The term "pit bull" is not a breed: Historically, it was an informal and slang term that was used to describe any dog that was used for 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" (hence the term "pit bull"). While many different breeds and mixes were used for this sport, dogs that resemble today's bully breeds were commonly used - it was not an activity limited to today's "pitbull-type" breeds. In other words, "pit bull" was more of a term used to describe any dog that was used for bull-baiting and less of a term used to describe a specific breed or type of dog (technically, if a Husky had been used for baiting a bull in a "pit" it would have been considered a "pit bull" back then). Furthermore, baiting is not an inherent trait for any breed, it's an activity that must be taught and honed, no different than training a dog to sit or fetch.
Today, the term "pit bull" is 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 a medium-sized dog with physical traits from any of the numerous "bully-type" (or bulldog-type) breeds. While the American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT) is the only formal breed with the term "pit bull" in its name, over 20 unique breeds and even more mixed breeds share the same or similar physical characteristics that are common to dogs in the "pitbull-type" category. In fact, a recent comprehensive peer-reviewed canine DNA study determined that 98% of dogs visually identified as "pitbull-type" dogs are in fact mixed breed dogs (not purebred); additionally, the majority of the "pitbull-type" dogs in the study had less than 50% DNA from any "pitbull-type" ancestry (from any of the "pitbull-type" breeds identified below).
The history of pitbull-type dogs: Pitbull-type dogs are a crossbreed between a bulldog and a terrier originally bred in England in the early 19th century (then called "Bull and Terriers") to be working dogs on farms to herd, protect, and manage livestock. While their early history is complex and includes herding cattle and protecting homesteads, it also unfortunately includes the cruel sports of bull-baiting and dog fighting. However, these cruel "sports" were not specific to today's pitbull-type breeds - many different breeds were subjected to these activities which are now illegal almost everywhere. During the 20th century, pitbull-type dogs quickly became one of America's most popular family dogs to the extent that they became national mascots and were used on recruitment posters for World Wars 1 & 2 and were proudly called "America's dog". More recently, their popularity has continued to grow to an estimated 20% of the total dog population in the U.S. (all "pitbull-type" dogs and mixes combined) and are successful as service dogs, as therapy dogs, as K9 police dogs, as family pets, and consistently achieve excellent temperament scores.
The four AKC/UKC breeds that are widely recognized as the "pitbull-type" breeds:
The American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT) is the tallest and most athletic of the four pitbull-type breeds. The American Staffordshire Terrier is slightly shorter and stockier than the APBT. The Staffordshire Bull Terrier is easily the smallest of the four. The American Bully is the most unique of the group as it's the most stout and closely resembles the classic Bulldog breed. Our Breeds & Pictures page has more pictures and information about the pitbull-type breeds.
The fact is that there is no such thing as a "pit bull" - it is the equivalent of a unicorn in the world of canine DNA. While the four breeds listed above do actually exist and have achieved excellent temperament scores making them outstanding canine citizens, the majority of "pitbull-type" dogs are in fact mixed breed dogs. However, we believe that a dog's "breed" label is for the most part irrelevant - whether a dog is labeled a "pitbull", an "American Pit Bull Terrier", a "Bully", or simply a "mixed breed dog" really doesn't matter because of the fact that all dogs are individuals so we'd argue that there is really only one accurate label for our "pitbull-type" family members - and that label is: "a great dog".
Recent dog bite-related incident data confirms that serious dog bite-related incidents are not a breed-specific issue; furthermore, the data validates what multiple peer-reviewed studies have concluded such as breed does not determine risk and that safety is not a breed-specific issue. In fact, since only 2016, at least 28 different breeds and mixed breeds have been involved in fatal dog attacks (listed in Table 1 below) including: Akita, Belgian Malinois, Boxer, Chow Chow, Doberman Pinscher, German Shepherd, Giant Schnauzer, Husky, Labrador Retriever, Mastiff, Rottweiler, and many others. While every serious dog bite-related incident is tragic, the number and variety of breeds implicated in fatal dog attacks is clear evidence that these incidents are not a breed-specific issue.
The dog bite-related fatality (DBRF) data for JAN/2016 through DEC/2018 confirms that:
Table 1 - Breeds involved in fatal dog attacks between JAN/2016 and DEC/2018 include:
(in alphabetical order, references to news sources with breed information provided in Table 2 below)
Table 2 - Incident date, breed(s) involved, location, and sources for the breeds listed in Table 1:
(excluding pitbull-type dogs, see "Notes" below)
The data, scientific studies, and risk rates all confirm that serious dog bite-related incidents are not a breed-specific issue. For canine regulation, it is important to understand the differences between the two major forms of regulation - Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) and Breed Neutral Legislation (BNL). BSL is a limited, single-factor, appearance-based approach while BNL is a comprehensive, multifactorial, behavior-based approach. For public safety, BSL imposes regulations on a minority of dogs based only on their appearance or breed (regardless of a dog's behavior or responsible ownership) while breed-neutral regulations address all potentially dangerous dogs, all irresponsible owners, and all unsafe dog-related situations - regardless of a dog's appearance or breed. Consequently, multiple peer-reviewed studies have concluded that BSL is ineffective; furthermore, it is a discriminatory trend in decline evidenced by the vast majority (98%) of cities and towns that use breed-neutral regulations as their primary and only form of regulation because of the many advantages of breed-neutral regulations summarized on our Breed Legislation page.
Breed specific ordinances have proven ineffective in reducing the ... number of dog bites. Breed Specific Legislation ... has generally been discredited in actual experience of cities, professionals and academic research as being both ineffective and expensive.
There are a number of myths about dogs classified as "pitbull-type" dogs including myths about their bites. These myths claim that they have "locking jaws", the "most severe" bite, and that they are prone to "snap" or bite without warning. Not only are these myths scientifically baseless but they are also physically erroneous. Below, we summarize the facts and the peer-reviewed studies that fully debunk these myths and prove that they are 100% false.
Bite severity and injury (risk):
Biting without warning (aggression/snapping):
Disputed medical studies on the severity of dog bites:
Characterization of bites by "pitbull-type" dogs:
Facts and scientific studies have fully debunked the myth that bites by pitbull-type dogs are somehow "different" or "more severe" than bites by other dogs of similar sizes and strengths. This is of course not comparing the bites of pitbull-type dogs to the bites of smaller breeds such as Chihuahuas or Dachshunds - but instead, to the bites of other strong breed dogs such as Dogo-Argentinos, Cane-Corsos, Bullmastiffs, Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, German Shepherds, and many other strong breeds. 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 or different in any way. The fact is that the bite severity of any dog is related to its overall size, strength, and energy - and not to its breed.
Pitbull-type dogs are by far the most popular "strong breed" dogs in the U.S. - more popular than German Shepherds, Boxers, Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, Great Danes, Huskies, Mastiffs, and many other strong breeds. While some claim that pitbull-type dogs only represent around 6% of dogs in the U.S., in reality pitbull-type dogs are the 3rd most popular dog type adopted from shelters and the 5th most popular dog type registered by veterinarians. In fact, we estimate that pitbull-type dogs (and their mixes) account for up to 20% of dogs in the U.S. not only because of their shelter and veterinary counts, but also because of the fact that since "pitbull" is not a breed, the broad "pitbull-type" population includes 4+ unique breeds (and their many mixes) plus many other breeds and mixes that can get labeled as "pitbull-type" dogs due to their appearance. Below, we summarize the shelter and registration data used for our pitbull-type population estimate.
ASPCA shelter data reveals that pitbull-type dogs are the most popular dog type by intake and the third most popular dog type by adoption counts. For population estimates, shelter intake data is a more accurate and more robust measure of breed population sizes (vs. adoption data) because it includes all dogs, not just the dogs that have been adopted. The only other strong breed in the top 5 rankings of the ASPCA intake and adoption data are German Shepherds and compared to German Shepherds, the pitbull-type population is 3.6x higher by intake counts and 2.5x higher by adoption counts. The shelter data is further validated by veterinary data which shows that pitbull-type dogs are the 5th most popular dog type in the U.S. and the only strong breed in the top 5 list of the most popular breeds.
20% Population Estimate
There are an estimated 90 million dogs in the U.S. and while there are no conclusive population counts by breed, we estimate that up to 20% (18 million) can be classified as "pitbull-type" dogs and their mixes:
AKC/UKC registration data (which is commonly used to estimate breed populations) typically only includes purebred dogs and a recent peer-reviewed study concluded that the majority (57%) of pitbull-type dogs are mixed breed dogs (with less than a 50% DNA concentration from pitbull-type ancestry). Therefore, since the majority of pitbull-type dogs are not purebred, shelter and veterinary data is a more accurate representation of their total population size because it includes purebred dogs, mixed breed dogs, and represents comprehensive dog population counts from all across the country regardless of registrations or any breed-based legislation.
Breed Registration Data
When compared to other "strong breeds", pitbull-type dogs are by far the most popular at around 20% of the total U.S. dog population. According to AKC registration data, the population estimates for the next most popular strong breeds (that are at least 1% of the population or above) are:
Contrary to myths and misinformation by special-interest organizations and tabloids, pitbull-type dogs are not "fringe" or unpopular dogs. Instead, they are exceedingly popular mainstream dogs providing companionship, happiness, and love to millions of families which is not surprising given their excellent temperament scores and overall reputation of outstanding behavior. In fact, pitbull-type dogs have been popular in the U.S. going as far back as World Wars 1 and 2 when they were declared "America's Dog" and prominently featured as national mascots on recruitment posters. Furthermore, their popularity alone is a leading reason why BSL has been repealed in many cities and towns and also why voters recently rejected a proposed breed-specific ban in Springfield, MO by a landslide. The reality is that pitbull-type dogs are popular mainstream dogs accounting for up to 20% of all dogs in the U.S. that are loved by millions of families all across the country and across all political spectrums - in fact, we'd say that they are still "America's Dog" today given their overall population, widespread acceptance, and rising popularity.
Many advocacy campaigns benefiting "pitbull-type" dogs take place in October and while most call them "awareness" campaigns, we like to call them "education" campaigns. Below, we answer the question: "Are pitbull-type dogs different from other dogs?" and debunk a number of myths, misconceptions, and stereotypes with facts and science. So for this year's "National Pitbull Education Month" please like and share this post and/or our www.pitbullinfo.org website to help educate others, debunk myths, and to spread the word about how wonderful pitbull-type dogs (and all dogs) really are.
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 manage livestock. Today, there are 4+ distinct breeds that are commonly considered "pitbull-type" breeds including the American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. However, there are also over 20 other unique breeds plus a variety of mixed breed dogs that share the same or similar physical characteristics that are typically found in pitbull-type dogs such as a "blocky" head. Furthermore, the term "pit bull" is not a breed - historically, it was an informal and slang term that was used to describe any dog that was used for the cruel sport of "bull baiting" (using dogs to seize tethered animals such as bulls within an enclosed area called a "pit"). While many different breeds were used for this sport, dogs that resemble today's bully breeds were commonly used - it was not an activity limited to today's pitbull-type breeds. More recently, the term "pit bull" has become a generic term that is used to describe dogs that fall into the broad "pitbull-type" category which includes many different breeds and mixes based on their appearance.
Are "pitbull-type" dogs more dangerous than other strong breed dogs?
Scientific studies and expert information have made this answer relatively straightforward - No. Data sourced from a CDC study identifies 30+ breeds associated with fatal dog attacks over a 20 year period and since only 2016, at least 24 different breeds 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 most large or strong breed dogs (regardless of breed). Additionally, the data from the CDC study reveals that the risk rates of pitbull-type dogs are fully in-line with other strong breeds. Other peer-reviewed studies have reached similar conclusions such as breed does not determine risk. This is of course not comparing pitbull-type dogs to smaller dogs like Chihuahuas or French Bulldogs but instead, to other strong breed dogs such as Dogo-Argentinos, Cane-Corsos, Bullmastiffs, Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, German Shepherds (and many other strong breeds) 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 myth that pitbull-type dogs have locking jaws and a more severe bite than other strong breeds is also completely false.
What about temperament, are "pitbull-type" dogs more aggressive than other dogs?
Again, no. According to the latest ATTS breed temperament test data, the unique breeds commonly assigned to the broad "pitbull-type" category continue to achieve excellent temperament scores - scoring in the top 23% of all breeds tested. Furthermore, pitbull-type dogs are consistently successful as service dogs, as therapy dogs, as K9 police dogs, and as family pets. Because of their excellent temperament, they have become increasingly popular dogs and we estimate that up to 20% (18 million) of dogs in the U.S. can be classified as "pitbull-type" dogs and their mixes based on the fact that pitbull-type dogs are the 3rd most popular dog type adopted from shelters and the 5th most popular dog type registered by veterinarians. Furthermore, the shelter and veterinary data confirms that "pitbull-type" dogs are growing in popularity in U.S. households which wouldn't be the case if they had a questionable or negative temperament.
What about public sentiment, isn’t the public hesitant about "pitbull-type" dogs?
A lot of progress has been made in debunking misinformation, myths, and stereotypes about pitbull-type dogs 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 the number of towns and cities that have repealed ineffective and discriminatory breed-specific legislation (BSL) in 2018 alone and by voters in Springfield, MO that recently rejected a proposed breed-specific ban by a wide margin. More and more, pitbull-type dogs are being recognized for what they truly are - great dogs with excellent temperaments that deserve a loving and happy life like all other dogs do.
What about those other "statistics" and media reports about incidents involving "pitbull-type" dogs?
We could go into a long and comprehensive discussion on this topic debunking the typical "statistics" published by fear-based tabloids and special-interest organizations - but instead, we’ll just make a few key points:
So, are "pitbull-type" dogs different from other dogs?
The simple answer is no, pitbull-type dogs are not different, unique, or special in any way from other dogs. As discussed above, the facts and scientific studies show that they are no different than other strong dogs and as with all strong breed dogs (such as Dogo-Argentinos, Cane-Corsos, Bullmastiffs, Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, German Shepherds, and many other strong breeds), pitbull-type dogs and their many mixes require responsible ownership for happy pets and families. While all dogs deserve responsible ownership, strong breed dogs especially require it to help ensure everyone's happiness and safety. But regardless of the science and the experts, those familiar with pitbull-type dogs already know that they are wonderful dogs that provide unconditional love, companionship, and happiness to anyone that is fortunate enough to have them in their lives.
Finally, please take a moment to watch this great short video about "Pitbull Awareness Month" - a big thanks to Animal Farm Foundation for this informative and educational video. The campaign's information is also available at: itsbullawareness.org which is a great website to share.
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.
In 2017 alone, 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 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. The term "pit bull" is not a breed but instead, an informal term used to describe a "type" of dog based only on its physical appearance (not on genetics or lineage) that can include the physical characteristics found in over 20 unique breeds and in even more mixed breeds. Therefore, attempting to attribute any kind of bite characteristic to a dog "type" is already a flawed and problematic proposition (even for a myth) due to the number of different breeds and mixed breeds that can be classified as a specific dog type. However, as with all myths, they are eventually proven false by scientific studies and credentialed professionals (such as doctors and veterinarians).
Scientific studies and credentialed professionals have fully debunked the common myths associated with bites by pitbull-type dogs including:
Here are the facts:
The facts are clear: scientific studies and canine professionals have concluded that 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, Cane-Corsos, 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 in any way. 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 page that also busts these and other myths about pitbull-type dogs.
Blog & News
Insight, news, and analysis on issues and topics relevant to pitbull-type dogs.