"Just 'cuz I'm a pit bull doesn't mean I'll hurt anybody!"
...So, are all pit bulls nasty? I know a delightful pit bull pup named Tater Tot who would disagree.
Here's the truth: Any dog can bite. Any dog can be made into an aggressive dysfunctional mess by misguided training, cruelty or abuse.
But on April 26, 2012, a Maryland Court of Appeals judge ruled in a civil case that pit bulls are "inherently dangerous," making pit bull owners more susceptible to lawsuits and liability in dog-bite cases. Essentially, that ruling means if your dog is a pit bull, there's a presumption of guilt, no matter the circumstances.
Opinions like this may be well-meaning, but they're based on false reasoning. It's like saying, for example, that V-8 muscle cars are inherently dangerous because they're involved in more speeding incidents and accidents. On the surface, such a statement may appear statistically true. But a rumbling black Mustang, driven responsibly, is no more dangerous than a whispering Prius hybrid.
It's the idiot behind the wheel -- or holding (or not holding) the leash -- that causes the problem.
Sure, fast cars appeal to dangerously-aggressive drivers, but that doesn't make the cars themselves inherently dangerous -- and it doesn't make everyone who drives one an aggressive knucklehead. And just because miserable sociopaths may prefer to own powerful pit bulls instead of toy poodles doesn't make every pit bull owner a sociopath nor every pit bull automatically dangerous.
Some dog breeds (or mixes) do have a genetic tendency to be more assertive, even aggressive, but tendencies are not certainties. Individual behavior covers a wide range, and the human element makes them wildly variable and unpredictable.
While I'm always watchful for individual puppies who may have behavior issues, 15 years as a trainer (working with over a thousand dogs of all breeds and mixes) has taught me that I can't generalize. Not only do I not want to exclude pit bulls from classes, I want those owners to learn how to use positive-reinforcement and clicker training techniques to raise happy, well-adjusted dogs with good manners.
Whenever I have a pit bull puppy in a class, I can see flickers of terror on the faces of other dog owners as they try to keep their puppies away from the presumptive monster. But, invariably, the baby pit bulls end up being the darlings of the class.
The aforementioned Tater Tot was typical: a happy, enthusiastic, silly girl with gold fur and a big grin who played well with her classmates and won the hearts of all the humans. Tater is likely to grow up to be an excellent ambassador for her breed.
Breed profiling is not fair, and it can create a false sense of security. Let's say pit bulls disappeared from the planet: Wow! We've been saved! Except that nasty people who get their kicks from owning the baddest dog in the neighborhood will choose some other breed to ruin.
The authoritative federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says this on the subject of a 20-year study on fatal dog bites, listing the breeds involved:
It does not identify specific breeds most likely to bite or kill, and thus is not appropriate for policy-making decisions related to the topic... There is currently no accurate way to identify the number of dogs of a particular breed, and consequently no measure to determine which breeds are more likely to bite or kill. Many practical alternatives to breed-specific policies exist and hold promise for preventing dog bites. For prevention ideas and model policies for control of dangerous dogs, please see the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) Task Force report on Canine Aggression and Human-Canine Interactions: A Community Approach to Dog Bite Prevention