True Nature of Pitbulls: Are They Safe Around Children?

Pitbulls are alert and affectionate dogs, but they’ve earned a reputation for being aggressive. This has left many concerned families questioning the trustworthiness of the breed around children.

Nov 26, 2023By Lisa Szymanski
true nature of pitbulls are they safe around children

I’ve worked with many rescue dogs over the last 15 years, and of all the dogs that I encountered, the pitbull is the one breed that stands out. Every pitbull owner would agree that their dogs are loving, loyal, and true companions. These dogs can be incredibly friendly and playful, which are among the reasons that children adore them. Despite their wonderful character, there’s no denying that pitbulls are determined dogs, and they can be aggressive without proper training and socialization. This begs the question of whether they can be trusted around kids.

Why Pitbulls Make Excellent Family Pets

female pitbull with white chest lying on back on grass
A submissive pitbull relaxing outdoors.

Pitbulls may be talkative, and they won’t think twice about digging up the garden if left to their own devices! But what makes them a special breed is their affection and devotion to their family. While many believe that pitbulls are intimidating dogs that are difficult to train, they actually have above-average intelligence and are always willing to please. This makes them receptive to training, and they’re excellent candidates for obedience and performance classes. They are naturally protective, and when socialized with kids, they make great family pets. In addition to their loving personalities, young pitbulls have a tremendous amount of energy and will play with their family for hours.

Getting to Know the Pitbull Temperament

brown and white pitbull wearing a red bowtie against blue background
A confident pitbull donning a bowtie.

I would best describe the temperament of a pitbull as outgoing and incredibly playful. While they love to explore things, they’re quite happy to drape themselves over your lap after a day of adventure. A well-socialized pittie is an obedient dog with good manners, and all they want from you is affection and a tasty dog meal, of course! They aren’t typical guard dogs, but they do have a protective instinct, and they will lunge at people or other pets they perceive as a threat. To keep their strong-willed and protective nature in check, continuous socialization is a must. This not only helps reduce fearfulness and anxiety, but also increases their confidence the more they’re exposed to new environments. According to the American Temperament Test Society, which assesses the temperaments of different dog breeds, the pitbull displayed outstanding performance for temperament. This includes testing for aggression, shyness, and friendliness. They found that the pittie had one of the most stable temperaments, scoring similarly to golden retrievers and ranking higher than chihuahuas.

Pitbulls Need Lots of Exercise

brown pitbull panting while running in road
Pitbulls enjoy high-energy activities.

Are you prepared to dedicate walks and playtime to keep your pitbull’s energy levels in check? These muscular dogs have immense stamina and are champions in agility training. Pitbulls like to figure things out, and they’re curious about their environment, which makes swimming, walking, and running activities rewarding for them. They enjoy dog toys, from throwing a ball to more complex treat dispensers. Children thoroughly enjoy playing fetch, but always keep an eye out for resource guarding. Pitbulls that remain confined or receive little to no exercise will have pent-up energy. This can lead to snapping, jumping, and even aggression in the absence of socialization. Bully breeds that are exercised are more responsive to obedience and learning new dog tricks, which makes controlling unwanted behavior much easier.

Reasons to Control an Over-Excited Pitbull

pitbull playing in swimming pool
Pitbulls enjoy swimming on hot days.

One thing you must consider when allowing children to play with a pitbull is their strength.

These dogs have an excitable temperament, and in most instances, their excitement combined with their energy levels can lead to rough play. They may accidentally knock children over while jumping or running. Pitbulls weigh an average of 60 lbs, with stockier dogs weighing slightly more than this. When combined with their strong, muscular bodies, a pittie may unintentionally hurt a child during play. It’s important to be mindful of the size of these dogs and to prevent them from becoming boisterous by redirecting their behavior or implementing obedience commands.

Are Pitbulls Aggressive?

two pitbulls playing on grass
Pitbulls can play rough when excited.

I would describe a pitbull as naturally curious, high-energy, and affectionate, but there is another side to them. Bully breeds have a stubborn streak and they’re very determined dogs, so without firm leadership, they won’t listen to you. In the absence of training and socialization with other people and pets, pitbulls can either become very fearful and reactive or too protective. These behaviors can lead to aggression. Pitbulls have developed a fearsome reputation in the media due to reports of attacks on people and other pets, but not all pitbulls are aggressive. By investing in obedience training and keeping these dogs stimulated through walks, agility courses, and running activities, pitties will prove themselves as loyal companions.

Factors to Consider When Introducing a Pitbull to Children

pitbull puppy face gently cradled by handler
Raising a pitbull puppy can be fun and rewarding.

Whether a pitbull or another dog breed, children should always be taught how to interact with pets. Monitoring their interactions with a well-socialized pitbull can help you teach them to respect pets while correcting any unwanted behavior from the pitbull. Tail pulling, pinching, or climbing onto the animal’s back can hurt the dog and cause them to react by yelping or snapping. Structured activities such as playing fetch are wonderful games for kids to play with their dogs. However, if you notice changes in your dog’s behavior, such as anxiety or an unwillingness to play, it’s best to give your pooch some space. Only well-trained pitbulls with a sound temperament and no history of aggression should be introduced to kids. Even then, both children and dogs should be constantly monitored for their safety.

Can Pitbulls Be Trusted Around Children?

brindle pitbull lying on floor next to baby in living room
A pitbull quietly relaxing with a toddler.

Pitbulls are incredible with kids, but their size and strength should always be considered when they’re introduced to children. There are signs that you can look for to prevent questionable behaviors from escalating or taking an unexpected turn. Fearful pitbulls will try to hide or move away from children when they feel uncomfortable. If you notice that a dog wants to get away, explain to your children to give them space or remove the pitbull from the environment. This can prevent the dog from trying to defend itself when pursued. Pitties are playful but when they become too excited, they may jump at children, scratch, or snatch toys. Always correct over-excitement to avoid problems. Pitbulls don’t warn you of aggression or an attack like most dogs would by growling or backing away. It is up to you to take note of your dog’s behavior. With care, training, and dedication, pitbulls are certainly trustworthy dogs, but due to their size and strong will, they should always be supervised around children.

Lisa Szymanski
By Lisa Szymanski

Lisa is a wildlife enthusiast who enjoys hiking and gardening and has four years of experience volunteering at pet shelters. She is the proud mom of two dogs, a Pitbull named Ragnar, a Boerboel named Blueberry, and four feisty chickens, or as she calls them, the "queens of the yard," Goldie, Gray, Peaches, and Brownie.