The controversy surrounding pitbulls - are they really so aggressive?

pitbull controversy aggression

Are pitbulls aggressive by nature or by nurture? 

Almost everybody knows about pitbulls, but very few people actually understand them. Some claim that pitbulls are protective and loyal family dogs, while others won't allow a pitbull anywhere near their kids. There's a lot of controversy surrounding pitbulls and their related breeds and in certain parts of the world, it's illegal to own them! Many people who know about pitbulls will associate them with aggression, dog fighting, lock jaw and destruction. On the contrary, many people argue that pitbulls are extremely loving and compassionate! 

We need to ask ourselves why pitbulls have gained such a confusing reputation. Why are they so loved by some and so feared by others? To get the full picture, let's take a look at the history of pitbulls and what experts have to say about them.

Which breeds are classified as pitbulls

Contrary to popular belief, pitbulls are not a breed of dog. Rather, the pitbull classification involves a group of various breeds! Pitbulls were originally (and intentionally) created by crossing bulldogs and terriers. This was done for a very specific reason, which we will cover further down below.

Common dog breeds included (but not limited to) in the classification of pitbull:

  • American Bulldog
  • American Pitbull Terrier
  • Stafordshire (staffy) Terrier
  • American Stafordshire (staffy) Terrier
  • Stuffawler
  • Monster Blue Pitbull
  • Colby Pit Bull
  • Chamuco (Mexican Pit Bull)

The history of pitbulls

Pitbulls were created (bred) by crossing bulldogs and terriers for very specific purposes. Breeders were attempting to combine the bravery of the terrier with the strength of the bulldog. Breeders wanted a powerful cross-breed for various reasons.

Reasons for breeding pitbulls:

  • For their fighting ability. To fight other dogs, other animals or simply to be a protective family guard dog. For this reason, breeders have prided themselves in the aggressive nature of pitbulls. Yes, their aggressive nature was completely intentional!
  • For bear-baiting, a popular sport in the 1800s. Bear-baiting is a blood sport in which trained attack dogs (pitbulls) were thrown into a pit and forced to fight a bear.
  • For their tracking, hunting and catching ability. Their ability to catch and hold down an animal for their master was put to good use when out hunting wild cattle, boar or the likes. Pitbulls are known to bite continuously and not let go until death is achieved, while other dogs will typically only bite once or twice. Pitbulls have greater jaw pressures than most other dogs, reaching 1,800 pounds per square inch!

Evidently, pitbulls were bred to be strong, aggressive and formidable. So why are an increasing number of people coming to the pitbull's defence? Many people are fighting the legislation which says it's illegal to own a pitbull, saying that they make fantastic family dogs (if raised with love and discipline)! People have even turned to social media to prove to the world that pitbulls aren't as aggressive as most think - to prove their point, they've even gone so far as to post pictures with their kids cuddled up with their misunderstood family pittie.

pitbulls and babies

Most owners will agree that Pitbulls are extremely loving and loyal, even towards the baby family members. But they're not just fighting for the right to own a pitbull legally. Due to the controversy surrounding pitbulls, even after long periods of domestication, there is still a lot of negativity surrounding them and their related breeds. Very often, animal rescue shelters will euthanise pitbulls without even trying to find them homes. Before even seeing whether in fact the animal is a danger, it's given an immediate death sentence.

Senior SPCA inspector, Salomé Bruyns, gives us some further insight into the history and breeding of pitbulls: "The original American pitbull terrier was selectively bred to fight dogs but also be compatible with people.. Irresponsible breeding has led to some pitbulls being dangerous to humans.. When people started 'developing' the American pitbull breed, they wanted a dog that was very strong, with great stamina and that wanted to fight with other animals but be submissive towards humans.. As these dogs were originally used in pits to fight each other, humans had to be able to get into the pit safely to separate these dogs without being bitten. Any pitbull that showed any signs of low tolerance towards people was never allowed to breed and in many cases culled immediately.. The breed became popular in the 1980s because of its high tolerance towards people. They were left alone with children and the 'nanny dog' myth was born. More people wanted them and started breeding them all over the world without taking selective breeding into account. Dogs with lower tolerance towards people were allowed to breed and slowly pitbulls that were both low in tolerance towards animals and humans were created."

Salomé Bruyns' explanation gives clarity as to why there have been numerous reports of family pitbulls attacking the family members, including the children. It boils down to a) irresponsible breeding and b) irresponsible owners. Pitbull advocates often do not dispute the statistics of pitbull attacks, but they make it clear that it's largely the result of irresponsible owners, especially those who abuse the dogs or train them to fight. 

Some argue that the real problem with pitbulls is that they are fighting machines which could be (and has been) fatal for other neighbourhood pets and children (even adults). For this reason, some agree that "the pitbull should be banned not because they are inherently bad, but because, like the lion, cheetah and the chimpanzee — remember Travis and Charla Nash — they are too dangerous in the hands of the inexperienced general public." -

What's your opinion? Let us know in the comments below!


On the other hand, pitbulls are known and adored by communities, and in some places they have even become local heroes and have saved people from harm! It seems to be a consistent reality that when raised under the right conditioners, with early socialization and training, pitbulls can make the most loving dogs you could ever wish for your family. Additionally, scientists have determined that there is no “lock jaw" mechanism, it just seems like it because a pitbull was bred to hold on as wild animal “catchers” and not let ago until death is achieved.  

Raising a disciplined and non-aggressive pitbull

For the people who are thinking of introducing a pitbull into their home, there are some guidelines which are to be taken seriously. It's important to understand the nature of pitbulls and their most basic needs. Pitbulls whose needs have not been met may become destructive, anxious, aggressive and a nightmare. Pitbulls whose needs have been met may just complete your happy family!

Guidelines to raising a healthy, happy pitbull:

  • Pitbulls are extremely athletic and require daily exercise, usually more than the average dog! The ideal home for a pitbull would be one with lots of garden space and lots of interactive dog toys provided. If you live in an apartment or don't have time to take your pittie on runs, you may want to consider getting another type of dog. Without enough exercise and stimulation, your pitbull will get bored and in turn, destructive. Torn couches, chewed shoes, shredded furniture, ripped carpets, you name it!
  • NEVER keep a pitbull on a chain or in a confined area. SPCA's Salomé Bruyns explains that "Dogs are naturally territorial animals and when they are confined to a small space this instinct is enhanced and they become neurotic, anxious and aggressive,". This type of aggression displayed by confined or chained pitbulls is called 'caged aggression' and accounts for a large percentage of pitbull attacks.
  • Pitbulls are bred to be an alpha dog, however its personality and self-awareness fully matures around 3 years of age. It is absolutely crucial that you assume the alpha dog role right from the beginning and constantly display your dominance. If a pitbull is given the opportunity to become the alpha dog, thing could turn aggressive and dangerous.
  • A pitbull that displays signs of aggressive behaviour (commonly seen in rescue dogs with traumatic pasts) can be very alarming. Many owners tear their hair out trying to control their errant animals! Aggression Formula contains 100% homeopathic ingredients well known to calm anxious, aggressive, highly strung or jealous animals and to reduce aggression levels and related problem behaviour in agitated and nervous pets. Aggression Formula comes in easy to administer granules that are either sprinkled directly into the animal's mouth. Alternatively, the dose can be mixed with food. 
  • Pitbulls are highly social creatures. It's a well-known fact that healthy and happy pitties love kids and playing with other dogs. It's best to start introducing them to social situations from an early age to get them accustomed to other people and animals. If a pitbull has been kept away from social interactions and suddenly has to socialise with others, it may end unpleasantly. If your pitbull is not well-socialised, always keep them on a leash and don't allow kids or other dogs too close.

If you have any questions about your pet, please contact our team or leave a comment below for FREE health advice. We always love hearing from you!

Saskia Michele natural holistic pet health blog

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  • Feelgood Pets Team - October 17, 2019

    Hi Judy

    Thanks for your comment!

    You can contact Saskia via her email address She will be happy to assist you in your concern!

    Warm regards
    Feelgood Pets Team

  • Judy Dilgee - October 17, 2019

    Good day
    Can you please forward me Saskia’s details. I have a pitbull dog which I need help with. Thank you for the article as this has really helped me understand my dogs behavior. She is really aggressive and attacks my other dog but I now understand the reason why and need some help but its very expensive and i really cant afford professional help as they are to expensive.
    Thank you
    Kind regards

  • Feelgood Pets Team - October 03, 2019

    Hi Marietjie

    Thank you for taking your time to leave your thoughts and opinion!
    Keep on being a responsible animal lover and shine your light :)

    Warmest regards

    Feelgood Pets team

  • Marietjie - October 03, 2019


    I love the Pitbull breed, but unfortunately the Pitbulls in South Africa has been breed so badly mainly to kill and for money gain, and that is a pity. They are the breed that is the most misunderstood world wide.

    A Pitbull should be owned from puppy where he is taking to puppy school and when he is bigger for training where he can learn that you his owner is his leader, and that he will never be the leader and he must know that from a very young age. Never be cruel to your Pitbull, and never hit your Pitbull or any animal in anger that is when the most damage are done. I believe to always love them talk to them, they do understand they just cannot answer you. By talking to them they really are part of the family.

    I also strongly believe should there be a stress situation in the household give your pets some herbal medication to help them with the stress, they feel your stress and do not know what is wrong and I know it makes them more aggressive, because they feel unwanted and unsure of themselves in that time. In this time assure them of your love and that they did nothing wrong, and that everything will be ok.

    Loving a animal is one of the most rewarding things you will ever do right in you live, and if there is one thing we do right, way not this. To be loved by a dog is a honour, return there love they deserve it.



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