“He won’t hurt you”. Check out this thread which popped up after a report of a child being killed in a pit bull attack. We can thank commenter scorp1101 for jumping right into it with the pit bulls are just fine and I know because I own one argument. The remainder of the thread is interesting for two reasons. First, a major theme among many posters seems to be that training (or lack thereof) is the root cause of problems, not something inherent in the breed. Second, it took until the second page of comments before someone said anything about the child who was killed. I guess there’s nothing like perspective.
It would be naive to assume that a dog’s behavior (or that of pretty much any animal) is entirely or even largely dependent on training and environment. To discount inherent biological factors is specious. The reality is that pit bulls have the “biological equipment” to inflict damage that other breeds, say basset hounds, do not. This statement simply reflects the obvious facts of biology; and it does not condemn all members of any given breed to a given behavior. We can make a parallel argument regarding humans using even smaller distinctions. For example, it is extremely unlikely that Mary Lou Retton could have become a basketball star. Similarly, it is extremely unlikely that Wilt Chamberlain could have become a world class jockey. These may be obvious, but it is also true that just because someone is very tall they will not necessarily become a great basketball player. That is, while much goes into the final outcome, we cannot simply discount gross biology. To claim that Mr. Chamberlain’s success was due to his mental training alone is ignoring the 800 pound gorilla (or 7’1″ center) in the room.
While folks like scorp1101 can prattle on about how their pit bull is very loving and how they were also attacked by (of all things) a Beagle, some statistics might shed a little light on the general tendencies of certain breeds. Consider the following from the CDC:
…the data indicate that Rottweilers and pit bull-type dogs accounted for 67% of human DBRF in the United States between 1997 and 1998. It is extremely unlikely that they accounted for anywhere near 60% of dogs in the United States during that same period and, thus, there appears to be a breed-specific problem with fatalities.
A similar conclusion was reached by Clifton for attacks spanning the years 1982 through 2006:
Of the breeds most often involved in incidents of sufficient severity to be listed, pit bull terriers are noteworthy for attacking adults almost as frequently as children. This is a very rare pattern: children are normally at greatest risk from dogbite because they play with dogs more often, have less experience in reading dog behavior, are more likely to engage in activity that alarms or stimulates a dog, and are less able to defend themselves when a dog becomes aggressive. Pit bulls seem to differ behaviorally from other dogs in having far less inhibition about attacking people who are larger than they are. They are also notorious for attacking seemingly without warning, a tendency exacerbated by the custom of docking pit bulls’ tails so that warning signals are not easily recognized. Thus the adult victim of a pit bull attack may have had little or no opportunity to read the warning signals that would avert an attack from any other dog.
The humane community does not try to encourage the adoption of pumas in the same manner that we encourage the adoption of felis catus, because even though a puma can also be box-trained and otherwise exhibits much the same indoor behavior, it is clearly understood that accidents with a puma are frequently fatal.
For the same reason, it is sheer foolishness to encourage people to regard pit bull terriers and Rottweilers as just dogs like any other, no matter how much they may behave like other dogs under ordinary circumstances.
Temperament is not the issue, nor is it even relevant. What is relevant is actuarial risk. If almost any other dog has a bad moment, someone may get bitten, but will not be maimed for life or killed, and the actuarial risk is accordingly reasonable. If a pit bull terrier or a Rottweiler has a bad moment, often someone is maimed or killed–and that has now created off-the-chart actuarial risk, for which the dogs as well as their victims are paying the price.
For the record, I consider myself a “dog person”, although present circumstances preclude ownership. (My wife has been known to remark that when we visit friends and relatives who own dogs, I tend to spend more time playing with the doggies than visiting with the humans.) I am also a runner, and I have learned never to trust an owner who says “He won’t hurt you”. Sure, it’s very possible for a pit bull to be a “pussy cat” and for some random member of another breed to be an absolute terror, but the data indicate that the breed has both the build and the temperament to pose higher risk of damaging assault than many other breeds. If I find myself running along a country road and coming face-to-face with an unknown, snarling dog, I’d much prefer it to be a basset hound than a pit bull. Actually, I’d prefer that the owner just obey the law and keep the animal under control on his or her property.