Where were you when you heard your first bully breed urban legend? We've all come across at least one: A story about a bully that "just snapped" and attacked a person or another dog without warning. Often, these stories come complete with colorful descriptions of bully breeds' supernatural strength, locking jaws, or inability to feel pain. Many times, the tale has come to you by way of a "friend of a friend" or a "friend's neighbor who saw it happen to someone a while back." Almost always, the dog at fault is described as a "pit bull," with no additional details as to its specific breed or background.
These may seem like innocent rumors to pass around, but over the years, they've led many people to avoid adopting bully breeds. In some cases, those myths and assumptions about the dogs' supposedly aggressive natures have even led to regional bans on bully breed ownership.
But according to groups like the ASPCA and Pit Bull Rescue Central (PBRC), bully breeds -- including the American pit bull terrier, the bullmastiff and the American Staffordshire terrier, among other breeds -- can make for great family pets when they're properly trained and socialized. And there's plenty of research to back that up. So before you buy into the scary stereotypes, read on to learn the truth behind five common bully breed myths.
5: Bully breeds are naturally aggressive and mean.
With Breed Specific Legislation banning bully breed ownership in certain areas, it's easy to understand why people assume anecdotal evidence about the dogs' aggressive tendencies is true. But the facts tell a different story. According to the American Humane Association, on tests conducted in 2009 by the American Temperament Test Society, bullies scored better than several breeds that are rarely associated with aggression, including beagles and collies.
Additionally, research conducted in 2000 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that no specific breed of dog is inherently vicious. And National Canine Research Council director Karen Delise says that, in most cases, any dog that has a tendency to attack is responding at least in part to owners who have either neglected the pup or failed to give it proper socialization and training.
4: Bully breeds attack more humans than any other dog.
The CDC estimates that nearly 4.5 million people in the United States are bitten by dogs each year, but bully breeds are less often to blame than many other breeds, including chow chows and German shepherds. Another CDC study conducted in 2000 attempted to assess which breeds had been involved in the most fatal attacks from 1979 to 1998; however, researchers found numerous challenges and flaws in trying to make accurate calculations. To date, there is no scientific proof that bullies are more commonly involved in fatal attacks than all other dogs.
3: Bully breeds have a stronger bite than any other dog.
Stories of bullies' super-strong jaws might make great horror film fodder, but science doesn't support them. Research conducted by Dr. I. Lehr Brisbin at the University of Georgia shows that bully breeds don't show any mechanical or morphological differences in jaw structure when compared to other dogs -- nor do their jaws come equipped with locking capabilities.
To explore the question of jaw strength, a 2005 National Geographic study measured force of bite for several creatures as pounds of bite pressure. On average, dogs exhibited about 320 pounds of pressure, while humans came in at 120 pounds and great white sharks at 600. The study also included a simulated bite sleeve test with a German shepherd, a Rottweiler and an American pit bull terrier. The pit bull actually registered the least amount pressure among the group, despite rumors that bully breeds can clamp down with an alarming 1600 pounds of force.
2: Bully breed brains grow continuously, causing them to go crazy
This rumor is actually a hand-me-down: The first dogs associated with it were Doberman pinschers in the 1960s. The idea was that the brains of these canines grew continuously, ultimately causing the dogs to go crazy and turn on their owners. Variations of this tall tale even suggested that a Doberman's skull was too small to contain its swelling brain and that the expanding organ would eventually explode inside its cranial home.
Eventually, when bully breeds picked up their own unfair reputation for aggression, they inherited this myth. According to Delise's book "The Pit Bull Placebo," the truth of the matter is that the bully brain grows as same rate as any other dog's brain, and there has been no scientific study thus far that proves otherwise. Brain swelling typically develops only as a result of a head injury, and if a swelling brain could actually explode inside a skull, no dog with that condition would be capable of executing a crazed attack -- or doing much of anything, for that matter.
1: Bully breeds are not safe to adopt or rescue
According to the PBRC, there's no actual evidence to suggest that bully breeds are a riskier adoption choice than any other types of breeds. While you may not be able to learn as much about a rescue dog's genetic history as you would with a dog from a breeder, the staff at animal rescues and shelters often have a pretty good idea of dogs' recent histories and current temperaments. At the very least, they can speak to how a dog has behaved since it's been at their facility.
Of the many dogs available in shelters, bullies are among those most in need of adoption. PBRC reports that 40 percent of all the dogs across 12 Los Angeles shelters fall into the bully breed category. In general, bullies are loveable, loyal and energetic, especially when given the proper socialization and training. Don't let a handful of unfounded myths keep you from opening your home to one of the hundreds of thousands of bullies in need.
- American Humane Association. "Pit Bull Myths vs. Facts." (08/26/2010)
- Delise, Karen. "The Pit Bull Placebo: The Myths, Media, and Politics of Canine Aggression." Anubis Publishing. 6/2010. (08/26/2010)
- Pit Bull Rescue Central. (08/26/2010)
- Pit Bull Rescure Central. "PBRC Media Center." 08/31/10. (08/26/2010)
- Sacks JJ, Sinclair L, Gilchrist J, Golab GC, Lockwood R. "Breeds of dogs involved in fatal human attacks in the United States between 1979 and 1998." Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association 2000; 217:836-840.