The Truth About Pit Bulls

Full disclosure: I do have a pit bull at home. Some people may think that makes me biased, but I think having one in my life, in addition to my time spent working with dogs at the animal shelter, gives me additional insight into this topic. I won’t be getting into any anecdotes about my dog here. They’re not particularly convincing evidence and to be honest, I’d rather share stories of my girl Ember in a happier post.

I will share this picture of her beautiful smile though.

First things first, I’d like to establish some facts.

  • “Pitbull” is a not a breed. It’s a generic term that includes breeds, such as: The American Pit bull Terrier, The American Staffordshire Terrier, The American Bully, and The Staffordshire Bull Terrier. It also essentially includes any dog that ‘looks’ like those breeds or shares the basic signature characteristics, such as a stocky build or block-shaped head. When a dog comes in to an animal shelter and the breed is not known, workers will try to identify them based off of appearance (genetic testing would get really expensive, really fast). So even if the dog is just a mutt with no DNA from any of the breeds listed above, it will likely still be labelled as a pit bull mix if it looks the part.
  • These dogs do have an origin that was intended for aggression. The English bull-baiting dog was bred to hold bulls, bears, and other large animals in a fighting ring as a form of entertainment for spectators. When this practice was outlawed they were bred with terriers for the purpose of dog fighting. While a willingness to attack other animals was certainly something these breeders strived for, aggression towards humans was never a desired trait and they were not bred for that quality. 
  • Their jaws do not lock. There is nothing physically unique about the anatomy of a pit bull’s jaw.
  • Pit bulls do not have the strongest bite. There’s a lot of contention in regards to which breed has the strongest bite strength and how reliable the results from any study can really be. Even so, from what we know pit bulls appear to not even be in the top five.
  • The dog most likely to bite you is a chihuahua, not a pit bull.
Every picture I’ll be sharing besides the first one are of dogs from our local shelter (my dog was originally from there as well).

Now that we have all that covered, let’s address the real concern. Are pit bulls dangerous? That is the public perception. That’s why they’ve been banned from certain cities, why it’s difficult to rent an apartment in an otherwise dog-friendly establishment, and why passersby act like you have a shark on a leash instead of dog regardless of the outward behavior the dog is displaying. This is because despite the fact that they don’t have the strongest bite and they don’t bite the most often, they are statistically number one in a very important category. Pit bulls are significantly ahead of any other breed in terms of fatalities caused by a dog attack.

Is this information really very surprising though? Considering that you’re lumping several different breeds together under one umbrella term and comparing that number with individual breeds. A study was done that concluded that when you take the factor of population into account, pit bulls are less likely to cause a fatal attack than several other breeds. (The first source provided below links to the study and the second link helps summarize the findings.)

Let’s use small round numbers as an example:

Let’s say there is a population of 50 pit bulls and 5 of them were involved in fatal attacks. Then there’s a population of 25 malamutes and 3 of them were involved in fatal attacks. Yes, pit bulls would be responsible for more fatal attacks than malamutes. However that would also dictate that 12% of the malamutes were deadly while only 10% of the pit bulls were. So, which type of dog would really be more dangerous? This is the situation we are in.

I was bit a couple of times while I worked at the shelter, but never by a pit bull despite the fact that they made up the majority of the dogs there.

So here are a couple statistics for you:

  • Pit bulls remain the most commonly exploited type of dog in dog fighting. It is estimated that in the United States 40,000 people are involved in underground professional dog fighting and 100,000 people are involved in non-professional dog fighting.
  • Pit bulls are brought into animal shelters more than any other breed of dog. Roughly 75% of municipal shelters euthanize pit bulls upon intake without ever giving them the opportunity to be adopted.
Our Humane Society is a low kill shelter. Dogs are put down if they have serious illnesses or if their behavioral issues are beyond what would be safe to adopt out. They’re never euthanized because of their breed or to make room for other dogs.

You’ve probably heard at one point or another that ‘any dog can be aggressive’, which is true. But there’s a reason why no one is calling for a ban on chihuahuas even though they’re the most likely to bite you. Their size innately makes them less of a threat than a larger dog, although I’m sure they could still do a number on a child. While I hate to see so many dogs in shelters in need of a home, I would never recommend just anyone to get a dog. Because they are not a prop for photos, they are not an alarm system, or a punching bag. They are not inanimate objects. They are living, breathing creatures with needs of their own that go beyond food and water. Not every person is cut out to meet those needs and when these people get their hands on a dog like a pit bull, who very well may have some baggage, who is strong and needs training and socialization, that’s when bad things can happen. It does not require bad intentions for someone to an inadequate dog owner and it’s a dangerous notion that all any dog needs is love.

Love is definitely important though

What I have to say is this: don’t hold the abuse pit bulls endure against them. They’ve been victimized by people since the beginning and continue to be today. They didn’t asked to be selectively bred for certain traits and they didn’t ask to be forced to fight. They’re born into a world with too many dogs and not enough willing homes. Even if they are lucky enough to find a home, too often they are exploited, neglected, abused, and then abandoned or brought to a shelter where they are promptly euthanized. None of this is their fault. They are victims. They’re not the bad guy. We are.


Click to access javma_000915_fatalattacks.pdf

Click to access ortiz.pdf


2 thoughts on “The Truth About Pit Bulls

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