“Pit Bull” Dog Advocates: Is the Info You Share Hurting or Helping?

What happens when animal advocates promote “pit bull” dogs for adoption and advocate for their fair treatment while ALSO communicating outdated, fear-inducing information about the very same dogs?

Answer: You wind up hurting the dogs you’re supposed to be helping.

We’re betting the public are left scratching their heads when organizations and/or individuals that are seemingly FOR “pit bull” dogs, are simultaneously putting out information that makes the dogs they’re advocating for look like highly deviant, potentially even deadly, dogs.

Think we’re exaggerating? A quick look around the Internet at various “pit bull” advocacy pages and the average person (who may have no prior information about “pit bull” dogs) will discover subtitles such as “Pit Bulls: Never Trust Them Not To Fight,” among other inflammatory and subjective pieces.

If our mission is to promote the adoption of “pit bull” dogs from shelters and to advocate for breed neutral laws that do not discriminate, then what purpose does it serve to scare the public, with articles that perpetuate fear and have little to do with the individual dogs themselves?

Pit Bull Dogs: Playing and Tired
We trust that these two “pit bull” dogs are simply playing. To set them up for success we get to know the dogs as individuals and we supervise the dogs during play groups. No breed-specific warnings necessary.

That kind of negative information promotes fear not fact, and hardly supports our collective work to end canine discrimination and save lives.

Could it be that some advocates and organizations don’t consider “pit bull” dogs to be normal dogs? That’s the only conclusion we can come to based on the inflammatory information we find on some “pit bull” advocacy websites, such as “because of their strength and fighting ability, Pit Bulls can easily do a lot of damage in a short period of time.” After reading breed-specific hype like that (the same stuff is also on anti-pit bull websites, by the way), how can we expect anyone to adopt a dog labeled “pit bull” or not be afraid of them?

Sometimes, the very people who are supposed to be advocating on behalf of the dogs are making them look like deviant monsters, set apart from all other canines.

Dogs are more alike one another than they are different. There is NO behavior that is unique to one dog breed.
Dogs are more alike one another than they are different. There is NO behavior that is unique to one dog breed. You can get to know “pit bull” dogs by learning more about DOG behavior.

If our goals are to save lives, help the public to better evaluate the right pet dog for their families, to properly care for the “pit bulls” they already own and love, and to end discriminatory polices, then animal welfare organizations and individual advocates need to promote accurate information, not hysteria-inducing sound bites that further marginalize dogs labeled “pit bull.”

In short: Scare tactics are not resources.

And further: our opinions are not facts, even when they’re based on our personal experiences.

“Pit Bulls” are dogs. The behaviors they exhibit are DOG behaviors. Not ONE of these canine behaviors are unique to “pit bull” dogs alone.

But just looking at some websites and articles with “pit bull” dog resources would make anyone think that “pit bull” dogs are in need of highly specialized, vigilant, and skilled handling.

If advocates use fear in order to get the public to be responsible (like some sort of canine “Scared Straight!” for dog owners), they’re missing the point.

ALL dogs need responsible owners.

We don’t need to make “pit bull” dog owners afraid of their own dogs in order to discuss responsible dog ownership or give them excellent resources to help them set their dogs up for success. Fear-based generalizations aren’t helping the dogs.

All dogs need responsible owners who manage them properly and care for them based on their individual needs. Don’t single out “pit bull” dogs as different than any other dog or burden them with breed-based generalizations that may cause more harm than good.

It is our responsibility as advocates to constantly re-examine our language, the information we’re sharing, and the research that we’re promoting. Rather than weeding out old content published back in the ‘00s, many sites have kept outdated, inflammatory posts and information on their websites and in their resources. This information, published years ago, might have been the best information and advice available at the time, but in the progressive world of animal sheltering and canine research, five to ten years is a lifetime ago. Our work has changed, as the information and research we’re privy to changes.

The dogs are depending on us to stop adding to their problems by recycling old content and tired warnings.

Stereotypes, myths, generalizations, and opinions that are floating around the internet are promoted and perceived as fact. We owe it to the dogs to be vigilant in the information we provide to the public, even when that means admitting we were wrong in the past or that new information has come to light. We must also be aware that what we say might be misunderstood in and outside of the animal welfare world, resulting in serious, real life consequences for the dogs and their people. And we need to stop using fear and warnings in place of solid, fact-based information and resources.

The dogs need us, the experts and advocates, to revamp the outdated information that perpetuates the misconception that “pit bull” dogs are uniquely different than all other dogs and further marginalizes them in shelters, in the law books, and even in the homes of the people who love them.  Fear isn’t Fact.


  1. In 2008, I adopted a 35lb 9 month old yellow APBT from the shelter /after/ reading all the horror stories and admonitions from several experts on both sides of the fence. We took her to puppy classes, playdates, and pack walks. I could yell “leave it” and save a bunny rabbits life. I could walk her around Petsmart and Tractor supply and she made me look like a rock star…but….about 2 or 3 times a year, without ryhme or reason she would turn on one of my other dogs, quickly we realized we had to remove all triggers. Toy play was supervised and one on one. we redoubled or effort to make sure we had a tired pit bull at the end of the day…many days My little girl got walked twice. We began to rotate dogs, putting up barriers around the house, taking turns with the front rooms and back rooms, we always crated everyone in our abscence and never left any dogs outside without supervision…and thank God…I may have made things much worse for the breed than it already is…To this date, none of my dogs have made the papers in a bad way…Me and Izzy got photographed by the local paper at SGK 5K this year. And my husband holding our other 4 dog made the paper at rabies drive.
    That little yella APBT grew up to weight 40lbs. She died at the age of 5 from seizure disorder. Her urn is beside me as I type. I continue to live with 5 pits/mixes and a chi.
    I cannot imagine sending a person home with a pit bull terrier and not telling them about the possibilty of dog aggression. It’s irresponsible and damaging to the breed…oh but wait…are some Rescues only concerned with “No Kill” ideology and pushing an agenda of their own? A bear poos in the woods y’all…

  2. i remember when all this was said about Rotties and people were afraid of my dog even though the dog I had at that time wouldn’t even play rough with a squeaky toy because it made a noise. He had the same squeaky Hamburger from the time he was 3 wks old till he died at 11&1/2 yrs. I took him everywhere with me and just like my current Rottie; peoples minds were changed one at a time. A well behaved mannerly dog makes all the difference. Now in TN we are facing BSL against Bully Breeds .I urge everyone to sign petitions write your state Reps. and above all educate your neighbors and their family’s about your dog. you will win public support 1 dog and 1 person at a time.

  3. I have never owned a pit bull but have worked with dozens in training classes. I have not found them to be any more likely to fight than any other breed. Most of them were very social and a pleasure to train. All dogs need training and responsible, educated owners. I have worked with a lot of different breeds and only one dog ever bit me – a 1 yr. old Yorkie whose owners never worked to train him. Every dog is an individual and deserves to be treated that way – not put in a box and labeled good or bad because of the breed or they way they look.

  4. I truly believe that each dog should be judged on an individual basis. We have adopted three pit mixes and two have been really good. The other one was not; we only had that dog for two days with horrible consequences. I was hesitant on adopting this particular dog and my gut feelings were right, unfortunately. After the bad experience with the one dog, I knew what traits I wanted and did not want in a dog. I would recommend sleeping on the decision and meeting several dogs before making your final choice. People don’t realize that dogs can live up to 12 years; which is much longer than the average marriage. Just like spouses, you have to make sure that you can either correct or learn to live with the quirks and/or bad habits of your chosen dog.

    It is too easy to buy/adopt dogs. I would love for the county/state to require licenses for owning dogs. Education classes before even adopting/buying a dog would be required along with mandatory obedience training after the purchase/adoption. Each owner must get to know the personality and be able to read their dogs’ body language. Unfortunately, I would suggest buying the stick mentioned if your dog does not back down to other dogs. I have a very dominant female dog, and I could have used that stick at a dog park visit because another dog provoked mine. My dog didn’t back down, and they had their skirmish. I was able to push a large log between them and pull mine out, but it was scary. I knew what not to do to break up a fight. I found out the hard way. Every owner should know how to successfully end or prevent a fight. Over at least half of dog owners do not know how to prevent or correctly break up a fight.

    Owners should also know their own limitations. For me personally, I cannot physically control a dog over 50 pounds with any confidence and the dog’s head cannot be bigger than mine. I am very active, so a terrier is fine as long we exercise her enough. A terrier without any exercise or mental stimulation is a complete terror (speaking from experience).

    With all larger dogs, several training classes are needed and constant, consistent maintenance is required. Unfortunately, pit bull owners have to be more vigilant about their dogs because of all of the stereotypes even posted from the above sites.

    From my experiences, the dog that creates the most trouble is the dog that you do not expect. That is why every dog should be supervised. A golden retriever actually bit my dog near the eye over a stupid tennis ball.

  5. I couldn’t agree more, and I hope I’m never one of those advocates who makes her work harder by inadvertently saying the wrong thing about these dogs. We must measure our words. We must think about how they’ll be interpreted. Everything we do – and I mean EVERYTHING – must be for the good of our dogs because God knows, there’s enough negativity about them already.

  6. I do think you are exaggerating. A bit. I advocate for pitties of all flavors, have recently been rescued by a terribly abused pittie-boxer girl myself – I do pay attention to a lot of the Pit Rescues (granted, mostly organizations I’ve found via Facebook) out there and to be honest, have never seen what you speak of. Ever. What am I missing? Everyone I see supporting the bullie breeds has no subliminal anti-pit message contradicting their support and knowledge of the dogs, nor in the educational information they pass on to others. I think they all are doing an incredible job. I’m sorry there seem to be those out there who are not.

  7. I agree with Missy, while I like the content of the article and can see some definite points, I really didn’t like the tone and apparent subtle jabs at other organizations that were peppered throughout the article. It really goes against what you are trying to do in working together to make the world a better place for these dogs.

  8. Absolutely wonderful. And I do think there are organizations that need a strong wakeup call about what they are doing, All breeds of dog need a consistent , positive environment and a good leader to follow – they are pack animals, just like humans. Any large, energetic dog needs obedience training and a place to get enough exercise, especially when young. I worked at a kennel that bred Great Danes. Also boarded Dobermans, G Shepherds, Wolfhounds, many large breeds. Usually not small dogs. The only dog I ever had who seriously tried to bite me was a dachshund. Our dogs are exactly who we train them to be by what we teach them and the example we set for them by how we treat each other. They follow our lead.

  9. I will tell you – I used to believe some of the hype and would never have dreamed that one day I would have a Pit Bull living in my home. When I saw my pittie at the shelter, I could see her calm demeanor and her sweet soul in her eyes and had to take her home. I have never been so in love with a dog! When I got her I got some of the same comments – if she fights with my other dog, because she’s a pit it will be really bad. There were even supposed “pro-pit” advocacy websites selling bite sticks to seperate the dogs if they start to fight! What I was reading made me afraid of my own dog! Once I just let her be her and treated her and looked at her like a regular dog – I have no fears. She is good with people of all ages and other dogs and everyone in my neighborhood loves her! I let her personality speak for itself…..

  10. Well said! One of my pet peeves is seeing people say “Its how they were raised.” i’ve worked with numerous Pit Bull type dogs who were raised in far less than ideal situations and have gone on to be wonderful family pets and even therapy dogs. You are not advocating for the breed by saying that the adults of that breed sitting in shelters or rescues are not salvagable! Its not how they’re raised, its how they’re managed. It all comes down to the current owner being a responsible owner.

  11. The article itself makes sense. What I did not like in the article were the constant negative references to other pit bull websites. Those constant jabs really undermined the point of the article which was that we all need to work together to promote the pit bull imagine. I’m sure the article could have been written without using those reference. To me, it just seemed unprofessional.

    • Thanks for your feedback Missy. We’ve been politely pointing out these issues on our website and blog for quite a while now. And we privately and professionally reach out to groups on a regular basis to discuss these issues. Some are open to change, some are not. We try to be patient while we wait for other organizations to catch on to the serious damage their content causes (some of it actually winds up in court as justification FOR Breed Specific Legislation), but the dogs need them to make changes right NOW. Wake up calls like this are rarely pleasant, that much is true, but sometimes they’re necessary in order to help the dogs.

  12. I have known and fallen in love with two pit bulls, and have never been the same since ” ) Once I am able to move it is my intention to rescue two from a local shelter, where most end up. I hate all of the negative hype and like this article says, pit bulls are just dogs. No better or worse than any other breed of dog. It’s all dog owners in general who need an education, not only about pit bulls but all animals in general. And the police in particular need to be more vigilant in enforcing dog fighting laws and making them pay the price of this abuse. The dogs I knew were both rescues, abused, and terribly neglected before being taken in. Two more loving and sweet animals I have never met. So lets all spread the positive word about dogs in general, and in particular, these most misunderstood and loving dogs

  13. Interesting post that really should make US advocates STOP and THINK. I believe I’m spreading the good word and sharing the positives. I believe that my blog readers could say the same thing about me, especially when I have those who are afraid of dogs and/or big dogs tell me that I’ve helped them get over their fear via my blog and tweets. Great post and thank you!

  14. Can someone forward this to PETA? Oh wait, it won’t help. Their anti-pit bull dogma is set in stone. I do think that certain stereotypes are so ingrained that all the information and education in the world doesn’t change people’s minds. Not everyone needs a pit bull, just like not everyone needs any other breed of strong larger-sized dog. This silliness about their “lockable” jaws and potential to “turn on their owners” has been proven false time and time again but as long as it gets repeated enough, people think it’s true. Just last night on CNN, a show segment about a baby seal compared the seal’s jaw strength to that of a pit bull? Why a pit bull was needed to make their comparison valid in the mind’s of their viewers I am not sure. So many of these breed specific characteristics that we put on animals are silly and can easily be proven false with the many dogs who do not conform to their breed’s stereotype. All dogs need to be matched with the right owner. Throw out the labels. Throw out the mistruths. And when we do that we’ll have a lot more successful placements for pitties and other breeds.

  15. Wonderful post. I so agree, as we do own 2 of these types of dog. They are smart and personable.
    Trained to be around children. Very good watching over child. Love our bullies.