Are Pit Bulls Really As Dangerous As Their Stereotype Suggests?
Bully breeds get a bad reputation for being dangerous, but are pit bull bites and attacks really as common as we might think?
Updated by Benjamin H. 1/9/23
Are pitbulls dangerous? For as long as we can remember, pit bulls (otherwise known as the American Staffordshire Terrier) have been feared and loathed by many members of the public. Due to stereotyping, pit bulls have earned a reputation for always displaying aggressive and unpredictable behavior that is widely believed by society and the media. Many shocking pitbull attacks toward other dogs or people have made the news over the years, further embedding the idea that pit bulls are dangerous. Most recently, a pair of pit bulls attacked and mauled a woman to death in South Africa on Friday, December 23, 2022, and an unsupervised pit bull attacked a 7-year-old Louisiana girl on January 7, 2023. It is reported that a relative made an attempt to halt the attack by striking the dog with a cane, but was unsuccessful in stopping the attack. The 7-year-old eventually succumbed to her injuries, while the dog was euthanized and the owner was arrested.
Some data even suggests that pit bulls make up only 6% of the population of dogs in the United States, but are responsible for 68% of dog bite attacks since 1982. Another report from the CDC on dog-bite fatalities concluded that pit bull bites are responsible for more fatalities than any other breed. Alarmingly, multiple sources suggest that children are most at risk for pit bull attacks. A recent report by the American Animal Hospital Association states that pit bulls are "responsible for the highest percentage of reported bites across all studies (22.5%), followed by mixed breeds (21.2%), and German shepherds (17.8%)."
That said, many pit bulls do make loving family pets, living their best lives without causing any harm. For every pit bull attack story, there are countless viral videos of smiling pit bulls loving on a couple's new baby or being tucked into bed while smiling and wearing an adorable dog onesie. But because of their dangerous reputation, pit bulls often face breed discrimination that prohibits them from living in certain apartments, homes, or even stepping foot anywhere within entire cities. It also means some insurances will not cover medical bills in the event someone or another pet is attacked by your pit bull because this breed is often excluded from insurance coverage. There are multiple groups actively working to redeem pit bulls in the eyes of the public and end breed discrimination.
One person who has always advocated strongly for the pit bull dog breed is dog training expert Cesar Millan. One of the dogs Cesar relies on most during his training sessions is a well-mannered pit bull, named Junior. Despite being a pit bull, Junior is extremely calm and reliable and helps Cesar evaluate and train dogs in need of rehabilitation all the time. Learn more about the history of pit bulls and how they got their poor reputation directly from Cesar Millan in the below clip!
No matter how you feel about pit bulls, it’s important to clear up some confusion regarding pit bulls so you can make an educated decision when forming your opinions about the dogs. Pit bulls were once beloved family pets, so it’s somewhat shocking to hear many people now view them as if they are public enemy number one. Therefore, we wanted to clear up the 5 most controversial opinions about pit bulls.
Pit bulls aren’t actually a recognized breed.
There is a common myth that the general public doesn't actually know how to recognize a pit bull when they see one. This is probably unlikely since media coverage of pit bulls is so prevalent and there's lots of information about pit bulls online and on social media. In general, pit bulls are recognized by their square shaped heads and muscular bodies.
We think this myth of pit bulls being unrecognizable actually stems from a misunderstanding surrounding what a pit bull really is. Many people think that pit bulls are a specific breed, but the term "pit bull" is actually an umbrella term that encapsulates several dog breeds that are often called bully breeds. Examples of these breeds include the American Pit Bull Terrier, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, the Bull Terrier, and the Cane Corso. There are also a large number of mutts that likely have pit bull DNA included in their mix, but it may not be obvious. It's very possible you could rescue a sweet mutt that is descended from a bully breed and never know unless you decided to DNA test your dog.
Pit bulls are more dangerous than other dogs.
While some studies have presented reliable data that suggests pit bulls bite and attack more frequently than other dogs, other reputable studies have contradicted this finding by determining that a dog’s breed doesn’t determine its propensity for aggression and that pit bulls are not significantly more aggressive than other dogs. Any dog, including beloved golden retrievers and lap dogs can bite if provoked by the right circumstances. That said, pit bull attacks can cause a lot of damage due to their size, strength, and determination. Pit bulls also have an incredibly strong jaw that allows them to clamp down on their target, leading many victims of pit bull bites to say the dog would not let go. Therefore, pit bulls attacks may be reported more often because victims are more severely injured and need medical help. Meanwhile, if a tiny chihuahua attacked, the dog is too small to cause a lot of damage and any injuries could likely be addressed at home.
Pit bulls are unpredictable.
Over the years, we've heard many stories in the news about how a pit bull who behaved perfectly for his entire life suddenly snapped and turned on its owner with disastrous consequences. When these attacks are reported, it's often said that the dog was unprovoked and the attack came from out of nowhere. While we can't speak for the inner workings of the minds of every pit bull out there, experts say that pit bulls are no more or less unpredictable than any other dog. If a dog is attacking, he has likely been triggered by pain or something that has made him extremely uncomfortable. In order to prevent attacks from occurring, pet owners need to be able to read their dogs’ body language to identify when he may be feeling triggered before it escalates into aggressive behavior. Pit bull attacks may seem particularly unpredictable because of an inability to understand the dogs' body language and because of the force with which these dogs can use to attack or bite.
Pit bulls were bred to be dangerous.
It is true that many pit bulls were bred to be used in dog fights. During the 1700's, pit bulls were used in the vicious sports of bear and bull baiting, where the dogs were trained to attack wild animals that were cruelly chained to a post. Because of this history of fighting, people often assume these dogs are dangerous and killing is simply part of their DNA.
However, pit bulls also have a much happier history that doesn't involve any fighting. Because of their strength and menacing appearance, they were often used as guard dogs to look after the children on farming properties and herd cattle, or used for pulling carts with heavy loads. At this time, pit bulls were known to be gentle and kind companions for children. No one was afraid their pit bull would bite them or their kids. Because of this breed's intelligence and determination, it simply needs a job to do in order to thrive and that job doesn't have to be killing or fighting. Past pit bulls have been kind and beloved family dogs and were even owned by famous historical figures and celebrities, including Helen Keller and Teddy Roosevelt. Many pit bulls also gained fame and success in beloved advertising campaigns and motion pictures in the 20th century. Therefore, it's important to consider the multi-faceted history that pit bulls share before assuming they were only bred to fight and are therefore mean and vicious.
A Pit bull’s upbringing makes a difference.
People often say the way a pit bull behaves depends on his owner and upbringing, which is really true for any pet. This is a situation where nature vs. nurture comes into play. While a dog’s genetics could potentially predispose it to behave in unwanted ways, genes are not the only factor that comes into play when a dog’s personality is being formed. Dogs of any breed, not just pit bulls, can be raised to have aggressive tendencies if that is what the owner wants or if proper boundaries are not set during training. But when dogs are raised with consistent training and positive experiences starting from when they are young, pups of any breed can make wonderful companions and trustworthy family pets. Making an effort to properly socialize young dogs and puppies is particularly important to teaching your pet the right way to behave around other dogs and people and preventing aggressive behavior from manifesting during adulthood. If you notice your dog exhibiting signs of aggression, immediately consult with a professional trainer or trusted veterinarian to halt the behavior before it gets worse or becomes a habit.
This article strives to dispel the myth that pit bulls are more dangerous than other dogs (like German Shepherd and Doberman dogs). That said, any dog can exhibit unwanted aggressive behaviors. If your dog is showing signs of aggression, whether he is a pit bull or not, we encourage you to seek assistance from a certified dog trainer and invest in some of these useful training tools to avoid injuries from a dog attack or dog bite.