Print Edition: April 10, 2013
A pit bull in Chilliwack mauled an eight-year-old girl a few weeks ago. The news coverage of this awful incident has reminded the public of its trending fear of the pit bull dog breed.
Pit bulls have become the scapegoat of the dog world. Ask anyone what dog they think is the most aggressive and they’re most likely to claim it as being the pit bull.
Media coverage has loudly fed into this belief. Wikipedia holds a list of fatal dog attacks covered in the news from 1988 to 2013. A majority of fatal attacks covered by the media from 2004 were from pit bulls. Before that however, pit bulls are not shown to be the ones involved in the most fatal attacks.
Of course, this coverage is by Wikipedia. It’s only a basic summary, and the list is not nearly all inclusive. But searching through news databases shows similar results.
Before pit bulls, other dogs had their time being considered the most aggressive. Rottweilers trended as the most aggressive before pit bulls, as did German shepherds. Media tends to cover what’s trending, pushing these dog breeds to the forefront as aggressive. Not all dog attacks receive coverage.
There’s also a problem looking only at fatal or more seemingly brutal attacks by dogs. Bigger stronger dogs are obviously more likely to cause fatal or more serious damage than an aggressive smaller breed. They are more likely to therefore end up in lists of fatal attacks or in the news for their brutality.
A study done by the University of Pennsylvania found the top three dog breeds that attack or bite the most are actually smaller breeds—dachshunds, Chihuahuas, and Jack Russell terriers. Most people don’t consider these breeds the most aggressive probably due to their size. It’s not usually a huge deal if a little dog is biting you. Unless of course you’re an infant. And fatal attacks on infants have been caused by these breeds.
That’s not to say that smaller breeds are more aggressive than larger breeds. All in all, dogs are initially bred from wild animals. Any animal is liable to act on instinct from time to time. If something flashes quickly on the edge of a dog’s vision it might attack based on instinct. A dog might respond to a human’s actions as being threatening, when the human didn’t intend it to be so. And so on. People are not always very familiar with dog behaviour, and dogs can’t speak to tell us.
It is important to make note though, that some individual dogs may have a particularly aggressive nature. Individuals that is, not whole breeds.
Some owners may train a dog to be aggressive to be tough. Other owners may abuse their dogs, causing the dog to be fearful. Fearful dogs are more liable to lash out in a protective manner. Because pit bulls are seen in the public’s eyes as aggressive dogs, some people who want tough dogs may buy them and train them to act as such.
It is also true that the trending of an aggressive breed may lead to individual dogs being bred to be aggressive. Some people want a tough or aggressive dog for their image, or for various other reasons. Breeders can take advantage of this to make money.
Once the breed is thought of as aggressive, breeders may select dogs that are more aggressive to breed. The idea being that this trait will be inherited with a successive breeding of previously bred aggressive dogs.
Of course, it would be ridiculous to assume that all breeders do this. And it’s also silly to assume that those aggressively bred dog genes would dominate the breed’s gene pool. Many breeders only sell fixed dogs, or ask more for dogs that are breeding quality.
An aggressive nature is not an inherent trait of the pit bull breed. It’s an exaggeration by media coverage that’s spread in pop culture.
Those that are bred to be aggressive might be fine with the right handler. Those that are friendly may become vicious out of fear of an abuse owner. Neither shows a fault in the breed, but faults in handling and perhaps in some breeding practices.
Pit bulls are not an inherently aggressive dog breed.