The Pit Bull Placebo: The Media, Myths and Politics of Canine Aggression

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Short Description:
Public attitudes toward bulldog-type dogs have changed significantly across the U.S. over the past few decades. This paper examines the validity of the theory that certain dog breeds are inherently more dangerous and aggressive than others, and if pit bull-type dogs are actually becoming more dangerous than they were a century ago, by examining actual cases of dog attacks during the last 150 years.


This historical overview of several types of dog breeds and incidents related to aggression and dog bites over the last 150 years provides a comprehensive analysis of how public perception of these dogs has changed over time. The specific topics addressed are included in the table of contents:

  • Chapter 1 - The Function of Dogs in 19th Century America
  • Chapter 2 - Imagery and the Media in 19th Century America: The Bloodhound
  • Chapter 3 - Creating Dangerous Dogs: The Newfoundland and the Northern Breeds
  • Chapter 4 - How Popularity and Function Influence Aggression
  • Chapter 5 - The Reporting of Dog Attacks in Early 20th Century Media
  • Chapter 6 - The Use and Misuse of Courage: The Bulldog
  • Chapter 7 - The Media Re-Shapes an Image: The German Shepherd
  • Chapter 8 - The Myth of the Super-Predator: The Doberman Pinscher
  • Chapter 9 - Setting Dogs Up for Failure: The New Guard Dogs
  • Chapter 10 - The Media Attacks a “Breed”: The Pit Bull
  • Chapter 11 - Pseudoscience and Hysteria Triumph
  • Chapter 12 - Fighting Dogs: Branded with the Sins of Their Masters
  • Chapter 13 - Sensationalism Replaces Common Sense
  • Chapter 14 - The Real Causes for Dog Attacks
  • Chapter 15 - The Pit Bull Placebo: Conclusions on Canine Aggression
  • Appendix A - Dog Attacks as Reported in Northeastern Newspapers, 1864–1899
  • Appendix B - Dog Attacks as Reported in U.S. Newspapers, 1960–1975
  • Appendix C - Denver, Colorado — “Evidence” Used to Ban Pit Bulls (Breed Specific Legislation)
  • Appendix D - Denver, Colorado — An Ineffective and Uninformed Approach to Dog Attacks
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Spot Check Number: 1462
Sponsor: National Canine Research Council
Researcher/Author: Karen Delise
Animal Type: Dogs
Research Method: Unknown or Not Applicable
Geographic Region: United States National
Year Conducted: 2007

This book is a concise

This book is a concise analysis of how we form our attitudes towards groups of dogs, and what causes those attitudes to shift. In that, it is as much sociology as it is history. Finally, her discussion of the rare instances of dog bite related fatality includes an analysis of the circumstances in which human owners had kept their dogs. Delise emphasizes that we should not characterize dogs apart from their relationship with human beings.

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