Busting Myths About "Pitbull" Bites
There are a number of myths about dogs labeled as "pitbulls" including myths and misconceptions about the strength and severity of their bites. These myths claim that they have locking jaws, the strongest bite, and that they are more prone to "snap" or bite without warning than other dogs. Not only are these myths entirely false, but they are also rejected by scientific studies on the strength and severity of dog bites. Below, we provide facts from scientific studies and veterinary experts that fully debunk these myths that unfortunately lead to unfounded fear, ineffective and discriminatory public safety policies such as BSL (breed-specific legislation), and lower adoption rates in shelters for breeds that are commonly included in the modern pitbull-type category and also many other breeds and mixes that can be labeled as "pitbulls" due to their appearance.
The Facts And Science About Bites
- No dogs (of any breed or type) have physical characteristics in their jaw that would cause or allow them to "lock" their jaws. Furthermore, pitbull-type dogs do not have a unique or morphologically different jaw structure from other dogs.
- All dogs of all breeds can exhibit "bite and hold" and/or "shaking" behaviors when biting - these behaviors have been traced back to wolves (the ancestors of domestic dogs) and can therefore be found in all breeds. For example, many dogs display these behaviors when playing with toys such as ropes and stuffed animals.
- While bite strength can vary significantly between individual dogs of the same breed, the average bite strength of pitbull-type dogs has been measured to be 235psi - 28% lower than the average bite strength (325psi) of the breeds tested and fully in-line with other dogs of similar sizes and strengths. For example, the bite strengths of German Shepherds and Rottweilers were both measured to be stronger at 238psi and 328psi, respectively. In fact, the breed with the strongest bite strength is a Kangal which has been measured to be 743psi - over 3x stronger than the bite strength of pitbull-type dogs.
- Scientific studies have concluded that the strength of an individual dog's bite is directly related to its overall size and strength - not to its breed. Furthermore, none of the studies list breed as a relevant factor affecting bite force in their conclusions.
Bite Severity & Injury (Risk)
- A recent study that analyzed 140 serious dog bite-related incidents concluded that there is no difference (in the medical treatment required following a bite or in the type of bite inflicted) between bites by breeds stereotyped as "dangerous" (legislated breeds such as German Shepherds, Rottweilers, and pitbull-type dogs) and other breeds of similar sizes and strengths that are not stereotyped as "dangerous" (non-legislated breeds such as Boxers, Bulldogs, and Labrador Retrievers).
- After analyzing a comprehensive collection of scientific and expert sources including numerous scientific studies, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) concluded: "Controlled studies have not identified this breed group (pitbull-type dogs) as disproportionately dangerous."
Aggression & Biting Without Warning
- A study conducted by the CDC that analyzed 20 years of dog bite-related fatalities (DBRFs) identified over 25 breeds associated with DBRFs and the majority (72%) of these incidents were attributed to non-pitbull type breeds - clear evidence that many breeds can unfortunately have unstable individuals that can bite without warning (aka "snapping") causing serious incidents or DBRFs. Furthermore, the study's data substantiates that the DBRF risk rate for pitbull-type dogs is fully in-line with the risk rates of other large or strong breeds.
- A study that analyzed canine aggression in different breeds concluded: "Comparing the results of non-legislated breeds and breeds affected by legislation (such as pitbull-type dogs), no significant difference in aggression was found - a scientific basis for breed specific lists does not exist." Another study concluded: "It would be inappropriate to make assumptions about an individual animal's risk of aggression to people based on characteristics such as breed."
Errors in Medical Studies on Dog Bites
- There is a selection of limited-scope medical studies commonly referenced by special-interest groups that support breed-specific legislation (BSL). These disputed studies suggest (but do not substantiate with valid scientific methods or evidence) that bites by pitbull-type dogs are more severe than bites by other dogs. To investigate the data and claims made in these studies, a recent study titled "Defaming Rover: Error-Based Latent Rhetoric in the Medical Literature on Dog Bites" conducted an in-depth qualitative review of these studies and concluded that they contain rhetoric and misinformation including: "clear-cut factual errors, misinterpretations, omissions, emotionally loaded language, and exaggerations based on misunderstood or inaccurate statistics." In other words, these studies are scientifically unsound sources for breed-risk information (as they contain errors and invalid methods) and some were even found to include cherry-picked data to support unscientific conclusions.
Characterization of Bites by "Pitbull-Type" Dogs
- The term "pit bull" is not a breed but instead 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 any medium-sized dog with physical traits from any of the numerous "bully-type" (or bulldog-type) breeds that can include physical characteristics found in over 20 unique breeds and in even more mixed breeds. Therefore, attempting to assign any kind of bite characteristic to "pitbulls" in general (or even to a dog "type") is already a flawed and problematic proposition (even for a myth) due to the number of different breeds and mixes that can be classified as pitbull-type dogs.
A Logical Conclusion
Scientific studies and veterinary experts 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 large or strong breeds such as Akitas, Bullmastiffs, Cane Corsos, Dobermans, Dogo Argentinos, German Shepherds, Huskies, Rottweilers, and too many more breeds to list. Can bites by dogs labeled as "pitbulls" cause injuries? Of course they can, but so can the bites of many other strong breeds including numerous strong mixed breeds. The fact about the severity of dog bites, which is also a very logical conclusion backed by a robust amount of science, is that the bite strength and severity of any individual dog is directly related to its overall size, strength, and energy - and not to its breed.
Updated: May 12, 2023