Can Dogs Bred for Fighting Be Rehabilitated?

Pit bulls do not have jaws that lock -- that's one of many myths.
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Not all dogs grow up in happy, loving homes. Many suffer abuse and mistreatment because they are raised to be fighters, trained to attack other dogs in a vicious kill-or-be-killed contest. Police and animal rescue professionals save the lucky ones and seek to find them loving homes. It is possible to rehabilitate fighting dogs, but not every time.

A Fighting Dog's Life

Dogs raised to be fighters live brutal lives. "Training" typically involves being chained, taunted, starved and sometimes beaten. These dogs are conditioned to ignore pain and not give up in a fight, no matter how badly they may be injured. And breeders often use dogs that win fight after fight to sire future fighters. Unfortunately, such irresponsible breeding is what overflows shelters with hard-to-place dogs and may be making dogs who are bred to fight more aggressive.


Because of the harsh, violent lives they lead, dogs rescued from fight rings may suffer from a range of behavioral issues such as fear and aggression. Ideally, a professional behaviorist should conduct a temperament test on a rescued fight dog's reactions to common companionship situations. This includes seeing how well he reacts to being handled by or playing with new people, how he reacts to other dogs and what he does when someone takes away his food or a toy. It also includes introducing him to dolls that look and sound like children.

Adoptability Lies in the Reactions

Whether a rescued dog is a good candidate for life with a loving family depends on how strongly she reacts to behavioral tests. If she demonstrates mild to moderate levels of aggression or fear around other people or dogs, she may be a candidate for rehabilitation. Extreme fear or severe aggression toward people or other dogs means she is not adoptable and she may be euthanized. But even for dogs who can be rehabilitated, rehabilitation takes several months, lots of patience and the resources to house, feed and perhaps isolate them from other pets during rehabilitation.

Concerns about Children and Pets

Fighting dogs typically have good relations with grown people -- a necessary defense mechanism bred into dogs built to fight other animals. But because of their size and the sounds they make, children and other pets may provoke a former fighting dog to attack. Rehabilitated fighting dogs must be monitored throughout their lives for signs of increased aggression, tension or fear around children and pets. Children who may think they're just playing could startle a dog, and that could lead to an attack.

Life After Fighting

Some dogs are so traumatized by having lived their whole lives chained and abused that they cringe even at the presence of a new water bowl. Those not suited for a job or who don't find placement in a home may be taken to an animal sanctuary, but those are the relatively lucky ones. Those who do come through efforts to rehabilitate, however, often adjust well to life as pets or as work or therapy dogs, particularly for returning soldiers coping with stress disorders.