VERIFY – YOU’VE GOT QUESTIONS, WE’LL FIND ANSWERS
When it comes to the danger of pit bulls, some of you are really worried. That includes Verify viewer Lisa.
“I'm concerned with the number of pit bull attacks and mauling that's been happening,” Lisa said in a video.
On Facebook, David Schechter -- a reporter at 9NEWS' sister station WFAA in Dallas, Texas -- has been hearing from a lot of pit bull owners who say don't blame the breed, blame the dog owner. Lisa is still wondering.
“My question is, are they more dangerous than other dogs?” Lisa asked.
WHAT WE FOUND
To learn more, Schechter spent the day with Ray Rentschler. Rentschler is the top dog catcher in Arlington, Texas. He sees a lot of pit bulls.
“It's a big dog. It's a strong dog. They've got big powerful jaws. When they bite, they can do a lot of damage to somebody,” Rentschler said of the breed.
Arlington Animal Services ranks dog bites on a scale of one to six. A level six is fatal.
“When you get into those high-level classifications, how much is coming from pit bulls?” Schechter asked.
“This year we've had 10 level four bites. Out of those, five of the 10 were pit bull type dogs,” he answered.
THE PIT BULL’S BITE
One common belief about pit bulls is they have a different kind of bite. Some even think it has a locking jaw. Is that true?
“Pit bulls, when they fight they'll get into -- what I call it -- a zone and they lock in. They get ahold and they jockey for position,” Rentschler said. “So, they just hang on. It's not that their jaw is locked up or anything, but they hang on. It creates a more vicious bite."
Does a pit bull have a clamping mechanism where they clamp on when they bite? Dr. Jessica Lockhart is one of about 50 certified applied animal behaviorists in the world. She says no.
“With any dog that's being aggressive, despite its breed, any dog in that situation is going to bite and hold,” Lockhart said.
"It's not breed-specific to pit bulls,” she added.
Lockhart says the pit bull has a bigger mouth and therefore a bigger bite. But bottom line, she says, all aggressive dogs bite and hold.
PIT BULL AGGRESSION
Back with Rentschler, he finds a pit bull named Poseidon who’s lunging from behind an 8-foot high cage.
In court proceedings, Poseidon was ruled by a judge to be a dangerous dog.
“He was running at large and he attacked a man who was sitting in his garage and bit his arm and ripped it open where all his muscle was exposed," Rentschler said. "That [breed of] dog is so strong and so powerful that when it does attack, they just do so much damage."
That’s an example of a dangerous dog. But another story is unfolding an hour away in the Texas town of Anna where 5-year old Mason Barbay and his mom Kyndal love their two pit bulls.
The Barbay’s dogs put Schechter right at ease, he said, even licking his face.
“How are they around Mason?” Schechter asked.
“Awesome. They're inseparable," Kyndal said. "They just run around with him and cuddle on the couch. He lays on top of them. They lay on top of him."
Most of what we know about dog attacks comes from the news. The website dogsbite.org says pit bulls contributed to 65 percent of fatal dog attacks in the last 12 years. But the news only covers the worst cases. In fact, there is no statistic that captures all bites by all dog breeds.
However, there is a widely-cited research study that surveyed dog owners about aggressive behaviors. It’s called breed differences in canine aggression by Deborah Duffy, Yuying Hsu and James Serpell.
In the category of a dog's aggression against other dogs, pit bulls score high. The breed measures about the same as a Chihuahua, but below the Akita.
Another loose dog Rentschler sees frequently is the Chihuahua. In that same research report, Chihuahua scored high on aggression toward people. Pit bulls are in the middle of the pack.
But while Chihuahuas have been known to do some damage, it's pit bulls we're focused on. The perception persists they are a highly aggressive dog.
“Completely wrong for that breed,” Lockhart said. “They are actually very sociable and very affable breed. They are a very friendly breed."
- Pit bulls are about average when it comes to aggressive behavior toward people.
- They are high on the list of aggression toward other dogs, but not the highest.
- Even though a pit bull is strong enough to do a lot of damage when it does bite, it does not bite differently than any other dog.
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