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8 Pit Bull Myths

By Mary L. Harwelik of The Real Pit Bull, Inc, Guest Blogger

Editor’s Note: The American Pit Bull Terrier, a highly intelligent and quite loyal dog, has been villainized as being overly aggressive and dangerous. Mary Harwelik, founder of the Real Pit Bull, a 501(c)3 volunteer-driven nonprofit in central NJ that focuses on educating the public about this lovable breed, debunks 8 myths about this often maligned breed.

Myth 1) Pit Bulls have locking jaws. The jaws of the Pit Bull are functionally the same as the jaws of any other breed. “There is absolutely no evidence for the existence of any kind of locking mechanism unique to the structure of the jaw and/or teeth of the American Pit Bull Terrier,” says Dr I. Lerh Brisbin of the University of Georgia.(From the American Dog Breeders Association’s booklet, Discover the American Pit Bull Terrier.)

Myth 2) Pit Bulls chew with their back teeth while gripping with their front teeth. As stated above, the Pit Bull’s jaws are, functionally speaking, the same as all other breeds.

Myth 3) Pit Bulls don’t feel pain. Pit Bulls have the same nervous system of any other breed, and they can and do feel pain. Historically, those dogs that would tolerate or ignore discomfort and pain and finish the task they were required to perform were the dogs that were bred and the sort of dogs breeders strove to produce. This is the trait that so many breed fanciers speak of, which may be defined as, “The desire to continue on and/or complete despite pain and discomfort.”

Myth 4) Pit Bulls have more bit pressure per square inch than any other breed. There could not be any conclusive testing done to measure something like strongest breed bite pressure per square inch. A reason for this lies in the fact that dogs bite with varying pressure depending upon the situation. A dog cannot be instructed to bite down on a measuring device as hard as possible, so a tester could have no way of knowing whether or not a particular dog being tested is actually using its jaws to capacity in any given testing phase. There are also size and strength variations among breeds. A very large Pit Bull may bite harder than a small Rottweiler, German Shepherd or other breed, while a standard sized Pit Bull may not have as much jaw power as a larger, typical sized Rottweiler. If one breed is to claim “highest bite pressure,” all breeds would have to be compared. And there are hundreds of breeds.

Myth 5) Pit Bulls attack more people than any other breed. Bite statistics are difficult to obtain accurately. Dogs that are referred to as Pit Bulls in statistical reports actually are a variety of breeds and mixes. Also many people have a difficult time identifying a true Pit Bull. Considering these facts, the actual number of attacks attributable to American Pit Bull Terriers is considerably lower than represented.

Myth 6) The brains of Pit Bulls swell and cause them to go crazy. Prior to the boom in Pit Bull popularity, the Doberman Pinscher was rumored to suffer from an affliction in which, as the dog grew, the skull became too small to accommodate the brain. This would, according to the rumor, cause the Doberman to go crazy or just snap. This rumor could never be proven, and indeed had no merit whatsoever. Now that the Doberman fad has run its course, the Pit Bull has inherited the swelling brain myth.

Myth 7) Pit Bulls turn on their guardians. Dogs, as a species, do not perform behaviors just because. There are always reasons for behavior, and when aggression becomes a problem the reasons can be such things as improper handling, lack of socialization or training, a misreading of dog behavior by the guardian, or disease. Aggression, when it presents in dogs, follows specific patterns. First come the warning signs, then more warning signs, and finally, using its teeth. When a guardian is startled by a sudden, aggressive outburst, it is because they have been unaware of problems that were brewing. This is true of all dogs, not just Pit Bulls.

Myth 8) The only thing Pit Bulls are good for is dog fighting. Unfortunately, a large amount of attention has been brought to the fact that the Pit Bull was originally created for fighting other dogs in the pit. The truth of the matter is that the Pit Bull is one of the most versatile of canines, capable of excelling at just about any task its guardian asks it to complete. This breed is routinely used for: obedience trialing, conformation showing, weight pull, agility and has even been know to participate in herding trials, search and rescue work, and a variety of other tasks including police and armed services work. But fanciers will argue that the task this breed performs best of all is that of a beloved companion.

27 comments to 8 Pit Bull Myths

  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by xslf, Michele Hollow, Michele Hollow, kim garrison, Doggy Bytes and others. Doggy Bytes said: 8 Pit Bull Myths http://bit.ly/dBCSZc via @michelechollow [...]

  • Look at that face! Adorable! Thank you so much for this post. It’s so important to dispel these myths about pit bulls. I have a bully mix named Emmett. He’s a therapy dog, and he works with children. One of his “jobs” is at a mental health hospital in the children’s residential program. Each child gets a little one-on-one time, but mostly they play with him as a big group, taking turns walking him, having him perform tricks and chase toys, and every week the hour flies by in a whirlwind of games. But one day, as we were walking to the children’s program, we spotted a girl from the adolescent program sitting on the floor in the hallway, completely wracked with sobs, while one of the therapists sat with her. Her shoulders shook, and makeup ran down her face. From several feet away, I called Emmett in close to me – I didn’t want him to disturb them, but we had to walk past to get where we were going. As we neared the girl, Emmett slowed down. He took a few steps away from me and leaned in to the girl. He nosed her cheek and took in a big whiff. Seconds later, Emmett laid across the crying girl’s lap. She instantly started giggling, “I think he likes me!” I said, “He sure does!” And for the next few minutes, she stopped crying. She rubbed his back and scratched his ears. He licked her hand and scooted as close to her chest as his 65-lb bully frame would allow. The therapist thanked us, and we headed off to play with the kids. I have plenty more stories of his intuition, of his sweetness, and his caring, and the way he seems to know who really, truly needs him.

  • This is what we have become – a nation that sensationalizes bad myths and ignores the reality. It doesn’t matter what the story is. What has happened to us? We were an intrepid country of independent thinkers and explorers. Now we look for somebody – anybody – to tell us what to think so we don’t have to. The Pit Bull Terrier was once one of America’s most admired breeds … now it’s one of the most villainized. Sad.

  • While these myths are patently absurd and I do agree that in general Pit Bulls and Pit Bull mixes, in my experience at my practice, are no more likely to be aggressive than any other breed, there are some general considerations that must be kept in mind.

    Any dog breed has the potential to have aggressive individuals. Some are more likely to be aggressive than others but generalizations do not hold to the specific pet. That is why breed specific legislation is not effective in controlling dangerous dogs. The thing to remember here is that if a little dog makes a mistake and bites, the consequences may not be as severe as if a large breed dog bites.

    I think that breeding and early socialization are the most important ingredients in a dog’s adult personality. People adopting dogs of any breed often do not know anything about the dog’s temperament. In the NYC shelters there is an over representation of Pit Bulls and Pit Bull mixes up for adoption. These animals need to be evaluated by someone that has experience working with large, potentially dangerous dogs before they are adopted. Don’t trust your judgment or the judgment of the person that is trying to get you to take the dog. Most of them are fine, but you need to be aware of the potential time bomb in a dog that might not have been correctly socialized before coming into your home.

    Keith Niesenbaum, VMD
    Crawford Dog and Cat Hospital

  • Thank you SO much for this absolutely necessary debunking of the junking of pit bulls. The more we take a stance and make the voice heard, the more people will listen. I am so glad that someone put this out there and I am proud to share.

    Thank you!

  • I think that the bigger problem is how the so called media loves to run with these Pit Bull stories so often. “2YO baby mauled by PB” is a far more attention grabbing headline than “Little Girl Kisses Kitten” Sadly, if it bleeds, it leads.

    An even larger problem is that the BSL legislations are “crowd pleasers”. They are pretty easy to legislate and lots of people are willing to get behind them because who wants a foaming at the mouth terror in their neighborhood?

    BSL is crap and the dumb myths are crap, too. There are so many, more urgent problems that the public should get behind ASAP.

    The headlines that I’d like to see? ” The Crappy US School System will result in Your Child Being Illiterate & Working At A McJob For the The Rest Of Their Life” OR “Genetically Modified Foods Probably Means That We’re All Going To Die Of Some Odd Disease”

  • Karen,
    I totally agree, and I can go on about this and about the schools. My area had such great schools, but NJ Gov. Christie hates public education, and has plans to ruin it. It’s so sad.

  • Great post Michele! Maybe one day, with more posts like this one, “Bully” persecution will come to an end. Unfortunately there will probably be another breed to take its place, just like the pit bull took the place of the GSD and the GSD took the place of the Doberman.

    #6 cracks me up! I work part time at a pet food store and the manager of that store (25 years old), a first time owner of a GSD informed me one day that pit bulls go insane because they’re brain keeps growing but their skull doesn’t. Just like in your post I told him, no, that is a myth and that the Dobbie was the first owner of that myth.

    As a pittie guardian, I can say that “bully breeds” are not for everyone. They’re highly intelligent and need a lot of mental and physical stimulation.

    #7 can be true but like you say, can be the case with any breed. Pitties are very malleable and live to please their “owner”. Under the wrong guardianship this can be a bad thing especially if they are abused or aggressive behavior is encouraged or both. Under the right guardianship pit bulls are one of the most loving, loyal and affectionate dogs you could ever hope for. I was a bit down today, Zeus sensed it and came and layed on my lap.

    I love my pittie and my pittie loves me. =)

  • Jayne

    Pit Bulls are sadly very much mistaken. I have known a few Pit Bulls in my life (I’m 44) and not one of them has been any more aggressive than my own dogs over the years, which have been Rough Collies, Border Collies, cross labrador retriever, Shetland Sheepdog and a few other mixes from dogs homes that were never really clear. My current dog is a Border Collie and she occasionally plays with a Pit Bull that often roams the streets. This Pit Bull is very timid and my dog is definitely teh dominant one. It’s time these myths were put to an end and people realised that dogs are dogs first and breed second and any dog if mistreated, nervous or scared can be just as aggressive as a Pit Bull. Any large dog needs to be treated and trained correctly to ensure they are socialised and safe to be around, but if handled correctly dogs of any breed make very loyal, affectionate and sociable companions.

  • [...] Hollow of PetNewsandViews.com played “myth buster” this week. In fact Michele busted 8 Pit Bull Myths, there sure are are some ridiculous myths out there concerning the bully breeds. Read [...]

  • Jim, Zeus is one lucky dog.

  • I have a friend who started saving Pit Bulls that were abandoned in a city park. She adopted one of them and it is so sweet and loving. I also have another friend who found a pit bull thrown into her yard one morning, abused and abandoned. She adopted him and he is also sweet and loving. In my blog, I addressed this very issue since I believe these animals are given a bum rap. Sure, strong dogs, if bred (and inbred) to fight WILL fight but that does not mean that the rest of the breed is menacing. To see more on my thoughts: http:// http://www.brandyandval.com/blog/2010/03/

  • Thank you Michele. =)

    Jayne, is the pittie that plays with your dog a stray?

  • [...] first post, 8 Pit Bull Myths, debunks really insane rumors about these incredibly loyal dogs. The second was the story about my [...]

  • Thank you for posting this. People need to stop running after the next ‘horror’ the media erects. Doberman’s had the sensationalism of an aggressive dog in the 80s and early 90’s and now PBT’s take the top of the list. Ironic how American Pitbull Terriers are seen as a totally different breed of dog, than Pitbulls…and some people actually state that ‘Bull Mastiff’ is not a pit…WRONG! Education is the key to responsible pet ownership. Bravo on you for the article and bravo on those who posted comments realizing the horror of what the media throws out there to be ‘true!’

  • [...] Champion for Pit Bulls A few weeks ago, I wrote a series of posts about Pit Bulls. One of the most popular posts was written by Mary Harwelik, founder and director [...]

  • Christian

    It is great to see so many people who truly care about their dogs, there are certainly a great deal of people who do not. I was visiting the local human society and amazed that 70%-80% of the dogs were young AMSTAFs or Pit Mixes. It seems so sad considering that many insurance carriers will not insure homes that have certain “Terriers” or mixes. I found a company that does and I am thankful.

  • shadow

    Ive never actually had a pitbull but I defend them no matter what.I believe that pitbulls are not dangerouse, to me its just that “looks can be decieving”.They look agresive but really arent its just that people only believe things that have happened in the past.Pitbulls are amazing dogs and are very loyal in many ways.I have a chihuaha that is in love with this pitbull and im not worried at all because they along great

  • shadow

    I really never had a pitbull but I go to this animal shelter and they have the cutest pitbull ever her name is Ginger she is really sweet and is very kind. When I take her sometimes to go walk she always want to stop by the park and run around!!!!! Of course I have torun around with her but shes to fast!! People never realize how beutiful pitbulls are and how not agresive they can be. I believe that if a pitbull ever does something wrong ior whatever it is its the owners fault, for the lack of trainig. Im doing a survey for people who dont think pitbulls are dangerous and mostly all my friends think they are but i still have some of my friends that really like pitbulls supporting them!!!!!!! I will always defend pitbulls no matter what! Some people call me crazy but I say ” ya, crazy for pitbulls!!!!!!!

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  • Great post, our pitbull is the most loving dog I have ever been around.
    We wouldn’t part with her for the world.

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