Let's get one thing straight: NO dog breed is “too dangerous to be owned.” The American Staffordshire Terrier – most commonly called the Pit bull – is not a dangerous dog when properly raised and trained. If you mistreat a dog, however, and that applies to all canines, it may bite you. What we have here is not a dangerous dog problem but a stupid human problem.
The “bully breeds” – Boxers, Bulldogs, terriers like the American Staffordshire and what is simply called the Bull Terrier – have some traits in common: extremely strong jaws, short noses and muscular front ends. Their common ancestor was used for the – fortunately, now eradicated – spectacle of bull-baiting. That strong grip was essential for hanging onto the bull to strangle it and the short nose kept the dog from drowning in blood while he did so.
As time went by and humans became more humane about how they treated animals, dog breeders recognized that their “bulldogs” had other traits besides the ones that were prized for murdering bulls in the bloodiest possible way: they were actually quite brave, loyal, and protective. They made excellent guardians of farms and estates. They were gentle around the master’s children and intelligent enough to learn who was friend and who was intruder.
Boxers, Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, and Bull Terriers are used in modern times for everything from therapy dogs to police work and all of them are excellent companion dogs. Unfortunately, the American Staffordshire’s path toward general acceptance hasn’t been that easy.
Dogs of all breeds contest dominance among themselves ... when they are allowed to do so by their human handlers, of course. In some cases the contest is subtle – successive marking with urine. In others, dogs attack each other, snarling and snapping. This appears frightening and violent to most humans (or exciting, if you are one of the psychically twisted) but the dogs seldom actually harm each other. One dog establishes dominance and the other, submission, and the hierarchy of the pack is preserved. My dogs did this (via the subtle method) when they first met each other and have established that – with the exception of dinnertime – Brody is the alpha dog and Jesse plays “Robin” to his “Batman.”
Humans who were psychically twisted somehow decided that the spectacle of a dog fight was a great replacement for bull-baiting and the ancestors of our American Staffordshire were the perfect “pit dogs.” That is where their nickname came from. They are brave and tough and – since any dog will fight if mistreated or attacked – only the most aggressive males were allowed to live and reproduce. The obvious happened. More brave, tough, aggressive puppies were born and gentle puppies were culled.
Dog fighting has not been completely eradicated in the United States, and thereby hangs a very sad tale about the dogs still enslaved and forced into this horror. Those that have been rescued from it are sometimes so far gone that euthanasia is the only answer but fortunately, the Humane Society has dedicated people all over the country, working to rehabilitate and re-home these animals.
Pit bulls do indeed need special training and handling in the modern environment to establish that their human(s) is/are the alphas in the pack. Once they have been socialized properly to humans and other dogs, they are no different than any other pet.