Myths & Facts about Pitbulls
Unfortunately, there are a number of myths and stereotypes about "pitbull-type" dogs that are either anecdotal and misleading or entirely false. These myths and stereotypes are not based on scientific evidence or peer-reviewed facts but are instead based on a lack of knowledge about canine behavior, fear of the unknown, or on deliberate bias and misinformation propagated by special-interest organizations. The reality is that pitbull-type dogs consistently achieve excellent temperament scores, are successful as service dogs, as therapy dogs, as K9 police dogs, and make great family pets. The top five most common myths (and their corresponding facts) about "pitbull-type" dogs are provided below that even today, with all of the available expert information and scientific studies, unfortunately continue to circulate in the media and on the internet.
The Pitbull "Statistics" Pitbulls are "more dangerous" than other dogs according to the "statistics" The Facts: Risk: A recent (2013) peer-reviewed study that analyzed 10-years of dog bite incidents concluded that factors associated with irresponsible ownership are the primary cause of dog bite-related fatalities and that breed is not a factor (therefore, pitbull-type breeds are not inherently more dangerous than other breeds). This study also concluded that media reports on bite-related incidents are prone to significant breed identification error rates of over 40% (for example, identifying Labrador Retriever Bulldog mixes as "pitbull-type" dogs when in fact this mix is distinct and different from any of the "pitbull-type" purebred and crossbred breeds). Bites: A recent (2017) peer-reviewed study that analyzed 140 dog bite incidents concluded that there is no difference (in the medical treatment required following a bite or in the type of bite inflicted) between dog bites by breeds perceived as "dangerous" (legislated breeds such as "pitbull-type" breeds) and breeds that are not perceived as "dangerous" (non-legislated breeds). Incidents: Data sourced from a peer-reviewed study that analyzed 20-years of dog bite-related incidents reveals that the risk rate for pitbull-type dogs is fully in-line with the risk rates for other strong breeds. Identification: A recent (2015) peer-reviewed study that assessed the breed of 120 dogs concluded that "pitbull-type" dogs were misidentified 60% of the time (62 were visually identified as "pitbull-type" but only 25 had DNA signatures from any of the pitbull-type breeds). Furthermore, the common physical characteristics of "pitbull-type" dogs can be found in over 20 breeds (and in even more mixed breeds); consequently, using visual identification for breed is a common cause of inaccurate, misleading statistics.
Bite Strength & "Locking Jaw" Pitbulls have the most powerful bite and a "locking jaw" The Facts: There is no such thing as a "locking jaw" - the jaw of pitbull-type breeds is anatomically the same as all other breeds and they do not bite any differently than other dogs. The fact is that the bite force of any dog is related to its overall size, strength, and energy - not to its breed. A recent (2017) peer-reviewed study that analyzed 140 dog bite incidents concluded that there is no difference (in the medical treatment required following a bite or in the type of bite inflicted) between dog bites by breeds perceived as "dangerous" (legislated breeds such as "pitbull-type" breeds) and breeds that are not perceived as "dangerous" (non-legislated breeds). All of the pitbull-type breeds are classified as medium-size and medium-strength and there are a number of other breeds that are larger and stronger than any of the pitbull-type breeds, such as the Dogo-Argentino, Bullmastiff, Doberman Pinscher, and German Shepherd breeds.
Bad Temperament Pitbulls have a bad temperament because of their history The Facts: History: Pitbull-type breeds are a crossbreed between a bulldog and a terrier originally bred in England in the early 19th century (then called "Bull and Terriers") to be working dogs on farms to herd, protect, and manage livestock. While their early history is complex and includes herding cattle and protecting homesteads, it also unfortunately includes the cruel "sports" of "bull baiting" and dog fighting. However, these "sports" were not limited to today's pitbull-type breeds - many different breeds were subjected to these activities which are now illegal almost everywhere. During the 20th century, pitbull-type dogs quickly became one of America's most popular family dogs to the extent that they became national mascots and were used on recruitment posters for World Wars 1 & 2 and were called "America's dog". More recently, their popularity has continued to grow to an estimated 20% of the total dog population in the U.S. and they are even being used as K9 officers by police departments because of their excellent temperament and trainability. The "Pit Bull" name: The cruel sport of "baiting" (using dogs to seize tethered animals such as bulls within an enclosed area called a "pit") was popular in the Middle Ages through the early 19th century and eventually outlawed. The term "pit bull" originated as an informal term to describe any dog that was used to seize a bull within 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. Furthermore, baiting is not an inherent trait for any breed, it is an activity that must be taught and honed (no different than teaching a dog to sit or fetch). Temperament: The fact is that regardless of the immoral "sport", purpose, or abuse that some unfortunate dogs have been used for or subjected to, pitbull-type breeds continue to achieve excellent temperament scores - scoring in the top 21% of all breeds, one of the many reasons why pitbull-type breeds are so popular.
Pitbulls "snap" and are more dangerous than other dogs Pitbulls "snap" and are more dangerous than other dogs "just because they are" The Facts: All breeds are known to "snap" (or bite without warning) causing bite-related incidents - if other breeds did not "snap", then there would be far fewer bite-related incidents by non-pitbull type breeds. The fact is that in a 20-year peer-reviewed study, the clear majority (72%) of dog bite-related fatalities (DBRFs) were attributed to non-pitbull type breeds. All breeds can unfortunately have individual unstable dogs that are typically associated with dog bite-related incidents - no breeds are immune from this. There are zero scientific, peer-reviewed studies that conclude that any one breed is "inherently more dangerous" than any other breed. However, multiple peer-reviewed studies have concluded that "pitbull-type" dogs are not more dangerous and that preventable factors related to irresponsible ownership are the primary cause for the majority of dog bite-related incidents. The fact is that pitbull-type dogs are strong medium-sized dogs with risk rates that are fully in-line with other strong breeds such as the Dogo-Argentino, Bullmastiff, Doberman Pinscher, German Shepherd, and many other strong breeds. Any strong breed dog can cause injury and harm to children, adults, and to other pets - which is why all strong dogs require responsible ownership and comprehensive breed-neutral regulations that address all dogs (regardless of appearance or breed) for problems related to irresponsible ownership, aggressive or dangerous dogs, abuse or neglect, and other risky dog-related situations.
Media Reports Pitbulls are "more dangerous" than other dogs because of the media reports The Facts: A recent (2013) peer-reviewed study that analyzed 10-years of dog bite incidents concluded that media reports are a poor source for breed information as there are a high percentage of discrepancies (over 40%) between the breed initially reported in the media and the subsequent breed identification by animal control and that valid breed determination was only possible in 18% of all incidents. A recent (2015) peer-reviewed study that assessed the breed of 120 dogs concluded that "pitbull-type" dogs were misidentified 60% of the time (62 were visually identified as "pitbull-type" but only 25 had DNA signatures from any of the pitbull-type breeds). In addition, the common physical characteristics of "pitbull-type" dogs can be found in over 20 breeds (and in even more mixed breeds); consequently, using visual identification for breed is a common cause of inaccurate information in media reports. The fact is that because the term "pitbull" or "pit bull" is not a breed but instead, a term used to describe a "type" of dog based only on its physical appearance, the term "pitbull" is commonly used by the media as a blanket term to report dog bite-related incidents when the breed is not fully known, when the breed is mixed, or when the dog is misidentified due to visual identification. Furthermore, the vast majority of media reports for bite-related incidents contain details, or describe a situation, that confirm what a recent (2013) peer-reviewed study concluded - that factors associated with irresponsible ownership (and not the dog's breed) were the primary causes of the incident - in other words, a situation where a strong dog of any breed would have caused an incident especially if the dog was unstable, untrained, unsocialized, abused, running loose, or otherwise neglected (all factors related to irresponsible ownership). Irresponsible ownership is a precursor to strong dogs (of any breed) becoming dangerous - evidenced by a 20-year peer-reviewed study that found the clear majority (72%) of dog bite-related fatalities (DBRFs) attributed to non-pitbull type breeds. Facts and Information about Pitbull-Type Dogs Pitbullinfo.org is published by a non-profit organization dedicated to dog bite prevention and the responsible ownership of dogs of all breeds. The dog bite-related information published on Pitbullinfo.org is sourced from peer-reviewed studies published by reliable organizations such as the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). These studies are the only scientific peer-reviewed studies available with breed-based data for dog bite-related risk information. Dog Bite-Related Statistics In 2017 alone, at least 12 different breeds were involved in fatal dog attacks confirming that serious dog bite-related incidents are not a breed-specific issue. 50% Average percentage of "pitbull-type" dogs that are misidentified Study #1 (40%) & Study #4 (60%) 30+ Number of different breeds and dog types that were associated with fatal dog attacks in the U.S. over a 20 year period 100% Percentage of cities & towns that have Breed-Specific Legislation (BSL) where serious bite-related incidents continue to occur Picture BREED RISK RATES - SOURCES & DATA Peer-reviewed studies have concluded: The risk associated with "pitbull-type" dogs is fully in-line with other strong breeds. Pitbull-type dogs do not have a more severe bite than other strong breeds. Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) is ineffective and does not enhance public safety. 30+ breeds and dog types were associated with dog bite-related fatalities (DBRFs) in a CDC study that analyzed 20 years of data. Learn why breed-neutral regulations are more effective than breed-specific regulations such as BSL. Key conclusions from several peer-reviewed studies on our scientific studies page: Study #1 - Breed Risk Breed is not a factor in bite-related fatalities and media reports are a poor source for breed information (40% breed ID error rate). Study #2 - Bite Severity No differences in bite severity were found between legislated breeds (pitbull-type dogs) and non-legislated breeds (other breeds). Study #3 - Dog Bite Statistics 30+ breeds and dog types were associated with dog bite-related fatalities (DBRFs) over a 20-year period in the U.S. Study #4 - Breed Identification Visual identification of pitbull-type dogs is unreliable (60% error rate between visual breed identification and actual DNA). Study #5 - Breed Aggression No differences in aggression were found between legislated breeds (pitbull-type dogs) and the tested non-legislated control group. Study #6 - BSL Effectiveness No evidence of a reduction in serious dog bites in municipalities with BSL compared to municipalities without BSL. If anyone says one dog (breed) is more likely to kill ... that's not based on scientific data - Dr. Julie Gilchrist, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Pitbull-Type Population & Breeds 4 Unique AKC/UKC breeds that are considered "pitbull-type" breeds 18,000,000 Estimated "pitbull-type" dog population in the U.S. (20% of dogs) 20+ Other breeds with similar physical characteristics 20% of Dogs in U.S. There are an estimated 90 million dogs in the U.S. and while there are no conclusive population counts by breed, we estimate that up to 20% (18 million) 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. For pitbull-type dogs, shelter and veterinary data is a more accurate representation of their total population compared to AKC/UKC registrations (which are commonly used to estimate breed populations) because: less than 2% of all dogs are registered and registrations are typically for purebred dogs but the majority of pitbull-type dogs are mixed breed dogs; conversely, shelter and veterinary population data includes purebred dogs, mixed breed dogs, and represents comprehensive dog population counts from all across the country regardless of registrations or any breed-based legislation. Furthermore, the shelter and veterinary data confirms that "pitbull-type" dogs are growing in popularity in U.S. households. 4 Breeds + Mixed Breeds There are 4 widely recognized "pitbull-type" breeds by AKC/UKC breed standards (all members of the Terrier Group of dog breeds): the American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, American Bully, and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. The term "pitbull" or "pit bull" is not a breed but instead, it's a term used to describe a "type" of dog based only on its physical appearance (not on genetics or lineage) - just like a German Shepherd is one of many unique "shepherd-type" breeds. While the four breeds listed above are the recognized AKC/UKC pitbull-type breeds, the common physical characteristics of pitbull-type dogs can be found in over 20 breeds (and in even more mixed breeds) - for example, Labrador Retriever Bulldog mixes have similar physical characteristics as pitbull-type breeds but in fact this mix is distinct and different from any of the pitbull-type purebred and crossbred breeds. The common use of visual breed identification is one of the reasons why the population of dogs that can be classified as "pitbull-type" is estimated to be 20% of the total U.S. dog population. An easy way to identify bias and misinformation about pitbull-type dogs is any website or organization that publishes aggressive pictures of pitbull-type dogs. Aggressive pictures can be found for any breed, but these biased and cherry-picked pictures never represent the breed as a whole. The pictures below of pitbull-type dogs are representative of the various pitbull-type breeds as a whole:
Dog Bite-Related Statistics
The dog bite-related data provided on this page is sourced from a peer-reviewed study conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and published by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). The study analyzed 20 years of dog bite incident data and identified over 30 breeds associated with dog bite-related fatalities (DBRFs). The data, sources, and calculations for the breed risk rates are all provided below.
Breed Specific Risk
Calculating Breed Specific Risk In order to assess any breed specific risk, risk must be measured using dog bite incidents relative to a breed's population size to calculate a risk rate. Calculating a risk rate is a universal standard and a scientifically accepted method for assessing risk. For example: Breed-A is responsible for 5 incidents and has a population size of 1,000. Its risk rate is .005 (5÷1,000). Breed-B is responsible for 100 incidents and has a population size of 100,000. Its risk rate is .001 (100÷100,000). Even though Breed-B is responsible for 20x more incidents, Breed-A is actually associated with 5x more risk than Breed-B. Benefits of Risk Rates Risk rates are a universal best-practice and a scientifically accepted method for assessing risk. Breed risk rates rarely change - breeds will not suddenly become more or less "dangerous", only their populations change. Risk rates are resilient to changes in populations - if a population grows, the risk rate will remain the same. For example, if the population of Toyota Camrys doubled, the number of accidents that involve Camrys would also double - not because the car has become "more dangerous", but simply because its population has increased (the Camry's risk rate would remain the same). The same is true for dogs, if a breed becomes more popular then its bite-related incidents will also increase - not because the breed has become "more dangerous", but simply because its population has grown. This is an important fact because as breed populations change over time due to their popularity (and therefore also the number of incidents associated with each breed), their risk rates will remain the same. Breed Risk Table The Breed Risk table uses dog bite-related fatality (DBRF) data sourced from a peer-reviewed study conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that analyzed 20 years of dog bite incident data. As noted above, one of the benefits of risk rates is that they are resilient to breed population changes over time, so the DBRF dataset from this previously completed CDC study is still fully valid today. The table is sorted by descending risk rates, a higher risk rate indicates a potentially higher risk breed based on the breed's DBRF count relative to its population size. All relevant data, sources, and calculations are provided below.
Notes The Breed Risk table includes breeds listed in the CDC report's results table for breeds associated with 3 or more DBRFs. Other breeds associated with DBRFs listed in the CDC report but not included in the table (because their risk rates are lower than .40 and/or because their populations are unknown) include: Labrador Retriever, Boxer, Collie, Bullmastiff, Sled-Type, Wolf-Dog Hybrid, mixed breed, and others. Due to the many complexities and factors inherent to: (1) accurate breed identification; (2) assessing all factors that contribute to DBRFs; and (3) estimating breed population sizes; we firmly believe that a breed's risk rate would need to be well over 10 in order to infer a higher level of risk specific to any dog breed(s) or dog type(s). If the DBRFs associated with pitbull-type dogs were multiplied by 3x (from 76 to 228), their risk rate would increase from 0.97 to 2.92 - which would be higher, but still statistically in-line with the risk rates of other breeds. Sources & Data Sources & Calculations Dog Bite-Related Fatalities (DBRFs): Sourced from CDC Study (DBRFs over a 20-year period, Table 2 - Death-based approach totals) Population %: Sourced from AKC Breed Registration Statistics (using breed population data from the 1997 report to ensure that population data is consistent with the CDC study ending in 1998) Population Total: [Population % x 65,000,000] (estimated dog population in the U.S. in 1998, the last year of the CDC study) DBRF Risk Rate: [(DBRFs ÷ Population Total) x 100,000] (provides number of DBRFs per 100,000 dogs) *Pitbull-Type Populations: For the purpose of objectivity and removing any bias related to population estimates, two population estimates are included in the Breed Risk table for pitbull-type dogs: 12%: The Pitbullinfo.org estimate for the total pitbull-type dog population in 1998, the last year of the CDC study. Today, we estimate the total pitbull-type dog population to be 20%. However, in order to account for substantial increases in the popularity of pitbull-type dogs over the last 10-20 years, we estimate that their population was 40% lower (at 12%) in 1998. We use shelter adoption and veterinary data (pitbull-type dogs are the 3rd most popular dog type adopted from shelters and the 5th most popular dog type registered by veterinarians) for our pitbull-type dog population estimate because the AKC data does not include all of the 4 widely recognized individual "pitbull-type" breeds and also because registrations are typically for purebred dogs but the majority "pitbull-type" dogs are mixed breed dogs. 6%: The alternative estimate for the pitbull-type dog population (frequently claimed by groups promoting Breed Specific Legislation; however, even at a population of 6% the risk rate of pitbull-type dogs is still fully in-line with other breeds). CDC Study - Data & Notes Over 30 breeds and dog-types were associated with dog bite-related fatalities (DBRFs). The majority (72%) of DBRFs were attributed to non-pitbull type breeds. 28% of DBRFs were attributed to all 4 "pitbull-type" breeds combined (or an estimated 7% for each of the 4 individual "pitbull-type" breeds). The study rejects Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) assessing it as problematic and ineffective.