"A breed of satin and steel. Pit bulls are a mixture of softness and strength, an uncanny canine combination of fun, foolishness, and serious business, all wrapped up in love."

-D. Caroline Coile

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A New Pit Bull Study

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

By Anna MacNeil (Reprinted from StubbyDog.org)

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)


  1. Great study. Would love to see the results verified by another similar study to get the researches data irrefutable . Love the last the last line too, " Buster suggests a new breed-specific law to ensure that pit bulls be allowed to sleep on the bed!"

  2. great article. my dogs have always slept on the bed or the couch.

  3. I am not surprised. I am the proud owner of two pit bulls. I have had many other breeds in my life. Such as labs, shepards, rotties, mixes, etc. I'm in the "older" category. Yes, I am 50 yrs. old. Out of the breeds I've had. I have never had as much joy and love from a dog. Intelligent, protective, funny, overall amazing. Totally unconditional love and respect at all times from them. I wouldn't ever want another breed. Through my dogs others of all ages have had a major learning experience. They (my dogs) have taught many that they are deserving of so much more......

  4. Are you sure my Mushroom didn't bribe you regarding the bed statistic? If she could talk/read, she'd be all "but other people's pitbulls sleep on the bed"!

  5. i love this it is so true and only someone who has had the pleasure of owning one of these fine animals would understand BSL is BullShit Legislation

  6. This is a great article! Thank you to the author/researcher for doing such a detailed job profiling this wonderful breed. My husband and I have a 6 year old pit bull/bloodhound mix that was rescued at 4 months old off the streets of Indianapolis. He had been neglected by his former owner, and despite his shaky beginning has made himself a loving member of our home. He gets along beautifully with our 2 year old son, our many cats, and our recently-acquired shelter puppy. And he LOVES to sleep on the bed...couch, lounge chair, whatever!

  7. I gave my son a Blue Pit for his birthday needless to say my family was against it. Diesel has stolen the hearts of everyone he is the pride and joy of my son who has been offered everything from cash to a Motorcycle for him. Now he attends all family functions LOL. He was housebroken in less than a week and is by far the smartest dog I have ever seen. Now all mothers know young or old we would never give anything to our children that would harm them. What I gave my son was atrusted friend for life.As I have said time and time again its all in how you raise them just like your kids. I love my Grandpuppy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. I love this study! I have two pit bulls of my own. One is a lab/pit mix and the other is a blue/red nose pit. Just like Buster, they love my bed. They are the beat dogs that I could ever imagine having. Both of my boys are extremely loving and love to cuddle with me. I don't think I could have picked better companions. I myself would never give them up just because of housing policies, if there is a problem with what they are then I choose not to have anything to do with that housing. I will always do what I can to protect them.

  9. My Pit Whippet mix is now going on 6 years old (November)and he might as well be royalty. He doesn't know the meaning of "get off the bed". he has his own special chair, blankets, pillows, his own "spot" on the couch. When my brother (age 12) comes over the dog belongs to him, as in he will follow that kid anywhere, even sleeping with him when he stays the night. The only issue I have is he snores and can be a bit of a bed hog but I love my sweet loyal and very spoiled dog.

  10. Does anyone know where the actual full study can be found? This would be wonderful for a research paper I am writing.

  11. My two Pit mixes LOVE the couch. They have one in the sun room, and also regularly sleep (and drool) on our living room couches. They are wonderful with the neighborhood kids who all love their kisses. My 5 month old daughter loves cuddling with them, and my niece and nephew love to chase them around the yard.
    These loveable mutts have changed the minds of dozens of pit bull skeptics here in St Pete.

  12. I was adopted by a pit-i wasn't in a good position for a dog, but the shelter wouldn't take him because of his breed! I did my own series of "aggression tests." If you moved his food bowl while eating, he just watched to see what it would do. He didn't like rakes or hoses, which made me wonder what he'd run from in the first place...He didn't get mean, just did the 'puppy-pose" and barked. He once got into my cds, and chewed everything but the John Denver, proving his intelligence and good taste. We would take long walks in the woods, and he hated when I climbed trees, because he couldn't follow...He was an 80 pound lapdog, a permanent puppy. Miss you Wiggles.

  13. My rescued pittie at six months who is almost a year old is now twice the size still thinks she's a lap dog and yes, she uses me as her pillow on a king size bed and crawls under the blanket. She is the sweetest thing and yes, they are smart we taught ours to carry bag of chips to her dad. She is my happiness and joy at the end of a mundane office day. Thank God for pitties! Yesterday, took her to the park, three five month old beagle played with her and she loved it!!! She will pull and will tug on your clothes when she wants you to play with her . . . she will also kiss you if you tell her she hurt you :-) I used to have two labs, retriever and a bassett hound. This one is the funniest of them all!! Talks to herself in the mirror :-)

  14. Pitt bulls are wonderful dogs they are targeted because of humans using them fighting. Punish the owners not the breed! Sadly it is the other way around! I lo r Pitt bulls! Any fog can be dangerous if trained to be. I am glad this study came out and hope it puts Pitt bulls in a good light. They deserve it!

  15. The question is not what pit bulls do to those who they like.
    The question is what they do to those who they don't like.
    This study is laughable. You call this a study.
    Talk to the Britts. They have a major dangerous dog problem in the UK. Kids there use strong dogs as weapons. Many people who adopt pit bulls adopt them because they feel sorry for them, not because they know what kind of a pet they want. I see so many people who adopt pit bulls become lonely and isolated because their dogs don't get along with other dogs. Or they don't know how to play with other dogs.
    With all that said. I like pit bulls. I like terriers in general they are very loving. But animals are unpredictable and anyone who deals with them knows that. The biggest problem pit bulls have is the fact that anyone can have any dog and as long as that remains true, pit bulls will be a target of the law.

    1. Your an idiot.
      This study PROVES that Pit Bulls are NOT naturally (genetically) aggressive! There are many others breeds that are much more naturally aggressive. The only way a Pit Bull may hurt someone is if their owner is being attacked, because they are very loyal and protective of their people!

    2. You obviously don't know much about Pit bulls. I have a pit mix that looks very much pit bull. I rescued her from the shelter when she was a year old. She was a very friendly and outgoing dog. Sometimes too much so. She always wanted to run towards people and it frightened a lot of people just because of the breed. Also, she is very strong and did, as it states in the article, pull at the leash.
      She actually pulled me to the ground a few times. I enrolled her in a good obedience school. The trainer was wonderful and it really seemed he trained the dog owners more so than the dogs. I now have a well behaved dog that knows heel, sit, down, and stay, not only verbally but with hand signals. She is a perfect lady. She is well socialized and when I have her out the neighborhood children come over to play with her. There is a good reason they have been known as "nanny dogs". As for getting along with other dogs I also have a Doxie and a Chihuahua. She gets along very well with the little dogs. She knows just how hard to pull on the rope when she plays tug of war with the Dachshund. It is not unusual to find her napping on the foot of my bed with my cat.
      She is a very intelligent dog. When she wants something she really tries to talk. She is just an amazing dog. All she needed was love and someone to teach her how to behave. All dogs instinctively want to please their humans, pits included.

    3. Kathy,
      Great post. I myself have three rescue pitties, one we stole from a fighting house at a very early age (I do not condone ever stealing except in a situation such as this) another we found in a Carrabas parking lot, and the last we were given from a very neglected household. They are literally my children. They are super playful with other dogs, children, etc. They need to be shown affection. The only time they have shown any ahgresion is when they need to get as physically close to us when they want to snuggle.

  16. I am a Paraplegic/paralyzed from my chest down due to a severed spinal cord & I use a manual powered wheelchair. I volunteer a few hours per week at my local SPCA since May 2011 working with dogs of all ages & breeds. And Pits are by far my favorite breed to work with, as they seem to deal with my chair A LOT better than most. Even though they could easily drag me around and/or out of my chair I'm sure, they don't even try. And I've dealt with dogs that come from Fighting raids w/scars on their faces, dogs from neglectful homes & just the ordinary family Pit that they had to surrender because they had to move & couldn't take it with them or couldn't afford care of them anymore. And every single one of them has just wanted to love and/or be loved. They are in my opinion the best breed in the world.

  17. Interesting article, I myself have 5 dogs, 4 rescues which are made up of 3 pits (oldest is 9 yrs and youngest 2 yrs) and 1 English Pointer. It's the English Pointer who is the only dog that has growled and snapped at me when I abruptly pushed out of my spot on the bed. Consequently, she is now on her own dog bed on the floor.
    I just question the "genetic" finding. If dog fighters are breeding for aggression (dogs that find other dogs aversive)and they are out in the shelters and on the streets, but are most likely to be euthanized by a shelter and yes, some pit bull rescues, then how can the conclusion be that there is no genetic implication for aggressive pit bulls. I am an advocate for Pits, I love them and I feel like it's WAR, trying to educate people about them. There are a wonderful breed, but sadly I do think that there are some pits that are breed for this aggression toward other dogs and that cannot be denied.

    1. Exactly,
      Pits bulls are a great breed but are also a great weapon. They are not a dog for everyone and I wouldn't want them freely available to every thug on the block. Period. A lot of rescues and anti-BSL people are trying to tell everyone how pit bulls are just as dangerous as chihuahuas. This is also a problem.
      Pit bulls are a new age weapon in many countries.

  18. Wow anonymos, ur the typr of oerson everyone is refering 2. What about all the pitts that save people they dont know? What about the pitts they use 2 help sick people, people like u that know nothing about the breed and say things cuz of what other ignorant people say shojld just keep ur comments 2 urself until u actually know what ur talking about!!!!! Truth is pitts are like any other breed, if theyre mistreated then ur gonna have problems!!! Truth is pitts are very loving and gental!!!! Truth is there was a time in our country pitts were known as heros, yep heros!!!! Look it up!!!! The reason they got such a bad name is cuz of the morons that mistreat them and abuse them 2. Make them mean and use them as fighting dogs. Its no different then anything else, if ur starved and beaten then ur gonna have a chip on ur shoulder. I hate ignorant people, u have a computer, look up the storys on people being saved by these dogs, going back 2 ww1 and b4 even!!!!

  19. BSL is so flawed it is unbelievable, pit-bulls and many other breeds are condemned as aggressive and dangerous, recently I was out with my two dogs,(not pits) when I got talking to a guy walking his 12 year old collie, he told me of an incident where he was with his dog and it was attacked by 4, yes 4 chocolate labs, there owners had no control over them, didn't try to stop them and it was only by good fortune his elderly dog wasn't badly mauled. Are Labradors going to be next to go on the BSL list, if so what's after that, my lurcher and GSD/Shelie cross or your poodle or schnauzer or pug. Sounds ridiculous, but not so, somewhere those breeds are already banned. B.S.L. HAS GOT TO BE STOPPED

    1. George,
      In places where BSL doesn't exist every clown thinks they can get a pit bull. So they do. And then after a while they give them to shelters because they can't handle them or they've bitten someone. That's how most pits are euthanized.
      I'm not pro BSL but I just wish some people would think a little bit.

  20. I am the proud owner of 2 pit bulls, I also have one wienee dog. My wienee dog is the one people should be worried about not my pits. They are the greatest dogs I have ever had. I actually rescued a pit bull when I first got out of the Army and planned on finding him a home. Needless to say that didn't happen, I feel in love with him. In march of this year I sadly had to put him down because of heart worms. I tried everything in my power to get him better and it didn't work. I decided to start a pit bull rescue in his name B.E.A.R's Pit bull rescue. It stands for Because Every Animal has Rights. My husband also lost his job saving his pit from parvo. She is one of the best dogs I could ask for. She loves my 20 month old and my 2 month old. Nobody could ever get me to get rid of them, they are part of the family...don't know about the little one though :P. I think the BSL should be stopped and fast. IT was talked about in my area but failed. I am worried they will try again.

  21. I think Breed Specific laws are increasing in response to news stories that seem to single out pit bull type dogs while ignoring other breeds with known and similar problems with aggression. I'm not saying there isn't a problem with pits but I do believe the problem is often more the owner encouraging protective aggressive behaviors and getting off on the psychological high of sporting a 'powerdog' around on a leash, the dog straining and alert, frightening people. By powerdogs, I mean pitbull types, Dobermans, Rottweilers, German Shepherds, and mastiffs. I've had experience with very friendly dogs from all these breeds and also had experience with very aggressive scary dogs as well.
    But you don't often hear about Dalmations or Cocker Spaniels and both breeds are known to be temperamental, especially with children and I've seen it for myself. Or the various terrier breeds.
    Inside every docile dog is an aggressive dog that will manifest itself under the right conditions- protecting its owner/guardian, surprise, attack, abuse. And inside almost every aggressive dog is a docile dog that will manifest itself under the right conditions- love, patience, proper treatment, and respect.