Debunking Dog Myths: Are Pit Bulls Dangerous?

By Courtney Emken
co-written by  Bart Emken, CPDT-KA & Jen Larson, KPA-CTP

Pit Bulls have more controversy surrounding them than any other dog breed. “Pit Bull” is actually an umbrella term that refers to a group of distinct breeds who share similar traits and characteristics. These breeds include:

Because of the misinformation, stereotyping, and fear surrounding these dogs, we decided to investigate. Why are these breeds so often perceived and portrayed as dangerous? Is there any truth to that perception? Here’s what we found:

Pit Bulls: Separating The Myths From The Facts

Myth #1: Pit Bulls have the strongest bite of any dog breed. This is blatantly false, and it should be obvious. While Pit Bulls are certainly strong, they aren’t the biggest of dogs. Mastiffs hold the title of “Strongest Bite,” with a bite force of over 500 psi. Other contenders include:

  • Rottweilers
  • Dobermans
  • German Shepherds

Pit Bulls rank last among these breeds in bite strength. They exert 235 psi on average, just under the German Shepherd. Despite the German Shepherd’s stronger jaws and much larger stature, they haven’t suffered from the same stigma that Pit Bulls do.

Myth #2: Pit Bull’s jaws lock when they bite. There’s nothing unique about a Pit Bull’s bite, or their jaws. The reason for this misconception is that Pit Bulls tend to hold firm and shake their heads while biting. Every terrier breeds does this, due to being bred to kill vermin.

It’s true that bites from terriers can cause more damage than bites from other breeds. Shaking during a bite will leave worse injuries than just punctures. But, this is not specific to Pit Bulls alone, as any terrier breed would cause similar wounds.

Myth #3 Pit Bulls don’t get along with other dogs. As with most issues, this depends on a dog’s specific background and personality.  Our trainer Jen has a Pit-mix from Austin Pets Alive who gently grooms her foster kittens. Pit Bulls aren’t automatically hostile to other dogs or pets.

Even Pit Bulls raised in harsh and abusive environments can become docile companions. Many believed Michael Vick’s fighting Pit Bulls were beyond rehabilitation, but now they enjoy happy lives shared with children and with other dogs.

Pit Bulls do have breed-specific tendencies that can limit the activities they can safely take part in. These include their:

  • High prey drive
  • Ease of overstimulation
  • High activity level

Daycares and other dog-heavy places can easily overstimulate a Pit Bull and get them too worked up. But, you could say the same thing about Boxers and other breeds who have low thresholds for stimulation too.

There Are No Bad Breeds: Only Bad Owners/Experiences

We aren’t claiming that dangerous dogs don’t exist, they do. However, no breed is predisposed to be more reactive than any other. Ill intentioned owners and poor socialization are the primary causes of increased reactivity.

Because of their popularity as fighting dogs, many Pit Bulls are raised in negative environments. These dogs have only known violence, and they act accordingly. Pit Bull myths and stereotypes about their “aggression” stem from this horrid practice.

Unfortunately, we once fell into these myths too. Years ago, we had a serious injury on the property that involved a Pit Bull. We vowed to never let anything like that happen on the Ranch again, so we swore off accepting Pit Bulls for many years.

Later, we chose to reevaluate our position. A client of ours rescued a starved and toothless Pit Bull from a park. This dog couldn’t hurt a fly, but our personal rules forbade her from boarding with us. We felt very strongly that we had to make an exception.

We figured that if we would let this Pittie in, we should give others a chance too. As time passed, we realized our overreaction. Some of our most tender and loving dogs at the Ranch were playful Pit Bulls. There weren’t more accidents or injuries…we had just been plain wrong.

Since then we resolved to be constantly vigilant with ALL breeds. Any dog can harm another, given the right circumstances. It’s our responsibility to diligently watch every dog, not just the supposed “problem” breeds.

Our motto is “judge the deed, not the breed.” Even after our experience, we still believe in it. Pit Bulls have a bad rap because of predatory owners who abused the breed’s natural drive for their fighting rings. These dogs deserve another chance.

If you have any questions about Pit Bull myths, or need some help training one, please contact us today!

Image Permissions

Cute Pit Bull by Becky Stern

Olive at the park by Becky Stern

Pit Bull Puppy by Max Schneider

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