How Irrationality Got Me a Great Dog

The whole notion of low hanging fruit is predicated on there being some easily obtainable yet still unexploited gains from trade to be had. A few months ago, I unwittingly took advantage of what I can only call a massive asymmetry in the market for rescued dogs. The irrationality of perspective dog rescuers has granted a considerable amount of leverage to anyone willing to consider a breed with “bull” in the name. Quite predictably, (free) media sensationalism of very low-probability events has led the public to forego obtaining any further information on pit bulls (at cost) and rendered them systematically biased against associated breeds to an extreme degree. Happily, readers of this blog seeking to rescue an active, medium-sized dog will have considerably greater selection power than other market players.

First, observe the strength of the bias against Staffordshire/Bully breeds. As my aim is only to show that prospective adopters have a huge systematic bias against bully breeds, I’ll keep the comparison limited to German Shepherds and Rottweilers; Unfortunately, there’s no case to be made for pit bulls being less dangerous than beagles or golden retrievers. Still, given your confidence in your ability to select an individual dog, you may be able to get the best value of any dog in a breed that’s being adopted at a rate 11 to 13 times lower than breeds equivalent, if not more costly, in terms of expected damages due to aggression.

How equivalent? Very. On a sliding scale, this study gave pit bulls a 9 for stranger (human) aggression and a 29 for dog aggression. German Shepherds registered 13 and 26 with Rottweilers scoring 10 and 16. For reference, the most docile breeds scored 1-3 for stranger aggression and 3-6 for dog aggression. Consider further that injuries to humans are much more socially and materially costly than damages to canines and that studies (including that cited) consistently show that there is high intrabreed variance in aggression. This latter fact means greater selection power on the part of the adopter greatly increases the chances of finding a dog below its breed’s aggression mean. And, given the growing number of pit bulls immediately euthanized on arrival to shelters, much of that work has already been done for you by more knowledgeable parties. If people were only selecting against aggression, we’d have ample reason to expect pit bulls being adopted at higher rates than Shepherds and Rottweilers.

There are obviously other explanations for peoples’ resistance to adopting bully breeds, but these are mostly matters of taste and, of course, I can’t argue about taste. I can, however, argue about highly irregular distributions of taste not being about taste at all, but rather about irrationality.

Speaking of which, anyone not compelled by the data can indulge themselves in this:


  1. And I think the picture speaks decibels louder than the data! Thanks!

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