The Needless Fear of Pit Bull Breeds

Posted on

The following is a study regarding Pit Bull breeds and why it is unnecessary to fear them. The study was done by Danielle Dunne from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA.

I would like to thank Danielle Dunne and Dr. Eileen McFall for giving me the permission to publish this study.




The Needless Fear of Pit Bull Breeds


Pit bulls are the unnecessary victims of harsh words and stereotypes. Such stereotypes have been played up in media stories creating a negative image of the breed. Due to the lack of education regarding this topic, pit bulls are widely perceived as vicious, untrustworthy companion animals. As uncalled for as it is, this fear is still prevalent among society. Breed discrimination exists throughout communities, and such discrimination further lowers the chances of a homeless pit bull finding a loving family. The breed should not be feared, and the way the public views these innocent animals is unnecessary. Such views are a direct result of believing the nonsensical gossip created by news media and shelter directors that ignore the fact that pit bulls are one of the most loyal dogs a human could own. Those against the breed should step aside and let the facts speak for themselves. The media portrayal of pit bulls compared with other breeds and the actual behavior of pit bulls compared with other breeds need to be understood in order to prevent further discrimination.
There are factors among society that help shape what the media chooses to report. Due to the fact that a large amount of pit bulls are found in animal shelters, it is up to these shelters to set the tone for how the rest of the community will interpret the presence of a pit bull. In a story on, Jeni DiPrizio reported about Memphis Animal Services (MAS) in Memphis, Tennessee. The report showed that a recording was discovered which contained the voice of a shelter administrator telling a supervisor, “I want you to euthanize every pit bull or every dog who looks like a pit bull whose time is up.” MAS Advisory Board Member, Dr. Stephen Tower agreed that the shelter kills almost all of the pit bulls they take in. He also stated, “… maybe we are even profiling them for lack of a better word. We are not putting a lot of pit bulls, if any, up for adoption.” Unfortunately, many shelters operate this way, and shelter directors that support these behaviors are hiding the loving nature of pit bulls from the public. While doing so, it creates an out of sight out of mind mentality. The lacking presence of available pit bulls in animal shelters can lead the community to assume that these dogs will not make good pets due to false assumptions regarding their behavior. In turn, a shelter’s lack of promotion of the breed can encourage further negative media portrayal among other communities. Not only do local shelters fail to support the breed, but so do law enforcers and national organizations.
Pit Bull Panic, featured in the Journal of Popular Culture, includes a study conducted by Judy Cohen and John Richardson. In their study, media techniques were evaluated in order to determine whether or not the public believes media misinformation regarding pit bulls. While conducting their research, they discovered that the police, the Humane Society of the United States, and animal shelters all “have a vested interest in their anti-pit bull orientation.” The police believe they are protecting the community, the Humane Society believes they are “protecting dogs from dog fighting (when in fact they are seizing them to kill them)”, and shelters believe “the warden looks good to county commissioners”. The authors make the conclusion that “these are the organizations that reporters are most likely to rely on for information about pit bulls” (Cohen and Richardson 291). If this is the case, then it explains why they discovered so many negative stories about pit bulls published in The New York Times.
According to Cohen and Richardson, from 1987-2000, The New York Times ran 72 stories about Pit Bulls. Of those stories, 23 covered pit bull attacks on people, 22 covered legislation restricting the ownership of the breed, 9 described pit bull owners as low life citizens, and only 5 were in favor of pit bulls (Cohen and Richardson 287). The ratio of positive stories to negative stories was considerably low, and this does not help promote a positive image of these dogs. Although there is proof that pit bulls receive an excessive amount of negative portrayal in the media, Cohen and Richardson conducted a survey with results that suggest some of the public does not blindly follow what they are shown.
Their sample was chosen by handing out self-administered surveys at a variety of retail outlets. The respondents were first asked if they had ever heard of a dog called a pit bull. Those who had heard of the breed continued to complete the survey. The survey included information on the perceptions of pit bulls, attitudes towards anti-pit bull legislation, perceptions of problems regarding crime, children’s safety, drugs, and honesty of politicians, as well as perceptions of one’s financial security, and personal experiences with pit bulls. Likert scales were used for these measures (Cohen and Richardson 298-299).
Their results support the idea that a portion of the public does not blindly believe media misinformation about pit bulls. A majority of those surveyed do not believe the stereotypes of pit bulls, and half of the respondents felt that news articles exaggerate pit bulls as vicious dogs (Cohen and Richardson 299-303). While only one fourth of respondents felt that pit bulls were bred solely for dog fighting, more than one third of respondents agreed that pit bulls are being bred to develop violent traits. Because these numbers do not match up, there is room to “assume that at least some respondents feel that these traits are being bred so the dog will attack people,” and if this is true, then “at least some people believe the media’s negative portrayal of Pit Bulls as violent towards people” (Cohen and Richardson 303). While this study shows that not everyone will believe what the media says about pit bulls, it does not change the fact that these dogs are receiving unfair media coverage. In actuality, further analysis of the issue supports such a fact.
Dana Campbell is the author of Pit Bull Bans: The State of Breed-Specific Legislation, a periodical featured in GPSolo magazine. Her research provides evidence to support the idea that negative stories of pit bulls are shared more often than necessary. Campbell presents a 2008 report on media bias by the National Canine Research Council. In their study, they compared the type of media coverage given for dog attacks occurring over a four-day period. On the first day, a Labrador mix attacked an elderly man and sent him to the hospital. This story was covered once in a local paper. On the second day, a mixed-breed dog fatally injured a child, in which a local paper ran two stories. Day three consisted of a mixed-breed dog attacking a child, sending him to the hospital. This story was covered once in a local paper. On day four, two pit bulls broke free from their chains and attacked a woman and her Chihuahua, sending the woman to the hospital and leaving her dog uninjured. This story was reported in more than 230 articles in national and international newspapers (Campbell). Clearly, the dogs that are not considered dangerous (Labradors and mixed breeds) were not hounded by the media to the same extent as the pit bulls were. Media stories about pit bulls can instill a sense of fear in the public, and this prevents the breed from being accepted by society. This can further prevent abandoned pit bulls from finding homes, which will result in innocent dogs ending up in shelters that may operate like the previously mentioned Memphis animal shelter. Not only does the negative portrayal of the pit bull compared to other breeds make it difficult for pit bulls to find homes, but it also makes it difficult for pit bulls that already have homes to live freely.
The frightening image of pit bulls through the news is so engrained in society that it has created a wave of knee-jerk legislative measures that are based on a bias formed from inaccurate and damaging journalism. In Breed Specific Legislation: Unfair Prejudice and Ineffective Policy, which is featured in the Animal Law journal, Devin Burstein presents a case study of whether breed specific legislation is “a fair and practical approach to protecting society from vicious dog attacks” (Burstein 315). In his study, Burstein examines specific laws enforced because of breed specific legislation, the reasons as to why such legislation is upheld in a court of law, and how this legislation does not result in the most sensible type of policy.  After examining the information presented, Burstein makes the conclusion that in order for a dog control law to be effective and just, there are two principles that need to be taken into account. The first is that it is “unreasonable to ban or restrict an entire group of dogs based on an unsupportable stereotype about their viciousness,” and the second is that “dogs are considered property, and … owners should be held accountable for their dogs’ actions” (Burstein 326-327). If policy makers wish to prevent dog attacks, then they should enforce these regulations to all dogs, not just pit bulls. Breed specific legislation creates a negative image of the breed, while this belief should, instead, be applicable to all dog breeds.
Not only does an emphasis on negative stories regarding the pit bull lead owners to worry about how the local government views their pets’ behavior, but it also creates a need for them to tip-toe around the feelings of their friends and family. Managing the Stigma of Outlaw Breeds: A Case Study of Pit Bull Owners, is featured in the journal of Society and Animals, and discusses a case study conducted by Hillary Twining, Arnold Arluke, and Gary Patronek. They administered ethnographic interviews to 28 pit bull owners. The authors chose the owners by sending letters to 40 of the most recent pit bull adopters in large eastern Massachusetts cities. All of the owners have adopted a pit bull in the last year and a half. The interviews included questions focusing on the participants’ previous experience with pit bulls, their decision to adopt a pit bull, reactions from strangers, family, and friends, and the way in which this breed’s stigma affected their dog ownership (Twining, Arluke, and Patronek 4).
The study indicated that the relationship these owners shared with their animals was stigmatizing. A number of the respondents have tried passing their dog as a breed other than a pit bull, denied that their behavior is biologically predetermined, debunked adverse media coverage, used humor, emphasized counter-stereotypical behavior, and avoided stereotypical equipment and accessories (Twining, Arluke, and Patronek 5). The authors have concluded that “breed-related stigma is likely to affect the success of companion animal ownership” (Twining, Arluke, and Patronek 27). This study further supports the idea that the public is not always willing to accept a pit bull as a normal dog due to the fact that the media has instilled such an idea. It suggests that society feels it is necessary to be concerned with the presence of a pit bull, which makes it difficult to view the breed in a positive manner.
One reason the public may act differently toward someone who owns a pit bull is the thought that pit bulls have a higher tendency to act with aggression than other dogs do. My stance is that pit bulls should not be viewed as aggressive. However, due to the fact that the assumptions are present, it would help to evaluate comparisons of a pit bulls aggressive tendency to those of other types of dogs in order to further prove that there truly is no need to single out a specific breed.  There is indeed evidence that suggests that pit bulls are no more aggressive than other breeds of dogs.
Temperament tests are tests that evaluate the degree of a dog’s aggressive tendencies. Deborah Duffy, Yuying Hsu, and James Serpell conducted a study of such behavior in Breed Differences In Canine Aggression, which was featured in the journal of Applied Animal Behaviour Science. The data was collected from dog owners using the C-BARQ. The participants of this study included members of the American Kennel Club, who were mailed physical copies of the C-BARQ along with an explanatory letter. Online samples were also obtained by allowing owners to fill out a digital copy of the C-BARQ and send them in. The authors took the route necessary in order to ensure statistical independence if an owner were to fill out a survey for more than one of their dogs. Also, only breeds in which 45 or more dogs were surveyed were included in the final analysis ( Duffy, Hsu, and Serpell 443-445). The breed club sample of dogs used in the study included a total of 1,521 responses, and the online sample of dogs used in the study included a total of 3,791 responses (Duffy, Hsu, and Serpell 445).
The study evaluated breed differences in stranger-directed, owner-directed, and dog-directed aggression, and suggests that higher rates of human-directed aggression were found in smaller breeds (Duffy, Hsu, and Serpell 457). To support their conclusion, they found that from the online sample, 14 out of 68 Dachshunds evaluated (20.6%) showed stranger aggression, while only 9 out of 132 pit bulls evaluated (6.8%) showed stranger aggression (Duffy, Hsu, and Serpell 452). If aggression were a necessary concern of the public, the results of these temperament scores prove that there is no reason to be more afraid of pit bulls than other breeds. Statistically, Dachshunds are more aggressive than pit bulls, yet are not victims of discrimination. This is not the only study to conclude that aggression among breeds does not differ.
In their study Research: Is breed-specific legislation justified? Study of the Results of the Temperament Test of Lower Saxony, featured in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, Angela Mittmann et al. conducted a study in which animal aggression was tested in order to decide if there is evidence for a breed pre-disposition in the dogs being evaluated (including the pit bull type) “concerning disorders in aggressive behavior or aggressive behavior in inappropriate situations”, as well as whether the results show a difference between these breeds (Mittmann et al. 98). The study was based off of previously conducted temperament tests, and the total number of dogs evaluated was 415. Of this amount, 93 were American Staffordshire Terriers, 38 were Bull Terriers, 63 were dogs of the pit bull type, 56 were Doberman Pinschers, 97 were Rottweilers, and 68 were Staffordshire Bull Terriers. On average, 48% of the dogs displayed visual and/or acoustic threatening signals without approaching. However, when comparing the breeds using a chi-square test, no significant differences could be observed (Mittmann et al. 99). The study suggests that there is no indication of dangerousness in specific breeds. Also, because there was no significant difference between the breeds and the type of aggressive behavior, breed specific legislation cannot be justified (Mittmann et al. 101-102). Of the breeds evaluated, there was no difference between their levels of aggression, which indicates that there is no reason for the public to single out or stereotype pit bulls. While observing this study, one may become concerned with the fact that only breeds that were affected by legislation were evaluated, therefore possibly sensing a lack of reliability with the results. This is a legitimate concern. However, an additional study has since been conducted evaluating the same data. This time, it included a control group containing a breed that is not considered aggressive in order to make a more reliable comparison.
Located in the same journal is Research: Is There a Difference? Comparison of Golden Retrievers and Dogs Affected by Breed-Specific Legislation Regarding Aggressive Behavior, a study conducted by Hansjoachim Hackbarth et al. The authors decided to use a Golden Retriever for the control group due to the fact that it is “often regarded as a friendly and peaceable dog” in the community in which they were conducting their research (Hackbarth et al. 135). The Golden Retrievers went through the same temperament test as the other dogs in the previous study. After a statistical analysis, the results show that “a significant difference in the occurrence of aggressive behavior in inappropriate situations between the Golden Retrievers tested in this study and dogs belonging to 6 different breeds affected by the legislation and tested in a previous research project…could not be detected”. The results also show that “regardless of their breed, dogs are threatened by similar human attitudes and situations” (Hackbarth et al. 139-140). The research presents the conclusion that “no significant differences in the occurrence of aggressive behavior in inappropriate situations were found when comparing Golden Retrievers and the 6 dog breeds affected by legislation. Therefore, assuming that certain dog breeds are especially dangerous and imposing controls on them cannot be ethologically justified” (Hackbarth et al. 140).
The previously stated studies all suggest that there is no reason for the public to be frightened or apprehensive about coming in contact with a pit bull type dog. However, because of the negative portrayal of the breed through the media and breed specific legislation, the public continues to believe that pit bulls are different from other dogs when they are not. If this persists, pit bull owners will continue to tip-toe around the views of others, and countless pit bulls will not find forever homes. However, if the media were to choose to promote pit bulls in a positive manner, the fear of the breed would slowly be eliminated, and more families would be able to share moments with loyal dogs that deserve to be loved.
Works Cited
Burstein, Devin. “Breed Specific Legislation: Unfair Prejudice & Ineffective Policy.” Animal        Law 10.(2004): 313-61. Web. 5 Mar. 2012.     <;.
Campbell, Dana M. “Pit Bull Bans: The State Of Breed-Specific Legislation.” Gpsolo 26.5            (2009): 36-41. Academic Search Complete. Web. 5 Mar. 2012.
Cohen, Judy, and John Richardson. “Pit Bull Panic.” Journal Of Popular Culture 36.2 (2002):      285-317. SPORTDiscus with Full Text. Web. 26 Feb. 2012.
DiPrizio, Jeni. “High-Ranking Memphis City Leader Says “Kill All Pit Bulls”” 15     Feb. 2012. Web. 5 Apr. 2012. <     Ranking-Memphis-City-Leader-Says-Kill-All/VuEqpZrj0Ue92h8zbCy6Qg.cspx>.
Duffy, Deborah L., Yuying Hsu, and James A. Serpell. “Breed Differences In Canine       Aggression.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science 114.(2008): 441-460. ScienceDirect.       Web. 26 Feb. 2012.
Hackbarth, Hansjoachim, et al. “Research: Is There A Difference? Comparison Of Golden            Retrievers And Dogs Affected By Breed-Specific Legislation Regarding Aggressive          Behavior.” Journal Of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications And Research           3.(2008): 134-140. ScienceDirect. Web. 24 Apr. 2012.
Mittmann, Angela, et al. “Research: Is Breed-Specific Legislation Justified? Study Of The            Results Of The Temperament Test Of Lower Saxony.” Journal Of Veterinary Behavior:     Clinical Applications And Research 3.(2008): 97-103. ScienceDirect. Web. 26 Feb. 2012.
Twining, Hillary, Arnold Arluke, and Gary Patronek. “Managing the Stigma of Outlaw Breeds:    A Case Study of Pit Bull Owners.” Society & Animals 8.1 (2000): 25-52. Academic   Search Complete. Web. 26 Feb. 2012.

3 thoughts on “The Needless Fear of Pit Bull Breeds

    […] also may read my Blog “The needless fear of Pit Bull Breeds” which actually includes several […]

    […] I have published a extensive study regarding Pit Bull type dogs which can be found here: The ruling  of the Maryland Court of Appeals leaves more questions than it gives answers. As […]

    […] This article is worth a read, as it’s well-researched and provides compelling data points to counter the documented media bias against pit bull type dogs. We’ve worked with hundreds of pitties during our combined 11 years of extensive shelter volunteering, and found them to be consistently affectionate, easy to train and good-natured. Please don’t buy into the hype surrounding these dogs; they are individuals and should be evaluated as such. […]

Comments are closed.