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Rise and fall of the American Pit Bull Terrier

Updated on March 9, 2011

Has the media damaged the Pit Bulls reputation by creating fear?

Mass media coverage reaches a large audience by television, the Internet, newspaper, books, magazines, and podcast and message boards. How the story is told will affect how the audience will perceive information. By telling a story, the media is persuading its readers or listeners that will cause a reaction to the news. This reaction is either positive or negative, and this is how the ratings go up. News can induce prejudice or bias by showing images that can change viewer’s opinions. People tend to prejudge without learning all the facts about the subject. Some people naturally will trust the news to be accurate in its story and not listen to someone that is knowledgeable about the subject.

It is important that the public be educated about the American Pit Bull Terrier with correct facts without people saying that many owners “sugar-coat” what the breed is about. It is my intentions to provide proper facts like it or not, the breed has a history that does scare the public only because the irresponsibility of an owner that doesn’t know the breed itself. In general most people will adopt APBT and not know anything about the breed until it is too late also, people tend to adopt the breed for all the wrong reasons. These are the very people that are dangerous to our society and if there is to be a breed band it should be a ban on to those that are irresponsible with any breed and not just American Pit Bull Terriers. Not everyone can handle the breed and for those that have this breed are trying hard to educate the public that these dogs are very much loving dogs that love to be around people. American Pit Bulls are indeed powerful dogs much like the German shepherd, Doberman, Rottweiler and any other massive breed. One thing that holds true is that any dog has the potential to pray another dog and to kill and yes some dogs are human aggressive and these are the very dogs that need training or euthanize if not trainable.

History of Pit Bulls and their gameness

The media’s continuance reporting negative story has triggered such fear toward the American Pit Bull Terrier, APBT that has caused the effects of why Breed Specific Legislation ordinance has formed in some towns or cities. The American Pit Bull Terrier is the number one hated dog, abused and put-to-sleep; yet there is that love hate relationship with the American Pit Bull Terriers. The breed is the most misunderstood. To understand the once beloved, loyal, and dedicated breed the public needs to learn the brief history how the dogs arrived at to where they are today.

During the 1800s, the American Pit Bull Terrier, APBT history was about dog fighting. The bull dogs fought many animals. The dogs during this time were “bull dogs” that would fight a bull. The word “pit” wasn’t a breed but a term used where the dog would fight. When people today hear the word “Pit Bull” many will assume the dog is a fighter. Pit Bull is just a slang word. In addition, people view these dogs to be vicious and unmanageable dogs that loved to kill. In the 1800s the APBT were misunderstood much, like they are today.

According to the American Kennel Club there are 27 different “terrier” groups. The American Kennel Club states, “Terriers typically have little tolerance for other animals, including other dogs” (AKC Breeds by Group, 2010) this cross breed made sense since the dog was quick, and had a high prey drive. This breed is known as the Staffordshire Bull Terrier.

John Colby, from Newburyport, Massachusetts, started the American Pit Bull Terrier strain in 1889. He began breeding the dogs for dog-fighting here and soon it became a popular sport in America until dog-fighting became illegal.

What is gameness?

Dog fighting was done entirely different in the 1800s compare to how it is done today. Today when a dog looses a fight it is killed for losing the fight because those that bet on the dog lost money. During the 1800’s, dog fighting was just a sport and those that fought their dogs took care of the dogs after a fight by cleaning up the wounds. The dog fighters knew when to end the fight. A good trained dog listened to its owners command to stop fighting. This is to be true in dog fighting in the 1800s – 1970s. A true dog-man knew it was important that the dogs be breed for temperament, gameness, and conformation. The Colby’s made sure his dogs were non-human aggression or the dogs were culled or killed. Human aggression and dog aggression are two different meanings that often confuse the public. The dogs are tested for “gameness” in which means that in every litter of pups not all of the dogs would fight. Many of the pits didn’t like fighting but you may have one that liked to fight and that dog was used in dog fighting the others were pets or adopted out. The dog weren’t used as bait dogs like today. The breeder could get an entire litter that didn’t have a gameness dog. What is gameness?

“Gameness in APBT's is a canine virtue that is most akin to the human virtue of unflagging courage. It is a determination to master any situation and never back down out of fear. It was developed in pit bulls by many generations of selective breeding. It is what allows a pit bull to keep fighting non-stop for two or more hours, in spite of broken bones, torn muscles, blood loss, dehydration, and exhaustion. But it is also valued by APBT owners who would never think of fighting their dogs. It is manifested in the can-do attitude of pit bulls toward any type of challenge.”

These breeds were in many homes and his or her functions were to care for the guardian’s children. American Pit Bull Terriers were “Nanny Dogs.” The APBT are used as working dogs on farms especially during the 1900s because the dogs would protect the livestock. The American Pit Bull Terrier was popular dog and was once the most trusted and loyal dog to own. The dogs were used in the war, on television, on the front cover of a magazine. The APBT, the mascot for our country showed pride, strength and dignity.

Before our canines became pets and working dogs their ancestors were wild animals. Recently, National Geographic had a documentary of “And man created Dog” the documentary tells about the dog’s ancestors.

“In the ultimate canine ancestral story, NGC traces the genetic journey from wolf to dog, taking viewers back 100,000 years to meet the "mother of all dogs." It's no accident that dogs evolved this way, as humans have been selectively breeding them for around 14,000 years to serve our needs as laborer, companion, hunter, herder and warrior, as well as to suit our aesthetic fancy” (And Man Created Dog, 2010 p 1)

Canines today will always have a natural pray drive that make up the dogs history. Some canines have a stronger pray drive than other breeds. Our society needs to realize we can’t change our dog’s genetic history but we can change their behavior by proper training.

What happened to the APBT that everyone loved and is the number one dog hated by the public? According to Diane Jessup,

“When the American pit bull became the "fad breed" again from 1983 - ? the breed was not so lucky. Many specimens have lost the physical and mental characteristics of the "real" American Pit Bull. This is due to one thing: "fad breeders" cashing in on producing dogs for the "fad market". (Jessup, 2010)

Most of the American Pit Bull Terriers today are mixed breeds. Many young people began adopting APBT for the image however; at the same time they did not know how to handle the APBT nor did the owners train the dogs properly or at all. Many of dogs got loose and attack people. Drug dealers used the dogs to guard their ware. In dog-fighting many bitches were raped to force breeding. Regardless of what the intension were for having an APBT the dogs has taken extreme abuse.

A rough estimate of approximately 4.5 million people bitten by dogs of all breeds each year however; Pit Bulls are the blame for most of the bites in which not all dog bites are reported. According to Malcolm Gladwell, “Of course, not all pit bulls are dangerous. Most don't bite anyone.” He provides an example about a Frenchwoman badly mauled; she had the world's first face transplant. Of all dogs, a Labrador retriever had attacked her (Gladwell, 2006). There are irresponsible owners that ruin the reputation for those that are responsible. In the case of Sherry Wooten of Tennessee was “charged with four counts of felony reckless endangerment for the four others injured by the dogs.” Also, “according to police, Wooten released the dogs from an apartment at 236 N. Manassas, "knowing that they were vicious in nature." (Callahan, 2010). However, not only irresponsible dog owners the Pit Bull paparazzo’s are quick to release another story of a pit bull attack that creates public fear. The purpose is to generate public reaction without giving a story on why the attack happened. Without knowing more about the details to a story the public draws their own conclusion that “all” pit bulls are bad dogs and the public profile these dogs as “dangerous and uncontrollable.”

Breed Specific Legislation

Because the media and irresponsible owners this has created Breed Specific Legislation; an ordinance that has passed by legislative directing to specific breed(s) of dogs that deem to be “dangerous dogs” and has placed restrictions against them. Legislation has listed 14 different breeds as “dangerous dog.” Anyone that has a “dangerous dog” should be aware of the ordinance in the area they live in as this can affect them as well as their dog and can cost the dog’s life. Our legislation would have to identify each dog through DNA, and this would be costly. Legislations solution is to euthanize any dog that looks like a Pit Bull without the dogs DNA. Denver, Colorado, for example, has had a ban for 20 years, and animal advocates have been fighting to lift the ban for year. An article written by Stephanie Ernst, “The Killing of the Misunderstood 3,500: Denver's Pit Bull Ban” Stephanie recounts an article she read "For two decades, pit bulls have been public enemy #1 in Denver. But maybe it's time for a recount." And these posts appeared concurrently and in the hours and days, respectively, to come: "Inside Denver's 'Pit Bull Row'" and "3,497 dead dogs and other numbers from Denver's pit bull ban," the former taking us inside the "row" and showing us the sweet, scared faces of the dogs awaiting death there. Then a couple weeks later came this jarring post, revealing to us the piles of dead dogs. The leaked photos of pit bulls killed due to Denver ban.

The solution would be to stop creating fear through bans, continuous media attention, and ban those from having Pit Bulls or any dogs that have created the Pit Bull problem by allowing those responsible to educate and train their dogs and those waiting for a new home to be more social- able around other dogs and in public. Michael Vick’s dogs are perfect examples that rehabilitate a fighting dog through proper training. It isn’t how to raise a dog; it is how to train a dog.

Pit Bull Paparazzi

Pit Bull Paparazzi, the malicious news seekers, all for the ratings do not want to write a story that do not involve another breed because those stories do not sell. The Pit Bull Paparazzi have created public slant on Pit Bulls that created fear. Debunking the Pit Bulls is no different than discriminating. Just because there have been a few bad Pit Bulls this does not mean “all Pit Bulls” are bad. This is the same as saying “all Catholic Priests” molest boys because the media has exposed a few Catholic Priests as molesters or that “all Muslims” are bad because of 911.

An organization called Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, FAIR, is a national media watch group that offers criticisms of well documentation on the unfairness of media bias and censorship since 1986. This group also publishes a magazine called “Extra.” Lee and Solomon are associated with this organization and have published several books; one, “Unreliable Sources: A Guide to Detecting Bias in News Media” When it comes to providing the news Lee and Solomon gives an account how stories are revised. “Specialization is necessary in our complex society. However, with specialization comes the ability to “pass the moral buck.‟ No one person is completely responsible for any decision” (Cohen, J., & Richardson, J. (2002). To understand how news rooms do their stories the two needed to learn more about reporters by observation on the final copy. Editors are the ones that supply the headlines to a story and often the headlines are give a vague picture of the story being told. Many readers do not read the full story and only the headline. This creates a different point of view of what the story is really about. For those that read the full story will learn that the headline is often misleading to what the story is about “If the final story is a gross distortion of truth, “the editor can say they were just working with the reporter’s copy, and the reporter can say they have no control over how the editor alters their copy. However, reporters have another way to pass the moral buck (Cohen, J., & Richardson, J. (2002). Many editors do not have knowledge about the subject being reported and this is the same for some reporters.

How did our once beloved dog go from being a war hero, to being a Nanny dog, being on television to the number one hated dog? During the 1970s, there was a growing concern about the cruel practice of dog fighting that the public became aware of this lead to drawing the attention of law enforcement, and to the media. During this time, a young boy in California was killed by a dog. Three different newspapers reported this and each had reported a different breed or version of what happened. In one article the media reported that the dog locked his jaws on the child’s neck. It is a myth that Pit Bulls “lock their jaws.” Reporting such false information without knowing anything about a Pit Bulls anatomy created a misconception about the dog. People just assumed this myth for many years along with many other myths about the APBT. However, during this time there were no computers or much information about this breed as we know today. Still, the media continues to provide misconception about the Pit Bulls to keep the public in fear of these dogs. After all, this type of news sells and brings the rating up. Keeping the public reading and in fear is the bottom line.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are approximately 4.5 million people that have been bitten each year by dogs. During 1979 – 1998, approximately 300 people were killed; of the 300 people killed 76 were from Pit Bulls and the other 224 from other breeds. According to Dolce, “The data are shocking, but considering there are an estimated 72 million dogs in the U.S., people are "five times more likely to be killed by a cow" ( Nok-Noi Ricker,2010). The media reports these stats to the public that causes people to become hysterical and afraid of the reports. In the year 2000 United States had 4.3 Murders per 100,000 people, ranking the state as having the 26th highest rate for Murder. United Status’s 70.3 reported Forced Rapes per 100,000 people, ranked the state 1st highest.

For the media to expose criminal behavior that involves with animal cruelty and dog-fighting should be encouraged to make the public aware of such criminal activities. However, to expose the Pit Bull of their super power abilities increased the popularity of these dogs to drug dealers, potential dog-fighters, and criminal owners. This breed of dogs attracts the younger generation in which many train the dogs to be human aggressive. The younger generation breeds the APBT to serve for their purpose and entertainment. Any breed can be trained to be human aggressive however; APBT are extremely athletic dogs that love to please their owners. The dogs are easily trainable. The dogs are known to be gladiator dogs. Without understanding, proper training, neglect, and abuse the dogs are a recipe for disaster. The American Pit Bulls do not generally like to fight and are extremely loyal and loveable dogs. Is the media partially responsible for portraying the dogs as man eating killers and creating public fear? The American Pit Bull Terrier is the number one most abused dog that deserves a second chance that was once the most loyal dog. It is man that has created the problem and man has to learn to accept our canine’s anatomy that dogs are pack animals and that some dogs do not like other dogs just as humans do not like other humans.

Stigma of Pit Bulls brought on by the media

The sociological experience of owning a Pit Bull has to do with defending their dogs’ rights. For instance, one scenario in Alabama, a Pit Bull guardian has an ordinance that states Pit Bulls as dangerous dog, and if one owns a Pit Bull they must contain special housing, and muzzle their dog in public. This guardian has been harassed by animal control, and by a police officer about one of her dogs that looks more like a Pit Bull than the other dog because that dog looks more like a mutt. She would obey the ordinance and walk the dog with a leash while other dogs in her area were unleashed. She felt discriminated because animal control wouldn’t pick up the other dogs because of their breed. In other cases, because the media’s impact of portraying Pit Bulls as vicious dogs often the guardians try protecting their dog’s breed by providing different facts about the dog or even lie about the breed of dog they have rather than providing proper information about the American Pit Bull Terriers as being a menace to the society. Even the guardians can damage the APBT reputation as well because the guardians feel forced to do so.

A questionnaire given on Facebook asked non-Pit Bull owners, if they base their opinions about Pit Bulls as vicious and a menace because of the Medias influence? Some responses were “No, not really. I had a friend who had a Pit. I would dog sit for her. He was a huge dog but insisted he was a lap dog. One of the most loving dogs I have seen. And he got along great with my two dogs.” While another response were “Been attacked two times by Pit Bulls, don't like them never will. I love dogs and I have a dog walking business. I won't go near the killers!” Others based their opinion with what the media said and saw the media as the experts, and would not listen to any information from someone that had firsthand knowledge about the dogs after all, these people had American Pit Bulls Terriers. For those that are devoted and responsible about the breed would know the history and behavior of this breed verses someone that has the breed but lacks the responsibility of training the dogs.

Reversing the stereotype image

The media has the ability of being part of the solution instead of being some of the problem too. What can be done to solve problem? Through powerful persuasion, the media can change the dogs’ image by covering positive news towards these dogs and stop focusing the negative aspect of the dogs. The society has learned to accept the Doberman, German Sheppard, Rottweiler, and other dangerous dogs. Just because there have been an incidents of dog bites and several attacks that have cause death this doesn’t mean that this entire breed is vicious.

Without acquiring the all facts and information at hand and only learn bits and pieces through the media to get the full picture about the subject the reader or viewer should be asking is the media coaching people to hate; to be abusive by projecting a negative side about Pit Bulls without fully researching why there may be many occurrences of these dogs attacking dogs and people especially children. With the continual negative stories this has caused damaging influence against these dogs. This negativity often leads to the dog’s death, to being abused; to being used in dog-fights all because the media plays a big part providing unconstructive information about Pit Bulls. The media misleads, misinforms the public about the dogs because when the writer writes his or her story the audience becomes more fearful of these dog. Wouldn’t it be easier to stop creating fear that creates a more hostile and less socialized animal because the laws seek to lessen the opportunities for normal social interactions between dogs, humans and other animals?

Leaked photos Denver, CO killed

Leaked: photos of pit bulls killed due to Denver ban
Leaked: photos of pit bulls killed due to Denver ban | Source
Denver, Colorado ideal solution on Breed Specific Legislation is to euthanasia 3,500 dogs by trying to eliminate the breed.
Denver, Colorado ideal solution on Breed Specific Legislation is to euthanasia 3,500 dogs by trying to eliminate the breed. | Source


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    • profile image


      2 years ago

      The sad fact that people have to read such articles like this one to come to a conclusion on Pitbulls, is sickening.

      Yes, I do find it an issue when an aggressive dog attacks another pet or person, however, aggression towards other animals and people can be worked on, through training. There are MILLIONS of dogs who have extreme food, people, and animal aggression. All of which are an easy fix if worked with properly.

      -Some canines do get to a point where they are untrianable and are a serious danger to themselves, other pets, and people... only in that case would I personably considering humanly euthanizing the animal (only if there was absolutely nothing I could do for the animal).

      What the majority of humans today don't think about is that all dogs can be dangerous. Most people do not think about the German Shepherd, for example. These dogs were once deemed dangerous. To bring up history, they were even used as attack dogs for various reasons. A German Shepherd Dog can just as easily damage another just like the stereotypical Pitbull.

      I personally know several people that own Pitbulls, or bully breeds. They are the sweetest dogs anyone has ever met.

      Yes, every animal does have its flaws, but, so do people.

      If a child or adult were to bite or attack someone, causing serious injury to the other individual, would you take that individual out back and put a bullet through their head? Or maybe drown them? Hell, or possibly have them injected with medicine to 'fall asleep?' No. Well, any sane person wouldn't. In addition, who said that person wasn't provoked by the other? Thus, acting upon that action. So, what right does someone have to do this to a pitbull (or any animal for that matter)? The answer?... There is absolutely no justification for someone to do such a thing to an animal for ANY reason.

      All animals feel pain, just as do people.

      Hurting an animal in any way is morally frowned upon. It is wrong to cause harm and/or suffering to any animal.

      I do not believe it is morally correct to 'ban' or murder a dog due to the bad reputation. If no one has figured it out by now.. MOST dogs act out for a specific reason. Whether that be becuase they feel frightened, threatened, etc.

      Pitbulls are most commonly used as illegal fighting dogs. They are forced to fight with others. While being trapped, and having zero contact with anyone, the only thing they know how to do (when faced with another dog/person is to attack, or cower in fear. This is instinct. It is what they grew up with.., how they were trained.

      Any dog can be taught to be aggressive towards other animals and people.

      Another large aspect of Pitbulls and any other dogs lashing out is the depervation of human and animal contact.

      Point being, I personally believe the bad reputation that has been bestowed upon Pitbulls has gotten WAY out of hand. Animals are animals. They will either have a fight or flight response. Either due to the incompetence of their owners, or, the stupidity of others.

      The only differences between people and animals is that an animal cannot verbally speak to justify its actions, and that tons of people seek out to harm others in a sick twisted way. Last time I checked, people kill innocent animals and cause harm to people due to the sheer pleasure of it. No animal does that.

      In conclusion, anyone who believes that a pitbull should be put down or killed, needs to take another look at things. If I remember correctly, little Chewy (a Chihuahua) didn't get put down, judged or gained a bad rep for quote-unquote 'accidentally' biting little Susie.... Honestly, what's the difference? That dog may've had a legitimate reason for biting poor little Susie. However, when a dog such as Pitbull bites little Susie, it's a crime.

      Please into consideration all of this, if you are one who is against bully breeds due to history that has been thrown down, and kicked around too many times to recognize for its own good.



    • profile image

      Ken Eire 32 

      3 years ago

      the kids think they have no protectin so if I can't have a gun ill get a pitbull to protect me and mine . So teach the kids about pitbulls welfare cos something has to be done or your breed is fucked. NO RATING N2S TAL

    • profile image

      Aaron Moye 

      6 years ago

      That's Horrible Shame You Colorado

    • profile image

      Amy t. 

      6 years ago

      I always think about pitbulls and how people are so horrible to these dogs. If u hate this breed then look inside a pits eyes and ask ur self is why. Is it the face the ears the body or maybe the tail. No what it is that u see is the name. People know names and that's all they see. Look passed that and look inside their heart and ask ur self again. Why do I hate this breed. Do u no anything about them or just the name. Answer is always the name. It scares u. That is sadly a fact. I stand proud next to my pit and I dare anyone to say that dog should not be alive. I'm ashamed and embrassed by pitbull haters. Just the word pitbull does NOT make it ok to judge them.

    • profile image

      RDT in COLORADO 

      6 years ago

      ive lived in colorado for 19 years. me and my boyfriend have 2 amazing pits and all they want to do is love and be loved. those pictures make me sick and the fact that that took place within 2 hours of me makes me horrified. if anyone ever took my dogs and did that i don't what i would do. they are just dogs, they shouldn't be judged for there name of breed.

    • Eternal Evolution profile image

      Eternal Evolution 

      7 years ago from kentucky

      Great hub. Information and education is the key when it come to the APBT. A responsible pit bull owner will strive to learn as much about the dog's breed and history. While they are great dogs like any breed they are not right for everyone. Owners need to know both the positive and negative traits of pit bulls. However this holds true for any breed.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      This is one of the worst pictures I've ever had to see. I am a proud owner of three beautiful Pit bulls. It should have been illegal to kill those dogs. Why don't Pit bulls have the right to live like any other dog? This just kills me! I am currently attending college to earn my degree in Veterinary technology. I have always dreamed of opening my own Pit bull rescue. However, now I will be working harder than ever to reach that goal, so that I may never have to hear, or see anything like this again. If anyone knows of a Pit bull that needs a home before something like this happens please don't hesitate to send me an email. I will do everything in my power to help any animal in need.

    • Minnetonka Twin profile image

      Linda Rogers 

      7 years ago from Minnesota

      Thanks for educating us on the real story about these dogs. These are terribly sad pictures.


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