Pit bulls have a really bad rap, being thought of as an aggressive and potentially killer dog breed. These accounts are highly exaggerated, but that doesn’t stop many people to discriminate them, as well as those breeds that have the misfortune to marginally resemble pit bulls. Researchers found that simply labeling a dog as a ‘pit bull’, even though the canine isn’t in fact a pit bull, drastically jumps the adoption waiting time in shelters. The findings suggest that removing breed labels from shelters might be a good idea to stop breed discrimination.

pit bull

Image: pixabay

Lisa Gunter from Arizona State University, USA, and colleagues first asked people about their perception of pit bulls compared to other breeds. They then assessed the so-calld ‘pit bull label effect’. This analysis was made by surveying the perceived attractiveness to potential adopters, based on factors including perceived friendliness, aggressiveness and intelligence, of dogs labelled as pit bull breeds and of differently labelled lookalikes. They also examined length of stay in shelters.

Two pit bull lookalikes. The one labeled as a pit bull has to wait a longer time before getting adopted. Image: Arizona Animal Welfare League

Two pit bull lookalikes. The one labeled as a pit bull has to wait a longer time before getting adopted. Image: Arizona Animal Welfare League

Pit bulls were thought of as less friendly and more aggressive than other breeds, like Labradors, and hence seen as less adoptable. Pit bull lookalikes that were labeled as actual pit bulls had to wait three times as much on average to be adopted than un-labeled lookalikes.

“We were surprised how very similar looking dogs sometimes get labelled “pit bull” and other times as something completely different. These dogs may look and act the same, but the pit bull label damns them to a much longer wait to adoption,” Gunter said in a statement.

Many dogs get mislabeled in shelters. Confusing a Dutch Shepherd with a German Shepherd might not matter, but a Boxer labeled as a Pit Bull will drastically affects the dog’s chances. As such, shelters that forgo breed labeling.

Up until the half of the last centuries, pit bulls weren’t vilified — far from it! When athletes were nicknamed ‘pit bulls’, it commanded great respect and admiration. This all started to change around the 1980s when the press covered at large some incidents involving people killed by pit bulls, dogs who were raised for dog fights and bred to be extremely vicious to anyone and anything. In the U.S., there isn’t a federal breed-specific law or legislation but some cities have banned or restricted the keeping of breeds  like Pit Bull, Rottweilers, Doberman. Here’s a map where your pit bull isn’t welcome.

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