Are "Pitbulls" Different From Other Dogs?
Many advocacy campaigns benefiting dogs labeled as "pitbulls" take place in October and while most are called "awareness" campaigns, we like to call them education campaigns because we think it's more about education than awareness when it comes to setting the record straight for our pitbull-type family members. In this article, we answer the question: "Are pitbulls different from other dogs?" and debunk a number of myths, misconceptions, and stereotypes about pitbull-type dogs with facts sourced from peer-reviewed studies and canine experts.
What Is a "Pit Bull"?
Pitbull-type dogs were originally bred in England in the early 19th century as crossbreed between a bulldog and a terrier (then called "Bull and Terriers") to be working dogs on farms to herd, protect, and help manage livestock. Today, there are four distinct breeds that are commonly included in the modern "pitbull-type" category - the American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and the American Bully. However, there are easily over 20 other unique breeds plus a variety of mixed breed dogs that share the same or similar physical characteristics that are common to dogs included in the pitbull-type category such as a "blocky" head. Furthermore, the term "pitbull" is not a breed; historically, it was an informal and slang label used to describe any dog that was subjected to the cruel sport of bull-baiting - using dogs (of any breed) to seize tethered animals such as bulls within an enclosed area called a "pit" (thus the term "pit bull"). While dogs that resemble today's bully breeds were commonly used for this "sport", many different breeds and mixes were also subjected to this inhumane activity; therefore, it was not a sport limited to today's pitbull-type breeds. More recently, the term "pitbull" has become a generic term used to loosely describe a type (or category) of dog based only on its physical appearance (not on genetics or lineage) resembling any medium-sized, short-haired dog with physical traits from any of the numerous "bully-type" (or bulldog-type) breeds - as evidenced by recent studies on canine DNA that have found that the majority of dogs labeled or visually identified as "pitbulls" are in fact mixed breed dogs by DNA or other breeds and mixes altogether.
Are Pitbulls More Dangerous than Other Dogs?
Contrary to unreliable information about breed-specific risk sourced from unscientific organizations - the CDC, the American Veterinary Medical Association, and multiple peer-reviewed studies have concluded that a dog's breed does not determine aggression, bite strength, or risk. In fact, since only 2016, at least 65 different breeds and mixes have been involved in fatal dog attacks - confirming that serious dog bite-related incidents are not a breed-specific issue but instead, an issue associated with almost all large or strong breed dogs. Additionally, data sourced from a CDC study substantiates that the risk rates of pitbull-type dogs are fully in-line with other strong breeds of similar sizes and strengths. This is of course not comparing pitbull-type dogs to smaller dogs like Chihuahuas or Dachshunds but instead, to other large or strong breeds such as Akitas, Bullmastiffs, Cane Corsos, Dobermans, Dogo Argentinos, German Shepherds, Huskies, Rottweilers, and too many more breeds to list - which are all associated with some risk not because of their breed or any "inherent risk", but simply because of their size and strength. Furthermore, the myths that pitbull-type dogs have locking jaws and the strongest bites are entirely false and scientifically baseless.
Are Pitbulls More Aggressive than Other Dogs?
According to the latest ATTS breed temperament test data, the unique breeds commonly included in the modern pitbull-type category continue to achieve excellent temperament scores - scoring in the top 23% of all breeds tested. Moreover, in controlled studies no differences in aggression were observed between pitbull-type dogs and control groups (other breeds). Aside from the temperament test data and scientific studies, pitbull-type dogs are consistently successful as service dogs, therapy dogs, K9 police dogs, and as family pets. Because of their excellent temperament, pitbull-type dogs have become increasingly popular dogs as breed population data shows that pitbull-type dogs (and their many mixes) are the 3rd most popular dog type adopted from shelters and the 5th most popular dog type registered by veterinarians - accounting for an estimated 20% of dogs in the U.S. Furthermore, veterinary data (pdf) shows that pitbull-type dogs are becoming more and more popular in U.S. households with their overall population increasing by 24% in recent years while the populations of other large or strong breeds such as German Shepherds (-7%) and Labrador Retrievers (-17%) have declined - which wouldn't be the case if they weren't outstanding canine citizens.
What about public Sentiment about Pitbulls?
A lot of progress has been made towards debunking myths, misinformation, and stereotypes about dogs labeled as "pitbulls" in the last 5-10 years which has been slowly but surely transforming public sentiment from negative to positive when it comes to pitbull-type dogs. While there is still a lot of advocacy and work to be done, the tide has noticeably changed and is improving for our pitbull-type family members as evidenced by over 70 cities and towns that have repealed ineffective and discriminatory breed-specific dog bans (aka breed-specific legislation or BSL) since only 2018. Additionally, in 2020 voters in Denver, CO repealed the city's 31-year-old ban against dogs labeled as "pitbulls" by a landslide 66% majority and in 2018, voters in Springfield, MO rejected a proposed ban on "pitbulls" by an even wider 68% majority. More and more, pitbull-type dogs are being recognized for who they truly are - great dogs with excellent temperaments that deserve a loving and happy life as all dogs do.
What about The "Statistics" and Media Reports About Incidents Involving Pitbulls?
The topic of dog bites and statistics about dogs labeled as "pitbulls" can be controversial and emotional - but it shouldn't be. When using scientifically valid data and methods, it becomes clear that dog bite-related incidents are not a breed-specific issue. Inaccurate dog bite "statistics" about pitbull-type dogs sourced from unscientific organizations and alarmist special-interest groups typically group together all dog bite-related incidents for the four unique pitbull-type breeds, 20+ bully-type breeds (and their many mixes) that are frequently misidentified as one of the pitbull-type breeds, and the many different mixed breed dogs that can be mislabeled as "pitbulls" (based on their appearance) into one bucket and classifying all of these dogs as "pitbulls" - which will undoubtedly lead to flawed and inflated "statistics". However, these misleading statistics quickly fall apart when taking into account the evidence and conclusions from recent peer-reviewed studies on canine DNA that have found that the majority of dogs labeled or visually identified as "pitbulls" (by shelters, owners, and the media) either do not have any pitbull-type ancestry (and are therefore other breeds altogether) or are in fact mixed breed dogs by DNA. Consequently, the fact that the majority of dogs labeled as "pitbulls" are misidentified leads to exceedingly inaccurate breed information in media reports and in unreliable statistics about dog bites. Furthermore, simply "counting incidents" without factoring in breed population sizes is not a valid method for determining risk. In order to attempt to assess any breed-specific risk, risk must be measured using dog bite incidents relative to a breed's population size to calculate a risk rate (incidents ÷ population size). Calculating a risk rate is a universal standard and a scientifically accepted method for assessing risk and when using a scientifically valid risk rate, the risk rate of pitbull-type dogs is determined to be fully in-line with other strong breeds of similar sizes and strengths.
So, Are Pitbulls Different From Other Dogs?
The facts, statistics, and scientific studies all support the conclusion that pitbull-type dogs are no different from other dogs of similar sizes and strengths. While all dogs deserve responsible ownership, large or strong breed dogs especially require it to help ensure everyone's happiness and safety. But regardless of the science and the experts, anyone who has a pitbull-type family member already knows that they are great dogs that provide unconditional love, companionship, and happiness to anyone that is fortunate enough to have them in their lives. In fact, we'd argue that our pitbull-type family members are not "pitbulls" at all - but instead, just wonderful "dogs" which is why we will continue to advocate for them by providing expert and science-based information to combat discriminatory dog bans, inaccurate dog bite "statistics", and long-debunked myths and stereotypes about pitbull-type dogs. And now a message from our friends at the Animal Farm Foundation:
Updated: October 7, 2022