The Pit Bull as a Misunderstood Breed

Today, there are many dog breeds that prospective owners can choose from, depending on their needs and preferences. Dogs of different breeds vary significantly in size, shape, coat colors, and health concerns. Most people also believe that breeds differ in terms of behavioral characteristics, with some breeds being more prone to hunting, fighting, or running away. Common preconceptions about the breed affect people’s attitudes toward animals of this breed, which can have negative repercussions. Pit bulls are widely considered to be the most aggressive breeds, which causes many people to dislike and fear them (Iliopoulou et al. 327). While research data suggests that there is some justification behind these perceptions, the reasons behind pit bulls’ aggression are often misunderstood. Scholars and experts note that their aggression is commonly associated with inadequate living conditions and abuse and argue that despite their reputation, pit bulls can be loveable pets for the right owner.

First of all, it is essential to note that the pit bull’s reputation of being the most dangerous dog breed is supported by statistics. There is a significant number of research studies that studied dogs’ attacks on humans, their outcomes, and prevalence by breed. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a longitudinal analysis of fatal dog attacks between 1970 and 1996, reporting that pit bulls killed more people than German Shepherds and Rottweilers combined, making them appear as the most dangerous breed (McCarthy). Later studies supported this conclusion, also putting pit bulls at the top of the list of aggressive breeds. A recent 13-year fatality report, published in 2018, found that 66% of total fatalities from dog attacks were caused by pit bulls (McCarthy). At the same time, this breed only accounts for 6.5% of the total U.S. dog population (McCarthy). Hence, it is not surprising that many people perceive pit bulls as dangerous.

However, what statistics often fail to convey are the reasons behind dog aggression. According to experts studying the breed, in the majority of cases of fatal attacks by pit bulls, dogs were exposed to many factors that could have impacted their behavior (Worrall, 2016). The most frequently occurring elements are the lack of proper socialization, isolation from people and other animals, and the lack of supervision while alone with an unfamiliar or vulnerable person (Barnett 266; Worrall). Additionally, many of the dogs who attacked humans were subjected to abuse, neglect, or mismanagement by their owners and were kept in inadequate conditions (Worrall). A combination of these factors impacts the dog’s ability to control its impulses and provokes aggression, leading to drastic outcomes reported by researchers.

Still, some people might say that certain breeds have a predisposition toward violence because they were bred for fighting, and thus their aggression is determined genetically. However, this is also not true: according to Worrall, only one of the four breeds that fit under the umbrella term of ‘pit bull’ was developed for fighting. And even in this breed, genetic predisposition to violence is debatable since breeders were mostly focused on the dog’s physical characteristics, such as their size and strength (Worrall). Therefore, the claim that these dogs are made for fighting is also wrong and contributes to the breed’s negative image.

The fact that people fail to account for the owners’ role in violent incidents and blame the dogs’ supposedly aggressive nature impacts the breed negatively. On the one hand, animals are punished for the behavior that they had little to no control of, while owners who provoked or contributed to their dog’s aggression walk free. Following attacks on humans, dogs are often euthanized or spend the rest of their lives in shelters, which adds to their prior trauma and makes them even less sociable. On the other hand, even dogs who did not attack humans are treated as aggressive and feared. A study by Gunter et al. found that pit bulls and their lookalikes in shelters are less attractive to future owners and are adopted at lesser rates than other dogs. Hence, these dogs are likely to stay in shelters for longer and might never find a loving home.

On the whole, there are many preconceptions about pit bulls that people share. Many people fear these dogs and believe them to be highly aggressive despite many examples of pit bulls being loving and devoted pets. Statistical data are partly responsible for this, with multiple reports showing pit bulls to be accountable for a significant share of dog attacks, including fatal ones. Nevertheless, experts state that, in most cases, dog attacks are not the result of the dog’s choices but instead are caused by a combination of factors including abuse, inadequate living conditions, and the lack of proper socialization. The claim that pit bulls are dangerous because they were bred for fighting is also not entirely true. Preconceptions about the breed affect these dogs’ lives, and dogs involved in attacks are often punished despite their owners’ responsibility. Widespread negative attitudes to pit bulls also decrease their chances of finding a loving home and even properly socialized, low-risk pit bulls might spend their entire lives in shelters because of the breed’s reputation. Thus, spreading information about the role of owners in dog attacks is essential to recovering the breed’s reputation.

Works Cited

Barnett, Katie. “The Post-Conviction Remedy for Pit Bulls: What Today’s Science Tells Us About Breed-Specific Legislation.” Syracuse Law Review, vol. 67, no. 1, 2017, pp. 241-302.

Gunter, Lisa M., et al. “What’s in a Name? Effect of Breed Perceptions & Labeling on Attractiveness, Adoptions & Length of Stay for Pit-Bull-Type Dogs.” PloS One, vol. 11, no. 3, 2019, pp. 1-19.

Iliopoulou, Maria A., et al. “Beloved Companion or Problem Animal: The Shifting Meaning of Pit Bull.” Society & Animals, vol. 27, no. 3, 2019, pp. 327-346.

McCarthy, Niall. “America’s Most Dangerous Dog Breeds [Infographic].” Forbes, 2018, Web.

Worrall, Simon. “The Most Feared Dogs May Also Be the Most Misunderstood.” National Geographic, 2016, Web.