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Home > Dogs > Why Do Pit Bulls Have a Bad Reputation? History & Tips to Prevent Aggression

Why Do Pit Bulls Have a Bad Reputation? History & Tips to Prevent Aggression

Black pitbull biting on fence

There is no denying that Pit Bulls have a bad reputation for being aggressive and even violent. In truth, the Pit Bull Terrier can be a loving and caring family dog that gets on well with people, dogs, and other animals, but because they were once the preferred breed for dog fighters and for irresponsible owners that wanted to train aggressive dogs, they do carry a negative stigma.

Generally, though, if one sees an aggressive Pit Bull it is because they have been trained to be this way.


Pit Bull History

The Pit Bull Terrier originated in England. It was bred from the Old English Bulldog, which was used to bait bulls for sport. When bull baiting was made illegal in 1835, some people turned their attention to rat baiting. Handlers pitted their dogs against one another to see which could kill the most rats in a given amount of time.

Other owners directly pitted their dogs against one another in dog fighting. The Old English Bulldog was a muscular, strong dog, but it wasn’t agile, and agility was required for both ratting and dog fighting. Breeders crossed the Bulldog with terrier breeds to create dogs that combined the strength of the Bulldog with the tenacity and agility of a terrier.

The original Pit Bull Terrier was bred to be easy to handle by humans. Handlers did not want the dogs biting them when they weren’t fighting, so this was discouraged and effectively bred out of the dog.

pit bull_PawsitivelySpoiled5_Pixabay
Image By: PawsitivelySpoiled5, Pixabay

The Nation’s Sweetheart

Pit Bulls made their way to the U.S. before the Civil War and were called American Pit Bull Terriers. Rather than, or as well as, being used for fighting, the American Pit Bull was used for herding large cattle, protecting the cattle from predators, and protecting their owners from thieves and animals. They were loving with their humans and even gained the nickname “nanny dogs” because they would look after the children. Pit Bulls were even used as the mascot of the U.S. army during World War I and World War II.

Fall From Grace

Unfortunately, by the 1970s dog fighting had become a problem and U.S. Congress made changes to the Animal Welfare Act of 1966. The changes made dog fighting illegal in all states. By the 1980s, the Pit Bull had become the prized asset of illegal dog fighters. Media campaigns attempting to stop barbaric dog fights used images of Pit Bulls because they were so commonly used.

The cover of one issue of Time Magazine in 1987 included the headline “The Pit Bull: Friend and Killer” and Sports Illustrated listed the Pit Bull as a dog to beware.

Return To Grace

In the past few years, the Pit Bull has undergone another image change, and it is still ongoing. Advocacy groups and campaigners argue that the breed itself is not dangerous and that it is irresponsible owners that lead to aggressive dogs of all breeds. Interestingly, Sports Illustrated, which helped bring down the reputation of the breed in the first place, has featured cover stories and other stories on the positive attributes of the breed.

The breed is becoming popular again, but there is still some stigma attached to them in certain circles.

Image By: UIHere

Are Pit Bulls Illegal?

In the U.S. it is legal to own a Pit Bull Terrier, but this isn’t the case in all countries. They are illegal in a lot of states and cities in Canada. They are illegal in the UK, too, having been banned in 1991 following a series of incidents involving Pit Bulls. Always check federal, state, and city laws before buying or adopting a Pit Bull or Pit Bull type breed because illegally owned dogs can be seized and may even be euthanized.

divider-dogThe 5 Tips to Prevent Pitbull Aggression

Pit Bulls can be loving, caring, and loyal members of the family and as long as they are raised properly, there is no reason that one should become aggressive. If you are interested in owning a Pit Bull, here are some tips to help ensure that yours does not become aggressive.

1. Socialization

All dogs should be socialized from a young age and this is especially important with a breed like the Pit Bull. Attend training and puppy classes, go on regular walks, and be patient with socialization efforts.

two pitbulls playing_JumpStory

2. Training

Training is another important element of dog ownership. Most problem dogs are untrained so ensure that you enroll yourself and your dog in puppy classes and continue with training throughout their lives.

3. Exercise

Pit Bulls have a lot of energy and they need an outlet for this energy. Under-exercised dogs can become bored and show inappropriate behavior. Take yours on at least two walks a day, for a total of 60 to 90 minutes, and consider taking part in canine sports or agility classes to help burn off energy and provide mental stimulation for your dog.

american pitbull terrier dog playing
Image By: Nata Bene, Shutterstock

4. Prevent Dominance

While we all want our dogs to be part of the family, this still means following certain rules. By setting ground rules and ensuring that your dog always follows them, you can prevent them from becoming the dominant party in the house. Dominance from your dog is not only bad for you but it can lead to anxiety and depression in the dog, too, because they take on a lot of responsibility.

5. Good Nutrition

Poor health and poor nutrition can lead to aggression and behavior problems in some dogs. Ensure your Pit Bull has a balanced diet that meets all of its nutritional requirements, go for regular vet checkups, and avoid over-feeding because Pit Bulls can be prone to putting on excessive weight.

giving pitbull a treat
Image By: Cheryl Ann Studio, Shutterstock



The Pit Bull can be a loving and loyal member of the family, and if well socialized and trained can be a friend to all. Unfortunately, the breed did get a bad reputation, especially during the latter half of the 20th Century, but groups and owners are putting a lot of work into turning this reputation around.

Featured Image Credit: Beate Wolter, Shutterstock

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