Readers rush to defend the breed from these readers:
Part of the reason pit bulls were so popular among dog fighters is that while they fought to the death with each other, they traditionally did not turn on their handler. Pit bulls, like many dogs, are intensely loyal to their pack, and packs in Western culture often include their human owners and masters. There was a reason the Little Rascals' dog was a pit bull; it was once an all-American member of the family. However, when you take a dog with certain characteristics and add either intentionally destructing or simply inept handling and breeding, those characteristics can lead to much worse results than you’d get with another breed with a much more mellow natural disposition.
There are numerous pit bull rescue organizations that specialize in rescuing and rehabbing pit bulls from dog fighting operations. There is a lot of debate about what should be done with rescued pit bulls because sometimes a dog can appear to be rehabilitated only to have a particular sight, sound, or memory trigger their old life – at which point they do turn aggressive. But the idea that, because of breeding, pit bulls are now genetically predisposed to aggression is malarkey. These dogs are aggressive because they have suffered. So the solution here is to seriously crack down on dog fighting – not to ban breeds.
In the name of science and statistics and plain duty, please don’t let those anecdotal stories be the last thing you say on the topic of pit bulls and dog aggression.
Please read or link to this study conducted by U of Penn Veterinary Medicine in 2008. They surveyed 6,000 dog owners and had many interesting findings, including this tidbit: pit bulls and Rottweilers scored average or below average in aggression. Smaller dogs tend to be more aggressive than larger breeds (Dachsunds, Chihuahuas and Jack Russells make up 1, 2 and 3 on the aggression rankings, while Basset Hounds, Golden Retrievers, Labradors, Siberian Huskies and Greyhounds were among the lowest scored). The researchers believe that "smaller breeds may be more genetically predisposed to aggressive behavior than their large counterparts because of rough handling by humans." They go on to say that bite statistics that have been released are skewed because most dog bites are not reported.
There are plenty of studies available. For example, this one concludes: "[M]ost of the factors contributing to dog bites are related to the level of responsibility exercised by dog owners". (This is especially telling to me, since my experience from the shelter abandonment intake desk is that pit bulls are extremely popular among irresponsible douchebags.) Or this study: "The proportion of deaths attributable to pit bulls increased from 20% in 1979 and 1980 to 62% in 1987 and 1988". So I think we can rule out a one-generation magical advance in aggressiveness in the breed during this period.
Finally: "Approximately 92% of fatal dog attacks involved male dogs, 94% of which were not neutered." This is probably a much stronger correlation than any single breed, yet I don't hear the same clarion call to require neutering for all dog adoptions (though we strongly encouraged it).
Well since you're taking the "plural of anecdote is data" route on this one, here's my contribution. I have loved every single pit bull I've ever met except two that were clearly raised shitty and were aggressive towards other dogs. The breed is bred to please, meaning they'll do anything and everything to garner praise. If that means rolling over on their back so that master says "I wuv you" in a high pitched voice, they'll do that. If that means attacking and killing something so that master says "good boy," it means that too. If master is a dipshit and doesn't train or socialize them properly, it means they'll do whatever comes naturally, which may be face biting and jugular slashing like any vicious dog (ever met an aggressive German shepherd? 10x scary).
It is hands down my favorite breed, but because Americans are by and large dipshit dog owners, it means that by and large American pit bulls are shitty dogs.
I've been a daily reader of yours for ten years, and this post about pitbulls is the first time that I've been moved to write to you. You are going to get a lot of overheated rhetoric about these dogs on both sides so I wanted to share my experience as a pitbull owner, father and attorney. I have owned several of these dogs, all from shelters, and the one that I currently have was taken away from her previous owner due to cruel treatment. These are the things that I have found to be true:
1) These are great family dogs. They love kids and are suckers for any kind of positive attention. They have a high pain tolerance and generally are not bothered by kids pulling their ears, etc. These dogs are great cuddlers.
2) They can be dog aggressive. Dogs that were bred for generations to fight other dogs cannot always turn this off. If dogs fight, the pit is usually going to win and is capable of killing the other dog. I personally have found that neutered/spayed dogs properly socialized are rarely dog aggressive but owners need to be able to read their dog's body language to head off a potential fight. I currently have a large female pitbull that goes to doggy daycare, the dogpark, and resides with another mixed breed female with no problem. I had one before her for 12 years that would fight any dog she came into contact with but loved people. She stayed indoors and on a leash when out and about.
3) Dog aggression is not human aggression. Dogs that were bred for the pit were also bred not to display human aggression. There is someone in the pit with the dogs when they fight. Pitbulls were never bred to be guard dogs or protection and are not very good at either. If you want a dog to protect your home or family from human intruders, you are much better served by a German Shepherd, Rottweiler, Bullmastiff, Akita, etc. I would also note that all of these dogs are much larger than pitbulls.
4) Unfortunately a lot of shitheads own pitbulls. They like the dog's reputation for aggressiveness and do things to foster it.
5) A properly socialized pitbull will be the best dog you own. They are extremely affectionate, they will be your kid's best friend, are extremely eager to please, and loyal to a fault. The shelters are full of these wonderful dogs that are going to be put down. These dogs aren't for everybody. They are active, need exercise, and need to be properly socialized. If you aren't willing to do these things, don't get a pit – you are just perpetuating a problem. Actually, you probably shouldn't get a dog period.