“It’s [Not] All in How You Raise Them”

Posted by: on Nov 21, 2012 | 9 Comments

It’s tough being a Pit Bull advocate.  Not only are the dogs you love attacked by media hysteria, ignorance, and faulty logic, but the humans behind the dogs are attacked as well.

We’re stereotyped to be criminals, thugs, uneducated; the list goes on and on.

This is why it is so very important that we choose our words wisely.

When a Pit Bull Advocate says, “It’s all in how you raise them”, they mean that dog owners should be loving and responsible toward their pets and that it’s no wonder that some dogs act out given that many are abused, neglected, and otherwise mistreated.

What anti-Pit Bull folks hear though is quite different.

“It’s all in how you raise them” is easily construed to mean that Pit Bulls are inherently dangerous, unstable, and unpredictable so you have to be really careful with how you treat them.


When a Pit Bull Advocate says, “they are only mean if you train them to be that way”, they mean that proper socialization and a safe and loving environment are necessary for any breed of dog to learn to love and trust humans.

What anti-Pit Bull folks hear though is quite different.

“They are only mean if you train them to be that way” is easily twisted to mean that Pit Bulls are just ticking time bombs, waiting for the wrong person to pick them up and teach them to hate people, who they will then chase down the street in roving packs, mauling and terrorizing.

When a Pit Bull Advocate says, “any dog will snap if you provoke it”, they mean that it’s important to be knowledgeable and educated when dealing with dogs of any breed, and that learning dog body language and signs of distress are vital to being safe around dogs.

What anti-Pit Bull folks hear though is quite different.

“Any dog will snap if you provoke it”, can sound like an excuse. As Pit Bull Advocates who know what a truly stable Pit Bull is and should be we should all have a zero tolerance policy for aggression towards humans. This breed never was, and never should be, aggressive towards people and there’s not a single breed standard that allows that kind of behavior. Sadly, Pit Bulls are likely the #1 most abused dog breed in the world. And 99.99% of them will happily lick the hand of their abuser. Do Pit Bulls attack people? Sometimes they do, and so has pretty much every single other breed in existence. We do nothing to further our cause by defending dogs who exhibit behavior that goes against the very nature of the breed.

Not only are these phrases misleading, but they actually hurt dogs looking for homes. How? Well, if the only way to get a stable dog is to “raise it right”, train it right, and love it right, then it would follow that dogs with unknown backgrounds are likely to be unsafe since we don’t know if they were raised “right” or not. Obviously, we know this isn’t true. If you want a stable dog, you need to adopt one from a rescue or shelter that has been given and has passed a temperament evaluation or you purchase a dog from a responsible and ethical breeder.

Side note: If you are going to chose a breeder, be very cautious – irresponsible breeders often produce dogs with very poor temperaments and often poor health. There are many wonderful dogs, both purebred and mixed breed with great personalities waiting for homes at your local shelter or with your local rescue group. Please consider adoption as your first option if you do not intend to show your dog or have other specific requirements that are best served by a responsible breeder.

Imagine being a first time dog owner with small children in the home and you continually hear that “it’s all in you raise them” – you may be quite leery of adopting an adult dog from a shelter or rescue group, especially one with an an abusive or neglectful back story. In fact, I regularly get questions from folks who believe that if they want a dog that will do well with their children, they must get a puppy. If only I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that! When given the opportunity, I explain to them that getting a puppy with the hopes that it will grow to behave exactly how they want is the same as expecting your own child to grow into an adult who behaves exactly how you want. There are no guarantees. A dog’s adult temperament is a result of both nature and nurture, not simply one or the other. Of course we advocate for treating dogs humanely, providing for both their physical as well as mental and emotional needs, training, and loving them as part of your family however, there are many wonderful dogs owners who have done all that and still have dogs who are unstable and even dangerous (and this is in no way breed specific).

It is patently false that stable dogs come only from proper homes and it is also patently false that unstable dogs come only from improper homes. A prime example of this are dogs from fight busts. We’ve seen the stories of dogs like Hector, exploited and abused during his most formative years and yet is now a Certified Therapy Dog. Sorry folks, but good dogs, even great dogs, can and do come from some of the most horrible owners.

When people believe that if they just treat their dogs well, their dogs will behave well, behavior issues are often ignored. Most pet owners do not want to be viewed as bad owners and when folks say “bad dogs come from bad owners”, the implication is that any dog with a behavior problem must not have a good owner.

We need to foster a community in which owners of dogs with problems are not automatically suspected of mistreating their dogs. Because we care about public safety and love all dogs, dog owners of any breed need to feel empowered to get their dogs the help they need and manage problem behavior effectively.

Dog owners also need to be aware that there are many behavioral issues for which enough love and being “good’ will never change. Sometimes a dog’s issues are so severe that no amount of rehabilitation will make the dog safe around people. Owners of these dogs are often faced with very difficult decisions. These aren’t “bad” owners and these aren’t “bad” dogs. These are responsible owners and troubled dogs who need our support, not suspicion.

“It’s all in you raise them,” is the canine behavior equivalent of the “blank slate” theory and ignores the very reason why we have so many separate and distinct breeds to begin with. Different dog breeds were developed for different tasks. Breed traits are very real and although training can help to hone or modify those traits to a certain extent, a dog that is very true to its type will naturally exhibit the expected characteristics for its given breed.

Please, let’s drop these phrases from our vocabularies. Let’s not give the anti-Pit Bull contingent any further fuel to the fire of hate that we face every single day. Let’s take a deep breath and realize that we are fighting an uphill battle. It took a long time for Pit Bulls to get the bad rap that they have now, and it will take a long time to restore their image to its former glory.

Careful word choice backed by sound logic and factual information is important to ensure your message is conveyed in the most positive and educated light possible and hopefully, help you change minds along the way.


Founder/Director, Pit Bulls Against Misinformation






(post originally written on May 11, 2012 for California American Pit Bull Terrier Association http://caliapbt.org/?p=33 and later edited here )


  1. Stephanie
    January 8, 2013

    Love this so much! Thanks for sharing. It makes me cringe when well-meaning breed advocates make statements that still misrepresent our pups. Getting the word out is the first step in education.

  2. Matt
    January 8, 2013

    I like your article and you make a lot of great points, but I was looking forward to suggestions for new word and phrase choices. Advice or direction as replacement phrases would be appreciated, thanks!

    • admin
      January 9, 2013

      Hi Matt, as all of these statements are essentially making excuses for our dogs I don’t believe that replacement or alternative phrases should be used. As long as we use factual and logical information we shouldn’t need to use any cutesy or defensive phraseology. Did you have a specific situation in mind in which you’d need an alternative phrase?

  3. Top 10 Terms & Phrases to Reconsider - Pit Bulls Against Misinformation
    January 24, 2013

    […] dogs as long as they have the right owners” – this is really along the lines of “It’s All in How Your Raise Them” but I thought it deserves special mention. If Pit Bulls are only amazing dogs as long as […]

  4. Kathy
    February 13, 2013

    So very well said.

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    March 2, 2013

    […] meet your dog. If the landlord initially balks at your dog, don’t start yelling, “it’s all in how you raise them!”. A more effective approach is to calmly respond that you are a responsible owner and that […]

  7. Tommy
    March 28, 2013

    Hi this was really great to read and I’m so guilty of it too, but what should I say to explain these points to people that don’t understand this breed? I try to point out that the media has always made a breed a scapegoat like in the 80’s it was German Shepards and Rottweilers and now it’s Pitts but people don’t remember that far back.

    • admin
      March 29, 2013

      Hi Tommy, I would recommend sticking to the facts. The fact is that there are no reliable dog bite studies that can prove that Pit Bulls are any more likely to bite than any other breed. Most dogs labeled as Pit Bull by the media are any one of up to 26 different dog breeds that share similar physical characteristics, despite that fact that the only dog that should be referred to as a Pit Bull is the American Pit Bull Terrier. Responsible ownership and enforcement of neglect and leash laws create safe communities, this is what we need to advocate for. I think too many Pit Bull supporters get caught up in the Pit Bull aspect of it all but to really effect change, we need to get back to basics – put the blame on the owners that don’t contain their dogs and manage their behavior, regardless of breed.

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