By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 17 June 2015)
Evidence from the majority of studies on dog aggression indicates that Pit Bulls are no more likely to be aggressive than dogs of other breeds:
1. A survey of Canadian dog owners found that pit bull adopters did not report higher rates of problem behaviours or more serious problem behaviours than owners who adopted dogs of other breeds, and research has yielded similar findings in Spain and the U.S. (NCRC, 2011)
2. MacNeil-Allcock et al. (2011) conducted a study of 82 shelter dogs (40 Pit Bulls and 42 dogs of similar size). 5 dogs in the sample (3 Pit Bulls and 2 dogs of other breeds) were euthanized due to aggression. Of the remaining 77, 10 dogs of other breeds and 1 Pit Bull were surrendered back to the shelter after adoption because their new owners said they were aggressive. Of the dogs that remained in their new homes, aggression scores were similar for Pit Bulls and non-Pit Bulls (they were actually slightly lower, on average, for the Pit Bulls).
3. Dog attack studies have yielded a variety of different conclusions about the breeds most likely to be aggressive, and in many cases, Pit Bulls are nowhere near the top of the list. According to prior research, the most aggressive breeds are:
- German Shepherds and Chow Chows (Gershman et al., 1994)
- Chow Chows, Dobermans, Fox Terriers, German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Miniature Schnauzers, Scottish Terriers, and West Highland White Terriers (Draper, 1995)
- Cocker Spaniels, Springer Spaniels, Lhasa Apsos, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds (Lansberg, 1991, cited by Guy, 1999)
- Springer Spaniels (Guy, 1999)
- Pitt Bull types* and Rottweilers (Sacks et al., 2000)
- Cocker Spaniels and Catalan Sheepdogs (Fatjo et al.,2007)
- German Shepherds, Huskies, and Saint Bernards (Pinckney & Kennedy, cited by Cunningham, 2004)**
- Chihuahuas, Jack Russell Terriers, Australian Cattle Dogs, American Cocker Spaniels, Beagles, and Dachshunds (Duffy et al., 2008)
- Huskies, Rottweilers, and mixed breeds (Raghavan, 2008)***
There are a number of problems with studies implicating Pit Bulls in attack frequency:
- People often don’t correctly identify dog breeds, particularly in stressful circumstances, such as during a dog attack (Cunningham, 2004).
- The majority of dogs are mixed breed, so the breed of an attacking dog may not actually be known, and people may simply identify dogs of unknown breeds as breeds that have been featured in media stories about dog attacks (NCRC, 2014).
- Studies don’t take into account self-defense and defense-of-others situations where dogs are either being abused or attack to protect their owners (Cunningham, 2004).
The Pit Bull rescue and rehoming charity HugaBull provides an excellent article that debunks many of the myths associated with Pit Bulls (for example, the belief that the breed is naturally vicious and unpredictable).
If you’d like to learn more about how Pit Bulls came to be unfairly demonized by the media, see The Pit Bull Placebo by Karen Delise (this document is 233 pages long, but recommended reading for anyone who is passionate about this issue – the PDF is available for free online).
* The fact that this research specifies “Pit Bull type” suggests that victims or witnesses may be simply guessing at the dog’s breed, and because Pit Bulls have a bad reputation, witnesses and victims may be more likely to assume that dogs with certain physical characteristics are Pit Bulls.
** and ***These studies focused on attacks in which the victims died. These sorts of attacks are rare, so there are very few dogs in the samples overall.
- Cunningham, L.T. (2004). The case against dog breed discrimination by homeowners’ insurance companies. Connecticut Insurance Law Journal, 11. https://www.animallaw.info/article/case-against-dog-breed-discrimination-homeowners-insurance-companies.
- Draper, T.W. (1995). Canine analogs of human personality factors. Journal of General Psychology, 122, pp. 241–252.
- Duffy, D.L.; Hsu, Y.; & Serpell, J.A. (2008). Breed differences in canine aggression. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 114, pp. 441–460.
- Fatjó, J.; Amat, M.; Mariotti, V.M.; Torre, J.L.R.; & Manteca, X. (2007). Analysis of 1040 cases of canine aggression in a referral practice in Spain. Journal of Veterinary Behaviour, 2, pp. 158-65.
- Gershman, K.A.; Sacks, J.J.; & Wright, J.C. (1994). Which dogs bite? A case-control study of risk factors. Pediatrics, 93, pp. 913-917.
- Guy, N. (1999). Canine household aggression in the caseload of general veterinary practitioners in Maritime Canada. Master of Science thesis, Atlantic Veterinary College, University of Prince Edward Island.
- MacNeil-Allcock, A.; Clarke, N.M.; Ledger, R.A.; & Fraser, D. (2011). Aggression, behaviour, and animal care among pit bulls and other dogs adopted from an animal shelter. Animal Welfare, 20, pp. 463-468.
- National Canine Research Council (NCRC). (2014). Summary Report on Dog Bite-Related Fatalities, 2000-2012.
- Raghavan, M. (2008). Fatal dog attacks in Canada, 1990–2007. Canadian Veterinary Journal, 49, pp. 577–581.
- Sacks, J.; Sinclair, L.; Gilchrist, J.; Golab, R.; & Lockwood, R. (2000). Breeds of dogs involved in fatal human attacks in the United States between 1979 and 1998. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 217, pp. 836-840.