Pit Bull Myths and Facts (Do You Fear Newfoundlands?)

by Borderstan.com August 18, 2011 at 2:00 pm 5,775 24 Comments

Pit Bulls, Borderstan

All breeds of dogs need responsible owners to give them love and training. (Photos from Sora Devore and Gina Lantella)

From Tori Tyree. Questions? Leave a comment or email Tori at [email protected].

I read an interesting book the other day that examined a news story involving a dog attack on a 17-year-old girl. It was reported that she was rocking in a chair and when she had called her dog over to her, the dog lunged at her and attacked her chest, face and arms without provocation. It was later discovered that she had rocked over the paw of her older dog, and in the pain and confusion the dog jumped at her.

What I want you to know about this story is that the article is from 1897, and the dangerous dog in question was a Newfoundland. The publication I was reading is called The Pit Bull Placebo, which basically examines news reports of dog attacks, from the turn of the century to the present, to identify factors in dog aggression and dispel the myth that Pit Bulls are inherently dangerous dogs.

At the turn of the century the most-feared dogs were the Newfoundland and the Bloodhound. In the 1920s and again in the 1960s it was the German Shepherd. In the 1980s it was the Doberman Pinscher. Today of course, the title of most “dangerous” dog goes to the Pit Bull.

The media has done a really good job of feeding public fears with half-truths and catchy sensationalized headlines. While it is true that pit bull type dogs do bite, it is also true that all dogs bite and can cause serious injury. If it’s not a Pit Bull though, it’s most likely not going to make the news.

One of the big issues is the perception. The myths about the breed that scare responsible dog owners away are attractive qualities to irresponsible pet owners, or more precisely, people who want to have a fighting dog.

It’s important to remember at the end of the day that a dog is a dog. He needs a responsible owner who is dedicated to teaching him how to behave and what is expected from him.

Pit Bulls are one of the most popular dogs for a population of people who want them for the wrong reasons. So, the myth continues, and the Pit Bull is ultimately the victim of abuse, or is thrown out and ends up in a shelter where they sit for months at a time because responsible owners won’t adopt animals they believe to be vicious animals.

Myths About Pit Bulls

Here is a rundown of the myths you’ve heard about Pit Bulls.

Myth: “Pit bulls have locking jaws.”
Fact: There is absolutely not evidence for the existence of any kind of ‘locking mechanism’ unique to the structure of the jaw and/or teeth of the American Pit Bull Terrier, says Dr. I. Lerh Brisbin of the University of Georgia (from the ADBA booklet, “Discover the American Pit Bull Terrier.”)

Myth: “Pit bulls have 10,000 pounds per square inch (PSI) bite pressure.”
Fact: Testing has shown that the domestic dog averages 320 pounds PSI. The highest recorded PSI for a Pit Bull was 235.

Myth: “Pit bulls turn on their owners.”
Fact: There is always a reason for a dog’s behavior. If aggression is the problem, the reason is linked to poor handling, under socialization, lack of training, and misunderstanding of clear “dog” signs. The news reports of “family dog attacks child” usually leave out important details of what happened prior to the incident. One story claimed a 7-year-old was mauled by the neighbors’ pit bull. What the story left out was that the owner had beaten their “family” dogs severely, left them in the basement to die and they were surviving on plastic tubing and garbage. The dog in question had actually eaten rat poison and had gone crazy. When the child opened the basement door, the dogs went for the first person they saw.

Myth: “The brains of Pit Bulls swell and cause them to go crazy.”
Fact: This myth actually originated with the Doberman pinscher. It was believed Dobermans suffered from a brain affliction that caused it to swell and the dog to would “just snap.” It was not true then, and is certainly not true today.

5 Things to Know About Pit Bulls

Here are five things you probably didn’t know about the Pit Bull:

  1. Pit Bulls make great therapy dogs, search and rescue dogs and agility dogs. Because this breed is so eager to make their owners happy, and because they are such hard working dogs, they have made great companions in these fields.
  2. The Pit Bull was so popular in the early 1900s they were our mascot not only in World War One, but World War Two as well. They were featured on recruiting and propaganda posters during this time period.
  3. Sgt. Stubby. A Pit Bull war hero. Stubby was wounded in action twice, he saved his entire platoon by warning them of a poison gas attack and he single handedly captured a German spy.
  4. Pete the Pup on the original Little Rascals was a Pit Bull.
  5. Pit Bulls score an 83.4% passing rate with the American Temperament Test Society. That’s better than the popular Border Collie (a breed who scores 79.6%).

Now that you know more about this wonderful dog, you should consider taking a closer look at this breed to see if it makes a good fit in your family. Currently the Washington Humane Society is promoting its Adopt-A-Bull August program. For the month of August all fees have been waived for any Pit Bull adoptions. With over 1,000 animals going through the shelter every month this summer, something needs to be done to save this breed from its undeserved bad reputation.

  • gonzo

    no thanks. ever since a supposedly ‘nice’ and ‘trained’ pit bull nearly killed my dog unprovoked, i have nothing good to say about the breed.

    • Tori

      I completely understand the fear that comes after having an incident with a dog. I had met a clients dog and we got along really well but when I walked in and the owner wasn’t home that first day, the dog attacked me. Ripped my pants, had me pinned in a corner. That was a Portuguese Water Dog.
      I also had to watch a poodle get put down because he was mauled to death by a — beagle. Apparently they were left unattended in a yard they always played together in, but there was a bone they both wanted and unfortunately the fight ended badly for the poodle. The point in the article is that dogs are dogs, and you cannot paint broad strokes against a breed simply because you’ve had a bad experience with one dog as an individual.

      • Laura Forslund

        I agree with the fact we should not categorize all Pit Bulls as a horrible breed. My Boston terrier was an attack dog if you tried to get in his territory and he did not know you. However, my Pit Bull was never like that. He was always so friendly regardless if he knew you or not. It is only the personality of the dog. With that said, we made sure our Boston did not have the opportunity to attack/hurt people so we constantly monitored him. He didn’t act that way out of the home environment just at home. Weird, huh! I get so tired and disgusted with so many people blaming the pit bulls for all problems. Before I owned one, I also was afraid of them. But when our son left us his pit bull to raise, I had a totally different attitude. I loved that dog. He died about 2 years ago with a tumor the size of a softball on his neck. He was 10 yrs old. Now, my grand daughter has a dog that she truly loves and her dog is the kindest and smartest pit bull mix that I have ever seen. However, her husband is now in the army at Fort Hood, TX and the dog is not allowed in base housing because she is classified as a dangerous breed. I am sure the army means well but should revisit their guidelines as even now I could train her to be a service dog for my diabetes. She is that smart and gentle. I may just do that! I really wish I could change the mind of the Army base and allow my Grand daughter to have her live there though. I hope more advocates speak out for the American/English pit bulldog. It would be horrible if that breed did not exist. With the tunnel vision that so many people have on the breed, it will be a endangered species if not extinct in a few years.

  • Would you kindly substantiate your claim about Newfoundlands being the most feared breed of dog a the turn of the century. Or did you just pull this out of your ass in an attempt to justify the brutality of pit bills, one of whom just killed a pregnant woman in Pacifica, CA. You should be ashamed of yourself for such irresponsible statements.

    • Which century, you fool?

      • Otis

        You are a very good Mom!

    • We’re going to keep it civil here. Tori will answer your comments. — The Editor.

  • Jerri

    I would appreciate to know where you are getting your facts on the Newfoundland breed. It is my understanding that statement is incorrect. I would expect a retraction and an apology to be made if you can’t prove this. It would be considered an insult, let alone a horrible injustice to the breed and it’s owners if you can’t substantiate your claims. Newfoundlands are known worldwide for their gentleness. So, once again, where did you get you facts?

    • Respectfully, I think you are missing the point. Tori does not say that Newfoundlands are dangerous — she is saying that was the perception about 100 years ago.

      • Jerri

        Yet, it reads that way. Forgive me for being persistent but, I’d really like to know where she gets that from. I’d prefer to know it’s not made up. No disrespect but, I’m hearing from other people that, it reads the same way to them. So to satisfy, and I’m sure I’m not the only one, please tell us where she got her facts on the Newfoundland.

      • Martha

        A Newfoundland is not, will not and has never been a dangerous breed, not now, nor 100 years ago!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Stephen Sayad

      The perception by whom? And where is the evidence to support even that asinine assertion? Don’t for a minute confuse the gentlest breed of dog with a pitbull.

  • Otis

    Being a Newfoundland I do not appreciate being compared to a pitbull! I have known both kinds(mean and nice) and the problem lies with the HUMAN. What I do not like is that because I am big sometimes people are scared until they get to know me. There is a reason we are called THE GENTLE GIANTS. I don’t like the analogy only because of what was done to Rosie and more humans might hurt more Newfies by accident. Personally I have never bitten anyone. If I need to do something, I will knock them down. Biting takes a lot of energy and I like to conserve mine.

  • Tori

    In the beginning of my article I stated that I was reading a book called the Pit Bull Placebo- which I cited an gave a link to, that is a collection of articles and news clippings from the turn of the century to today involving dog attacks. Chapter three is titled “Creating Dangerous Dogs:The Newfoundland and the Northern Breeds”

    My point was that in the 1800’s ,the dog to be feared was the Bloodhound and Newfoundland. There are numerous articles about dog attacks from these breeds. The reason there are numerous articles is that because they were the breed of choice for protection. My bigger point however, ( or at least I thought it was ) , was that it seems laughable that a dog that has the “Gentle Giant” today did not always have that reputation. My hope is that today’s Pit Bull wont have that same reputation in the future.

    I am sorry that I clearly offended you Newfoundland owners out there. It was entirely not the point of my article. What I was hoping would come across is that over the years people’s perceptions have changed based on what is reported in the news. Nobody thinks today of a Newfoundland being aggressive, but there is proof that there used to be that perception. I do think it is noteworthy that the defense of the Newfoundland is so pronounced. Pit Bull owners feel just as protective when people call them vicious.

    I do hope you take a few minutes to read the book I linked in the article. It was an education for me, I was just trying to pass the information along.

  • Tori

    @Stephan. I did read the article about the pit bull killing a pregnant woman. Did you also read that the dog was an unneutered male dog? Responsible owners make sure their dogs are neutered because it makes an animal less prone to aggression. Again, all the facts aren’t there, but the headline reads, “Pit Bull kills Pregnant Woman”. All dogs are unpredictable and if we don’t take the necessary steps to eliminate the dangers, this type of story will continue. You probably missed the less popular article about the Husky that killed a boy last year.

    Again, this is another case where people did not take the right steps in protecting their family. The other lesson is that dogs should never be left alone with children.

  • Julie

    The sweetest dog we had was a pit bull. She was born on the streets of Detroit in a pack of homeless dogs and was the kindest, most loving, and most loyal dog ever. Oh, and the smartest dog, too. (While our current St. Bernard is just sweet as a button, in the brain department she is a little shy, sad to say. . . ) I appreciate the author making the connections between how dogs are portrayed in the media and how we come to think of them. There is a lot of incomplete reports about pits that seem designed to only produce fear of the pit as a breed and not examine the underlying questions of human treatment of animals.

  • Avi

    I remain unconvinced, particularly since the statistics show an awful trend with these animals. A quick Google search reveals:

    2010 U.S. Dog Bite Fatality Statistics – DogsBite.org
    Fatal Dog Attack Statistics
    DogsBite.org recorded 33 fatal dog attacks in 2010.1 Citations of each victim’s story are located on the Fatality Citations page. The last year the CDC recorded and studied dog bite fatalities by breed was 1998. Likely due to pressures from pro-pit bull, animal advocacy and dog fancying groups, the CDC stopped studying these deaths by breed. The only other known entity that tracks this information is ANIMAL PEOPLE.2 DogsBite.org has joined in this effort.

    2010 Dog Bite Fatalities

    33 U.S. fatal dog attacks occurred in 2010. Despite being regulated in Military Housing areas and over 500 U.S. cities, pit bulls led these attacks accounting for 67% (22). Pit bulls make up approximately 5% of the total U.S. dog population.3
    In 2010, the combination of pit bulls (22) and rottweilers (4) accounted for 79% of all fatal attacks. In the 6-year period from 2005 to 2010, this same combination accounted for 71% (129) of the total recorded deaths (181).
    The combined breakdown between the two breeds is substantial. From 2005 to 2010, pit bulls killed 104 Americans, about one citizen every 21 days, versus rottweilers, which killed 25 Americans, about one citizen every 88 days.
    2010 data shows that 61% (20) of the attacks occurred to children (11 years and younger) and 39% occurred to adults. Of the children, 75% (15) occurred to ages 4 and younger. Within this same age group, males represented 60% of the victims.
    2010 data also shows that 33% (11) of the fatal incidents involved multiple dogs.4 Nearly a third, 30% (10), involved breeding on the dog owner’s property either actively or in the recent past, and 9% (3) involved chained dogs.
    Dog ownership information for 2010 shows that family dogs comprised 73% (24) of the attacks that resulted in death; 88% (29) of these incidents occurred on the dog owner’s property and 12% (4) occurred off the owner’s property.
    The state of California led fatalities in 2010 with 7 deaths; pit bulls contributed to 83% (6). Florida followed with 3 deaths and Georgia, Illinois, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas each had 2 deaths.

  • gonzo

    In addition, wonder why the pit bull was a mascot for the military/US during the wars? Not because of their gentle nature, im sure. but because of their ferociousness i bet.

  • Tori

    I’m sorry Avi- Im glad you got all of your facts from one biased source, but yet again it doesn’t look at the big picture about what types of events happened to these dogs.
    Not telling the whole story is misleading. Fear spreads lies in today’s society. We live in DC, we know how true this is!!

    Also, dog bites are not reported to one national authority. Each municipality reports to their own department in each city across the US. I wonder how many random samples they actually collected in order to get their “statistics”
    I never said Pit Bulls don’t bite, but you have to look at the whole picture before discounting them as a vicious breed. We could go back and forth all day comparing numbers, but the point is still that information is skewed against the Pit Bull in today’s media to promote hysteria against the breed.
    Also you have a higher % of people who own this breed because they like the scary myths about these dogs, and when mistreated any dog has the potential to bite. We live in NW DC, where the definition of a “family dog” is very different from someone who puts their dog in the back yard and never gives it any attention and calls it a “family dog”

    At the end of the day, people are going to be set in their ways about their beliefs toward this breed. If nobody insists on getting all of the information and simply believes what they read we will be stuck in this rut for a while.

  • Tori

    Actually, gonzo- it was because of their loyalty. Pit Bulls do just about anything you ask them to just to make their owners happy. They even endure getting beaten with chains and pipes and have gasoline poured on their bodies just to make their people “happy”

  • MP

    These comments just go to prove the author’s point about the horrible stigma these creatures face and how PEOPLE, not dogs (nor a specific breed) are the problem. All pets require adequate training, socialization and supervision.

    In addition I was appalled at the comment from @Stephen Sayad … wow.

  • JMS

    This comment section is a great example of why I like my pit much more than most people.

  • Mandy

    Everyday I see Pit Bulls being dragged down the street on thick cloth leashes attached to inward spiked collars, and jerked around. Never once have I ever seen a Pit Bull owner on a leisure dog walk, all I ever see is a owner/dog barreling down the sidewalk as if to say, “Get out of our way because my dog will kick your dog’s butt”.

    I’m more afraid of Pit Bull owners.
    “Why did you REALLY get a Pit Bull?”, is what I often want to ask.

    Besides, do you REALLY need a dog that takes up one quarter of the size of your urban apartment. Shouldn’t large dogs be given the opportunity to not have to live trapped up in a teepee size apartment for 85% of their life.

  • Mty

    Pit bulls are so loyal to their owners they will die to protect their family. There are no bad dogs just bad owners. Pit bulls must have a lot of exercise or that energy will build up. I love pit bulls. If you can’t spend time with them then you probably shouldn’t get one.


Subscribe to our mailing list