One Small Change Could Save The Lives Of Thousands Of Pit Bulls

Our biases against pit bulls are so detrimental, according to new research, that they may even affect other dog breeds in adoption shelters.

The pit bull label, which encompasses a number of breeds, is often seen as synonymous with aggressive and potentially violent behavior — an inaccurate portrayal, according to scores of previous studies.

But many other dog breeds simply resemble pit bulls in appearance, even if they don’t have any genetic pit bull ancestry. Since many shelters label dogs based solely on appearance, dogs that appear similar to pit bulls are often mislabeled.

The new research, published in the journal PLOS One last week, found that stereotypes against pit bulls are so strong that mislabeling — or, in fact, any labeling — in shelter settings can carry serious consequences.

“We were surprised how very similar looking dogs sometimes get labelled ‘pit bull’ and other times as something completely different,” Lisa Gunter, a Ph.D. student at Arizona State University and lead author of the study, said in a statement. “These dogs may look and act the same, but the pit bull label damns them to a much longer wait to adoption.”

The research involved a series of studies, intended to gauge the effect of breed labeling on potential adopters.

In the most revealing study, researchers presented potential adopters at an Arizona shelter with similar videos of both pit bulls and lookalike breeds that were up for adoption.

The researchers, from Arizona State University, manipulated the labels of the dogs — sometimes labeling the pit bulls as such and sometimes not labeling them — and asked the participants to score the dogs on several criteria like attractiveness and adoptability.

The researchers found that when no breed labels were included, the pit bulls were actually seen as more attractive on —> Read More