Pit Bull Attack!

Pit bulls have a reputation for being the most dangerous dog breed. Is this reputation deserved?

by Brian Dunning

Filed under General Science, Health, Urban Legends

Skeptoid #288
December 13, 2011
Podcast transcript | Listen | Subscribe
 

Perhaps the most horrifying story to hear on the news is a case of a child being killed by a pack of dogs, hardly anything can incite a more emotional response. We're quick to vilify the dogs; perhaps justifiably so, perhaps not. In the United States, it seems that more often than not, the dogs involved in such attacks are pit bulls. Legislation is quick to address highly emotional issues, and many states now have various bans and limitations on pit bulls. Today we're going to turn our skeptical eye onto the popular belief that pit bulls are truly as dangerous as their reputation suggests.

Defining exactly what a pit bull is is not a slam-dunk. It's not a specific breed; rather it's a collection of several related breeds. Those dogs that are unambiguously pit bulls include the American pit bull terrier, the American Staffordshire terrier, and the Staffordshire bull terrier; however the bull terrier or English bull terrier is not. Some municipalities classify the American bulldog as a pit bull "type" dog. Finally, pit bulls are usually classified as any dog having the substantial physical characteristics and appearance of pit bull breeds, which establishes the somewhat unfortunately vague precedent that you know a pit bull when you see one.

Deaths by dog attack have been thoroughly studied. Perhaps the most often cited large study was published in 2000 in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medicine Association assessing 20 years of DBRF (dog bite related fatalities) in the United States, from 1979 through 1998. During that period, 238 Americans were killed by 403 dogs. Just over half of these deaths involved pit bull type dogs and Rottweilers. It's important to note that there is always some uncertainty about breed. A lot of dogs out there are not pure bred or are mixed, and numbers for those dogs were included in the study as well. But the trends over 20 years were clear: Pit bulls are indeed responsible for the most DBRFs, though in some years Rottweilers were most deadly. German shepherds are third, huskies and malamutes are next, and it goes down from there. Pit bulls killed more than seven times as many people as Doberman pinschers, which we usually consider to be so dangerous.

The authors of the study also noted one very important weakness of such studies: they look only at the dogs themselves, and not at the owners. The example they give is that of an owner who wants an aggressive dog, perhaps as a guard dog, or as an ornament for his barbed-wire bicep tattoo. An owner who wants a scary dog, and who plans to use it in a macho or antagonistic way, is much more likely to buy a pit bull to put into this role than he is a poodle or chihuahua. Some percentage of potential dog bite scenarios are always going to be set up by aggressive dog owners; so statistically, we're always going to see a correlation between dog bites and certain breeds that were selected based on reputation, whether that reputation is deserved by the dog or not.

When lacrosse coach Diane Whipple was killed by two pit bull type dogs in San Francisco in 2001, the specific breed was a Presa Canario. Sales of these shot up, driven by people who wanted the latest and greatest bad-boy dog. They were selected by aggressive people based on reputation. Indeed, the San Fracisco dogs were owned by a couple who was raising them on behalf of prison inmates trying to run a dog fighting operation from their prison cell.

The other glaring weakness of this type of study is that it doesn't take into account the relative prevalence of each of these dog breeds. Maybe pit bulls killed seven times as many people as Dobermans because there are seven times as many of them out there. So what are the numbers; are pit bulls, Rottweilers, and German shepherds sufficiently popular that numbers alone can account for the number of deaths they cause?

This is, unfortunately, a question that cannot be well answered. The only real manifest of dog breed popularity in the United States is the American Kennel Club's registry. This registry includes only dogs that owners choose to register, and is highly skewed toward pure bred dogs owned by serious dog owners. It does not include anywhere near the more than 75 million dogs living in the United States. Labrador retrievers nearly always top the AKC list, yet these were listed 12th in fatalities in the 2000 study. Rottweilers, found right at the top of the DBRF list, rank down in the teens on the AKC registrations. The relative registrations of German shepherds, on the other hand, does match their position on the DBRF list, right up in the top two or three.

We might be able to make the following conclusions from these few data points:

1. Labrador retrievers are very safe dogs.
2. Rottweilers are very dangerous dogs.
3. German shepherds are about average.

But whether these conclusions are true or not, we don't have enough data to confirm them, because the AKC registration data does not necessarily reflect the actual prevalence of these dog breeds out in the world.

Neither should fatalities be considered a significant factor when assessing how dangerous a certain dog breed is. Another highly cited study was published in the journal Pediatrics in 1994, and it found an average of about 20 deaths a year from dogs in the United States, compared to 585,000 dog bite injuries requiring medical treatment. Dogs inflict injuries nearly 30,000 times as often as they inflict death. Clearly, injury is where the overwhelming majority of dog aggression is, not death; and it's probably where we really should be looking to determine the relative aggression of certain breeds.

The authors surveyed nearly 1,000 reports of dog bites in the city of Denver in 1991, and restricted their results to cases where they were able to contact the owners and get complete information about the dog, its history, and the circumstances of the bite. Then, for each biting dog, they found a geographically nearby control dog, of any breed, with no biting history. Dog breeds were reported by the owners, and in cases of mixed breed, dogs were listed as whatever breed the owner considered to be dominant. Since the non-biting control dogs were a random selection from the existing breed distribution in the same region as the biting dogs, the factor of breed prevalence was effectively canceled out. These authors structured their study to give us a real picture of which breeds, or other factors, most often contribute to dog bites. And here's what they found.

Surprise: German shepherds and chow chows are the big biters. Golden retrievers and standard poodles are the least likely to bite. Dogs whose distribution among the biting and non-biting populations was not significant include chihuahuas, cocker spaniels, Dobermans, Labrador retrievers, Scottish terriers, and Shetland sheepdogs. For all other dog breeds, there was insufficient data.

But where are pit bulls in that list? When the study was done, new pit bull ownerships had been banned in Denver since 1989, so there were no pit bull bites recorded in the study. This ban was based on 20 pit bull attacks in Colorado over the preceding five years. That's four a year, out of a nationwide 585,000 a year. A class of plaintiffs called the Denver Dog Fanciers tried to overturn the ban, unsuccessfully. The court's findings included:

It cannot be proven that pit bull dogs bite more than other dogs. However, there is credible evidence that pit bull dog attacks are more severe and more likely to result in fatalities.

And:

The City did prove that [pit bulls] inflict more serious wounds than other breeds. They tend to attack the deep muscles, to hold on, to shake, and to cause ripping of tissues. Pit bull attacks were compared to shark attacks.

These points do seem to be supported by the facts. Pit bulls are involved in a disproportionately high number of fatal versus non-fatal attacks, though this number is still extremely small. Pit bulls do tend to bite and hold, displaying an amazing ability to not release their grip. This has given rise to the rumor — which is completely false — that they have some physiological ability to "lock" their jaw. There's also no truth to the story that pit bulls have uniquely large jaw muscles, or have the highest measured bite strength. Pit bulls are strong, no doubt about it; but so are many other large dogs.

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Only a very few studies of dog bite force have been done, and Rottweilers seem to be the strongest found so far, with a bite force of around 1,400 newtons. Pit bulls have been measured at 1,100 newtons. For comparison, hyenas can bite with four times the force, at over 4,400 newtons. But keep in mind that these numbers are from very small pilot studies.

Here are some other factors that the Pediatrics authors found. Dogs bite more often when they're male, when they're not neutered, when they're over 20 kilograms, and when they're less than five years old. Biting dogs are more likely to live in homes with children below the age of ten, are more likely to be kept chained when outdoors, and are more likely to growl at visitors. Interestingly, obedience training, guard training, and discipline styles have not been found to have a statistically significant impact on that dog's likelihood to bite.

So here's the bottom line, based on my own analysis of the available data. If you want a safe dog, avoid chow chows and German shepherds. Golden retrievers are your best bet. Pit bulls may well be a breed to avoid, but there is not definitive data to support this. Get a female or a neutered male, small, and over five years old. The fewer children around, the less likely it is to bite.

If a dog is going to bite you though, the two breeds you least want it to be are a pit bull or a Rottweiler. They are definitely the most dangerous biters, once they decide they're going to bite you. If you see one on the street, there is not sufficient data to support any particular need for concern. Like all dogs, its owner and its environment are major factors in its level of aggression.

This is a case where the value of good science is to drive policy. Most researchers agree that breed-specific legislation — a nice term for pit bull bans — are inappropriate. No good data exists to demonstrate that such bans have had any impact. Improved enforcement of existing laws, and improved education for dog owners, are far more likely to reduce the number of dog bites, fatal or not.

Brian Dunning

© 2011 Skeptoid Media, Inc. Copyright information

References & Further Reading

Gershman, K., Sacks, J., Wright, J. "Which Dogs Bite? A Case-Control Study of Risk Factors." Pediatrics. 1 Jun. 1994, Volume 93, Number 6: 913-917.

HSUS. "Dangerous Dogs and Breed-Specific Legislation." The Humane Society of the United States. The Humane Society of the United States, 10 Feb. 2010. Web. 10 Dec. 2011. <http://www.humanesociety.org/animals/dogs/facts/statement_dangerous_dogs_breed_specific_legislation.html>

Lindner, D., Marretta, S., Pijanowski, G., Johnson, A., Smith, C. "Measurement of bite force in dogs: a pilot study." Journal of Veterinary Dentistry. 1 Jun. 1995, Volume 12, Number 2: 49-52.

Nelson, K. Denver's Pit Bull Ordinance: A Review of Its History and Judicial Rulings. Denver: Denver City Attorney’s Office, 2005.

Sacks, J., Sinclair, L., Gilchrist, J., Golab, G., Lockwood, R. "Breeds of dogs involved in fatal human attacks in the United States between 1979 and 1998." Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 15 Sep. 2000, Volume 217, Number 6: 836-840.

Swift, E. "The Pit Bull: Friend and Killer." Sports Illustrated. 27 Jul. 1987, Volume 67, Number 4.

Reference this article:
Dunning, B. "Pit Bull Attack!" Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, Inc., 13 Dec 2011. Web. 1 Nov 2014. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4288>

Discuss!

Great podcast Brian. As a man from a family of Dog breeders I can confidently say that with respect to dogs, nurture has far more impact on a dogs temperament than nature. We have family friends who breed both Rottweilers and Staffys and none of their dogs display overtly aggressive behaviour. Training and socialising a dog well is a task that requires effort and time; something a lot of dog owners don't wish to invest, and the result is an undisciplined dog which does not react well to external stimulus, or reverts to instinct too easily. I disagree regarding your comments on Poodles though; Poodles were originally bred as hunting / gun dogs and as such are powerful animals which would present a serious danger if trained for aggression.

Dave G, Aberdeen
December 13, 2011 8:10am

Great episode. While I don't have a place that can have dogs right now I'm a big dog lover, I've always thought it was sad that pit bulls have the reputation that they do. They're such nice dogs and they make great family pets. It's the owners that make them dangerous.

Dave, Philadelphia, PA
December 13, 2011 8:17am

Thanks for your research and presentation. Which means that it's time to reply with personal anecdotes, heh.

A short-hair stout dog recently attacked my Malamute while walking her out in the street on my bicycle. Its jaws grabbed deeply into her neck and wouldn't let go. The owner finally responded to get his dog off after I prepared my bike U-lock to bash its head in.

Many short-hair stout ("meaty") dogs get aggressive around my Malamute. Perhaps because of her wolf-like shape. Hmm.

Also, my home insurance charges extra because I have a Malamute. She has snapped at people, especially kids, but has never bitten. Woof.

ThorGoLucky, Corvallis, Oregon
December 13, 2011 9:35am

Brian, thanks for some hard data about this issue. As a Colorado resident, and proud pit bull owner, I'm saddened by the outright ban enacted in Denver and a few other cities accross the state. Although My experience is unique, and my story anecdotal, I feel I can offer some advice to potential pit bull owners.

If you are and active person, spending lots of time outdoors, a pit bull is a great dog to own. Like any dog with a lot of energy, they need get daily exercise, but unlike herding dogs, pit bulls are happy to lay around the house and be calm when you're at home. My vet tells me their instincts are to lay around in a cave all day, make one or two big chases to hunt down some prey, then devour it and take a nap. I hike with my dog every morning, which wears her out so thoroughly that she doesn't really have the energy to act up. Even though I don't have kids, I made sure she was confortable around them. We went to the park, and slowly, with the permission of the parents, let some kids pet her. Turns out she loves it and is never more calm and docile than when kids are around. Here is an article about pit bulls as nanny dogs: http://tinyurl.com/8yxv5t6

Owning a pit bull means fully understanding the risks involved. In the words of comedian Bill Burr, "It's like owning a gun you can pet." But if you're like me, someone who loves to hike, and you're willing to give the dog lots of love and attention, I think you will find that pit bulls can be sweet, loving, and fun.

Ned Robinson, Gunnison, CO
December 13, 2011 10:14am

I was beckoned into the house with promises that their lovely pit bull has never harmed anyone. When I left the bathroom the dog charged me. Burn them all.

Joshua, Saint Pete Florida
December 13, 2011 11:33am

Joshua,
its more about the environment and the dog. Our American Staffordshire terrier was our kids baby monitor, playmate and guardian until her death from cancer at age 11. This dog would give any golden a run for their money in the patience department.

We did take pains to not put her in positions where her behavior would be in much doubt. If for no reason than people have an unreasoning fear of "scary" looking dogs. She met new people under controlled circumstances and had a nice yard to play in with lots of attention and trips to doggie day care to keep her socialized.

This is stuff any responsible dog owner will do regardless of breed.

Dan Hillman, Seattle Wa
December 13, 2011 11:55am

"Neither should fatalities be considered a significant factor when assessing how dangerous a certain dog breed is."

And to think I always thought dying was worse then getting bitten.

Bill Gayton, Portland, Maine
December 13, 2011 12:49pm

The issue of biting dogs seems obfuscated in detail (breed, death vs. injury, owner responsibility etc.). My understanding is that a dog wearing a muzzle cannot bite. A policy of muzzling all dogs in public would seem to be a simple, police-able, policy. I haven't done the research (yet) but would be interested to know how effective muzzling was in preventing dog bites in those European countries where this was / is policy. Oh, and if someone could invent a workable dog nappy I'd be a happier man.

Stewart Harrison, Nelson, New Zealand
December 13, 2011 1:24pm

According to one veterinarian I once heard, the main behavioral trait of pit bulls is consistency. If they're conditioned to be mean, they will remain reliably mean, and this is what really makes them desirable as fighting dogs. If they're properly socialized, they will remain reliably sociable. This vet actually preferred working with them, saying that a nice pit bull will be less likely to become suddenly irritable than many other breeds. Which may or may not be true, but it's an interesting angle on how reputations are formed.

Mark Smith, Lansing, Kansas
December 13, 2011 1:32pm

Glad to see this subject given the Skeptoid treatment.

It would be interesting to see a study that includes whether or not biting dogs are off-leash and supposedly voice controlled.

Reb Awodey, Williston, Vermont
December 13, 2011 1:35pm

Whilst, on the surface, I agree with this episode, I’m still not convinced that pit bulls are less dangerous than other breeds. It seems that every 4 to 5 months here in Australia we are confronted with a child death due to dog attack. And it also seems that every time there is a fatality that the pit bull breed was the cause.

Recently there was a child death where a pit bull had gotten away from its owners house, raced across the road, entered the house of a family and killed the child that lived there. I can’t think of any other breed that has, or even would, do such a thing.

I think these dogs were bread for a specific purpose and that that underlying trait is present no matter what the environment.

Whilst I agree that owners are likely to be a very large contributing factor, it's still difficult to feel any empathy towards a breed like this I'm sorry to say.

stephan, melbourne australia
December 13, 2011 1:58pm

Clearly, you are in the pocket of big dog.

Tracy McIntyre, St Johnsbury, Vermont
December 13, 2011 2:02pm

Nice article. I may want to use this in a Statistics class I teach: it makes a good jumping off point for a discussion of correlation, causation, and, most to the point, lurking variables. In this case, I'd suggest that the most important lurking variable is the owner's intent for the dog. If they want a fierce dog for protection, they would likely choose a breed with a reputation, and train it to be aggressive. Tough to do entry-level statistical analysis on, though. Breed is categorical and has ill-defined boundaries. Owner intent would be even worse. Still, if you have any numbers, I'd like to put them on a worksheet for my students. I'd report the results here.

David Straayer, Tacoma, Wa.
December 13, 2011 2:16pm

It doesn't matter whether the cause is breeding, environment, or whatever if you or your child are attacked. There are so many breeds--why choose one that has even the potential to be more aggressive than other breeds? If I am walking down the street I don't want to have to wonder if the owner of the pit bull is competent--and I simply cross the street when I see one--same with rottweillers.

Janet Camp, Milwaukee, WIsconsin
December 13, 2011 2:35pm

being here in Denver, and the proud owner of four highly socialized, cared for and friendly pit bulls (and mixes)... I have dove into Denver's ban quite deeply. This article is well well written, resaerched and kept neutral... but doesnt cover the "read between the lines" portion of the tale that one has to experience first hand.
several of us here have had the opportunityto speak with Denver city council members and the mayor. Back in 1989... this might have been about a knee jerk reaction to a genuine public safety issue. That isnot the case today.
Too many factors point to BSL not being the answer, but no one at city hall is listening. To Denver City officials... the ban is all about their HOME RULE Authority and no one tell them how to run there city. Note- the state of Colorado banned the use of BSL by cities and muni's in 2004. Denver's ONLY defense for their ban on Pit Bulls is their Home Rule.

As for siting Kory Nelson (Attorney for the city of Denver)... highly questionable.

Get accurate and current information about Denver's ban, the Pit Bull breeds, and responsible dog ownership @
www.TeamPitAFull.org

Sign the petition, OccuPIT Denver @
http://www.change.org/petitions/occupit-denver-the-city-of-denver-reexamine-the-validity-of-the-current-ban-on-pit-bulls

David Edelstein, Denver, CO
December 13, 2011 3:07pm

I'm cosigning the comments about the owner being more of a factor than the breed. My girlfriend has some sort of pit mix and her dog is pretty much as Ned said: a few bursts of exercise, but otherwise content to lay around the house. Also, since my girlfriend knows what she's doing when it comes to training dogs, her dog is pretty much kept out of dangerous situations and only shows aggression on rare moments, when the hunting instinct takes over. Consequently, we have a 70-pound ball of love (with half an ounce of brain, of course).

Like Mark Smith said, it's a matter of consistency, and if responsible owners socialize pit bulls early, as they should do with any breed, you won't have nearly as many issues with aggression. I would suspect that when it comes to dog attacks, the rise from pit bulls could be due to meatheads hearing about pit bulls in dog fighting rings and getting them for the wrong reasons. Alas, I don't have any statistics to back that up, but it would be an interesting study, especially if you could find other breeds that were similarly trendy.

Jason Siedzik, Meriden, CT
December 13, 2011 3:45pm

"only shows aggression on rare moments,"

"you won't have nearly as many issues with aggression."

Comforting!

Michael Sheridan, Minnamurra
December 13, 2011 4:17pm

Nice article Brian, but it's a shame to see you ruin it with your very unnecessary final sentence. Such a waste to stress the importance of science and evidence only to end the article with purely opinionated and unsupported claims.

"Improved enforcement of existing laws"??
"Improved education for dog owners"??
Where have you pulled this from?

Perhaps you meant it to read that they are additional points "most researchers" agree on. But even that is poor - what is the value in what they agree on if they have no evidence to back it up?

Tim, Newcastle, NSW, AUS
December 13, 2011 4:24pm

"if you see one (a pit bull) on the street, there is not sufficient data to support any specific need for concern."

On the contrary, since your analysis indicates that the bite/attack of pit bulls and rottweilers is, statistically, deadlier than those of other breeds, I would certainly be more concerned than if it were a chow-chow or a German shepherd. Since my risk for death is higher with the pit bull (and the rottweiler)-- should it choose to attack me-- the stakes are very high, and I would be VERY concerned not to be bitten, and would therefore be more passionate to keep my distance!

It is not irrational of me to avoid pit bulls and rottweilers more actively than I avoid other dogs.

Thanks for the podcast, Mr. Dunning.

Julie, California
December 13, 2011 8:29pm

The largest factor in any animal attack is the human element. Humans have been breeding dogs for years to establish desirable traits for their pleasure, or work. Breeds that are considered pit bulls are a working class breed that was designed for protection. Packed with muscle and a broad head contributed to the breeds like among dog rings and thusly is the breed of choice for dog fighters. Many owners who select pit bulls for fighting look for the aggressive trait. Breeding out the dogs own disposition of being loving animals. It's backwards engineering. Reverting the dogs wild instincts to supply bloodier, and longer fights.
However, that does not mean all pit bulls are breed this way. The majority of breeds in the category are loving and would anything just to please their owners. Just like any other breed. All breeds have the potential to be biters and can severely harm our soft malable skin. Pit bulls are simply designed to be better at biting because of humans breeding those traits.
Any animal has the potential to turn feral. This is from a lack of human contact or that is what the owner of the animal wanted to achieve. Children who are raised around these animals will get biten. The child doesn't know the respect and distance needed for the animal and will inevitably invade the dog's personal bubble. Due to the adult owner of the animal not understanding the situation he/she put his child into with having such a dog, it ends in bloodshed.

Vonmashira, Albuquerque, NM
December 13, 2011 8:36pm

All dogs are territorial, all dogs bite, all dogs have a temperament and all dogs like a scratch behind the ear....knowing this should go a long way to helping a sensible owner buy a pooch suitable for their particular household.

And then there are the nit-wit owners....

I know a little Shih Tzu - Maltese cross that will bark it's head off if anyone approaches the property....the perfect watch-dog and smart too.

John Blackhall, Wonthaggi
December 13, 2011 10:28pm

I don't see why you feel the need to turn your skeptical eye on this topic.
We have a Dangerous Dog Breed, Restricted Breed Act in many states in Australia and we seem to always get the pit bull breeders calling foul on it.
It has at least one benefit, It drives the breed underground. Owners are very reluctant to have them in public. So the ones who get bitten are the owners and their mates. Good luck to them, I say. Which begs the question " What breeds are doing all the attacking? "
http://www.melbourne-petminders.com.au/Dangerous_or_restricted_dog_breeds.htm
We have had them for a while and attacks requiring hospitalization have increased from 400 per yr to over 700 per yr.
Our researchers say improved dog ownership education is the key. I say, you can lead a dog to water...and so on. We don't need more laws.

Andiis, Australia
December 14, 2011 1:22am

Hi Brian, I have been trying to figure out for a while now how to broach the subject of asking you to debunk the whole 'dominance theory' idea for dog training. I didn't want to personally attack Cesar Millan or just talk up Dr Ian Dunbar, but Dunbar promotes 'science-based dog training' that is highly effective, whereas the Millan-style 'fixes' are often short term solutions that culminate in situations with dogs such as pit bulls attacking people. The lack of useful communication when working with dogs is something that can be addressed with minimal harm, rather than going with the old-fashioned 'power' relationship that causes problems for the animals, but seems to satisfy some people and lulls them into thinking they are successfully 'dominating' their dog. Any chance you could do an episode on this? (Sorry about all the inverted commas!)

Kylie Hildebrand, Perth, WA, Australia
December 14, 2011 1:35am

To Kylie Hildebrand:

Cesar's techniques are only applicable to himself. His methods have increased dog attacks ever since his show has first been aired. As someone who handles feral animals for a living I can honestly tell you that his technique is only for the well trained. Not your average pet owner. The Assistance Dogs of the West program in Santa Fe once recommended the lady that works on the show. "Its me or the Dog" Her techniques are more appropriate for training and are supported by many training facilities. They also don't handle the dog in such a way that the dog panics and starts biting.
Raccoons have done more damage to my handling gloves then dogs. In my experience handling a dog like Cesar does will put the dog into submission but it can be detrimental to the animal's mental state. The dog now has a reason to fear it's owner. And that is chemistry for disaster.

Vonmashira, Albuquerque, NM
December 14, 2011 2:15am

Great podcast! My area acts as a perfect case study for the concequences of this insane stigmatising of certain breeds: Pretty much every aggressive-looking young fellow you see dog-walking is holding a Staff (the UK's current demon-dog.)

Now, admittedly it is quite funny when you see a dog which has been bought on the back of a fearsome reputation but has turned out to have the soppiest temprement you could hope to find, but I do wonder about how many of these dogs end up abandoned or abused when they fail to meet expectations.

NIck, London
December 14, 2011 3:17am

I wish the dog report attacks contained a bit more information about the circumstances. In many newspaper reports I find dogs biting children in shambolic households where the animals are basically half-starved and competing for resources with infant children.

Unfortunately my observation is that adults in these households seek out dogs with a temperament that feeds into a vicious cycle of aggression. It's a status thing.

In NSW Australia the government statistics define an "attack" as anything from chasing another animal up to biting/mauling a human. I wrote to ask them to break this down into something more useful, but got silence. It's a good issue for the Local Government minister to use on a slow news day, much like that everpresent "rising tide of violence". Unfortunately the government does nothing to nip any of the issues at the root, such as closing down puppy mills and sale of live mammals like dogs in pet-stores to impulse buyers.

Mike, France
December 14, 2011 4:42am

Great topic. In my town in new jersey, there is nothing but pit bulls. The owners are always trying to sell the puppies to you and you can plainly see most of these people doing this are not good breeders or care takers. Im not attacking the bread at all, i have met some super sweet pits, but i just notice alot of dum owners/breeders that should prolly not be allowed to own animals.

Patrick O\'Hare, Salem, New Jersey
December 14, 2011 5:21am

Pit Bulls and related breeds were made illegal here in Ontario several years ago for the same reasons that several cities in the U.S. have; dumb policy based on flawed data. What I can't understand is why no legislative body (at least that I know of) enacts a law that makes owners ultimately responsible for their pet's behaviour and not just the dog itself. If someone's dog bites you then the dog owner should be charged with assault with a deadly weapon (depending on the severity of the bit of course) and they should be banned from owning a dog for a specified period of time. Maybe this way, people will feel responsible enough to make informed decisions on breeds and obedience training. Killing dogs that have bitten people or outright banning breeds will solve nothing unless people are made responsible.

Cameron, Toronto, ON, Canada
December 14, 2011 7:01am

One has to wonder given the association of pit bulls with "thug" culture, if we would be seeing this reaction if they were the official dog of, say, the Boy Scouts of America.

My own experience with pit bulls was having a pit/boxer mix in high school. About the only thing he would attack was the food bowl and then only if it were close to where he was sleeping.

Our Australian Sheperd on the other hand would routinely put the UPS guy in a tree.

Walter, Albany, NY
December 14, 2011 7:09am

"One has to wonder given the association of pit bulls with "thug" culture, if we would be seeing this reaction if they were the official dog of, say, the Boy Scouts of America."

My wife has a black GSD mutt from a shelter in Alabama. It's a bit smaller than a GSD (55 lbs), and just about the sweetest animal I've ever met. He's more interested in playing than fighting anything (though being a dog, the difference sometimes isn't clear). However, given the coloration and the breed people assume he's vicious. I guess they think he's the special forces version of a police dog or something. A local GSD rescue group frequently brings the dogs to a local pet store, and people will walk on the other side of the street from the dogs, because they assume they're vicious police dogs.

It's not the breed that's the problem with any dog; it's the perception of the breed. The reason GSDs are used as police dogs isn't viciousness, it's loyalty (once you bond with the dog, it's for life) and trainability--but people assume "It's a police dog, it's vicious". And given that humans focus on high-amplitude events, it's no surprise that pit bulls bear the brunt of pointless political posturing.

Gregory, Alabama
December 14, 2011 8:54am

"German Shepherd - everything else is just a dog." I currently have my second companion German Shepherd Dog. He is extremely sweet, and is one of the favorite dogs at our dog park. His predecessor was also a GSD; who was also much loved at our dogpark. Prior to these two companions, I shared my life with two Shepherd-Husky mixes; two of the sweetest creatures ever to walk this earth. The only time in my life that I was ever attacked by a dog, it was by a Chihuahua. There are no bad dog breeds; there are countless bad dog owners. My motto is "The more people I meet, the more I like dogs."

Ron, Lancaster, PA
December 14, 2011 12:26pm

Agree with Ron that there aren't bad dogs, but bad owners. If a dog is obedience-trained and socialised, it's an asset and not a liability. I've found that companion dogs don't need special training to be defensive. If you treat the dog as a beloved member of your family, s/he'll be naturally defensive when the situation calls for it. My German Shepherd has placed himself between me and others when he thought the other person was a threat to me.

Nicole, Australia
December 14, 2011 6:09pm

"..in the pocket of big dog!" ha ha ha ha

All I have to add is that there seem to be lots of dangerous attacks in Hawaii, where there are wild pigs and some folks who like to hunt them develop packs of vicious "pig hounds" whose role is to attack big, nasty, tusked pigs. Sometimes a human being will wander onto a property where these dogs are, and...game over.

Jimmy the Schnaze, Tokyo
December 14, 2011 6:35pm

I well remember a friend with a small, female, American-red-nose pit bull.
I would walk on the beach to exercise it and smiled at several large Alsatians who would think of bullying her, only to come to a halt about twenty yards away when the realised the breed.
The owner said it was the fault of aggressive other owners and not the dogs.
He used discipline the poor mite terribly - but she always behaved in public.
A tip that actually works - to release their grip, you must tickle the upper palate with your finger!
Don't try this unless the dog knows you well!

Put it this way - is it the fault of the gun or the person shooting it?

Mark Wood, Malaga, Spain
December 15, 2011 4:31am

Thank you. As the owner of an unwanted, bound-for-death-row male pit bull who was dumped on a snowy Boston street in the winter of 2002, I know very well what pit bull prejudice is. The persons who clipped my dog's ears, tortured him with a hose, and starved him helped promote this image. My dog, with his sweet and joyful nature, helps counter this image every time we meet someone who thinks he is going to bite them. If you teach a child to shoot a gun, the child will shoot it. I teach my dog what I want him to learn. My dog teaches me forgiveness.

Chester's Mum, Los Angeles, CA
December 15, 2011 2:21pm

They can have my [neighbor's] pit bull..when they pry it off my cld dead body by tickling its palate.

Jimmy the Schnaze, Tokyo
December 15, 2011 2:44pm

How did you ever find that dog bite force article? That's a really obscure one. Someone must have actually walked into a library for it. I don't think there are any electronic copies available over the internet.

Glenn Elert, New York
December 15, 2011 5:21pm

Dogs, like humans, have personalities. You can have a foul tempered Lab or a gentle Pit Bull.
But, like humans, environment matters far, far more than genetics (although, in dogs, genetics matters far, far more than humans)
Raise a dog as an extremely territorial psychopath and, being true to their natures to obey the alpha, they will be.
Most dog attacks come from misunderstandings, mostly humans not understanding the dog's reactions. Humans can reason, humans can mitigate - dogs only know that you are on their turf and won't take "grrr" as an answer.

Glenn Crawford, Toronto, ON
December 16, 2011 4:59am

Noticed a error in the episode that needs some clarification. You briefly mention Hyenas as a point of reference for bite strength. But Hyenas are not dogs. In fact they are more closely related to cats or civets. Granted you never claimed they were dogs, but given the episode is about dogs, there is room for confusion here.

Christian von Buedingen, South Carolina
December 16, 2011 6:38am

Thank you for an excellent analysis and article! How refreshing to encounter objectivity, data, analysis and common sense instead of hysteria.

Louise-Annette Marcotty, Ann Arbor, MI
December 16, 2011 6:55am

My neighbor in Thorton CO just lost their beloved
Bichon Frise Tuesday night 12/13
to a Pit Bull attack. Their neighbor had 3 Pit Bulls that were
fenced in but never chained. They managed to bring down a section of fence between the yards. The little Bichon and his buddy, a minature Schnauzer were unfortunately playing in their yard at the time. Max the Bichon was ambushed immediately. He never had a chance. He made it to the vet alive but just barely. He had to be euthanized because his wounds were so horrific. His buddy
was also severely injured but will
survive. He has a long recovery ahead. The owner was also injured trying to save his dogs. Needless to say the entire family is devastated. The 3 Pit Bulls are being put down today. You want to tell me the breed isn't dangerous.
Don't even try. I cry everytime I
think of little Max and the terrible trauma and death he suffered. Rossco, the surviving dog
is afraid to even step ourside the door. Pit Bulls should be outlawed in the US, period. Take a look at the statistics. This breed is at the top of the list for dog bites.
How many people and pets have to die before something is done? Wise
up people. The facts speak for themselves. My neightbors are going
to have a wonderful Christmas nursing their remaining pet back to health and missing the other.

Theresa, Thornton, CO
December 16, 2011 12:15pm

Theresa in Thornton...

I have to assume you have some sort of higher education. I am wrong? Lets look at logic for a moment... if ALL Pit Bulls are bad, then on that same premise... I could say anyone who resides in Thornton is an idiot. I for one know that cant be true as I do not know every single person who resides in Thornton. You can not assume that all Pit Bulls are bad. Just like there are good and bad members of any social group, nationality, religion, etc... the same applies to dogs and all the various breeds.
Not a friend, not someone on the news, not a neighbor... but I was personally mauled by a german shepherd in early 2010. No, I dont want to see THIS particular dog PTS nor do I want to see GSD banned. I looked further into this dog's background and it was as simple as he did not know better. He never had a good pet parent to teach him right and wrong.
These particualr Pit Bull owners you speak of SHOULD be burned at the stake. The inadequate fence, the lack of socialization with other dogs (which animal behaviorists note as the number one cause of dog/ dog attacks) and the fact they had that much energy to take down a fence panel leads anyone with personal hands on experience with dogs to believe these dogs were denied adequate exercise.

Just like we dont persecute a child for becoming a criminal after a childhood filled with abuse and neglect, dont assume that is fit policy for an animal under similar circumstances.

Chef David Edelstein, Denver, CO
December 16, 2011 7:26pm

I have by chance seen bit bulls go off the reservoir a few times. It is not just the fact that they can attack but the extreme manner at which they do it. They are like the terminator with one "thought" only. The worst instance involved some children harmless walking their dog down the center of the street. Without teasing or provocation of any kind this young bit bull jumped its front garden fence and attacked the children's dog and it would not let go. It took the pit bull's owner simultaneously strangling, hitting it over the head with a large stick and screaming to get it to eventually let go of this hapless dog. The dog was badly hurt and the kids were screaming and crying. It was this extreme "dedication" by the pit bull that unnerved me.

The pit bull was young and I had never seen the owner mis treat it (it was across the street from us). In fact the owner moved soon after and left the state - I think he was ashamed.

You can tame a lion but there is always a huge potential danger. The same applies to these dogs. They are so strong and dedicated to the kill, if they decided to do it for whatever reason.

Tony

www.vitaminsandwich.com

Tony Bowling, Los Angeles
December 17, 2011 6:09pm

I remember hearing a radio debate between our county animal control officer and a woman that wanted to ban pit bulls. A caller asked the questions 1) How many bitings were reported that year? 2) How many were pit bulls.

The activist did not know the answers, however the ACO responded with a list of the "most dangerous" breeds for dog bites.
1. Black Lab - 22 reports
2-4. each had 10-15 reports
5. Pit bull with 5 reports.

Why are we not worried by labs running loose?

Dave, Spokane, WA
December 18, 2011 8:31am

"Interestingly, obedience training, guard training, and discipline styles have not been found to have a statistically significant impact on that dog's likelihood to bite."

"Like all dogs, its owner and its environment are major factors in its level of aggression."

Breeding, breeding, breeding don't forget about breeding! Look at the research done on the domesticated foxes! Genetics seems to be the biggest factor!

J. Hovey, Blasdell, NY
December 18, 2011 7:40pm

We owned a pit bull that had a "Good Citizen" award from the local dog group. To get the award, she had to let other dogs sniff her, people walk up and start petting her without warning, etc. She was trained to spit out food from her mouth if told to do so. You could take a dog biscuits out of her mouth. Yes, it took a lot of training, but she knew not bite people. As child, I had a daschund-terrier mix that could grip a coat and be lifted off the ground just like our pit bull could. Jaw grip in daschund's is very strong--they just don't attack people. I would agree that people with pit bulls often get the dog for the reputation and encourage the dog to behave badly. And it's sad that Teresa's neighbor's dog were killed, but any larger breed of dog can kill a smaller one. No guarantee that a heeler or a german shepherd would not have done the same. (Just by digging under fence, not knocking it down.)

Sheri Kimbrough, Wyoming
December 19, 2011 6:02am

Thank you Brian!!! I am a responsible dog owner who has owned the most sweetest, loving pit bull for the past 6 years. My dog was starved, beaten, and left on the street on new years day, 2004. Clumps of his hair were falling out, and he was bound for euthanasia if I had not adopted him. He has since gained weight and is healthy. I personally have never met an aggressive pit bull, even while living in NYC where the breed is extremely popular. When I moved out of NYC, I found that it was very difficult for me to find and apartment, or even get homeowners insurance. I have had to fight and defend my dog so much, and it is so tiresome. I am glad that the Michael Vick dogs, and dogs on shows like "Pit Boss", along with Rachael Ray's Spokes-dog for her dog products are finally giving these dogs good press. We recently got a 7 week old kitten, and for the past 4 months my dog and kitten are best friends!

Val, Boston
December 20, 2011 1:20pm

"How many people and pets have to die before something is done?"

A good question. However, you focus on the dog. What about the owner? I've known many pit bulls that were as sweet and loving as any dog you could ever hope to meet--in fact, that loyalty is part of the problem (dogs tend to err on the side of attacking the thing, rather than waiting to see if it's actuall a threat).

Here's an anecdote for you, Theresa: At a coffee shop, a Chiuawa bit my dog (GSD mutt) on the butt, for no reason. My dog was facing away from the rat, and had been laying down between my wife and me (on a 6' leash, as per the law out here) for a good half hour. That chiuawa attacked my dog unprovoked. Should we put down all of that breed? This isn't the first time, either--others of that breed have attacked him in the past, and since. Does that make that breed entirely unfit for people to own? If not, why not?

Here's a hint: If you're rational you'll skip the "They can't do damage" line--they can, and ANY attack is dangerous. And once you realize the valid reasons to reject genocide against one breed, you understand the logic behind people refusing to murder all pit bulls.

Gregory, California
December 21, 2011 3:11pm

@Walter--In the past, pit bulls were not demonized. There was a pit bull on "Spanky and Our Gang", I believe.
As I stated before, training makes a difference. When our pit bull was a puppy, I would walk over and poke her and wake her up. She learned that being startled was not cause to bite. I dragged her around by her hind feet, pulled on her ears (not in an abusive way, of course), etc. I tried to anything I could think of that a child would do to the dog so my dog knew not to attack. I did it when she was small enough not to hurt me and established the behavior.
As for temperment, the meanest dog I ever owned was an eight pound Yorkie, who bit everyone (including his owners) and attacked any dog he did not like.
As for any animal can "go off" so pit bulls should not be kept, I would disagree. It's not that the dog can "go off", it's failure to recognize this and prevent situations from arising where it is likely to happen. It's failure to have a plan for if it does. All things in life have risk and many things kill more people than agressive dogs do. We can't ban everything.

Sheri Kimbrough, Wyoming
December 22, 2011 11:54am

Sure training make a difference but lets face it,aggressive people tend to own large muscular dogs. Ever seen a druggie covered in tattoos with a toy dog?

My simple answer it to charge owners with the equivalent crime for any physical damage their dog does.

Dog takes someone's arm half off, charge is high level assult.

Dogs kills someone = manslaughter.
Make owners 100% responsible for their dogs actions.

Mark, Sydney
December 22, 2011 5:39pm

Diane Whipple wasn't killed by a pit bull at all. She was killed by a couple of Rodeian Ridgbacks. Get your facts straight buddy.

Celeste, Ontario, Canada
December 22, 2011 7:37pm

I have a 93 lb half blue nose American Staffordshire Terrier, half Bull Mastiff 5 year old male. He is smart, a talented athlete, has a gorgeous red brindle coat, and is very well-trained - and is a loving companion. He has a ferocious bark and can "look" scary, but he would never harm a person. He adores all people because he has never been encouraged to be mean and has never been mistreated a day in his life. He is truly man's (and woman's) best friend :)

Donna, Tacoma, WA
December 22, 2011 8:58pm

Ban certain people from owning any potentionally dangerous breed and it it attacks someone charge them. Also adopt Calgary's dog/owner act. Banning a breed only makes bad people want them even MORE!

Ryan, Calgary
December 22, 2011 9:19pm

Celeste in Canada. His facts are straight. Whipple was not killed by Ridgbacks.

Donna, Tacoma, WA
December 22, 2011 9:50pm

Hey Celeste in Ontario, she was killed by PRESA CANARIOS u idiot! Not Rodesian Ridgebacks! get YOUR facts straight! Thank u Donna in Tacoma!

chris, detroit mi
December 23, 2011 7:15am

Our Rhodesian Ridge back cross was labelled a Pit bull which they really had no evidence to claim she was...They were only going based on what her eye shape, head shape, appearance was. The problem with this ban is that it's generalizing to the max! They're basically saying, "if you're dog looks like this therefore they're aggressive, and you/the dog pays the consequences by default".(ie": dog gets euthanized, have to muzzle your dog if you've got one before the ban, your dog gets out of the yard and does NOTHING, you can still get charged and they take your dog away, euthanize it, or send it to an animal research facility). You've got these bozo's at animal shelters GUESSING what breed the dogs are when they come in and thats what they write on their card. The other issue I have with it, is one of the dogs listed on the bill is the Don cherry dog (cant think of the name), and that breed was rare in dog attacks. There hadnt been one report of that breed hurting anyone. It's almost like they were thinking "well, what else can be ban!". And there is a plethora of stories about innocent dog owners taking in stary dogs, bringing them back to life, and then being scrutinized bcause they HAVE AN ILLEGAL DOG BREED in the province, and they force these people to either hand over the dog so they can euthanize it, or move out of the fucking province. Its absolutely ridiculous.

Holly, Hamilton Ontario
December 23, 2011 6:11pm

I rescued a pitbull, showed up in my yard as a stray, had signs of neglect and possibly abuse. Reported finding him to the local pounds and humane society. His owners never called looking for him or reported him missing. He has been the most rewarding dog I've been around in a long time. He loves to make us laugh, and in return he receives a home where he is loved. He has never shown signs of agression, loves our cats, our kids, EVERYONE! Our Newfoundland has the attitude...never seen a "Ban the Newfies" sticker...he's way more likely to bite someone than the pitbull. Local shelters can house a pitbull for 7 days, then must euthenize. Local Humane Society refuses to take them, so they are put down. I have volunteered to do pitbull rescue for the dogs that are to be euthenized, provided they have shown no aggression toward humans. These dogs don't deserve the reputation they have been given. Ban bad owners, not good dogs!!!!!!!

Brenda, Northern Wisconsin
December 23, 2011 9:31pm

"Sure training make a difference but lets face it,aggressive people tend to own large muscular dogs."

I disagree. There's a reason the evil overlord is always portrayed with a cat, not a mastif. And it's not aggressive people that are the problem, but people who don't know how to handle dogs. Any dog will fight if you train it to do so--that's why they've been used by police and the military for ages. The real issue is the ones that aren't trained at all. Those are the ones that break out of yards, that bit children, that kill other dogs without provocation. Small breeds are, in my experience, far, far worse than large breeds in that regard. People consider a little yappy dog biting a bigger one cute, while they consider the same behavior in a large dog reason to kill the large dog.

If someone's aggressive, they'll train their dogs to warn people--the dogs will bark, growl, and otherwise say "Back off, NOW", and so don't NEED to bite. We did that with our dog to a certain extent (he guards my wife when I'm away). It's the dogs that aren't trained, that are utterly unpredictable, that bite without warning or provocation.

I agree that we should charge the owner for what the dog does, though. The dog is the owner's responsibility, pure and simple.

Gregory, California
December 27, 2011 11:57am

I have always firmly believed that its not the dog thats a problem its the owner! Never owned a pit bull personally but have known some, all been lovely animals. Was surprised to read that German Shepherds are in the top 3 for bites, attacks, deaths of ppl. Have been a GSD owner/breeder for many years and my dogs have been raised to know I am pack leader and my command is final. Have had many compliments on my dogs and their calm submissive manner, so much so that one of my dogs is a Pets As Therapy dog and brings much joy to elderly ppl in a local nursing home. A dog is ONLY ever as good as it's pack leader/owner.

julie beard, Gloucester UK
December 28, 2011 4:37am

There was an article back in 2008 I think that analysed thousands of dog breeds and the frequency of bites.

If I remember correctly it came to the conclusion that the breeds most likely to bite were the smaller ones, with dachshunds, chihuahuas and Jack Russells having the highest frequency of bites. However, due to the smaller size of the dog, their bites were not as serious and therefore went unreported.

Unfortunately the Staffordshire Bull Terrier in the UK is currently suffering the same stigma as the pitbull in the US. Rescues are full to bursting with them and many are put down due to the lack of homes. A sad fate for a breed that was once known as the 'nanny dog' for their good natures and relationships with children.

Lucy Palmer, Oxford, UK
January 1, 2012 6:47am

First off, great podcast, great topic, and well researched.

I am very disturbed reading lots of the comments left. I feel that most people are missing the point entirely and choosing an either black or white stand point.

BSL is discrimination. Do I have a right to own any dog I want? Or is it a privilege?

Legislation should be owner and education based. Agreed. To find an owner responsible at all time, or to blame the dog attacking, etc, etc, I do not agree with.
As with most "crimes" and "accidents" there are usually many variables, and/or "two sides" to every story. Bylaw needs to stay out of dog bite punishment as their rules are too general, let people litigate or other ADR methods to figure out who is to blame. Who's at fault? An aggressive small dog that gets in a fight with a larger one and is injured. Most of the time the small dog is seen as the victim, even though its aggressive behavior went unchecked till the big dog "defended" itself. Now include a small dog that is charging a large dog's owner, and that large dog intervenes to protect its owner. What if neither dog has ever shown aggression, what if one is a pitbull? and on and on.

From the cowardice that shrinks from new truth,
From the laziness that is content with half-truths,
From the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth.

Open your eyes, and live on facts, not on fears.

Joshua, Edmonton, AB
January 1, 2012 10:45am

Lucy & Ned, the "nanny dog" thing is a myth that started in 1971. Pseudo-history does not make a good argument
http://thetruthaboutpitbulls.blogspot.com/2010/08/nanny-dog-myth-revealed.html

SkepticalVegan, Oakland
January 1, 2012 6:56pm

The drive to ban and/or strictly regulate pit bulls is based on the fact that when they DO attack, the attack is very often serious and/or fatal. THAT is why people want these dogs off of the streets. There is a BIG difference between a dog bite that requires a few stitches and a mauling that requires reconstructive surgery and/or a coffin. Brian Dunning does admit that pit bull bites are more likely to be severe, yet he says: "If you see one on the street, there is not sufficient data to support any particular need for concern." So basically he is saying that you should be no more concerned being confronted by a dog that is likely to KILL you if it attacks, than if you are confronted by a dog that will more likely leave you needing a few stitches. Does that make sense?

Reb Furr, New Milton WV
January 13, 2012 1:53pm

If a truck hits you, it's going to do more damage than if a skateboard hits you. But the likelihood of being hit by either is very small.

Brian Dunning, Laguna Niguel, CA
January 13, 2012 2:02pm

Interesting podcast as always but I think one of the bigger issues has been missed: do we have a right to 'own' pets?

I've racked my brains for years and can find no compelling reason why anyone should be allowed pets. Guide dogs and the like would be the only exception, and these are not pets as such.

It is time humans moved on and treated other animals as distinct entities that have the right to live their lives free from our interference, as much as is possible.

Peter Quin-Conroy, Vancouver, BC
January 15, 2012 12:09pm

Great podcast!

One thing that has not been mentioned, but I feel is relevant: Dog bite reports are based on eye witnesses who may or may not know what a pit bull looks like. You did mention that many differing breeds are lumped under the "pit bull" label --which can skew things. It's amazing how many people SWEAR to me that my brown pit bull MUST be a boxer because she is just TOO NICE to be a pit bull!

I now own two pit bulls, both with pasts of abuse and neglect. YES, it is how you raise them, but also how you TREAT them. I woud trust either dog 100%. They have the most solid temperament of any dog I have been exposed to (of many).

Someone here asked why someone would choose a dog who might be capable of damage --I didn't choose the breed, I chose the dogs. When looking at all the options, the pit bulls were the most sociable and full of personality. It is unmatched by any dog I have seen.

Lastly, don't feel the need to cross the street when I walk down the street with my two dogs. I might be a petite woman but you could drop a steak right in front of them and they will not even go for it. It is the dogs you DON'T see who are the problem. I have received many odd propositions to "breed" my dogs with "one I have in the back" on many occasion. Having walked those streets a million times, I have never seen a dog. So, I imagine somewhere on a chain or in a run. Dogs out on walks are getting socialized, dogs in runs are building up aggression.

Sara, Reading, MA
January 17, 2012 1:05pm

As far as owning pets goes, I suggest you research the history of dogs. Dogs did not evolve from wolves--they evolved from feral canines that lived in association with humans, which in turn evolved from wolves. Humans and dogs evolved together; thus, the concept of dogs and humans co-existing, even cooperating (guard dogs, service dogs, family pets), is inherent in our shared evolutionary heritage. Ownership is merely a recognition that animals do not have the capacity for thought that humans do--and when you show me a dog that can understand the concept of universal property rights I'll retract that statement. Like giving power of atterny to someone when another person is in a vegitative state, or sevearly mentally handicapped, ownership of pets is a recognition that the animal is physically incapable of dealing with the requirements of a full citizen.

Sara, you're right--socialization is important. At dog parks I've seen any number of dogs that clearly don't interact with other animals very often. Once a week at a park is not socialization. When we were training our dog, we brought it everywhere we could, and had him interact with as many dogs as we could--that way, new situations don't bother him too much. After he was nearly run over by a few bikes he started barking at them, but then so did my wife...

Gregory, California
January 17, 2012 3:54pm

My friend was recently attacked by two pitbulls while walking her boxer. And they were pitbulls. I don't necessarily think the breed should be banned but I think people should realize that unsavory people who want a mean dog will get a pitbull. If they can't get a pitbull they'll just get something else.

In canada the highest rate of child attacks are actually done by huskies. But people who call any true statistics breedist don't want to hear that. And though there are many factors to this one reason is huskies are very pack orientated and can view a new baby as an outsider.

HK, BC
January 19, 2012 11:26am

Everyone know the most vicious breed is the one I own: Bichon Frise.
Writing this article actually took alot of guts; people are so into their breed of dogs that they become the biggest of rabid fanatics. There all crazy because everyone knows the only breed worth owning is the Bichon Frise.
In all seriousness, as a dog owner I found this article very interesting and well written. Thank you.

Paul, New York, NY
January 31, 2012 6:30am

I was the owner of a pit bull cross (now deceased from old age). He was a cross of an English bull terrier and a Staffordshire terrier and only about 40 lbs.
This was a lovely dog who got along with other dogs and people and all children. But there was something strange about his brain. He had an on/off switch. Somehow he could turn into the incredible hulk in a few seconds. Although he would never start a fight and never fought with smaller dogs he could not back down from a challenge with a dog bigger than him. If another dog started a fight his tail would start wagging and he would be in there. The owner of the aggressor would then complain that my 'pitbull was attacking his dog', failing to see that his dog started the fight.
There was something basically untrustworthy about my dog, I could never be quite sure how he would react. Also he would kill small fury creatures like cats. Skunks were top of his kill list, he must have got about 20 of them. Once he got past the smell, he would sniff them out and the poor skunk has no other defenses except its smell. I am a middle aged woman who prefers black labs but my teenaged son acquired the pit bull and left him with me. I feel I know these dogs well. They are the most loving of dogs, but....

Jacky, Vancouver
February 8, 2012 9:34pm

Pit bulls killed more people than ALL other dog breeds COMBINED last year. They are ill bred, unpredictable and notoriously savage when they attack. Cougars only killed 14 people in the last 100 years yet you can't keep a cougar as a pet in most places & where you can have one there are strict regulations as to enclosure requirements etc. What I want to know is WHY I can't keep a cougar without restrictions but in most places you can keep potentially lethal & dangerous pit bulls with NO restrictions. Is that FAIR? Pit bulls should be regulated or banned the way all other dangerous animals are.

Reb Furr, New Milton WV
February 10, 2012 5:47pm

As you state a huge issue with that study is that most people cannot identify a 'pit bull' from any other mixed breed. I wonder how many of those so-called pit bulls were lab-boxer crosses etc. That study is fundamentally flawed on many levels.

Most of the 'pit bull' dogs involved in the attacks were also unaltered and kept chained outside which gives you an idea of what type of owners they had. Blame the owners more than the breed. Every few years there is a fad over what is a dangerous dog. It's been German Shepherds, Dobermans, and Presas as well. Let's stop the hysteria and focus on educating/punishing the bad/abusive owners.

Rescue Dane Owner, NC
February 21, 2012 7:53am

This is a thoughtful and well written piece.

If you have a chance watch "Beyond the Myth". You should be able to get it on netflix this fall.

The CDC study on dog bits specifically stated that much of their data was collected from anecdotal reports and newspapers. Newspapers notoriously over-report attacks by "pit bulls". Just last month there was an attack in Texas that was reportedly by "pitbulls". Even after the AP changed it to "boxers" the local paper printed no retraction or correction.

Attacks involving pitbulls reported in the media name the breed 89% of the time. Attacks involving other breeds reported in the media name the breed 1/10 as often.

A panel of 600 people including 100 canine professionals correctly identified "pit bulls" at a rate of 12%.

The solution is to make owners responsible criminally and financially for their animals.

Chris

chris, Cleveland, Ohio
March 8, 2012 8:38pm

This was a well-written and presented article. I have a couple of thoughts on the topic.

I live in the country where people notoriously do not care well for their pets, and they prefer the "badass" type of dogs like pits. I take in dogs in need of a home, and have had two pit mixes just because they are so common here. Like Jacky in Vancouver, I had one pit mix that was the sweetest dog, but he had that on/off switch. He never, ever made an aggressive move toward a human, but that didn't always apply to other animals. It was as if his brain just shut off and he went into kill mode. He ended up attacking one of my other dogs and nearly killing him. The saddest part was that the dog knew he had done something very wrong and was so distressed. He simply couldn't help it as he had a screw loose. We had to have him euthanized because of local laws, and it was one of the most painful moments of my life as a pet "parent."

I now have another pit bull mix that I found abandoned in a parking lot, digging through the trash in the rain. I couldn't leave him there, naturally, and so I put him in my car and brought him home. He is the most mellow, loving dog, and does not appear to have that on/off switch.

I have to wonder if it was something in the other dog's genetics -- perhaps his immediate ancestors had been bred for the disgusting business of dog fighting? Perhaps that's part of the problem in all pit bull attacks? It's just a hypothesis, but one that might be worth examining.

Erin, Florida
March 11, 2012 7:56pm

"Newspapers notoriously over-report attacks by "pit bulls"."

i'd reckon that goes for most mainstream media. "woman attacked by pit bull" will sell a story a hell of a lot more than "woman attacked by teacup poodle". there's also quite a bit of data that suggests small dogs tend to bite far more often than large dogs...but because they're small, they tend to do less damage, so the they're grossly under-reported.

while i agree that pit bulls (and any large dog, for that matter) can inflict serious, even fatal, wounds, i just haven't seen any concrete evidence that shows they're any more "dangerous" than any other dog (at least to humans.) pit bulls CAN be more aggressive towards other animals, but so can a lot of other breeds including terriers, "hunting dogs", etc.

for many decades, "pit bulls" were called "Nanny Dogs" and were seen as just about the perfect family pet. the notion of them being "dangerous killers" is a fairly recent one. even 'Petey' (from Our Gang/Little Rascals) was a pit bull, as was the RCA dog (fictional, i know, but it still goes to show how perceptions about "pit bull" breeds has completely changed over the decades.)

when i first moved into this complex a few years ago, several neighbors had various breeds of "pit bulls" and every single one of those dogs were affectionate and lovable and just the sweetest dogs. not once was there a single issue with any of the seven or eight pit bulls in the complex at the time.

Cat MacKinnon, Lakewood, CO
March 12, 2012 5:14am

Great article. I've owned 5 dogs long term. I currently live with a catahoula leapord (Louisiana based breed. It's a dog) and a 6 yr old Amstaff. I can honestly say that my Amstaff is the most human loving, affection seeking, well adjusted dog I've ever owned. He whines at the front door when ppl approach cause he wants to meet them. He will not eat any food that's dropped, forgotten or in his area unless I give him the go ahead (although in the presence of the other dog his instincts kick in and the competiveness causes them to go for food). I think that ppl equate dog aggression with human aggression. There is absolutely no correlation. My guy hates cats, raccoons and has knocked over 2 screen doors going for squirrels. That's what animals do. It's nature and it's tough to suppress that instinctual drive. It's as strong as the drive to procreate. So I don't agree about an on off switch in my case. He is consistent in his behavior. I've also noticed that if another dog who is either female or physically smaller approaches he's fine. But a male his size or bigger is a trickier intro. My brothers Maltese has bitten my guys nose 3 times. With no retaliation. and mind u that this Maltese has bitten 14 other ppl!! But he's small and it's almost comical to ppl. I'm horrified. I bring my dog to my 73 yr old dads house on his request cause my dad and mom adore him cause he's so obedient. It's truly and ownership issue. If ur a bad parent u may have bad kids.

Nonio V, Bethpage, ny
March 13, 2012 6:28pm

To add to the anecdotes (the plural of anecdote is data, right? :D ), some friends and I recently took our dogs to play together. They have two very small dogs (min-pin and terrier), and I have my GDS mutt. Their daughter also just got a pit bull mutt. A few other dogs (along with their owners) came and went while we were playing, and with the exception of a few growls when someone got a bit too close going for a tossed ball the dogs got along fabulously. The only problem with the pit was that it wouldn't always listen when you told it to do something, but for 3 months and all the excitement going on it did really well.

The one that causes problems in our appartment complex is a great dane. The thing is agressive and stupid (I'm not a fan of danes, bu this one is dumb for a cow), and the owner doesn't have control over it. She (the owner) has already been hurt once because the dog charged at our dog for no reason (as the review of the security tape confirmed).

As Nonio said, it's all in how you handle the dogs. If you're firm but kind, they're good dogs. If you're afraid of them or never dicipline them, they're terrors. The breed is really incidental in that reguard.

Gregory, California
April 3, 2012 3:11pm

[Everyone know the most vicious breed is the one I own: Bichon Frise. ...]
LOL we own a female Bichon and a male Golden Retriever, and the Bichon is completely dominant. The Golden does anything she wants, including sharing his food. The Bichon is a total Diva -- I tell people she doesn't beg for food, she demands it. When people see what I mean they always agree with me and find it hysterical. This dog is also freakishly smart. A few weeks ago she was desperately looking for a hiding spot, so I investigated what was up. My wife was talking to the dog groomer on the phone, making an appointment. She hates going to the groomer, and knew who my wife was talking to! Another funny thing is that she barks at dogs on TV. I think she enjoys it- she'll sit there while we watch TV waiting for dogs to come on, then jump up and start growling and barking.

Arf, Bay Area, CA
April 18, 2012 3:54pm

I have had my pit bull for almost 5 years now and he is the sweetest dog ever. When we watch tv he puts his front paws on your lap and expects you to rub his chest...next thing you know he is sitting in your lap. We rescued him from a high kill shelter in LA. The owner before us had physically abused him. If pit bulls are so rabid and vicious, why didn't my dog attack the previous owner? Instead, he cowered in the corner. Even after we got him, it took him 3 months to warm up to my dad because the previous owner who abused him was male. What i'm trying to say is to not be so judgemental. You don't judge a human being based on race in these modern times...dogs are beautiful animals and she be treated no differently. There are other things to take into account other than the breed of dog.

Jessica Posey, San Diego, CA
April 29, 2012 3:36pm

Mate you got the history of pitbulls wrong, they have been bred for centurys for No. 1 gameness, which means they have been bred to not give up, 2nd whats called a hard bite which means to not let go and to shake out the hold so as to do as much internal damage as possible and 3rd wrestling ability, 4th not to bite humans, if you do get all these traits in a dog or a line of dogs then the dog fighters reackon there on to a winner, their history may go back as far as the romans maybe further. They were never bred for show standards but only for performance for centurys and breeders of these performance dogs are very proud and secretive of there breeding lines and there long history of winners, I think you fell for the smoke screen they put up to protect there interests.

Damian Versteeg, Melbourne, Australia
May 23, 2012 2:53pm

Geezers.. I am glad they ban them in sydney..

Thanks for the heads up on a dog that like any dog ...can bite!

mud, Sin Centre, sin city, Oz
May 25, 2012 3:07am

I was a dog groomer and trainer for years, and the worst dog I've ever had, who bit her owner so badly that many stitches were required, and who had to be muzzled AND sedated to survive even a bath? A four-pound, long-haired Chihuahua.

People who chain their dogs outside are not usually very good at training and socializing their dogs, and a lack of socialization can contribute heavily to anxiety and fear. Most dogs who aggress do so out of fear rather than malice - you'll see them freeze or back away or shake. Don't get me wrong, I've met dogs who were just bloody sociopathic, for lack of a better term, but the vast, vast majority were in situations where they felt terrified. For example, many dogs are agitated by small children in general, and small children tend to interact with animals in inappropriate ways. Hell, adults do too.

You're far better off looking at an individual dog's behavior, because that will usually tell you a lot more than the breed. A lot of dog body language that indicates anxiety is often mistaken for cuteness - my harshly abused rescue-mutt crouches down, puts her ears away, and looks up at you with huge Bambi eyes when she is pants-wettingly scared. People see that and go, aww! so cute! and they want to cuddle her. If they did, they would probably get bit. But she telegraphs it from a mile away: Bugger. Off. The problem is she's doing it in dog.

Many excellent books about dog body language out there that are definitely worth checking out :

jay, nyc
June 14, 2012 12:17pm

I've had a Rottweiler for twelve years now and she is the sweetest, smartest, and best-behaved dog I've ever owned. The only time she ever bit somebody was when the vet tech ignored my wishes and took her out of the pen where I'd left her against my better judgement. After that every time I've taken her to the vet and they try to muzzle her I tell them "you muzzle this dog and it's the last time I come in here." Other than that the most aggressive thing she ever did was when my nephew started throwing a tennis ball at our border collie. The Rottie growled at him and he cried, which he deserved. Although some breeds are inherently aggressive (like presa canarios) most breeds, even dogs like Rottweilers and Dobermans, have to be taught to be aggressive.

Richard, Alabama
July 3, 2012 10:49pm

What cannot be stressed enough is the potential severity of a pit-bull bite/attack. I really don't care if a Chihuahua or a Yorkie or a Dachshund is ever considered "the world's most vicious dog". Their bite power is too insufficient to concern me. Also, if I am walking a dog and someone is walking a little yapper that wants to attack my dog; the owner is usually able to hold onto his or her yapper with no difficulty. A poorly trained/owned pit-bull is difficult to contain if it wants to attack. I have seen owners use both hands and all their strength to contain a pit.

My dog was attacked by a pit-bull that seemed to be one of those with an "on/off switch". As we walked along, it silently galloped toward us until it had clamped down on the back of my dog's neck. We did not see or hear it. It was just there. It saw my dog and determined to kill it.

A Texan, Houston
July 5, 2012 8:07am

Yah, I had a Yorki for 7 years. That thing was vicious. It was my little sister's, and my parents had never owned or trained a dog before. (and yes, they still have no clue how to)

If a Yorkshire Terrier can turn into the little monster that girl was because of inexperienced owners, then I can't imagine a Pit or Rott whos owners don't know shit.

I am as bold to go out on a limb and say that inexperienced OWNERS have FAR more to do with all of this dog-violence then we'll ever be able to show proof of.

Matt, Vegas
July 10, 2012 9:49am

In my own exp the breed has no on/off switch any more than any other breed.

But they are strong as an ox and personality wise they are tenacious as heck. I am glad I've had the ones that have found their way to me but man I would not want one after me.

Dan Hillman, Seattle
July 10, 2012 10:45am

Whether the Pit-bull that attacked my dog had an "on/off" switch, I don't know. I must stress that the pit-bull and my corgi were not in a "fight". I was walking my dog on a leash when the pit-bull attacked from my right. We did not see or hear it until it had my dog by the back of the neck and was shaking it. This was an unprovoked attack, pure and simple.

I guess its switch was always "on". It ran absolutely silently until it pounced on my dog. For a second I had no idea what was happening. It was like the pit-bull just appeared on top of my dog like a magic trick.

A Texan, Houston
July 10, 2012 12:22pm

"If a Yorkshire Terrier can turn into the little monster that girl was because of inexperienced owners, then I can't imagine a Pit or Rott whos owners don't know shit."

There's a phrase I heard growing up: there are no bad dogs or bad boys. The idea behind it was that kids and puppies start out wanting to be good--and if they turn out rotten, it's the fault of their teachers and trainers. Obviously this isn't universally true (sociopaths and psychopaths aren't going to respend to teachers, be they canine or human), but the overwhelming majority of the time if you see a bad dog it means someone hasn't trained it properly.

And yeah, pits can be powerful. That's a good thing--a lot of people use that power for very productive purposes. It's up to the human to control it and direct it, though. My dog loves to bark, so we have barking games. Other dogs love to wrestle and tug, and they're fantastic guard dogs. Power isn't good or bad; it simply is. Where a lot of people make mistakes is assuming that a guard dog has to be vicious. It doesn't--I saw a police dog last weekend (5 arrests under her collar) that went up to little kids and wanted her belly scratched. They need to be playful and loyal; the protectiveness naturally follows.

Gregory, California
July 31, 2012 10:21am

It is terrible that the author's unskewed apprach to the issue ends up those "people are violent, my pittie bullie is a cuttie" comments... Really, what's wrong with you people? Dogs can be faithfull, sympathetic, whatsoever, but they don't have brains to think with. People have, so use this ability wisely!

Timur Ismailov, Russia, Gatchina
August 1, 2012 1:09am

Matt's comment is the most accurate that I see "I am as bold to go out on a limb and say that inexperienced OWNERS have FAR more to do with all of this dog-violence then we'll ever be able to show proof of."

Dogs are only as "bad" as their owners allow. I've had Rotties for almost 20 years and no issues whatsoever. All of my Rotties are registered therapy dogs. I show my dogs in many different events, have many friends with Rotties (and Pitties for that matter). They are all very well socialized and trained.

It is all in how the dog is socialized and trained. No training, no socialization - end result "bad" dog.

Just like a child, a dog must be taught right from wrong.

Don't kid yourself. Dogs as small as Pomeranians have killed (yes a Pomeranian - just google it).

It's a shame that the media has latched on to Pit Bulls and sensationalize them in the news. Many of these so-called Pit Bulls are actually mixed breeds with no Pittie in them at all - some may be boxer mixes, lab mixes and other breeds that have the large block head like a Pit Bull.

Did you know that labs, in the CDC study, were #11 in the most dog bite related fatalities? How about St. Bernards at #9?

The CDC stopped their dog bite study over 14 years ago because people skew the statistics. The breed type in their study is based on the dogs' looks, which, in many cases, may not accurately depicit the actual breed.

Randi, Colorado
August 16, 2012 7:17am

I think we should all get a pit bull for free. pitbulls shoul never get destroyed

destiny davis, lr,ark
August 29, 2012 9:20am

Dogs and children mirror their owners and argumentative people have argumentative dogs and children. Large dogs are obviously more dangerous because bringing them under control takes more power, strength and courage, they also have bigger teeth. Most dogs are 'food bowl and home ground defensive' - so respect their territory rights.

The problem is some owners encourage their dogs to be super-aggressive and pet them profusely when they please in this department, by doing so they are creating a monster which could easily kill a child or weak person. The best way to avoid a dangerous dog is too keep well away from it. If it runs at you then bend down to pick up an imaginary stone and act as if your going to throw it at it, most dogs will run away when you do this, the exceptions are the intelligent dogs like the Alsation, and angry dogs the Pit Bulls and Rottweilers. If attacked don't think of punching it, grab something hard like an hammer or brick and try to kill it. Afterwards report the attack and if its still alive insist it's destroyed. If you own such a dog have it destroyed, I know your going to say 'You can't do this as its part of the family'. Brother you don't know how true these words of yours are!

Rob Leeds, Yorkshire
September 27, 2012 1:30am

The scars I have permanently on my face are from a friendly pit bull owned by an experienced owner, someone who works with dogs every day.

I was playing fetch with the dog. One of the times she drops the ball for me to pick up and when I lean over to get it she snaps at my face. Perfectly lovely dog before, for years, perfectly lovely dog after. In between I need piles of facial stitches and some minor plastic surgery and almost lose an eye. Because for one second she decided I should be a target.

Of course it's anecdotal, but it's my experience. My brother owns a total a-hole of a chihuahua, but if he decides to bite me he'd be lucky to draw blood. It would take him hours to leave strips of flesh hanging off my face like 1 seconds with the pit bull did.

Kelvin Lankhart, Dayton, Ohio
September 27, 2012 10:41pm

No one has ever argued that pits are entirely without risk. Alabama hunters use them to take on wild hogs--anyone who thinks they're perfectly safe is too stupid or ignorant to be left alone with any dog unattended. The issue is whether pits are more prone to such outbursts than other dogs, and whether that can be contained. Anecdotes about what happens when things go wrong aren't really relevant to that discussion--there are too many factors when dealing with individual dogs to easily translate even the most reliable anecdotes into data (far, FAR too many uncontrolled variables).

As far as killing all dogs who attack, I'm not a fan of it. It assumes that the dog is in the wrong, and that's not necessarily the case. My own dog has threatened me--and he was 100% right to do so. I came home early, the wife was asleep, and the dog was protecting her. I've also been attacked by an aunt's dog, because he didn't like my family. In both cases once the danger had passed I had no problem with what happened--dogs are dogs, and we need to recognize that.

If the dog attacks for no reason, or if there's a history of unprovoked attacks, yeah, that's a separate issue--but if it's an isolated event you need to know all the facts to make a valid judgement, and zero-tollerance policies are always merely ways to avoid thinking, and always end up doing more harm than good. Get out safely, kill the dog if you have to, but when you're safe stop and think before you start calling for blood.

Gregory, California
September 28, 2012 12:44pm

I've grown up with dogs and I think they are stupid unpredictable creatures.

My parents had this really dopey, tame mongrel mix of God-knows-what, never attacked anything - except for one of my best friends and an uncle!! It would just lay about dozing or doing whatever bitches do and then the moment Col or Reg appeared it would rush at them and attack their legs/feet. Crazy!!

A neighbour had a Rottweiler that always seemed in control and then one day it just ran at a kid in the street and attacked it, I tried to pull it away, I even gave it the biggest kicks to its testicles to no avail - been told since that such testicular rearrangement of dogs is ineffective - luckily the dogs owner a huge - tattooed of course - body-building mountain of a man with ridiculous thigh muscles lifted it away with a coat or something and took it indoors.

That taught me to NEVER own any pet that I couldn't pick up and throw against a wall when it got nasty!!!

As I see it, humans have had years of 'civilization' and following laws consciously, yet every now and then someone does something stupid, I have certainly seen a quiet placid guy beat the poo out of someone because he had had a bad day.

If we can't control all humans with the full indoctrination of society, we have no chance of fully controlling all dogs.

I would like to know the comparative proportions of UK and US 'attack' dog owners, since in the UK some folk have them because gun ownership is almost impossible here.

David "sheeple" Healey, Maidenhead, UK
October 10, 2012 9:07am

I think a few commenters here really hit something missed in this article- 99.9999% of the time, if a dog does something it shouldn't, it is because it's human counterpart has neglected something. When we choose to adopt an animal, we choose to take full responsibility for how it turns out. Today I woke up and my dog had chewed up some of my clothing- annoying, yes, but I can't get mad because the only reason it happened is because I have not exercised him enough. Now I know this is a very very tame example when compared to biting someone's face off, but caring for an animal goes much much farther than putting it in an obedience course. It is a lifelong, every day commitment. IF the data was there, I have no doubt that a LARGE majority of cases would find that there was a human element involved in these attacks. Like previous people have stated- any dog can be an asshole, but not every dog has the force behind it to do serious damage.

On another note, I commend this article, I have found most on this website to be lacking in concrete evidence- somewhat like the topics you are opposing, and written with a heavy dose of opinion, which degrades the point. I enjoyed the way you looked at the data in this particular case.

Rio, Edmonton
October 29, 2012 4:59pm

Minor correction:
You said,"Golden Retrievers and Standard Poodles are the least likely to bite."

Golden Retrievers are listed third on the bite list after German Shepards and Chow Chows.

Cody, Conway, Ar
November 1, 2012 1:28am

It's amazing how the world turns...
100 years ago,the Pit Bull was known as "the Nanny Dog"
and was the number one choice to take care of your Children,
check out this link(I only found it myself a few months ago),
some of the photo's are amazing.
http://www.ywgrossman.com/photoblog/?p=676

Rob Sandman, Dublin,Ireland.
November 10, 2012 11:41am

Yep, dog breeds from 100 years ago bear little resemblance to the current.

Mind you, a pitbull would take care of the excess kids after a potato famine.

Rab, you have presented a logical fallacy. Its not the breed of dog that makes it dangerous, its whats in its head.

Blame the owners.

Mind you, some breeds have been bred to be brain dead. This is not a comment on pit bulls.

Mud (Dr Syd), sin seetee, Oz
November 15, 2012 8:47am

ide blame the owner my family ownes a pit bull and if you treat them with love they are as sweet as they could be.

christopher berger, canon col. harrison
November 18, 2012 6:45pm

A piece of information I think is highly relevant and I think pitbull owners as myself will possibly agree: Pitbulls are a breed of "game" dog: they're bred selectively for dog fighting and other feats of physical resistance. So pitbulls usually display a natural agressiveness towards other animals, specially large dogs. They're not fit for guarding because they do not have this same agressiveness toward people, unless conditioned to.

Pitbulls are extremely loving and attached to their owners.

LTB, Toronto
November 27, 2012 9:23am

"I've grown up with dogs and I think they are stupid unpredictable creatures."

If you treat them as such, they are. I grew up with dogs, and find them to be highly intelligent--but then, my family has always expected dogs to be intelligent and treated them as such. And as for predictability, I've never had a problem predicting what a dog will do, provided I know a bit about the circumstances and the dog (obviously an unknown dog is unpredictable). They have personalities, and once you figure those out you can usually figure out what they'll do.

The problem people make is in assuming dogs are human. They're not. They can be highly intelligent--but that intelligence isn't the same as human intelligence. Everyone I've met that thinks dogs are stupid makes that mistake. As long as you remember that it's a dog and not a person, though, they're fairly easy to get along with and understand. Even the agressive ones--9 times out of 10 they just want you to go away, and only attack after something has demonstrated that it won't.

Gregory, California
December 5, 2012 8:22am

@LTB -- Being loving attached to their owners is a good thing. Being protective to the point where they attack others without reason, not so much.

The reason that Pitt Bulls have such a bad reputation is not that they're the most likely to bite. It's that they're the ones most likely to do major harm or even kill when they do bite. They have the most powerful locking bite of any dog. They were bred to have that.

I do not think that there are evil dogs, except perhaps my neighbor's boxer, but that's a different story. I do believe that owning a dog that has lethal capability is a responsibility that should be taken a lot more seriously than most dog owners do.

If you have a dog with lethal capabilities, you are responsible for protecting your neighbors from it. That's part of being a neighbor. If I have a gun, I keep it where nobody can get to it. If i have a dog capable of killing, I ensure that it doesn't have the chance of killing.

Doesn't mean I don't think that you should be allowed to have one. I just think that you should be required to be responsible for it, like any other kind of ownership of powerful items. We require a license to drive a car, and to own a gun, but anybody can get a big dog.

Sara, Salt Lake City
January 21, 2013 5:15pm

When I was doing my medical training in Brampton, Ontario, there was a movement afoot to have pit bulls banned from the city. I can see the argument on both sides - pit bulls aren't responsible for a disproportionate number of dog bites (compared with, say, cocker spaniels!), yet when they do bite they can do more damage than many other breeds.

I wrote to local government proposing a solution, and of course, heard nothing back. For what it's worth, here were my thoughts:

That anyone wanting to own a pit bull would have to have the dog registered through a special registry, at a reasonable cost, perhaps several hundred dollars - a fee which would prohibit ownership by the average angry teenage boy - sorry for the stereotype, but your local SPCA worker will confirm that a great many of their surrenders come via parents of these "angry young men," who've left home and left Mauler on the care of their folks.

In addition, the prospective owner would have to attend a basic training course, have the dog spayed or neutered, and (possibly) hold insurance on their dog, much like home insurance.

Many might argue these rules would severely restrict who can own pit bulls - and that's exactly the point. If you really, really dig the breed, for whatever reason, you'll find a way to meet the requirements. And if you can't or won't, then you're probably not the best or most committed candidate to own one. You can still own a dog of any other breed - just not this one.

Jennifer, Kingston, Ontario
February 2, 2013 12:43pm

Great idea, Jennifer! Personally, I'm a cat person and would be very happy in a world that had no dogs at all; but in this world, that's a very good solution.

Thanos6, SC
February 2, 2013 1:59pm

First of all, this Skeptoid article discusses nothing about the media influence in how dog attacks are portrayed. If people are consistently told that "pitbulls" are dangerous and vicious and bite often, and then someone gets bit by a mixed breed or indeterminate breed or any dog that looks remotely like a "pitbull" dog and asked "What breed of dog bit you?" they are likely to say "pitbull". Check out "Beyond the Myth" for a good documentary on how pitbulls are portrayed in the media.

Why do we need to focus on the breed of dog at all? Why not focus on dogs that are actually dangerous or not dangerous, regardless of breed. What happens when you set-up breed specific legislation or rules and a dog not of those breeds attacks or seriously injures someone?

And regarding Jennifer's comment on requiring pitbull owners to have to pay extra money for license and insurance, why should someone with a perfectly well-behaved and well trained pitbull have to pay more JUST BECAUSE their dog is a "pitbull" ?

Don't judge a dog by its breed, judge it by the deed. And yes, we should be looking more closely at who is owning dogs and ensuring they are responsible owners (who properly train, socialize and spay/neuter their pet), but we should do that REGARDLESS of breed.

Cayla Naumann, Victoria, BC
February 7, 2013 7:49pm

I would love to know what the statistics are when it comes to pit bulls attacking other dogs, causing death or serious injury, because that MATTERS too. Why is that never addressed?

Catherine, New York
April 14, 2013 4:56am

Catherine, let us know when you look it up..

Magnanamous Dinoflagellate, sin city, Oz
June 29, 2013 2:16am

I feel sick every time some poor dog (pit-bull or other) is put down because some moron owner thought it would be fun to have an attack dog.

Although pit-bulls have the ability to inflict greater damage due to the configuration of their jaws, they are no more harmful then any other dog unless they have been raised so.

Unfortunately there are too many trailer trash, wife-beater shirt wearing hicks out there that choose to raise these wonderful animals in wretched conditions with their only exercise consisting of locking their jaws to the end of a rope and dangling.

I know several responsible owners of pit-bulls and Rottweiler's who's dogs are gentle loving pets....because they were raised that way.

Unfortunately the scared ignorant masses would rather ban a breed than deal with the idiots who raise them to attack.

Fact not Fiction, Canada
August 31, 2013 2:35pm

I think people who both are against pitbulls as a breed and defending them are missing the one fact that is attached to the breed.

That is due to their strength, bite strength, stamina, size, and ability to be trained it is the BREED CHOSEN BY DOG FIGHTERS.

It is also known the harsh training the dogs go though the dog has "triggers" as to when to attack and what/who can call it off.

It is also known that there is no instant test or indicators as to if this pit is a fighter or not.

Unfortunatly that seemingly dog with no known history could seem harmless but go off on someone.

The issue shelters and communities face is unless YOU KNOW THE HISTORY of an individual animal you could have a serious problem on your hands.

Note I an not for banning the breed (I know some very loving pitties) or saying that special licence/insurance/whatever should be required.

But (sadly) when it comes to an unknown stray found you must assume the worst.

Note I do not feel this should apply to very young puppies (untrained fighting age) or to any breeder.

I also feel that if someone trains an individual dog to do violence (any breed but esp pits due to current history) or an INDIVIDUAL DOG shows violent traits/unprevoked attack someone or animal then the dog must be distroyed and the OWNER BE HELD FULLY RESPONCIBLE AND PUNISHED.

Sorry but until pits are not the preferred dog of dog fighters you are stuck with the situation.
But I DON'T HOLD THE BREED RESPONSIBLE.

Eric, Northern IL USA
September 4, 2013 2:30am

"....You can still own a dog of any other breed - just not this one....."

"......That anyone wanting to own a pit bull would have to have the dog registered through a special registry, at a reasonable cost, perhaps several hundred dollars - a fee which would prohibit ownership...."

What about my German shepherds? If I wanted to, I could turn them into "killer dogs" anytime I feel like it.
Should I too pay hundreds of dollars for a "special registry" ? Because they can kill a person - like any large dog that may or may not be trained to do so ?
What you're saying about pit bulls sounds like "Guilty till proven innocent" to me.

I see you're from ontario.
I could say something else here, but I don't want to break Brian's rules.

Ron, Calgary Alberta Canada
September 22, 2013 6:55pm

Years back, 2 guys lived next door to us in an apt over a garage. They had a pit bull and a large chow. Both guys were very mellow. The pit certainly wasn't. It would break through the screen porch on the 2nd story, jump down to the ground and go after people. One morning while having coffee in my back yard, I watched the pit attack the chow for no reason and latch onto its neck. The pit's owner ran downstairs and began clubbing the it on the head with a 5 foot 2X4. I watched in amazement.. and after a few minutes, the pit let go and wandered off as if nothing had happened and began sniffing the fence. The chow died.

That was my introduction to pit bulls. I'm sure there are some that are as sweet as can be, but we consistently read stories about the frantic mother whose "sweetest pit bull you ever wanted to meet" just ate her kid's face.

John B. Egan, Grass Valley, CA
November 12, 2013 8:15am

Dogs raised without being appropriately socialzed are bad dogs.

Some breeds go bad easier than others.

A breed utilized for police work, guard dog work, attack dog work, and dog-fighting are selectively bred for aggression and go bad very readly under specific training to be a bad dog, abuse, neglect, and other conditions no living thing should have to endure.

If your dog bites, IT'S YOUR FAULT, not the dog or the breed or whatever lame excuse you come up with.

If your dog bites me or mine I will shoot the thing dead and then have your sorry *ss arrested for causing the problem. Prepare to spend the rest of your life in criminal and then civil court trying to avoid responsibility for your criminal failure to control your dog.

Swampwitch, Gainesville Fl
November 12, 2013 9:31am

I have a hard time understanding why a person that wants a lovable, cuddlebug for a dog, would want to own a pit bull, Rottweiller, or any other large aggresive breed.

If you want a nice dog get a Golden Retriever or Cocker Spaniel, which are proven cuddlebugs.

If you are desirous of owning a large aggressive dog, it is not to love and cuddle, but as a conversation piece.

Nice people want nice dogs, mean people want mean dogs, those bleeding hearts in the middle don't know what they want.

If you are determined that the large aggressive dog is for you, then be prepared to put up your house, car, future income, and anything else you own, to back up your decision.

Wingrider, Virginia
November 13, 2013 6:28am

I'll simply make the observation that the bigger the dog the stronger its jaws. A small dog may be a biter but at worst you will need stitches. A large dog can crush the bones in you leg.

If you decide to own a large powerful dog I will hold you personally accountable for anything it does.

The next move is yours.

Dwight E. Howell, Lawrenceburg TN
November 13, 2013 8:53pm

Wingrider,
I'm not sure where you get your info/opinion from. As a child I was attacked by one of those cuddlebugs.
I have owned a rottie as have many of my mates, they are loving family dogs.
As I am typing this , I have a Labrador on one side of me and a Bull Arab(an Australian pigging dog) on the other. If they were to go me I know which one I would be more afraid of to do the most damage (the Lab BTW). But since both are well trained dogs I do not fear the Lab.

Bubba, Gorokan the place to be ,OZ
May 7, 2014 12:42am

I find some of the negative attitudes towards different dog breeds and the people that own them disturbing. But then again we differentiate and stereotype ourselves on even less significant superficial characteristics.

While some breeds were created for more imposing or even violent reasons than others, after 1000's of generations any genetically predisposed behavior is likely insignificant when compared to the affects of current environment and training. An extreme but 100% real example...

As a child I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area. Despite the understandable outrage over it these days, dog fighting was not illegal nor uncommon 40 years ago; quite the contrary. In the 70's it turned into an organized savage brutal activity (see the move "Eye's of an Angel" starring John Travolta, actually filmed at my relatives home in Los Angeles). But prior to that, dog fighting and cock fighting typically took place in backyards for small money and big bragging rights. Dogs rarely died and the fights were typically broken-up before any major damage was done. It may be hard to believe, but these were usually beloved pets that were treated like family but exploited and used for money or fame. You were somebody if you were related to the best fighter in the neighborhood, be they man or beast boxing ring or backyard. Thank goodness we have left the animals alone and allow UFC and MMA to satisfy our needs for barbarism.

To my point...

Carlito, Malibu, CA
June 6, 2014 4:34pm

Two brothers were each given Pitt Bull puppies by there mother. The brothers decided to use them their own way for money. The older (by one year) smarter brother, decided to use his dog "Princess" for breeding. The younger brother decided to use his smaller albino dog "White Girl" for fighting. Princess a big beautiful brindle, had multiple litters true to her name was the kindest most nurturing animal I've ever seen, adored by everyone in the neighborhood, especially the children. White Girl became the most feared fighting dog in the area. Like her sister, she remained very loving to children. But eventually she became violent towards any dog she did not know. Because she started damaging too many dogs in fight, she became useless to the brother as no one would fight her.

Being the good but insensitive person that he was, he locked White Girl away in his garage. It was disgusting. Had it not been for the neighborhood children feeding her, she may have did. One day White Girl got out of her prison and killed a Shepherd breed that had wandered into the neighborhood. Fearing she may eventually kill again, the neighborhood forced the brother to put her down. Princes eventually died of cancer and was greatly mourned. Two sisters, very different dogs, same parents, same gender, different owners and experiences.

Ironically, while in a drunken argument, the brother was beat into a coma by an older friend of his from the military. He died a few days later.

Carlito, Malibu, CA
June 6, 2014 5:17pm

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