The Pet Dish

Find posts by keyword
Find posts by date


Special to the Pet Dish - The truth about pit bulls


Posted on October 26, 2012 at 8:15 PM

Pit Bulls are in the news. Unfortunately, when we hear about Pit Bulls in the news it is rarely good news. Earlier this month Kelly Ripa made a flippant and not-so-nice comment about Pit Bulls on national TV. But Pit Bulls are also very popular pet dogs, especially in Seattle and other urban areas across the country. Yes, their popularity may stem from the fact that there are a lot of them in shelters. But if they are all so bad how would they be adoptable and why would anyone want to adopt them?There is a discrepancy here somewhere.

Pit Bulls have a B-A-D reputation. There are lots of societal reasons for this but most of it probably stemming from the fighting ring/gang related Pit Bull of the 1980’s, ‘90’s and of course the Michael Vick horror story. I think their bad rep started with those. It certainly didn’t start at the first part of the 20thcentury when they were lauded as great family pets (often called “nanny dogs”) and popular with celebrities and the media of the time. Things changed for the Pit Bull in the 80’s and most of them are working very hard at getting back into Americans’ good graces. As a dog trainer, I see some awesome Pitties and awesome humans who are working really hard toward that goal.

I adopted a Pit Bull from the Progressive Animal Welfare Society(PAWS) one year ago. He was about 1-2 years old and had come into the shelter as an intact stray male. We had no history on him at all. I was looking for a dog that was good with other dogs (I train dogs and own a Seattle dog daycare so he would need to be OK with that), good with cats (we had two) and good with kids (I have a 5-year-old boy).

In addition to all THAT, I wanted a dog that was non-reactive on leash so that I could “use” him as the decoy dog when I work with reactive dogs. Yes, I was indeed looking for the holy grail of shelter dogs!  I was not looking for a Pit Bull.

I met a lot of dogs. When I went up to PAWS I was actually there to meet a few other dogs I had seen on the website. When I discussed with the staff what I was looking for, they suggested Basil (his shelter name). He had been in the shelter for four months. I took him out for a visit. I had him meet my husband and son. I tried to gauge his reactivity level outside with other dogs walking by, squirrels etc. He passed every test I threw at him. We took him home and he passed the cat test as well. I hadn’t had a Pit Bull before; my previous dogs were herding mixes. He was different. He was goofy. He loved everyone. He was snuggly (ask any Pittie owner and they will tell you “snuggly” is an understatement). He was adopted and renamed Rufus.

In the year since I have had Rufus he has “worked” with me in dog training classes with reactive dogs, he has demonstrated dog care and training techniques to pre-schoolers, 2nd and 3rd graders and met campers at Seattle Humane’s kid’s summer camp. He has been amazing. He’s not perfect either. He still jumps on people to greet them if I am not right there telling him to “sit”. He chews any toy left within his grasp(we had a $1000 vet bill inducing rubber ball incident early on). I’m not perfect either though, so we both get cut some slack sometimes.

Just like ANY other dogs out there, there are good ones and not so good ones, socialized and trained ones and not. A responsible Pit Bull’sowner (or any dog for that matter) knows his dog’s limitations and respects him for who he is. Know what situations your dog can and cannot handle and be comfortable in. Responsible Pit-Bull owners need toshow the world, starting with our own friends and family, what a wonderful, loving, well-behaved, fun, joyful, sweet dog Pit Bulls can be! We can change people’s opinions through Pit Bull Awareness byeducating them and showing by example how fantastic Pittiescan be.

To learn more about Pit Bulls attend the Pittie Party , a 1.5-hour seminar at Dog’s Day Out. What exactly is a “Pit Bull”? What do we know about these dogs? Are they different from other dogs? Are they vicious or are they “nanny” dogs? What specific challenges or issues may guardians of these dogs incur? In this seminar we will discuss all of these questions as well as cover the history, temperament, and behavioral/training issues specific to “Bully” breeds, including Pit Bull-Types, Staffordshire and American Bull Terriers and mixes thereof.

For more information and registration please go to:

Danette Johnston, owner of Dog’s Day Out, has been a Licensed Veterinary Technician (LVT) in the state of Washington and a Certified Pet Dog Trainer (CPDT). She has trained dogs (and people) working in animal hospitals and shelters prior to opening Dog’s Day Out 12 years ago. She has published articles on dog day care and dog-dog interactions for The Society of Veterinary Behavior Technicians and the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT). She has lectured on dog behavior to Veterinary Technicians and students at the Society of Veterinary Behavior Technicians conference. Danette is a Licensed Canine Good Citizen evaluator for the AKC and worked as a Delta Society Pet Partner’s (animal assisted therapy) Instructor and Team (with her dear departed dog Georgia). She is a "Be A Tree" presenter and the NW Coordinator for Doggone Safe, an organization dedicated to education on the prevention of dog bites. She shares her home with 2 cats, one Pittie mix, a kindergartener and a very tolerant husband.