I’ve always had Labradors or Border Collies as my faithful companions. They live in my home, we do dog sports together, trick dog training, hiking and camping. It’s funny to me, but dog breed types really do tend to stay in the family. Often times I ask my clients “why did you choose a ____” and they always seem to answer “I grew up with ____”, or “I’ve always had ______.” You can just insert any breed you like into that blank space.
As I’ve advanced in my dog training career I’d be lying if I said I haven’t developed a profound sense of love for what I affectionately like to refer to as “bullies.” Although a bully can be any type of bulldog breed, I am specifically referring to pitt bull and stafforshire terriers when I say “bully.” Ten years ago you would find me rescuing collies or labrador type dogs, but more often than not (almost always now) I find myself targeting those sweet, big jowly smiles behind the animal shelter bars. My affinity for bullies has grown throughout the years because so many of them are misunderstood. I have seen so many bullies die here in Miami Dade as a result of BSL (Breed Specific Legislation), often times mistakenly labeled as aggressive. I don’t think it’s the media, necessarily, that has singlehandedly created that aggressive dog stereotype for bullies. As a professional dog trainer in Miami I think there is still such an ignorance about normal canine body language that leads people to believe that these big, bouncy, rambunctious, full of life, I’m dying to come over there and love you to death pitt bull type dogs have bad intentions. I felt inspired to blog today about bullies so that I could share with you some breed traits that I know to be true based on my experience working with and training bullies:
They go zero to sixty in 3 seconds or less. This means that when something gets them excited, they get really, really, really excited. Like, stupid excited. Jumping, licking, wiggling, vocalizing, hilarious and ridiculous!
When they are aroused, it’s extremely difficult to turn them off. This is why it’s so important that bullies get training to learn to control their natural impulses to get fired up. Often times over arousal leads to frustration, which then leads to aggression. This is why so many bullies get in trouble playing with other dogs. Yet, when they can learn to keep their arousal level low or medium then they never reach that point where they get themselves into trouble.
Bullies are powerful and athletic. If you’ve ever been whacked by a pitt bull tail then you know exactly what I mean. Every inch of their body is muscle. This is why, again, it’s extremely important that bully owners have excellent control of their dogs because they are strong, fast, and rock solid. Dealing with an aggressive bully is no joke. When a pomeranian is trying to attack you, you can just stick your foot out and you’re good. God help you if a bully is coming for you in a not so nice way.
The above traits are not bad traits. Yet, they are standard traits for this class of dogs. Even the smaller, designer french bulldog displays all the above traits. Side note: I LOVE frenchies too. People just don’t typically view a french bulldog as scary or problematic if it were to display the above traits. They’d probably just think it was funny or cute. Yet, when you are dealing with 60-90lbs of pitt bull the above traits can be, and usually are, very problematic.
Now, here’s some other traits that I also know to be 100% true from experience:
Pitt Bulls are charismatic, joyful and generally happy go lucky goofballs. In their natural form (from puppyhood), this class of dogs is just the most lovable and happy breed. They are more likely to knock you over because they can’t get their tongue far enough up your nose than they are to hurt you. Bullies are so social that their behavior most resembles the labrador in terms of the desire to meet and love all people. A robber could come into your house and is more likely to drown in a 5 gallon bucket in your garage than be harmed by your pitt bull.
Bullies are super smart and easy to train. I have yet to meet a bully that didn’t want to work with me. They are always eager students with tails in turbo mode, wagging and wiggling just so pleased to be doing something WITH you. The pitt bull lives to be interacted with, which is why it makes such an easy to train dog. They are also typically very food, attention AND toy motivated. This is a triple threat when it comes to trainability.
They are very tolerant and adaptable. There’s a reason why the pitt bull terrier used to be america’s favorite family dog. Most people don’t take the time to really research pitt bulls. I dare you to do some research! You might be surprised to find that the American Temperance Testing Society rates Pitt Bulls second to the Golden Retreiver when it comes to tolerance. Does this really surprise us though? I have witnessed with my own eyes that bullies are the most frequently abused, abandoned and tortured breed of dog here in Miami. Our county shelter is busting at the seems with pitty after pitty. And yet, after they are burned, thrown from cars, kicked, cut, left to starve, or infested up to their eyes in ticks, they still have the ability to love another human. No folks, not every breed is that forgiving. If you rescue a pitt bull, it will bounce right back. Now that’s adaptable.
Pitt Bulls are capable of bite inhibition. Bite inhibition refers to a dogs ability to bite with little to no pressure and then quickly release. Dogs learn bite inhibition during puppyhood by playing with their mom and their littermates. It’s important for all dogs to have bite inhibition, because all aggression aside, there may be a time your dog accidentally catches your hand during playtime, or tries to bite because he’s injured (in pain) or scared (fight response). The times when I’ve been bitten (not “attacked,” just teeth on my skin) by Pitt Bulls I have experienced no different bite force than any other breed. That’s because Pitt bull type dogs don’t have that much different of a bite force than any other breed. Again, do your research. There’s no locking jaws here.
And that’s my two cents on bullies. Now that it’s public knowledge that I’m a pitt bull lover, feel free to tag me in all bully related posts. With the continued hard work, and diligent efforts put forward by educated individuals I am friends with in this community, I am confident that we will see Miami-Dade county put an end to BSL. With and end to BSL, I hope to see bully dog owners take more responsibility for their bullies. My definition of “more responsibility” includes early socialization, training classes for attention, focus and relaxation, and for bully owners to stop saying “it’s not the breed, it’s the owners.” I disagree that it’s “not the breed.” It IS the breed. Yet, when you combine the fact that it IS the breed, AND you put that breed with the wrong owners it’s a dangerous combination.
The pitt bull type dog is a wonderful dog, as is all it’s traits. Like any breed, it’s not right for everybody. When we as a community take time to really understand dog breeds (and mixes) then we can put more resources into matching those dogs with the right type of owners where both dog and human will be successful.
On that note, I have a bully to train! This particular bully I just rescued from the shelter because he fit the bill for a friend of mine who goes between Miami and his cabin in North Carolina. He wanted a young, strong, athletic dog that was durable, social and would be able to “keep up” with his active lifestyle. I couldn’t think of a better breed than a bully!
Dee Hoult, MBA, CDBC, CPDT-KA, CTDI
Dee Hoult is top dog at Applause Your Paws dog training in Miami, Florida. She is one of less than 200 certified dog behavior consultants through the IAABC, and one of only 7 in the state of Florida. What does that mean? That means she knows her $%&* when it comes to dogs. IAABC certified trainers are experts in canine behavior, not just “dog training.” When she’s not running her business, Applause Your Paws, she likes to volunteer her time time with her Second Chance Dog Training program and to rescue dogs who have found themselves out of time due to space, or behavior problems. Dee also enjoys mentoring those seriously interested in becoming dog trainers. No pansies allowed. Being a serious behavior consultant is not for the faint of heart.