Pit Bulls Aren’t a Public Health Threat. Here’s Why.

While dogs are considered man’s best friend, people are split on whether Pit Bulls are problematic and prone to violence or victims of unwarranted and damaging stereotypes. Here we explore both sides of the Pit Bull argument.


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Pit Bull Background and Populations

Up to 20% of dogs in the U.S. are in the pit bull family*
Total dogs: 90 million
Pit Bulls: 18 million

Pit Bull Origins

Bred in England from a mix of Old English Bulldogs and Old English Terriers in the early 19th century
Bred for strength and agility
Brought to America prior to the U.S. civil war where it was termed the American Pit Bull Terrier

Major Pit Bull Breeds:

American Staffordshire Terrier
Staffordshire Bull Terrier
American Pit Bull Terrier

Pit Bulls in Shelters

3.3 million dogs enter shelters per year
670,000 dogs euthanized in shelters per year

An animal shelter case study showed the pit bull label can increase the stay of a dog, even compared to pit bull “look-alikes”

Average shelter stay:
Dogs labeled as pit bulls – 42.07 days
Dogs that are pit bull look-alikes – 12.80 days

A Public Against Pit Bulls

Many people have unsatisfactory opinions of pit bulls*
Would you consider adopting a pit bull?

31% Yes
50% No
9% Would not adopt any dog
10% Unsure

How dangerous do you think medium sized dogs to people and other animals?

3% Very dangerous
24% Somewhat dangerous
45% Not very dangerous
18% Not at all dangerous
9% Unsure

How dangerous do you think pit bulls to people and other animals

24% Very dangerous
35% Somewhat dangerous
24% Not very dangerous
9% Not at all dangerous
9% Unsure

Do you think pit bulls safe enough to live in residential neighborhoods?

39% Yes
40% No
21% Unsure
16% say owning a pit bull should be illegal

The fear and distrust of pit bulls is so pervasive that they are often the targets of special laws and regulations known as Breed-Specific Legislation (BSL)

BSL: Laws that regulate or ban specific dog breeds in the interest of preventing dog attacks on both humans and other animals

States upholding municipal BSL:

Arkansas, California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio, Utah, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin

States prohibiting municipal BSL:

Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Rhode Island, South Dakota

Groups opposed to BSL:

American Bar Association
Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC)
Humane Society of the United States
National Animal Control Association
United Kennel Club

Critics of BSL argue that breed discriminatory laws are costly, ineffective, and punish the dogs instead of the owners who fail to control them

While a harsh stigma surrounds pit bulls, it is important to recognize that some of its reputation is rooted in misunderstanding and misrepresentation.

Unfair Bias Against Pit Bulls

Pit bulls and close mixes tend to be reported in the media as the majority of serious dog attacks

Dog attacks causing bodily harm 1982-2016 reported as pit bulls
4,946 out of 7,186 (69%)

Media Coverage Can Be Biased Against Pit Bulls

In 2007, two dog attacks that occurred days apart received wildly different coverage:

August 18, a man (70) was hospitalized in critical condition after an attack by a Labrador mix – covered by one article in the local paper

August 21, a woman (56) was hospitalized after an attacked in her home by two pit bulls – covered by over 236 national and international articles and television news networks

Visual breed identification is often inaccurate, even among the experts
5,922 “dog expert” respondents were asked to identify the prominent breed of 20 shelter dogs:

Respondents correctly identified breed an average of 27% of the time
15% of dogs identified correctly over 70% of the time
22% of dogs identified correctly less than 1% of the time

Moving past the misinformation can reveal that pit bulls are just as, if not more, well-behaved as any other type of dog ― especially under the right conditions

The American Temperament Test Society (ATTS) assesses behaviors of dog breeds based on factors like friendliness, aggressiveness, and shyness:

Staffordshire Bull Terrier
91.2% pass rate

American Staffordshire Terrier
85.2% pass rate

American Pit Bull Terrier
87.4% pass rate

Contrary to preconceived notion, no pit bull type breed even broaches the top five of unruly dogs based on American Temperament Test Society (ATTS) standards :

Chow Chow
Doberman Pinscher

Researchers identified several similar factors across a 10-year range of dog attacks that have nothing to do with breed:

87.1% No able bodied person present to intervene
85.2% No familiar relationship of victims and dog
84.4% Dog was not neutered
76.2% Dog was not exposed to positive human interaction compared to family dogs
21.1% Owner had a history of neglect or abuse

Pit bull prejudice is often based in stigma and shaky information — in reality, like all dogs, pit bulls are perfectly safe given proper care, treatment, and responsible ownership.

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*according to estimates by pitbullinfo.org