Pit bulls are wonderful family pets. Shelters and rescues should make every effort to place pit bulls in loving, stable homes with responsible owners. While our recommendations here and throughout the website may appear to be breed specific, many of these guidelines may be used for responsibly placing dogs of any breed.
Selecting Dogs For Adoption
As with all breeds, PBRC recommends that shelters and rescues temperament evaluate pit bulls prior to placing dogs for adoption. There are many different temperament evaluation tools and protocols available, and many animal welfare organizations and private training facilities conduct training for shelter staff to learn how to perform temperament evaluations. At a minimum, dogs should be tested for social behavior; resource guarding; toy, play, and prey drive; and compatibility with other animals. Dogs that demonstrate aggression towards humans, or significant aggression towards other animals should not be placed for adoption. Dogs with known bite histories should not be placed for adoption. Dogs with extreme shyness, aloof behavior, or overly independent dogs should not be placed for adoption. An American Pit Bull Terrier of correct temperament should be very people oriented, friendly even with strangers, and very tolerant of physical handling.
Owners who are surrendering their pit bulls for adoption should seek assistance for a temperament evaluation or a referral by contacting their local shelter or dog trainer, or go to the APDT website to find a trainer or canine specialist.
Puppies should not be placed for adoption until they are a minimum of eight weeks of age. If the mother dog is at the shelter, puppies should be kept with the mother until eight weeks of age, as she will teach them important social skills. Avoid placing a mother with a puppy in the same home and avoid placing littermates in the same home. As puppies mature, the potential for rivalry between a mother and puppy or a puppy and its littermate is much greater than if two dogs who are not related are placed in the same home.
When placing a pit bull up for adoption, rescues and shelters should label them accurately, i.e., if it is felt that the dog is an American Pit Bull Terrier, it should be noted as such on the adoption card or web page. If the dog appears to be a mix, it should be labeled as a pit mix, and if it is known what it is mixed with, that too should be listed. Avoid calling a pit bull something other than what it is (for example, Boxer mix) in an effort to increase adoptions. Doing so is deceiving to adopters, and may be the reason for an adoption return in the future when the adopter is suddenly made aware by his or her veterinarian, local Animal Control, insurance carrier, or landlord that the dog is a pit bull.
Spay and Neuter
It is imperative that shelter and rescue organizations spay and neuter dogs before placing them in adoptive homes. Spaying and neutering has many health and behavioral benefits to the animal. And equally important, spaying and neutering will help reduce further pet overpopulation. Visit PBRC's financial aid page for assistance with spaying/neutering dogs prior to placement. PBRC supports pediatric, or juvenile, spaying and neutering of puppies.
Housing Pit Bulls In A Shelter Environment
Adult dogs should be kenneled individually, even if they arrived at the shelter together. Many adult dogs, of any breed, can engage in problematic behaviors when housed in too small of a space such as a kennel. Problematic behaviors can include guarding resources from each other, or redirected aggression when an outside stimulus agitates them.
Some adult dogs can be matched with a play buddy for supervised playtime outside of the kennel, given proper dog-dog introductions. If the dogs can play appropriately and under supervision in a fenced area, providing playtime can be a great stress reducer. Some adult dogs may enjoy taking leash walks with other dogs. Parallel leash walking is a great way to introduce dogs, and also to socialize them without the pressure of a direct interaction. See PBRC’s web page on dog-dog introductions.
Pit bulls are generally athletic dogs. They are also intelligent and playful. A kennel situation can be difficult for an athletic, bright, and playful dog if he or she is not given appropriate outlets to exercise both body and mind. Some ways that shelters can decrease boredom or stress from kenneling are provided here:
- Kennel breaks including daily walks, play time in a fenced area, biking on a K-9 Cruiser, car rides to a local park, etc.
- Supervised play time with an appropriately matched dog
- Obedience and trick training with volunteers
- Durable, interactive toys, including toys that are “stuffable” such as the Kong, Waggle, Buster Cube, Treat Ball, etc. Consider feeding all or a portion of the dog’s meals in such toys.
- Provision of chew items such as rawhides, bully sticks, sterilized bones, or Nylabones. Chewing relieves stress and also promotes dental health.
Note: High value items such as food, toys stuffed with food, and chew items should be given to dogs while kenneled separately to prevent resource guarding and possible conflicts between dogs.
Making Adoption Matches
Potential adopters should complete an application that includes personal contact information, residency information, and additional information about pet ownership. For example, questions seeking input on the applicant’s previous pet ownership history, veterinary reference, and training and care of the adopted animal, should also be included. PBRC recommends that caretakers of pit bulls carefully counsel their adopters by thoroughly interviewing them. Observe the applicant’s handling of the dog while you adoption counsel him or her. Some questions to ask yourself while observing the applicant are:
- Am I comfortable with the way this person handles the dog?
- Has the applicant been receptive to information I am providing about this dog?
- Does the applicant ask questions, and seek information about the dog, about training needs, health care, etc.?
- Do all the household members seem comfortable with this dog?
- Does the dog seem comfortable with all household members?
Rescue and shelter personnel should also discuss some of the other issues that owners of pit bulls face such as breed specific legislation and making sure that their insurance carrier has no breed restrictions. The shelter or rescue staff should verify that the adopter’s current town of residence does not have breed specific legislation; do not rely on the adopter to know about BSL. A city’s animal ordinances can be verified by calling the local Animal Control or City Hall.
Please see our webpage on more information on screening potential adopters for more information.
Knowledgeable shelter and rescue workers will be able to address questions about breed information, multi dog management, and training, both pre- and post- adoption. Reference checks and home checks are recommended. For additional information on conducting a home visit, click here. All family or household members should be required to meet the dog prior to adoption. Adopters should be given as much information about the dog’s personality, current skills, training and exercise needs, as well as a medical history. Rescues and shelters should provide an adoption contract that includes expectations of the adopter as well as the organization’s return policy. Reputable rescues and shelters should be willing to take the dog back at any time. A sample adoption contract can be found here.
If the potential adopter already has a dog, a dog-to-dog introduction should be done prior to adoption. Please see PBRC’s web page on dog-dog introductions. It may be necessary to do multiple introductions over time to acclimate the dogs. While some dogs prefer to be the only pet, many can be placed successfully with a compatible – and altered – dog of the opposite sex. Multiple dog households involving pit bulls require experienced owners who will be able to commit time to all of the dogs, and be committed to training and multi dog management, including separation of the animals when not supervised.
If you are conducting an out-of-state adoption, please be aware that PBRC may be able to send a volunteer to the applicant's place of residence for a homecheck before the adoption is approved. Make sure to ask us if we can help. If we don't have a volunteer in the region of the applicant, you should contact a local rescue organization and ask them if they can send someone that is experienced in dog placement to meet the applicant for you and do a home visit. Make sure the local shelter sends someone who understands pit bulls and has the knowledge to determine if this is a good home for a pit bull. You should correspond several times with the applicant. Don't be afraid to ask as many questions as you want. If the applicant is serious, he or she will be more than happy to answer you. Make it a priority to contact the applicant's references and ask them a lot of questions. Veterinarians are good references, and are usually very cooperative.
Before sending a dog out-of-state, we suggest consulting with local authorities for potential breed-specific legislation. Pit bulls are restricted and banned in many cities and counties. Please note that these dogs are the target of breed-specific legislation in many municipalities and states across the nation, and already has several breed specific restrictions against it.
Taking Time to Do It Right
Placing pit bulls in responsible, loving homes takes time. It may take months to find the right home for an individual dog. PBRC encourages shelters and rescues to take their time and thoroughly screen applicants and do the necessary checks. By taking time to do it right, you will ensure that the match is a good one for both the dog and the adopter and also avoid an unsuccessful placement and a possible return adoption. In addition, hastily placing pit bulls may result in putting dogs in situations of further abuse or neglect. Beware of applicants who are unwilling to follow your adoption protocol or who want to rush the process; a good adopter will understand why you are being thorough in your process.
Some adoption red flags:
- Adopter prefers an intact dog
- Adopter’s current dog is intact
- Adopter has had multiple pit bulls in the past but never for any lengthy period of time
- Adopter has given away previous dog or previous dog was ‘lost’ or ‘stolen’
- Adopter is unwilling to allow a home check
- Adopter cannot provide any veterinary reference though he or she has owned dogs previously