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.
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