The Pit Bull Dilemma
The most important thing to know at the beginning of this article is - What is a Pitbull?
Many dogs are wrongly called Pitbulls when in fact they are not. Amstaff is one of the breeds that is being confused for Pitbulls and it earned them a decline in their popularity and reputation.
The exact name of the breed is the American Pit Bull Terrier and it is a breed that was created for the blood sports such as bull-baiting. They are usually described in two ways - depending on the person that describes them. Breed lovers describe them as a calm, loyal, protective breed that is extremely careful and gentle around children. People that are against this breed describe them as being vicious time bombs that are ready to explode at any second and attack anything that comes near them.
So what exactly is the truth that lies behind this breed? Are Pitbulls dangerous? Are Pitbulls good family dogs?
Let’s take a look at facts and data that was gathered about the Pitbull breeds.
The term “Pitbull” is used to describe four distinct dog breeds - the American Staffordshire Terrier, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, the American Pit Bull Terrier, and the Bull Terrier. Those that are not completely familiar with these breeds are often confused about what breed they are looking at. All of these breeds earned a bad reputation because their characteristics were exploited for blood sports and illegal dog fights. They were often badly and irresponsibly bred with the single goal of creating the best possible fighting dog.
How old are Pit Bulls?
The APBT’s exact origin is a bit of a mystery. What we do know is that bull and terrier breeds were first crossed in the early part of the 19th century in Britain. After blood sports such as dogfighting and bull-baiting were made illegal, these dogs lost their purpose and had to be redirected to farm work. They were also used for hunting, pulling loads, and later, they were even used as nanny dogs and protectors. We know that they are not the oldest breed, or even of the oldest - Pit Bulls are a breed that is around 200 years old.
In the mid 19th century, a large number of these dogs followed their British owners to the United States of America. There they had a lot of jobs they were used to doing in Great Britain. In the UK, the United Kennel Club gave these dogs the name “American Pit Bull Terrier” which didn’t sit quite right with the American Kennel Club. They never accepted the APBT as a breed and to distant these dogs from their bloody history, the AKC gave them a new name - the American Staffordshire Terrier.
Amstaffs were allowed to compete in show rings and their breeding was controlled so only the best characteristics were promoted and selectively bred. The American Pit Bull Terrier remained an unrecognized breed whose breeding was not controlled or in fact, encouraged. This legislation had an impact on both breeds and resulted in a slight difference in their character and their looks.
How long do Pit Bulls live?
The American Pit Bull Terrier is a relatively healthy breed that has an average lifespan of 12-16 years. They usually live long if they are properly taken care of. Some common misconceptions are surrounding these dogs such as brain swelling that causes these dogs to go crazy over time. That is, of course, completely wrong and Pit Bulls have completely normal brains that grow at the same rate as any other dog breeds brain.
Pit Bulls have the strongest bites
This is yet another misconception that surrounds these dogs. They have a bite force of around 231 PSI. German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Cane Corso, and Tosa are just some of the breeds that have a stronger bite force than the American Pit Bull Terrier. The dog with the strongest bite is the Kangal with the force of more than 740 PSI.
There is also a myth that says these dogs can “lock their jaws”. This is also not true and their bone structure is generally the same as any other dogs.
All these characteristics don’t sound bad at all and make these dogs look like a greatly misunderstood breed that was used for wrong purposes, by bad people. There is some truth to that and most of these dogs can be really good around people, other dogs, and kids.
So what is the problem with Pit Bull ownership?
This is only one side of the story that surrounds these dogs and the other one side is not so nice. Most of us that are somehow connected to the world of dogs have heard about the “vicious” Pit Bulls and a large number of Pit Bull attacks either on other dogs or humans. It is important to know that not all stories are true and there were certain lies about this breed published in the media. However, those facts should not muddy the water and we should address the actual numbers of incidents involving the American Pit Bull Terrier.
After the scandal and a very public trial of the notorious Michael Vick and his dogfighting ring, a lot more people started adopting and saving Pit Bulls from animal shelters. At the same time, the number of Pit Bull attacks and maulings increased. Some might argue that all dogs can attack and harm humans but the matter of the fact is that Pit Bulls are responsible for the vast majority of these attacks as well as for the attacks that have fatal consequences.
Dogsbite.org is a service dedicated to keeping various statistics regarding dogs and according to them - “From 2005 to 2019, Pit Bulls killed 346 Americans, a rate over 6.5 times higher than the next closest breed, Rottweilers, with 51 deaths”. This isn’t the only statistic that makes these dogs look guilty - Pit Bull attacks are responsible for 48% of infant deaths, 62% of owner deaths, 53% of deaths of family members, and the lists involving these dogs go on and on.
American Pit Bull Terrier or mixed breeds with APBT as one of their parent are responsible for the vast majority of dog-related attacks and killings - that is just a fact. It is not an opinion of any specific breed enthusiast or breed nonfans. An Arkansas plastic surgeon by the name of Michael Golinko is the director of plastic surgery in the children’s hospital in Little Rock, Arkansas. He studied over 1.000 cases of dog attacks on children and a reporter asked him if Pit Bulls get along with kids. His answer was - “No, no, I’d like to say they do, like I said I’m a dog lover and I’d like to say that every dog gets along well, but I think there is too much of a risk, based on what I’ve seen to advocate that or sanction that”. Dr. Galinko studied cases about 500 children admitted to hospitals in Little Rock and over 1.600 in Atlanta. 46 different dog breeds were identified and Pit Bulls were responsible for over 50% of those cases. His professional opinion is that something is going on with these dogs and maybe humans and the government should intervene. “It is not my opinion, it is just data” - Dr. Golinko adds.
His full interview as well as a very interesting 2017 documentary regarding Pit Bulls can be found here.
One of the biggest advocates for the Pit Bull Terrier dog breed is the famous “dog whisperer” Ceasar Millan. Mr. Millan’s famous expression is "There are no problem breeds, only problem owners".
The breed-specific legislation, or commonly known as BSL, is a term that covers any sort of law or rules that either regulate or even bans ownership or any other aspect of a specific dog breed. BSL is being enforced to decrease dog attacks on both humans and other animals.
Only specific American states have adapted breed-specific legislation and according to the ASPCA, some of the breeds that are on the BSL list are:
- American Pit Bull Terrier
- American Staffordshire Terrier
- Staffordshire Bull Terriers
- English Bull Terriers
- American Bulldogs
- Chow Chows
- German Shepherds
- Any dog that resembles or is a mix of these breeds
The main problem of breed-specific legislation is that it is notoriously hard to enforce. Even the former US President Obama said - “We don’t support breed-specific legislation - research shows that bans on certain types of dogs are largely ineffective and often a waste of public resources. And the simple fact is that dogs of any breed can become dangerous when they’re intentionally or unintentionally raised to be aggressive.”
Truth - many factors can influence a dog’s tendency towards aggression like hereditary, sex, age, early experiences and trauma, training, and socialization.
Truth - Pit Bulls are responsible for the vast majority of dog attacks. Something needs to be done about that and some sorts of restrictions should be enforced.
Truth - American Pit Bull Terriers are powerful dogs, capable of doing significant damage. Inexperienced, weak owners should not own them.
BSL looks like it is not an effective way to ensure public safety so Pittie owners should come together with the government and find a proper solution. Education might be the key here - for both the public and future Pittie owners. Controlled breeding and good practices should maybe be enforced so that dogs with the best characters are bred and those with aggressive tendencies are not. Whatever the answer to this problem should result in a safer world for humans and Pit Bull-type dogs as well.
World Dog Finder team