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.
All strong breed dogs such as Akitas, German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, Cane Corsos, Huskies, Mastiffs, "pitbull-type" dogs, and many other strong breeds and 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. Below, we list five of the most critical factors for responsible dog ownership - almost all serious dog bite incidents (by dogs of all breeds) are the result of a failure of one of these factors related to responsible ownership.
Five critical factors for responsible ownership:
Many dog bite incidents can be prevented by heeding the basic warning signs of canine aggression and problematic behavior. Any severe aggression or unsafe behavior should be immediately assessed by a veterinarian or professional dog trainer. While all dogs may exhibit some level of aggression in certain situations, any unsafe dog-on-dog or dog-on-human behavior should be professionally evaluated. In most situations, aggression and problematic behavior can be successfully mitigated with professional training, by avoiding specific situations (like dog parks), by using devices such as muzzles on walks, or with veterinarian prescribed medication (anti-anxiety, sedatives, etc.). Warning signs can include:
The factors for responsible ownership listed above are only guidelines - all situations are different and all dogs are individuals that require different levels of care, attention, training, and commitment. Dogs fully rely on their human companions for everything in life - from proper care and training to happiness and safety. Great dogs are created when they are properly and responsibly cared for - and when they are, humans are rewarded with a loyal best friend that will provide companionship, happiness, and unconditional love.
Great news in Washington: On Tuesday, the city of Yakima successfully repealed their obsolete ban on "pitbull-type" dogs that has been in effect for more than 30 years. Supported by robust public support from city residents, the Yakima City Council easily repealed the ban in a 5-2 vote and ended the ineffective and discriminatory policy that banned dogs based only on their appearance or breed. The ban, or breed specific legislation (BSL), is being replaced with more effective breed-neutral regulations that address all potentially dangerous dogs, all irresponsible dog owners, and all unsafe dog-related situations - regardless of a dog's appearance or breed. Congratulations to the City Council and the residents of Yakima for improving public safety by repealing BSL and implementing a more effective and more equitable breed-neutral approach for addressing and reducing dog-bite incidents in the city. Yakima joins a list of 10+ cities that have repealed BSL in 2018 alone and are taking a decisive stand against old and long-debunked myths and stereotypes about "pitbull-type dogs".
A few reasons why the national trend against BSL is strong and enjoys robust public support:
Aside from the scientific studies and peer-reviewed facts, the reality is that the majority of the public no longer supports discrimination against pitbull-type dogs because simply stated, they are great dogs. They consistently achieve excellent temperament scores and are successful as service dogs, as therapy dogs, as K9 police dogs, and as family pets. All around the country and across many different political spectrums the trend is clear - BSL and breed bans are being challenged and of those challenged, many are being successfully repealed in favor of non-discriminatory and more effective breed-neutral regulations.
The American Bar Association urges all state, territorial, and local legislative bodies and governmental agencies to adopt comprehensive breed-neutral ... laws that ensure due process protections for owners, encourage responsible pet ownership and focus on the behavior of both dog owners and dogs, and to repeal any breed discriminatory or breed specific provisions
A beautiful story: Meet Beau, a pitbull-type dog who went from being a stray to helping his new family through a very difficult time by providing his unconditional love. In this short video, watch how Beau immediately provides comfort, happiness, and love to the family that adopted him even though he previously suffered neglect as a stray - yet another example of the inherent goodness and excellent temperament of pitbull-type dogs. A big thanks to Pittie Nation for showcasing Beau and for continuing to *shatter* stereotypes about pitbull-type dogs.
Great news: On Tuesday, voters in Springfield (MO) rejected a ban on “pitbull-type” dogs by a landslide with over 68% voting against the proposed ban. While the vote is a strong win against breed discrimination, ineffective policies, and junk science - it also validates a growing national trend against all forms of breed-specific legislation (BSL) including breed-based bans. Furthermore, the vote aligns with a recent national survey where 84% of Americans polled were against breed-specific bans of any kind. Below, we summarize the decaying state of BSL in the U.S. and abroad. Congratulations to the voters of Springfield and a big thanks to "Springfield Citizens Against BSL" that lead the successful campaign against BSL and breed discrimination in Springfield!
The decaying state of BSL in the U.S. and abroad:
We could easily add more evidence of the decaying state of BSL to the list above, but the overall conclusion is clear and simple: BSL and breed-based bans are being challenged, repealed, voted down, and are becoming increasingly unpopular with citizens and voters all across the U.S. and abroad. Politicians and public officials who support BSL should consider themselves on notice - while there is a fringe but vocal minority that support breed discrimination, it's becoming evident that the majority of citizens are against invasive, ineffective, and discriminatory policies such as BSL and instead support more sensible breed-neutral policies that address relevant factors such as irresponsible ownership and/or a dog's behavior. Although there is still a lot of advocacy, education, and work to be done to combat breed discrimination and to eradicate BSL, the tide (and the majority) is slowly but surely turning against BSL and discriminatory appearance-based bans.
Enacting any ban based on stereotypes and junk science, instead of on peer-reviewed facts and expert information, is quite frankly an abuse of public policy and resources ... imagine if other bans were enacted using similar unsound standards. Dog bite incidents are a serious issue and comprehensive breed-neutral regulations are the most effective solution because they address all potentially dangerous dogs, all irresponsible dog owners, and all unsafe dog-related situations ... regardless of a dog's appearance or breed.
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
In only the first half of 2018, eleven U.S. cities and towns have successfully repealed breed specific legislation (BSL) that targeted and discriminated against "pitbull-type" dogs and their owners. Almost always, ineffective BSL is replaced with stronger and more equitable breed-neutral regulations which are more effective because they address all irresponsible owners and all dangerous dogs - regardless of a dog's breed. All around the country and across different political spectrums the trend is clear - BSL and breed bans are being challenged and of those challenged, many are being successfully repealed. Below, we list the 11 cities and towns that have repealed BSL so far this year followed by a few key reasons for why BSL continues to be defeated.
U.S. cities and towns that have repealed BSL in 2018 (January-June):
Dangerous and/or vicious animals should be labeled as such as a result of their actions or behavior and not because of their breed.
BSL is being challenged and repealed for a number of reasons including:
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 strong breeds given their growing population size. So it's really no surprise that when BSL is challenged by informed citizens and public officials, BSL is often repealed and replaced with stronger breed-neutral regulations that address all dangerous dogs, all bad owners, and all risky dog-related situations - regardless of breed. A big congratulations to the 11 cities and towns that have repealed BSL in the first half of this year!
Shattering stereotypes: Meet Aladdin, a pitbull-type dog who suffered abuse and neglect but went on to become a certified therapy dog after his new mom showed him a little love. In this short video, watch how Aladdin undergoes an amazing transformation from his abusive beginnings to winning the Therapy Dog of the Year award by the American Humane Association - yet another example of the exceptional temperament and goodness inherent in pitbull-type dogs. A big thanks to Pittie Nation for sharing Aladdin's story and American Humane for recognizing his potential.
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