Tell Me About It: A new pit bull in the neighborhood

Posted: July 23, 2011

Question: I live on a street with a large number of young children (under 6). One family recently bought a new puppy, and we were surprised to learn it's a pit bull. Now several of us are worried about letting our children play freely on the street, since pit bulls are known as an aggressive breed that can attack without provocation. Any advice on what we can do?

Answer: Yes: Inform yourselves about pit bulls. Heck, about dogs: Just about any dog can hurt a small child, badly.

Dogs don't "attack without provocation" unless they have temperament problems, and those problems are quite visible in other circumstances. Otherwise, dogs that bite give all kinds of signs that they're going to defend themselves or their people. Many people ignore/are ignorant of those signs and so they continue the behavior that provokes the dog - or, the owners don't know anything about dogs and don't train or handle them safely. Again, this is all dogs, not just pit bulls.

Unfortunately, pit bulls became a look-at-how-cool-I-am accessory and fell in disproportionate numbers into the hands of idiots, posers, and thugs, people who have no business having pets, much less powerful dogs.

The pit bull is not the most dangerous breed out there. What is? Trick question: The most dangerous dog is one that has irresponsible owners and is big enough to kill.

Meanwhile, "cute" little dogs, like dachshunds and Jack Russells, are much more likely to bite the neighborhood 6-and-unders. Pits historically have been bred to be responsive to their humans, and they're actually far less likely to bite if a kid, say, tugs an ear (it just makes the news if they do). By the way, tugging is not recommended with any dog, which responsible parents teach their kids.

Ever see Our Gang/Little Rascals? The dog, Petey, is a pit. Their nickname in the past has been "the nanny" because they were known as great family dogs. Still are, by a dedicated population of defenders.

So. Do not fear this dog unless you have cause to fear the neighbors. Is the dog spayed or neutered, trained, never chained, walked/exercised regularly, and otherwise supervised - all just as good for dogs as for neighbors? Are the neighborhood kids taught how to interact with dogs?

Abundant resources are a Web browser away. Type "dog stress signs."

Hysteria is no way to protect children from anything. When you feel threatened by something, seek knowledge first, then seek a remedy, if you even need one after you have the facts.


E-mail Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com, or chat with her online at noon Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.

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