Offbeat dogs: Why you should consider adopting a bully-breed

Guest post by jaebird
Abigail here is one of many sweet Pit Bull mixes in need of a forever home. Here's why you should bring her and others like her into your home!
Abigail here is one of many sweet Pit Bull mixes in need of a forever home. Here’s why you should bring her and others like her into your home!

It’s plain to see, the Offbeat Empire likes dogs. They like them a lot. Everywhere you look on Offbeat Bride, there are dogs walking down the aisle. On Offbeat Home & Life, there are posts about dogs, posts with dogs, posts not about dogs at all — but with dogs peeking into the photos anyway.

There are all kinds of dogs, and there are all kinds of people, and some people have their types. For me, bully breeds are where it’s at. In a way, bullies are the most offbeat of dogs. [Editor’s note: Even the Associate Publisher Megan has a pit bull mix, and Assistant Editor Caroline has a Staffordshire Terrier mix.]

A bully breed is a type of dog that shares in common the traits of a number of breeds of dog. Pit bulls, Staffordshire Terriers, American Bulldogs, some types of Mastiff. They often share a large shovel-shaped head, strong jaw, squat, stocky, muscular body and often what dog people call a merry or clownish disposition. Unfortunately they also share a bad reputation, a number of harmful myths, and a history of being mistreated.

The shelters, especially in large cities, the south, and the midwest, are over-flowing with bully breeds. Because of their reputation, they are often passed over for adoption. Because of the sad truth that they continue to be used in bloodsports, adults are often not fixed, either because their “owners” hope to breed them or as part of a larger pattern of neglect.

Quickly, let me run down some of the myths, and then I promise the tone of this piece will lighten up considerably.

No, they do not have locking jaws, higher pain tolerance, or any other significant physiological difference from other dogs. Their jaws are just like other dogs. They are tolerant by nature, just like Golden Retrievers, but they feel pain just the same. They do not simply “snap” and they give off the same signs and signals as other dogs. Any dog can be aggressive, and any dog can bite, but these are not random occurrences. They have reasons, and raising your dog right and knowing how to read their body language (a necessity with any dog of any breed) and know their limits keeps everyone safe and happy.

Now, on to the happy stuff…

Here's a picture of my boy Roland.
Here’s a picture of my boy Roland.

We rescued our dog from a shelter in Bloomington Indiana. He’s a mix, but falls into the bully category. When we first met him, he was about twenty pounds lighter, and you could see many of his vertebrae and ribs. He was shedding like crazy; a function of anxiety, poor diet as a stray, and the fact that he had contracted kennel cough about five minutes after arriving at the shelter. We had met a lot of dogs in the run up to adopting, but both my wife and I were completely charmed by Owen, as he was called. A few days later, we took him home.

In the following weeks, we got to know him. We named him Roland, after the hero of one of our favorite book series. He displayed some of the wonderful qualities of bullies right away: fiercely intelligent, he learned commands quickly and almost effortlessly, especially given how food-driven he turned out to be. For a treat, he’ll do anything you want. He does indeed have a merry disposition, and loves to play all kinds of games, although it took us a little while to teach him fetch. He loves other dogs, and turned out to be very good at managing the social currents at the dog park. He doesn’t have an aggressive bone in his body, and is very good at removing himself from situations that might result in a fight. He loves to chew, and we experimented with all sorts of chewies before landing on a rotation of big Nylabones, antlers, and Kongs.

One thing that bully breeds are renowned for among their fans is their cuddliness. In this, he differed slightly. We adopted him at ten months, and before that he seemed to have had no experience with physical affection. It took us a while to get him to be okay with petting, and then with leaning, eventually with sitting together on the couch or bed, and step by step we eventually arrived at a dog who loves to snuggle, with blankets and pillows and his mommies. He loves to wedge himself into the loveseat with my wife while she reads or we watch TV. I have a pain disorder and when it’s bad our boy can most often be found at my feet or snuggled up to my side.

Before bullies were crowned the latest on a long line of dangerous dogs of the decade, they were known as nanny dogs in Britain and were extremely popular pets in WWII America. The Little Rascals had a bully breed dog, and bullies have even served with distinction in the military. Today they are seeing a resurgence of that interest. They are being trained to compete in Agility and Tracking, as well as providing assistance to people with disabilities and serving as therapy dogs in hospitals and nursing homes. Some have been trained to assist soldiers with PTSD.

The next time you are thinking about bringing a furry family member home, think about adopting a bully breed. There are many rescues dedicated to this type of dog, and many local shelters have more than they know what to do with. If you cannot commit to a permanent adoption, many shelters could use fosters, especially in the process of bringing bullies out of areas where they are overpopulated to their eventual safe havens. If you like to take road trips and have some flexibility, you could also consider transporting dogs from one shelter to another.

One of the most wonderful experiences of my life has been rescuing Roland and seeing him blossom into a well balanced, well mannered, happy adult dog. I especially love to see his big bully grin when we come home. He’s an essential part of my offbeat family.

Comments on Offbeat dogs: Why you should consider adopting a bully-breed

  1. Are the “bully breeds” particularly good or bad with young children, or are they better in a “furbabies only” family? You have directly responded to a lot of the concerns I have heard about these dogs, but most of the people I know who have dogs like this (mostly pits) don’t have human children. Any thoughts?

    • I have a pit bull and 3 children under 3 years old. Our pit, Gunny, has the absolute best disposition for young children. He, like a lot of Pits, love to snuggle and play….just like toddlers. He calmly lets them climb all over him, plays “chase the baby” with them throughout the house, and snuggles with them during nap time.

      Pits, like the author said, are pretty easy to train and socialize so we started working with him on day one to socialize him with young children. We are actually looking to adopt our 2nd pit soon. My 3 year old son wants his own dog so bad.

    • I think it depends on the individual dog and how well he or she is socialized! Golden retrievers can bite just as easily as bully breeds if they aren’t properly socialized. You can adopt from a foster network where the dog was living in a house with children. Even a lot of dogs in the shelter will have histories of living with children, but the owners had to surrender the dog for unrelated reasons.
      In my experience, good shelters and foster networks want to see a successful adoption. They will be transparent and honest about the dog’s history and how the dog performed on the behavioral tests. You can tell if they blatantly say that certain dogs don’t like other dogs, don’t like cats, don’t like children, etc.

      The other half of it is teaching your children how to behave around dogs. Currently, I am only a pet parent, so if a human parent wants to chime in here, please do! I’ve seen other parents teach their kids to always ask before approaching a dog, how to “pet nice,” where to pet (back, not face), not to sneak up on the dog, and not to disturb the dog when he/she is eating or sleeping.

      • Yes! I agree that it’s equally important to socialize children around dogs (teaching them how to pet nicely, not pull their ears or tail, not chase them, etc.) as it is to socialize dogs around kids.

        We have a German Shepherd/Pit Bull mix named Olive, and she’s naturally very good with our young nieces and nephews. We adopted her at 1yr old and were fortunate that she has a mild temperament and she instinctively removes herself from stressful situations. When the kids get too rambunctious, she goes and lays in another room.

        We did a lot of training with the kids teaching them to respect her and her boundaries. When she moves away, they don’t get to chase her. They aren’t allowed to “sneak up” on her; if they want to pet or play with her, they first have to move where she can see them and hold out their hands for a sniff. They learned how to pet gently, and which places are good to pet (her neck and tummy) and which places aren’t so good (for Olive, her back or feet).

        We also waited to introduce Olive to the kids until after we’d had her for 2-3 months and she knew we were trusted people. We went slowly, and we watched her signals to make sure she wasn’t getting overwhelmed. It’s so important to learn your dogs signals. We went to a 6-week training class at the SPCA that was invaluable…we reinforced some basic training, and we learned TONS about the signals Olive gives when she’s stressed or scared or upset. This is important regardless of breed. If you can see the signals a dog is giving, you can help de-escalate the situation early so everyone stays safe and happy.

        Yay for bully breeds!

    • Like any other breed, tolerance for small children will vary from dog to dog. My bully mix is too rambunctious to be unattended around smaller humans. She would never hurt a kid intentionally, but she has no idea how big she is and likes to give face kisses, which can be overwhelming for young children that can’t get away. Other bullies that are a bit calmer do fine with children.

      • this is my am staff to a tee!! she loves snuggles and kisses, but doesn’t realize how big she is! we just like to pay extra special close attention to her when kids are around, to make sure that both are treating each other nicely, and we just make sure she doesn’t get too excited and knock the kid over by accident.

    • Since they tend to be larger dogs, they are likely to be much better with children than most small breeds. And in general they are not as high-strung as, say, huskies, but of course that differs between breeds a bit and certainly from dog to dog (we actually have the most chilled-ass dog, and he’s a husky, so….)

    • Depends on the dog, just like with most breeds- how well they’ve been socialized but also just individual personality. Our vaguely-bully-terrier-ish dog (we call her a mini-pit, ’cause that’s what she looks like) loves kids (especially babies and the constant supply of food they seem to emit from their faces), though she’s a bit overexuberant in her playing.

    • Just adding one more voice to the conversation: our “pit bull” (really mostly Staffordshire, plus some other unidentified things, according to his DNA test) absolutely loves, loves, loves children. Despite being a bit goofy and not totally in control of his body most of the time – much like labs can be – he intuitively knows to be more gentle around kids and tries oh-so-hard to control his wiggliness when little ones are around. His biggest flaw is wanting to lick kids (especially babies) from head to toe for 30 minutes straight when he first meets them – we’re actually in the process of teaching him a new “enough licking” command so that he can say hi but know when to stop, without feeling like he’s been a bad dog just for being happy to see kids. When he eventually does stop licking, he’s never happier than to lay in a pile with a bunch of kids (preferably on the couch) and let them pull on his ears and lips and snuggle with him.

      Anyway, as others have said, it totally depends on the individual dog, but just wanted to document one more pit-type dog that is absolutely fabulous with kids, and far out-strips his sister-dog (also a mutt, but more the herding dog type) in love for kids.

    • From my experience, my pitbull mix is great with all children, but is particularly fond of small children. I was lead staff of a daycare a few years ago and he would frequently visit. My class was made of 3-4 year olds, but he much prefer to sit and play with the children on the 2 year old side. He bonded with one young girl who also has willi-prader syndrome. My dog had, and still has, no problem letting small children feed him treats (and take them nicely!), pull his ears and lips, grope his fur with their grubby little hands, try to climb him.

      I wouldn’t say all dogs are exactly alike, but my experience has been positive. If you`re getting a dog who isn`t used to children, just be cautious. If you have a young dog, or introduce your own children to a dog you already have, I like to think everything will be fine! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • We JUST adopted our bully mix yesterday from the shelter. I have an 8 year old son and he and I went to check out pups. My son loved Zeus from the moment we hit the play yard, though we did meet another bully mix just to be sure.

      These dogs were similar mixes with completely disparate dispositions. So, as with any dog it’s important to meet the individual rather than go on generalities.

      I have apprehensions about big dogs (I’ve been bitten, in the face, while pregnant, by my own loveable dog) so Zeus will need to earn my trust with my son. But any dog would.

      That said, he’s a 2 year old boxer/pitbull mix, with a very chill temperament so far. We have cats, he’s interested to meet them but not overly excited or agitated by their presence. He’s met another boxer, it went well, he was curious but not aggressive. He watches birds or squirrels if they’re on the ground or if they make noise but more in a “I notice you’re there” manner than “gotta catch ’em all!”

      TL;DR – it’s not the breed you need to be concerned about so much as the individual dog. If you have the opportunity to go to a shelter, meet the dog, take your kids to meet the dog. Our SPCA is great and has online “bios” of the dogs that include whether they have any kid restrictions (8+, 10+, no kids, etc) and/or other pet restrictions (no dogs, no cats, etc). Visit a shelter if you’re considering a new addition. They need you and they’ll help place the right dog with your family, they want forever homes.

    • Personal anecdote:

      When I was 5 we got our first dog, who I picked out from the pound.We never knew what her mix was, but in hindsight it obviously included strong elements of pit bull (she had the classic head shape and face) as well as dalmation (coloring and a few other things.)

      Sweetest dog ever. She let my friends and I dress her up, with nothing more than a slightly sad, tolerant look at us. Until she was very old, she let children put their hands in her mouth, try to ride her, whatever without so much as a growl. (When she got old and had had enough of that shit, she would growl softly and lightly at the child until they stopped. She never snapped.) She would bark and greet post-men at the gate, but was never otherwise aggressive.

    • I chose my bully as my service dog because of his gentleness with the 2 year old he lived with after he was rescued. My 5 year old overwhelms most dogs, but not mine. He is infinitely patient with her, despite her grabbing him by the head, trying to sit on him, and harassing him despite all the stuff I do to try to make her chill out with him more. He was raised as bait to train fighters, but he doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. I’ve been training him for mobility and PTSD since March and he is simply amazing. He is the second pit bull mix I’ve had with small children, and I can’t recommend them enough.

  2. I completely understand where you’re coming from, but I feel like any article on encouraging people to adopt these breeds should really mention that they are illegal in some jurisdictions, or must be kept in a certain way. Always check your local/national laws.

    Even where they are legal, many rental properties will not accept these breeds with tenants. If you are a renter, check with your landlord. Even if your current landlord is happy with the dog, if you might have to move to a new rental property in future, be very careful – I have heard of people having to either give up their much-loved pet or become homeless because they could not find a new property that would accept their pet.

    You may disagree with the laws and attitudes that lead to this – but I think everyone needs to be informed about this to make the right choice about adopting these dogs.

    • You are right, I didn’t mention this. I am so engaged in fighting stigma that I suppose I assumed everyone knows all of the bad things about bullies. Yes, some places they are illegal. This varies by town, by county, by state and by country. The definition of a bully breed is always in flux, so even if you do adopt a bully, there is no way of knowing whether they will be considered so by your place of residence or landlord. Many people I know with non-bully dogs have been shouted at for having pit bulls or told their dogs are not welcome or dangerous for other arbitrary reasons. Absolutely be aware of your locality and its rules and regulations. Here’s one map to help: http://defendpitbulls.com/pit-bull-bsl/ there are others online and you can check with your local authorities. I have also heard stories of people being displaced because of owning a pit. They are very upsetting, and too frequent, but not actually common in a larger sense. Similarly, I’ve known people who have had issues like that with a dog of any breed if the rental market is tight and landlords don’t like dogs. Thanks for making this point, as it is an important one.

      • I did want to peep in here and mention the Emotional Support Animal registry, because it might help some people keep their dogs in no-dog rental situations-

        http://www.nsarco.com/emotional-support-animal.html

        (I’m not sure how it applies to breed specific restrictions but it seems like if it will let you keep a dog in no-pet housing, it should also let you keep a bully dog in no-bully-dog housing.) Basically, if you have an emotional or psychological disability like anxiety or depression (or even “stress problems”), and your dog is basically well behaved, knows basic commands, and provides you with emotional comfort, you may be able to get special housing allowance.

        There is also a service that will diagnose you and get you the necessary documentation online, if you can’t use your own doctor: http://www.cptas.com/

        • Additional useful resource: State Farm Insurance will insure home owners and renters *without* any inquiry to the breed of dogs. They do not support BSL (breed specific legislation) of any sort.

          I am a mod over at OBB, and I am the *proud* momma to two bully mixes – one is a malinois-pit, one is a boxer-amstaff. The boxer-amstaff is dopey, anxious, and reclusive, and the malinois-pit is an absolute velcro dog, who adores his mommy. They both live side by side with 2 cats, an old labradoodle, a beagle, 3 people, and a ton of visitors, and are well documented on instagram. I also volunteer for an AWESOME dog rescue in the area (in fact, that pibble puppy on the front page is one my photos) and we see SO MANY bully breeds.

          They are truly the sweetest, most adorable dogs. And I live outside of denver – by 6 blocks. My dogs are legal here, but 6 blocks away, someone could take them just based on their looks alone.

    • It may also be worth noting that in some places, “no pets” clauses are actually illegal. They can’t kick you out for having a dog unless someone with allergies is being affected, and possibly if the dog is nuisance and disturbing others (excessive barking, mainly).

      It’s really important to know the laws in your area regarding pets and renting, because how heartbroken would you be to give up your pet only to find out that you didn’t have to. (Actually, in general, it’s good to know your rights as a tenant. Not all landlords are good people.)

      • That’s so interesting, thanks for sharing. The UK has terrible renters rights, so it’s definitely legal for them to say “no pets”. (And even “no children”…!) But your comment made me check, because all I knew was my own tenancy agreement!

    • Unfortunately, this is the reason we didn’t get a pit when my partner and I adopted a dog a couple years ago. There were so many in the shelters, and some of them seemed so sweet! But everywhere I have ever rented has had breed restrictions in the lease (most also included rotts and german shepherds- so ridiculous!). ๐Ÿ™

      • The most ridiculous thing about banning German Shepherds? They’ve been overbred to the point that the breed is basically imploding. So many of them have hip dysplasia that they’re like the least unscary breed of dog ever:

        From an article I read in the NYTimes:

        But in recent years that popularity, and the overbreeding that came with it, has driven the German shepherd into eclipse: even the police in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, who had relied on the dogs for years, recently announced they were replacing them with Belgian Malinois, because the less-popular Malinois were hardier and more reliable.

        http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/09/opinion/sunday/one-dog-that-has-had-its-day.html?_r=0

        • GSDs and Rotts were the previous generation’s Pitts… people thought they were mean and scary and were afraid of them. Now they (GSDs, at least) are as beloved and overbred as Golden Retrievers.

          WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED, PEOPLE? (Nothing, apparently.)

  3. Please keep in mind that with ANY rescue or shelter adoption animal, you must be absolutely thorough about their history from prior owners, as well as their breeding history if possible. As there are cases in which these dogs are bred for fighting, they’re specifically bred in order to maintain aggression, and often suffered major abuse. Know if that was the case with a dog you may adopt. Also, if the dog was abused, they tend not to do well around children. Perhaps see if in your town/county there are any rescues who cater to families.

    • I totally concur that you should get as much info as possible about every adoption. I will also just put out there on the subject of dogs bred for fighting or subjected to abuse, some are absolutely too wounded (in many ways) or too aggressive to be adopted, but a surprising number of former fighting dogs find homes and families. Despite the hype, these dogs just aren’t really suited to fighting. Given the chance, many will become normal dogs. Obviously, temperament testing and figuring out which dogs are which are complex and require expert guidance. Do not go alone or without experience into trying to rehab any dog with a history of issues. As an example of the kind of amazing turnaround that can happen, see the Michael Vick dogs: http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/5119150

      • Also most fighting dogs are taught to be dog aggressive but not necessarily human aggressive- a dog that bites its handlers or the men breaking up the fights is no good. “Man-eaters die” is, I believe, the saying. I’d be nervous about keeping a former fighting dog around other dogs, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be great as only dogs.

    • So this will sound terrible, but adopting from a shelter that euthanizes dogs if they fail behavioral tests really helps to avoid sending these dogs out into the community. You are right about abuse affecting a dog, but a lot of the dogs that DON’T maintain aggression are abandoned. They want to keep the aggressive dogs.

      Also, plenty of people breed dogs for various reasons. Pitties aren’t always bred for fighting, and it may in some cases be a socio-economic problem where people can’t afford to spay or neuter, and then you get a local increase of that type of dog when litter after litter of puppies are born.

      • That is absolutely true. Unfortunately there are many shelters, and even rescues who aren’t that thorough. For example, my cousin adopted two dachshunds. These dogs were neglected by their owners, and subjected to (unintentional) abuse by their autistic child. Because of that, they will attack if touched on certain areas of their bodies. We have to be very aware of this because our autistic son goes straight for those parts of their back (as kids do). Not every shelter is going to be proactive about the dog’s history, and while most dogs recover fully, many don’t. Which is why I was making the point that we as potential owners need to be thorough and conscious of those histories.

        • This is a good point. We just adopted a boxer/pit and one of the first things I did (after reading his bio and speaking with the staff) was take his treat to see how he’d react. He just gave me puppy dog eyes. Yes, I gave it back.
          He’s new to our household so I keep testing him – I have a child and 2 cats, I have to make sure.
          So far he’s barked once, we were playing in the backyard, and made very little sound otherwise. No growling, no aggressive body language, he doesn’t react to the vocal cat’s cries of anger that there’s a dog in the house from upstairs.
          You have to know as much as you can, and when you can’t know much, you have to test for the things you know will happen (ear and back touches, people nearby while the dog is eating, taking the dogs things to see how territorial it is, etc).
          So far, our dog wants love. He wants to play and he wants to sit in the backyard, but not alone, with company.
          I’ll keep you posted if anything changes. Just know your dog and always remember he’s an animal. Pain can evoke a strong reaction and you want to protect everyone, so teaching kids to be respectful (I understand it’s more difficult with small children) and teaching dogs boundaries are both good approaches to ANY breed.

      • We are on our second, Penny, and absolutely in love with her. So far, at six months, she is smart, goofy, intuitive, and really loves kids and also seems to know when to be extra gentle with kisses for the very tiny ones. We adopted her from a rescue that specializes in Bully breed rescue in Baltimore, as a puppy. We wanted a puppy because our first adoption did not have a very long ending. We know our current spoiled brat’s history, something we didn’t have with the first.

        Baltimore has a significant dog fighting issue, overpopulated shelters and a lot of pit mixes roaming around. I never thought we’d have a bully breed, but one particular guy won us over at the shelter, and we thought he’d fly below the “retriever mix” the shelter named him.
        He turned out to be a two year old staffy-boston terrier mix. An over-energetic, bright and cuddly angel. Long story short, after an initial six months that stole our hearts, it did not last. We watched a slow and inevitable decline as what the behaviorist likened to paranoid schizophrenia take over this dog, until he was completely anxious at all times. I think what broke our hearts the most was that it was not the happy ending we wanted with him – he would have been perfect for agility and he really only had “lucid” moments when he had a job. He was so smart, but ultimately, the behaviorist suspected he was bred in hopes for this result, and either he escaped or was a late bloomer and was dropped off. And really, this could happen to any dog, in any shelter. In the end, we learned so much from him and we were glad we were able to give him a happy life and kept him out of hands that meant him to do harm to other beings. I cannot imagine what his first two years of life could have been like.
        Do your homework, and give the dog time to adjust before they are all up in your personal space, work on socialization and obedience, and keep them working and learning and they will be oh-so-happy and eventually the snuggles will be just right. They are actually a pretty intuitive, emotionally sensitive breed.
        Rescues are fantastic. Just know that you are never done rescuing them and working to give them the life they may not think is possible. At times it is the most supreme act of patience, but you learn so much. Not sure? Another great way to get involved is fostering. Something I plan to do when I am a homeowner.
        Moe left (year ago); Penny right. Sometimes we think she got all his best qualities, like laying her head in your lap as a form of begging. http://imgur.com/XqwEhuB

        • I forgot to mention that the first staffy was tested, submissive, house trained and quiet in the shelter. So sometimes, these shelter tests can only do so much. And many dogs will behave entirely differently in a more positive, trusting environment.

        • I think that dogs can suffer mental illnesses just as people can, with or without abuse. As far as I know there’s no good research on the topic, but if you think about it… why wouldn’t some dogs have chemical imbalances in their brains, just like humans? Your dog may have genuinely had schizophrenia (or the dog version of, anyway.) Even the age would match up- schizophrenia usually hits at young adulthood. (Given the breed and location it’s also totally possible that he was misbred and mistreated, of course… but it’s odd that it would trigger later, and also I can’t imagine why you’d want a Boston in your fighting mix, but then I don’t know much about dog fighting.)

          There is an interesting This American Life about Ira Glass’s dog, Piney: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/480/animal-sacrifice

          They’ve had the dog since puppyhood and its always been treated well, but something in its brain just isn’t quite right.

          • It may have been a chemical imbalance like schizophrenia, it may have been a type of epilepsy, or it may have even been a brain tumor.

            Please understand that 90% of bully breeds in shelters are not from dogfighting raids. They’re just strays and unwanted pets, many of whom are the result of “backyard breeding” by people who have no idea what they’re doing but think they can make easy money selling puppies. Dogs end up being inbred, cross-bred, over-bred, etc.

    • I got my pit bull/shar pei mix from a shelter in the south where she was dubbed a boxer/retreiver mix. The later is clearly wrong, but I suspect she was portrayed that way to aide in adoption as both breeds have a bad reputation. The shelter claimed her mother came in with two puppies and my dog was adopted to a man for his young son. Allegedly the young son didn’t take care of her and the father returned her to the shelter.

      Regardless, I brought her home because she was pitiful. She was afraid of the dogs, afraid of the people, afraid to go outside – I simply couldn’t leave her there. After taking her home, it was apparent that she had old injuries of her spine, tail, and ears. I could not speak loudly or in certain tones without her cowering and dare not lift my arms to give her a hug. She had clearly been abused and neglected, although I’ll never know to what extent – I’m confident that it wasn’t just a neglectful boy not giving her the attention she deserved though. It took well over a year before she showed affection towards me and several before she would tolerate other people without cowering. She’s now old, but well-adjusted and has never shown aggression towards a human and only rarely towards another dog when provoked by herding and/or humping. We all have limits.

      She was recently diagnosed with a disease that only shar pei have and every vet she has seen can’t find the boxer or the retreiver. All of which is to simply say: even when the shelter provides seemingly complete information, it may not be accurate.

    • One other note: at least in the mid-Atlantic (US) there are quite a few bully breed rescues that will pull dogs from shelters and provide them with foster homes for an interim period. While in foster, they usually work through any medical or behavioral issues they have, many receive basic training, and the foster family (which is trained to mitigate risks and take their times with dogs of unknown histories) gets to learn a lot about what the individual dog can and can’t handle – e.g. kids, other dogs, cats, hectic public situations, etc. Valuable info that can be passed along to the forever-home adopters.

      So, if you’re interested in adopting but concerned about getting a dog from the shelter because they don’t have a proper history for their dogs (and, let’s face it, what the dog is like in a shelter is really not an indication of what they’ll be like in a more normal home environment), consider a rescue and a dog that has gone through foster first. We did this when we know we wanted to adopt a bully breed on principle, but also knew that we needed to be sure that the dog we were adopting would be not only safe with but particularly patient with our first little dog, who can be a bit neurotic. Working with the rescue, which advised on which of their dogs might be good fits, allowed us to be as confident as one can be that we were bringing a ‘safe’ dog with at least a certain suite of characteristics into our home. In the future, we hope to pay it forward by being a foster home so that other dogs can be ‘sprung’ from stressful shelter situations (and, in Maryland, from shelters that are legally prohibited from adopting bully breeds out to individual adopters – they can only go through rescues, because of a lot of the discriminatory stuff that’s already described in the comments above).

      • The “THIS” button couldn’t express how much I like this comment. ๐Ÿ™‚

      • New England also has several “bully breed” rescues, many of which ship dogs from high kill shelters in the south to find loving homes in the north.

    • I HIGHLY recommend the book Do Over Dogs by Pat Miller for anyone thinking about adopting a dog, bully or otherwise.

      It includes a simple behavior test that you can do at the shelter (with the shelter’s permission, of course) that helps you identify potential behavior issues. This can help when you’re considering adopting a dog whose history is unknown (like our pup) or who was recently admitted to the shelter.

      It also goes step-by-step through behavior modification for the common problems found in adopted dogs, such as resource guarding, fear of being touched/handled, and separation anxiety. This part is extremely helpful. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

    • In my experience (Vet Nurse, Animal Ambulance Driver and Foster Coordinator), it is often difficult to get much of a history to trickle down and eventually to the potential adopters. Animals can be taken from puppy mills, hoarders, backyard breeders, fighting rings, neglectful owners, as strays or surrendered for various reasons. For legal reasons this information sometimes can’t be passed on.

      BUT any decent shelter or rescue will put all animals through rigorous behavioural and health testing while assessing their status. This is the best way to make a non-bias decision on the animals CURRENT state of health and temperant.

      I can absolutely say, from all of my experience, that you are no more likely to be bitten or hurt by a rescue animal than you are by a purebred you hand raised. Because there are so many factors that go into why a bite happened, their origin is only one and is never the only reason. All incidents are complex.

      P.s. I love my bully mix. Loyal, energetic, Snuggly, wiggly… I have loved him since I first set eyes on him as the bag of bleeding broken bones dumped in a box outside my workplace four years ago.

    • A dog’s history prior to entering the shelter is often impossible to obtain. If 50% are strays, I have no idea what their owners were like or for what purpose they were bred. Even the ones given up by their owners don’t necessarily come with reliable information (e.g. someone checking “yes” next to “is your dog good with children?” but then telling us they’re getting rid of it because it’s aggressiveโ€ฆto some people, “good with kids” just means “hasn’t bitten MY kids, yet”).

      I hate to break it to you, but dogs who are known to be fighters (not bait dogs, but “champions”) are rarely put up for adoption. If they are, it is usually after intensive temperament testing, training, living in a foster home, and of course being fixed.

  4. We just got new neighbors and they moved in with a beautiful Pit Bull named Grey. He’s a total sweetie – but he’s not fixed. And my 7 month old female golden retriever isn’t fixed either. So I’m keeping the dogs apart so I don’t end up with puppies (even if they they would be so cute) until one of the doggies gets fixed…

    I look forward to the day these doggies can be friends – and I hope the neighbors understand my choices…

    But I’ve been amazed – when I tell my friends we’ve got a pit bull in the neighborhood they get a little freaked out. And I have to reassure them Grey is a sweetie….

    • I highly encourage you to spay your dog. If you do so before her first heat, you virtually eliminate most “female cancers” like breast cancer, ovarian cancer, etc. Of course, you also eliminate the risk of her dying in labor.

      As for your neighbors’ dog, he should also be neutered. I work as an animal control officer, so I deal with dog bite cases. The underlying factor that I have noticed in 90% of my bite cases is that the attacking dog is not fixed. Probably 80% of my cases involve unneutered males, another 10% or so involve unspayed females. Breed doesn’t matter, but I can attest that the altered status of the dog DOES matter. However, this may also be related to upbringing; people who do not raise their dogs properly are also the ones who are less likely to spay/neuter their dogs.

      • However, this may also be related to upbringing; people who do not raise their dogs properly are also the ones who are less likely to spay/neuter their dogs.

        this is key. responsible owners can effectively manage intact dogs (and for males, some research has shown that it may be better to leave them intact. i truly hope there is more research into this, as i’d love more studies done on it…especially regarding pediatric speuters). irresponsible owners, however, generally cannot manage their pets effectively…and often they fail their dogs in many other ways (diet, training, socialization, overall interactions, cleanliness, the list goes on).

      • So much THIS!

        I’m work at “the pound” and while our biter kennel is THE most diverse breed-wise, the one thing almost all the dogs have in common is that they aren’t fixed. Add in that we take in enough animals every year to populate a small city, and I BEG people to get their pets fixed.

        If you think you can’t afford spay/neuter surgery, the ASPCA has an online zip code searchable database of low cost spay/neuter programs.

  5. We have a pit-bull mix, and she’s super sweet, loves people and gets along great with kids (even ones she doesn’t see much). I have had a wide variety of “mutt” types over the years (they generally make fabulous pets imo), and I’ve learned that you’re much better off judging on a dog-to-dog basis than by any ideas about what the breeds are supposed to be like. I expect that over the years I will adopt many more “bully” mixes, if only because they tend to get passed over in shelters. My partner volunteers at the shelter in our county and reports that, as you might expect, it’s pretty full of pit-type mixes. He says they don’t even get walked as much by volunteers because they tend to be big and strong and excited (even over-friendly) when they finally get out of their shelter cages which can be hard for volunteers to handle.

    I do wonder sometimes about our dog-loving-bully-dog-owning tendency to want to defend our dogs. Not in any belligerent way, but I mean the first thing that happens when I’m out with my dog and someone approaches (or even when having a conversation with relative strangers and his breed comes up) is that I start spewing the oh-he’s-super-friendly-loves-people etc. Of course that’s true for my dog, and I can’t imagine saying something else (I mean who is going to say their dog is mean if it isn’t), but I think it has two side effects.

    The first is that it on some level it feels like a desperate desire to convince people that the breed really is good or something- when really all I’m trying to tell you is that I have a nice dog please feel free to let him sniff your hand and then pet him.

    The second is that, while he is a very friendly dog (much better tempered than my small breed mutt) he is a dog and so if you’re mean or taunt him or something he’ll eventually growl and probably bite just like any dog. Unfortunately if you taunt a labrador into biting you, people will think, “oh wow, that dog’s mean” (even if it isn’t really), but if you surprise or taunt a bully mix into biting you people tend to think “oh my those terrible pit bulls” as though it’s clearly a breed characteristic. Of course not everyone is judgey- and most dog people I know are sensible enough to behave properly around a wide variety of dogs (which mostly means they’ll get snuggled and drooled on by Bentley), but I’ve encountered enough negative reactions that it’s something I think about.

    • Our neighbors have a pitty and a pitty mix – and they, along every other pit bull I’ve met, are the sweetest, most affectionate dogs! They just want pets and to slobber their love all over you!

    • Not being a dog owner, I have nothing to add to this conversation except to say Bentley is an AWESOME name for a dog ๐Ÿ˜€

  6. Thank you for writing this. We’re at our current financial dog capacity (two- a big pom mix and a little terrier mix who looks like a bit bullyish, but we have no idea) but I’m already determined that our next rescue will be a young pit who I can train as a therapy dog- hopefully do some good for both the people he visits and the perception of the breed ๐Ÿ™‚ My mother was always very wary of them when I was growing up, but when I moved to Portland for college and starting meeting them everywhere I realized how bullshit the stigma is- they absolutely make me melt.

  7. The thing that’s always held me back from getting a bully dog is that I’ve heard a lot about how, while they can really be excellent around humans, they tend to have a high “prey drive” and many display aggressiveness towards smaller animals (like cats and small dogs). I’m still wary of them because when i was 7, we had a chihuahua that was outside with my family, and our neighbor’s pit bull jumped their fence to rush her and my dad had to shoot it (which left me really disliking the breed for a long time). Overall, I’m glad that I’ve softened to them, but I still hold out against getting one because even if it’s a wonderful dog for us humans, we have cats and I can’t tolerate the idea of harm coming to them.

    It’s really, really hard to get objective information about bully breeds and other animals. Does anybody who has one allow it to live with other (smaller) animals? Do they do okay?

    • Mine are wonderful with my cats. The cats even like to sleep with the dogs. In my experience, they need to be ran. We have a very long fenced in yard where we run our dogs for about 30 min a day. It mellows them out. If I notice the dogs getting too rough with the cats, out they go for a few rounds of fetch.

      Our female pit is very motherly. If the cats start fighting each other, she will break them up by picking up the smaller cat like a puppy. It was scary at first but now I know she just wants to protect them. Lol.

      • I wanted to clarify, after thinking about it. I don’t mean aggressive as in “I’m going to murder you” but in that pits and bully breeds are often very unaware of their size and strength. So lightly pawing at the cat can turn into death stomps, because the dogs are just having too much fun. They do not mean to hurt the cats.

    • We adopted a kitten and a pit mix only a few weeks apart. Four years later and the two are best friends. They eat and play together.

      My mom rescues pit bulls and other wayward dogs and has since I was a child. In all those years she only had 1 dog that was aggressive towards cats. And it is her current grumpy Pekingese. Again, I think it all has to do how well the dogs (and cat!) are socialized. She would put a lot of work into making sure she properly socialized every dog she took in. With enough work you can socialize just about any dog, even former abused or dog fight rescues.

    • Roland has never chased a cat. He seems to think of them as other people that he wants to play with. They don’t tend to like him though; he is very polite as a dog, but rather ill-mannered for a cat. They sometimes scratch or hiss at him, and once one of them batted him across the nose. To his credit, he backed off, and just looked kind of puzzled. These are all cats of friends, we don’t have one. He does like to chase rabbits and squirrels, but he has no idea what to do when he gets close to one. There was a nest of little rabbit babies in our backyard, and he stumbled across it. He was totally freaked out, but not in an aggressive way. Just totally baffled. The only aggression he’s ever shown has been to dogs that are ill-mannered for a long time, refusing to leave him alone or really getting into his space despite him moving away or showing that he doesn’t want to play like that. He has bad knees, and once when we took him to the dog park the day after a very active day, when he was sore, a husky tried to hump him. It was clear it really hurt, and he communicated that to the husky by snarling and snapping, but not actually making contact. The husky backed off and Roland went off to a corner to rest and that was the end of it.

    • We have two bully mixes, a labradoodle, and our roommate has a beagle. Our 1 year old twin cats DOMINATE all the dogs. The kittens were the last to arrive (other than the beagle) and even my bossy, mouthy, demanding boy dog that is a pit-malinois mix is adored by his cat sister. He can be a bit rough, but you just give the cats a place to climb that is above the dog, and then you tell the dog “no kitty!” when he gets too rough, and we’re good. The two bully mixes were rescues as puppies, and the kittens were barn cats that were rescued at 6 weeks old.

  8. We have 2 bullies. I am NOT a dog person, but I love our goobers. They are smart, kind, and very protective of our home and kids. Both are rescues from high kill shelters. My family as well as my inlaws are terrified of them. But my parents german shepherd bit 3 of my brothers, unprovoked. And I do not trust any of my inlaws 5 toy breeds around my kids.

    Even the cats love our pits. I live in a city with a very bad bully problem. There’s really no way to be polite about it, but the ‘gangster’ ‘lifestyle’ contributes to so much over breeding. The dogs are normally ill bred, and have terrible aggression problems. The shelter and rescues are always in need of help with bully breeds. It breaks my heart. With the right training, a lot of the dogs can become wonderful furbabies!

    • “And I do not trust any of my inlaws 5 toy breeds around my kids.”

      IMO, small dogs are WAY more apt to bite than larger breeds. I don’t know if it’s the Napoleon complex or people not training them properly because they figure they’re small and easily contained but… I worked at PetSmart washing dogs for three years and the only dog that tried to attack me was a cockapoo. It actually grabbed my finger and tried to shake me. Luckily it didn’t work because I weigh 150 lbs. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      • I think people overlook aggression in small dogs because it does so little damage. A large dog that bites is (hopefully, probably) not going to be bred…but a little dog? “Ahhh who cares?” Same with training- people are lazy about small dogs. (I’ll admit I haven’t been very good about teaching my pom mix not to jump up on people – he’s just SO delicate and gentle when he does it- all paws, no claws, practically in slow motion- that it’s kind of adorable and harmless, but I know it’s still rude.)

      • There’s actually a phenomenon called “Springer Rage”, in which spaniels and related breeds have a genetic predisposition to bite small children in the face. Temple Grandin discusses it in some of her books, and some researchers believe it may be a type of seizure.

  9. I work as an animal control officer in Maine, so I deal with dog bite cases. I can definitely say that “bully breeds” are no more aggressive than other breeds. The only correlation that I’ve found with bully breeds and attacks is that the ones who do attack (as with other breeds) are usually owned by dirtbags and scum who keep them because they want a “tough” dog, so they don’t raise them properly. Along those lines, probably 80% of the dog attacks I deal with involve unneutered male dogs, so in my opinion THAT is the biggest indicator of whether or not a dog is statistically likely to be aggressive…..though that may go hand-in-hand with being owned by dirt bags. (Not saying that all people who choose not to spay/neuter their dogs are dirtbags, but that most dirtbags don’t bother. Still…SPAY OR NEUTER YOUR PETS!)

  10. What we know about dog bites is that the dogs that bite statistically are male, not neutered, and not raised as a family dog but rather on the property as guard dogs, sometimes outside and sometimes chained up. Other statistical significantly are those in which the people involved have getting around and controlling their behavior, like elderly people and children, those who either don’t recognize that they are antagonizing the dog or can’t get away from the dog or both. Importantly, this last one is not significant without the presence of one our more of the previous factors.

    Another important point about dog bite stats is that the definition of a pit bull is really ill-defined. To some people, a large mixed breed dog that bites someone is by definition a pit bull, at which point the question of pits and bites becomes kind of circular.

    • I was just reading the most recent dog bite research study to be released. It concluded that breed had no relationship to deadly dog bits/ attacks. The study found that fatal dog bites/ attacks were always the result of a dog who was unnuetered, not socialized, or human error (the victim did something to the dog/ didn’t notice the aggression signals the dog was putting off/ etc). They concluded that dog breed or dog type had nothing to do with fatal dog bites. It was a really interesting read.

      • Exactly. The dog in my city that has been involved in the most bite reports was a beagle (unneutered, owned by a known drug dealer). The #1 breed that I’ve dealt with have been Chesapeake Bay Retrievers…..because of one owner, who breeds these dogs, and of whom at least FOUR different dogs of his have attacked people (one after he sold the dog to someone else with no mention that both parents of that dog were involved in attacks).

    • I can also attest to the breed mis-identification problem. I’ve gotten calls for “pit bulls” on the loose that have been anything from boxers to German shorthaired pointers to Jack Russell terriers. Any pit bull mix will automatically be reported as a “pit bull attack” rather than on the other half of their mix, like “Labrador retriever attack”. And if the assaulting dog is never located, all we have to go on is the witness statement that a “pit bull” ran into their yard and attacked their dog. These all skew statistics.

  11. @Jaebird, have you ever tried Benebones? I work for a pet product distributor and we have a loveable mascot; Jake, who is a pit-mix. He’s had a benebone since at least October and He’s only managed to gnarl the knobs off. Benebones are literally either bacon and food grade nylon or peanut butter and food grade nylon. Plus they’re made here in the U.S. and they support animal welfare organizations with their proceeds!

    • I hadn’t but I definitely will. Thanks for the tip! When Roland has something constructive to chew on, everyone is happier ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. We adopted Tobie when he was 6 months old. He’s a black lab/pit mix and has the coat of a lab, but the head of a pittie. He is the sweetest, most obedient dog we’ve ever had and loves his adopted sister, Maggie. She’s a border collie mix and Tobie will let her herd him in the back yard. Tobie is very gentle with our grandchildren and is such a Momma’s boy.

    • I have a purebred lab and have had people ask me if he’s part pit because of the shape of his head. Most people have no idea what dog breeds look like or are supposed to look like.

      There was an article I once read about a lot of dog attacks are wrongly attributed to pit bulls because people don’t know what dog breeds look like, so they assume if it’s attacking it must be a big scary pit bull.

      It would be laughable if it didn’t cause so many dogs to be needlessly euthanized because of their breed

  13. I had nothing personal to add to this (pet rat owner), but I had read an article recently that seems pretty relevant (took me all day to remember where I found it, remembered just in time for bed), it was in Esquire “The State of the American Dog” (by Tom Junod) and is about pit bull/pit bull mixes. http://www.esquire.com/features/american-dog-0814

  14. My husband and I own two lovable, goofy pit-lab mixes and a semi-sweet cat. I can second every comment here about pits being extremely affectionate, snuggle buddies. My husband has been a RVT (Registered Veterinarian Technician) for over ten years and has never once been bitten by a pit of any variety. He has had his thumb nearly taken off by an evil Pomeranian named Mushka that he handled with welder gloves from then on after the thumb incident. All of his fellow RVT’s own pits, boxers, Dobermans, etc – all the breeds that have undeserved bad reps. I think that says a lot about the disparity between the bad breed legislation/perception and the truth. A good dog is a good dog.
    Shameless furry family photo plug: http://imgur.com/gallery/wnNkOZ0

  15. I think the stigma that these dogs have makes it difficult to own one, unfortunately.

    We have a Chihuahua/dachshund mix and a purebred lab. While looking for an apartment we first had the issue of finding places that accept dogs at all, then finding places that accepted dogs over 20lbs, and of that small number of places all of them had breed restriction lists. We’re lucky in the fact that Labs are considered “family dogs” and they’re never on those lists, but because of that I can’t even imagine owning a bully breed right now. I think a lot of people are in the same boat, potential adopters who can’t because they rent.

    They’re great dogs but unfortunately I think until laws and insurance premiums change a lot of them will continue to remain homeless and unadopted, regardless of Joe Everymans view on the breed.

  16. There’s a big issue in parts of the UK where people take these dogs because they think they will be good fighters (I know….). They’re dumped or abandoned when they turn out to be docile and non-violent. It’s so sad to think that anybody would take a dog for any purpose other than company, cuddles and care (Written from the sofa where I’m having cuddles with my two retired greyhound rescues, who are also a little misunderstood…).

  17. Yay for this post! I grew up with a pit mix. When I was five and my sister was two, a stray dog wandered into our yard, and we ended up keeping her. The dog had the big shovel head and heavily muscled body, and a weird coat that was more like quills than fur. She absolutely loved people, especially children, and was totally deferential to our little terrier. She did need a lot of exercise, and sometimes forgot her own strength if she got really excited, but she was never, ever aggressive to people. She fit in well with our family because my sister and I were the sort of kids who didn’t get too upset the few times the dog accidentally knocked us over, and my mother was very strict about teaching us not to pull on dogs’ ears or tails. I have so many good memories about our pit, including how she thrived during our big, chaotic pool parties, because she loved attention and would try to sneak tastes of ice cream. I know I’ll totally consider adopting a bully when my housing situation allows for a dog.

  18. I just lost my ancient Black Lab, and am starting to look for another dog. Pits or Pit mixes were not on my radar. But an acquaintance has a nearly two year old, un neutered, gentle, timid Pit/American Bulldog cross. It is being attacked and terrorized by their three Chihuahuas(not joking), and is living most of his days in a crate. He is not experiencing home or family as a normal dog gets to do. He has skin issues, and is terrified by gunshots. I am close to taking this big baby, out of pity and concern. Questions, am I crazy, and what are my options if it does not work out? What should I know about this breed? I’ve always had non-threatening, kiss the burglar type dogs. But this one is tugging at my heart.

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