Pit-bull Violence: Dog or Owner?



The Stats

Recently there has been a growing amount of people who decry the stigma attached to pit-bull and rottweilers–namely that they are, generally, dangerous dogs to own and/or be around.

This stigma comes from data gathered from a 30-year study (from 1982-2012) done by Animal People which shows that “pit bulls (245) and rottweilers (84) and their mixes contributed to 66% of the total recorded fatal attacks (497).”1 If a person is attacked by one of these two breeds (especially the former), he or she has a much higher chance of being maimed or killed statistically, even if the person is a child.2

The Conflict

There is no real dispute over the veracity of the statistics, only the interpretation of them. One side says that the problem of violence is because of the owner while the other side says it’s because of the dog (roughly nurture versus nature).


The former says that genetics may play a part in aggression, but the dog’s socialization and individual experiences play a much larger role.3 Proponents say that society’s cultural stigma creates a self-fulfilling prophecy: assuming that these breeds are naturally aggressive puts them in situations that make them aggressive. Any legislation banning these breeds won’t cut down on attacks “because all dogs can
bite!”4 Moreover they say it is actually “canine racism” to discriminate against these breeds.5


The latter rebuts by saying that genetics play a larger role because dog-fighting has led owners to down-breed the most aggressive dogs over the past 4 centuries (especially with pit-bulls).6 Proponents here believe the aggressive incidents led to the belief that they are aggressive (not the belief in aggression that led to the aggression). If they are right, legislation will lead to less violence because, though all dogs bite, pit-bulls and rottweilers bite the most, and the most lethally.7

Who’s Right?

Both sides have good intentions. One wants to show how great all dogs can be and the other wants to protect people from violence. As of right now (12/31/13), however, they are at a standstill until further statistics can prove their side right.

Those who say “the dog is the problem” need to see if legislation actually lowers the amount of dog attacks and/or amount of serious injuries caused by dog attacks.8 Those who say “the owner is the problem” need to state which actions owners take which lead to the aggression of certain breeds and provide evidence that these actions are veritably so pervasive.

1 Dog attack deaths and maimings, U.S. & Canada, September 1982 to December 31, 2012, by Merritt Clifton, Animal People, December, 31, 2012. (Retrieved from http://www.dogsbite.org/dangerous-dogs.php 12/30/13) File available here: http://www.dogsbite.org/pdf/dog-attack-deaths-maimings-merritt-clifton-2012.pdf

2 “Dog Attack Deaths and Maimings, U.S. & Canada, September 1982 to December 31, 2012.” DogsBite.org. Web. 30 Dec. 2013. (http://www.dogsbite.org/dog-bite-statistics-study-dog-attacks-and-maimings-merritt-clifton.php)

3 “Dog Breeds That Bite the Most.” Dog Breeds Info. Web. 1 Jan. 2014. (http://www.dogbreedsinfo.eu/dog-breeds-that-bite-the-most.php)

4 Seksel, Kersti. “Dangerous dog declarations and seizures: The owner’s perspective” Chambers County Abstract Company Web. 30 Dec. 2013. (http://www.ccac.net.au/files/Dangerous_dog_declarations_UAM06Seksel.pdf)

5 Rollin, Bernard E. “An Ethicist’s Commentary on Veterinary Involvement with Laws Banning Pitbulls and Pitbull Crosses.” The Canadian Veterinary Journal 42(4) (2001): 258-59. National Institutes of Health. Web. 31 Dec. 2013. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1476525/?page=1 >.

6 Fernandez, Amy. “The History of Bull Baiting: Discover the myths, chaos and controversy that surrounded the gruesome sport of bull baiting.” Web. 31 Dec. 2013. <http://www.dogchannel.com/media/dog-magazines/dogworld/the-history-of-bull-baiting.aspx.pdf >.

7 Pit Bull Case Report and Literature Review, by Steven F. Vegas, MD, Jason H. Calhoun, MD, M. Eng., John Mader, MD, Texas Medicine Vol. 84, November 1988. (cited from http://www.dogsbite.org/dangerous-dogs-pit-bull-faq.php)

8 Right now legislation includes confiscation (and possible euthanasia) of pit-bulls whose owners do not have liability insurance in various cities such as Washington, Utah. Elsewhere, it is mandatory for these breeds to wear muzzles for owners to have “beware of dog” signs in cities like Sikeston, Missouri. (see video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MNsKydivUZc and petition http://forcechange.com/45563/stop-the-wrongful-confiscation-of-pit-bulls/) To see what breeds have been banned in other countries because of their aggressive visit http://www.dogbreedsinfo.eu/dog-breeds-that-are-illegal.php for a list that is cross-cultural. (These types of list may be an example that the aggression of breeds are not the result of a certain culture’s ideas.)

2 thoughts on “Pit-bull Violence: Dog or Owner?

  1. I have 2 Pit Bulls and they are very nice and sweet. I personally believe that ANY breed of dog can be aggressive and ANY breed of dog can attack. One problem though is that if someone has a little yippy dog and they growl and bark at people, they think it is okay because “its cute because they think they are so big and tough” and when that little dog attacks someone it can’t do the damage a bigger dog can so you never really hear about the little dogs attacking. I do believe that the owners are the main problem with the aggressive dogs. I also believe that there are way too many “back yard breeders” that don’t know what they are doing and breed dogs incorrectly. I got both of my boys from the local animal shelter. They have never been aggressing in any kind of way. They are very gentle with my two month old son as well. And just to make it clear, YES I have been around aggressive and mean pit bulls. So I have been on both sides of the situation. I love Pit Bulls!(:

    • Same here–I love pit bulls (and all other dogs for that matter). 🙂

      I personally think that it is genetics that play a bigger role (though I’m still open to either). Though that doesn’t mean the sweetest dog can’t be a pit bull nor does it mean that the most aggressive dog can’t be a golden retriever (the least aggressive dog statistically).

      My fiancee’s roommate has a very aggressive dog, but I love him and he loves me and his owner irregardless. So a large part does play on how we treat them. That said, I do think it’s safer to have him muzzled when she nor I aren’t there (he’s bit everyone in the house at least once, including me haha).

      We need to teach people how to love dogs better and find ways to protect people from harm at the same time. It’s just a sad situation all around if we can’t find a solution. Let me know if you find stats to back up either side. 🙂

      Thanks for your comment!


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