How Big is a Pitbull’s Brain Really?

The several dog collective breeds referred to as Pitbulls are among the most maligned and misunderstood dogs in recent times. Among those myths is misinformation about the size of the brain of the breed. Just how big is a pitbull’s brain?

Like any other breed of dog, brain size is a matter of body size and skull size. Brain size differs even within a specific breed. For the most part, the average adult Pitbull’s brain is roughly the size of a tangerine.

The various breeds of dogs lumped together under the Pitbull name are some of the most intelligent and loyal dog breeds known. But does brain size have anything to do with their intelligence? We’ll discuss the size of the Pitbull’s brain and how it correlates with body size. We’ll also debunk some myths that surround Pitbulls.

Pitbulls and Brain Size – It’s All Relative

Anatomically, Pitbulls differ very little from the other bull terrier breeds. Every breed of dog shares certain anatomical characteristics with every other breed. Brain size is directly proportional to skull size. Skull size is proportional to the overall size of the breed of dog in question. 

The larger the dog, the larger the skull. Hence, the larger the brain when the dog is fully grown. Pitbulls typically average between 30 and 65 lbs. Any breed of dog in this size range will have a brain of about the same size. 

Overall, dogs have brain-to-body weight ratios of about 1:125. A pit bull that weighs 60 lbs. has a brain that weighs about half a pound. This ratio gives the average pitbull a brain about the size of a tangerine.

The Difference in Dog’s Brains – Beyond Size

Recent studies have shown that there are significant variations among dog breeds. One finding of these studies indicates that brain size is not a good indicator of cognitive capacity. Larger brains don’t necessarily mean smarter dogs. There is more to brain function than just physical brain size.

Many researchers express how the organization of a dog’s brain affects the issues of brain function. There are differences noted in the research about differences among working breeds the organization physically within the brain. Pitbulls, overall, seem to prioritize brain functions associated with smell, loyalty,  and reward.

Your Pitbulls Brain – An Anatomy Lesson

Pitbull’s brains are anatomically much like every other breed of dog. A 2014 study of dog’s brains revealed some surprising facts about dog brains. The study included several breeds, including several breeds usually considered to be Pitbulls.

The Major Brain Areas 

A Pitbull’s brain divides into three major regions.

  • The cerebrum
  • The Cerebellum
  • The Brain Stem

The Cerebrum – The Bulk of the Pitbulls Brain

The cerebrum forms the largest portion of a Pitbull’s brain. In the cerebrum, most of the sensory information processing happens. The larger the cerebrum, the more complex tasks your dog can understand and perform. Many important functions that control your dog’s behavior occur in the cerebrum.

In particular, the cerebrum’s frontal lobes contribute to your Pitbull’s awareness, intelligence, memory, and temperament. Pitbulls, by and large, have a well-developed cerebrum contributing to their ability to learn. 

The CerebellumThe Little Brain

In the cerebellum, most of the motor control and voluntary movement happens. The cerebellum receives instructions from the cerebrum about movements, activity, and immediate plans. These messages translate into the control of the muscles involved. 

The Brain StemConnecting it All and Controlling Vital Functions

The brain stem is the connecting hub where most of the dog’s body’s information is controlled. These include autonomic functions such as breathing. Sensory information like vision, hearing, and smell are connected directly to the brain while the brain stem controls touch. 

Dogs Brains react to Voices Much Like Human Brains

The study made a comparison of human brains and dog brain’s reactions to voices. MRI scans of both humans and dogs listening to the same sounds found that similar regions of the dog’s brains and human brains reacted in much the same ways. The study indicated that dogs respond to sounds much the same way as humans.

Is A Pitbull’s Brain the Cause of Aggression?

In 2019 a group of neuroscientists from Harvard University published a study that seems to refute the claims of many advocates for Pitbulls. The study sought to take an unbiased look at how form, function, and behavior are related to dogs’ breeds. 

The study found links to brain structure and certain behavioral characteristics of different breeds of dogs. Pitbulls showed significant differences in the size and level of activity in regions of their brains noted for an association with aggressive behaviors.

The Triggers to Aggression

The study indicates that one key to aggressive behaviors is the “fight or flight” centers in the dog’s brain. The researchers found that breeds developed originally for fighting, such as the Pitbull, show a significantly heightened activity in the “fight or flight” areas inf the dog’s brain.

Are Pitbull’s Inherently More Aggressive?

The study shows that breeds, particularly Pitbulls, have certain brain areas that correlate with aggressive behaviors that are more active or have higher priority functions. However, the authors also note that these aggressive responses are also closely related to brain functions associated with fear, loyalty responses, and comfort.

While certain breeds, including Pitbulls, may, by nature, show more aggressive brain responses, these aggressive behaviors are also tied to training and the levels of anxiety and stress affecting the dog.

Beyond Clinical Research – What Pitbull Owners Say

Anecdotal evidence offered by thousands of Pitbull owners and rescuers often tells a better story. Many Pitbulls rescued from dogfighting situations become wonderful family pets and show no aggressive attitudes.  

The Other Myths Surrounding “Pitbull Brains”

A plethora of legends and myths have grown up around the collective breeds labeled as “pitbulls.”  Almost all these legends and myths are untrue and deserve debunking. These breeds don’t deserve the negative connotations of many of these so-called facts.

A Pit Bull’s Brain Never Stops Growing and They Eventually Go Insane

Pitbulls are no different in their growth patterns than any other dog breed. The skull of a Pitbull stops growing when the dog reaches maturity, and the brain stops growing as well. The concept of a brain that keeps growing after a dog reaches maturity is false.

The Swelling Brain Syndrome

An associated myth is that a Pitbull’s brain swells as it ages. Unless the dog suffers a major trauma to the head or disease, a Pitbull’s brain will not swell.  In either case, the dog will not go insane but die.

If You want a Smart Dog, Don’t Get a Pit Bull

Breeders and owners will tell you just the opposite. Pitbulls, by and large, are some of the most intelligent and aware dogs to be had.  One trait of Pitbulls is their overriding desire to please. This willingness to please leads to a desire to work and learn. 

Pitbull owners will tell you that their dogs are easy to train. Pitbulls tend to be quick on the uptake and work hard to learn and respond to their owners. This ease of training and willingness to work makes Pitbulls useful as working dogs in a variety of ways. 

one more debunked myth you can read my previous article ” Pit Bull’s Jaws Don’t Lock, Here’s the Proof

For an entire article dedicated to the myth that pit bulls lock their jaws when they bite, you’ll enjoy: Pit Bull Jaws Don’t Lock (Here’s the Proof)

Now that we’ve gotten some of the more ridiculous myths out of the way, I’d like to quickly circle back around and summarize one of my initial points.

It Isn’t The Size of the Brain that Matters

Brain size is not a defining factor on which to judge a dog’s intelligence or its nature. More important is the way the dog’s training, treatment, and love. Those dogs commonly referred to as “pitbulls” are no more likely to be aggressive or dangerous than any other breed of dog. In truth, a well-bred Bull Terrier is more apt to want to cuddle than to bite.

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