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.
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, the average score for pitbull-type breeds was better than 100 of the 130 breeds included in this statistic - in other words, in the top 30 of 130 breeds tested (top 23%). The ATTS data reflects similar conclusions found in scientific studies and provides further evidence that the behavior, trainability, and overall disposition (all factors related to temperament) of pitbull-type dogs is excellent. The data, sources, and scores used for this statistic are all provided below.
The ATTS test focuses on and measures different aspects of temperament such as stability, shyness, aggressiveness, and friendliness as well as the dog’s instinct for protectiveness towards its handler and/or self-preservation in the face of a threat. The test is designed for the betterment of all breeds of dogs and takes into consideration each breed’s inherent tendencies.
Temperament data, sources, and scores:
In yet another blow to BSL, the most recent peer-reviewed study on the DNA of shelter dogs concluded that one of the main components of BSL, identifying a dog's breed based on appearance, is highly unreliable with accuracy ranging between a low of 10% and a high of 67%. Published last month, the largest study on the DNA of shelter dogs to-date also concluded that 98% of pitbull-type dogs are mixed breed dogs and that behavior is more important than heritage (DNA/breed) when considering dogs for adoption. Furthermore, the study found that dogs labeled as a pitbull-type breed had an average DNA concentration of 43.5% from pitbull-type ancestry which would challenge the majority of breed-based bans that target dogs with a genetic background of "50% or more" from pitbull-type breeds. Below, we highlight key conclusions and information from the latest scientific study to contradict BSL and breed-based bans.
Summary of the study:
Key conclusions and information from the study:
The genetics of behavior is so complex ... breed-typing is worse than stereotyping members of our own species. Breed labels would be better dropped altogether.
Since only 2016, at least 24 different breeds and mixed breeds have been implicated in fatal dog attacks (listed in Table 1 below) including: Akita, Belgian Malinois, Boxer, Doberman Pinscher, English Mastiff, German Shepherd, Giant Schnauzer, Husky, Labrador Retriever, Rottweiler, and others. While every dog bite-related fatality is tragic, the number and variety of breeds involved in fatal attacks is clear evidence that serious dog bite-related incidents are not a breed-specific issue. The fact that many people are only aware of incidents associated with "pitbull-type" dogs is unfortunately a strong indication of media bias 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 the breed involved) 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 January/2016 through June/2018 fully debunks the myth that serious dog bite-related incidents are only associated with pitbull-type dogs - while also confirming that:
Table 1: Breeds involved in fatal dog attacks between January/2016 and June/2018 include:
(in alphabetical order, references to news sources with breed information provided in Table 2 below)
Table 2: News source references for breeds listed in Table 1:
(excluding pitbull-type dogs, see "Notes" below)
The data, scientific studies, and risk rates clearly show 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 types 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 (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
The data confirms that serious dog bite-related incidents are not a breed-specific issue:
Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) is ineffective and obsolete given the number of different breeds and dog types associated with serious dog bite-related incidents such as fatal dog attacks. Furthermore, the number of incidents associated with each breed is more closely related to each breed's population size and its risk rate than to any "inherent risk" in a specific breed or dog type.
To reduce the number of serious dog bite-related incidents and improve public safety, the data shows that comprehensive breed-neutral regulations are the more effective and equitable solution because they address all potentially dangerous dogs and all irresponsible owners, regardless of the dog's appearance or breed. Public safety is not a breed-specific issue.
All strong or large dogs (of any breed) can cause serious injuries or worse, fatalities. Over a 20 year period, a CDC study identified over 30 different breeds involved in fatal dog bite-related incidents in the U.S. alone. Just last month on March 7, there was a sad and unfortunate tragedy in Virginia when the family dog, a northern breed (Malamute/wolf-hybrid mix), fatally attacked an 8-day old baby girl. The attack happened when the baby was left unattended in her bassinet while her mother was preparing lunch in the kitchen. The dog was loved, properly cared for, had never previously shown any signs of aggression, and was described as "very friendly". It’s a tragedy that emphasizes the importance of always carefully supervising strong or large dogs (of any breed) when they are around infants and children - including loved and well-behaved family dogs. To educate on this point, below we list the 30+ different breeds and dog types identified in a CDC study that were involved in fatal dog attacks - evidence that attempting to legislate dogs based on appearance or breed is an ineffective and obsolete approach for safety because a wide variety of dog types and many different breeds and mixes have been implicated in serious incidents.
30+ breeds and dog types implicated in fatal dog attacks (alphabetical order):
The fact is that any strong or large dogs (of any breed) can cause serious incidents - including dogs that are considered the loved, family dog. This highlights why breed-based bans and breed-specific legislation (BSL) are ineffective because there are many different dog types, breeds, and mixes that can become aggressive and cause injuries or worse, fatalities. And while comprehensive breed-neutral regulations are the most effective approach because they address all potentially dangerous dogs (regardless of breed) and all irresponsible dog owners, tragic incidents will unfortunately occur and the extensive breed list above is clear evidence that these incidents are not a breed-specific issue - proper training, supervision, and safety awareness is required for all strong or large dogs, regardless of breed.
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.
Infographic for breed risk rates:
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.
In Canada, dogs classified as "sled dogs" were responsible for the most dog bite-related fatalities over an 18 year period between 1990-2007. Just like the term "pit bull" is not a breed but instead a term used to describe a "type" of dog that includes multiple unique breeds, a "sled dog" is also not a breed but a term used to describe a "type" of dog that includes multiple unique breeds such as huskies, malamutes, chinooks, and other "sled-type" breeds. So based on these statistics that count the number of incidents, are sled-type dogs such as huskies more dangerous than other breeds just because they are responsible for the most dog bite-related fatalities in Canada? Of course not, sled-type dogs are responsible for the most fatalities simply because they are the most popular "strong breed" dogs in Canada - just like pitbull-type dogs are the most popular "strong breed" dogs in the U.S. (by a wide margin).
Sled-type dogs in Canada are similar to pitbull-type dogs in the U.S. because:
In order to be mathematically accurate and scientifically valid, any breed-specific risk must be calculated using a risk rate that takes into account breed population sizes - simply counting incidents by breed (or by "type") to determine risk without factoring in population sizes is scientifically insignificant and results in inaccurate statistics and misleading conclusions. Sled-type dogs are not more dangerous than other breeds in Canada - they are simply the most popular "strong breed" dogs in Canada just like pitbull-type dogs are the most popular "strong breed" dogs in the U.S. Any breed-specific legislation (BSL) targeting "sled-type" dogs in Canada would be just as misguided as BSL that targets "pitbull-type" dogs in the U.S. since the BSL is not based on scientific evidence or actual breed risk rates. Learn more about dog bite-related scientific studies and breed risk rates on our Scientific Studies and Statistics pages.
The fact that BSL ignores breed risk rates (and therefore doesn't account for breed population sizes) is yet another reason why BSL is ineffective for reducing serious dog bite-related incidents and fatalities. In addition, this serves as more evidence that breed stereotypes based on statistics that simply count incidents are entirely false and not representative of any inherent breed-specific risk. The bottom line is that the most popular "strong breed" dogs in a geographic area will also most likely be responsible for the most incidents - not because any specific strong breed or strong dog "type" is more dangerous than other strong breeds - but simply because it is more popular.
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