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If you’ve spent any amount of time around Pitbulls, you’ve probably encountered a bunch of wiggly, big-headed goofballs who just want to play and snuggle. You may also have had one or two experiences that made you a little bit uncomfortable.
A lot of places, from individual cities in the U.S. to entire countries abroad, have entirely banned Pitbulls along with other popular dog breeds like Rottweilers, German Shepherds, and Dobermans.
Why are Pitbulls banned in some places? Mostly because Pitbulls have garnered a reputation for being aggressive and governments would rather remove Pitbulls from the population than work to educate the public on how to responsibly care for and coexist with this wonderful, powerful, breed.
This is a difficult subject to unpack in only a few words. Making sweeping generalizations like “aggressive” or “not aggressive” when referring to breeds of dogs is, in my opinion, counterproductive, overly judgmental, and dangerous.
However, because governing bodies in cities like North Little Rock, Arkansas, and the entire country of France have decided to completely ban Pitbulls, it seems as though we’re going to have to acknowledge some generalizations in order to get to the bottom of why Pitbulls are banned in so many places.
Before I get started potentially making enemies of you, dear readers, full disclosure: I love Pitbulls. They are what they are, and once you acknowledge the whole package, the good and the bad, you’ll come to love them all the more for their uniqueness among dog breeds.
Since Pitbulls often get a bad wrap, let’s start by smoothing things over with something we can all agree on: any dog that saves a baby girl from a housefire can’t be all bad!
Are Pitbulls Dangerous?
Pitbulls, like all dogs, are potentially “dangerous.” After all, grandma could trip over her Corgi and hurt herself, but that doesn’t make Corgis dangerous. Or does it?
What Is A Dangerous Dog?
Legally, the terms “dangerous” and “vicious” dogs are often used interchangeably, but they are referring to the same classification of dogs. This is a legal classification of dogs and any breed can earn this label.
Do not think, though, that because it is a legal classification that it’s well defined or not subjective. These laws function at the state, county, and municipal levels, so the interpretations and implementations of this label vary.
However, at its core, a dog is deemed “dangerous” when it has done something unprovoked and violent, and will no face some consequences.
I know that sounds vague, but it does vary so much from place to place.
For example, in Louisana, a “dangerous” dog is any dog that
- Causes any defensive action by a person,
- Causes any injury to a person, or
- Causes any serious injury to or kills any domestic animal.
But in Ohio, a “dangerous” dog is any dog that
- Causes injury, other than killing or serious injury, to any person, or
- Kills another dog.
So, as you can see these definitions are extremely broad, leaving a lot of room for subjective interpretation. Depending on the nature of the incident, even an otherwise sweet family dog could get itself on the dangerous dog list.
Are Some Dog Breeds “Dangerous?”
Some dog breeds are considered “dangerous,” like in the legal definition of the word “dangerous dog” that I outlined above.
The legal classification “dangerous dog” can be applied to any breed of dog after there is an incident. Typically, the only dogs excluded from the rules are police dogs who cause injury during the line of duty or dogs.
A term you’ll encounter if you look into this yourself is “BSL,” which stands for breed-specific legislation.
It’s the snappy term some folks use when referring to the laws that governing bodies have enacted to ban certain breeds of dogs. Pitbulls, like many other breeds of dog, are frequently grouped into the “vicious” dog category, regardless of their personality or history.
What Dog Breeds Have Bans?
Once more, this varies from place to place. But below is a list of the dog’s breeds that are commonly deemed “dangerous” and thus have BSL against them:
- Chow chows
- American bulldogs
- German Shepherds
- Cane Corsos
- Bull terriers
- Rhodesian ridgebacks
This isn’t an all-inclusive list, and not all breeds are banned everywhere. And keep in mind too that in many locations, this list is growing.
Unfortunately for the Pitbull though, they are typically the most often banned breed of dog.
Where Are Pitbulls Banned?
There are many city and county-level regulations on Pitbulls, and not all of them are “bans.” Some locations simply require that you register your Pitbull while others limit you to 1 or 2 per household
Check with local authorities about the specific rules about the legality of Pitbulls if you live in or plan on bringing your Pitbull to visit one of the following U.S. states:
- North Dakota
- New Mexico
- West Virginia
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
- Puerto Rico (technically a territory but we’ll count it)
Pretty long list. Similarly, if you’re traveling abroad, the following countries have some regulations or bans on Pitbulls:
- Canda (certain provinces)
- The Netherlands
- New Zealand
Again, these aren’t necessarily locations that 100% ban Pitbulls, but you need to be aware of the laws regulating Pitties if you plan on adopting or traveling in these areas.
Are Pitbulls More Dangerous Than Other Dogs?
In a word: yes, Pitbulls are more dangerous than other breeds of dogs.
I really hate to say it because I love Pitbulls and, as I said, I hate sweeping generalizations like this. But looking just at the stats, Pitbulls really are more dangerous than other breeds of dogs.
Before we dive in, this is different than the “Dangerous Dog” legal classification that we have been discussing. That is a category; dogs cannot be more in that category than other dogs in that category.
Pitbulls are “more dangerous” than other dogs based on 1) the frequency of aggressive behavior shown to other dogs and 2) the severity of the encounters when aggressive behavior did occur.
In a fascinating study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania, it was discovered that Pitbulls, along with Akitas and Jack Russel Terriers, were the three breeds of dogs most likely to show aggression towards other dogs.
More than 20% of the Pitbulls studied showed aggressive behavior towards other dogs. However, their aggressiveness towards strangers and their owners was found to be average to below average.
However, it can’t be argued that Pitbulls were not bred to bite. According to the ASPCA, the Pitbull that we know today was bred from the English bull-baiting dog, which was bred to (omg) bite and hold bulls, bears, and other large animals around the face and head for hunting.
While this breeding has resulted in a powerful bite, the pitbull’s bite force isn’t actually that exceptional compared to dogs of a similar size and they’ve got nothing on Rottweilers in the bite force department.
Because of their powerful jaws and the fact that they were bred to bite and hold, Pitbull bites on people, while less common than Dachsunds and Chihuahuas, are typically far more dangerous.
So they bite people an average amount and cause an above-average amount of damage, and they bite other dogs more frequently than other breeds and again, cause an above-average amount of damage.
Anecdotes aside, the simple fact is that Pitbulls are statistically more dangerous than other breeds of dogs. But does that mean that they should be banned?
Does Breed-Specific Legislation (BSL) Work?
No! Despite the fact that BSL aims to control the populations of dangerous breeds in communities, there is no evidence that these laws improved public safety and they do nothing to address the social problem that is irresponsible dog ownership.
One location that has long-standing BSL against Pitbulls is Prince George County, Maryland.
According to their own Viscious Animal Task Force, the county spends up to $500,000 annually enforcing their BSL but the percentage of dog-related incidents related to the banned breeds, including Pitbulls, did not significantly drop after enacting the ban.
That’s because 90% of the reported dog bites occurred in breeds that were not part of the banned group of dogs, probably because these banned breeds did not make up a high percentage of the county’s dog population in the first place.
In addition, BSL does nothing to address the social issues that cause dogs to bite. Most dogs bite because of the way they are raised. People raise dogs. Punishing the dog and leaving the person to raise another biter is not going to cause fewer bites.
What Happens If You Own A Pitbull Where They Are Banned?
This varies from location to location, but it’s always best to be in compliance with your local laws.
Some places will slap you with a fine for every day that you keep your dog. The consequences can be much more dire than having to write a check.
One family in North Little Rock, AK, who I mentioned earlier as having strict BSL, narrowly dodged tragedy.
When they were confronted by the city for owning their pitbull, Iris, they were told they either needed to 1) send Iris to a rescue organization outside of the city immediately or 2) surrender her to animal services to be spayed, tattooed, vaccinated, and “rehomed outside of the city.”
What they did not realize when they signed over their beloved family dog was that many dogs who enter that county’s “rehoming” program often end up euthanized. Luckily that wasn’t the case for poor Iris.
But still, she had to lose her home.
Keeping a banned breed of dog leaves you subject to local punishments, and it’ll be your dog who has to pay the price if they are harshest.
Can You Change Breed-Specific Legislation?
All laws, including BSL, can be changed if you’re willing to work with your local governments to refine or eliminate them.
Starting in 2021, Denver, Colorado has lifted their 30-year ban on Pitbulls. Activists rallied citizens to sign a petition that got a measure to repeal the law on their November 2020 ballots.
The repeal passed with 65% of voters in favor of allowing Pitbulls and 35% voting to uphold the ban.
While it may seem like a daunting task, if you are interested in getting BSL repealed in your area or supporting organizations to help change these laws there are resources available to you, like the aptly named Repeal BSL Organization.
Are Pitbulls A Safe Breed?
Despite all of the negativity surrounding Pitbulls, I can say with assurance that Pitbulls are a safe breed if you acknowledge the reality of the animal you are dealing with and are willing to put in the work to raise a well socialized and nonviolent dog.
Acknowledging that you have a powerful dog that is more prone to causing serious injuries than other breeds of dog is the first step to approaching this entire issue with clarity.
Many well-meaning Pitbull fans seem to think the best way to change hearts and minds is to ignore this fact and claim that all breeds are the same and Pitbulls are all just big babies. They may point to dogs that they’ve known to be gentle dogs or claim that it’s all about how they are raised.
To some degree, I agree with this last point. Pitbulls can be great dogs if you raise them correctly, but you will need to work harder to ensure that they are safe and well socialized than if you got a pug.
“How to raise a well-socialized Pitbull” is far more than I can bite off in this article. If you’re looking for tips on how to raise your pitbull, want to help out a friend, or simply want to come to a better understanding of the relationships between people and dogs, I highly recommend Dr. Patricia McConnell’s book, The Other End of the Leash: Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs.
There is a lot of information on either side of this argument. If you just look at the facts, though, you’ll see that yes, Pitbulls bite people just as much as other breeds and other dogs more frequently than other breeds. And because of their powerful jaws, when they bite, they bite hard, which makes them more likely to cause injury than other dogs.
But again, just looking at the facts, banning Pitbulls and other “dangerous” dog breeds is an expensive and ineffective way of improving public safety.
Unfortunately for Pitbulls, bans, and limitations are still popular quick-fixes that governments take to attempt to address aggressive dog issues in their communities rather than taking more active steps to address the root cause of these issues.
Nonetheless, Pitbulls can be fantastic family pets for anyone who wants a big, powerful, silly, loyal dog who just may take a bit more TLC than another breed.