« Gladwell v. Gopnik con't | Main | Sports Guy »



I really enjoyed your article but the part that really jumped out at me was your reference to the woman in France. I recently speculated on her attack and assumed she was a pit bull owner - given the ferocity of the attack (that left her without a face). I tried to find a reference to the type of dog that attacked her and came up short (maybe I didn't look hard enough). But my point is, with the absence of specifics, it's very easy to fall into a generalised logic. And that logic can be dangerous. I admit, I found myself falling into that logic of "what kind of person owns a vicious dog" and, well, the end of that logic is to blame the victem, right? So I appreciated your specifics and the nature of your argument. Especially the way you drew it all out - inflaming our natural responses and then confronting us with our own thinking.

In truth, I do think Pit Bulls are terrifying and think it should be illegal to breed or own them (just as I think guns should be illegal). But I realise I'm in the minority in a culture that celebrates ultra violence and normalises cruelty.

But thanks again for your nuanced take (and blog post "footnote" - if I'm correct in understanding your use of the blog as an extension of your longer essays/articles).


how about the ration off 'dog bite' based on species of dawgs and then range them on the 1-6 level ??

IMHO, I think Pit bulls head the list - no wonder we in toronto want them banned !!


About the woman in France left without a face after her dog attacked her> it was a labrador. You can check http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isabelle_Dinoire that is pretty well informed (as usual) and confirm what I've heard and read in my country (I'm french too). The circonstances of the "attack" are not clear: the dog tried to awake her with its legs/teeth (?) after she had taken a few pills/numerous pills (?), depending on suicide or not (but is it important?).

BTW, "American Pit Bull Terrier" and alike are banned in France since 1999. Those living must be declared, wear a muzzle and kept on leash when outside. Females had to be sterilized.
Of course, those animals are not dangerous by themselves, the problem is on the other side of the leash. They were more and more used by young in suburbs (cliché aboard) to threaten verbally neighbors and people, even used by people being arrested in order to slow the police. So the french Parliament decided to ban those dogs and especially importing or "breeding" (translation of élevage?) them.
Other dogs, when owned by dumb people (being agressive or without authority), are also dangerous, but in case of an attack, they are morphologically less prone to killing a child and so on. Well, on the mean.


Oops, both informations ("labrador" and "banned in Western European countries") are already in the article. I didn't find it while searching for pitbull, only with "gladwell" keyword. What about a direct link to http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/articles/060206fa_fact ? ;-)

a rare voice of reason at this location

Well, if that Labrador had not done its best to awaken her (after her suicide attempt)she might not be alive today. What is worse, a facial reconstruction or a grave? If the former, she could always find a surer method to do herself in later.
The problem with Pitbulls in the US is their use by black and Hispanic gangbangers. In France, no doubt, the problem is their use by black and ethnic North African gangbangers.


The thing about guns and pitt bulls, is that someone like me would never own a gun or a pitbull. The reason is that I'm a rather articulate, sneaky and cowardly person who would rather run and hide than shoot a person or live with a dog that could rip my neck off just because I might want him handy to rip someone else's off one day... So, just like there's something to be said for regulating gun ownership, there really oughtta be something done about pitt bull ownership. You gotta wonder about people who want 75 pounds of muscle and teeth in their one bedroom apartment.

Pitt bulls do have a particularity that instills fear in everyone: their jaws lock once they've got a good hold on you. They've been bred to do that, and can't help it. This is what makes them so dangerous. Other dogs can be more easily detached. Pitt bulls sometimes cannot. (I lived with one for 5 years, when my brother took in a stray, so I know a lot about them).

I was attacked by a small dog and went to the ER with deep six bites in my left hand, it's true. The same kind of attack by a pitt bull would have been much worse.

blue demon

Your comment about the owners rings true for me. A large dog attacked my small dog once, and as I grabbed the big dog's collar to drag him off, I was attacked by its owner. My dog was unhurt, whereas I got an afternoon in ER, a blood-filled eye and a brain scan.


You gotta wonder about people who want 75 pounds of muscle and teeth in neartheir one bedroom apartment.
No, you don't. Pitbulls, like any other kind of dog, are loyal companions and excellent pets. I own a 90-pound German Shepherd. Do you have to wonder about me too?

My dog is protective and wary of strangers around my house, but is by no means aggressive. If you respect her "territory" you won't have a problem, and since I know this, as her owner I take steps to make sure people don't wander into situations that might set off her protective instinct. I live next to a 100+ pound Rottweiller and a pit bull, and while I'm not going to wander into their yard unannounced, I also don't live in abject terror of them.

The solution to this problem is to stop blaming the dogs; the problems we have are with humans. They've been exploited as far as dog-fighting goes, and we should be doing all we can to stop that. Breeders of pit bulls also have a responsibility to screen their prospective buyers, and to not sell their dogs to someone who they feel just wants one to look tough. And above all, they need to stop selling their dogs to pet stores, who give the dog to anyone who walks in with the cash (many breed clubs make this the first requirement of membership in their society). All of these steps would go much further to alleviate this pit bull "problem" while not treating a great dog as some kind of inherently evil hound of Satan.


RE: a rare voice of reason at this location

Rare Voice,

Unfortunately "rare voice" you are incorrect about most of assertions in your brief comment.

From your first paragraph you show your lack of knowledge of the true Pitbull breed.

Pitbulls were never bred in the past to bite people. Sadly, in the past they were bred to be dog aggressive. With the exception of some fools now who think they are good protection dogs...through physical and mental mistreatment they abuse the dog and force it/train it to act in a manner against its very nature and breeding. You have a greater likelyhood of being bit by a Shepard, Doberman or Rot than you do a Pit. With these examples those breeds they were bred to be "protection" dogs, to intimidate and at times to bite people. Those breeds would be considered "inappropiate" to some idiot dog fighter just as a pitbull is not a breed to be trained to protect people...it's not what the breed was and is about. Look up the stats, little dogs bite far more often than larger dogs. Dog or gun ownership in general should only be for those people who are held to a certain level of responsibility and with proper education.

Next you write that Pitbulls lock their jaws. Again incorrect. Pitbulls were bred in the past to be "game". It is plain old tenacity that is at work here. And as you state they've been bred to do that they can't help it. If you lived with one for 5 years you don't seem to know alot about them.

Finally, you further make my case with your next paragraph. You lived with a pit for 5 years but you instead write of a serious attack from a small dog! Where is the story of Pit aggression?

To play off your quote: "You gotta wonder about people who want 5 pounds of muscle and teeth in (sic)their one bedroom apartment." Both you and your brother lived with a Pit for 5 years so what do you think about him and yourself?

I've owned or lived with 6 different breeds of dog in my life and I've never had a dog as dedicated to people as my pit breed dog. There are some dogs that due to differing circumstances are just less safe to people and animals and need to be handled accordingly...but instead of considering all the facts for some people it's easier to blame the dog instead of the owner. With your reasoning we should be blaming the gun and what it was designed for instead of the gun owner?

It's ignorance like this that allows these stereotypes to persist. You're welcome to any opinion you want but how about basing them on some facts.

Try these links for some facts about the breed or do a search online for other sources.


Have a good day.

Patsi Krakoff

I would love to get notices each time you post, but don't see any way to subscribe either through a FeedBlitz service, or RSS feeds. These are easy to set up - especially with Typepad. In fact, I see that you haven't set up your Typepad blog for optimal usage. Let me know if you need help on this.


One of the points of the article is for the past 10 years the pitbull has been the breed of choice for agro people and thus higher rates of attacks - and so if you ban pit bulls, it will just shift to another breed. Or eventually pit bulls will go out of style. And a ban is futile because of this shift. But laws get changed, removed, new ones get passed. And at that time when poodles become the trendy dangerous dog, they could get banned and the pit bull ban could be lifted.


The problem with pit bulls may be bad owners, but I don't think it's at all unreasonable to ban them, seeing as how you can't ban the owners. Nor is it unreasonable to decide that it's a better use of public resources to ban certain dogs rather than to hire numorous dog/human inspectors to police all the relevant aspects of human behavior associated with dog-owners to ensure the dogs are not dangerous.

It may be that people kill people, not weapons, but that doens't mean it's wrong to ban certain weapons, or ammunition or just to ban certain people from owning weapons. And dogs don't have the same rights to avoid being profiled as people. To conflate them is silly.


I have a Pit I rescued 6 years ago. She is without question the most obediant dog I have ever had. Certainly the most "eager to please" I have ever come across. And of course, she was easily trained to be a perfect house dog.

A dog this eager to please completely reflects the owners desires. I personally think that anyone that has a dog with a biting problem should be fined a significant amount of money the first time (like thousands), and not allowed to own a dog for a decade the second time. In all cases I think a dog which severely bites another human should be put down.

It's an owner problem, not a breed problem, and I want to commend you for writing a well balanced, well researched and well thought out article.
Thank you.


A "rare voice of reason" said: "The problem with Pitbulls in the US is their use by black and Hispanic gangbangers. In France, no doubt, the problem is their use by black and ethnic North African gangbangers."

If you're going to pitch stereotypes, I'll add mine: I've only ever seen white people with pit bulls. Usually white tough guys (and girls). They're also very popular, from what I hear, with neonazi types. But let's not generalise. Anybody can own a pit bull. Although they do seem to be a very popular choice among people who are interested in inspiring fear. Those of my friends who just want a dog tend to choose a breed according to its gentle nature - particularly those with very young children. I think if you intentionally choose a dog that has been bred for centuries to fight you're quite aware of the potential consequences. And that goes for all the other breeds of violent or agressive dogs as well.

A. G. Rud

I passed along the posting to my colleague and collaborator, Alan Beck, who has worked extensively in this area, including testifying in Canada on the pit bull issue. I have blogged on this in the past, but here is Beck, who asked me to post his comments on Bradley:

"She's a dog trainer with the associated appreciation of "naive" statistics. What she experiences she generalizes the to world. Her arguments are http://www.goodpooch.com/BSL/dogbiteepidemic.htm.
You know she does not know her stuff when she says 99% of bites are at the kitchen level, meaning no injury and no impact. Actually 10-15% of dog bites require medical attention, (10% requiring sutures) and do bite is the second most common category of ER admissions.

The frequency of death, especially child death, is not the only issue. The brutal killing of a child affects many for a long time. Just because a disease is rare does not mean it should be ignored, especially if prevention is reasonable and cost-effective for society."


I just came to your site for the first time.

"On the other hand, part of the rhetorical arsenal of those who get hysterical about Pit Bulls is to pretend that every dog bite is a medical catastrophe"

This canard says all I need to know about you.

Best of luck to you.


Question: "If you look ... at emergency room statistics, you'll see that more people are admitted every year for non-dog bites than dog-bites." What's the source for this data, and does this include, for example, insect and spider bites?

Ken Foster

Some thoughts:

There are 350,000 pit bulls in NYC. If each of them is programmed to kill, why aren't there maulings every week? In fact, the most recent death by dog in New York was a golden retreiver that accidently strangled a child with a scarf. Prior to that the most recent real mauling was done several years ago: by a drug dealer's guard dog.

Other recent cases:
A woman in Virgina was convicted in the mauling of an elderly woman. She had a long history of previous charges, including sexual molestation of a minor. None of these were properly addressed.

A boy in Louisiana was mauled after climbing the fence to get into his home, which he'd been locked out of. The dogs in the yard didn't belong to him--they were dogs his parents had agreed to take in for a friend who had a long history of animal abuse charges.

The couple in San Francisco who were convicted--but given incredibly light sentences--in the mauling death of their neighbor also liked to take pictures the wife having sex with the dogs. This fact was ruled irrelevent in their trial. (And I think they are out of jail already, but I should double check that.)

Another San Francisco case involved two dogs. One was in heat. The primary owner was out of town. The family had moved all the furniture out of the house. The dogs were acting violently. The mother wanted to go shopping, so she told the boy to stay in the basement. He didn't. I'd guess the dogs began fighting and he got into the middle of it. His mom said, "It was his time to go."

In fact, the most common factors in a dog attack are this: multiple dogs confined to a small space; dogs kept on chains; dogs confined in a yard; dogs that are not neutered; etc. Unfortunately, because most existing laws are not enforced, the next easiest solution is the exterminate a breed--but the human behavior that actually produces these attacks will go on...


"when you see a Pit Bull, you should worry as much about being bitten by the person holding the leash than the dog on the other end."

Agreed, 100%. At the opposite end of the spectrum, just because you see a golden retriever, doesn't mean you should run up and try to hug him/her because of what it looks like.Here's quite a recent example: http://calsun.canoe.ca/News/Alberta/2006/02/26/1463295-sun.html

And also a CBC report:

No pitbulls on there either...

Banning breeds is a band-aid solution - there are plenty of pitbulls I'd trust and plenty of dogs that have been positively stereotyped that should not be allowed out of the house - and vice versa. This is after spending a summer working in a Petsmart where you'll see all shapes, all breeds, all temperments...and at the same time watch every deeply engrained "little dogs are yappy", "labs are so sweet and cuddly" and "rottweilers are scary" stereotype fly out the window. Each one is different and you can tell a lot more by watching the owners and you can by knowing what kind of dog it is.

ANY dog in the wrong hands is a danger to others, regardless of breed/size/gender/temperment.


I thank you as well for the well-rounded argument about breed specific bans. Between my group of friends and I, we have 5 pitbulls. Guess how many of us are "black or hispanic gang bangers". Thats right - ZERO. Guess how many of them have ever bitten, or even attempted to bite, a person. Zero again. And 4 of these dogs are rescue dogs. The thing is another friends 18lb Jack Russel Terrier has biten more people than these 5 scary pitbulls.

Its just extremely sad - people make snap judgements without finding out all the information. As is mentioned several times above, there are plenty of statistics that demonstrate pitbulls do not lead the list of dog bites.

There are more people who are killed in car accidents, alcohol poisoning, allergic reactions to medicnes that deaths from Pitbulls. There are even more people who die from choking on a ball point pen. Yet, we are prohibit people from using ball point pens? Banning pitbulls will not solve the problem. People will just start training Rotts to be more aggressive, or German Shephards. Pitbulls are just the fad.


The ignorance of proponents of pit bull bans is astounding. The number of deaths blamed on pit bulls each year in the US is around 10. Do you people realize the level of risk that is? Hundreds of people die from lightening each year. You have a better chance of winning millions of dollars in the Powerball than being killed by a pit bull. Let's be sensible here folks. There are many more important public safety issues than this.

The vast majority of owners are responsible. You are advocating taking family members away. Silly clowns that leave people laughing their heads off. Individual dogs with NO history of human and/or animal aggression. Dogs that have lived with the owners for years as loyal friends. Repeat after me, pit bulls were breed for HUMAN LOYALTY. Dogs that couldn't be handle by strangers were useless as fighters. Read some history on the breed.

My final point, breed specific legislation is a very lazy way to govern. Canine laws should apply to all dogs. That's the best way to fight the real issues: 5 million U.S. dog bites per year and irresponsible owners.

Don't live your life as a fear monger!

Ken Foster

Of course, ten preventable deaths is too many, but I think that for some people they--somewhat understandably--only hear of pit bulls in conjunction with these attacks. They don't know any pits, so they assume that a relatively rare dog is responsible for an unreasonable amount of violence. In fact pits are among the most popular dogs--by number-- in the States now. I've seen estimates that they make up 22% of the dog population. So, inevitably they will be among the most likely to be involved in a crime, in addtion to the stats already offered above.

What was great the New Yorker piece is that it used the pit bull situation as an example of the faulty decision making of the country. Similar solutions are the disbanding of public schools due to their failure to suceed. Or the dumbing down of academic tests in order to solve the problem of low test scores. I could go on and on.

Incidently, my pit bull Sula can be found on the cover of my new book The Dogs Who Found Me. Most people who have seen the cover have no idea she's a pit.


My friend has a pit bull, and has had no problem with hers at all. In fact, she says that it doesn't even to seem to occur to her dog that she can bite, and the dog has gotten totally bitten at the dog park--and just stood there whining. I really think that it does depend upon how they are raised (at least to a large extent)--and you have to remember, per the attack in France, that EVERY dog, even typically calm ones like labs, have a wild streak deep down inside. The craziest dog I ever had was a miniature poodle.


I wholeheartedly agree with those who agree that it's definitely an owner issue. I see blame going where it shouldn't even point to: the dogs.

John Jenkins

If you look, in fact, at emergency room statistics, you'll see that more people are admitted every year for non-dog bites than dog-bites--which is to say that when you see a Pit Bull, you should worry as much about being bitten by the person holding the leash than the dog on the other end.

I know this isn't Blinking, but this assertion does not hold up to even superficial scrutiny. Non-dog bites means a bite from any non-canine. If we do not know the population of both of the groups (dog and non-dog) and we don't know the number of bites produced by each group, then we cannot compare them this way.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo


  • I'm a writer for the New Yorker magazine, and the author of four books, "The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference", "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking" and "Outliers: The Story of Success." My latest book, "What the Dog Saw" is a compilation of stories published in The New Yorker. I was born in England, and raised in southwestern Ontario in Canada. Now I live in New York City.

    My great claim to fame is that I'm from the town where they invented the BlackBerry. My family also believes (with some justification) that we are distantly related to Colin Powell. I invite you to look closely at the photograph above and draw your own conclusions.

My Website


  • What the Dog Saw

    buy from amazon


    buy from amazon

    buy from amazon UK


    buy from amazon

    buy from amazon UK

    Tipping Point

    buy from amazon

Recent Articles

Blog powered by Typepad