The pitfalls of pit bulls

2013-05-16 00:00

SOMETIMES, while speaking telephonically to puppy owners about pups that are 16 weeks or older, I will tell them that the litter departure age was six weeks or less, and that they have the alpha male or female. Naturally, they are curious as to how I know this, without having seen the puppy. The answer is derived from the behaviour that has been described to me over the phone.

There are other words or information which can cause alarm, such as “back-yard breeder”, or “small children”. One word, however, which causes a great deal of concern is “terrier” and of course, when the preceding words are “pit bull”, in conjunction with premature litter departure and strong temperament, the alarm bells go crazy. This seems to be happening more and more as people are looking to this breed for added security, especially after crime-related experiences.

Pet ownership is governed by two categories; namely, physical and psychological. The physical can become an issue when the acquisition is not from a reputable breeder and as a result, genetically related defects, or inherited physiological malfunctions are more likely to occur. There is a reduction of such concerns in good bloodlines, but these pups may cost substantially more.

About two years ago, a woman phoned me for assistance with her adult German Shepherd cross husky’s behaviour. On asking about the presence of other dogs on the property, she said there were also four pit bull puppies, two of three months and two of six months. This was her first experience with the breed. I immediately suggested that we discuss the older dog later and speak about the puppies. All four, two males and two females, were taken at six weeks of age from a back-yard breeder. During the conversation, in an attempt to make her aware of possible future consequences, she kept on saying the puppies were calm. Even though I told her repeatedly that the puppies would not remain this age forever, she seemed unable to project her mind forwards into the future. It soon became clear, that due to her emotional state of mind, the conversation was leading nowhere. Eventually, she asked to phone back, as her cellphone battery was running low. I never heard from her again and it was confirmation that my warnings were an exercise in futility.

Puppies, such as those mentioned above, can be described as ticking time bombs. When appropriate education is neglected, owners can expect to be confronted with destructive behaviour as early as four to five months of age. It can virtually be guaranteed, though, that an explosion of excessive aggression will occur from 18 months.

When decisions are made to acquire breeds with a reputation for aggression or fighting, in the mistaken belief that it will resolve security issues, I also inform new puppy owners that even the more aggressive breeds may sometimes not step up to the plate with regards to security. For example, the pet may be aggressive to unwanted visitors, but relaxed around staff working on the property. It is common knowledge that perpetrators of crime quite often gain access to premises with the aid of inside help.

In ending, it must be made clear that pit bulls, as a breed, are not a problem. When the ground work is done appropriately, puppies grow up to be wonderful companions to and protectors of their families without ever becoming a liability. It must also be made clear that puppies become an issue because of problem people and therefore behaviour concerns can emanate from any breed.

Please contact me or your vet’s practice should you have any behavioural concerns.


• Steve van Staden is a canine behaviour specialist. See Advice is only dispensed in face-to-face meetings with owners and their pets.

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