Myth: There’s No Such Thing as a Pit Bull

Perhaps one of the most frequently uttered phrases by pit bull advocates when confronted with statistics and medical studies is that there’s “no such thing as a pit bull“.  They claim that the “pit bull” is just a catch all for dogs with a specific phenotype (i.e. blocky head, short coat, wide jaw) and that the term is meaningless. It’s touted by professional advocacy groups and layman “pit bull advocates” alike. In this post, we’ll expose this myth and discuss the assertions this myth makes.

What is a Pit Bull?

Contrary to what these pit bull advocates claim, there is such a thing as a pit bull. Pit bull is a breed type, used to classify closely related breeds and their mixes.  Typically they share phenotype, ancestry, and breed behavioral characteristics.  Commonly, they’ll call them bully breeds instead of pit bull breeds or bull-and-terrier breeds, including small molossers and English Bulldogs in the breed type, even though it’s evident that they have completely different functions and breed behaviors.

The three most common breeds classified as pit bulls are the American Staffordshire Terrier, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and the American Pit Bull Terrier. Additionally, the American Bully (which is claimed as a mixture of American Staffordshires and American Pit Bull Terriers), American Bulldogs, and Old English Bulldogs, Olde English Bulldogges (not to be confused with English Bulldogs) are also pit bull type dogs. Bull Terriers are also pit type bull and terrier dogs, although often not viewed as such.

Pit bulls can generally be identified by physical and behavioral traits. These traits can include:

  • Short, hard glossy coat in a variety of colors and markings (fawn, blue, white, black, brindle).
  • Stocky, well muscled body with a broad chest and muscular neck, can have a lean muscular body as well.
  • Ears are usually either cropped or medium sized and folded.
  • Broad, blocky back skull, typically a flat head with the widest point at the ears.
  • Jaws are typically wider than they are long and squared.
  • Adult weight is typically between 30-80lbs, although some are bred to be over 100lbs. Most commonly, though, pit bulls will be medium sized.
  • Pit bulls are most frequently dog aggressive and aggressive to large mammals with a high prey drive and unwillingness to give up on trying to attack (high levels of gameness).

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While advocates will often say that this is just arbitrary, breed type standards work for other dog breed and dog types as well.  All dog breed belong to larger breed types such as scenthounds, sighthounds, waterdogs, retrievers, molossers, flock guardians, herding dogs, etc. Each of these breed types also comes with typical characteristics that make them identifiable and able to be grouped together, stemming from their purpose breeding. I highly doubt that these advocates would deny that scenthounds exist and could not readily identify a dog with large floppy ears, large nostrils, large amounts of scent receptors in their nose, booming vocals, and a tendency to wander off once they picked up a trail.  No, for advocates, it’s only in regards to pit bull type dogs do they claim that it isn’t really a thing.

Problems With “No Such Thing As A Pit Bull

Aside from being factually incorrect, there are numerous problems with the often propagated “no such thing as a pit bull”.

Problems for Advocates

Aside from the obvious (“if there’s no such thing as a pit bull, then how are you a pit bull advocate”), claiming there’s no such thing as a pit bull would negates other apologetics that advocates engage in. If there’s no such thing as pit bulls, then why tout ATTS scores (that have their own issues) of pit bulls? How do you have a million and a half “I Love Pit Bulls” pages, or gear for “pit mommies”?  If you truly believed that there wasn’t such a thing as pit bulls, then how does every single one of you have a magic, heroic pit bull story?

Claiming there’s no such thing as pit bulls, then in the same breath trying to speak about how wonderful pit bulls are or saying things like “pit bulls are the most loyal dogs” really only shows the cognitive dissonance required for pit bull apologetics.  You can’t claim there’s no such thing as a pit bull, then say that pit bulls were bred for nanny dogs or extreme loyalty or whatever romanticized version of pit bulls you have.

Problems with Court Rulings

The commonly touted myth that goes along with “no such thing as pit bulls” is the “no one can identify a pit bull” or “you need a DNA test to prove a dog is a pit bull”. The problem with this is that numerous court rulings have already said this is factually incorrect.

In the 1991 case of Ohio vs Anderson, it was ruled that “Pit bull dogs possess unique and readily identifiable physical and behavioral traits which are capable of recognition both by dog owners of ordinary intelligence and by enforcement personnel.” The ruling goes on to list multiple sources that define and characterize pit bull dogs such as canine books, general reference books, and state legislature describing these types of dogs. If pit bulls didn’t exist, how would there be any references to their characteristics for the courts to rule that way?

Additionally, in the 1991 case Colorado Dog Fanciers vs Denver, the Supreme Court ruled that scientific testing was not needed to determine if a dog was a pit bull or pit bull mix.

If the courts can rule so definitively that there are pit bulls, dog owners of ordinary intelligence can identify them, and you don’t need scientific testing to prove that a dog is a pit bull, why do advocates still try to deny the existence of pit bulls?

Why They Use This Tactic

In the minds of pit bull advocates, denying the breed type’s existence is used for the same purpose of claiming they’re unidentifiable. They’re hoping to normalize these dogs and integrate them as typical “mutts”. You’ll often see rescues and shelters listing obvious pit mixes as “mixed breed”, suggesting it was a supermutt and in no way identifiable. The goal is like every other piece of propaganda they use, repeat it enough until it become “true”.

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About S.E. Riley

S.E. Riley is the founder of Pit Bulls Exposed and the lead content writer.

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