What's the Deal With That Video Telling People Not to Adopt Pit Bulls?

An ad encouraging people not to adopt pit bulls has stirred up strong feelings. Andrei S/Shutterstock

There's a controversial video making the rounds on social media, encouraging people not to adopt pit bulls.

Created by California attorney Kenneth M. Phillips, who exclusively represents dog bite victims, the video offers statistics about pit bulls, injuries and deaths, then advises people not to make them pets.

"I handle some of the most horrific and newsworthy fatal maulings in the country," Phillips tells MNN. He says he was moved to make the video after researching deaths caused by dogs last year.

"Over and over again, shelter dogs have been killing people. There are a number of major cities ... that the official policy is to not tell people the breed of the dog or the biting history of the dog, and I feel this is unethical and dangerous."

Phillips says his statistics come from several places, including DogsBite.org, a national organization that advocates for dog bite victims and against "dangerous" breeds, specifically pit bulls.

But fans of the dogs say the information in the video is wrong.

"The statistics aren't accurate and it's extremely discriminatory," says Jen Deane, founder of Pit Sisters, a Jacksonville, Florida-based rescue that specializes in pit bull-type dogs. "We take one step forward, and 10 steps back sometimes."

The video, which has been watched more than 7 million times, has mostly attracted comments from people critical of the ad, who then share photos of sweet pit bulls, often snuggling with children or other family pets.

"Here’s my pit that is literally afraid of the chihuahua that he lives with," tweets @danielleeef7. "The sweetest, goofiest & most lovable dog I’ve ever met. He’s better than any human on here that’s hating on him, get to know the dog before you assume they are dangerous."

Deane shared a photo of her pit bull with a group of schoolchildren, showing them how to properly interact with a dog.

The video "makes comments that are extremely harmful to these dogs that are the most overbred dogs in the country," Deane says. "It's crazy how many dogs that resemble pit bull dogs are in the shelter system, and here you're trying to give them a death sentence."

And that's exactly what Phillips says he's trying to do.

"The animal should be banned and should be made extinct," he says. "It's not just the people who were killed by it last year. It's the fact that it has mutilated tens of thousands of people and killed other people's pets. The amount of destruction is unbelievable. It's a very risky dog to have."

Phillips says there are other options.

"A mom and dad will go to a shelter to pick up a new dog for their son or their daughter. Why not get a golden retriever? Why not get a Yorkie. Why get a pit bull? It's not as if eradicating this breed would cause a shortage of dogs."

What is a 'pit bull'?

Technically, pit bulls are not a breed, but rather pit bull-types known for big, block heads and athletic, muscular bodies. Some common breeds that often earn the pit bull label are the Staffordshire bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier and American pit bull terrier.

The dogs were originally bred to protect livestock and property, but were sometimes used in more violent pursuits, such as bull-baiting, where dogs were used to bring down a tethered bull. The animals also became the most common dogs used in underground dog-fighting rings.

Often dogs get labeled as "pit bulls" just from their looks since there are no breed specifics. In some areas, local legislation bans pit bulls, and because the breed is considered high-risk, pit bull owners often face difficulties getting homeowner's insurance or are unable to rent in certain places.

Some animal shelters are doing away with breed names, oftentimes because mixed breeds are labeled as pit bulls, causing them often to linger in shelters longer than dogs labeled as other breeds.

Aggression and statistics

Chihuahua growling
An often-cited study found Chihuahuas are some of the most aggressive dogs towards people and other dogs. Kuricheva Ekaterina/Shutterstock

Aggression varies from dog to dog, regardless of the breed, and often has much more to do with an animal's environment or owner than the dog itself, experts say.

Nevertheless, pit bulls are often cited as being one of the most aggressive dogs. However, a 2008 study by the University of Pennsylvania looked at aggressiveness in 30 dog breeds and found that Chihuahuas and dachshunds were the most aggressive toward people and other dogs.

Pit bulls were among the most aggressive toward other dogs, particularly those they didn’t know. However, pit bulls weren't more aggressive than other breeds toward strangers and their owners.

According to the National Canine Research Council (pdf), "In sum, modern purebreds are not diligently selected for behavioral traits. Many environmental factors affect the expression of behavior traits, and mixed-breed dogs cannot be expected to exhibit the traits of their parents in any predictable ways. Thus all the scientifically credible evidence argues against any physiological or behavioral traits making the group of largely mixed-breed dogs that might be designated as 'pit bulls,' or any specific breed of dog, more dangerous than other dogs."

Each year, the American Temperament Test Society evaluates the temperament of hundreds of breeds, looking at an animal's stability, shyness, aggressiveness, friendliness and its instinct to protect its handler.

The average pass rate on the most recent test was 83.4 percent. The American Staffordshire terrier and the American pit bull terrier surpassed that with 85.2 percent 87.4 percent respectively.

According to studies compiled by the American Veterinary Medical Association, the breeds found to be highly represented in biting incidents were German Shepherd dog, mixed breed, pit bull type, Rottweiler, Jack Russell terrier and others including the Chow Chow, spaniel, collie, Saint Bernard and Labrador retriever.

"It's the old adage that you can't judge a book by its cover," Deane says. "It doesn't matter what the dog looks like or what label you give the dog. What matters is how they behave and their actions."