sisters, on the other hand, are the exact opposite–they have been the ones showing aggression towards my girl, sometimes because my girl gets a bit too excited or comes in to our family home (where her sisters live). Day and night. Because that’s how they were raised: the difference between black and white! (Which also addresses your claim that the way they are raised doesn’t determine their behavior) I raised my Bella based on Cesar Milan’s guidance and seriously, ask anyone who has ever met her, she is one of the most well behaved, obedient, loving, gentle dogs I’ve ever encountered. Her sisters? They can’t leave the house for fear of misbehavior/aggression.

      What you’re saying is exactly like saying that genetics will, in fact, result in an Asian person being smarter than another race, or that an African-American is more likely to be violent. These are racist stereotypes, and it’s exactly the same with dogs.

      Furthermore, while I agree with you on the concept that socialization is NOT the only key, I disagree with your reasoning. Dogs who show aggression in social settings often react because they sense their owners’ feelings–they sense hostility/anxiety in their owner and react to that

      One of the biggest reasons for the stigma surrounding pitties is that people decide they want to “look tough” or be “protected”, so they go straight for pits, because of their BS reputation. Millan said, “Pit bulls became popular with gang members and drug dealers for security, as well as with people staging illegal dog fights. Those dogs were trained to be vicious and aggressive, and now every pit bull is seen that way.” These same folks are the ones who neglect, give up on, and teach aggression to their dogs. And because dogs are so eager to please, they do whatever it is they think their owner wants them to do. Often, unfortunately, that ends up being aggressive behavior. And then the dog or breed is blamed. Another common situation is when an owner is so worried sick that their dog will fight, that the dog senses their owner’s nervousness and anxiety and feel the need to protect or defend, reacting to the emotions of their owners.

      This is a careless article, and all you are doing is setting the “anti-pit movement” back. Maybe you should do more research and come back with facts before you make bold statements that hurt the reputation of the fur babies that some of us hold so dear. Seeing people treat my sweet-hearted, gentle giant baby like a monster is so sad, because she is so loving and literally just wants to love everyone.

      I’ve seen it a million times on The Dog Whisperer–dogs that are aggressive for no apparent reason, and most of the time it ends up being behaviors of the owners that are causing it. But never has Cesar EVER considered breed to be a determining factor. NEVER.

      And while I’m not an expert, Millan IS. He KNOWS what he’s talking about (clearly), and he would run this argument into the ground. Seriously, this is just irresponsible.

      Please, educate yourself. would be a good place to start.


      • Meagan Karnes

        You and I agree to disagree. I will not promote, support, follow or advocate Cesar Millan and his training. While I’m sure he is a wonderful person, I simply will never agree with his methods. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment.

      • Roary

        Does this sound like a safe family pet to you?

        Cesar Millan speaking out about the dangers of pit bulls:
        “Yeah, but this is a different breed…the power that comes behind the bull dog, pit bull, presa canario, the fighting breed – They have an extra boost, they can go into a zone, they don’t feel the pain anymore. … So if you are trying to create submission in a fighting breed, it’s not going to happen. They would rather die than surrender. If you add pain, it only infuriates them. To them, pain is that adrenaline rush. They are looking forward to that… they are addicted to it… That’s why they are such great fighters.”. He goes on to say: “Especially with fighting breeds, you’re going to have these explosions over and over because there’s no limits in their brain.”

        • Celeste

          No. It does not sound like a safe pet, period. Look on pet finder or go into any shelter, the vast majority of dogs are pits or pit mixes. We have an epidemic of inherently unsafe dogs out there with people and pets dying daily due to it. And I agree not to hold Cesar Milan up to some standard of excellence, I think he goes too far in this calm, submissive stuff. Unless you are a 200 lb alpha male you will never get a pit “in a mood” to be calm and submissive. Once they switch on, they’re on. Everyday, we see where the owners could not control the dog. My heart also breaks for the masses of these dogs who never asked to be born, who suffer and end up being euthanized, or worse. They are the pawns in this sick game people play. Any dog that is so very controversial, needs specialized owners and super vigilant training should not be bred. Any dog with so many owners who say “we never knew, we had him 5 years and he was a doll”. Yes, any dog can bite, some can kill, but the pit bull was bred to do so, you cannot “un train” instinct. How many pit owners can truly say they trust their dog with other dogs (that it won’t kill them?) or can have anyone over to the house without “putting the dog away” or having to watch it like a hawk? And repeat, can say HONESTLY.

      • TheGoodFight

        CESAR MILAN, celebrity dog trainer

        “Yeah, but this is a different breed…the power that comes behind bull dog, pit bull, presa canario, the fighting breed – They have an extra boost, they can go into a zone, they don’t feel the pain anymore. He is using the bulldog in him, which is way too powerful, so we have to ‘make him dog’ (I guess as in a “regular” dog) so we can actually create the limits.

        So if you are trying to create submission in a fighting breed, it’s not going to happen. They would rather die than surrender.”. If you add pain, it only infuriates them pain is that adrenaline rush, they are looking forward to that, they are addicted to it…

        That’s why they are such great fighters.” Cesar goes on to say…”Especially with fighting breeds, you’re going to have these explosions over and over because there’s no limits in their brain.”

      • Tamandra

        Hi K. Personally, I think that you clearly need to expand your dog behavior and training knowledge a tad beyond Cesar’s “way”. Someone becoming a celebrity on what is a good amount of making it up as he went along, and creating a ‘brand’, does not, in fact, make them an authority, or expert. He is not a dog behaviorist in the least. You clearly have a limited amount of knowledge on what aggression is, or is not. It’s not a bad thing, and is exploited for good in many, many ways. (Police K9s..)

        You present anecdotal “evidence” based on one personal dog, which does not make it anywhere near a “fact”. Within a litter, there can be a whole myriad of personalities. Then take into account that it’s never a good idea to have two siblings for a pet person, and creates all kinds of issues itself. What on earth could a well meaning person actually do to create a dog that has strong propensities to fight with other dogs, and fights in such a way as to dispatch the foe? Why does a pit bull type do sooooo much damage, and is so hard to interrupt when they’re aggressing? GENETICS. There is zero a person can do to actually create that, by lack of training, or exercise or discipline….They are not reacting in such a strong way simply because they somehow sense nervousness in their owner. An owner need not even be present.

        Further, I’m surprised to hear the words “furbaby” and Cesar in the same post lol. That’s one of the very things he rails against, humanizing dogs. It’s anathema to what he preaches. Dogs are dogs, and it’s naive to think they are all altruistic, loving beings that are born like Lassie. Nor should that be the example of what all dogs should be. In the right hands, aggression is a useful thing. Dog aggression is something experienced knowledgable trainers can handle just fine. But dogs like that should not be foisted on the general public, and painted as some fur baby that’s just a loving saint. They are what they are, and to deny genetic influence is ridiculous. It has nothing to do with human races and behavior. We breed herding dogs to herd, and have the traits that enhance that. We have hounds that hunt, and point, with traits accentuated and bred for. Bully breeds have had dog aggression genetically. That’s reality. The reputation is there for a reason.
        Would you like links to real dog behavior sites? Honestly, this very blog is an excellent start…

    • Kris

      Boxers are descended from the same original bull-baiting dogs that pits are. Two years ago, not far from me, a Boxer and Boxer/ Pit ripped a man off his bicycle and killed him.

    • Danielle M

      This was an interesting read for me, as I have been desperately trying to figure out how to socialize my rescue American Bulldog with other larger dogs. He was rescued at 6 years old from Miami Dade Shelter and transported to me in Mississippi a year ago and was a well behaved dog when I got him who has been a spoiled house dog ever since. He lives with an ever changing assortment of foster dogs, but I have realized I can only foster small dogs, as he has major dog aggression toward large dogs. Loves the little yappy ones though and snuggles with my senior blind poodle and plays with my Jack Russell Terrorist like they are brothers. I guess I just have to accept that he only likes small dogs and cats. We had to leave the river this weekend because people’s loose dogs kept running up in his face (he was leashed and had a pinch collar) and while he listens to my commands fairly well, if he *really* wanted to go after any of those dogs I could not stop him. Its funny how good he is with the little ones nipping all over him but he is super defensive around other big dogs. I don’t know his history but given his manners and comfortableness in the house (And my bed! ha) i do not believe he was a fighting dog as he is generally a big marshmallow. But bring a large dog near him and he turns into Cujo. He loves humans though all around. Thanks for this article, it was very helpful.

    • Jonathan

      There is no need to invoke genetics to promote your own anecdotal experiences over the anecdotal experiences of others. The core of your message is to be conservative and not push your dog into social situations to prove a point. That’s good advice for any dog owner. Trying to add weight to your argument with unsubstantiated claims about “genetics” may be well-intentioned, but just encourages more irresponsible assumptions by others.

      It would be great if more organizations published scientific studies on dog genetics and behavior. I only know of two, and both rejected the link between breed and aggression, as do the major scientific and veterinary organizations.

      The dog you discussed is one you adopted as a puppy, which means you didn’t know what to expect. What bothers me most about your advice is that there are many great senior dogs that need homes. I worry that your advice would lead people to discard a common sense evaluation of their personality in favor of prejudice, because a trainer on the internet said they were genetically aggressive. You have no basis for this claim – or at least, you have an anecdotal one, not a scientific one as you’re suggesting. Please be more careful.

      • Elizabeth

        Jonathan, interesting outlook. I was excited about this article because it is a hunch I have always had: so often people say that it’s all in the way we raise them, but genetics must play a role, as they do in all of biology. However, I was hoping that the article would eventually move past simply acknowledging that genetics play a large role, and move into specifically *how* they play a role, and how to fix it. I would definitely have loved to be directed to some peer-reviewed scientific resources to learn more (although, unless one is part of a university, most people don’t have access to much of the science out there). Google Scholar is helpful, but many articles don’t show up or cannot be accessed without a description to the journal. Still, articles written by veterinarian researchers who do have access to those articles could certainly yield at least some citations that could be relayed. Anyway, Meagan, I was very interested in this article and I want to learn more. DNA is the blueprint for every biological characteristic – even behavior that has been learned after birth. Do you have resources that you could direct us to that go into this in more depth? Thanks!

        • Elizabeth

          Here are the results of a quick search in Google Scholar (I haven’t read any of the papers yet):

          • Elizabeth

            Ok sorry, last post! I skimmed one of the papers (Duffy et al. 2008), and here is an excerpt from the conclusion, which aligns well with what Meagan wrote in her article:

            “Differences between lines of distinct breeding stock indicate that the propensity toward aggressive behavior is at least partially rooted in genetics, although substantial within-breed variation suggests that other factors (developmental, environmental) play a major part in determining whether aggressive behavior is expressed in the phenotype. “

    • Georgine Burke

      First let me say that I respect your involvement with bully breeds and agree about the role of genetics. Unfortunately, articles such as this one feed BSL hysteria – one comment even suggests that BSL saves lives of pits! There are pit rescue organizations who carefully screen for adoptability and should be promoted. Their work is challenged by the common narrative that pit=aggression. Many good dogs are killed because of this prejudice.

    • Gini Barrett

      Thank you, thank you. Wise words like this help to save lives. Bring sanity back to dog choices.

      • Gini Barrett

        One additional note, however. We should ALL support breed specific legislation. Most BSLs regulate the ownership of pit bull types dogs and are not bans. Most require licensing or special registration, mandatory spay-neuter and adequate containment (no chaining). Some require muzzling if taken off the owner’s property. Some require liability insurance. The communities that have bans OR regulated ownership are the only communities that have successfully reduced the abandonment of pit bull type dogs or the numbers of them who die in shelters. These laws cause dog owners to consider their choice when they first get their dog and help a lot of folks who are not up to the task consider a different choice. Spaying and neutering causes some of those who want to own them for the wrong reasons, such as breeding and/or having “tough” dogs, to reconsider or go elsewhere. It is important to support breed specific legislation because these public safety problems ARE breed specific.

        • Tamandra

          BSL actually mostly hurts good, responsible owners. There’s far to many pit bull looking dogs for it to be anywhere near fair. People will always find a way to do what they want. But I do think it should be hard for back yard breeding to persist. Speutering laws hurt responsible owners, too. Not very likely to be a deterrent.

          • Johnny

            False, responsible owners should want BSL, because they should have nothing to fear! It’s the backyard breeders, irresponsible owners, dogfighters and gangbangers who will be affeacted by BSL!!

    • Cat Sharp

      Susan- Tomato/tomahto- the “victim awareness” IS ANTI pit bull. These folks regularly post how to kill this breed, I have seen your peers discuss poisoning, stabbing, shooting and more of neighborhood pets. I have seen you all celebrate when an autistic child had her service dog taken away. Many of these nut jobs are proponents of walking around with weapons to “protect” yourselves. I have read NUMEROUS reports in detail about passing a “pit bull” on the street that looked at them “funny” (those are my favorites by you guys-8 paragraphs that can be summarized by this statement “nothing happened, but I hate pit bulls so I will pretend it was a ‘close call'”.)

      All of that is ridiculous, HOWEVER I call massive BS on the “victim advocate” claim. Specifically because of how you all attack and stalk ACTUAL victims when they refuse to drink the “all blocky headed dogs should die” kool-aid. You want anyone arrested and jailed over a tragedy yet forgive your own members who were directly involved (by their own negligence) in the death of a child. You attack people, name call, stalk, post false propaganda and slander folks regularly. However, when people get tired of your BS and call you out, you all fall back on the “victim” card.

      You have several prominent and active members who discuss “public safety/children safety” who have one or more DUIs on their records!!! Ooohh the irony, someone with a dui having the audacity to preach about the safety of children..

      So no Susan, you and your merry band of felons and misfits ARE NOT victim advocates. You are a group of dog hating sociopaths led by a psychic, a DJ and a pony tailed charlatan who have found an outlet for your vitriol and comfort in the company of other deviants.

    • Carol S.

      People have argued nature vs nurture back and forth.
      Genetics loads the gun…..environment pulls the trigger is a common saying in the research of things genetic and how they express themselves.

    • Meals on Wheels

      “It’s all how you raise ’em”
      Is the first thing that’s said,
      When someone is injured
      Or someone is dead.

      “It’s all how you raise ’em”,
      The rose-glass wearers say,
      “To carnage and death,
      Let us turn away.”

      “It’s all how you raise ’em
      We believe in redemption,
      We’re politically savvy,
      And we need attention.”

      “It’s all how you raise ’em”,
      Let’s print it in Red,
      Let’s hose off the streets
      Where the last victim bled.

      Don’t tell us your story,
      Just look at MY pup.
      “It’s all how you raise ’em
      So shut the f**k up.”

      “It’s all how you raise ’em”
      With deep piety,
      Chant the sanctimonious
      With their dog deity.

      “It’s all how you raise ’em”
      The more that it’s said,
      Equates to the increasing numbers
      Of injured and dead.

      “It’s all how you raise ’em”
      Until that grim day,
      When you too,
      Get caught in a pit bull melee.

      “It’s all how you raise ’em”
      That’s what you’ll say.
      It’s just a freak accident,
      Not D.N.A.

      “Don’t think bad of pit bulls”
      Is what Mom said instead,
      Oh how he love both those dogs.”
      Now he’s dead.
      “It’s all how you raise ’em”,
      ‘Till the mantra is broken.
      It’s one of the bloodiest phrases e’er spoken.

      People who favor BSL are not “pit bull haters”, they are likely victims. The numbers are talking, if pit bull advocates really wanted change, they need to change the mantras, half truths and all out lies they tell that set up well meaning people to fail with these dogs, and the dogs are suffering as well.

      • Bec

        I agree with you and appreciate the poem. When you are a victim, your view changes.

        You cannot solve a problem if you cannot define and use the known variables.

        Those like this author and terrierman are what the pit bull needs.

        I am for BSL, as stated, not necessarily banning, because from the comments here, there are those that still insist on the anecdotal evidence, or statistical cherry picking (deaths only, not permanent injury or animal deaths) to argue a dog is a dog irregardless of inheritable traits. The brute force method of making all owners good might be needed.

    • CMP

      Why does anyone want to save a beast bred by people to kill? Pit bulls are not natural, endangered animals needing protection from people… people, pets and livestock need protection from pit bulls. With so many other breeds to choose from, why play Russian Roulette with innocent lives?

    • Linda Solano

      I loved this article..never understand why humans do not research their dogs background..the grouping of dogs also groups those dogs basic behavior tendencies. I think the term genetics is being used in two different contexts. Genetics within a breed and genetic or background tendency of the type of breed are different. I think breeders that love a breed look for those qualities within the breed to breed but if you do not accept that a whippet will likely chase and a malinois will likely guard you are setting yourself up for heartbreak. I love Kerry blue terriers but my personality is more easy going and I never wanted to own one. My whippet says “oh she let it slide today but she really means no”. The terrier says ” I win she said no one hundred times but she said yes today so I win and she never meant no”. I think the hardest are the mixes that no one knows the background and you have to be prepared to deal with what you get.
      Keep writing if only a few people listen you have saved a few dogs..

    • Christie

      While there maybe some important points in here where are your sources? This is all anecdotal and many trainers and behaviorists disagree with you.

      • Meagan Karnes

        Thanks for your comment. Some disagree, some agree. It seems to be a very line in the sand topic. My blog, as most are, is centered on my direct experience, study, and opinion. And I don’t expect everyone to agree.

        • Christie

          Meagan, as you can see, You brought out a lot of BSL supporters and the anti-pitbull movement with this post and looking through your replies to them, it doesn’t seem you wanted to support BSL and anti-pit movements. It’s so disappointing to me when people who know and like “pit bull type” dogs and are educated in training and dog behavior aren’t careful in how they present their arguments. Because of the lack of thoughtfulness in your post, you have damaged your credibility with me and the rescues I work with. This is what I wrote where your post appeared elsewhere:

          “While I agree that dog breed should never be mislabeled to move them out of a facility (this only leads to more people rehoming and surrendering) and I agree that breed can predict and set the stage for some kinds of behavior I do not agree that:
          1. Pit bull is a breed. It’s not. And honestly, in this post, when she refers to physical characteristics of a dog as a proxy for breed it comes dangerously close to how BSL laws are implemented.
          2. That Staffordshire, Terrier, and bully-type breeds fit or even tend to fit the profile characterized in this post. And how could they? This author has discounted that most “pit bull type” (yes, I’m including scare quotes because it’s not a breed!) dogs are a mix of many breeds. Therefore, going back to “breed can set the stage for some behavior,” those dogs are going to be predisposed to lots of different behaviors because of their unique mix.
          3. Most of all – all that’s offered here are anecdotes and one-offs. No research.

          I’d be more inclined to consider how recognizing breed traits can help more dogs if the author had:
          * Not veered into language that sounds an awful lot like how BSLs target “pit bull type
          *had had a more nuanced account of how pit bull isn’t a breed and how mixes may then have lots of breed-type behaviors and predispositions
          *Had convinced us with real research
          *had offered up what she thinks CAN help “pit bull type” dogs image and outcomes.

          Since this does go against a lot of going wisdom from other trainers, behaviorists, and research, author needs to make a better case to get me to listen but until then, has damaged her credibility with me.”

          I appreciate that you have what you consider extensive direct experience but even training hundreds of dogs is not the same as the kinds of research that you’re ignoring. Someday perhaps we’ll meet and have tea and come to an understanding but as of today, you really let me down in how you presented this argument – sloppy writing and argumentation to rush to a point and stir things up. Very sad for me.

          • Meagan Karnes

            I apologize that you did not care for my argument. We agree to disagree on many points. I appreciate your thoughtful post and, while we disagree, I appreciate your perspective.

            • Christie

              It’s kind of offensive that “agree to disagree” is all over your replies – it speaks of “I’m wright and you’re wrong but I’ll let you be wrong.” It’s very condescending. I appreciate that you’ve brought out lots of advocates for the myriad different sides of this argument, which as you say, is a “line in the sand” topic (except, there aren’t two sides. There seem to be about a dozen just represented in your comments- pro-Cesar, anti-Cesar, pro BSL, anti BSL, ani-Pit bull, pro-breeding, anti-breeding, etc.) and are now trying to wade through that but if you really thought my perspective was valid or worthy of interest, you’d have a real conversation about it.

              In the meantime, please know you now appear to be either a misguided advocate or anti-pit. Worst of all, hastily writing about breed without carefully acknowledging what constitutes a real breed vs. a perceived one makes you seem ignorant instead of an informed source. This is why I say you really let me and other advocates down.

            • Meagan Karnes

              Sorry you feel that way. Agree to disagree is not meant to be “offensive” in any way. It’s meant to say, I appreciate your position, but I have a different one. It’s not meant to say one is “right” and the other is “wrong”. That’s reading between the lines.

            • Tamandra

              BSL people come out of the woodwork on ANYthing related to pit bull posts and stories. I have NEVER seen one that hasn’t gotten all kinds of opinions. It’s presumptuous to say the article was “hastily” written. There’s obviously many viewpoints on this, as you stated, and this is just one of them. So you’re sad because it doesn’t aline with yours?

            • Johnny

              IT’s not targeting a breed, it’s actually for the benefit of the breed! Nutters are only harming the breed, by not regulating the over breeding and irresponsible ownership!!

          • Johnny

            Rescues, the ASPCA, the Veterinary societies, they have no credibility they have sold out to the almighty dollar and pressure from the pit lobby!

            So no the authors credibility is not shaken at all!!

            ASPCA and Human Society not protecting us:

    • Crystal

      This is not something people talk about enough at any of the dog training stuff I’ve attended. I’ve seen it first hand too and totally agree! I do training at the kennel I got my GSD from. One of the guys there has a dog that can be very reactive towards other dogs. I know it’s genetics because his sister and brother have both been to the same class at some point in time, raised by completely different families, and they’ve all reacted the exact same way. When the dog is with his owner away from the rest of the dogs he’s great and completely focused. I know this guy works tirelessly on his dog, and he always talks about what he does at home to make progress.

      So great article! I definitely beat myself up a lot over my own dog’s training trying to figure out what I’m doing wrong, and it gets me thinking about how much his genetics factor into his progress.

    • Fred Hassen

      Good article!

    • Miranda

      Everything you wrote is spot on. GREAT article!

    • Kate G.

      Enjoyed your article and agreed with 99% of your points. I have had a number of shelter pit bulls, or pit mixes, mostly because the area in which I live sadly has, at all times, about 75% of available dogs with pit in their bloodlines. My current dog is a deaf pit bull, and she is definitely dog aggressive. It’s manageable but takes a lot of work, and yes, I have spent literally thousands of dollars on various dog trainers. She goes for frequent hikes, nightly walks, etc., but she is NEVER off leash, and it is rare that we formally introduce her to another dog; her first instinct is to always demonstrate dominance, particularly with female dogs. Her BFF, an elderly and placid male golden retriever (he was 10 when she came to us at 6 months old), died a few months ago at the ripe old age of 15 and a half, asleep in his favorite bed. He was perfectly happy being the submissive pack member and they played and lived together well. I have a question for you as well as a comment; firstly, do you think it’s possible to introduce a new golden retriever or goldendoodle male puppy to a dog aggressive female pit bull; and secondly, you are spot on about genetics playing a large part of the pit bull’s propensity for dog aggression. They are truly wonderful dogs; my pit’s sheer intelligence level is at Stephen Hawking level compared to our poor loveable sweet golden; and their loyalty and protectiveness are unparalleled. Pit bulls are well worth the effort!

    • Adriane

      Thank you for this article, my bf has a husky and he (the husky) is very driven. I think it’s because he’s genetically a working dog so doesn’t feel right unless he’s doing something. He pulls something awful during walks and is very vocal. He’s a very loving dog but can bite when excited. Because of this we’re really cautious with him around children and won’t let him near small dogs at all because his form of play could be very dangerous to them. He isn’t dog or people aggressive at all, he’s just big and rambunctious and doesn’t know himself all the time so it is our responsibility to know him and make sure we don’t put him in situations where harm could come to him or a smaller creature he wanted to play with. Its important that people really get to know their dogs and make sure that they care for them in a way that is safe for others.

    • Kim

      I can see both sides of this argument. I had Staffordshire terriers and worked in a show kennel for someone who was one of the long-time AmStaff breeders. His take? Pit bulls are not the same now as they used to be, and I agree with him. It used to be that in the dog-fighting ring, if a dog was human-aggressive, it was immediately put down, no questions asked. So you got dogs that were, in fact, family pets during the week and fighters on the nights and weekends that there were fights. When we lived in Oklahoma (back in the ’80’s), we knew one of these dogs. I laughed so hard at him one day hiding under the car from the kids who wanted to put a dress on him and pull him in their wagon. But he was obviously a fighting dog (digression: we didn’t report the owners because we had no proof that this dog was still fighting; in fact, they told us he was given to them as a retiree). Let’s not sugarcoat that any more, either: these dogs were fighters. They fought. They were bred to fight other dogs (and animals, back in the bad old days). In my experience, even if they were brought up with other dogs, they would get along with other dogs. Until one day, they didn’t.

      I’m not in the breed any more for a variety of reasons (most of which are because I’m old), but I still understand the need to be careful of your dog around other dogs. At that time, I also understood that I’d have to take my dog and stand away from everybody else at ringside while waiting for our class to be called. I understood that these dogs were not dogs to play in large groups after they grew out of being little puppies. Genetics do, in fact, play a very large part in their makeup.

      Also? For years, now, people haven’t bred these dogs carefully. The gangbangers got hold of them, and they liked the maximum aggression. So they encouraged it and now we have dogs that are human-and-animal aggressive. Cesar Millan didn’t do them any favors, either; you can’t tell me he hasn’t had fights at his place, no matter how much he denies it. If these dogs want to fight, they will. People need to come to grips with that. They need to learn what they’re getting into with this wonderful breed. Unfortunately, too many people don’t do the research and go into bully-breed ownership with stars in their eyes, thinking that they can change the doggie into something resembling the average lab’s temperament. Sorry, won’t happen.

    • Deirdre Doyle

      Why do people have such issues with breed specific behaviors and the idea behaviors are inherited? Do terriers dig? Do bloodhounds follow their noses? Do Retrievers fetch everything in sight? Do border collies stalk and stare? Yes, all dogs exhibit some of these behaviors to some extent, but the prevalence and intensity is breed or breed type specific. Pit bulls fight. Not all, but many, and often out of no where. As a breeder ( of golden retrievers) I pay strict attention to temperament, and select for the sweet, empathetic, mild nature that I believe is emblematic of my breed. After twenty-five years, I have seen that even quirky, “individual” behaviors are genetic in origin. You can manage behaviors and through conditioning and training maybe mask temperament, but you cannot change it.

      • Johnny

        But wait, I heard labs attack more than pitbulls, hahaha. At the park walking my poodle terrier mix, we met a golden and she lay down on all fours so to meet my dog and not scare it! My dog was still apprehensive and so did not sniff noses, but have you ever seen a pitbull do that? No, in a few cases I have come in contact with them, (pitbull or lab/pit mix) they charge toward your dog and start circling even after you pick up your dog. The lab/pit mix went straight around the back of my dog and banged his rear end. This is NOT normal dog behviour, but it seems normal in pits!! They do not greet normally, and are not afraid of an owner!!

    • Jami

      100 % Factual! I’ve been a professional dog trainer for decades. I’ve been saying the same thing for just about as long. It’s not popular, it’s not trendy, it’s not all hearts and flowers but it’s TRUE. Thank you for the article, I am sharing it far and wide.

      • Johnny

        Thank you for standing up to the irrational and immoral pit lobby! The ASPCA, shelters, and veterinary societies have all sold out to the almighty dollar and the pressure from the pit lobby! We have to speak up to ensure the safety of us all!

    • Ellen Querner

      Thank you for this article. Genetics can also be seen in other breeds. Herding dogs are genetically predisposed to herd other animals…even children. They are not taught to herd, they are taught to learn how to herd properly and listen to their owner. Bird dogs are instinctively bred to hunt. They are tested on their abilities as young puppies. Humans just take that ability and fine tune it. Some puppies from each litter are better at their genetic predisposition than others. So you can have a pup from a litter that will not herd well, or hunt well.

      The problem with the pit bull dogs (and there are so many variations to this type of dog) is that they were the dog of choice for dog fighters and for so many years, the only dogs that were bred were those that displayed the most aggression in the fighting ring. Those that didn’t, either lost the fight and died or were killed by the owners as they had no value. I have been around for some time and I will tell you that I have seen a difference in the pit bull dogs. I am seeing more gentle and not so aggressive dogs, but I always say that you don’t know what you have till sometimes too late. A cute sweet young dog can turn the minute it matures. I have been involved in prosecutions of dog fighters. I have help confiscate dogs from fighters. One case involved several people and over a hundred dogs. We took young pups into custody and placed them in foster homes while the cases went to court. The cases lasted about 8 months and during that time we saw changes in our young dogs. Dogs that were placed in shelters or homes changed as they matured. One shelter almost lost their mascot dog when one of the pups who was friendly all of a sudden turned on the mascot dog. That same shelter had two brothers that were housed side by side and regularly played together. One day they stopped being friendly with each other and were bound and determined to kill each other. One of the puppies was adopted by her foster mom, who was an animal control officer. She had two Chihuahuas that helped raise the puppy from about 8 weeks of age. I always told her to be careful as she might turn on the other dogs. My friend said that would never happen as Tyler loved them and was always submissive to them…….till the day 3 yrs later when she came home and Tyler had killed them both.

      I run a low cost spay/neuter clinic for low income households and we regularly see pits come in with fight wounds on them. The owners are concerned as all of the sudden they have started fighting and think that getting them altered will help. I tell them they need to choose the one they want to keep and find another home for the other…as it probably won’t stop.

      You have nailed it right on. Genetics does play a huge role in a dogs temperament. It is funny when people meet a shy dog, they assume it was mistreated by a person and that is why it is that way. Not necessarily so, if you look at a litter of pups you might see that shy dog from the very beginning, not because it was mistreated, but because it was born that way. You can help it overcome the shyness in many cases by teaching it to be “brave”, but many are not shy or afraid of men because they were treated badly by a man…just that it is their predisposition from birth.

      What I see as a crime is that pit bull rescues are so bound and determined that there is no such thing as a mean pit bull only bad owners that they take pits that are aggressive, give it training and hand them off to unsuspecting owners. A pit rescue should never take a pit that shows any aggression to another animal or a human, there are too many out there to save. Do the testing, put the energy and money into those that are docile and sweet, that above all will help. There have been rescues local to our area that have taken dogs in that later attacked other dogs or people. They will take the pit that will lunge aggressively at the front of the cage when a person walks by. they spend time feeding it treats, then show how friendly the dog is to them. They hide the nature of that dog and place them in unsuspecting homes when they say it has been trained and is a sweet heart now.

      Again, thank you for this article. I don’t think the pit rescues in our area would agree with it though.

      • Johnny

        Shelters and the pit bull lobby and dog organizations (ASPCA, Humane Society) are all in this for the money, they DON’T CARE ABOUT OUR SAFETY!

    • Daniell

      The problem with all of these posts and the article is that “pitbull” is a misnomer. What makes a pitbull? I have 3. All labeled pitbull. None over them look anything alike. Honestly none of them have more than 2 similar traits of any of the dogs in this articles photos. 25 years ago my dogs would have just been called “mutts”. The bulliest of my 3, Ellie, that I would say most closely resembles the typical pitbull weighs just 45lbs and is the most animal friendly of the bunch. I call her a dogs dog. She prefers the company of the other dogs over us humans. My dogs are calm, lazy and happy. I selected them because of their demeanor. They live with my 4th dog, a 10 lb mutt. Do I have any illusions about my dogs? No. Introduce a higher energy dog into the mix and their dynamic changes. We work with them on training. My yard is secure. I don’t leave them alone outside. They are secured inside when I leave my home. They wear collars. We do not go to dog parks. So what makes any of them a pitbull? It is simply a word that a 24 year old shelter worker with no breed knowledge slapped on to their intake notes. What makes them a concern for anyone? What about my dogs says they should be eliminated? This is the problem. No matter physical characteristics you pick to weed out this “breed”, a lot of good dogs that don’t portray any behavior issues get caught up in that.

      In another home might my dogs behave differently? Possibly.
      Should just anyone own a large and powerful dog? No.
      Should people be realistic about their lifestyle and what type of dog they are choosing? Absolutely.
      Should anyone be “breeding pitbulls”? NO
      Do genetics make for bad dogs sometimes? YES
      But we do need to stop with the generic misnomers. It’s dangerous and harmful to the majority which are decent family animals.

      The guy that was walking his 3, very bully, dogs that was referred to in this article is irresponsible. He clearly could not control those dogs. He did not adequately prepare himself and think about all the possible situations. He had no business walking those dogs together. That situation is avoidable and is his fault.

    • Jane Wentzell

      A thoughtful narrative. I cringe when ,in public places, the Pitt Bull is allowed off lead with not so much as a collar on, while other dogs are on lead. Seems some owners want to flaunt the genetic factor.
      it’s science.

    • Reason

      Great article, but when you have half of pit bull advocates lying about pit bulls claiming they’re nanny dogs good for children and not dog aggressive, and the other half denying pit bulls are pit bulls at all, instead calling them “terrier mix” or anything other than pit bull, I’m afraid banning is the only solution.

    • Julie

      Go online to any of the metro shelters and it’s mostly made up of pit bull type-dogs. Anyone who does not support mandatory sterilization with so many pit bulls being euthanized in shelters does not care about pit bulls, just their own selfish desire to own one. Pit bulls have a 20% spay/neuter rate — while the rest of dogs have a 70% rate. That is partly why mandatory pit bull sterilization laws are so needed. Free sterilization of pit bulls isn’t doing it either. A $1500 ” litter tax” per litter would stop the greediness.  

      The second illusion is the notion that shelters can adopt their way out of the pit bull influx — which didn’t work with any other breed, either, until spay/neuter drastically reduced the intakes.
      I will never understand why pit bull activists have a hard time with spay & neuter out of existence. The world does not need pit bulls, their primary purpose is a felony in all 50 states.  Dog breeds are man-made bred for certain genetic traits and characteristics for certain jobs to serve humans and considered property by law.   We can stop breeding whatever breed we want to. Many breeds go extinct

      I was misled for many years about the many myths about pit bull type-dogs making safe family pets and it’s all how you raise pit bulls.

      I come from the animal rescue community. I have fostered many animals and a few pit bull type-dogs found as strays. All my pets have been rescued. I can’t in good conscience recommend any dog that resembles a pit bull type-dog to a family as a safe family pet because of unethical breeding practices, dangerous breed traits and genetics.

      Families absolutely should not adopt a dog that resembles a pit bull type-dog with an unknown breeding history and with unknowns about how the dog was raised. Shelter and rescue systems are asking people to play Russian Roulette with their pet choices.

      I have been following dangerous dog attacks for three years. I’m in a support group with some of these families. All these families were blind-sided by a horrific pit bull attack. All these killer pit bulls were house dogs and considered members of the family. None of these dogs were trained to fight. Pit type dogs are hardwired to maul and kill without warning, it is a part of the genetic code like border collies herd, labs swim, goldens retrieve, pointers point, and bloodhounds track.

      The light bulb really went off for me when I heard about all pit bull owners should own a break-stick.

      This person demonstrates how to use a break stick on a pit-bull:

      • Johnny

        YEs it’s all about making money, the veterinary societies, the ASPCA, Shelters, they are all putting everyone at risk by promoting pitbulls all for the almighty dollar!!

    • Suz

      I appreciate the honesty, even when one-sided. I always find it interesting how people can support inherently dangerous dog breeds and simply gloss over, or not even mention, the tens of thousands of victims and survivors of egregious maulings from them. I don’t believe having tens of thousands of forever dead or maimed people, pets, livestock and wildlife is worth the risk for a few decent, and even at that, still potentially dangerous, dogs. When does the risk and liability outweigh someone’s desire for a specific breed of dog? And, dear God, why would you want to bring that upon yourself? I had a pit mix, never ever again. Lesson learned. All set. With hundreds of breeds to choose from, I’ll take one I can enjoy and not be in constant high alert over. It’s just not worth the risk… smh…

    • Steve

      I have been preaching this message for many years as a “bulldog” fan from way back as well as a long time dogsport/ protection dog trainer. I appreciate your willingness to face the sometimes ridiculous and uninformed responses you get, you have far more patience than I, I applaud your ability to deal with them so tactfully, Thank you.
      —— Steve

    • Tommy

      I loved your article, that said I ended up with an almost all black w/ white on a couple of toes, and white chest, Amstaff mix, he was about five months old when we got him, the only history I had gotten about him was, he was found on the streets of the Bronx.
      Needless to say, he is a sweet boy always looking to please, and play. As soon as I could we were heading for the dog parks around my area, in Westchester Co. where he was very friendly and playful with most dogs, and not so keen on some other dogs, Huskies, and German Shepherds, in particular were not his favorite.
      As long as there was plenty of stimulus, and other dogs around, trouble was easily averted.
      I knew from my own research on his breed, and dogs in general that socialization could help with raising a dog with balanced behavior.
      But as he has gotten older, he still hates Huskies and bigger dogs, we have learned that the freewheeling runs at the dog parks, are not worth, the chance of a dog fight, and one on one meet and greets with the neighborhood dogs is the best socialization for my boy.
      His dog aggression is mostly toward other male dogs, but he will always behave well around an older female, and he loves small dogs, especially if they act stable, and assured.
      I used to let him off the leash in the woods near my house, until running into herds of deer crossing our path, where nothing happened except for the look of astonishment on my dog’s face, and his wanting to investigate closer, in which I knew would have been a bad idea.
      Thanks again for your positive insight, and I do believe these dogs need a strong positive pack leader, and that care should always be taken when other dogs are around.
      Just say’n

    • Tommy

      I think a big part of the problem is all the “experts”. The phrase “I’ve had dogs all my life.” Doesn’t certify people as dog experts. It makes them dog owners. I’ve had my body my entire life….. but I still have a doctor. I think dismissing professional advice is naive. Thank you for your article. Our dog is a mix lab and shepard (bless her poor confused heart). It would be easy to label her “bad” or “good” but the truth is she’s just her but those two conflicting breeds are sooooooo very evident.

    • Maria Cicero

      I agree with many of the ideas in this article except one, you’re basing this on genetics. I’m sorry but that’s just wrong. All terriers are bred with a prey drive, that’s not aggression. Aggression is an individual trait, you cannot generalize aggression as a breed trait. Every dog is an individual and therefore should be dealt with as such. You’re not doing pit bull type dogs a service by saying aggression was bred into them. It clouds the issue and promotes BSL, even though you may not mean to. I do believe that the physical strength bred into pit bull type dogs creates an unsafe situation for owners that do not understand or respect this strength.

      That being said, I completely agree with some of your solutions. Mainly, education for people who would like to own pit bull type dogs or mastiffs, Rottweilers, GSD, Dobermans, etc. It should be mandatory since it’s obvious that so many owners do not know how to handle their dogs. I don’t mean just training, I mean learning how to manage their strength so that you can maintain control and the safety of others. Only through education can we actually ensure public safety.

    • Jennifer

      Great article! I experienced this revelation (genetics being the biggest/a huge factor in a dog’s temperament) in 2001, when we received a 10 week old terrified of everything foster dog. No amount of love or positive training was going to “fix” his nature. Sure, we trained hard and he eventually participated in agility and herding trials, but underneath was always that fearful dog….

      When it comes to “pit bulls”, I liken them to Jack Russell Terriers…on steroids. While they may not be as hyper, they have that tenacious terrier drive…they can be fantastic to train as sport dogs, but they can also be a huge disaster for the average pet owner who doesn’t understand prey drive. It’s one thing to try and pull off a 17 pound dog from its quarry, it’s entirely different dealing with a 70 pound terrier in drive.

      We had a terrific pit bull who was amazing. Competed in several dog sports, and was one of the most friendly dogs you’d ever meet to people and other dogs…but, he was also extremely drivey, and killed more cats, chickens and rats/mice than most dogs see in a lifetime. He wasn’t a bad or mean or even aggressive dog. He was intensely prey driven. It was him down to his genetics…his DNA…

      Anyway, my favorite quote of the article: “like Malinois aren’t “Collie Mixes.” ” Made me laugh out loud. So using that in the future! 🙂 Totally going to tell my hubby I want a “collie mix”!

    • Kris

      It’s quite frankly crap that anyone is trying to act as though BSL isn’t banning, and that it doesn’t kill dogs. It kills dogs. It’s banning. Grandfathering certain dogs is all well and great, but that leaves thousands of perfectly well adjusted, non aggressive dogs in shelters to be euthanized. BSL won’t save ANY dogs, it will just kill the ones filtering into shelters as BSL stops their adoption.

      I am not delusional, I realize there *are* aggressive pit bulls. But I am tired of people not evaluating and considering every individual dog. My personal opinion is that, as much as it pains me, dogs who do not pass their temperament evaluations with flying colors at shelters should be euthanized. I’m saying that as an owner of two rescues – one is a non dog aggressive, non human aggressive bully type dog (probably mostly saffie) and a reactive, fear aggressive herding breed. I’m not using my two as an example that ALL pit bulls are good dogs, but it would be an absolute damn crime if a dog with the personality of mine did not make it out of a shelter due to his breed. As for commenters making the point that pet owners are always “shocked” that their “good” dogs suddenly “turn” on them, I have always had real sincere doubts that anyone in the situation had the wherewithal to see the warning signs that the dog was in fact reactive. BUT, someone in the chain of rescue most likely DID. There was a behaviorist of a clinic worker or a volunteer who had enough dog training knowledge to see that dog react to something, or have a small pattern of reaction, but, *and I understand the feelings to want to do this,* they brushed it off. Or gave him a little better score than they should of. Or just put “adults only” or “likes to be the only pet” in the description instead of admitting to themselves that this dog was a danger. It hurts me to even type that, but in order to save the THOUSANDS of rescue pit bulls that do nothing in their entire lives other than love everyone, we need to be more realistic with the outcomes of the dogs that don’t have a place in the average home. Sure, *some* of them could land in the very very controlled breed knowledgeable home they require as a strong reactive dog, but the ones that don’t unfortunately really can’t keep being brushed off as “likes a quiet home” or any of the other low key tells in rescue adds.

    • Sarah

      Another great article, Meaghan. Thank you for being brave enough to say it.

      I’ve felt for a long time that the Pittie’s worst enemy is a certain type of advocate. I think much of the problem is that they tend to be “rescue” people, and as such, many of them are anti-breeder and anti-breeding. Because of this, these advocates don’t take the time to learn about breeding. This is unfortunate because they then have no understanding of the genetics of behaviour and how this affects the breed they claim to love.

      Regardless of whether or not the AKC recognizes them, Pit Bulls are a breed by every definition. Yes, there are a lot of crosses around – there are a lot of crosses with every breed. That does not mean the purebreds do not exist and pass on their traits to the crossbred descendants.

      1) Pit Bull Terriers have a distinctive appearance and behaviours created through human selection for and against certain genetic traits, both physical and behavioural. The fact that the physical appearance has some variability is related to the fact that they are working, rather than show, animals, and working dog people tolerate greater variety in appearance. To say this variability means these dogs are not a breed is a misunderstanding. Also, it is even more difficult to select for behaviours than it is for physical characteristics. Working dog breeders will attest to the high number of “washouts” that do not meet their requirements. To say that since the behaviour is not present in all the dogs, the behaviour is not a characteristic of the breed, is also a misunderstanding of how things work.

      2) If you put two Pit Bulls together to make baby Pit Bulls, the puppies come true.

      3) They have been recognized as a breed with a breed standard by a perfectly respectable kennel club, the United Kennel Club, since 1898. The UKC is primarily a working dog registry and was founded by a gentleman who was annoyed that the AKC refused to recognize his dog’s breed: the Pit Bull Terrier.

      There is most definitely evidence that there is a genetic component to behaviour, and specifically aggression. Studies have been done on Malinois and have found an association between dopamine transporter genes and undesirable aggression (e.g. handler-directed aggression) in this breed:

      The studies listed at the bottom of the above page are open-access and you can read them in their entirety if you copy and paste the titles into Google.

      More advocates need to accept the dogs they claim to love for what they are. They are not “just like any other dog” any more or less than a Malinois is just like a Labrador or a Beagle is just like a Jack Russell Terrier. It is not “all how you raise them”, with Pitties or any other kind of dog. Genetics affect behaviour and they matter. I don’t believe you can “socialize” the predatory behaviour required for dog fighting out of a dog any more than you can “socialize” the predatory behaviour required for herding out of a sheepdog or for retrieving out of a Labrador. Advocates need to accept the dogs they love for what they are, a breed with both positive and problematic behaviours, and stop pushing propaganda that leads people into putting their dogs into dangerous situations in order to prove a flawed point.

    • Sarah

      Oops – I should have written “Meagan”. Apologies for the misspelling.

    • Paula

      Just my non expert opinion. From the point of view of the Pit Bull (or Bully breeds if you will) aggression is not a fault. It is at times part its survival package and at other times necessary for the work it does. A hog dog that can not safely hold a feral boar will get severely injured even killed. One that can not keep cattle moving risks getting kicked or even gored. By the way not all good dogs make good pets.

      This is not to discount the tragedy of attacks but to point out that these dogs are not aggressive because they are inherently evil. That view results in either calls for bans or perhaps even worse a naive belief that all it takes to change a dog’s behavior is the love of a pure owner. The romancing the Pit Bull theme.

    • Lisa

      Thank you for legitimizing what I have always said, genetics -do-play a big issue in behavior. I have two shepherds, a brother and sister, about six years old. They have never undergone any sort of training and have been going to our local dog park since they were a couple of months old. Since their very first day there they “herd” the other dogs. One takes one side, the other one takes the other and they work together to chase other dogs (kind of like Babe ). It’s not malicious at all and all the doggie parents call them the dog park personal trainers. When a breed of dog is bred for a specific purpose, whether herding or killing small animals, it is very hard to counteract that. At the very least, owners need to pull their heads out of their butts and take an honest look at what they are dealing with and find “coping mechanisms”.

    • Julie

      I was around a 4-month-old pit bull puppy at a family reunion that was going for the throats of other dog making them yelp. It was very distributing to watch. The owner considered it normal puppy play. I did not! I was trying to correct the puppy but it could not help itself attacking the other dogs’ throats and making them yelp.

      Please watch this video and let me know if you think this is normal puppy play?

      “What we found disturbing was the sounds of the guttorial growl / snarling. We’ve been around hundreds of puppies. Never in our experiences have we heard “full on” viscous sounds coming from puppies. Already, the genetically engineered fighting instincts are on display. No bit inhibition at all, the lack of pain response is a very disturbing revelation why pits that have been beat, punched whipped, and /or shot and they still carry on. We have seen puppies “fight” before, it lasts all of 1 to 4 nips and it is over. These pit bull puppies were in kill mode throughout the video”

    • Jincy Willett

      What happened with Koby? (Asking, because I had a dog–not a pit bull, not dangerously aggressive–whom I never understood and did not enjoy, but I kept her because I couldn’t place her with someone else and I was sure she’d just spend the rest of her days in a pound if she didn’t stay with me (I’d picked her out; she was my responsibility. She was jumpy, property-destructive, never played, didn’t see the point of other dogs…). She lived to be 16, and I still mourn her more than all my good dogs, just because I couldn’t help thinking that somewhere there would have been an owner who clicked with her. I’m guessing that you didn’t keep Koby. What should we do when a dog doesn’t work out?

      • Meagan Karnes

        I did keep Koby. He passed away when he was only 9 years old of Splenic Hemangiosarcoma. He was the best dog I’ve ever owned as he taught me so many valuable lessons about myself. He was single-handedly responsible for propelling me into a career training dogs and I have his name tattooed on me in his memory. Truth is, I don’t think I can tell anyone what to do when faced with the same situation. It’s something folks have to search themselves for. Only thing I will say to anyone with an aggressive dog is that I’ll never judge them for their choices. Was my life rainbows and butterflies with him? Not at all. It was hard and very stressful. And if anyone else was in the same boat, I wouldn’t fault them for making a different choice. But I’m eternally grateful for the experiences that he gave me.

    • Kirsten

      i think the fact that you speak very casually about the fact that your dog bit a human at 9 mos old, while talking about breed traits, is leading to confusion.

      DOG aggression is very common in the breed. HUMAN aggression is a severe fault… and historically human aggression to a _known_ human would have led to that dog being put down immediately.

      there are breeds were human aggression (to a strange human) is not a fault but a normal breed characteristic (i own one, the Caucasion Ovcharka, even if she is remarkably mellow for the breed.) Howevver human aggression is a severe fault in the Pit Bull (any of the three breeds typically labeled as such)

      They were the nanny dog, and the dog used in kids advertisements for a REASON. Modern abusive breeders trying to make a pittie into a guard dog have done a lot of harm to the breed, but if a pittie is HUMAN aggressive, there is a serious problem.

      • Meagan Karnes

        You are correct. These dogs are not typically human aggressive. In fact, it is very uncharacteristic of the breed, human aggression culled out early on in most game bred dogs. But my statement about Koby’s aggression was never tied to a breed trait. Dog aggression was. It was instead used to illustrate that aggression can come from a variety of sources – not simply “how they are raised”.

    • Mark Woolard

      As an owner of five pit bulls (in succession) from childhood until today, I believe the author of this piece has written an oversimplification of the key issue of dog aggression. I recommend the new book “Pit Bull, The Battle Over an American Icon” by Bronwen Dickey as a much better treatment of the topic. And as an aside, I suggest that from my experience a pit bull that has the proper amount of daily exercise is much less likely to cause a problem for either dog or man. If you wish to own this dog properly, you must commit to getting up off your dead ass and making a point of burning off canine energy. You will be fit, and your dog will be happy.

    • KaD

      The problem these dogs have is twofold: 1) the traits that were BRED into them to enhance their performance as PIT fighting dogs- explosive, disproportionate and unprovoked aggression, gameness, and their uniquely
      damaging hold and shake attack style- make them problematic as a PET animal; and 2) owners who are (usually willfully) ignorant of the breeds history and genetics as the foundation for behavior in ALL dogs. Nice to see an honest article for once.

    • KaD

      Part of being a responsible dog owner is accepting your dog’s genetic background and making provisions based on that. Border collies herd, Labradors retrieve, Boerboels guard, pit bulls fight. Does that mean that all will demonstrate this trait? Of course not. Just as not all the other mentioned breeds and mixes thereof will reliably fulfill the purpose they were bred for. But regardless, you have to expect it and plan for it. Different breeds require different considerations and pit bull-types are no exception. A pit bull IS different than other breeds. That’s the whole basis behind distinct breeds–because each is different. Being a responsible dog owner and owning a pit bull means accepting your dog’s genetics and keeping your dog safe from situations that cause headlines, which is why pit bull ‘therapy’ or ‘service’ dogs is such a bad idea- these dogs inbred motor pattern when startled is to attack. Accepting the fighting history is NOT detrimental, it’s responsible. Ignoring the fighting history and putting your dog in situations where these genetics could manifest themselves tragically is detrimental.
      No headline ever read “Pit bull owner does not frequent dog park so as to avoid fights”.

    • Sonja

      Great article, Meagan. My 20 years in shelter and rescue work, with a focus on pit bulls, has given me a perspective very closely matched to what you have written. I’ve seen it in my own dogs as well. I’m forever preaching to potential adopters to not over-stigmatize, but also to not over-minimize, the traits of whatever breed of dog they are interested in.
      I also commend you for having the patience of a saint in your responses to some of these comments. I wasn’t so calm sitting here reading them. : )

    • Kayle

      Meagan, thank you so much for both this post and your post about socializing puppies. I am feeling stuck in managing the drive and protectiveness traits that are emerging in my 2.5 yo cane corso that I have raised since a puppy. I feel particularly frustrated because of the lack of experienced trainers in my geographic location. And I also experience guilt over my perceived shortcomings. Knowing other people have experienced similar issues helps renew my sense of purpose. I feel my dog’s reluctance to except strangers was made worse by being over-socialized as an adolescent during times of nervousness. Although at the time, I was certain I was doing the right thing.

    • Julie

      Excellent blog and so very, very true. Thank you

    • JLove

      Thank you Meagan. I also want to say THANK YOU to all of the bully breed owners who know about your breed’s traits and commit yourselves to keeping all people and animals safe. If all bully owners were like this there would be no outcry for BSL. Think about it.

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