Pete the Pup of Our Gang fame and Spuds MacKenzie were both pit bulls, a designation which refers not to specific breed but a collection of related ones. These include the American pit bull terrier, the American Staffordshire terrier, the Staffordshire bull terrier, and the American bully.
A Little Rascals sidekick and a party-loving beer pitchdog contrasts mightily with the bloodthirsty, intimidating image of pit bulls held by many and promoted by some media.
But while pit bulls have been implicated in fatal attacks, the notion that they by and large are dangerous is a misnomer. Some pit bulls were bred by unscrupulous sadists for bull-baiting and dogfighting, while others were bred to hone their friendliness, loyalty, and attentiveness.
Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning noted that the Journal of the American Veterinary Medicine Association found that from 1979 to 1998, 238 Americans were killed by 403 dogs, with pits bulls and Rottweilers accounting for more than half of the tragedies.
However, the authors noted that the study failed to account for the antics and personalities of the owners. Some societal outcasts prefer the image and street cred that comes with owning an animal with a dangerous reputation and they are only too happy to promote this. So while there may be a correlation between dog bites and some breeds, there may not be causation.
The study also fails to adjust for the percentage of American dogs that each breed represents. Further, reliable numbers are unavailable because the American Kennel Club registry includes only canines whose masters have registered them, and that is primarily done by serious owners who prefer purebred, pedigreed show dogs.
Additionally, fatalities are not the only factor when assessing dog dangers. Dunning wrote that a study in Pediatrics found there were 30,000 dog bites for every fatal dog mauling. German shepherds were the most bitey breed and there are no statistics to support how likely pit bulls are to bite relative to other breeds. In fairness, however, pit bull attacks may inflict more damage or be more likely to be fatal than most breeds.
The Pediatrics study also showed that dogs are more likely to chomp away if they are male, unneutered, less than five years old, weigh more than 45 pounds, live with elementary school age children, and kept chained outdoors. All those are more likely factors to dog danger than whether the animal is a pit bull.