Pit Bulls

What exactly is it about Pit Bulls that makes them so dangerous? I realize that people nowadays seem more afraid of them than any other breed-- is this attitude correct, and, if so, why?

They are not more dangerous than other breeds. In fact there are multiple breeds of dogs that fall into the “pit bull” title.

They are much maligned by the press.

Comparisons with Rottweilers, Shepherds, Chows etc. show that the various breeds lumped into the category of “Pit Bull” are certainly no more dangerous and arguably less so.

People are afraid of pit bulls because they are popular among people who want others to be afraid of them. They are physically imposing, and well-bred for fighting, and if they do fight with something, they usually win. Even the most savage dachshund, on the other hand, inspires little fear (and I won’t even discuss terriers). FWIW, pit bulls I’ve known have been quite sweet-natured.

It’s impossible to get a staight answer to your question, gytalf2000, partly because it’s hard to get an answer to what exacty a “pit bull” is, and also because it’s an emotional issue. It’s one of those things everyone likes to blame on “The Press”. Compare the arguement (not the details) to the gun debate.
You might want to search for past threads on this subject. Be prepared, though, there are a bunch of them.
My personal experience is that dogs similar to pit bulls do tend to be more quick to bite people who aren’t established as their “boss”. Why? I don’t know.

Everything that follows is from personal experience and very little of it is citable. FWIW:

I have a purebred American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT). He is affectionate to people when I’m around. He is also an effective watchdog when I’m not around. He will let some of my neighbors walk into the house alone, but if he hasn’t known a person long he won’t let them knock on the door without raising the alarm.

Generally speaking, “pit Bulls” are descended from the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, a breed of dog developed in 19th century England for the purpose of bloodsport; fighting other dogs, bears, bulls, lions, etc. In the United States they were bred larger to work livestock and do general farm/ranch work as well as fighting. In the days before the internet, television and motion pictures, watching animals kill one another was considered good entertainment. Think Roman Colloseum. Bear in mind that public executions were also considered good entertainment. In order to be a good fighting dog, a few things are needed. Among them are:

  1. A willingness to fight and lack of fear, commonly called “game” or “gameness”. My dog is very game, although he’d rather mount other dogs first.

  2. Physical strength. Pit bulls, boxers, Presa Canarios, Cane Corsos, Dogo Argentinos, Bulldogs, Shar-Peis and other breeds created to fight have great physical strenghth, strong jaws and stamina.

APBTs (in my experience) are usually very affectionate towards humans, to the point of being emotionally needy attention whores. They are usually OK with other dogs that they have been raised with, but will want to dominate (either sexually or by fighting) dogs they’ve never met before. My boy is OK with cats and toy dogs, but anything over 30 pounds he’ll try to mount. there are some breeds of dog (chows for one) that he’d rather fight than fuck. It might be some kind of skinhead/hippie thing, I don’t know. Maybe it’s because chows are very game dogs themselves.

In the days when dog fighting was legal and common, dogs were not preferred to be human-agressive. that’s because there was a referee in the pit during every fight and he didn’t want to get bit, especially by a dog that could bite very hard and not let go until you kill him.

Back to the point: the things that make them dangerous are their strength, stamina and game. Like most dogs, pit bulls can be mistreated to the point where they will bite a person. Keeping a dog chained to a stake in the front yard will do that to him. In my experience showing my dog, I have met a lot of dog owners who do not seem (to me anyway) responsible enough to own a dog and treat it properly. Pit bulls, with their imposing physiques and reputations, tend to attract this kind of guy. Because of their game nature, emotional insecurity and physical power, pit bulls require a more responsible than average handler.

Long story short, it’s their looks that initially make poeple afraid of them. being raised by irresponsible people will make them unreliable. Because of their strength and game, if you get bit by an APBT, you will usually be injured much worse than if you get bit by a German Shephard Dog twice its size.

jack@ss is spot on but I think some points need to be driven home.

All too often I’ve encountered people who think a dog is a dog is a dog. They just come in different shapes, sizes and colors so pick one that matches your furniture (sounds silly but I heard tell from a shelter worker that one of their dogs ended up with them because the owner chose it to go with their furniture and with no regard to what the dog actually was).

Pit Bull’s are indeed more game than other dogs. What this means is that is more in their nature to exhibit aggressiveness to other dogs and maybe even people. A responsible APBT owner knows this and will take steps to socialize the dog properly. In capable hands an APBT can be a fine, loving pet. Unfortunately most owners (of any breed) are not capable dog handlers. In many cases the results may not be too bad if the dog as a naturally more friendly disposition (e.g. I have yet to meet a mean lab and I’ve known a LOT of them). In other words, a lab left to its own devices is likely to turn out to be a friendly dog, a pit bull left to its own devices is likely to turn out to be an aggressive dog. Does it have to be that way? Of course not but you will see those trends fairly strongly in such circumstances.

Now combine that aggressiveness with a powerful dog. There is a reason APBTs are used in dog fights and not German Shepherds or Dobermans. Pound for pound they are about as tough as a dog gets and are very powerful. Just look at their head and the muscles there (of course the rest of the body is strong as well). I have been bitten by my German Shepherd (by accident while playing with her and she immediately laid off the instant she realized my hand was in her mouth). I was shocked at the power she exhibited even with just a play bite that had no real power behind it. I have no doubt she could have taken my finger off no sweat. She could certainly crush my hand and probably break my arm. An APBT has far more jaw power and would probably have no problem breaking my leg.

So you have a more aggressive dog (in general when compard to other breeds) combined with the ability to do a great deal of damage quickly. As a result APBT get a lot of bad press. This is sad really because they can be a fine dog and I’ve known many who were a treat to be around. Nevertheless I am always more cautious when an APBT approaches me while walking my dog than I am with any other breed (although it is always good advice to ask the other dog’s owner if their dog is friendly and if it is ok to play).