Sunday, June 26, 2011

Discussions with the pit bull community: media reporting

Whenever I've spoken to members of the pit bull community about the relatively high number of pit bull attacks compared to other breeds, it always comes down to one of a few standard responses - either flat-out denial, anecdotal non-sequiturs about wonderful pit bulls, or conspiracy theories.

I'm not one to rule out conspiracies, but as a rule of thumb I hesitate to assume a conspiracy when more plausible (and obvious) explanations exist. For instance, consider the oft-heard claim that pit bull attacks are over reported by the media - a media eager to report such attacks, while ignoring attacks by other breeds.

First of all, attacks in general are under reported from what I can see. Several people close to me have been attacked by pit bulls, and none of the attacks ever made the news. You may try in vain to google them, but they are below the radar. It's a fact that not all dog attacks are reported, and that's no evidence for a conspiracy - and it's only natural, for instance, that a life threatening dog attack is more likely to make the news than a nip from an ankle biter.

However, if  someone is killed by a dog - any breed of dog - it makes the news. So we have a level playing field when it comes to fatal dog attacks, because every fatal attack is reported. This affords us an opportunity both timely and unique: to tally the breeds involved in such attacks and find out once and for all which breeds are responsible for the most deaths.

As it turns out, a number of dog attack studies have been done over various time periods. The most comprehensive study to date was done by Clifton Merritt for the animal people, and covered dog attacks in the US over a 28 year period between 1982 and 2010, broken down by breed, type of victim, and severity of attack. We can examine the breed by breed death totals discovered in this study to arrive at a clear picture of the comparative threat posed by various dog types. The full report is available here but the highlights are shown below. Let the facts speak for themselves:

1982-2010 chart:

BreedBodily harmChild VictimsAdult VictimsDeathsMaimings
Pit bull terrier1552691529166859
Wolf hybrid826841946
Bullmastiff (Presa canario)582221931
German shepherd795220950
German shepherd-mix37268724
Pit bull-mix1024421751
*Chart ordered by number of deaths; includes only a portion of breeds listed in report.

Discussion notes:

  • Even if the pit bull category was "split three ways," attacks by pit bulls and their closest relatives would still outnumber attacks by any other breed.
  • Pit bulls are noteworthy for attacking adults almost as frequently as children, a characteristic not shared by any other breed.


  1. first it was the german shepherd, then it was the doberman, then the rott...hey.

    why are the husky and chow getting preferential treatment over the doberman?

  2. Another way to put it is if 2/3 of the pit bull IDs were erroneous, pit bulls would still be the number one killer. There is just NO WAY around these numbers.

  3. @ Craven

    Proves that he pit bull community is either full of liars, idiots, or a mix of both. Although I'm sure a large portion of people who gobble down pit bull propaganda are putting too much faith and trust in a group of people who claim to "love all dogs."

  4. Jake, thanks for your intelligence here, but even more for your courage.

  5. We do try ;) - Thanks for the kind words Dr Semyonova!


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