A New Pit Bull Study

March 15, 2012  

The author’s study shows pit bulls’ natural habitat is the bed and breed-specific behavior is cuddling

By Anna MacNeil

My heart was stolen by a Staffordshire Bull Terrier 17 years ago – a brindle ball of muscle we called Buster Brown. (photo right)

Breed-discriminatory legislation overshadowed our community, transforming me into a pit bull type dog guardian.

Media reports whittled at my peace of mind. Laying on his bed, barely raising an eyebrow, Buster was a threat to no one. Do I have the only sweet, tolerant pit bull in the world, I wondered? Or are there other pit bulls like Buster, living in sub-standard conditions? My heart broke. I needed to know the answer.

At my university, I visited campus libraries expecting to delve into a pool of pit bull literature. Instead, I found myself ankle deep in a mud puddle. There was nothing substantial!

The first handful of papers described seized fighting dogs or tallied bites from hospital reports or newspaper articles of dogs of unknown origin. The second handful described the flaws and weaknesses of the first bunch.

How could a global breed discrimination movement be launched from such a crippled body of knowledge?

I knew what was needed: a hands-on approach for gathering details on each dog, guardian and environment, and a control group for comparisons.

In The University of British Columbia’s Animal Welfare Program, my study began to take shape.

Shelter pit bulls were the perfect subjects. They had a variation of genetics and environments, and fit the breed-discriminatory definition of pit bull type dogs.

(photo above and below by Melissa Lipani)

As (82) dogs entered the shelter, they were placed in either the pit bull group or the control group of other breeds (similar size, age and coat length).

Aggressive behavior was measured at three points in the journey: in the shelter by euthanasia rate (for biting), by return rate for aggression and across 10 aggression-eliciting scenarios in the adoptive environment.

A questionnaire was used to guide face-to-face interviews in the adoptive home, exploring details of the dog, guardian and environment.

Pit Bull Guardians

The interviews revealed a unique pit bull guardian. They intended on adopting a different breed, but were wooed by a pit bull. They were average dog guardians who just happen to have a pit bull.

Further investigation showed that these pit bull adopters provided the same home life for their dogs as the other breed adopters. Dogs were acquired for companionship, lived indoors, were alone less than four hours a day, and had regular playtime and exercise with their families. Pit bull guardians were slightly more likely to take their dogs to the dog park (p<0.10).

This provided the perfect environment to study the behavior of pit bulls. Similar environments could neutralize typical environmental effects and expose any real breed-specific behavior.

What the Study Revealed

A new profile of pit bulls emerged from the study: They were not more aggressive than the other breeds. Pit bulls were more likely to sleep on the bed [62% vs. 16%, p<0.05], more likely to cuddle with their owners (p<0.05), and less likely to show aggression to their owners (p<0.10) – three things associated with strong human-animal bonds. Pit bulls were more likely to pull on the leash (p<0.05).

There was no difference in the number of dogs euthanized at the shelter due to aggression. Likewise, there was no significant difference between groups for aggression to strangers, other dogs, cats, children under 12, skateboarders/cyclists, joggers, over food, when stepped over, or when moved while sleeping.

There was, however, a trend for the other breeds group to be returned for aggression (p<0.02). For those still in the home, there was a slight trend for the other breeds group to show aggression to their guardians (p<0.10).

Seven bites were inflicted on people: one by a pit bull, which did not break the skin, and six by the other breed group, four breaking the skin.

Keep in mind: No participants were informed that the study was pit bull specific!

Strong Attachments

The pit bull adopters have characteristics associated with strong attachments to pets. They were younger (under 30), tending to rent (rather than own) and adopting the first dog of their own (aside from family dogs). Strong bonds have been attributed to young adults (Roll et al., 1997) without children that live singly (Albert and Bulcroft, 1987, 1988, and Turner, 2001), and have previous experience with dogs (Serpell, 1996).

(photo by Melissa Lipani)

Strongly attached owners: 1) will overlook undesirable behavior (chewing and pulling on leash) (Staats et al., 1996); 2) are less likely to relinquish pets due to housing issues (our pit bull adopters are renters) (Shore et al., 2003); 3) regularly visit veterinarians and buy pet insurance; 4) enjoy walking and spending time with their dog; and 5) are more content with their dog’s characteristics (Ledger, 2000) (Endenburg et al.,1994) (Patronek et al., 1996).

The unintentional (unexpected?) pit bull adopter and shelter pit bulls came together to create a super attachment!

Average Pit Bulls in Average Homes are Average Dogs

This study provides the much needed evidence proving that pit bull type dogs do not harbor genetic aggression. Otherwise, we would have seen aggression in the neutral home environment. Thus, legislation should focus on the environment and irresponsible owners.

His muzzle now grey, a handsome Elderbull, Buster suggests a new breed-specific law to ensure that pit bulls be allowed to sleep on the bed! (photo below)

« « Rico | Clancy the Elderbull Therapy Dog » »


36 Responses to “A New Pit Bull Study”
  1. Lovely article! We couldn’t agree more that American Pit Bull Terriers require the same basic needs as other breeds.  This bully breed is a little more special because we are guardians of them 🙂

  2. rn4pitbulls says:

    Great article….Now how to get this info out to mainstream America…Hmmmm

  3. KoryLarson says:

    The dog licking the girls face….. His name is Achilles. Me and my wife adopted him from the shelter in S.L.C.. I had no idea they were gonna use his picture. But it’s great because he was not going to get adopted because he was sooooooo hyper and would lick you. People expect a perfect dog. All he needed was to get outta the pound and see some real love. He has gone on to be the top in his class and become a service doggy. For both me and my wife. Yup that’s how awesome he is. He has a fan page called Achilles (Service Dog). He is great with everyone and he is soo calm when he is working it’s amazing. 

    • StubbyDog says:

       @KoryLarson That’s amazing Kory, you aren’t the first person to recognize their dog on the pages of StubbyDog, Melissa is very generous in allowing us to use her amazing photos. We are celebrating service and therapy dogs this month (and into April) and would love to  post your story about Achilles. He is just the ambassadog we love here. If you are interested send your story and photos to laurap@stubbydog.org. Thanks so much for sharing!

  4. libbygirl says:

    Our Libby was rescued in pontiac Mi, she was left for dead in a dog house in freezing conditions.  My Mother in law brought her home and nursed her back to health.  In the mean time I fell in love.  She now is our dog we take everywhere.  She goes to bed every night with my boys 9,7,6.  I cant believe how loving and smart she is. 

  5. Rebelwerewolf says:

    Great study! Can you do one on whether pitbull-type dogs are more likely to lie down with their hind legs splayed out, as demonstrated by the 2nd picture? I know a certain pit mix who always does this…

    • StubbyDog says:

       @Rebelwerewolf Stay tuned for a call out for photos on Facebook of this pit bull frog leg behavior for an upcoming video!

      • AnnVanderlaan says:

         @StubbyDog  @Rebelwerewolf Frog dogging on the tile or in the pool is the perfect way to beat the Texas heat.

    • NiciRodriguez says:

       @Rebelwerewolf I know many pitbulls that do that 🙂

    • annamacneilallcock says:

       I love the froglegs. My American Bulldog does the same thing.

  6. AnnVanderlaan says:

    A question. Did any of your pibble adopters fall into the category of older, and/or multi-breed experienced owners?

    • annamacneilallcock says:

       Yes, some of the ‘pibble’ adopters were over the age of 30. Some with kids and some without children. They also provided great homes. The older adopters had experience with other breeds, but had never adopted a pitbull before.

  7. JeneenBurns says:

    My baby can’t cross the baby gate, set up to provide a quite place for the cat part of the house, so she is unable to get to the bed. She sleeps on the couch instead. It is also where she does the most of her cuddling. When I adopted her they were afraid that my 5 foot hurricane fence would not contain her but I talked them into it. None of my 3 dogs cross my fence except through the gate when it is open and they don’t even cross the 4 foot baby gate in the house unless it is open. So not all Pit Bulls are escape artists. (I have one Akita, one boxer and one Pit Bull.)

  8. papergirl57 says:

    we adopted Maddie (American Pit mix) from Companion Pet Rescue.  They rescued her from Georgia and brought her up to Connecticut.  We walked into PetSmart with no intention of adopting (we already had two dogs at home – a Golden and a Silky).  But Maddie captured our hearts and we took her home.  She is the sweetest dog ever!  She loves to give kisses, she snuggles with us on the couch and sleeps in the bed with us and the other two dogs every night (it’s quite crowded!)  She goes to Camp Bow Wow with her sister, Jazz, once a week and loves to play with the other dogs.  We were afraid she would not get accepted at Camp because of their label of aggressive.  But Camp Bow Wow doesn’t agree with the labeling of dogs and just takes them in for a trial day to see how they get along with the pack.  Maddie loves being with the pack, she loves playing with her sister, and she loves loving us.  She’s our sweet Georgia girl and we love her to pieces!

    • StubbyDog says:

       @papergirl57 Maddie sounds wonderful and what a fantastic life you are giving her and she is giving you back.

  9. nilikefrogs says:

    Pitbulls only have a bad rep from the past, like dobermans. They were purposely bred with skulls too small for their brains, caused pain, made them mean, many years ago. because of the damage their strength could cause, they became a terrible story- like Grimms wolves. Ignorant people just remembered the name ‘pitbull’ without understanding, and like a horror story, stuck in their brains..Those times are long gone, but memories aren’t. education is needed-pitts are strong, but also healthy and normal again. they are wonderful, loving, gentle pets unless raised otherwise like any other canine.Myths need to be dispelled- myths are killing these wonderful spirits that deserve so much to live because they are normally even compassionate-and will only harm in self-defense as it should be.Yes, they are strong, but don’t use their strength to harm unless necessary or raised cruely.If you mess up the gentlest dog- say a lab- you would have the same results, tho it is also not in their temperment. any proiblems with pitts are the owners, not the breed…..

    • Hyupp says:

       @nilikefrogs I’m glad you stand up for pit bulls and call for the dispelling of myths. But you also seem to believe one of the most ridiculous ones out there- that dogs can be bred with “skulls too small for their brains.” Just think about that for a second. Seriously. http://stopbsl.org/fortherecord/myths/

  10. nilikefrogs says:

    Incidentally, as an ‘afternote’, look at the human offspring of racists, murderers, etc….if they are raised by a human with no values or compassion, they will likely become the same (tho not always) so why is MORE expected of an animal?

  11. BethGdowski says:

    My Prince is the sweetest and most loving dog i have ever had the pleasure of “owning”! We took him in when he was only two weeks old after some backyard breeder let his whole family freeze to death. after bottle feeding him every two hours for almost a month he started eating on his own. We fit into the under 30 and renting category and he is our first dog outside of family pets. he lives with three kitties and we make it a point to dispel pit bull myths any chance we get. he goes on vacation, family gatherings, and walks, greeting people with the characteristic pibble smile. if i had a dollar for everytime someone said to me “i thought they were supposed to be mean” after meeting Prince i would be well on my way to starting my own rescue! 🙂

  12. HillaryS says:

    Love this post–so true! My first dog of my own was going to be a cocker spaniel, until I started volunteering at Delaware Humane Society and met an emaciated, sick brindle pit bull pup. When I adopted him, my dad said, “That’s the funniest looking cocker spaniel I have ever seen!” ;P I adopted Roo just knowing he was a terrier mix–I didn’t even realize he was mostly pit bull. He was my world–and it was devastating to lose him to cancer after a hard fight 2 years ago. But it inspired me to get active in pit bull rescue and advocacy… and it wasn’t too long before I found another pit bull–Jasmine–to share my bed with–LOL! Roo will always have a special place in my heart as my first dog who introduced me to the wonderful world of pit bulls. <3

    • StubbyDog says:

       @HillaryS It seems like Roo’s legacy is bringing you into the world of pit bull rescue and advocacy, and what a wonderful way to honor him! Kisses to Jasmine!!

  13. AmyTeal says:

    All True!! I have been bit by 3 dogs in my life, a german shepard, yorkie and jack russel and the shepard bit because I ran from him, he barely broke skin ( I was 9 and at a friends house and big dogs scared me at the time). Moral or the story is I have had pits and pit mixes for 20 years and none of them have even come close to biting me or anyone I knew, they would rather snuggle and get their belly rubbed than anything else. Loyal to the end and sweet as pie =)

  14. I live with two pitties (an older girl and a 1 yo boy) and a 4.5 yo puggle and believe me, the puggle is the aggressor.  Doesn’t bite the humans or his big sister but goes after his baby brother even though the big boy out weighs him by at least fifty lbs.  Big Boy is a mush who just wants someone to play with him.

  15. c9pilot says:

    Our Staffordshire Bull Terrier is a Buster Brown, too! Sophie is a rescue Mini Bull Terrier and our most recent from Rugaz Rescue (here in Tampa Bay area) is pit bull Honey Bun (http://origin.tampabays10.com/news/article/175854/8/Neglected-starving-dogs-rescued-by-Rugaz-Rescue-in-Pasco-County)

  16. LaurenSutton says:

    This is fantastic! Thank you for sharing this with us.

  17. prudhomno1 says:

    I have a beautiful red nose Pit named BEAUX, 2 YRS OLD IN FEB.  He has his side of the bed, but usually ends up on my side. He plays with the dogs next door, EVEN THE PUPPYS. Just  like my child. Also I raise Pit Bulls. They are raised by a gentle hand & I love all of them, So MAYBE U CAN UNDERSTAND , WHEN I SAY, { I HAVE 8 PIT BULLS ON MY PLACE } AND PEOPLE THINK THEY R SO MEAN. I AM A WIDOW, LIVE BY MYSELF @ I TAKE CARE OF ALL MY DOGS. I LOVE THEM. WOULDN’T HAVE ANY OTHER BREED.

  18. EllenEmerson says:

    Great photos! There are no bad dogs – only bad owners! BAN bad owners.

  19. mysticbutterfly37 says:

    Pit Bulls are awesome when they get along with other dogs. My biggest issue with them is that they don’t always get along with other dogs, and I don’t only want one dog in my house, and I worry about having them around my kids. If I had one as a puppy, then it might be different. I don’t know. I volunteer with a local animal rescue, and I am still finding this to be true of the pits they rescue. Some are nice, and some make better pets in houses without other dogs or children.

    • StubbyDog says:

       @mysticbutterfly37 What you said can be true of any dog, regardless of what ‘breed or breeds’ it might be. Many of your concerns about pit bulls is really from media hype and have no basis in truth. Pit bulls are dogs, plain and simple, some like other dogs, some don’t, some dogs love children, others don’t. It’s when we generalize that everyone loses, especially the dogs. We applaud  you for volunteering, that is amazing, but try and see each individual dog for what he or she is, regardless of whether it’s a pit bull, German Shepherd, Chihuahua.

    • JennSettle says:

       @mysticbutterfly37 Where are the pit bulls in the shelter you volunteer at coming from? I’d bet a high amount of money it is from environments that promote aggression, where they have not be socialized with children, and where they are taught and encouraged to be aggressive towards other dogs.  For any dog, it is not the BREED, it is the ENVIRONMENT in which they were raised. Same goes for people. You cannot say that any particular racial group is more or less inclined to be violent simply based upon their genetic makeup. It comes from their family, their home, their education, and more factors. 

    • sugarsmom says:

      pitbulls are not the only breed that may be dog aggressive. and as far as your children go, there is no breed of dog that is better with children than a pitbull! i used to have a female pitbull named sonya that i got from a breeder who was retiring her, and she had had a few litters of puppies, so her teats were kind of saggy. a friend of mine came over to my house with her son who was only 2 at the time, and he was playing with sonya, and she was laying on the floor with him, showing her belly. before we knew what had happened my friends son had bit one of sonya’s nipples clean off, and sonya did not even lift her head to him, she just continued to lay there and let him play! i can not say i have ever seen any other breed of dog as gentle with children! and also, if you were to do some research on the breed’s history, you would see that they used to be called the babysitter or the nanny dog because people would get them specifically to watch over and guard their children! you can bet your bottom dollar that no harm will come to your child(ren) when your pit is around!

  20. JennSettle says:

    In my experience the aggressive dogs were always the little ones. Untrained, spoiled, dominant. In high-school I was plagued by a friend’s two dogs. Shih-tzus. One humper, one an attempted-face biter had to be locked up when we went to his house. Our friend, a professional dog walker was bit by a neighbors dog – a Jack Russel. The dog across the street who consistently attacked my 60lb ball of muscle – a fluffy little mutt about 10lbs named Max. Walking in the park on day we noticed a little white pit bull running through the field where all the dogs play, with no owner in sight. Some owners shied away and called their pets away from the pup, and a few non-dog walking passerby made comments like, “I’m not going near that dog, it’ll probably bite me.”  A few of us called her over, and though shy about strangers, she allowed us to put a spare collar and leash on her. She was never aggressive towards anyone in the park, only wanted to play with all the doggies and people. No tags, and recently shaved we all expected the worst of where she had come from. My boyfriend took her home with our dog, and I began to ask around a few houses near the park. No one recognized her. Back home, our dogs (total strangers until the hour before) played merrily for the entire night and following morning–shared food and water bowls, snuggled, and I got more kisses than my face could handle. Her owner called the next morning, repeatedly thanking us for not taking her to the pound (Atlanta is close to breed-specific legislation), and explaining that she’d snuck out an unlatched door. Don’t judge a pit or a pit owner based on first impressions!!! All the pits I have ever met are happy, loveable, kid-snugglers, and face kissers who just want love. Nearly  all of the ones I’ve met are rescues. And if anyone who is against pit bulls hasn’t heard of http://www.hectorthepitbull.com/, one of Michael Vick’s rescued fighting dogs who is now an advocate for pit bulls and makes visits to elementary schools, I wouldn’t listen to them. And look up real dog bite statistics, please. Pit bull-type dogs bite less frequently than other dog breeds. But what news reporter wants to report a Chihuahua bite? or a Pomeranian? Little dogs do less damage, but bite more frequently. Can you really make a martyr out of one breed for having a bigger mouth? Victoria Russel (It’s me or the dog) came to the Annual Bully Rally in Atlanta last year. She stated the stats, Labrador retrievers bite/attack more frequently than pit bulls. You just don’t hear about it, because the news doesn’t care. Labs don’t bring drama. 

    • JennSettle says:

      I’d be more worried about a lion trying to eat my kid than a pit!    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6fbahS7VSFs&feature=player_embedded

  21. sugarsmom says:

    this is a wonderful article! i believe you can take any breed of dog and make it aggressive, it all depends on what type of environment you bring them up in. i believe that they should put more time and energy into punishing the people who cause the problem because a dog, especially one as loyal as a pitbull, is only going to do as it is trained to try to please the owner! look at that SORRY EXCUSE OF A HUMAN BEIN, michael vick, and how long he had all of those poor dogs, abusing them. you know he didnt accrue them over night, and all that time no one said a single damn thing because he played football! once again, the problem does not lie with the dogs, that is just a cheap excuse! people need to have more compassion!