In A Nutshell
The American Pit Bull Terrier is perhaps the most infamous animal on the planet. Banned in many countries and highly regulated in others, rumors persist that this dog is a relentless killer. The pit bull’s most fearsome weapon is its bite; many sources assert that this dog’s jaw can actually lock in place, but in fact, the structure of a pit bull’s jaw is no different than any other dog.
The Whole Bushel
For years, a most insidious and pervasive myth has surrounded the pit bull: Allegedly, unlike any other breed of dog, its jaws can lock. Other sources assert that it has the jaw strength of a crocodile, many thousands of pounds of pressure per square inch. Both claims are fully preposterous—the strength of a dog’s bite is almost entirely contingent on the size of the skull. Thus the giant mastiffs have the most crushing jaw around. The pit bull does, however, possess huge temporalis muscles (which make its cheeks bulge on either side of its head). Studies of jaw strength indicate the pit bull’s bite is of comparable strength to other dogs its size.
How then to explain the devastating injuries this typically sweet-natured animal can inflict versus attacks by German shepherds or chow chows? According to the US Centers for Disease Control, pit bull–type dogs kill far and away more people than any other breed, with encounters often likened to shark attacks. The pit’s often devastating bite is far more a function of its determination (or gameness) than its physiology. To truly understand the pit bull, one must first grasp the concept of “gameness,” a trait for which fighting dogs have been bred for centuries. A game dog will fight despite the most grievous injuries—broken bones, hypovolemic shock, or torn flesh. A “dead game” dog will fight until the last breath has left its body.
Thus, when a pit bull secures a bite, it often refuses to relinquish its hold, even under threat of pain. Where another dog will bite and release, a pit bull will cling on relentlessly. Under more innocent circumstances, this is often demonstrated by the dogs dangling from tires in their backyards. Those who keep pit bulls often have “breaking sticks” on hand—short lengths of wood that can be inserted behind the molars of a biting dog, which will force him to open his mouth in the event of a fight.