As animal welfare and animal care and control professionals, our biggest challenge and opportunity is to educate our constituents: staff, volunteers, potential adopters, donors, or even a board of directors. Education is crucial to success because lack of education or miseducation can deeply hurt our organizations’ animals by perpetuating detrimental myths. The long held myth that black cats are bad luck, for example, can leave your shelter overflowing with them.
In animal welfare, pit bulls are surrounded by some of the most damaging myths, leaving more pit bulls unwanted and in shelters than any other breed.
Pit Bull Awareness Month in October provides us the opportunity to review some common myths about the once-celebrated “American Dog” and remember to enforce accurate information in our internal communications with staff and our external communications with the public.
Important Note: The term “pit bull” does not represent a single breed. The term applies to American Pit Bull Terriers, Staffordshire Terriers, American Bull Terriers and mixed breeds.
Pit bulls have locking jaws. FALSE
This is physically impossible. A pit bull’s jaws are not anatomically different than those of other dogs. A pit bull has no unique mechanism that would cause the dog’s jaws to lock. This myth is often perpetuated by a common and dominant characteristic of pit bull dogs — gameness, the desire to complete or succeed at a task. The gameness in a dog is what drives a pit bull to not let go —especially if you are playing tug with a favorite toy.
Pit bulls will turn on you. FALSE
A dog’s stability is an individual trait that is a complex result of many factors, including both genetics and upbringing. In fact, 86.8% of American Pit Bull Terriers passed the stability test administered by the American Temperament Test Society, making it an overall stable breed. Again, the complexity of factors make any dog’s temperament a completely individual trait.
Pit bulls are aggressive. FALSE
Aggression, too, is an individual trait and the result of many factors. Because of the history of earlier breeds, some pit bulls may be more likely to exhibit dog aggression, but aggression toward humans is highly uncharacteristic.
Pit bulls don’t feel pain like other dogs. FALSE
Pit bull dogs do not experience pain differently from other breeds. Any dog’s response to pain varies by the individual dog.