The "Un-Truth" About Pit Bulls

by Sophia Sanchez on February 20, 2020

Pit bulls are death weapons.  They crave the taste of blood.  They don’t feel pain. They are killing machines who will turn on you without any warning.  Once a fighting dog, always a fighting dog. Right????

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photo rights belonging to @sir_william_az

We have all heard the mythical rumors about our beloved pit bulls and honestly, they are rumors that have existed for at least the last three decades.  It is hard to say where exactly they started, but it is no secret that despite them being debunked by experts they continue to circulate among people who fear the breed and communities where BSL is still enforced.  In continuation of our Furr-bulous Pit Bull Awareness Week, we thought we’d take a closer look at just a few.

The Infamous Locking Jaw.  This rumor is likely the most common one.  We have all heard it. And as pit bull-parents, we all hate it.  There is absolutely no scientific evidence that suggests a pit bull jaw is anatomically different than any other breed.  This is 100% a myth.

A study conducted in 2009 does show that bigger and wider-skulled dogs have stronger bites.  However, it is important to note that not all pit bulls have big, wide skulls. Pit bulls come in a variety of sizes, especially since the term itself is typically used to describe a number of dog breeds - most commonly the APBT, the Staffordshire Terrier, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and any mix thereof.  When you compare the size of pit bull-type dogs among their own groups, to that of the estimated 300 other dog breeds in the world - there are plenty of other breeds with bigger and wider skulls. But it should really go without saying, just because a dog has a big and wide skull does not make it more likely to bite.

Pit bull brains are known to swell, which causes them to go insane.  This one is chuckle-worthy.  It is believed that pit bulls suffer from an affliction that causes their brains to swell, which will eventually cause the dogs to “snap & attack.”  Interestingly enough, this myth originated with the Doberman Pinscher. Before the pit bull was feared, it was the Doberman.

It was once said that a Doberman’s brain would grow continuously, eventually outgrowing their skull to the point that they’d go crazy from the pressure.  This was used to explain why Doberman’s were aggressive towards people.  They weren’t, and aren’t… for the record.  And there is obviously no truth to this idea that brains outgrow their skulls or that they swell without cause either.  But this does go to show just how easily manipulated rumors can become and how they continue to spread long after.

Pit bulls do not feel pain.  It is a safe assumption that pit bull-type dogs have a high pain tolerance, but they definitely still feel pain.  Pit bulls have the very same nervous system as any other breed and they process pain in a very similar way to humans.  This misconception likely comes from the breed’s tendency to underreact in physically stressful conditions. Bull breeds were originally bred for a high level of “gameness” which means, they will continue to work towards completing a task despite physical discomfort.  While many people will interpret this behavior as a lack of pain, it is actually a sign of their desire to complete a task to please their owners.

Pit bulls attack people more than any other breed.  It is quite difficult to obtain bite statistics accurately.  Because the term “pit bull” actually represents a collection of breeds and mixes that share physical characteristics, misidentification is common.  Additionally there is no true database that collects this information precisely because most dog bites - across all breeds - go unreported.

It is also noteworthy to understand the popularity of the pit bull and their associated breeds.  By some estimates, numbers-wise, they are the most popular dog. It is only logical to assume that the breed with the highest number of individual dogs would be represented with a higher number of bites.  But again, there is no statistical or scientific evidence to support that pit bull breeds are more aggressive or bite more frequently than other breeds.

Pit bulls have a 10,000 pound bite pressure.  The bite strength of a dog is measured in pounds per square inch, which is shortened to PSI.  In a square inch of one pound, this is the amount of pressure that is applied. This unit of measurement however is not exclusive to dog bites and is used to measure everything from pressure in a bike tire, to the atmospheric sea level pressure.

Tests have been done comparing the bite pressure of several breeds and what experts have found is that the pit bull’s PSI is considerably lower than the wild claims of a 10,000 PSI.  The domestic dog averages about 320 pounds of pressure per square inch and the highest recorded PSI for the pit bull is 235. A comparative test between a pit bull, a rottweiler and a german shepherd showed the pit bull had the lowest PSI of the three.

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The truth is, there is a long list of myths and legends about the dangers of pit bulls.  And in the age of digital technology and social networking platforms, the media has done a great job of feeding into the public’s fear with half-truths and catchy, sensationalized headlines in exchange for clicks and views.  Sure, pit bulls can bite. But that is also true of all other dog breeds. The difference however is that if it is not a pit bull, it will likely never make the news.

Ironically enough, it is a kind of pack mentality.  Humans have an innate tendency to jump on the bandwagon of the latest trend.  This also extends to media hype. It happens in waves and if you look back throughout history, this has long been an ongoing cycle.  At the turn of the century the most feared dog was the Newfoundland! Of all the dogs to fear, it was a big, oversized reposed and calm breed.  Then it became the bloodhound. In the 1920’s and again in the 1960’s it was the German Shepherd. In the 1980’s it was the Doberman Pinscher. Today it is the pit bull.  

The biggest issue is perception.  The myths about the breed that scare away responsible dog owners are what excite and attract the irresponsible ones.  The fact remains that any dog, regardless of size, breed or history, is a liability. There is always risk involved when you bring an animal into your home.  And pet ownership of any kind requires great commitment. But pit bulls also make wonderfully loyal and loving companions. And we encourage everyone to open their hearts and home to one in need.

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