We've received questions asking why pitbull-type dogs appear to be involved in more incidents compared to other breeds. The questions usually include references to media reports involving pitbull-type dogs and those "other" statistics. Below, we examine the major factors that contribute to the myth and misconception that pitbull-type dogs bite or attack "more often" or "more severely" than other strong breeds.
Factor #1 - Significant Media Bias:
Incidents involving pitbull-type dogs receive well over 100x more media coverage than incidents involving other breeds. That's not a typo, in a study conducted by the National Canine Research Council that analyzed the media coverage of four specific serious dog bite incidents:
The non-fatal incident involving the two pitbull-type dogs was covered in at least 230 media reports (in local news, national news, and even international news) while the three other incidents by other breeds - which included a child fatality - were covered in a total of 4 media reports combined (in local news only). This study confirms that the media is significantly more likely to report dog bite incidents by pitbull-type dogs compared to other breeds and when an incident involving a pitbull-type dog is reported, the coverage is much broader as well (covered by local and national networks). Many people are unaware that in 2017 alone, at least 12 different breeds were involved in fatal dog attacks because many of these incidents received limited coverage compared to the robust coverage of the incidents that involved pitbull-type dogs in 2017. This media bias is an unfortunate and significant contributor to myths and misconceptions about pitbull-type dogs.
Animal control officers across the country have told the ASPCA that when they alert the media to a dog attack, news outlets respond that they have no interest in reporting on the incident unless it involved a pit bull.
Factor #2 - Breed Misidentification:
Pitbull-type dogs are prone to high rates of misidentification which leads to serious incidents involving other breeds or mixed breeds getting wrongly attributed to pitbull-type dogs. In two peer-reviewed studies that analyzed the accuracy of breed identification:
Based on these two studies, we estimate that an average of 50% (half) of media reports incorrectly identify the breed involved in the incident as a pitbull-type breed. Breed identification errors in media reports are another major contributor to misconceptions about pitbull-type dogs.
Pit bulls in particular are often misidentified when a bite incident occurs, so bite statistics related to the dogs’ breed are unreliable and serve no purpose.
Factor #3 - Comparing Dog Types to Dog Breeds:
The term "pitbull" or "pit bull" is not a breed but instead, it is a term used to describe a "type" of dog based only on its physical appearance (and not on genetics or lineage) - just like a Siberian Husky is one of many unique "sled-type" breeds. There are 4+ widely recognized pitbull-type breeds:
Statistics that compare "pitbulls" (a dog type or category comprised of 4+ unique breeds) to other individual dog breeds are not valid because they compare type-to-breed, leading to inflated and misleading statistics for pitbull-type dogs. This is similar to comparing accident statistics for all "four-door sedans" (a type or category of motor vehicle) to Honda Civics (a specific car model) - clearly, the statistics for all "four-door sedans" will be higher than the statistics for Honda Civics. For example, comparing statistics for "pitbulls" to German Shepherds (type-to-breed) is not valid but comparing American Staffordshire Terriers to German Shepherds (breed-to-breed) would be a valid comparison. Furthermore, because the common physical characteristics of pitbull-type dogs can be found in over 20 breeds (and in even more mixed breeds), inaccurate studies and statistics commonly assign bite-data for dogs that are not genetically members of the pitbull-type breeds to the pitbull-type category - which also significantly inflates the statistics for pitbull-type dogs.
It is commonly accepted that “pit bull” is not a breed but a loosely defined and general category ... Any blocky headed dog, or any mix of breeds that is between 35 and 100 pounds and upwards of 30 individual dog breeds may currently fall in this broad category through the use of visual breed identification.
Factor #4 - Statistics that "Count Incidents":
Statistics that simply "count incidents" are inaccurate and misleading because they fail to account for breed population sizes. Popular breeds will inevitably be involved in more incidents - not because they are "more dangerous" but simply because their population is higher. Therefore, in order 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. Calculating a risk rate is a universal standard and a scientifically accepted method for assessing risk. For example:
Every year in the U.S. there are around 800,000 injuries that require medical attention from dog bites (by dogs of all breeds and mixes). Of these, the most severe dog bite incidents are the ones that result in fatalities (on average 28 per year) and when analyzing 20 years of dog bite-related fatality data sourced from a peer-reviewed CDC study, the risk rates of pitbull-type dogs were found to be fully in-line with the risk rates of other strong breeds.
Most DBRFs (dog bite-related fatalities) were characterized by coincident, preventable factors - breed was not one of these.
Pitbull-type dogs do not bite or attack "more often" or "more severely" than other strong breeds - but the factors above contribute to the myth and misconception that they do. Biased media coverage and high rates of breed misidentification are unfortunately major contributors to negative misconceptions, myths, and stereotypes about pitbull-type dogs. But the science-based facts are straightforward and clear - pitbull-type dogs are just like any other strong breed dogs:
The overwhelming majority of pitbull-type dogs have excellent temperaments and are wonderful, loving family members in millions of U.S. households - especially when they have caring and responsible humans taking care of them. At some point, the media needs to be urged to provide accurate, balanced, and unbiased reporting of dog bite-related incidents - instead of contributing to myths and misinformation through clearly biased and error-prone reporting. Biased and inaccurate reporting not only negatively impacts innocent dogs, but can also influence poor public policy decisions such as breed-specific legislation (BSL) which multiple peer-reviewed studies have concluded is ineffective for improving public safety.
Meet Louie, a dog who suffered abuse and was labeled “aggressive” at the shelter but went on to become a loving family member when given a chance. A big thanks to The Dodo's popular "Pittie Nation" short video series for not just busting but *shattering* stereotypes about pitbull-type dogs.
Infographic for breed risk rates:
Congratulations to Hastings, Michigan for being the latest city to reject breed bans by repealing their breed-specific legislation (BSL) in favor of stronger breed-neutral regulations! Last week, the city council voted to strengthen their vicious-dog ordinance so that it addresses dangerous dogs of any breed (based on behavior) - instead of its previous limited focus that was based on a dog's appearance or breed. All around the country, the trend is clear: BSL and breed bans are being challenged and of those challenged, many are being successfully repealed. Below, we list several of the main reasons why many communities are rejecting ineffective breed bans in favor of stronger breed-neutral regulations.
Reason #1 - Pitbull-type dogs are popular mainstream dogs:
Pitbull-type dogs and their mixes are in no way “fringe” or unpopular dogs, they are instead one of the most popular dog-types in the U.S. and they have always been core to our history. The fact is that pitbull-type dogs are mainstream dogs known to have an excellent temperament that are loved by millions of Americans as they are the 3rd most popular dog type adopted from shelters and the 5th most popular dog type registered by veterinarians. Therefore, the popularity of pitbull-type dogs makes breed bans a challenge as they affect a large and growing number of responsible dog owners.
Reason #2 - Breed bans are not supported by science:
There is robust scientific evidence that dogs identified as “pitbull-type” dogs are not more dangerous than other strong breeds. On our scientific studies page, we list multiple scientific peer-reviewed studies that have concluded that pitbull-type dogs are not more dangerous, not more aggressive, and their bites are not more severe than other strong breeds. Furthermore, the studies have also found that factors related to irresponsible ownership (and not breed) are the primary factor for dog bite-related incidents and that breed-specific legislation is largely ineffective for reducing serious bite-related incidents. Regardless of personal opinions about specific breeds or dog types, the science is clear: breed bans are not only ineffective - but also not justified by science. Therefore, it is becoming increasingly difficult for cities to defend breed bans when they are challenged.
Reason #3 - Enforcement of breed bans is difficult and costly:
Breed bans assume that the visual identification of pitbull-type dogs is easy and accurate when in reality, the opposite is true: controlled scientific studies have found that visual identification of pitbull-type dogs is complex and prone to significant error. In fact, the average percentage of "pitbull-type" dogs that were misidentified in two controlled studies was 50% (half of the dogs that were visually identified as "pitbull-type" did not have DNA signatures from any of the pitbull-type breeds). Therefore, cities with breed bans are burdened with using public resources to regulate dogs primarily based on a dog’s appearance or breed (regardless of responsible ownership or a dog's behavior) which inevitably leads to increased and unnecessary enforcement related expenses (DNA tests, breed evaluations, court costs, etc.) and even costly legal challenges.
Reason #4 - Strong breed-neutral regulations are the more effective solution for public safety:
Effective canine legislation should focus on any and all dangerous dogs - regardless of breed. In 2017 alone, at least 12 different breeds were involved in fatal dog attacks, confirming that public safety is not a breed-specific issue. Therefore, public safety requires legislation that addresses all dangerous dogs (based on a dog’s behavior and/or history) and all irresponsible owners (regardless of their dog’s breed). There are many strong breeds (Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, German Shepherds, Mastiff-types, Dogo-Argentinos, and too many more to list) that require responsible ownership and effective behavior-based legislation. Breed bans do nothing to address the factors directly linked to serious dog bite-related incidents such as irresponsible ownership and dogs with behavior problems. The fact is that strong and comprehensive breed-neutral regulations are the most effective solution for public safety since they address all potentially dangerous dogs and all irresponsible dog owners.
Punishing responsible owners and good dogs instead of addressing irresponsible owners and dangerous dogs is not only nonsensical, but also detrimental to public safety. As more and more communities with breed bans realize this, breed bans will continue to be challenged in favor of stronger breed-neutral regulations that are more equitable for responsible dog owners and more beneficial for public safety.
One of the common arguments used by anti-pitbull activists and organizations to promote discriminatory breed-specific legislation (BSL) is claiming that “because we can't prevent irresponsible ownership, certain dogs should be banned”. If this same logic is applied to cars (because of the fact that we can't prevent irresponsible drivers), then all cars would be banned. Below, we examine the logic of the "irresponsible owner" argument and use cars as an analogy to show that the argument is a fallacy.
The "irresponsible owner" argument goes like this:
Keeping in mind that:
So, using cars as an analogy - the "irresponsible driver" argument would go like this:
Does banning cars sound ridiculous? That's because it is. Not only does banning cars assign blame to the car (instead of to the driver), but banning cars also punishes all other responsible drivers. The same is true for dogs - banning certain dogs assigns blame to the dog (instead of to the owner) and it punishes all other responsible dog owners.
The bottom line is that the "irresponsible owner" argument is a fallacy because the argument's logic fails when applied to almost all other elements of modern society that carry risk - cars, alcohol, pharmaceuticals, sports, and too many more to list. It's an irrational argument that isn't based on logic, science, or risk - but instead, based on long debunked myths and stereotypes about pitbull-type dogs.
A few public safety stats - on average every year in the U.S. there are:
The reality is that it’s impossible to completely eliminate all risk in society and the risk associated with dogs, including the millions of pitbull-type dogs and their mixes in the U.S., is already one of the lowest levels of risk in society (the risk of a fatal lighting strike is almost 2x higher than the risk of a fatal dog attack). For cars, effective laws and regulations that reduce risk apply to all drivers and their behavior - regardless of the type or model of the vehicle that they own. The same is true for dogs, effective laws and regulations should apply to all owners and their behavior - regardless of the type or breed of dog that they own. This is why breed-neutral regulations, which enforce and promote the responsible ownership of all dogs regardless of breed, are the widely preferred standard in the U.S. for public safety (less than 3% of cities and towns have BSL enacted). The objective of any canine legislation should be to promote and enforce the responsible ownership of all dogs, regardless of breed - and not ineffective and discriminatory bans that punish great dogs and responsible dog owners.
Meet Sheeva, the newest member of the Littleville, Alabama police department! On the job for only a few months, Sheeva has already been credited with 6+ drug busts. To quote the local TV news coverage, Sheeva is "shattering stereotypes about pitbull mixes". Only dogs with excellent temperament and trainability ratings make the cut to be K9 officers and thanks to UniversalK9 and Animal Farm Foundation, more and more pitbull-type dogs are becoming K9 officers helping to protect communities all across the country. In the process, they are combating breed stereotypes and changing many hearts and minds about pitbull-type dogs. Great job, Sheeva!
Shattering stereotypes about pitbull mixes
Since November, breed-specific legislation (aka BSL or a breed ban) has been repealed in three more U.S. cities including: Mansfield OH, New Albany OH, and Libby MT. More and more, BSL is being recognized for what it truly is - an inhumane, dark ages policy that is based on fear and stereotypes that even when implemented, is ineffective for improving public safety because of the fact that serious dog bite-related incidents are not a breed-specific issue. Congratulations to Mansfield, New Albany, and Libby for being the latest cities to repeal BSL in favor of stronger, more effective breed-neutral regulations!
Regardless of any personal opinions about specific breeds (or types) of dogs, multiple peer-reviewed studies have concluded that BSL is ineffective and that "pitbull-type" dogs are not "more dangerous" than other strong breed dogs. Furthermore, the risk rates for pitbull-type dogs are fully in-line with other large and strong breeds given their growing population size.
This ban is not working
I would rather have a uniform piece of (breed-neutral) legislation citywide for enforcement
But now, we’re not living in that time ... the pit bull has entered the mainstream pet world
All across the U.S., BSL and breed bans are continually being challenged because:
It's really no surprise that when BSL is challenged by informed citizens and public officials, more and more often BSL is being repealed and replaced with stronger breed-neutral regulations that are based on facts and enhance public safety by allowing public safety officials to address any potentially dangerous dog, any bad owner, and any dog-related situation - instead of being restricted by an obsolete regulation that limits enforcement and penalties based on a dog's appearance or breed.
In 2017, at least 12 different breeds and mixed breeds were involved in fatal dog attacks (listed in the table below) including: Akita, Boxer, German Shepherd, Labrador Retriever, English Mastiff, Giant Schnauzer, and others. While every dog bite-related fatality is tragic, the variety of breeds involved in fatal attacks provides clear evidence that serious dog bite-related incidents are not limited to "pitbull-type" dogs. The fact that most people are only aware of incidents associated with pitbull-type dogs is a strong indication of the media bias against pitbull-type dogs when reporting serious dog bite incidents. Not only is it irresponsible for the media to cherry-pick and emphasize some incidents over others (based on breed) because it feeds myths, stereotypes, and misinformation - but it can also lead to poor public safety policy decisions such as breed-specific legislation (BSL) which multiple peer-reviewed studies have concluded is ineffective.
The dog bite-related incident data for 2017 fully debunks and disproves the myth that "only pitbull-type dogs cause fatalities" - while also confirming that:
The breeds (other than pitbull-type) involved in fatal dog attacks in 2017 are identified below:
The data, scientific studies, and risk rates clearly show that serious dog bite-related incidents are not a breed-specific issue. Therefore, for public safety, strong and comprehensive breed-neutral regulations are the most effective solution for reducing dog bite-related incidents because breed-neutral regulations address a number of issues including irresponsible ownership, loose dogs, spay & neuter requirements, neglect, and all potentially dangerous dogs and situations - regardless of a dog's appearance or breed.
There are a lot of myths about bites by dogs classified as "pitbull-type" dogs. Keeping in mind that the term "pitbull" is not a breed but instead, a term used to describe a "type" of dog based only on physical appearance (not on genetics or lineage) that can include physical characteristics found in over 20 breeds and in mixed breeds, attempting to attribute any kind of bite characteristic to a dog "type" is already a flawed and problematic proposition (even for a myth). However, as with all myths, they are eventually proven false by scientific studies and credentialed professionals (such as doctors and veterinarians).
Scientific studies and veterinarians have fully debunked the common myths associated with bites by pitbull-type dogs including:
Here are the facts:
The facts are clear - pitbull-type dogs do not have a more severe bite than other strong breed dogs. We are of course not comparing the bite of pitbull-type dogs to the bites of smaller breed dogs such as Chihuahuas or Dachshunds - but instead, to the bites of other strong breed dogs such as Dogo-Argentinos, Bullmastiffs, Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, and German Shepherds (which are all associated with dog bite-related fatalities). Can bites by pitbull-type dogs cause injuries? Of course they can, but so can the bites of many other strong breed dogs - bites by pitbull-type dogs are not more severe, different, or unique. The bite force of any dog is related to its overall size, strength, and energy - not to its breed.
Thanks to Animal Farm Foundation for their excellent article that also busts these and other myths about pitbull-type dogs.
Hello from the two-legged and four-legged team at Pitbullinfo.org! Thanks to your support, 2017 was a great year for us as we had a successful launch, exceeded all of our goals, and enjoyed robust traffic to our website and Facebook page - all evidence of the growing acceptance and support for our "pitbull-type" family members. In 2018, we're looking forward to another successful year as we continue to combat bias, stereotypes, and misinformation by providing facts-based insight, news, and analysis on issues and topics relevant to pitbull-type dogs. To support our mission, we don't ask for donations - instead, you can support us by sharing our posts and our website whenever you can. Sharing significantly reduces our promotional costs so we look forward to your continued support in 2018!
Our goals for 2018 include:
We look forward to sharing our posts and updates with you in 2018 - we will continue to work hard to support our "pitbull-type" family members!
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Insight, news, and analysis on issues and topics relevant to pitbull-type dogs.