A reader writes, in response to my Troublemakers article:
As an emergency vet in Las Vegas, I see lots of pit bulls. I would rather work on a pit bull than any other breed as they are very sincere and don't change their temperament 1/2 way through the exam. They let me know up front —" I'm going to kill you if I get the chance", and they get muzzled and drugged. Many german shepard dogs, american eskimos and some retrievers will decide that they want to eat my jugular veins as I listen their heart after giving no indication of aggression up to that point. They are very dangerous. I think the most vicious breeds are daschunds and chihuahuas.
I realize that I've said a great deal about Pit Bulls already. But this is a very interesting point. I've heard now over and over again versions of what the reader above says—namely that what distinguishes the Pit Bull breed, above all else, is its stability and evenness of temperament. This is, in fact, why so many bad actors have, in recent years, made the Pit Bull their dog of choice. If you are going to abuse a dog, and encourage it to do socially hostile things, and leave it chained up and frustrated, the Pit Bull is a far better pet than, say, a Rottweiler or Doberman for the simple reason that a Pit Bull will accept an awful lot more maltreatment than other dogs, and will much more clearly telegraph its intentions in time of stress. In other words, what makes Pit Bulls over-represented in dog bite statistics is not just a product of the dark side of their character (their ferocity and status as fighting dogs) but the good side of their character (their evenness of temperament.)
This is a paradox that is not confined to dogs. For instance, for years people in the pharmaceutical business have been aware of the fact that a large number of reported adverse reactions to a particular drug can mean one of two things. The obvious meaning is that a drug is dangerous. The other meaning is that a drug is SO much better and safer and more effective than any other drug in its class that it tends to be given to the sickest and most troubled patients.
If, for example, a drug company company came up with the best anti-depressant in the world—something twice as good as Prozac—we would EXPECT that drug to be associated with, say, more reports of suicide ideation. Why? Because it would be prescribed overwhelmingly to the hardest cases, to the most depressed and suicide-prone sector of the psychiatric population.
The point is that we need to be very careful in the way we interpret statistics purporting to show that one kind of dog, or one kind of drug, or one kind of anything, is more dangerous than other things in its class.