Pit bulls are usually the poster child for vicious and aggressive dog breeds. Negative public perception of pit bulls has led to countless breed-specific legislation in the U.S. and around the world that specifically singles out the breed. But are they really the inherently violent attack animals the media portrays them to be, or are they victims of breed prejudice?
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), about 4.7 million Americans are bitten by a dog each year. Of those victims, 800,000 will require medical attention. Today, the CDC no longer collects breed-specific information when reporting dog bite statistics. However, in a dog bite report from 1978 to 1998, pit bulls were responsible for more deaths than any other breed.
Those in favor of breed-ban laws believe that because humans historically bred pit bulls for their fighting abilities, they have a genetic deposition that makes them more dangerous than other dog breeds. But the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has a different stance on the breed.
The nature versus nurture debate
Different breeds classify dogs by their specific physical and behavioral traits. For example, herding breeds are more likely to herd and hunting breeds are more likely to hunt. But while genetics can predispose a dog to perform certain behaviors better, variation still exists in dogs of the same breed or breed type. Essentially, ASPCA argues that all dogs are individuals.
Golden retrievers, for instance, were previously bred to retrieve birds and small prey, but today make excellent service dogs. While today’s pit bulls are descendants of a breed used to hold large animals, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are prone to violence or aggression. Pit bulls today are also usually the result of random breeding in shelters, which means they can have a vast range of different behavioral traits.
What’s more, is genetics alone doesn’t determine a dog’s behavior. Behavior develops through a combination of genetics and the dog’s environment. Because numerous dog breeds have aggressive traits in their genes, a great deal of responsibility falls on the dog’s owner to properly socialize the dog, train it and supervise it to prevent aggressive tendencies.
The bottom line
While it’s true pit bulls may have more aggression in their DNA than other breeds, all dogs are individuals. The reality is that any type of dog can be dangerous if they don’t receive the proper care and training they need.