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Sunday, February 19, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Pit-bull myths

Where there are pit bulls, there are misconceptions. Here are a few common ones:

The locking jaw. The pit bull's ability to grab hold of a target and not let go dates back to its role as a Butcher's Dog controlling cattle by grabbing cows by the nose. This talent gave rise to the myth that these dogs have a specially engineered jaw structure that "locks" onto an object. There is no scientific evidence that pit bulls have greater bite power than many other large-breed dogs.

Fighters make good guards. If a menacing reputation can help keep a person safe, then pit bulls are a shoo-in. But historically they've been bred as human-friendly and aggressive to cows and other dogs.

Unfortunately, backyard breeding and hybridizing of pit bulls with large guardian breeds such as bull mastiffs and Rhodesian Ridgebacks may result in oversized dogs with the fighting skills of a pit bull and the aggressiveness of a guard dog.

Bad to the bone. There is no evidence that pit pulls are any more vicious than any other breed. In fact, in temperament tests on pit bulls for unprovoked aggression administered by the American Temperament Test Association pit bulls passed 83 percent of the time, which is above average.

A Jekyll-Hyde gene. When Seattle resident Heather Bauer was looking to adopt a dog last year, she was warned that a pit bull can "turn bad" at around 2 years old. Bauer decided on a Boston terrier. Like many myths, the warning is half-true.

"Most dogs begin to challenge for social position" at around 2 years old, says Dr. James Ha, an associate research professor in animal behavior at the University of Washington. "If behavioral challenges are anticipated and dealt with appropriately from the beginning, the dog quickly figures out their position and relationships and settles right down."

Lisa Wogan

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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