The Fighting Dogs That Were Actually Bred To Be Friendly

“Histories are more full of examples of the fidelity of dogs than of friends.” —Alexander Pope

In A Nutshell

Easily among the most polarizing of dog breeds, the pit bull terrier has been involved in many fatal human attacks and is banned as a dangerous animal in several areas. However, the nature of professional pit fights ensured that the dogs were bred to be very friendly to people. During the course of a match, several people were forced to touch the animal, and if it lashed out against a human, it would be culled.

The Whole Bushel

Sometimes it seems like hardly a week goes by without headlines blaring the news of a pit bull attack; a toddler mauled, a grandmother torn apart in her own backyard. But it wasn’t always this way. The American pit bull terrier is the undisputed gladiator of the canine world. Their fighting skill is such that professionals consider it a cruelty to match them up against other dogs, even much larger breeds. It would seem natural that this lethal aggression would spill over toward humans.

This could not be further from the truth. These days, the majority of dog fights are conducted by thugs in back alleys and the basements of abandoned houses. But there are other contests, professional and tightly regulated. Like boxers, the animals are matched up by weight class. Before the fight, the contestants actually exchange dogs and bathe them to make sure that no one has cheated and rubbed any kind of irritant into the fur. Allowing such intimate handling by a stranger indicates a dog of steady nerves.

During the fight itself, there are at least three people in the pit at any given time—the owners and a referee, sometimes others. Contrary to popular belief, the dogs do not just go at it until one surrenders or dies. They are frequently pulled apart by their owners and returned to “scratch” lines at opposite sides of the pit. Again, this requires very intimate contact with the dogs, often while they are in extreme pain. Anyone who has ever handled an injured dog, even a trusted family pet, can attest that they often lash out on blind instinct. The pit bull has been bred over generations to override that instinct, allowing handling even with torn ears and broken bones, even as it slips into hypovolemic shock.

To fulfill its role, the pit bull adopted a disposition that was once described as “ridiculously amiable.” They were excellent family pets, fantastic with children. Petey from the “Little Rascals” shorts was a pit bull. Any dog that can fight for hours will placidly tolerate a tug on the ear and other rough handling by children. Pit bulls were shown on military posters to drum up money for war bonds, a symbol of America. When subjected to the American Temperament Test, a standardized test to determine a dog’s disposition, the American pit bull has scored an overall record of 86.8 percent, making it more reliable than the golden retriever.

So what happened? Pretty much what you would expect. In the 1970s and ’80s, gangs began to realize how formidable the pit bull was. The once “ridiculously amiable” dog was viciously abused to make it mean. Poor specimens were bred and mixed with other breeds acknowledged for human aggression. In a few short years, the pit bull went from family pet to public enemy. One of the worst things to happen was an article published in Sports Illustrated entitled “The Pit Bull Friend and Killer.” Intended to be an expose on a growing problem, it actually served as an advertisement for the worst kind of people to rush out and acquire pit bulls. Today, the breed is banned in many locations throughout the world, and with the list of fatalities under its belt, it seems unlikely to ever recover its formerly wonderful reputation.

Show Me The Proof

Sports Illustrated: The Pit Bull Friend and Killer
American Temperament Test Society, Inc.
Pit Bulls Featured on War Posters, Advertising (photos)
The Daily Beast: Dangerous Dogs, Ranked by Breed

  • CSisonweb

    Some people should not be allowed to own dogs. Period.

  • edzyl blane

    have you heard of the song, ” Pitbulls are better than people”

  • Nathaniel A.

    Whether they are trained to or not, statistics still show that pit bulls kill the most humans, 19 people per year over an eight-year period (2005-12) in fact.

    • Nemesis

      If a chihuahua had the size and strength if a Pitt bull, I bet they’d be number one in human deaths.

      Unfortunately people see no problem with inbreeding these dogs. My ex-in laws had a gorgeous female Pitt named Mississippi. She was already inbread and they then bread her back to her father keeping one if the male puppies. A gorgeous solid red Pitt with light brown eyes. He ended up breeding her too and they sold those puppies unregistered but for a lot of money.

      My ex-in laws were idiots.

      • SuzieQ

        I have been attacked by two dogs both were chihuahuas. Luckily they are about the size and shape of a football so they kick away easy.

      • lbatfish

        When you say that he “ended up breeding her too”, you meant “breeding her with another dog”, right?

        Or were they even worse in-laws than most?

        • Nemesis

          Lol, I meant her son bred with her.

          • lbatfish

            What a relief! 😉

    • rincewind

      Horses kill more people in the US per year than pit bulls. Here are the figures from

      It also shows that bees/wasps kill many more people than dogs in general.

      Bee/Wasp 53
      Dogs (all breeds) 31
      Spider 6.5
      Rattlesnake 5.5
      Mountain lion 1
      Shark 1
      Alligator 0.3
      Bear 0.5
      Scorpion 0.5
      Centipede 0.5
      Elephant 0.25
      Wolf 0.1
      Horse 20
      Bull 3

      • Nathaniel A.

        Wow, interesting statistics. Although in defense of dogs, there are far more bees/wasps than canines.

        • rincewind

          It’s been a while since I’ve seen a bee or wasp but I see dogs every day. I’m safe for the moment 🙂

          • Nathaniel A.

            Just hazarding a guess here, you might not see them because it is currently winter…?

          • rincewind

            At my age, “a while” means years, not a few months. I haven’t seen many horses lately either 🙂

      • Gieaux Motor

        What’s with the decimals? I’m reading that as 3/10ths of a person was killed by an alligator.

        • rincewind

          I read it to mean that either statistically 1 person is killed over a THREE year period or else the alligator was a very slow eater 🙂

        • Andy West

          When you get into figure below 1 it works more on a mental level. I believe 0.1=hurt pride, 0.2=lost self confidence, and so on.

      • gillybean

        I think it’s more the nature of the attacks (as portrayed by the media) that repels people. There is a world of difference between a child being stung by a bee, which can be easily gotten rid of so that you can attend to the injury, and the trauma of seeing a child, or anyone, being torn apart by a creature that you are powerless to stop. That said, I’m a HUGE believer that bad people make bad dogs. I work in a kennels and cattery and one of our biggest tasks is educating people about responsible ownership.

    • SuzieQ

      Does this show the number of pitbulls vs other breeds? If lets say the US has a million pitbulls but a thousand akitas then yes the number of pitbull attacks will be greater just by the simple fact there are more of them.

      • Nathaniel A.

        Yes it does, but seeing as the pit bull is not the dog with the most of its kind in the US, the stats are still relevant.

      • Valkyrie

        Akitas are not family dogs and are not bred for temperment

        • SuzieQ

          Not the point I was trying to make ….

      • Timothy53

        And akitas will attack without warning or provocation. And no one I have hear has ever suggested banning akitas. Nasty unfriendly dogs.

    • rincewind

      According to the National Weather Service, in the United States, an average of 53 people are killed each year by lightning, and hundreds more are severely injured. Compare this to your 19 pit bull deaths you give. Life isn’t safe – it will kill you in the end.

    • Courtney Simpson

      It would take a lot more for a smaller dog to actually kill a person. It’s also a fact that most bites by small dogs go unreported because they usually don’t require the same degree of medical attention. Having worked at a veterinary assistant and now veterinary technician for the past 7 years, I’ve been bitten by dogs on 4 occasions. One was a Shih-tzu mix, one was a Foxhound, one was a Mini Schnauzer, and the latest (which was today, as it were) was a Yorkie/Maltese. The Foxhound and the Yorkie/Maltese bit because they were having their nails cut. The Shih-tzu bit because I tried to put a tag on its collar. The Schnauzer bit me because I tried to lift it onto an exam table. Aside from one poorly socialized Pit Bull, the most danger I’ve ever been in from a bully-type dog in 7 years has been having my face licked or having to go head-to-head with their stubbornness (as in “Yes, you have to go up the stairs” “No, you can’t make me!”).

  • rincewind

    I have been owned by many breeds of dog over the years but the best was the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. Despite it’s poor press, I have found them to be the most gentle of dogs. With one exception, I always got them from dog shelters. I do not agree with dog breeding due to the horror stories I have heard – the mass production of dogs for money is cruel.

    RSPCA chief vet Mark Evans said: “Staffies have had a terrible press, but this is not of their own making – in fact they’re wonderful dogs. If people think that Staffies have problems, they’re looking at the wrong end of the dog lead!” Because staffies are naturally muscular and may appear intimidating, they are often used by ignorant louts as a status symbol. When the fools realise how gentle these dogs are, they end up abandoned. For this reason, they are the most common type of dog in dog shelters.

    • Valkyrie

      Thank you .. you have restored my faith in people xx

  • Check

    The pit bull breed of dog is scary even if they are only playing. Here’s footage of one who was only goofing around:

    • DdKruse

      It’s a Ford so that’s not saying much…

  • Hillyard

    We used to have a Golden Retriever, so I find it amazing that any breed of dog could score as being more reliable than a Goldie.

  • Kelsey

    “thugs in back alleys” ok…so no person other than an thug has ever conducted an dogfight?

    • Valkyrie

      No .. anyone who conducts a dog fight is a thug, an asshole, an ingrate.. call it what you want..those scum are as low as you can get

      • Kelsey

        i didnt call it anything. i asked an question.

        • Valkyrie

          I know you did, that was my answer 🙂

  • Valkyrie

    I worked for a dog rescue last year purely voluntarily, from just looking for another dog as a companion to my staffie I got dragged in head first into what can only be called one of the most saddest, rewarding and heart-breaking things I have ever had to do in my life. Part of my role was to find rescue places for Staffordshire pit bull terriers, I had no idea at that time that they were being overbred by breeders, losers and god knows what other kind of people in order to be used as status symbols, fighting dogs and used as a quick way of making money. I lost my head and my heart to these dogs, and ended up with two rescue dogs of my own on top of my own staffie. I can honestly say that pit bull terriers are the most loving playful, bounciest bundles of lick and waggle bums I have ever encountered and my family have owned dogs since I was a baby. My dogs would not harm my kids but they would defend my children with their lives if it ever came to it .

    These dogs hearts are bigger than their considerable bodies ..with souls to match.

    The press immediately scream that a child, person, innocent has been harmed by a staffie when they hear of an incident with dogs harming someone.. 9.9 times out of 10 the dog is not even part pit bull. Scandal mongering by gutter press is what has caused thousands of dogs like this to be put down needlessly ..

    Thank you for this article Mike ..very well written..

  • Timothy53

    I have had strange pitties come over to me and gently take my hand into their mouth. I am careful with greeting them as I would be with any strange dog, but I have always found them to be the gentlest, sweetest dogs around.

  • Krista Butler

    We used to have a pit bull that was so friendly, compassionate, and playful… Kane was the sweetest creature I have ever known, and I’m a cat person. I hate dogs, heck I’m AFRAID of dogs, but I loved Kane. He was the type that would lay his head on the edge of the bed and give us the sad eyes, and whimper until we let him crawl into bed with us. Super sweet and happy all the time. I’m no expert on the matter, but I think it’s all in how you raise them.

  • Topaz

    Its never about breed, its about terrible owners. Pitbulls are some of the most loving and caring dogs around, loyal and protective! They get such a bad rap.

    -Repent and believe in the death for our sins burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ and you will be saved from eternal torment

  • Marozia

    I have two pitbulls, a male and a female. They are friendly, loveable dogs. They have been socialised with other dogs and with humans. NEVER, have I had a problem with them. Our laws are that they must be muzzled in public, wear specific collars and owners must have signage on their property with letters of a specific size stating that restricted breed dogs are present on the property, which all us PB owners adhere to. I don’t have a problem with the laws. Only the bad owners have the problems…..with the laws and with the dogs. No one can go near my grandchildren when I taken them and the dogs for walks. Nobody dares approach me when I’m at the ATM with 2 pits watching out. Even the staff at the local shops adore them. They are my favourite breed of dog.

  • sithishs

    Instead of putting down the dogs, we should be putting down the people who made them that way.