Almost two years ago now, Mark arrived on our front stoop, knocking his boot against the door frame to be let in. In his arms, he cradled a trembling ball of wrinkle and fluff. The fall wind rushed into the house as I opened the front door, gasping in surprise at the tiny pup he held. Shaking but with tail beating against Mark's side, the little guy flattened his polka-dot ears and began licking the air in my direction.
"He was so beautiful, I couldn't leave without him," Mark offered as explanation. My husband wasn't exaggerating. With honey-gold eyes, speckled ears, and a piebald coat, the puppy was one of the prettiest dogs I had ever seen and certainly one of the prettiest among the seemingly countless puppies we had applied to adopt.
"Hi, little guy," I crooned. He scampered across the floor, wetting the doormat almost instantly. Tiny, terrified, cold, yet eager to be my friend-- my first introduction to our pup Solo. Overwhelmed by the cuteness of this tiny little mess-maker, I never paused to consider what it would be like to own a pitbull. The media hype and general prejudice against the breed never entered my mind. Instead, my brain imploded with cartoon heart-balloons and googly eyes at his waggy tail and tiny paws.
Two years later, I feel like I better idea of what it's really like to own one of the most slandered and feared dog breeds. To be honest?
I'll never own another breed. And here's why:
1. Pitbulls are both insanely strong and insanely smart.
Many people have strange misconceptions about the pitbull breed. These odd ideas include the likes of: "pitbulls' brains swell and cause them to suddenly snap," "pitbulls can only be trained to fight," "pitbulls don't feel pain," and "pitbulls, once latched on, will not/can not release their bite." Here's the truth: pitbulls have the same type of brain and the same type of jaw-mechanism as any other dog breed. Not only do their jaws not lock--as people often claim--they actually have lower jaw pressure than most other large dog breeds. So why the misconceptions? I believe it has a lot to do with the breed's strength and smarts. Pitbulls were often trained as fighting dogs due to the ease and quickness with which they learned commands and due to their overall strength. Pitbulls have been documented pulling tremendous weights-- some over 5000 lbs. Don't believe me? Here's proof. It's unfortunate for the breed that their positive attributes were used for ill purposes rather than for practical ones.
2. Pitbulls are very eager to please and very respectful of their pack leader.
One of the first things we learned about Solo was his eagerness to please. He is very attuned to our emotions, words, and actions. If we act displeased or sad, he's sad and worried. If we act happy, he's happy. Whenever he disobeys, he tends to punish himself even after we tell him no-no. Some reading on the breed revealed that this eagerness to please their "pack leader" is characteristic of most pitbull terriers. If you establish yourself as the "alpha" from the very beginning, your pitbull won't forget it.
3. Pitbulls bounce back very quickly from difficult experiences.
This breed trait may very well be the origin of the "higher pain tolerance" myth. Rather than being immune to pain, pitbulls simply bounce back from the bad experience very quickly. The American Temperament Test Society conducts breed temperament tests on American dog breeds to determine the most well-mannered canines. American Pitbull Terriers had a 86.8% pass rate, a number higher than that of the Golden Retriever, Cocker Spaniel, Border Collie, Australian Shepherd, and even the Basset Hound, among many others.
4. Pitbulls don't bark at every living creature they see-- at least, mine doesn't!
Now, I don't have any statistics to prove this claim. However, having been around several pitbulls, I can honestly say that I've rarely heard them bark at cars, neighbors, or other dogs. I can count on one hand the times I've heard Solo bark and in all instances it involved some type of distressful situation (such as being left outside alone for the first time).
5. Pitbulls are incredibly friendly and "smile" when happy.
Every day, Solo does his happy dance when we come home from work. Any time guests come over, well they get the happy dance too. Check out these precious "smiling" pitbulls-- one of the quirky but so stinking cute traits the breed is known for!
6. Pitbulls are playful and energetic but tend to be calm indoors.
Like most large dog breeds, pitbulls have a lot of energy. If you're into outdoor sports, you should consider owning a pitbull. Solo loves to run, swim, hike, and play catch. A phrase sure to get him excited is "Wanna hike?" However, he knows when to calm down-- being indoors is a signal that its time to "be easy." I have to say though: our little pittie pup is one of the happiest things to happen to us ever. Who could say no to his big, toothy, tongue-lolling grin.
7. Pitbulls interact very well with small children.
Despite their fighter-dog rep, pitbulls tend to interact well with small children. Their calmness, gentleness, and patience help them cope with little kid's enthusiasm and occasionally roughness.. Solo definitely demonstrates. He is incredibly tolerant with my nephews and little cousins, allowing them to smack-pat him and pull his ears without one second's distress or complaint. The older he gets, the more mellow he gets with children as well. HOWEVER, I want to stress that no dog should be left alone with small children, regardless of how well they seem to be getting along. Dogs are animals, and kids are kids-- both need adults in the picture.
8. Pitbulls make excellent service dogs.
Pitbulls and the U.S. military have a decorated history together. During the World Wars, pitbulls were used as mascots and served our Armed Forces. Here's a quick guide to some decorated pitbull army pups.
I hope that some of these reasons will influence your
perception of the breed and help you realize that pitbulls
are just another type of pet, another family dog.
P.S. Isn't Solo adorable? He knows how to work that camera.