Are Pit Bulls Really More Aggressive Than Other Breeds?

Updated on October 22, 2017

On December 10th 2007 Michael Vick, an NFL football player who was quarterback for the Falcons, was tried and convicted of running an illegal underground dogfighting ring. The media and press surrounding the event shed a much-needed spotlight on the issue of Pitbull ownership, and whether or not the breed should be legal for anyone to own, and for some, whether these dogs should even exist. Currently, the consensus for most American society is that Pit Bulls are a deadly and dangerous breed, inherently aggressive and incapable of denying an instinctual need to kill. As a Kennel Technician and someone who works alongside breeds that are considered to be “high risk,” I have often wondered if it is truly impossible to break the bad habits that associate these breeds with aggression. Are genetics the only explanation? Or does human influence impact the way a dog thinks? How can we prevent bites and attacks from happening?

Did You Know?

75% of all dog bites could be prevented if parents took classes to help their understanding of animal behavior. Since children represent the largest number of injuries and fatalities, parents should consider taking these precautions before owning a pet, it could save lives.

Most People Cannot Correctly Identify a Pit Bull

The term “Pit Bull” is used to represent American Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Old English Terriers, and other variations of the bully breed; however, breed-specific legislation does not discriminate, and considers them all to fall under the category of dangerous dogs. More often than not, they are also identified by the characteristics of their appearance rather than their DNA or blood testing, which has proven to be unreliable as most people, even professionals, are unable to correctly recognize the exact breed just based on the naked eye.

In an experiment to see if members of different shelters could correctly distinguish a dog from a Pit Bull line versus a different breed, the College of Veterinary Medicine organized a group of 125 dogs to choose from. The faculty came to the conclusion that a total of 62 dogs were Pit Bulls. However, after running blood tests, it was found that only 25 dogs were true to the breed.

This could suggest that the statistical information we have on high-risk breeds may be inaccurate or incomplete. Additionally, this information tells us that the number of dogs being euthanized based on breed could be avoided and lives could be saved as a result.

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How Does Public Opinion Affect the Breed?

Another factor to consider is how the Pit Bull breed is perceived by society, how people respond to them during adoption events, and how their behavior changes over long periods of time while being fostered or living in a kennel. With assistance from the Arizona Animal Welfare League and Orange County Animal Services, it was determined that labeling the breed and changing the appearance of the dogs can change the likelihood of adoption. If the breed label was removed, and the dog was dressed up in something cute, like a bow or a tie, they spent less time waiting for a home and people were less apprehensive about approaching them. This shows that what a person reads or sees in the news can change the way a person thinks or feels about different breeds, therefore it can cause a person to treat certain breeds differently than others. Going forward, you will start to notice that there is a pattern in public opinion that directly affects which breeds are considered dangerous.

Breed Popularity Changes By Location

One notable thing to consider is how location can influence the dogs that people are more likely to own. For example, in Canada the Siberian Husky is one of the more popular dog breeds that people own; however it is also considered to be a “high-risk” breed in that area because of the frequency of bites and fatalities that occur with these dogs. From this we can infer that where the breed is more desirable, you will find an increase in that population specifically and therefore a higher level of incidents.

Children Are Most Likely To Be Bitten

What is that makes bite statistics so scary to the public? Children are most likely to be bitten, usually between infancy and 17 years of age. Younger children are more likely to be involved in fatal attacks and damage to the face and close to the body. Older kids are generally bitten in the arms and legs, the majority of those bitten overall are males. Current statistics can be compared to a different set that came from a study in Pennsylvania, 1981. They are consistent with the current information that show us children, especially in the younger spectrum are more likely to bitten, and that boys are also more likely to be bitten than girls. Perhaps fatalities occur with kids because they are so young and do not have understanding of how to appropriately respond to canine behavior, which is why it is important to education both children and adults on the subject.

Educating children AND adults can decrease the chances of being bitten. In 2003 it was documented that 75% of bites could be prevented if more parents were educated on dogs and how they should be handled, especially around children.

Possible Solutions

So what can be done to prevent the youth from potential and fatal injuries? What can we do to help “high risk” breeds?

Spaying and neutering does prevent dog bites from happening. Pit Bulls are popular dogs in the breeding business, and when females are in heat they display more aggression and attract males from miles away which can increase the chances of attacks over territorial needs.

Instead of destroying Pit Bulls, we could try owner registration as a different approach. An issue that arises with seizure and euthanizing is that the dogs are still able to be owned and maintained by anyone, without licensing, including criminals and convicted felons. If lawmakers could prevent those with violent criminal histories from owning “high-risk” breeds, and animals period, it would aid the effort to reduce dog bites overall.

If You Have A Pit Bull, Get Them Chipped

Even with possible solutions there are always road blocks. There is a question of whether it is constitutionally legal to force owners to spay and neuter their pets. After all, they are still considered to be property under law. However, there are ways to encourage people to alter their dogs whether they be Pit Bull or Rottweiler. Ad campaigns draw attention from the public and strongly aid in the process of having dogs vetted. They generally offer low cost or free options, and sometimes include mobile veterinarians or fairs at places like Petco and Petsmart.

Efforts such as these can also help to educate the public on handling their dogs; as stated above, children are most likely to be bitten so it is important to try to convince parents to attend training events. By doing so they could potentially save a life and lower bite statistics simultaneously.

So what happens if these solutions don’t work? Getting your pet chipped, especially if they’re any of the variations of Pit Bull breed can prevent them from being stolen and bred or used as bait and fighting dogs. Although the original group from the book The Lost Dogs: Michael Vick's Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption were purchased by breeders, many of the dogs that end up involved in fighting rings like Michael Vicks were stolen pets, and Pit Bulls are most desirable for this blood sport. In Pima County Arizona almost 4,000 pets had gone missing within a span of six months; the police department for the county concluded that almost half were stolen. Adding a chip can identify a lost dog, or one that is already deceased. Scanning the remains for a chip can prove that the animal was stolen or came from a home. This added evidence can help to convict criminals and bring about harsher punishments.

Dog Bites Go Beyond Breed

After a observing the information, it appears that humans have a role in the behaviors that Pit Bulls and dogs acquire. Label and location determine the popularity of the breed and the attitude that particular society has toward them. We can also conclude that because the risk of bites occur mostly with children, parents need to be educated on what they can do to prevent these incidents with their own family pets; since Pit Bulls are only one of many breeds considered to be “high risk,” a person may want to take a general approach to learning about canine handling overall. The more information that people have on bites, how to prevent them, and how to effectively defend themselves and their loved ones against attacks, the more society as a whole can prevent them from happening altogether.

Works Cited

  1. Gorant, Jim. The Lost Dogs: Michael Vick's Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption. New York: Gotham, 2010. Print.
  2. "Pediatric Dog Bite Injuries: A 5-year Review of the Experience at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia." N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Sept. 2016.
  3. Gunter, Lisa M., Rebecca Barber T., and Clive L. Wynne D. "What's in a Name? Effect of Breed Perceptions & Labeling on Attractiveness, Adoptions & Length of Stay for Pit-Bull-Type Dogs." PLOS ONE: What's in a Name? Effect of Breed Perceptions & Labeling on Attractiveness, Adoptions & Length of Stay for Pit-Bull-Type Dogs. N.p., Mar.-Apr. 2016. Web. 13 Sept. 2016.
  4. "Dog Bite Risk and Prevention: The Role of Breed." N.p., 15 May 2014. Web. 01 Sept. 2016.
  5. "Pediatric Dog Bite Injuries: A 5-year Review of the Experience at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia." N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Sept. 2016.
  6. Hanna, T. L., and L. Selby A. "Characteristics of the Human and Pet Populations in Animal Bite Incidents Recorded at Two Air Force Bases."Public Health Reports. U.S. National Library of Medicine, Nov.-Dec. 1981. Web. 13 Sept. 2016.
  7. Wihbey, John. "Dog Bites and Canine-related Injuries: Research review - Journalist's Resource." Journalists Resource. N.p., July-Aug. 2014. Web. 08 Sept. 2016.
  8. "Why You Should Spay/Neuter Your Pet." N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Sept. 2016.
  9. "10 Dog Marketing Campaigns." ASPCA Professional. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 31 Jan. 2011. Web. 03 Oct. 2016.
  10. Mott, Maryann. "U.S. Dog-Fighting Rings Stealing Pets for "Bait"" National Geographic. National Geographic Society, 18 Feb. 2004. Web. 3 Oct. 2016.


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