Pit bulls are the only dog breed with an entire month dedicated to their advocacy. And for good reason: they’re often at the core of breed-specific legislation, discrimination, and negative bias in the media.
As a result, bull owners tend to carry an extra responsibility that no other dog owner has to: combatting other people's fear and misconception. (Not to mention having a thick skin for those inevitable moments with rude or frightened people.) Because there’s a big difference when a pit bull is at the end of your leash compared to a small dog.
“Another type of dog can get scared if a little boy runs at it and pulls its tail,” says Mikayla Park, staff member at Wags & Walks and owner of two pit bulls. “My dogs are not allowed that luxury.”
To that end, we spoke with a few Wags volunteers and alums to find out how they've been able to combat breed stereotypes. From pristine leash manners to tutus and everything in between, here are their tips:
Build Bridges, While Being Open About Your Dog’s Breed
Some shelters and owners have a tendency to avoid using “pit bull” at all. But the National Pit Bull Awareness Day Campaign (NPBAC) uses the term deliberately. “Pit bull" is the name most familiar to the public, and the term that evokes a negative connotation of a particular grouping of dogs. The objective of NPBAD is, of course, to change that negative image.”
“People are often astonished that my dog(s) are pits because ‘they’re so nice' or ‘don’t look scary.’ I always make sure to tell people they are pit bulls with no hesitation.” Joey Spector
Introduce Them to Your Sweet Pup(s)
Most people who are afraid of pit bulls only know what they’ve read in the news Try introducing them to your sweet hippo to change their perception. Sometimes just one good experience can erase the negative bias.
“My family was pretty open, and it wasn't hard to convince them I was safe getting a pit, but once they met my babes, they were really sold. Mae and Bean speak for themselves.” Mikayla Park
“I convinced my mother-in-law and her sister just by the time they spent with Kahlua and recognizing how sweet she is.” Linda Veliz
“The best way is for people to spend time with them. I know five pits that have been adopted due to the in good influence of my first one.” Joey Spector
“When my sister first had kids it was a real battle. I was also new at being a pit owner and even believed some of the hype - for instance locking jaws. But, as I learned so did she. Now, she adores my dog and all the neighborhood kids come over and love him.” Tessa Vann, owner of three pit bull-type dogs
Accessorize (and have fun!)
Many in the Wags community have heard that pit bulls and mixes look mean or scary. Adorning your pup with bright colors and playful accessories like collars, sweaters, hats—or even tutus—can help them seem more approachable, and helps shift the conversation.
“I think my dogs are gorgeous and adorable without anything to help them look cute or silly, but I do recognize that we are fighting against decades of bad press so a few flowers and a silly hat never hurt anyone.” Mikayla Park
“Honestly, the costumes are for kids. I truly believe if we have any chance at all at reversing the terrible reputation society has given these dogs, it is through the kids that are going to grow up and adopt their own dogs someday.” Mikayla Park
“I’m careful to not buy anything with spikes, chains or anything that could possibly make him appear “mean” since I’ve been told he looks mean.” Ashley Helton
You are your pet’s first line of defense. As much as you can stay above the fray and set a good example, people will begin to catch on.
“I try my best to put on a good face and stay polite, because I want to be an ambassador for them as much as I want them to be ambassadors for their breed.” Mikayla Park
“I just have to try and remember that negativity begets negativity, and the world doesn't need any more of that, nor do I.” Mikayla Park
“I love the funny story explaining how they are horrible guard dogs - They will let the robber in, lead them to the safe, give them the combo and kiss them while they are heading out the door.” Tessa Vann, owner of three pit bull-type dogs
Lean on the Wags Community for Support
About a quarter of all of the the dogs rescued at Walks and Walks are pit bulls or pit mixes, so the volunteers and staff know how you’re feeling—and can be a valuable resource when you need advice (or reassurance). There are also numerous online resources to consult.
“At Wags, we end up with so many pits because they are, overwhelmingly, perfect dogs for families and children.” Mikayla Park
There are also numerous online resources to consult:
“There was a Google Group for people with pitbulls, where. Other resources: Pitbull L is a Facebook group, where I learned a lot from others’ trials and tribulations. Pit Bull Rescue Central (pbrc.net) has tons of Pit Bull education resource. Bestfriends.org holds tons of information as well. They have a section devoted to Pit Bulls on www.bestfriends.org.” Tessa Vann
At the end of the day, our best advice is not to worry too much about what others think. As Mikayla Park puts it, “People can change, the world will change, it is the way of things. I wouldn't trade any of the heartbreak the rest of the world gives me for having them, because they’re the most loyal, emotionally intelligent, affectionate, forgiving creatures I've ever known in my life.”
Thank you to everyone who reached out with their advice and tips to combatting the pitbull stereotype. We are proud to have amazing pittie supporters in the Wags family.