The term Pit Bull usually refers to the American Pit Bull Terrier, the Staffordshire Terrier, and the American Staffordshire Terrier. They all share certain typical characteristics, such as an athletic build, large jaw, and muscular neck.
Are they vicious freaks? The breed as such does not display any typically aggressive behavior. Research show that other dogs like Chihuahua and the Dachshund are much more aggressive. And yet statistics from CDC show that Pit Bulls kill by far more than any other dog breed. How can this be?
Well, for one, the Pit Bulls are strong so that when they do attack they can do more damage than Chihuahuas or a Dachshunds.
But perhaps more importantly, Pit Bulls attract a certain type of owners who contribute to the problem. Several studies have shown this. In 2006 one study published in Journal of Interpersonal Violence looked at 355 dogs of high and low risk profile. The high risk dogs are those common in fatal attacks, mainly Pit Bulls, making up 92 percent of the sample, but also Rottweilers and some other breeds. They found a clear overrepresentation of criminal convictions among owners of high risk dogs for things like assault, domestic violence, endangering children, and illegal possession of drugs and weapons.
This could be seen as a social marker but other studies have examined the personality traits of high risk dog owners. In 2009, one study published in Journal of Forensic Science found that these owners score high on the traits primary psychopathy and sensation seeking. Another study that followed up on that study in the same journal interviewed 754 college students about their dogs and their personality, thoughts, and behavior. It found a similar pattern of antisocial tendencies. These traits are highly inheritable and resistant to environmental influences. So it’s not a social marker but a matter of personality.
And that is why you should be cautious when you encounter a Pit Bull. While the breed has a good temperament and some owners are responsible, the combination of anatomy and ownership profile makes for a dangerous dog. This is no doubt why liability insurance costs so much for these dogs, and why many companies refuse to insure Pit Bulls. The insurance companies are disinterested in the debate; they must be competitive and just look at the risk and the bottom line.
In a way this is obvious. I mean, even if you don’t believe in the statistics and the research, no one can deny that these dogs are feared by many. So who wants a dog that will scare people? Exactly those that are identified in the research – individuals scoring high on sensation seeking and psychopathy. People who think a Pit Bull would be exciting to own and who don’t have much empathy with others.