Pitbull and the likes: off or on-leash?

A discussion on whether to have your Pit Bull off-leash
By Laure-Anne Visele, March 2012

Allowing your pit-bull offleash?

A reader recently asked me how I felt about the opinion of some that she should never allow her Am Staff (aka Pit Bull, aka American Staffordshire Terrier) off-leash.


This was my response:

A balancing act

On the one hand, I think that every dog needs his offleash exercise and that if anything is going to cause a problem, it’s lack of freedom/exercise.

On the other hand, I know that people can react emotionally to pit-types, so she has to be extra well-trained.

It can help for you to see yourself as an ambassadress to the breed. It will hopefully stop you from getting frustrated at being held to higher standards.

What makes Pit Bulls so feared?

I think the danger with dogs of this type, is if they ‘go into the red zone’ – i.e. if they get over-aroused by another dog. This could be triggered by play-fighting gone wrong, or by another dog that is boisterous or aggressive.

The risk is four-fold:

  • It is commonly believed that many pit-types have a low threshold to go into red-zone mode;
  • Once it’s triggered, they are believed to be very poor at reading appeasement signals from the other dog;
  • It is also believed that their pain threshold is much higher than that of similar-sized dogs; and
  • Their jaw pressure is extra-ordinarily strong.

So you’ve got a real problem if the dog ever gets into the red zone (or ‘goes into hind-brain’ if you’re a techie) with another dog. In other words, he’s not thinking any more, and not able to moderate itself.

The stats

Now there are no reliable numbers on the occurrence of such events as far as I can tell, so all we have to go for is that they can have the genetic pre-disposition to inflict a lot of damage if the ‘red zone’ flick is switched on.

All I know is that I have never encountered such a situation from direct experience (where a dog is utterly destroyed by an altercation with an out of control fight-type dog), nor have I met a fellow trainer who had.

So either:

  • The problem is under-reported to professionals (owner’s shame) or,
  • Problems with these breeds get over-mediatized (or both)?

The risk equation and some questions to ask yourself

In the absence of solid fact, all you can do as a responsible owner, is to play it safe.

So you have to have solid grounds to know that your dog is safe for other dogs. Wishful thinking won’t cut it. I suggest you gradually expose the dog to other dogs, always keeping the encounters controlled and positive.

You can make the chance even tinier by training for a rock-solid recall and ensure she gets positive experiences with other dogs.

So, in a nutshell, here’s the risk equation as far as I am concerned:

  • A very very very tiny chance of something very very very awful, or
  • The guarantee of a frustrated, hence badly behaved dog.


I love to read your comments, so leave me your thoughts any time. I’d particularly like to hear from you if you:

  • Own a powerful dog;
  • Have had a positive, or negative experience, with an off-leash pitbull.

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