The TRUTH about "Pit Bulls"

The TRUTH about "Pit Bulls"

"Pit Bulls". They sure do have a bad reputation. Laws regulate where they can live, people turn their noses up at them in the streets, and a good deal of horror stories are written about them in the news.

Graphs, "statistics", and misdirected news reports float around the web warning us that these dogs are angry, aggressive monsters not to be trifled with, and many people are taught to steer clear of any "Pit Bull" they might encounter.

At the same time, "Pit Bull" owners will tell you that they've never met a sweeter creature than their dog, and scientific temperament studies performed on all breeds of dogs show "Pit Bulls" consistently performing well above most others. (MORE)

So, why the discrepancy?

Well, there are a number of reasons for such a gap in these public opinion and temperament studies. At the end of the day, the main reasons for the discrepancy are a lack of education, and an ongoing narrative in the media that discriminates against "Pit Bulls", perpetuating stereotypes.

But, let's delve further.

First, we have to clarify: What is a "Pit Bull"?  Well, the truth here depends on who you ask.

You may have noticed that when we mention "Pit Bulls" on our site, we put the term in quotes. This is because there is technically no such breed as "Pit Bull".

In the U.S., the term "Pit Bull" is most commonly associated with one of four unique breeds: American Pit Bull Terriers (the only breed with "Pit Bull" in their name), Staffordshire Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, and American Bullies.

"Pit Bulls", as qualified above, account for close to 5 million of the roughly 90 million dogs in the United States.

While distinct, these breeds all have similar appearances and personalities, and they generally originate from "Bull and Terriers" (a heterogeneous grouping of dogs created primarily from Old English Bulldogs and Old English Terriers). These "Bull and Terriers" were in fact the first to receive the label "Pit Bull" in the early 1800's, as their primary use was bull baiting. (MORE)

"Pit Bull" purists, however, will argue that the American Pit Bull Terrier is the only "true Pit Bull".  They note that it is the only breed with "Pit Bull" in the name, and that when the other related breeds (such as the American Staffordshire Terrier) diverged around the mid 1800's, their breeders intentionally left behind the "Pit Bull" name and bred their lines away from fighting/bull baiting.

And, in much of the world, these varied breeds are indeed referred to by their specific names; "Pit Bull", in many countries, is merely a nickname for the American Pit Bull Terrier.

In the United States, however, "Pit Bull" has, over many decades, become a colloquially accepted umbrella term used to describe these varied breeds of a similar appearance and origin.  Large animal organizations in the US have adopted this umbrella definition, as have many animal professionals, and most average folks use the term.

The result of these two divided perspectives is a great deal of confusion in the general public as to what a "Pit Bull" actually is, and an ongoing debate between breed purists and those who accept the colloquial definition. This causes serious consequences for the dogs, as a fluctuating definition of "Pit Bulls" results in misrepresented statistics and inaccurate information.

As one example, 30+ other breeds - such as the Dogo Argentino, and even some mixed breeds - are regularly confused or lumped in with "Pit Bull" type dogs. This results in actual "Pit Bulls" being frequently misidentified and unfairly accused in reported incidents. 

Charts and graphs that show numbers of reported bite incidents/deaths from dogs will often include these 30+ breeds under the heading "Pit Bulls", and then unfairly compare those numbers directly to a single breed. (MORE)

So, for example, a chart that shows more hospital visits for "Pit Bull" bites than for Chihuahua bites, is by nature misleading:

  • First, how many different breeds' bite numbers are we lumping under the term "Pit Bull" and comparing to that Chihuahua? What IS a "Pit Bull"?
  • Second, does this bite hospitalization chart show that "Pit Bulls" are more aggressive than Chihuahuas (as it might have you believe)? Or rather does it show that, SHOULD you be bitten by a "Pit Bull" or bitten by an EQUALLY aggressive Chihuahua, you are more likely to report the "Pit Bull" incident and to need treatment, as "Pit Bulls" are (obviously) stronger/larger than Chihuahuas?

Incident and news reports will further stereotype by classifying any dog who even appears to have "Pit Bull" DNA as a "Pit Bull" for headings like, "Pit Bull Mauls Owner". Such dogs may be made up overwhelmingly of another breed's DNA, but writing, "Poodle Mix Mauls Owner", just doesn't have the same "zing".

At the same time, rescues and advocacy groups are in a desperate race to reach people and save animal lives. Many have chosen to adopt the umbrella term for "Pit Bulls", as changing decades worth of entrenched, colloquial understanding is far more difficult and involved than speaking to people in terms they already understand.

At BullyArmy, we've chosen to adopt the more generic term "Bully" for our name to do our part to help clarify this distinction and to be as inclusive as possible of all related breeds. We do not shy away from using the term "Pit Bull", however, as we understand and acknowledge its colloquial acceptance, and we hope to use it to reach more people and further educate them.

Next, we have to agree on one thing: All dogs bite. So, all dogs, including "Pit Bulls", have the potential to bite or to be aggressive.

Still, your odds of being fatally attacked by a "Pit Bull" (or ANY dog) are incredibly slim (1 in 112,400 for ALL dogs, including "Pit Bulls", according to the National Safety Council). You have only a roughly 5% chance of even being bitten by ANY dog (again, this includes ALL dogs, including "Pit Bulls"), and you are more likely to die from contact with hornets/wasps, firearm discharge, or cataclysmic storm than a dog attack (MORE).

Those slim numbers simply do not begin to justify the discrimination, abuse, and negative stereotyping of ALL five million "Pit Bulls". 

"Pit Bulls" are also abused and trained to fight at SIGNIFICANTLY higher rates than all other types of dogs, and due to legal and societal discrimination and misinformation, as well as backyard breeding, they account for a large majority of all abandoned/shelter dogs (MORE). Rarely, if ever, do "statistics" or news reports shine any light on the abuse an accused dog has suffered prior to an incident. (MORE)

"Pit Bulls", however, DO have more CAPACITY to do physical harm than many other breeds simply because of their physical prowess (NOT their nature).

Here is where we can start to see the cause for the discrepancy in positive temperament tests versus common negative "Pit Bull" stereotypes.

Again, all dogs bite. But some people will argue or deduce, because there are more reported incidents with "Pit Bulls" (and these numbers are often misrepresented, at best, as explained above), that those numbers are somehow an indication of "Pit Bulls'" innate nature versus other dogs (that is, that "Pit Bulls are meaner than other dogs"). Instead, such numbers are simply representative of "Pit Bulls'" physical CAPACITY. That is, a Chihuahua (for example) can be equally aggressive, but their attack won't typically end up on the news or in relevant reports/statistics.

"Pit Bulls" are big, muscular dogs, and like other dogs, they are not well-suited for all owners or households (MORE). "Pit Bulls" (like all other dogs), should be well-trained and treated with love and respect; they should never be trained to fight. As with any dog, they require a handler who is able to control their physicality in times of excitement or distraction. All dog owners should take the time to understand a breed and assess what best fits their world before selecting a dog. All dog owners should also be mindful that any dog can bite.

The truth is, if well-trained, properly handled, and well-socialized, "Pit Bulls" CAN be some of the most loyal, cuddly, funny, fun, and lovable dogs on Earth.

There are absolutely bad apples whose behavior cannot be justified, and our hearts will forever go out to anyone who has ever experienced a dog attack.

But far more often these dogs are mislabeled, abused, trained to fight, or otherwise mentally/physically harmed. And, the actions of those relative few bad apples should not dictate the overwhelming legal and societal discrimination of the millions of wiggly-butted "Pit Bull" companions that warm the hearts (and save the lives) of so many humans every day.

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