The first misconception is that “pit bull” is a breed. It is not. The definition of “pit bull” varies from person to person. At its most vague, “pit bull” may describe a short-haired dog of medium build. From a technical standpoint, “pit bull” encompasses at least three breeds—the American Pit Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier, and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier—and may sometimes include Bull Terriers and American Bulldogs. However, many people will include even unrelated or historically removed dogs like Boxers, Presa Canarios, Dogo Argentinos, and English Bulldogs. “Pit bull” may also include all mixed breed dogs with a particular (“pit bull-like”) appearance, even though we have no reliable, scientific way to determine what breeds really make up that dog’s ancestry. Even animal shelter employees label a dog’s breed or mix based on a glance and a guess. It is for this reason that pit bull attack “statistics” are so fatally flawed. You cannot compare that many breeds grouped under one label to the rest of the dog population. In 2004, in Tellings v. City of Toledo, based on this fact, the court found that there is no statistical evidence that indicates that pit bulls bite more frequently than some other breeds of dogs.
Another misconception is that pit bulls are physiologically different from other dogs. There are lots of myths about pit bulls: that they have locking jaws, that their bite is harder and stronger than other dogs’ bites, that their brains swell and cause them to “go nuts,” that they have an extra row of teeth like sharks, and even that they can unhinge their jaws like snakes! None of this is true. Science has thoroughly disproven such myths (many of which have been applied to other stereotypically “scary” breeds throughout the decades). Yet a lot of people still strongly believe that these myths are true. Even news media have published some of these myths as facts; the “locking jaw” myth and the super-strong bite are two myths that are commonly perpetuated by the news media.
Finally, many people are under the impression that pit bull-type dogs are only good for one thing: fighting. This stereotype is a serious detriment to all the pit bulls that are in desperate need of loving homes. Most pit bulls are far removed from the breed-type’s history as dog-fighting dogs, and it’s arguable that many “pit bulls” are just mutts that happen to look sort of pit-bull-like. Pit bull owners who are committed to giving their dog a quality life will find that pit bulls, like all dogs, are quite moldable. Pit bull owners who are willing to look past the stereotype have been successful in dog sports like disc, flyball, agility, and even herding. Pit bulls have also found work as therapy dogs, assistance dogs, search-and-rescue dogs, and drug-sniffing K9s. Of course, like any other dog, pit bulls can also make great pets for responsible, committed owners. Like any other dog, pit bulls deserve to be a part of a loving family.