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Published: Jul 23, 2012

When you are browsing your local animal shelter or rescue league for a new canine companion, you might notice a number of muscular, friendly and sometimes adorably goofy-looking dogs. These are pit bulls, and are unfortunately one of the most abused breeds of dog in the U.S. The name "pit bull' evokes fear in some people and confusion in others, but not all pit bulls are aggressive.

"Pit bull" is used to describe a number of breeds of dogs, including American Pit Bull terriers, Staffordshire Bull terriers and American Staffordshire terriers. Although these dogs have a reputation as vicious fighting dogs, they can make sweet companions when raised well, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

Understanding the past

Before you fall in love with one of these dogs, it is important you do your research. You should understand the pit bull's past and the way its genetic history and certain media coverage of bites or attacks has influenced laws you may need to follow. Like all breeds, the pit bull was bred for a specific job based on physical characteristics. The dogs' muscular bodies and strong jaws made them ideal for baiting in the early 18th century and dog fighting - a practice that is now illegal in America. Still, the ancestry of fighting makes them more easily encouraged to start a fight with another dog, and less likely to inhibit their bites. These are aspects of dog aggression that owners should be aware of, according to VCA Animal Hospitals.

Raising a good dog

Despite their past and their negative reputation perpetuated by reports of dog bites and attacks in the media, pit bulls can be delightful pets, so long as they are well-socialized and well-trained. That is why it is crucial that prospective pit bull owners prepare to devote plenty of time to obedience training and socialization.

While these are important aspects of raising puppies in general, pit bull puppies need a particularly high level of socialization and gentle, consistent training. Pit bull puppies should start meeting new people and animals when they are as young as 7 weeks old, and this process should continue through adulthood. Training also must be gentle, the ASPCA reports. Although pit bulls have a "tough" appearance, they are sensitive creatures that thrive on positive reinforcement, not harsh training techniques.

Being a responsible pit bull owner

Part of owning a pit bull is becoming an advocate for the breed. Owners should understand that on top of the general veterinary care necessary to keep their dog healthy, constant socialization is also important. Before adopting, owners should be aware of certain rules or laws in their areas. Some cities, apartment buildings or neighborhoods have specific rules and regulations to control pit bulls. It is also important that owners understand their opportunity to educate others about this breed and change its reputation for the better.