How The “Bully” In “Bully Breeds” Skews Our Judgment

How The “Bully” In “Bully Breeds” Skews Our Judgment

By: Kira Ginter

February 10th, 2023

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a bully is “a blustering, browbeating person” and to bully is “to treat (someone) in a cruel, insulting, threatening, or aggressive fashion: to act like a bully toward.” Therefore, one would assume that a “bully breed” dog would be cruel, ruthless, threatening, insulting and mean.

The connotation of the word “bully” singlehandedly contributes to the bad reputation of “bully breed” dogs.  Contrary to popular belief, “bully breed” dogs are not named after their temperament or attitude; the term “bully” in “bully breed” refers to their lineage. “Bully breed” dogs are dogs that typically descend from “bully” and/or terrier dog breeds.

For example, pit bulls are considered bully breed dogs, but a pit bull is not actually a breed of dog. A pit bull is a mixture of any breed of dog with a large head, muscular body, short hair and other similar characteristics. “Pit bull” dogs are often mixes of American Staffordshire Terriers, American Pit Bull Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, American Bullies and/or Staffordshire Bull Terriers.

It is hard to find a definitive list of “bully breed” dogs, but most sites list the American Bully, American Bulldog, American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Bull Mastiff, Bull Terrier, English Bulldog, Cane Corso, Staffordshire Bull Terrier and Rottweiler while some sites list the Great Dane, Pug, Boxer and French Bulldog.

Pit bulls were originally bred from Old English Bulldogs and used in 1800s England for “bull baiting,” meaning that these dogs were sent to harass a bull until it collapsed from fatigue or injury. Once “bull baiting” became outlawed due to its linkage to animal cruelty, “ratting” became popular.

“Ratting” was a sport in which rats would be placed into a pit along with dogs and whichever dog killed the most rats in the quickest time was deemed the winner.

“Ratting” eventually lost its popularity because it could not be easily hidden; thus, dog fighting gained notoriety due to its capability to be held anywhere. Pit bulls are very popular dogs to use for dog fighting due to their muscularity, ability to fight and easy accessibility. 

As of 4 p.m. on January 23, 2023, 10 of the 14 dogs labeled “mixed breed”  at the Lenawee Humane Society appear to be pit bulls. Similarly, five of the seven dogs at the Jackson County Animal Shelter are labeled as American Staffordshire Terrier mixes.

A staggering 103 out of 120 dogs at the Oakland County Animal Shelter and Pet Adoption Center are pit bull mixes. These statistics show that there is an abundance of bully breeds in shelters, likely due to the stigma surrounding them. This also means that it is easy for dog fighters to get their hands on a pit due to their overpopulation. 

Making it out of the shelter is only half of the battle for these dogs. The families that adopt them fight constant judgment, stigmatization and even housing discrimination. Many apartments do not allow pit bulls and certain cities have gone far enough as to ban the breed altogether. 

Robin Ginter, the Lenawee County 4-H Dog Gone Fun Club leader and Lenawee County 4-H Dog Program Co-Superintendent, says that her two pit bulls are “the sweetest dogs you will ever meet.” She believes that pit bulls do not deserve all of the hatred that they receive in the media, and that pit bulls are not inherently mean.

Ginter maintains that any instances where they are mean likely stem from their mistreatment. Just like with people, the temperament of any dog is attributable to nature versus nurture. A dog with a nice, loving, caring family will be well-adjusted and loving and a dog that is beaten will likely be more aggressive because that is all it knows. 

Kate Birdsall, a fellow pit bull owner, experiences judgment and discrimination when out with her dog. She says that people look horrified and go as far as to say, “Oh my God, is that a pit bull?”       

The American Kennel Club (AKC) temperament test states that American Staffordshire Terriers are “smart, confident, good-natured, keenly aware and very trainable.” The stigma surrounding these dogs is unfounded.

Many people believe pit bulls are bad based on other people’s perceptions. In order to truly understand the caring, nurturing, intelligent nature of a pit bull, people need to give the breed a chance and come to their own conclusions.     

Kira Ginter is a senior majoring in Professional and Public Writing and minoring in Peace and Justice Studies. She hopes to work as a nonprofit grant writer or in a similar field that allows her to showcase her love for reading, writing and editing. Kira is an avid dog lover and spends much of her free time with her two pit mixes, Pongo and Roxy.