It is time to clear up the irrational fear and discrimination towards the Pit bull. It is scary how a few myths combined with rampant media coverage can fool the masses. Just because you see the same news story recycled 1000 times, does not mean it happened 1000 times. This article will strictly consist of studies, meta-analysis and expert opinions from leading authorities.
First, let’s cover aggressiveness:
“In 2008, a team of University of Pennsylvania researchers completed a study of aggressiveness of 30 breeds of dogs. Pit bulls, the researchers found, were not significantly more aggressive than other breeds toward strangers and their owners” (1) The authors conclusion states that “differences between lines of distinct breeding stock indicate that the propensity toward aggressive behavior is at least partially rooted in genetics, although substantial within-breed variation suggests that other factors (developmental, environmental) play a major part in determining whether aggressive behavior is expressed in the phenotype” (2).
Temperament tests given by the American Temperament Test Society gave Pit Bulls a passing rate of 82% or better compared to only 77% of the general dog population (1, 3). Carl Herkstroeter, the president of the A.T.T.S., says. “I’ve tested half of them. And of the number I’ve tested I have disqualified one pit bull because of aggressive tendencies. They have done extremely well. They have a good temperament. They are very good with children” (16).
Now the most widely quoted false fact:
I have seen so many people quote the offsite study by the CDC here. But people fail to read the conclusion that “targeting a specific breed may be unproductive”. The actual authors of the study state “The CDC strongly recommends against breed-specific laws in its oft-cited study of fatal dog attacks, noting that data collection related to bites by breed is fraught with potential sources of error” (4).
Now for the Myths:
If you think Pit bulls have some type of super strong lock jaw bite of death think again. According to Dr. I. Lehr Brisbin, Ph.D., senior research scientist at the University of Georgia and an expert in training, handling, behavior, and the anatomy of bull dog breeds, “The few studies which have been conducted of the structure of the skulls, mandibles, and teeth of [American Pit Bull Terriers] show that, in proportion to their size, their jaw structure and thus its inferred functional morphology, is no different than that of any [other] breed of dog. There is absolutely no evidence for the existence of any kind of ‘locking mechanism’ unique to the structure of the jaw and/or teeth of the American Pit Bull Terrier” (5) Once again according to Dr. Brisbin “To the best of our knowledge, there are no published scientific studies that would allow any meaningful comparison to be made of the biting power of various breeds of dogs. All figures describing biting power in such terms can be traced to unfounded rumor” (5).
People need to realize that correlation does not always equal causation. Pit bulls are a very popular breed. Studies show the most popular breeds at any given time tend to top the list of being dangerous because there are more of those dogs in the general population. As Malcolm Gladwell says in his essay “Troublemakers,” pit bull stereotypes can teach us about the wrongness of racial profiling of both humans and dogs. As with many issues As regulation increases, individuals who exploit aggression in dogs are likely to turn to other, unregulated breeds (4).
Now for the stance of many authoritative bodies gathered from experts in their respective field:
NACA guidelines state dangerous and/or vicious animals should be labeled as such as a result of their actions or behavior and not because of their breed (6).
The AVMA supports dangerous animal legislation by state, county, or municipal governments provided that legislation does not refer to specific breeds or classes of animals. This legislation should be directed at fostering safety and protection of the general public from animals classified as dangerous (7).
The ASPCA’s position to oppose any state or local law to regulate or ban dogs based on breed. The ASPCA recognizes that dangerous dogs pose a community problem requiring serious attention. However, in light of the absence of scientific data indicating the efficacy of breed-specific laws, and the unfair and inhumane targeting of responsible pet guardians and their dogs that inevitably results when these laws are enacted, the ASPCA instead favors effective enforcement of a combination of breed-neutral laws that hold reckless dog guardians accountable for their dogs’ aggressive behavior (8).
The HSUS opposes legislation aimed at eradicating or strictly regulating dogs based solely on their breed for a number of reasons. Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) is a common first approach that many communities take. Thankfully, once research is conducted most community leaders correctly realize that BSL won’t solve the problems they face with dangerous dogs…(9).
The American Bar Association urges all state, territorial, and local legislative bodies and governmental agencies to adopt comprehensive breed-neutral dangerous dog/reckless owner laws that ensure due process protections for owners, encourage responsible pet ownership and focus on the behavior of both dog owners and dogs, and to repeal any breed discriminatory or breed specific provisions (10).
The International Association of Canine Professionals strongly opposes legislation which discriminates against dogs and their owners by labeling certain dogs as “dangerous” or “vicious” based on breed or phenotype. Breed-specific legislation does not protect communities nor create a more responsible dog owner. Instead, it negatively affects many law abiding dog owners and dogs within the targeted breeds. The vast majority of dogs typically affected by breed-specific legislation are not “dangerous” by any standard. Their physical appearance alone cannot be used as an indicator of an aggressive nature. Breed-specific legislation creates an undue burden on responsible owners of targeted breeds – dogs which are most often not dangerous to their communities (11).
The National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors, Inc. (NADOI) strongly opposes breed specific legislation which targets or discriminates against certain dogs based only on their breed or appearance. Such laws are unfair because they assume that a dog may be dangerous simply because of breed. In fact, it is almost always the behavior of the owners of these dogs which makes them a danger to others (12).
The American Kennel Club strongly opposes any legislation that determines a dog to be “dangerous” based on specific breeds or phenotypic classes of dogs (13).
The AWDF and it’s members support reasonable, enforceable, non-discriminatory laws that allow responsible dog owners to exist harmoniously within their communities. The AWDF does not support breed specific restrictions and/or restrictions of working dogs or dogs in sport. The AWDF believes that a dangerous dog should be defined by its actions rather than phenotype (14).
American Humane believes that no breed of dog automatically poses a high risk of attack, and that it is unjust to punish loving, responsible dog owners merely because of a breed’s reputation. American Humane supports efforts to protect members of the community from dangerous animals and encourages communities to hold pet owners responsible for any injury caused by animals in their care (15).
Some expert opinions:
Anthony Pobderscek of the University of Cambridge Veterinary School states “good training beats out any minuscule genetic differences among breeds. Current dangerous dog statistics can’t be trusted” (18).
Canine researcher James Serpell of the University of Pennsylvania states “although they look different, dog “breeds” have no more scientific basis than do “races” among humans (18).
Andrew N. Rowan, Ph.D. states “It seems patently obvious to me that the problems of dog aggression, dog bites, and serious human injuries will not be satisfactorily addressed by a breed specific ordinance” (19).
Jeffrey Satinover, MD, Psychiatrist with degrees from MIT, Harvard, the University of Texas and Yale states “there is essentially no dimension of behavior which is not both environmentally and genetically influenced. Genes and environment interact in extraordinarily complex ways with each other, as well as among themselves to produce a final result; the environmental influences are multi-factorial and affect each other . . . In other words heritability of (or genetic influence on) a trait does not mean that the trait itself is genetically determined. This elementary fact of behavioral genetics is rarely explained and it seems counterintuitive to most people” (19).
(1) None. (2016). @politifact. Retrieved 7 July 2016, from http://www.politifact.com/georgia/statements/2011/aug/03/elaine-boyer/are-pit-bulls-more-aggressive-other-dogs/
(2)Duffy, D.L., et al., Breed differences in canine aggression, Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. (2008), http://220.127.116.11/yuyinghs/yuyinghsu/papers/DuffyHsuSerpell2008.pdf
(3) ATTS Breed Statistics | American Temperament Test Society, Inc.. (2016).Atts.org. Retrieved 7 July 2016, from http://atts.org/breed-statistics/statistics-page1/
(4) Sacks, J., Sinclair, L., Gilchrist, J., Golab, G., Lockwood, R., 2000. Breeds of dogs involved in fatal human attacks in the United States between 1979 and 1998. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 217, 836-840.
(5) Dispelling Common Myths About Pit Bull Terriers – SPCA Serving Erie County. (2016). Yourspca.org. Retrieved 7 July 2016, from http://www.yourspca.org/pages/bred-to-love/dispelling-common-myths-about-pit-bull-terriers
(6) (2016). C.ymcdn.com. Retrieved 8 July 2016, from http://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.nacanet.org/resource/resmgr/Docs/NACA_Guidelines.pdf?hhSearchTerms=%22Dangerous+and%2for+vicious+animals%22
(7) Dangerous Animal Legislation . (2016).Avma.org. Retrieved 7 July 2016, from https://www.avma.org/KB/Policies/Pages/Dangerous-Animal-Legislation.aspx
(8) Position Statement on Breed-Specific Legislation. (2016). ASPCA. Retrieved 7 July 2016, from http://www.aspca.org/about-us/aspca-policy-and-position-statements/position-statement-breed-specific-legislation
(9) All Dogs Are Equal. (2015).Humanesociety.org. Retrieved 7 July 2016, from http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/breed-specific-legislation/fact_sheets/breed-specific-legislation-all-dogs-are-equal.html
(10) (2016). Americanbar.org. Retrieved 7 July 2016, from http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/mental_physical_disability/Resolution_100.authcheckdam.pdf
(11) Admin, M. (2016). Position Statements of the IACP. Canineprofessionals.com. Retrieved 8 July 2016, from http://www.canineprofessionals.com/positions
(12) NADOI. (2016). Nadoi.org. Retrieved 8 July 2016, from http://www.nadoi.org/position2.htm
(13) (2016). Images.akc.org. Retrieved 8 July 2016, from http://images.akc.org/pdf/canine_legislation/position_statements/Dangerous_Dog_Control_Legislation.pdf
(14) EXCUSE ME, WTF IS THIS BULLSHIT? pitbullfact.tumblr.com. (2016). girls own the void. Retrieved 8 July 2016, from http://hatchetgrl.tumblr.com/post/15592356721/excuse-me-wtf-is-this-bullshit
(15) (2016). Site.americanhumane.org. Retrieved 8 July 2016, from http://site.americanhumane.org/site/DocServer/apsstatements.pdf?docID=101
(16) Brody, R., Bethea, C., Cassidy, J., Cobb, J., Cassidy, J., & Storr, W. et al. (2006).Troublemakers – The New Yorker. The New Yorker. Retrieved 8 July 2016, from http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2006/02/06/troublemakers-2
(17) Myths and Facts About Pit Bulls – Petfinder. (2016). Petfinder. Retrieved 8 July 2016, from https://www.petfinder.com/pet-adoption/dog-adoption/myths-and-facts-about-pit-bulls/
(18) Maulkorbzwang.de. N.p., 2016. Web. 8 July 2016, from www.maulkorbzwang.de/Briefe/fakten/stueck_290401/hamburg/Researchers.doc
(19) Position on Breed Specific Legislation | Hearts of Gold Pit Rescue. (2016).Heartsofgoldpitrescue.com. Retrieved 8 July 2016, from http://heartsofgoldpitrescue.com/position-on-breed-specific-legislation/