Do Most Pit Bulls Grow Up to Be Mean?

A gentle giant with an undeserved stigma.
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Pit bulls have a bad and undeserved reputation for aggression and danger. It is understandable that those unfamiliar with the breed may ask if the pit bull grows up to be mean. After all, who could suspect an adorable pit bull puppy of being anything but angelic? Pit bulls are lots of things -- strong, athletic, loyal and protective are just four -- but they are not inherently mean. However, their reputation makes them attractive to the sort of people who may wish to turn them mean.

A Dark History

It’s undeniable that the pit bull has a less than salubrious past. These strong dogs were used for the deplorable -- and thankfully long-gone -- sport of bull baiting. They were also used for organized dog fighting and, sadly, this still goes on. However, modern pit bulls are generally bred for companionship. They excel at agility, make excellent guard dogs and are generally easy-going, docile pets often said to be particularly indulgent of the antics of small children.

A Public Relations Problem

Many myths abound concerning the pit bull. One of the most enduring is that they are inherently aggressive. They are not. Pit bulls, when properly assessed by the American Temperament Testing Society, consistently perform well. They also don't have "locking jaws" or other unique physical features that make them inherently more dangerous than other large breeds. However, due to their size and strength, if a pit bull is provoked, cornered or threatened into attacking, the results are often more devastating for the victim than an attack by a smaller dog.

The Gentle Pit Bull

Despite his reputation problem, pit bulls are regarded by those who know them to be gentle, affectionate, friendly and patient. Noted TV dog trainer Cesar Millan is a famous advocate of the breed and frequently appears alongside his pet pit bull Daddy in his shows.

Conditioning vs. Instinct

It's possible to turn any dog mean. Dogs learn by association. If they are rewarded for picking up a ball, they’ll quickly learn to repeat the act of picking up the ball in order to get their reward. By the same token, if you reward a dog for acting aggressively, or punish a dog until it becomes aggressive, it will seek to repeat that behavior. While pit bulls are not prone to spontaneous aggression, they are confident, brave and strong. If provoked, a pit bull will most probably stick up for himself rather than run away or cower.

Self-Perpetuation of a Myth

Because they are big, brawny and athletic, a pit bull conditioned for aggression becomes a formidable weapon. Their undeserved reputation makes them attractive to the very people who shouldn’t own them. In the right hands, a pit bull is a loving member of the family who is great with kids; in the wrong hands, they can be dangerous. But it is human choices and behavior that turn that adorable puppy into a mean adult.