Nothing has brought the debate of Nature vs. Nurture to the mainstream quite like pit bulls have. People who say, "it's all in how you raise them," are well-intentioned, wanting to help these dogs overcome an undeserved bad rap, and I appreciate that. But they're wrong.
If you're standing firm on the Nurture side of the debate, riddle me this: If it's all in how they're raised, how is it that dogs who have spent their lives with dog fighters are now living happily as family dogs, in multiple-pet households, and as therapy dogs? How is it that one of my own pit bulls, rescued as a senior dog from an abusive hoarder, went on to be a breed ambassador at public events, even helping girl scouts earn their pet care badge? These pit bulls weren't raised according to the recipe for a good dog.
Here's where people get it backwards: It doesn't take a good person to raise a good pit bull; it takes a very, very bad person to raise a bad pit bull.
Which brings us to the Nature side of the equation. Year after year, standardized temperament tests show that the breeds commonly considered "pit bulls" score above average compared to all other breeds. And anyone who claims "pit bulls bite more than any other breed," apparently knows something the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn't. The CDC states: "There is currently no accurate way to identify the number of dogs of a particular breed, and consequently no measure to determine which breeds are more likely to bite or kill."
There is no scientific evidence proving that pit bull type dogs are more "dangerous" than any other dog. (Newsflash for anyone getting their information from the media: The media reports what it wants, how it wants. What sells papers isn't an accurate reflection of reality.)
People often point to the dog fighting heritage as proof that pit bulls are "aggressive." This is one area where Nature and Nurture agree: willingness to fight other dogs has nothing to do with attitudes toward humans. It's also illogical — dogs bred to be champion fighters were among the most gentle toward humans; bites weren't tolerated. Dog fighters want to hurt their animals, not themselves.
Does this mean Nature wins? Not really. As with any breed, seriously abused animals may bite back. On the flipside, compassion and rehabilitation can go a long way toward rebuilding trust.
That's true for every animal (including humans). Pit bulls are canis familiaris, just like any other dog, and they should be judged on their behavior, just like any other dog, regardless of what they look like or what they've been through.
Bottom line: All dogs are individuals.
Does this mean everyone should run out and adopt a pit bull? Of course not. There's no one type of dog that's the perfect match for every person and every lifestyle.
Pit bull type dogs are strong and full of personality. Some are energetic and tenacious (though mine are mostly driven to get a good spot on the couch), most are intelligent, and almost all are loyal ... almost to a fault, which is why they're such easy targets for dog fighters and other abusers. Some pit bulls don't like other dogs. But, others, like my own, love their canine housemates. (Meanwhile, my parents' purebred standard poodle has been dog-aggressive since she was 12 weeks old).
Perhaps most importantly, pit bull people have a responsibility to be good breed ambassadors, the best dog owners out there, to avoid feeding media trolls and misconceptions.
So, if you're up to the challenge of defying discrimination and bringing a goofy, loving dog into your home, there are a lot of pit bulls out there who need you.
Photo credit: Amanda Clase