Pit bulls have a reputation for being aggressive dogs that bite frequently. If you’re wondering why pit bulls seem to bite so often, read on to understand the real reasons behind this breed’s behavior.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Pit bulls bite a lot due to their history of being bred for dog fighting, their physical strength, pain or fear aggression, and irresponsible ownership practices.

In this comprehensive article, we’ll explore the complex reasons why pit bulls bite more than other breeds, including their breeding history, jaw strength, the impact of nurture vs. nature, misconceptions about the breed, pain-induced bites, fear, irresponsible ownership, lack of socialization and training, and more.

We’ll also provide actionable tips on how to prevent pit bull bites through proper care, training, and advocacy for the breed.

History of Being Bred for Fighting

Origins and Early Breeding

Pit bulls originated from crosses between the English bulldogs and terriers for the specific purpose of dog fighting and blood sports such as bull baiting. Early breeders deliberately selected dogs that showed traits like confidence, high pain tolerance, tenacity, and aggressiveness.

Selective breeding throughout the 1800s resulted in the pit bull breeds we know today like the American Pit Bull Terrier.

Used Extensively in Dog Fighting

Unfortunately, pit bulls were extensively used in underground dog fighting rings in the 20th century, resulting in further selection for aggressive traits. Owners put them through harsh training regimes and bloody fighting matches, resulting in a disproportionate number of serious bite incidents.

While dog fighting is now illegal in most developed countries, it still persists and contributes to misconceptions about pit bull temperament.

Physical Strength and Bite Style

Extremely Powerful Bite

Pit bulls have extremely muscular jaws and skulls that give them an incredibly powerful bite. Their bite force measures between 235 and 265 pounds of pressure per square inch, compared to a human’s bite force of around 120-140 psi.

This means a pit bull can easily crush bones and cause major tissue damage when they bite down.

Studies have shown that pit bulls tend to bite with greater force and often do not show warning signs before biting. Their extremely strong jaws allow them to bite down with incredible pressure and hold on tenaciously. Once a pit bull bites, it is difficult for even a person to pry their jaws open.

This bite-and-hold style can cause severe crush injuries.

Bite-and-Hold Style

Pit bulls are known for their distinctive bite-and-hold attack style. When they bite, they have a tendency to grip and shake their victim vigorously side to side like a shark, inflicting more tissue damage.

Other dog breeds may snap and retreat after a quick nip, but pit bulls will bite deeply and grind their jaws while maintaining grip.

It is theorized that this tenacious biting trait was bred into pit bulls for bull-baiting purposes centuries ago. Bull-baiting required dogs to maintain a strong, crushing bite on a bull’s nose or ear while the bull tried to shake them off. Pit bulls that held on the longest were prized.

Today, pit bulls have been measured to have up to twice the biting pressure of other dogs their size and do not let go easily.

This bite-and-hold attack pattern allows pit bulls to inflict severe injuries on other animals and humans. The shaking motion further damages tissue, muscles and bones. Pit bulls involved in attacks often need to be pried off or beaten with blunt objects to get them to release their grip.

Impact of Nurture vs. Nature

Nature: Innate Tendencies

Research suggests that genetics and innate tendencies do play a role in some pit bulls being more likely to bite or attack. Here are some key points:

  • Pit bulls were historically bred for bull baiting and dog fighting, which selected for gameness (willingness to keep fighting) and aggression.
  • One study found that gene variations affecting neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and cortisol can influence impulsivity and aggression in dogs.[1]
  • Pit bull bites have been shown to cause more damage on average compared to other breeds due to their size and strength of bite.[2]

However, it’s important to note that genetics don’t automatically make a pit bull dangerous. Rather, they influence tendencies that must be properly managed through nurture.

Nurture: Upbringing and Environment

When it comes to pit bull attacks, there is strong evidence that nurture, not just nature, plays a major role. In fact, some studies have estimated over 90% of attacks involve unneutered male pit bulls with abusive or negligent owners.[3]

Important nurture factors include:

  • Socialization (or lack thereof) to people, animals
  • Training and obedience work
  • Supervision and confinement precautions
  • General care and treatment
  • Owner responsibility and involvement

A 2018 study found that in over 80% of fatal pit bull attacks, owners had prior knowledge of the dog’s aggression. Yet they failed to neuter, confine, or euthanize the animals, allowing the attacks to happen.

This suggests that while pit bull temperament may differ on average, responsible ownership and nurture play a huge role in bite prevention. In fact, some pit bulls can make excellent family pets with proper care, socialization, training, and supervision.

Misconceptions About Pit Bull Aggression

There are many myths and misconceptions surrounding pit bulls and their reputation for aggression. While it’s true that pit bulls were originally bred for bull baiting and dog fighting, this does not mean they are inherently dangerous or prone to attacking people.

In fact, pit bulls were historically known as “nanny dogs” because of their loyalty and gentleness with children. Here are some common myths about pit bull aggression and the facts that dispel them:

Myth: Pit bulls have locking jaws

This is completely false – pit bulls physically cannot “lock” their jaws. Their jaw anatomy is no different than any other dog breed. When pit bulls bite, they do not bite harder or lock their jaws. This myth likely started because when pit bulls bite, they tend to hold on and not let go – which is a trait seen in many dog breeds, not just pit bulls.

Myth: Pit bulls are unpredictable and attack without warning

Like most dogs, pit bulls typically give clear signals before resorting to biting. Warning signs can include growling, barking, baring teeth, stiffening up, and tucking tail between legs. Pit bulls are no more likely to “snap” and attack out of nowhere than any other breed.

However, their warning signs are often overlooked because people incorrectly assume pit bulls are inherently aggressive.

Myth: Pit bulls attack more than any other dog breed

There are no nationwide statistics on dog bites by breed in the United States or Canada. Many organizations, including the CDC, oppose breed specific legislation – laws that ban or restrict ownership of certain breeds like pit bulls.

These laws are ineffective because dog bites result from complex factors not just related to breed. For example, breed misidentification is common and the pit bull “type” includes several breeds often confused as pit bulls. Enforcement of these laws is also extremely challenging.

Myth: Pit bulls are mean, vicious dogs

According to the American Temperament Test Society, pit bulls pass temperament tests at a rate of 87% – higher than many other breeds like Chihuahuas, Border Collies, and Beagles. Pit bulls are not inherently aggressive toward people and were historically known for their friendliness and loyalty, especially with children.

Like any breed, socialization and training from an early age are key to a pit bull developing good temperament.

The biggest factor in a pit bull’s tendency for aggression is likely not its breed, but rather its history of abuse, neglect, lack of training, or irresponsible ownership. With proper socialization, training, and responsible ownership, pit bulls make excellent family companions.

Pain or Fear Can Provoke Bites

Pain-Induced Biting

Pit bulls, like all dogs, may bite when they are in pain. If a pit bull has an injury or health condition that causes chronic pain, he may resort to biting to stop what he perceives as the source of his pain.

For example, if a child unintentionally steps on a pit bull’s sore paw or tail, the injured dog may reflexively bite the child. A pit bull with severe hip dysplasia that causes constant aching may bite his owner when being moved or touched. According to a 2020 survey by the American Veterinary Medical Association, 76% of dog bites involve unneutered male dogs. Since intact male pit bulls tend to be more territorial and aggressive than fixed males, pain-induced biting may be more prevalent among unneutered pit bulls.

Some of the common health conditions that may cause a pit bull pain and provoke biting include:

  • Arthritis
  • Hip or elbow dysplasia
  • Injuries such as fractured bones, sprains, cuts or burns
  • Skin allergies or irritations that cause itching and discomfort
  • Dental disease like abscesses and tooth decay
  • Ear infections
  • Cancer or tumors

While pain-induced biting may seem unpredictable, there are often warning signs that indicate a dog is hurting or unwell. Changes like decreased activity, altered gait, reduced appetite, reclusiveness, yelping when touched, or aggressive behavior like growling or snapping can signal that a pit bull is in pain.

Consulting with a veterinarian can help diagnose potential sources of pain or illness and allow them to be treated humanely and effectively.

Fear Biting

Fear is another common trigger for biting in pit bulls. Pit bulls may resort to biting when they feel threatened or afraid. Some situations that can cause fear and provoke biting include:

  • Being approached by a stranger
  • Being yelled or waved at
  • Having body parts like paws or tails grabbed or pulled
  • Being cornered or unable to escape
  • Being teased, chased or bullied by children or adults
  • Having objects waved in their face
  • Loud noises like thunder, fireworks or vacuums

A pit bull’s body language can indicate when he is feeling fearful. Signs may include a tucked tail, ears pinned back, crouching posture, yawning, lips pulled back, whale eyes showing the whites, and more. Reading a dog’s body language helps prevent provoking bites caused by fear.

Additionally, proper socialization from a young age reduces fearful behaviors. Pit bulls who receive structured, positive exposure to new places, people, animals and situations as puppies are less likely to react fearfully – and bite – as adults.

While any dog can bite out of fear, breed traits may influence how sensitive pit bulls are to perceived threats. Originally bred for fighting and baiting bulls, pit bulls can be reactive and defensive, so extra care is needed around unfamiliar people or animals.

With proper training and socialization though, pit bulls can learn to control fearful impulses and channel their energy into appropriate outlets like toys and sports.

Irresponsible Ownership Practices

Lack of Training and Socialization

Many pit bull bites result from a lack of proper training and socialization from a young age. According to the ASPCA, pit bulls that have not been appropriately socialized have a higher tendency to be aggressive.

Without early positive exposure to people, animals, and various situations, they can develop fear-based reactions. Additionally, pit bulls require dedicated obedience training to learn how to properly interact with their environment.

Owners who do not put in the time and effort to train their pit bulls are much more likely to have dogs that bite.

Irresponsible Breeding

Some pit bull bites are the unfortunate result of irresponsible backyard breeding practices that prioritize aggression over temperament. Unlike ethical breeders that carefully select breeding stock for health and behavior, disreputable breeders may intentionally breed dogs with genes that predispose them to aggression.

They also often fail to properly socialize puppies during the critical developmental stage. This produces unstable dogs that are more likely to bite without warning. To curb bites, more oversight is needed in the breeding industry to ensure best practices are followed.

Dogfighting and Bait Dogs

Dogfighting operations unfortunately rely on the extreme athleticism and gameness of pit bull breeds, leading to higher bite rates. Dogs bred and trained to attack are exceedingly dangerous due to deliberately cultivated aggression.

Even after being rescued from fighting rings, these pit bulls often cannot be safely rehabilitated due to their learned behaviors. Bait dogs, who are used as sparring partners for fighters, are also frequently covered in bite wounds and understandably turn fear aggressive.

Tighter legal consequences for dog fighting perpetrators are necessary to reduce the brutal industry and its violent outcasts.

Preventing Pit Bull Bites

Proper Care and Training

Responsible pit bull ownership begins with proper care and training. Here are some tips to prevent pit bull bites:

  • Start training and socializing your pit bull from a young age. Expose them positively to new people, animals, and environments.
  • Use reward-based training methods like clicker training. Avoid punishment or dominance techniques which can make dogs aggressive.
  • Provide your pit bull with mental and physical exercise daily to prevent boredom and frustration.
  • Spay/neuter your pit bull. Intact dogs are more likely to show aggression and roam.
  • Supervise interactions between your pit bull and children. Teach kids how to properly interact with dogs.
  • Keep your pit bull leashed and under control in public areas. Use secure fencing at home.
  • Learn to read your pit bull’s body language. Redirect behaviors before warning signs like stiffening, staring, and growling.

Proper socialization, training, exercise, and supervision are key to curbing any undesirable behaviors in pit bulls and promoting a well-adjusted companion.

Advocating Responsible Ownership

We must advocate for responsible pit bull ownership to combat breed stereotypes. Here’s what potential owners should consider:

  • Research the breed thoroughly to see if a pit bull is a good match for your lifestyle and experience level.
  • Be ready to put in the time, energy, and money on training classes, supplies, vet care, exercise, etc.
  • Make sure your living situation allows pit bulls. Some apartments or areas have breed restrictions.
  • Have a plan for managing your pit bull around other pets. Slow introductions and supervision are vital.
  • Ensure you can handle an energetic, strong dog. Consider their size and strength when training.
  • Be prepared to dispel prejudices your pit bull may face. Be an ambassador for the breed.

We should promote spay/neuter programs, licensing incentives, and breed-neutral legislation targeting irresponsible owners. Through education and leading by example, we can encourage responsible pit bull ownership.


In summary, pit bulls have a higher incidence of biting due to a combination of their breeding history for dog fighting, jaw strength, pain/fear reactivity, and irresponsible ownership practices. However, in the right hands, with proper socialization, training, and care, pit bulls can make wonderful family pets.

The key to reducing pit bull bites lies in education, advocacy of the breed, punishment of illegal fighting/baiting, and promotion of responsible pit bull ownership practices. With compassion and firm guidance, we can help improve misunderstandings about this loyal yet powerful breed.

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