Pit bull

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Pit bulls are an informal breed of dog derived from bull-baiting dogs and terriers.[note 1] They were bred largely for fighting purposes and can thus have an aggressive attitude towards other dogs. This animal-aggression is characteristic, to varying degrees, of terriers in general.

Pit bulls have become a focus of media and legislative attention, with some groups alleging that they should be considered dangerous weapons, and banned (as in the U.S. city of Denver,[2]) and some defending them by claiming that individual pit bulls are just as variable as any other breed.

The issue of pit bulls and their purported danger to society has been hotly debated. There are two opposing sides: One says that pit bulls are no more dangerous than any other breed of dog, as their behavior is influenced more by their training than heredity and that they should not be discriminated against or treated differently, while the other side maintains that pit bulls pose a real danger to society due to their aggressive nature, propensity to unprovoked attacks, and great physical strength. There is no truth to the claim Pit Bulls have a locking jaw.[3] Even pro-Pit Bull sites acknowledge that the dogs have strong jaws, although this is equally true of other large, powerful dogs: Rottweilers, police dogs (German shepherds and variants), mastiffs, and Dobermans Pinschers are also noted for this.


The relatively low incidence of serious attacks by dogs and the informal nature of the definition of "pit bull" makes it difficult to accurately assess any claims about the dangers pit bulls might present. While it does seem to be true that pit bulls are over-represented among attacks that led to serious injuries and fatalities,[4] the very low numbers make it difficult to come to any conclusions. This is especially true when one considers that any dog owner who intends to train a dog to fight, thereby making it much more dangerous to others, is very likely to pick a pit bull. In this way, the proverbial danger of a pit bull verges into a self-fulfilling prophecy. In fact, pit bulls were initially bred not to be aggressive towards humans, as this would have made them a danger to their handlers. Insofar as they do express aggression towards people, as opposed to dogs, this is a sign of deviation from the original characteristics.


One of the most problematic aspects of the debate over pit bulls is the question of identifying them. It is generally agreed that "pit bull" refers to one of a variety of breeds of bull terrier, most commonly the Staffordshire bull terrier and the American bull terrier.[5] But as with all breeds, only a relatively small fraction of dogs are purebred, i.e. 100% "pit bull." Instead, many are mixed breeds. This makes it difficult to even decide on what a pit bull is, even before the difficult question of their possible management.

It is an indisputable fact that both breeds of dog were bred for fighting. They are "pound for pound, one of the most powerful breeds of dog ever developed," and have a "very high pain threshold."[6] But the breeds' suitability for fighting does not mean that each animal is inherently a fighting dog, and opinion is mixed on what degree of danger is inherent in having some quantity of pit bull blood.

Although owners of pit bulls often term their dog an "American Pit Bull Terrier", the AKC (American Kennel Club) does not list the American Pit Bull Terrier (or "Pit Bull") as an AKC registered breed or consider it a "purebred" dog,[7] so there are no exact standards by which to characterize any individual dog as a "pit bull."

However, many states have enacted "breed-specific" laws that contain language that defines what they consider legally to be a pit bull. Michigan describes a pit bull as:[8]

  • American Pit Bull Terrier,
  • American Staffordshire Terrier,
  • Staffordshire Bull Terrier or
  • any dog displaying or exhibiting the distinguishing characteristics or a majority of physical traits of these breeds.

Cabot, Arkansas uses the above language, but widens the description to add:[9]

  • Dogs of mixed breed containing one of the aforementioned breeds
  • Any dog that has the appearance and characteristics of the aforementioned breeds

Pit bulls in the United States[edit]

Terriers were bred to be working dogs: sheep herders, rat attackers, etc. pit bulls emerged as people bred these dogs to be more aggressive and physically tough.

The name "pit bull" comes from their original intended purpose: two dog owners would dig a pit in the ground, then throw in their dogs to fight to the death. The pit would ensure that the dogs could not leave, and would have to continue to fight until one fatally wounded the other.[citation needed]

Dog fighting in the United States[edit]

Dog fighting initially had little to no restrictive laws, but as the conditions of dog fighting became more widely known, and people realized that the violence of the "sport" and the pain and destruction caused to the dogs,[10] and peripheral animals such as cats,[11] sometimes used as "bait" or "training" animals,[12] there arose a sentiment that causing dogs to fight was cruel. Animal protection laws began to be proposed and passed and included other animals that were made to fight, such as birds (usually known as "cock fighting"). As of 2008, it became a felony in all 50 States to stage a dog fight.[13] In some states it is also against the law to attend a dog fight or own a dog for the purpose of fighting.[14]

Advocates of dog fighting compared it to fighting sports such as boxing. Those opposed to dog fighting maintained it was not the same, as human beings are free to choose to fight or not, while the dogs did not have a choice, and were forced to fight. A boxer can also choose to give up, and the fight ends if a boxer is knocked out, while pit bulls were forced to fight to the death. The best analogy would be "Mandingo Fighting" from Django Unchained,Wikipedia where two slaves would be forced to fight each other to the death for the entertainment of others.

Studies of pit bull attacks[edit]

Results of studies on pit bull attacks are mixed. While some studies found substantial additional danger and frequency in pit bull bites, other studies note difficulties in accurately determining breed and cite the possibility of breed ownership to owners behavior — pit bull owners may just be more likely to poorly train any dog they might own.

A US Department of Health and Human services report on breeds of dog involved in fatal human attacks, noted that while the fatal attacks appeared to be a breed-specific problem located to pit bulls and Rottweilers, other breeds bite and caused fatalities at higher rates. They also noted that difficulties in determining breed with certainty made breed-specific ordinances practically difficult to enforce, and further note that practical alternatives to breed-specific ordinances, exist, such as generic dangerous dog regulation and animal control laws. They finally noted that only a small proportion of dog bites were fatal, and fatalities should not be the driving factor concerning public policy on dangerous dogs.[15]

An April 2011 Canadian dog bite study was conducted by physicians and consisted of a review of 82 cases at a level 1 trauma center. Where the breed of dog was identified, the researchers concluded that attacks by pit bulls are associated with higher morbidity rates, higher hospital charges, and a higher risk of death than are attacks by other breeds of dogs.[16]

The American Veterinary Medicine Association has found that "controlled studies have not identified this breed group as disproportionately dangerous."[17]

A 2008 study published by Canada's Health Institute on fatal dog attacks between 1990-2007 identified 28 fatalities from dog bites. [18]

More importantly, Merritt Clifton, who is the primary source for proponents of breed-specific laws (BSL), has been debunked as a charlatan,[19][20] while an analysis of attacks in cities that passed BSL showed that overall attacks increased after BSL was passed.[21]

Laws specific to pit bulls[edit]

Since then, many states have termed pit bulls a dangerous breed of dog and have enacted laws pertaining to how they are housed and the extent and manner in which they can interact with the public.

These laws commonly require such measures as:

  • higher registration fees
  • mandatory spaying/neutering
  • bans on ownership, sale, and breeding of pit bulls
  • dogs directed to be kept in secure, locked enclosures, with posted warning signs
  • public leashing and muzzling
  • microchipping and/or tattooing
  • photographing
  • owners are required to carry liability insurance

The laws mandate penalties for violations, usually monetary fees or fines, but in some cases include jail time.

Some examples of state legislation:

  • Florida: in Miami-Dade County, it is illegal to own a pit bull; violations carry a $500 fine.[22] This was recently nullified by the Republican Florida Legislature (which probably sees pit bull bans as a violation of the second amendment).
  • Massachusetts: in Boston, [23] Pit bulls must be muzzled in public, violations carry a $100 fine. [24]
  • Ohio: Mahoning County requires pit bulls to be kept in a locked pen or enclosed yard and be leashed and muzzled in public. Owner must also carry liability insurance of $100,000 per dog.[25] and in the city of Akron, Ohio, in addition to the insurance requirement, owners must also post a city issued warning sign, provide two photos of their dog, tattoo or microchip the animal, and the dog must wear a fluorescent Green dog collar.[26]
  • Maryland: Prince George County Code, Section 3-185.01, states: "No person shall own, keep, or harbor a Pit Bull Terrier within the County." Fines can be up to $1,000 or up to six months of imprisonment.[27]
  • Texas: the City of Garland requires that pit bulls be kept contained inside a six-foot tall fence, made of wooden planks at least ½-inch thick or 11 gauge chain link fencing, with no gaps or openings larger than 2 inches. All gates must have a locking mechanism that keeps the gates securely closed.[28]
  • Delaware: the City of Wilmington mandates that Pit Bull owners must be at least 21 years old. Pit bulls must be neutered, and breeding them is prohibited. The dogs must be leashed and muzzled in public. Fines are $500 first violation, $1000 for repeat violations. [29]
  • Kansas: the City of Salina maintains a public map of registered Pit Bull owners home address or other location of the dogs [30] and dogs must be: registered, muzzled, kept in specific types of enclosures which are equipped with warning signs, photographed, microchipped, have a special permit and special collar when in public, and cannot be sold or given to anyone except under specific limited circumstances. [31]
  • Arkansas: the City of Little Rock passed laws in 2004 (Ordinance 7673) banning pit bulls from being brought within the city limits. Dogs already residing within city limits are required to be: spayed/neutered, assigned a control number, tattooed with the control number, kept in a secured building or outside area equipped with a lock and posted warning signs. [32]
  • Georgia: State legislature enacted in 2005 states "It shall be unlawful for any person to import, sell, transport, carry, own, keep, or otherwise possess any live pit bull within the state".[33] pit bulls owned prior to enactment of the law must be neutered, confined, leashed & muzzled in public. The law states that "Any person found guilty of violating any provision of this Code section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be fined not less than $1,000.00 nor more than $5,000.00 or incarcerated for a period not to exceed six months or both".
  • Missouri: Springfield City Council Bill No. 2006-113 requires many of the same restrictions as the earlier enacted laws of other states: pit bulls must be registered, spayed, microchipped, kept in securely enclosed areas, and muzzled while in public.[34]
  • Kentucky: the City of Covington defines pit bulls as vicious dogs and requires them to be spayed/neutered, photographed, microchipped, leashed and muzzled in public, and requires owners to maintain insurance of $100,000.[35]

It should be noted that all of the above fails to take into account the wild variations within how each area defines "pit bull" and the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science found that "87.5% of the dogs identified by an adoption agency as having specific breeds in their ancestry did not have all of those breeds detected by DNA analysis."[36]


There have been cases where dog owners questioned or challenged the right of the government to make laws regarding pit bulls. States maintain that it is their right, both legally and in the interest of public safety.

For instance:

  • South Jordan, Utah: enacted a ban on pit bulls (Ordinance 7.12.125 — South Jordan City Municipal Code) and declared it to be: unlawful to own or harbor a Pit Bull or any breed that strongly resembled the physical traits of an American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, or Staffordshire Bull Terrier within the city limits of South Jordan City. The law further states: "In 1997, the City Council determined the Pit Bull breed to be dangerous after hearing testimonies regarding attacks by the Pit Bull. The City Council found that the breed possesses extremely powerful jaws, high pain tolerance, extreme aggressiveness towards other animals, they have a natural tendency to refuse to terminate an attack once it has begun. The City Council found that these traits result in significantly greater damage to persons and property than attacks by other canine breeds. The purpose of this ordinance is to ensure the protection of the public health, safety, and welfare." [37]
  • The Municipal Code of Toledo, Ohio includes language that says: "The State of Ohio and City of Toledo have a legitimate interest in protecting citizens from the dangers associated with Pit Bulls. Toledo's Municipal Codes are rationally related to the government's interest and are constitutional." [38]
  • Albuquerque, New Mexico, keeps a list of dogs termed "dangerous", and Chapter 9, Article 17, of their City Ordinance, known as "Angel's Law" reads: "This ordinance was established to protect the public, especially young children and others unable to protect themselves from vicious attacks, and the threat to health and safety that dangerous dogs present." [39]

This language is similar in many of the laws that have been enacted against pit bulls.

In Canada[edit]

In 1990, Winnipeg was the first major Canadian jurisdiction among several to ban pit bull-type dogs. In 2005 Ontario adopted a province-wide ban on pit bulls. Edmonton requires that vicious dogs be muzzled in public and that the American Staffordshire terrier and Staffordshire bull terrier (breeds often included under pit bull-types) be automatically considered vicious.

The rest of the world[edit]


Pit bulls are banned under the Dangerous Dogs Act.[40] This prohibits four breeds including pit bull, although you can get your dog exempted if it is neutered, microchipped, insured, muzzled in public, and subject to other conditions. The legislation has been opposed by British animal welfare charity the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and by the British Veterinary Association, although PETA, being always awkward, have called for more breeds of dog to be restricted.[41][42][43]


Australia has a number of state-specific laws.[44]

Pit bull temperament[edit]

According to the American Temperament Test Society, a group that performs testing that documents their methods[45], the American Pit Bull Terrier and the American Staffordshire Terrier have passing rates over 80% for agreeable temperament.[46] The average passing rate for the other 121 breeds of dogs in the tests: 77%. It must be noted, however, that the American Temperament Test (ATT) is not meant to assess domestic pet suitability; the methodology of its testing largely rewards dog breeds which can remain calm in novel situations[47][48] as the ATT was originally created to test working dogs for police and military roles.[49] Pit bull types and mixes have a genetic predisposition for such boldness, as is demonstrated during maulings when these dogs do not recognize fear and ignore signs of submission from their victim. Indeed, even the president of ATTS, Carl Herkstroeter, acknowledges that the ATT score says nothing about a dog breed being "pet" suitable and safe to keep around children and other pets: "Just because a certain percentage of dogs in a certain breed fail, this does not necessarily indicate aggression. Dogs fail for other reasons, such as strong avoidance. If you look at our statistics just from a perspective of aggression or non-aggression, they can be very misleading."

Recurring themes[edit]

Recent concern over the dangers of pit bulls is not the first time a specific breed of dog has been viewed as particularly dangerous. In fact, the Bloodhound was once considered a threat to humans and house cats.[50]

Everyone panic!![edit]

A study conducted by the National Canine Research Council in 2008 concluded there was significant media bias in the reporting of pit bull-related dog attacks over attacks by other breeds.[51] Of specific interest was a woman fatally mauled by Labradors which was not picked up by anything more than local news, while that same year a similar attack by a pit bull "was covered by at least 285 media outlets, both nationally (in 47 U.S. states) and internationally (in eight other countries). MSNBC, Forbes, USA Today, Fox News, CBS News, and ABC News all picked up the story."

See also[edit]


  1. The pit bull can include the formal breeds American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, American Bully, and Staffordshire Bull Terrier.[1]


  1. I adopted a dog at the shelter and was told that he is a Staffordshire Terrier. Is a Staffordshire Terrier the same as a Pit Bull? Pit Bull Rescue Central
  2. Excerpt of relevant city code
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pit_bull#Locking_jaws_myth
  4. http://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/images/dogbreeds-a.pdf
  5. Fiedler, Julie. Pit Bulls. New York: Rosen Publishing, 2006
  6. Stahlkuppe, Joe. American Pit Bull Terriers/American Staffordshire Terriers. New York: Barrons.
  7. http://www.akc.org/breeds/breeds_h.cfm
  8. http://www.legislature.mi.gov/documents/2011-2012/billintroduced/House/htm/2011-HIB-4714.htm
  9. http://www.cabotar.gov/department/division.asp?fDD=13-133
  10. http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-in-entertainment/cruel-sports/dogfighting/
  11. http://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2012/02/28/animals-found-clinging-to-life-after-being-used-as-bait-in-dog-fighting-circuit/
  12. http://www.examiner.com/article/dog-fighters-use-free-and-stolen-cats-and-dogs-as-bait-to-train-their-dogs
  13. http://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2009/july/dogfighting_070909
  14. http://animallaw.info/articles/ovusstatedogfightingchart.htm
  15. http://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/images/dogbreeds-a.pdf
  16. http://journals.lww.com/annalsofsurgery/Abstract/2011/04000/Mortality,_Mauling,_and_Maiming_by_Vicious_Dogs.23.aspx
  17. https://www.avma.org/KB/Resources/Backgrounders/Pages/The-Role-of-Breed-in-Dog-Bite-Risk-and-Prevention.aspx
  18. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2387261/
  19. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/douglas-anthony-cooper/merritt-clifton-pit-bulls_b_5866176.html
  20. http://btoellner.typepad.com/kcdogblog/2011/09/merritt-clifton-when-the-numbers-just-dont-add-up.html
  21. http://btoellner.typepad.com/kcdogblog/2008/09/dogsbiteorg----when-a-quest-for-vengeance-becomes-dangerous.html
  22. http://www.miamidade.gov/animals/pitbull-law.asp Pit Bull Law Dade County ordinance, Chapter 5, Sec. 5-17
  23. http://www.cityofboston.gov/animalcontrol/regulations/pitbull.asp
  24. http://www.cityofboston.gov/Images_Documents/pitbull_ord_tcm3-3385.pdf
  25. http://www.mahoningcountyoh.gov/DepartmentsAgencies/Departments/DogWarden/PitBullTerrierNotice/tabid/930/Default.aspx
  26. http://akronohio.gov/311/pdf/PitBullRegistration.pdf
  27. http://www.princegeorgescountymd.gov/Government/AgencyIndex/DER/AMG/licenses.asp
  28. http://www.garlandtx.gov/gov/ab/animals/pitbull.asp
  29. http://www.wilmingtonde.gov/residents/animals
  30. http://www.salina-ks.gov/content/126/198/10558/10613.aspx
  31. http://www.salina-ks.gov/filestorage/126/198/10558/SalinaCodeArctle9Sec7_144.pdf
  32. http://www.northlittlerock.ar.gov/pdfs/PitBull.pdf
  33. http://www1.legis.ga.gov/legis/2005_06/fulltext/hb78.htm
  34. http://health.springfieldmo.gov/index.aspx?NID=211
  35. http://www.covingtonky.gov/documents/PIT_BULL_and_VICIOUS_DOG_REQUIREMENTS.pdf
  36. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20183478
  37. http://www.sjc.utah.gov/police/police-animalcontrol-ordinances.asp
  38. http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/0/2007/2007-Ohio-3724.pdf
  39. http://www.cabq.gov/pets/dogs/dangerous-dogs
  40. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1991/65/contents
  41. See the Wikipedia article on Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.
  42. "Breed Specific Legislation - A Dog's Dinner". RSPCA. 2016. 
  43. "BVA policy - Dangerous dogs". 
  44. http://www.ava.com.au/sites/default/files/AVA_website/pdfs/Dangerous%20dogs%20-%20a%20sensible%20solution%20FINAL.pdf
  45. http://atts.org/tt-test-description/
  46. http://atts.org/breed-statistics/statistics-page1/
  47. http://atts.org/tt-test-description/
  48. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DbKaReqEndM/
  49. http://thetruthaboutpitbulls.blogspot.ca/search/label/ATTS/
  50. http://nationalcanineresearchcouncil.com/uploaded_files/publications/230603563_Pit%20Bull%20Placebo.pdf
  51. http://nationalcanineresearchcouncil.com/uploaded_files/tinymce/2008%20Media%20Bias_1.pdf