Alright, I'm going to get some flack for this one. Cue the angry comments and emails. But really, this issue is too important for us to side-step, and ignorance on this topic has caused unnecessary harm to both humans and dogs.
On what seems like a weekly basis, I see a news article or social media post with titles like, "woman killed by pet pit bulls," "child killed by the family dog," "dog attacked by pack of off leash dogs." It's heartbreaking. How do we stop it? Is Breed Specific Legislation the answer? More leash laws?
I think that we could greatly benefit from two realizations; first, that these animals are dogs. They are living, breathing creatures with a mind of their own and no matter how well we think we know them, they will always have some amount of unpredictability. Second, from my experience, there seems to be a widely accepted idea that we can train/love/socialize/etc. all behaviors out of a dog and that genetics and breed have very little effect on dog behavior - this is far from the truth.
Don't get me wrong, socialization is imperative in puppy raising. I stress the importance of early socialization to all of my clients with puppies/young dogs. A dog with good genetics can easily be ruined if the owner is careless in proper socialization. However, the opposite is also true; there are many dogs out there who no matter how much you socialize/expose/desensitize will not change or improve because of their breeding. We see this most commonly in the fighting breeds and the various mutts and mixes that fill local animal shelters. In the "pet dog" world there is very little understanding that just as we expect dachshunds to dig, hounds to bark, huskies to run; pits and pit mixes have a natural gameness and drive bred into them. What does this produce? A fighting spirit.
Owners need to understand and acknowledge that if you own a fighting type breed, your dog is genetically prone to dog aggression. It is irresponsible to own a dog of these breeds and ignore this as fact. The gameness and drive found in these breeds should also be seriously considered as a factor when interacting with small animals or children.
Am I bashing these dogs? Do I hate pitbulls? Absolutely not; I love the heart of fighting breeds, have owned them myself, and will probably own them in the future. It is because I love these breeds that I want to be sure that owners are properly educated, and that they are setting their dog up for success and not failure. It is part of responsible dog ownership to know your dog well enough to understand what will be a beneficial situation for them and what could be damaging.
So, owners of pits and pit mixes, don't take this as instruction to never socialize or have your dog mingle with other dogs - but be smart about it. Be informed, make wise decisions, know your breed and know your individual dog.