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10 Common Misconceptions About Pitbulls

No other dog has had so much media coverage in the last 15 years as the Pit Bull. It’s tough not to be emotional one way or the other about these canines, especially if you’ve owned one or two or three, or if you or a loved one has been involved in a bad incident involving a Pit Bull. One side says Pits are dangerous and should be banned. The other side says they are loving, safe dogs and it’s the owners who are to blame for any “bad” Pits. What is the truth? Somewhere in between.

“Pit Bull” can refer to either the American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT) breed or a type of dog who has Pit Bull traits. It’s all muddled at this point with Breed Specific Legislation, which bans or restricts some breeds, lumping Boxers and Dalmatians in with pits and other bully breeds (such as the American Staffordshire Terrier. Most Pit Bulls on the street are mixes though there is still breeding of the APBT. Responsible breeding produces a stable, talented dog while breeding for dog fighting must, of course, be stopped.


It gets more confusing when trying to identify just how many Pit Bulls are responsible for dog or human attacks. When you see the term “Pit Bull” in the press, it can refer to any type of dog. More often than you’d think, a dog who attacked someone and is labeled Pit Bull, is actually a mutt or a different breed altogether. Even if a picture is attached and it looks like a Pitbull, it could be any number of mixes which produce similar characteristics. Really, when you think about it, condemning a dog based on his physical traits is declaring his guilt based purely on his appearance – this is what BSL is about.

But there are the sensible people who honestly feel that Pitbulls, and any dog that resembles one, are a danger to society. Often, these folks don’t know much about dogs and certainly not much about Pits. But they are being bombarded with almost all bad press about these dogs. It is evident that the media fuels misconceptions about Pits and stirs up the public. And the statistics behind the fury are less than accurate. Even the Center for Disease Control, which puts out many of the stats, states that dog bite and dog attack data cannot be gathered accurately. But, still, the section of society that does not feel safe with Pit Bulls has a right to be heard. And, considering the bull they are fed about Pits, it’s no wonder they don’t believe the Pit Bull supporters.

Below are 10 common misconceptions about Pit Bulls which both support and contradict the general views of either “Pit Bulls are dangerous” or “Pit Bulls are just like Golden Retrievers.” Just as it’s tough to be unemotional about these dogs, it’s also tough to be unbiased (especially when the author of this article owns three of them) but a valiant effort has been made.


10 Misconceptions About Pit Bulls

1. All Pit Bulls Are Bad – Dogs do not have a conscience; they cannot be “bad.” Pit Bulls react to their world based on their breeding and training. You can’t breed a dog to fight other dogs for almost 200 years and expect those instincts to vanish.

2. All Pit Bulls Are Good – No dog is not innately “good.” They simply act as their instincts and owners tell them to. To try to sell the Pit Bull to the public as a fluffy bunny does a disservice to the public, to potential Pit Bull owners and to Pits themselves.

3. Pit Bulls Are Human Aggressive – Since Pits were bred to fight dogs in a ring, the owners had to make certain they would not turn on them when they went in to stop the fight. Imagine a dog, so riled up from fighting and very aggressive, who was able to then turn it off when his human appeared in the pit. When a Pit Bull attacks a person, there are always other factors involved, such as protection of food. Any dog may bite if provoked.

4. Pit Bulls Can Cause More Damage Than Other Dogs – Sorry, Pit Bull lovers but this is sometimes sadly true. Myths such as the locked jaw have been disproved but a Pit Bull’s traits make him naturally more driven. Consider these: tenacity (they often fought til death in rings), gameness, prey drive, a compact, strong, muscular body (pits can pull up to 7,000 pounds) and centuries of fighting instinct. But, there are too many factors involved in dog bites, such as the size of the animal and where the bite occurred, to make a blanket statement. In their favor, a Pit Bull will likely listen and obey better than other dogs if properly trained.


5. An Aggressive Pit Bull Cannot Be Rehabilitated – This was disproved by the Michael Vick case where some 50 pit bulls were rescued from a fighting ring. Of those, 49 dogs were rehabilitated. Some went to shelters such as Best Friends and many are well-loved family members today. The testing used to determine these dogs’ ability to fit into society was exhaustive and excellent and successful.

6. Anyone Can Own a Pit Bull – Pit Bulls are different from other dogs and their owners need to be told the facts before rescuing or purchasing one. A dog lover who has had Bichons all her life will be sorely surprised unless she does her homework and understands the bully breeds. Pits need a lot of structure, a very pronounced human alpha, training, exercise and lots of attention. The owner needs consistency, time, energy and maybe some muscle.

7. Pit Bulls Will Always Fight Other Dogs – Some Pits are so dog aggressive that they should be the only dog in the house. They also should not go to dog parks or areas where dogs run off-leash. Any Pit Bull could get into a fight with another dog. Any dog could. But breaking up a Pit Bull fight is much harder than a tiff between aShiba Inu and a Sharpei Inu. If you have a Pit Bull, learn about hisbody language and the signs that he is getting ready to fight. This will prevent many incidents.


8. Pit Bulls Are Lovers Not Fighters – Since it’s been established that they can be fighters, what about lovers? Absolutely! Pit Bulls give more kisses than any other type of dog (it’s proven!). They love humans and human interactions. They feed off positive attention. These dogs are loving, friendly creatures. And they are the kings of clowning.

9. Pit Bulls Are Badly Behaved – Any dog who has this much energy and motivation coded into his DNA can cause problems if he doesn’t get enough attention and exercise. Pit Bulls put their whole hearts into destruction – of couches, beds, pillows, or your $200 boots. But all they need is to have that energy redirected. Pit Bulls are highly trainable but they do need to be trained. Their intelligence, focus, gameness, loyalty and desire to please makes them one of the most teachable dogs.

10. Compromise is Unthinkable – Unfortunately, both sides of the Pit Bull debate are often stubborn about their views and solutions. For those who think BSL is wrong, they need to be realistic about how to end it. For those that think Pit Bulls are dangerous, they need to recognize that banning Pits tears loved pets away from their families and what they propose will not stop all dangerous dogs. Giving in a bit on both sides, such as allowing muzzling of Pit Bulls in public places in exchange for no BSL, may prove the only hope.


Pitbulls are like other dogs yet they’re also unique. Their gameness, focus, desire to please and boundless energy can be seen as either productive or unproductive traits. The trick is to utilize these characteristics in focused play and work, such as agility, weight pulling, rescue work or nose work.

10 Surprising And Secret Ways Your Dog Says ‘I Love You’

I have always fantasized about having the same powers as Doctor Dolittle — mostly because knowing exactly what animals are thinking and feeling would be some really valuable information to have.

For instance, why does my dog bark at the vacuum cleaner or hide in a corner whenever the lightest bit of rain starts to fall?

I don’t think I’ll ever know the answers to those questions, but thanks to new developments in the science of dog communication, I now know whether or not my dog loves me.

Much like studies that have found that dogs have certain “powers” or enhanced physical senses, scientists have also uncovered that because dogs and humans have been so deeply intertwined through history, dogs have developed unique ways to expressing their love for humans.

The signs are very subtle and they’re not always obvious, but as we break down in this exclusive, all you need to know are the tiny signs that prove your dog’s love for you…
1. Staring directly into your eyes.


On a 60 Minutes segment, Anderson Cooper met with Brian Hare, a well-known dog expert, to discuss how dogs express love. According to Hare, when your dog looks you in the eye, he is “hugging you with his eyes.”

When a dog looks at you while the two of you are playing with one another or just cuddling, oxytocin is released. It’s the same hormone that helps new mothers bond with their babies. If you want to test this out with your dog, don’t go home and a have a staring contest with your pooch. He will sense something is off, and look away because he feels awkward.

Instead, try to naturally maintain eye contact with him during your normal routines and see how he responds.
2. Yawning when you yawn.


Yawning is contagious. But did you know this impulse isn’t limited to just humans?

Dogs, because they’ve been bred to read humans, also yawn when someone they love yawns.

A study found that when humans echo another’s yawn, it’s because they’re empathetic, like sympathy pains. It’s impossible to measure if dogs are empathetic, but it’s possible that a dog yawning the same time as a human happens because the dog has bonded with that person.

The study also found that dogs were more likely to yawn when their owners yawned, as opposed to a stranger.
3. Leaning on you.


The song “Lean on Me” is all about offering support and dogs crave that same kind of security.

Sometimes a dog will lean on a human because he is anxious, wants you to do something, or take him somewhere. But leaning is also a symbol of affection.

Even if your dog is leaning on you out of pure nervousness, he is still doing it because he thinks of you as someone who can protect him and keep him safe.
4. Cuddling with you after a meal.


In his book, How Dogs Love Us, Gregory Berns, if your dog cuddles with your after eating, it’s a strong sign that they do indeed love you.

Most dogs lovers (or even people who don’t like dogs) know that pups are motivated by food. But according to Berns, once a dog eats all its food, his next action can signify what’s most important to him besides eating.

Sometimes your dog may have to do his “business” right after a meal, but watch how he reacts in the morning and at night. If he’s snuggling up with you after one of these meals, then there’s some definite puppy love on his end.
5. Lifting and wiggling eyebrows.


We think we can read a dog by its tail, but its facial expressions are a way more powerful indicator.
In a recent study in Japan, dogs were introduced to their parent, a stranger, a dog toy, and an item they didn’t like.

When seeing their parent, the dogs immediately lifted their eyebrows (especially their left), and when they saw a stranger there was a lot less facial movement, except for movement of the right brow.

Yet, when they saw an item they knew and had bonded with, the dogs shifted their left ear back. But if it was an item they didn’t like, their right ear shifted. According to the study, this suggests the dog is more reserved when they are engaging someone they don’t know or something they disapprove of.
6. Watching you leave calmly.


Some people think that if a dog panics when they leave that it’s a sign that they love them.

That’s not necessarily true, according to Gregory Berns.

If your dog panics when you leave, it’s more of a sign that they have separation anxiety than that they love you.

If a dog goes into his crate or is accepting of you leaving, i.e. they’re calm when you leave, it means your dog loves and trusts you and is confident that you will return.
7. Freaking out when you return.


We all feel special when we come home and we’re greeted by our dog with his tail wagging, a favorite toy in tow, and he’s jumping all over the place like a crazy kangaroo.

And it’s a good thing we like it, because it’s a very distinctive way a dog shows you his love for you — and it’s love in its truest form.
8. Sleeping in your room.

Another way to figure out whether your dog loves you is observing where he likes to sleep.

It’s part of a big controversy, but if your dog wants to sleep in your bed — even if you don’t allow it — he definitely loves you.

According to Gregory Berns, if a dog wants to sleep on your bed, it’s a good test of his loyalty because he doesn’t want to be separated from the pack.
9. Bringing you his favorite toy.


If your pup brings you his favorite, most coveted toy, it doesn’t just mean your dog wants to play.

Although wanting to play with you is a sign of affection in itself, when your dog brings you his favorite ball, it may also mean he thinks of you as his pack leader.

Because of this, he wants to please you by offering you his finest possession, be it a squeaky toy or well-worn Frisbee. He thinks you’ll like it as much as he does, and as they say: “sharing is caring!”

10. Enjoying your love.


Do you love your dog? According to Gregory Berns, dogs can actually innately sense whether or not you love them.

So if you don’t love them, you’re not getting it back in return!

How does your beloved pup most often show you their love? Let us know in the comments below!

Please SHARE if you believe dogs truly are man’s best friend!

More Than Fancy Words

As a dog trainer, I put a lot of effort into reframing key principles of animal learning for clients, avoiding the use of technical jargon. They’re looking for help with their dogs, not a lecture on applied behavior analysis or Pavlovian conditioning. Some are naturally curious, self-selecting to further learning; but most are happy to have concerns resolved without the heavy science discussion. I respect that their time is finite, so I need to be effective and efficient in my communication and skills, while ensuring I’m using best practices based in evidence. It’s not lost on me that I’m only able to do this having acquired a comprehensive education concentrated in known scientific principles, not in spite of it. This learning, for me, is an ethical and professional obligation – a pursuit that is ongoing, official directive or not. I hope for the sake of dogs and their owners that the law eventually requires testing in scientific literacy and related professional competency. That some don’t share that view should be troubling to consumers.

While I wouldn’t expect the average dog owner to be fluent or even decidedly interested in the science of animal learning and behavior, I do expect that of professional dog trainers. Yes, clients sometimes hold misconceptions – so long as adherence to them isn’t compromising the dog’s welfare or their own safety, that’s okay – and who can blame them? It’s a brutal chore for the dog owning public to navigate the sea of misinformation available out there. This is the unfortunate consequence of an unregulated industry, where no formal education or licensing is required to become a dog trainer – an industry densely populated with self-professed “canine behavior experts,” who not only lack education in valid animal learning, they are still relying on (and disseminating) outdated constructs of dominance hierarchies to define the behavior of dogs. If that isn’t preposterous enough, there are animal welfare groups, TV producers, and even some veterinarians endorsing some of these folks. Many are still promulgating the idea that it’s all just a matter of opinion. That it’s merely philosophical. It is not. The data has been in for too long, and there is far too much of it to plausibly deny.


I do my best to accept that without professional sanctions, people won’t always find their way to the current science to inform their work with dogs. Many have never even heard of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (“AVSAB”), let alone read their position statement on the use of aversives in dog training – a position logically shaped by the mountain of evidence amassed in this field through peer-reviewed studies. For some it’s a choice to ignore the science; and so long as there’s no professional mandate, they’ll continue unapologetically to collect money for exploiting pain and fear in dogs and are unaccountable for any damage they cause. It’s stunningly reckless, but calling attention to it is considered taboo simply because the science is currently ahead of the law.

What other industry demands professional courtesy be extended to those perpetuating long debunked pseudo science? No reputable trainer who has stayed current on valid developments in the field is still talking about “pack leadership” or “energy”; and they certainly aren’t employing prong, choke, and shock collars. If you’re a dog owner looking for a professional trainer, the likelihood you end up with one of these folks is still sadly very high. As transparency isn’t required, you may not even know what they are doing to your dog. There’s no consumer protection.

Imagine an unregulated medical field, where the practice of individual doctors needn’t be informed by the current science, and your gallbladder needs to be removed. If you’re lucky, you’ll get the surgeon who stays up to date with scientific advancements and performs a laparoscopic procedure: a few tiny incisions, a micro camera, and a monitor. It’s low-risk for side effects, minimally invasive, and can even be done on an outpatient basis. If you aren’t so lucky, you might get a traditionalist or that person’s apprentice (who needs med school if you can just attend a few seminars and shadow a doc?) who will excise the old fashioned way: the surgery is significantly more invasive, requiring deep incision from stem to sternum, higher risk of bleeding and infection, a recovery period nearly four times longer, the placement of drains to rid your body of pus and fluids, and a higher mortality rate.


Or imagine an unregulated legal profession, and you’ve found yourself in need of an attorney. If you’re lucky, you’ll get the practitioner who attended law school and passed the state bar exam. If not so lucky, you’ll get an avid viewer of Law & Order or Matlock. Sounds silly, but that’s the reality unique to dog training. You need a license to practice professionally as a plumber or a hairdresser and everything in between; but anyone can be a dog trainer and charge consumers real money to treat serious behavior issues, many using outdated methods known to actually increase fear and aggression in dogs. There is zero oversight and no qualifications necessary, and there are plenty of people in this industry hoping it stays that way.


A recent blog being circulated via social media bemoaning the increasingly academic nature of dog training started with the telling of a conversation between the author and a training colleague who asked what operant conditioning is. His response to her explanation was, “Why can’t you just train the damn dog?” This question became a mantra throughout, the author insisting it really didn’t matter if these professional dog trainers knew the “fancy words” or what they meant (just to “feel legitimate in conversations with other trainers”), so long as they got results. In fact, the pressure to learn it was deemed offensive because that meant losing valuable time. This author is not alone. The suggestion that science is unnecessary in dog training isn’t new, but the implied integrity in the dismissal of it is, and it’s popping up a lot lately. Surely, that’s not the optimal direction for this already disastrous industry to trend.

Willful ignorance may be a prevalent reality, but it’s hardly a virtue. Tolerating the subjugation of the very act of learning so that some can continue to ply their trade in tradition or stumble along blindly without so much as a hint of intellectual curiosity is a magnificent failure of professional standards. It’s not outrageous enough that dog trainers aren’t required to accurately understand how dogs learn and what drives behavior, scientific illiteracy in this field is now to be repackaged as noble? I’m under no delusions that this problem is specific to practitioners in any one camp, either. It’s a critical industry fail that spans philosophical divides. While it’s currently legal to profit in practice uneducated, shouldn’t we at least draw the line at the glorification of that? At what point is professional courtesy to all simply perpetuating violations against dogs and their owners as industry standard?


Because the act of learning and staying current in important developments in your field isn’t for the sake of sounding smart; it’s purpose is in understanding what you are doing. It’s about professional ethics, forming quality standards of care, and personal integrity. It’s been two decades that we’ve had the actual experts in the behavioral sciences practically spoon feeding dog professionals the necessary understanding and technology to work credibly and humanely with man’s best friend. It’s been available to anyone interested in learning it. Consumers are catching on, in spite of attempts by so many in the industry to obfuscate it, as are veterinary professionals and quite a number of animal welfare advocates. For dog trainers, the imminent reality is this:

If you need operant conditioning explained to you, you probably shouldn’t be charging people money to train their dogs.
If you don’t know the difference between operant and classical conditioning, you shouldn’t be charging people money to train their dogs.
If you don’t understand the simultaneous relationship between operant and classical conditioning – that dogs are making important, innately persuasive associations impacting their quality of life as they learn behaviors – you shouldn’t be charging people money to train their dogs.
If you don’t understand that operant and classical conditioning aren’t manmade constructs, but are naturally occurring phenomena we manipulate and long ago assigned language (language you should have in your vernacular as a dog training professional), you shouldn’t be charging people money to train their dogs.
If you haven’t read the AVSAB position statement on the use of aversives in dog training; or, if after running your methodology up the flagpole with said position statement you find yourself in opposition to those guidelines, you shouldn’t be charging people money to train their dogs.
Finally, if your primary concern about the dog training industry is that it has become “too academic,” you might consider finding a career for which you have an intellectual appetite. These aren’t inanimate objects we are talking about; they are living, thinking, sentient animals – animals that live in the homes and communities of people. If accurately understanding them as a species or learning how your interactions with them impact their behavior and their welfare is of such little interest to you, please stop charging people money to train their dogs.

Your reaction to knowing there is valid science to inform your work shouldn’t be one of disregard. It shouldn’t cause you to feel that your livelihood is threatened or to dig your heels in stubbornly in protest. It’s good news! As with any professional industry, staying current in it – not denying or dismissing it – lends to your professional credibility. There is nothing admirable or beneficial about willful ignorance. Hasn’t the time for it to be professionally tolerated in dog training just about run its course?

By Lisa Skavienski | June 6th, 2016

About the Author: Lisa Skavienski

Lisa Skavienski, CTC, is a graduate of The Academy for Dog Trainers. Lisa lives in Rochester, NY, with her partner, Kevin, and their bevy of dogs, most of whom are stubby. Lisa is involved in the rescue community in her area with a primary focus on community outreach; and she is committed to making the world a better place for dogs and their humans through reward-based training.

It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Recently, I have read some things that I’ve found a bit upsetting, and have been trying to remind myself that this mission we are on is a marathon and not a sprint. Here, I am talking specifically about our mission regarding making reward-based training the norm. We are making headway, though, as a “movement”, and individually as trainers, and I see evidence of that daily, from the client who tells me he kicked his dog in frustration and really doesn’t want to be “that person”, to the one who knows what she is doing isn’t working. I hold on to those moments of recognition in which someone realizes they want to be better and do better and sometimes, that’s enough. Sometimes, though, the other stuff seems louder and more insurmountable. There’s a lot of throwing crap at the wall to see what sticks, a lot of “experts”, a lot of defensiveness- it’s basically the Wild West for dogs out there. And by out there, I mean the internet. We all turn to the internet for answers and it’s a fantastic resource. The problem is there’s no one fact-checking a lot of stuff and so people fall prey to false information, critical thinking falls to the wayside and myths persevere. Here’s a few examples:


– A post in a Facebook group aimed at sharing information amongst reward-based trainers and members of the public interested in learning about the methods used, wherein someone stated that they wanted to punish their dog for countersurfing. Uninterested in learning how to teach the dog to do something else, or manage the situation (or perhaps simply looking for an opportunity for a fight. Because, internet.), this individual erupted into name-calling. I had left this group before and promptly did so again. I try to limit my exposure to ugly.


– A picture that went around and around and around of a baby kissing a dog wearing bunny ears, where the dog was clearly uncomfortable. I was about to write an entire blog post on that one, but, thankfully, Eileen Anderson took care of that for me and did so beautifully.


With your puppy facing you, sit on the floor and hold it using both hands just behind the front legs. Now, hold it away at arm’s length and look directly into its eyes. If the dog struggles, make a growling sound and hold it with a strong grip until it stops.
Again, sitting on the floor, cradle the puppy with one hand under its head and the other supporting its back. The dog will be on its back with its feet in the air and its belly exposed to you — a position of submission. If the dog struggles, use the same animal growls you used in step 1, making certain not let go until the dog stops struggling and relaxes


Wait. What? Are we still living in the 70’s? Have we learned nothing? Growling in a puppy’s face? With a strong grip? Forcing a puppy into submission? Sometimes, I really want to yell “Stop the Ride!” because the lack of knowledge, the holding on to old ideas for dear life and the wanton manner in which all of this gets spread is absolutely crazy-making. In her book, The Other End of the Leash, which I loved, though I don’t agree with all of it, Patricia McConnell notes that the main author of How to Be Your Dog’s Best Friend from The Monks of New Skete, which inspired millions to perform alpha rollovers deeply regretted giving this advice. Progress.


And yet…there really is hope. Because the comments on that post in the Facebook group were by and large thoughtful responses to a common problem, there are people like Eileen who deconstruct something in a respectful and well-thought out way and PetMD did retract the piece. And I meet clients like the one I mentioned above and this website has hundreds of thousands of views and our articles have a ton of shares. So do lots of others like it. There is mounting evidence that people are beginning to get it. Dogs have needs- emotional needs, mental needs, behavioral needs, physical needs and we are the ones who can meet them and force is not the way to do it. Left to their own devices, dogs will countersurf, they may bite that child (and it won’t be out of nowhere), they may take over your household (but it won’t be because they think they are alpha, it’ll be because you didn’t teach them what you want them to do *instead* of that other, more natural, thing like scavenging for scraps wherever they can find them, even if that means hopping up onto your beloved granite countertops) and they will certainly not have their needs met, not the least of which is a feeling of safety.


Dogs are not props. They aren’t robots. They are a domesticated species that we take responsibility for when we bring them into our homes. Because of this, they are reliant on us. We would serve them well to remember this. And if you find yourself frustrated and behaving in ways that you don’t like in response to your dog, take a deep breath, call a professional, tap into those critical thinking skills (it really is a skill!), get over the idea of the sprint and commit to the marathon. Your dog does not have deep-seated resentments or plans for a massive takeover. He’s not laying awake at night plotting how he can make your life miserable. I promise. Become mindful of your own behavior and how it impacts your dog.