A few of you probably clicked on this article in outrage, expecting another slanderous post about pit bulls.
This is not our intention. We know that there is a lot of misinformation and stigma around pit bulls, some based in fact, some not.
However, we believe that it is important for pit bull owners to understand why the pit bull is often considered dangerous, as this can lead to avoiding incidents that could contribute to the stereotype.
Myth: ‘Pit bulls Were Bred For Violence’
Truth: Yes, Pit bulls were originally bred for blood sports such as bull-baiting and dog fights. They would be forced to fight in arenas called ‘pits’ for entertainment and gambling.
However, the dogs were trained for this, and it didn’t involve aggression towards humans. On top of that, after the practice was outlawed, many pit bulls were incorporated into working-dog practices, such as guarding livestock or pulling carts.
Many other dogs found good family homes, even at the same time that they were supposedly fighting in the pits. Such as in the homes of Helen Keller and Teddy Roosevelt.
There are also many types of ‘pit bull type dogs’, such as the American Pit bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire terrier, the staffordshire bull terrier, the American Bully, and so on.
Nowadays, these breeds are often bred for their looks and good temperament, rather than for a specific purpose.
Myth: ‘Pit Bulls are Unpredictable’
Truth: Many of us have heard the story about a pit bull that lived with a family for years before ‘randomly’ snapping and attacking someone.
A number of reputable studies have shown that this is most likely false, and that pit bulls are not more inclined to attack than any other dog breed. Almost all supposedly ‘random’ attacks are triggered by fear, pain, or another response.
However, it's true that sometimes Pit Bull’s needs and body language can be a bit more subtle or ignored than those of other dogs. This may be because Pit bulls are naturally quite tough, and some people have the mistaken belief that they have a higher pain tolerance than other dog breeds.
If your pit bull is not comfortable in a situation, such as when people are near their food, etc. then it may be a good idea to express some extra caution and reassure them or move them away.
Myth: ‘Pit Bulls Can Lock Their Jaws and Crush Bones with Their Bites’
Truth: Pit bulls can be tenacious and stubborn, however, it is physically impossible for them to lock their jaws. There are no known dogs that actually have the ability to lock their jaws onto anything.
The Pit Bull has a strong and powerful bite, however, they are far from having the most powerful dog bites, with the strongest pit bull type, The American Bully, having a bite of around 305 psi . This is way less than even most Mastiff-type dog breeds, who can score well into the 500s.
This can cause a lot of damage, but is pretty far from the monstrous jaws that pit bull type dogs are rumoured to have.
Myth: Pit Bulls Cause the Highest Number of Fatal Dog Attacks
Truth: The majority of reported fatal dog attacks against both humans and other animals are normally carried out by pit bulls. However, the case is not as clear cut as that.
Multiple sources have pointed out that pit bulls are not more likely to be aggressive or attack than any other dogs. The reason that pit bulls attacks cause so many fatalities compared to other dogs is because their attacks cause more damage.
Pit bulls have a habit of grabbing on and tearing, rather than nipping and letting go.
The Pit bull is also a very strong dog, and pit bull bites can be very powerful, and more difficult to defend against.
For example, a bite from a smaller dog such as a chihuahua or pug may be treatable at home and not get reported, while a pit bull bite would probably be severe enough to warrant medical attention.
Many of the reported statistics also do not include whether an injury is from a repeat offender.
This can skew the information received.
Pit Bulls also tend to have a higher prey drive than some other dogs, often because of their terrier blood. This is not a problem in and of itself, but since the pit bull is a naturally strong dog, it can mean more cases of dogs getting away from their owners to attack other animals.
Be careful when letting children, or elderly and infirm people walk your pit bull. They may not have the strength to bring an excited or frightened pit bull to heel.
In general, pit bulls may also struggle to socialise easily with other dogs. This can be overcome with training from a young age, but can also make it difficult for an older pit bull.
For this reason pit bull owners should be careful when leaving their pit bull alone with another dog and always understand their history and trigger points.
Other Causes of Pit Bull Attacks
A major issue in the cycle of Pit bull attacks is the role of the stigma and puppy mills.
Pit bulls are often at the brunt of ‘Breed specific laws’, as well as stereotyping of them being ‘vicious’ dogs. This leads to more irresponsible individuals choosing pit bulls as a status symbol and encouraging aggressive behaviours.
One study showed that people who are actively abusing alcohol or drugs, or who have a criminal record, are more likely to choose a pit bull over other breeds.
This also means that puppy mills are trying to fill a gap in the market by illegally breeding pit bulls.
These inbred dogs may have more mental issues and health issues from their mistreatment - making them more dangerous. As well as letting more unneutered pit bull males roam the streets. Unneutered male dogs display the most aggression and are often the culprits of attacks.
Pit bulls are also more likely to be abandoned and abused - also due to irresponsible owners and underestimation of their needs - Meaning that there are millions of emotionally damaged and mistreated dogs floating around. Pit bulls also tend to be left for longer in shelters than other dog breeds.
Rescuing one of these poor souls is a wonderful act, but should be done with understanding, care, and caution when it comes to their training and socialising.
Myth: BSL Can and Has Reduced Dangerous and Fatal Dog Attacks
Truth: There is no significant reduction in dangerous and fatal dog attacks in countries and areas that have enacted BSL.
Areas that have BSL have generally only noticed an insignificant decline in injuries and deaths.
On the contrary, many of these areas may have more loose dogs in animal shelters, or abandoned pit bulls, as owners may not be able to keep their pets or have access to housing that allows for their pit bulls to live with them.
Many people assume that it is only animal rights activists or dog owners who are campaigning against BSL, but even the U.S Center for Disease Control has issued studies that concluded that these laws were ineffective.
Most of the BSL laws that HAVE had an effect, were those that dealt with societal issues, such as illegal breeding, lack of confinement for dangerous animals, and so on.
Myth: ‘Pit Bulls Are Vicious Guard Dogs and a Danger to Intruders’
When you look at pit bulls compared to other dogs, they don’t have a lot of natural guarding instinct. Pit bulls were not bred to be guard dogs, and generally don’t hold much aggression towards strangers compared to other breeds.
Their intimidating looks may help, but they’re not naturally going to be good at security.
However, pit bulls can be quite loyal and protective of their owners. One example is Sallie, a female pit bull who was commemorated with a statue in Gettysburg, P.A. She bravely stood guard over a number of wounded soldiers in her battalion during the Battle of Gettysburg.
They are very fearless animals, and have been known to stick around in an escalating situation when other breeds might choose to retreat.
This may be partially responsible for some dog attacks, as a pit bull may respond badly if they believe another dog or person is being a threat to their owner.
Myth: ‘There is Nothing You Can Do To Change a Pit Bull’
Truth: Nature versus Nurture is not a new concept. It is possible that pit bulls are more easily triggered, or may more easily fall into aggression than some other breeds. But the situation is not hopeless.
For every dangerous pit bull in the news, there are countless more good dogs living a calm life with their families. Many notable, experienced, and even famous dog trainers have campaigned against unjust discrimination of the breed.
But there is a truth that a pit bull is a responsibility. They may require more training and socialising from young. Offering many positive experiences, especially to puppies, as well as discouraging bad behaviour, can have a huge impact on an adult dog.
Do not ignore minor aggressive tendencies, they are not a death knell, but can indicate that there is an unaddressed fear or territorial response that may require more intense training.
Do not be embarrassed about contacting a professional trainer if you feel overwhelmed.
A large number of pit bull attacks occur from dogs that are wandering around, or who have escaped their homes or backyards. Understand that a pit bull is an active dog that can get bored and frustrated when left alone, leading to acting out or escape attempts. Always make sure that they are safely confined when you can’t be there to supervise them.
Pit bulls are not naturally more dangerous or likely to bite than any other dog breed. However, pit bull owners still have a responsibility when it comes to caring for them. Despite common misunderstandings, they are not truly unpredictable or likely to ‘turn’ on their owners.
Pit bulls are strong, loyal, and have a high prey drive, this means that they may have an easier time getting away from their owners, be harder to fight off, and may cause more damage with their bites than other breeds.
Owning a pit bull is a big responsibility, since an owner will have to be at the forefront of ensuring that negative stereotypes don’t continue. This includes applying more effort to training, housing, monitoring, and controlling their pit bulls.
However, we can conclude that though pit bulls can be dangerous in the wrong hands, or under the wrong circumstances, that doesn’t mean that they are or will be dangerous. As hundreds, if not thousands, of friendly well-homed pit bulls have proven.
If you are concerned about you or your family members struggling to control your pit bull while on a walk, Sparkpaws offers a No-pull leash and harness that has large dogs in mind. This offers owners much more control when walking and is a safer option for both owners and dogs alike.
Whether you decide to personally adopt a pit bull or not, we hope that everyone will contribute to researching and understanding them.
Then, together, we can eradicate negative stereotypes and look towards keeping ourselves and our dogs safe by focusing on the factors at the source of dog attacks.
Happy and safe walking!