Pitbulls - The Truth About This Banned Breed!
Updated: Jul 18
I remember being sat at work in the rescue centre kennel block when we got a phone call to say a new dog was coming up to us. We were told her name was Chloe and she was a suspected Pitbull. All I knew about Pitbulls was that they were a banned breed because they were very dangerous, and the man down the road had one and he bit the postman (the dog not the man).
Nervous, I grabbed my lead and treat pouch (panic alarm too) and wandered down to reception to meet the beast! There I met Chloe who was about as aggressive as a soggy cabbage. She immediately wagged her tail, ran up to me, and then proudly stole some food from my open treat pouch. Not exactly the ferocious beast I was expecting- all this pup wanted to do was cuddle and eat, and maybe play some fetch if the mood took her.
The Dangerous Dogs Act- Why Pitbulls Are Involved
The dangerous dogs act of 1991 says it is a criminal offence to have custody or possession of 4 breeds of dog: Pit Bull Terrier, Japanese Tosa, Fila Braziliero and Dogo Argentino. This was reportedly in response to a number of dog attacks in the previous years. Pitbulls have also been bred and trained to fight in underground dog fighting rings - often to the death. The section of the dangerous dogs act that relates to pitties is often known as breed specific legislation or BSL
If the police suspect a dog to be a be a Pitbull, under the BSL the dog is seized and put into police kennels. There they will undergo a series of rigorous assessments to determine if they are a risk. If they are deemed a risk they are destroyed, if not they are returned to the owner under strict rules.
Are Pitbulls Aggressive?
Here's the kicker, NO! There is no scientific evidence to suggest Pitbulls are any more dangerous that other dog breeds. Pitbulls are known in some countries as Nanny Dogs- as they form strong and beautiful bonds with the family- and are sweet and gentle towards children.
Unfortunately, in the wrong hands, this muscly and strong breed can be turned into a fighting dog. This is done by hitting, kicking, burning and abusing these dogs until the become aggressive towards other dogs. They are trained to become this way. They are incredibly loyal dogs, and even following the horrific training remain loyal to their owners. Interestingly, a dog can be disqualified from fighting if they show aggression towards the human referees.
Don't they lock their jaw when they bite? Don't they have the strongest bite of all dogs?
I always hear 'but Pitbulls can lock their jaws - that's why their bite is so bad'. This is a complete myth. Pitties do not have any specific mechanism that locks their jaws, or makes their bites any different to any other dog! The strength of a dog bite can be measure in pounds per square inch (PSI), so lets compare breed:
Cane Corso - 700psi
English Mastiff - 522psi
Husky - 320psi
German Shepard - 238psi
Pitbull Terrier - 235psi
Boxers and Labrador - 230psi
Doberman - 228psi
English Bulldog - 210psi
Yes, that's right, pretty much the same bite strength as our postie nipping Labradors! Even though there can be a lot of variability within breed itself and between studies- the power of bite from a Pitbull is a lot less that other common breeds! Pitbulls are trained to jump, hold and rag tree branches to build up muscles in their jaw.
The Issue With BSL
This is a big one! There is no scientific evidence to suggest that any dog bred for fighting will be more aggressive than those bred for other jobs! In fact the Royal Mail reported that the most postie dog bites were from our loyal companion the Labrador!
A dog is determined to be a Pitbull type dog based on looks and measurements. The police decide if the dog matches a substantial number of characteristics of an American Pit Bull Terrier. This means half of a litter of dogs can be deemed Pitbull type and the other not.
No consideration is given to individual temperament. If a dog comes into the rescue and is deemed a Pitbull- that dog has to be put to sleep, even if it is a loving and sweet family pet.
Seized Pitbulls can spend years in police kennels before they are assessed. This means away from a family home, with walks and love, and in a solitary stressful kennel. Most dogs would not cope in this environment- and often fail their assessments and are destroyed because of the kennel stress.
The legislation has not worked! Studies in Ireland, Spain, Italy, Netherlands and Belgium have shown bred specific legislation does not reduce dog bites, and in the UK dog bites rose by 76% between 2005 and 2015.
In 2016 Battersea had to euthanise 91 Pitbull type dogs - and 71% of them the charity said could have been rehomed. This figure of 71% is in line with other breeds not deemed to be dangerous. That means dogs were put to sleep because of the way the look, not because of their behaviour.
What The Pet Profession Thinks
I bet you a bottle of wine and a dairy milk tray you will not be able to find a (qualified and experienced) pet professional who would back BSL. Battersea, The Blue Cross, Dogs Trust and the RSPCA all fight hard to see the end of BSL.
Me, and all my colleagues, think it is about time we stop putting dogs to sleep for the way they look. Heartbreakingly, Chloe was put to sleep because she was deemed to be a Pitbull type dog- but I can say with 1000% confidence she would have been the most wonderful family pet, but she wasn't given that chance!
The truth is Pitbulls can be the most loving, funny and kind family pet. The form strong and loyal bonds with their family. They are great with children and they are gentle and kind. They make rubbish guard dogs as when treated well are excitable around strangers. They are intelligent, and tenacious with a good nose- they excel at any training they give you. Most importantly they have an infectious zeal for life, and are sure to make you smile as they barge their way to a cuddle and a fuss.
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Aria Barrett, 2021