APBTs are generally inclined to be extremely friendly and trusting around people. This is usually true even with dogs that have not been properly socialized around people. Still, you will want to take no chances. From the time your puppy is tiny, you should encourage friends, strangers, and neighborhood kids of all ages to pick her up and play with her. Try to make your puppy's associations with humans overwhelmingly positive. Walk your puppy through crowded public places, such as street fairs, to get her accustomed to the presence of lots of people. With this breed, human-aggressiveness is rare. Until fairly recently in the APBT's breeding history, this highly undesireable trait was kept out of the breed through brutal simplicity: a dog that displayed aggression toward people was shot on the spot, no second chance. As a result of this ruthless culling, today you're more likely to encounter the opposite problem: figuring out how to restrain your dog's insistence on licking every face that goes by. However, as in all breeds, there will occasionally be a human-aggressive individual--usually, but not always, the result of backyard breeding or neglect and abuse. Owning such a dog is, to say the least, a tremendous liability. There are various degrees and causes of human-aggressiveness in dogs. Sometimes the problem is classic dominance-aggression, and it can be nipped in the bud at an early age if you appropriately re-establish your dominance. In any case, at the first sign of a problem, you should immediately seek expert help from a behaviorist or trainer with experience specifically with this breed. For your own safety, the safety of your neighbors, and for the sake of the breed, you should not hesitate to euthanize such a dog if necessary.
With APBTs, a much more common problem than human-aggressiveness is dog-aggressiveness. If you want to be able to take your APBT to parks and other public places where other dogs may be present, you must begin its socialization very early. Socialization with other dogs is important for every breed, but it is especially crucial for APBTs. Not all APBT's are naturally inclined to dog-aggressiveness, but many are. Early socialization is not a guarantee against the eventual development of dog-aggressiveness, but, combined with basic obedience training, it is often effective in countering the breed's aggressive tendency and permitting your APBT to enjoy the company of other dogs throughout its life. The socialization process cannot begin too early. Find other responsible owners of small puppies and non-aggressive adult dogs (all innoculated, of course) and make sure to have regular (daily, if possible) periods where the dogs can get together and play. Like human beings, dogs are social creatures. They are happiest in the company of their own kind. Yet playing with other dogs is not something that a dog is born knowing how to do; it is learned through experience: by imitiation a puppy learns the difference between appropriate and inappropriate behaviors. You should closely supervise your puppy in these dog play groups. Dog play consists of two primary actitivies: imitation of fighting and imitation of predatory chases. To a novice dog owner, these play activities may seem much more serious than in fact they are. Dogs can take a lot of rough play with plenty of barking, play-growling and play-biting, so long as none of the dogs feels threatened. You should look to see whether the dogs are exchanging top and bottom positions and taking turns chasing each other; this is an indication that they both accept the rules of appropriate play. A common problem with APBTs is that they play too roughly, and, not realizing this, frighten their play-mate into serious defensive posturing. Ideally, you should choose large, easy-going dogs for your APBT puppy to play with. If your puppy becomes too rough for her playmate, let her know your disapproval verbally and correct her by temporarily picking her up and ending the fun. Remember, a 10-week old pup is not a monster; she can't seriously hurt her playmates. The crucial formative period between 8 and 16 weeks is the time to socialize your APBT puppy most intensively. If you wait till she is 6 monthsold before exposing her to other dogs, it may be too late to socialize her safely, and you will be stuck with a dog that can never let off-leash in public places. Socialization will not always succeed in preventing your APBT from becoming dog-aggressive; but failing to socialize your dog will almost certainly guarantee that you dog will become dog-aggressive. Throughout the process of socialization, you never want to allow your APBT to imperil other dogs. You must keep in mind that sometimes even well-socialized APBTs, once they reach a certain age (usually between a year and a half and three years), can suddenly "turn on" toward dogs. To be on the safe side, every APBT owner should carry a breaking stick and learn how to use it properly. When you decide to buy an APBT, you must be clear that there is a possibility that your dog may eventually need to be isolated from other dogs, no matter how diligently you socialize her. This is one of the potential inconveniences of owning an APBT.
Like socialization, basic obedience training should also begin early. With this breed, it is essential to have your dog completely under voice control. Contrary to a common misunderstanding, training will NOT "break the spirit" of an APBT. Dogs are hierarchical pack animals. Their psychological well-being depends on their knowing with certainty their exact status in the pack and on their having a definite lead to follow. This "pack mentality" is the instinct that made canines domesticable: a dog regards her human family as her pack and looks to her masters as the pack leaders. A dog that is never trained and is allowed to do anything it pleases will be perpetually anxious and confused, since this absolute freedom and the resulting uncertainty as to who is really the pack leader produces insecurity in a canine. It is mainly for this reason, and not for hunger alone, that lone wolves and lost dogs are especially unhappy; their freedom is too much for them to handle. The APBT is no different in this respect than any other breed.
Another harmful myth about APBTs is that they require a different kind of training than other breeds: "The only way to get these dogs to respect you is to beat the crap out of them." In fact, APBTs tend to be very eager to please and emotionally sensitive, so that harsh treatment is counterproductive. APBT's really love being praised and hugged, and it is mainly by these positive means that your APBT will learn to anticipate what you want and do it eagerly, just like any other breed of dog.
When you find an obedience class in which to enroll your dog, you will need to make a decision about a training collar. The APBT is the world's most pain-insensitive breed. Therefore, an ordinary chain choke collar may not be sufficient to get your dog's attention when she gets a mind to chase a squirrel. An ordinary chain choke make also do cumulative damage to your dog's trachea. In this case, you should probably use a pinch collar. Not only is it able to get a dog's attention better, but it is less likely to injure the dog's throat.
Once your dog is properly socialized and trained, there is no limit to the actitvities that you can enjoy with your dog. APBT's are extremely versatile and tireless athletes. They have been known to excel at agility, fly races, tracking, and frisbee. Many excel at big game hunting. Having been bred for prolonged, high-intensity activity, they can run for hours and hours, and so they make great hiking or mountain-biking companions. Many have phenomenal leaping ability. Some can even climb trees. One competitive sport specifically designed for APBTs is weight-pull competitions, a regular feature of ADBA-sponsored shows.
APBTs not only enjoy lots of hard exercise, they NEED it. An exhausted APBT is a happy APBT. If you won't have the time to exercise your dog regularly, you should choose another breed. You don't need a big back yard to provide you dog with sufficient exercise. One popular indoor exercise device that many APBT owners rely on is a treadmill. You can work your dog up to 30-45 minutes daily. Another stationary exercise device is the spring pole. This device is a simple solo tug-of-war machine that some dogs will play with for hours.
Be careful not to push your puppy to overexertion while her bones are still growing. Puppies should be allowed to establish their own comfortable level of exercise. Serious use of a treadmill should only begin at a year and a half or older.
On the whole, the APBT are a very healthy, robust breed. They usually do well at the vets, because they are not threatened too easily and have a high threshhold for pain. My sister, who is a veternian technician and has handled thousands of dogs, said that the easiest breeds to work with/on are the Labrador Retreiver and the Pit Bull. The only health problem that I am aware of in certain lines is demotectic mange. This can be treated with baths and/or topical ointment.
As far as life span in concerned, 12-13 years is probably about average, although a 15-16 year old APBT is not unheard of.
Well, no USENET APBT FAQ would be complete without touching on this subject, as it has been debated to death on rpd*. Below is a post made by one of the authors during the "Performance vs. Conformation" thread that appeared on rpd* in late 1994.
Post From: "scott david bradwell"
Cindy Tittle Moore wrote:
Conformation is essential for performance. The original
labrador standard was written strictly by field folks
as the exact type of dog that did best in the field trials
of the time. In a different country with different field trials, the
dogs that do well at this have changed to follow that performance,
>while the show breeders mostly breed toward the original conformation
for the old field trials. That they do very well in the new hunting
>tests bears me out.
>A dog that has been bred strictly for performance can fall into the
same sort of pitfalls as a dog bred strictly for conformation. Any
>sort of extreme *will* give you problems.
This argument, historically speaking, puts the cart before the horse. Performance breeding--the long-term, multi-generational practice of selective breeding according to the principle of survival of the fittest-- predates conformation breeding by many thousands of years. Breeding for conformation, i.e. for show purposes, is a relatively recent phenomenon, dating back to the nineteenth century. But performance breeding surely goes back to the earliest domestication of canines during the stone age for purposes of hunting and guarding. The former is a luxury of a comfortable middle class whose dogs were no longer essential to their livelihood; the latter was often a matter of basic subsistence for hunter-gatherers.
The rule of performance breeding hasn't changed in all that time: you test the individual dogs to find the ones who best perform their assigned task and breed only these superior dogs. It is important to remember that performance-breeding is not the work of a single breeder. It is the collective work of centuries of conscientious breeders who strove to add tiny incremental improvements to the achievements of their predecessors. Very gradually, the dogs grow into their task genetically, doing their thing more and more by pure instinct and requiring less and less training to do it well.
If even one generation of breeders is careless and violates this rule of selective breeding, the achievements of all the previous breeders will be wiped out or diminished, perhaps irrecoverably. It makes no difference whether the task be tracking, racing, or pit fighting; the same criterion applies. To the members of the bull breeds list, all this is going to sound familiar. But I'll say it again: the proof is in the pudding. For centuries, those who bred dogs for bull-baiting or pit fighting didn't give a damn what their dogs LOOKED LIKE. All they cared about was whether or not the dogs were successful at what they did. That was the sole criterion for selecting dogs for breeding. For this reason, performance-bred APBT's show a very wide range of variation in phenotype, since they were never, at least until very recently, bred for conformation. But, no matter what it looked like, there's no way you would ever mistake a real APBT for anything else if you saw the way it fought. The quality that enables an APBT to defeat any other breed of dog, even a dog four or five times heavier, is not evident in the dog's phenotype. Neither the APBT's impressive jaw strength nor the explosive muscular power of its torso are enough to explain why a game 50-lb. APBT can always overcome a 120-lb. Rottweiler or a 200-lb. Mastiff or Tosa. It is gameness, the quality of never quitting in spite of exhaustion, blood loss and broken bones, that enables a performance-bred APBT to prevail against such odds. No other breed has even a quarter of the APBT's gameness. And this extraordinary quality could only have been built up gradually over countless generations by a strict application of the basic rule of performance breeding described above.
Breeding dogs for the looks that you think will enable them to perform a given task is a wrong-headed approach to performance breeding, yet this is precisely the approach advocated by many AKC breed clubs. These clubs try to make the ex post facto conformation standard seem as though it preceded the actual performance-based evolution of working breeds. Conformation breeding for the sake of performance only makes sense if motivated by nostalgia for a performance breed that no longer exists, having been bred out of existence in the production of a show dog with a only superficial resemblance to it. As I understand it, such was the motivation of the various recent efforts to create a better facsimile of the original bulldog of yore. Yet it makes no sense at all to try to improve performance by breeding according to a conformation standard when there is already a stock of performance-bred dogs that have an unbroken continuity to the performance breeding of the past-- as in the case of APBT's.
A lot of people who don't know APBT's wrongly assume that the things that make a dog APPEAR tough--a massive head, a barrel chest, and a thick, short neck--are what make a champion fighting dog. In fact, these things are usually a detriment to performance. In any case, you cannot tell by looking at an APBT whether it will be a champion fighter or not. The extent of its gameness, the single most important component of an APBT's fighting prowess, is not a visible quality.
Please, no flames. This is not meant to be an apology for dog fighting. My only point is that performance breeding is historically prior to, and not at all enhanced by, conformation breeding. Conformation breeding can very well complicate the challenge of performance breeding since it adds an extraneous criterion: the breeder must not only breed the dogs up to snuff performance-wise, but must also please the show judge who is enforcing an ideal that changes with the winds of fashion. Performance breeding and conformation breeding are both selective methods of breeding but they should not be confused with one another.
Again, the authors wish to emphasize that by including this overview we are NOT promoting dog fighting. Matching two dogs in combat is illegal in all of the U.S. and a felony on most parts. This overview is the result of a post that was made to rpb and by reading some of the older works in the "References" section of this FAQ. Neither of the authors has fought dogs nor has either author seen an organized dog fight. We feel that this overview is accurate but it should be treated as hearsay as that is what it is. It is included here so that the reader can better understand just what the APBT is and what he has been traditionaly bred for. This also gives a more accurate, balanced account of what the traditional pit match was really like. If you think you might be offended by the material written here, by all means, skip this section.
You have been warned.
In order to understand what happens in one of these contests one must first understand the origin of the dog and individuals who originally pit one dog against another. There is a lot of speculation on this issue but the overal consensus among 'professional' dog fighters is that it was a way to find out which dog was the toughest. Throughout history, men have fought one another in caged contests, with gloves, without gloves, with rules, without rules, etc...the tough man was worshiped and to be emulated in the days when it was more accepted by society. So, how did they define tough?
One aspect of being tough was gameness. Two men would duke it out and if one of them quit the dual was over. Even if the man who quit was physically stronger he was not considered to be tougher. In other instances it was not only who was stronger physically but who was smarter and in yet others it was physical. So, we now have three components of a fight, physical, mental and gameness, or heart! The heart is that intangible men worshiped back then, the gameness to never quit until there was nothing left.
These men also expected the same of their dogs. The dog that would quit in a fight was no longer kept for breeding. As a result there was an evolution that took place where the dogs would continue to fight even while taking a beating. Now, gameness is not sufficient when faced with a stronger and larger opponent so other things began to evolve such as strength of bite, agility, and various other things like fighting style, yes, style. As men learned more and more they began to selectively breed for one characteristic over another to the point that only game, athletic, hard biting winners were bred. These dogs tended to be small since they were typically matched in buildings, basements etc...most ranged from as little as 15 pounds all the way up to 45 or 50 pounds. The reason for this was simple. It's easier to physically pick up a small dog in the heat of battle than a large one. So, what prevents the person who is handling the dog from being bitten? Well, that is part of the evolution and something else that I will explain in a moment. First let's examine being in a 16 by 16 foot square pit trying to grab a dog that is the middle of a major battle. What prevents the dog from biting the handler? Well, it's because over the many many years breeders selectively bred only those dogs that would NOT bite the handler. But, there was something else they were doing and didn't know it. It had to do with the most fundamental instinct of all. The survival instinct. The old timers believed that a mean, vicious dog was never really game! Period! A man biter was put to death immediately. That is how strong their feelings were.
To better understand this we need to examine the survival instinct as it applies to Wolves in the wild, and in order for that to happen we need a scenario that commonly occurs in the wild. Let's say that a pack of wolves has just killed a deer and is in the process of eating. Since the dogs are very hungry they just start tearing away at the carcass and eventually there will be a piece of meat that two males, (just for argument sake), will want. Well of course there will be a conflict when that happens, right? The first thing one wolf will do is to start something called "threat display", by showing his teeth and raising the hair on his back to appear larger than he is. He might even growl to sound mean. This type of behavior is used so that he does not have to fight. The idea is intimidation first, then and only then will he actually fight. The reason for this is the ever present survival instincts. Being physically injured could potentially risk life itself, hence "threat display" You'll also notice that the fights the do happen are very short and almost never result in debilitating injuries. Again in the interest of surviving. All the slashing teeth, rearing up on the hind legs and so forth are variations on a theme. The aggressiveness is therefore considered threat display and as such is not, I repeat not a desirable trait when crafting a combat dog. Therefore, gameness and aggressiveness are not the same. I game dog does
NOT show his teeth.
NOT raise up on his hind legs.
NOT growl or make any noise other than maybe screaming or whimpering due to the intense desire for physical contact.
NOT show aggressiveness towards humans as this is yet again a manifestation of THREAT display.
So, for people to say that these dogs are people aggressive simply because they have seen action in the pit is not because they are stupid, just uninformed.
THE PIT CONTEST:
Now we're ready for what really happens in the pit. Let's examine the dimensions first. A pit is typically 16 feet by 16 feet square and about 2 1/2 to 3 feet high. The floor is usually a thick carpet and the walls are made of wood. In the real world of TOP dog fighters there are only a handful of individuals at one of these matches. There is a referee, a second for each dog, a handler for each dog and a time keeper. there is a "scratch" line drawn diagonally from one neutral corner of the pit to the other. A dog must cross that line to complete his scratch. There is normally a ten second time limit from the time a dog is released until it crosses the scratch line. If he does not cross the line in the alotted time then the other dog is declared the winner.
HOW A MATCH BEGINS:
At the beginning of the match, both dogs are faced into their respective corners by their handlers until the referee, also in the pit asks the contestants to face their dogs. At that time the two handlers turn 180 degrees and face each other. When that happens the dogs get sight of one another and start to get pretty excited. they both usually start trying to get away in order to go after the other dog. The referee asks the handlers to release their dogs and the match has begun. To the uninitiated it's a bit strange because once the dogs make contact in the middle of the pit there is almost not noise at all. No growling, no raised hair, no snapping. Just each dog trying to get a hold on the other. One might grab an ear or a shoulder and try to wrestle the opponent to the ground. Then, the dominant dog will shake his head to try and punish the other dog. As the match progresses, with only the sounds of breathing, the dogs will swap holds, (i.e., take turns grabbing each other).
At some point in the match one of the dogs might have second thoughts about wanting to be there so will show some signs of this by doing certain things. One of those things that we look for is the tail tucking. A sure fire sign that a dog is thinking of not continuing. The most subtle sign but more reliable is when a dog physically turns his head and shoulders away from his opponent during combat. This is called a turn. It is up to the handler of the other dog to point it out to the referee. When that has been done the referee announces to the handlers that a turn has been called and that they should handle their dogs at the first opportunity. This opportunity comes when both dogs are not in hold, (i.e., biting each other). This is when each handler in unison will grab his dog by the nap of the neck and put a hand under the stifle area to pick his dog up. Each handler then returns to their respective corners, much like boxing. they must each face their dogs into the corner for 25 seconds and then upon hearing the referee say face your dogs, turn and face their dogs. The dog that turns first, must scratch first. So, the handler of the dog that was called for the turn must then release his dog first.
Okay, the dog that turned first must now go across the scratch line to prove that he still wants to dominate. If he doesn't cross the line in 10 seconds then he loses and the opponent is declared the winner. This is more often than not. Or, the losing dog will be too tired to complete the scratch on time. Again, this terminates the match. If a handler were to try to physically make his dog cross the line then again the match is over and the handler is called for a foul.
In the past several years, an alarming number of local jurisdictions throughout the United States, and indeed the world, have passed "breed specific" laws pertaining to "Pit Bulls" or "Dogs that are found to be of Pit Bull type". These laws are written in vague language and range from requiring the dog to be muzzled in public and forcing owner to take out a special insurance policy, to the outright banning of "Pit Bulls". These laws are unfair because they discriminate against a dog just because it is a certain breed, or that it "looks" like a certain breed. These laws fail to address the real problems of truly vicious dogs of any breed and irresponsible owners. Any current or prospective APBT owner should be aware of any special breed related laws in his or her local jurisdiction. One way to keep tabs on, and fight, breed specific legislation is to join the Endangered Breed Association (see "References" section). Another way to indirectly fight this mind-set is through responsible ownership. An APBT owner must take extra measures to ensure that their dogs are never running loose and make an extra effort in socialization and training. The public automatically expects the worse, don't confirm their expatations.