Let me start by addressing what I mean when I say "power breed". I consider dogs to be part of the "power breed" group if the breed in general is larger, stronger, more solidly built, has a higher intensity level or has a higher pain tolerance level than the average dog. A few examples of what I consider power breeds are the American Saffordshire Terrier, Pit Bull Terrier, Rottweiler, Doberman Pinscher, German Shepherd, Rhodesian Ridgback , Mastiff and several others but I think you get the picture. These are the dogs that end up in the news or that the general population is often afraid of. They are the ones on the breed ban lists and that often have a bad reputation.
I, myself favor these breeds and do not agree with banning them. I believe in addressing each dog individually and feel that owners need to be responsible for their dogs no matter what breed they own. I believe that any dog can bite and can be dangerous in certain circumstances however I believe it is the humans responsibility to properly train their dog and to assume responsibility for his/her actions. Being responsible for your pet is important no matter what type of animal you own however it becomes more critical when you own a power breed. Once you agree to own or live with a dog considered to be a power breed, you take on the responsibility of ensuring your dog is not another breed statistic. These breeds need good, responsible and committed owners. They need owners that have done their research and know the general needs of their dog. Owning a bully breed or Doberman is nothing like owning a Yorkie or Shih tzu or even a lab or standard poodle. Owning a power breed takes strong leadership skills and a willingness for patience and understanding beyond what a normal dog owner will need. Often times owners of power breeds will need patience and understanding not just for their dog but for the general public's reaction to their dog as well.
So what do I mean when I say owners need to take responsibility? I mean that once you own a power breed you know and accept that other people will judge you and your dog based on breed alone. Insurance agencies, land lords, hotels and sometimes entire cities will ban you and your dog even if your dog has never done anything wrong. Additionally, any mistake your dog does make will be blown into a much larger scale than if another breed makes the same mistake. This means that while a Chihuahua can often get away with a play bite or even an intentional nip, your dog will be expected to be on his best behavior at all times because if your power breed bites someone, it will be made into a bigger deal even if that bite was a warning bite or done in play. Even when your dog is a puppy, people will in general be afraid or mistrusting of him. A perfect example of this is my dog Ryker. Ryker is an 8 month old 70lb Doberman Pinscher puppy. He loves everyone and every thing and has been exposed to as many dogs, other animals and people as I can possibly find. He comes to almost all of my group training sessions, attends camp with lots of other dogs on days when he can't come with me and in general is well behaved. However, even though he is just a puppy, people still cross the street when we pass, people still run and avoid us or make comments like "Look at that guard dog" Even my neighbors that have seen him grow up and have seen neighborhood kids petting him on our walks are still afraid based solely on his breed and how he looks.
So what can we do as the owners of these wonderful breeds? We can train our dogs, exercise them appropriately to ensure their stability and know them well enough not to put them in a situation that would set them up for failure. All dogs need daily exercise and for power breeds this is even more important. They need to drain their excess energy in an appropriate way. They need leadership and clear instructions on what you want from them. Sometimes power breeds come with a protective nature or a higher level of intensity and this will need to be addressed. They are also often more agile and athletic which means you will need to provide them proper enclosures when you are not at home to monitor them. Keeping them indoors, sturdy fencing and kennel training are a good idea when you have a power breed. Most of them can easily jump your six foot wooden fence if they want to and can break out of a kennel in just a few minutes. Keeping them indoors when you are not home will avoid an incident that is out of your control. Properly training them to respect boundaries will ensure your dog doesn't break out of a kennel or jump a fence and get into trouble. Doing research, learning as much as you can before committing or hiring a professional once you have committed may be necessary to ensure you become a great leader for your dog. Proper socialization is a must for these dogs. In my opinion, positive reinforcement works best for these power breeds, they respond very well to praise and rewards and in general want to please their owners. Sadly this complete loyalty is often their downfall when irresponsible owners mistreat them, shoot them up with steroids, inbreed them or ask them to do things like fight one another or attack people. So in addition to keeping your own dog under control, you will also be faced with the responsibility of becoming a breed advocate. This means that once you own a power breed you will want and need to join the fight against banning your breed and help educate the general public that these dogs are not the monsters the media makes them out to be. There are many ways to help people understand and educate them about your breed. One way is by socializing your dog and taking him places so people can see him behaving and being friendly. Also, unless your dog is a show dog, you should spay or neuter him to ensure he doesn't become aggressive or sick from testosterone build up or if you have a female to ensure she doesn't have an unplanned litter. Pit bulls and other power breeds make up a huge number of shelter dogs that are euthanized each year so breeding them unnecessarily is irresponsible. Additionally dogs that are unaltered that do not breed can develop health problems and temperament problems from built up testosterone in their system so spaying or neutering is a huge part of your responsibility as an owner.
I personally work with my dog on basic obedience and I work very hard to stay in control so he trusts me as his leader and won't feel the need to try to take over and lead me. I also spend a lot of time socializing him with other people, animals, objects and situations so he will be confident and not fearful. I pay attention to his body language and do not put him in uncomfortable situations where I cannot control the outcome. If he tells me he is unsure of a person or animal with his body language, I do not force him to meet them. I encourage him to follow me and trust me to know him and I make sure I don't set him up for failure. Dogs almost always give lots of warning before they bite or attack. When you have a power breed, it is your job to know your dog well enough to know when he is not comfortable with a situation. Dog's have great instincts and sometimes they may pick up on something you don't or maybe your dog is young and somewhat fearful. There is a right way and a wrong way to expose your dog. You want to expose him to as many new things as possible but you want to do it in a controlled environment and in a positive fun way that will reassure him and not make his fear worse. For example, when Ryker was smaller he was afraid of the big outdoor trash can. When we would take the trash out he would have a negative reaction. His reaction included everything from trying to run away to trying to attack the tires. Once I saw that he was afraid I begin exposing him to the trash can more often and using treats, praise and petting when asking him to approach the can. Once he was comfortable hanging out around and near the trash can I started slowly moving it, opening the lid and even slamming it as he got more comfortable. The more reward he received for being comfortable around the trash can the more relaxed he became. After a few days of practicing and spending more time with a trash can than I ever thought I would, he was comfortable enough to walk in a heal with me while I rolled it out to the street on the gravel drive way. Now he doesn't pay any attention to the trash can and is happy to walk beside it every week on trash day. This same exercise can be done with many scenarios but the overall point is to be in control so that if your dog does make a mistake, it isn't a fatal one. In this instance when Ryker did react by biting the trash can I was able to correct him and redirect his energy into something more positive so that he could understand that biting was not the appropriate response.
Dog's are programmed to be part of a pack. They want to learn and fit in to your world as their owner which means training them is often easier than people think. The power breeds are no different and if anything many of them are even more trainable than the average dog. They are often intense and energetic and if you guide them and use that intensity for positive activities they will work for you until they literally can't go on. These dogs only want to please their owners and should not be punished when their owners ask them to do something inappropriate or teach them the wrong types of activities. Humans in general need to take responsibility for what they have created in these breeds by years of breeding and planning. It is our responsibility to ensure these dogs continue to be mans best friend and to help change the public's negative views of them. We can do that by being responsible owners and helping our dogs to become breed advocates and not another bad statistic. Sometimes the responsibilities of owning a power breed can feel like a full time job but they are worth it in every way and for me personally it's the most rewarding and fun job I have ever had. These beautiful breeds deserve to be respected, loved and cherished as the awesome family companions they were meant to be. If you are thinking of bringing a power breed into your family, do your research, adopt from a reputable shelter or breeder and remember that this is a lifetime commitment for the life of your new dog.