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Are pit bulls really that dangerous?

Pit bulls are one of the most recognized -- and reviled -- dogs of our times. While breeds tend to come and go in popularity, pit bulls have become a subject of hot debate all over the nation. Some people say that they're wonderful, loving dogs that simply need to be well-socialized. Others say that they're all genetically predisposed toward vicious attacks and unsafe no matter how much training they receive.

Which side is right? In reality, probably neither -- but you do have some good reasons to be cautious. Here's what you should know about the pit bulls in your neighborhood.

1. They were never nanny dogs

There's a story that goes around about pit bulls being referred to as "nanny" dogs because they were once left to guard children. This is a recently-minted tale, not an actual fact. Pit bulls were actually bred to be fighting dogs. The breed was developed to fight bears and bulls.

2. They have an aggressive bite

The shape of their head and snout gives their bite a significant, crushing force. They don't really lock their jaws when they bite -- but their bites are fierce and usually deep. Their breeding tends to show when these dogs do attack.

3. Human behavior may be behind many attacks

There's a strong indication that many pit bull attacks are provoked in some way by the humans that get bit. However, here's the problem: no one is sure exactly what may provoke an individual dog. Abuse can be blamed for some attacks -- but that doesn't explain owners who are attacked by the family pit bull while taking the dog for a walk.

4. They can be coached toward viciousness.

Even their advocates admit that pit bulls can be dangerous if coached or mistreated. The problem is that you have no way of knowing if the pit bull you see is living a life of luxury or is a victim of abuse. You could pay for your lack of knowledge with some serious dog bite injuries.

Ultimately, although pit bulls may not all be monsters (and some are downright sweet), it pays to steer clear of dogs you don't know. It's also wise to remember that certain breeds can simply do a lot more damage with their powerful jaws than others.

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