Do Pit Bulls Jaws Lock When They Bite?

By John Martin - February 4, 2022

Pitbull playing tug of war with a toy

Pit bulls are known as aggressive dogs that will not let go if they bite into you. In fact, it is commonly believed that they have jaws that can lock into your flesh and refuse to let go.

That makes it a rather terrifying thing to be around these canines. But what if we told you that’s a myth?

A Pit Bull’s Bite

Technically speaking, the strength of a bite is measured in pounds per inch or PSI. It is referred to, rather menacingly, as bite force.

In human beings, it is at 162 PSI while in animals, crocodiles have the strongest at 3,700 PSI. That’s right.

Pitbulls are usually considered to be very aggressive and that might cause you to think their bite force will be quite high. On the contrary, it is only 235 PSI which is less than that of other breeds like Siberian Huskies, Rottweilers, and Akitas. The canine with the strongest bite force is the Kangal measuring at 743 PSI.

Related: 45 of the Most Adorable Pitbull Mix Breeds

About the Jaw Mechanism

A lot of people who are afraid of dogs or dog bites or pit bulls are familiar with the concept of lockjaw. If you are not one of them, first of all, good for you.

The lockjaw is believed to be a mechanism that certain dog breeds apply where they can lock their jaw into a position that makes it impossible to retrieve whatever they are biting into without the dog volunteering to let go. For example, if this were true, a pit bull that bites you cannot be removed from your body unless it chooses to let go.

This terrifying theory is popular among those who often get mixed-breed dogs specifically for the purpose of entering them into dog-fighting contests. Pit bulls are a hot favorite among those who believe this myth.

They are convinced that if a dog bites into a sensitive region of the body like the other dog’s neck, it can do irreparable damage and that gives these breeds a definitive advantage in a fight.

Now, if this theory were to be true, which it is not, it gives a great advantage for the dogfighter, isn’t it? It would make sense for whatever body is regulating these fights (if at all there is one) to consider a ban on the participation of such breeds.

However, it is important to note that not only is the lockjaw concept a myth but dogfighting is both illegal and cruel. Dogs with such extraordinary capabilities would be a danger to everyone and would certainly not be allowed for keeping as pets.

Despite what science tells us and research has proved, there are many unverifiable horror stories about the bite force of bully breeds of dogs. Research shows that even bully breeds do not have any anatomical differences in the structure of their jaws when compared with other dogs.

This means that their jaws do not have any special locking features. In fact, a study conducted by Dr. Brady Barr with National Geographic in 2005 measured the bite force of several animals and found that dogs have an average pressure of 320 pounds.

In comparison, great white sharks are at about 600 pounds and humans scored a lowly 120 pounds. They also did a bite sleeve test with a German Shepherd, Rottweiler and an American Pit Bull Terrier and found that the last canine applied the least amount of pressure.

According to his study, Rottweilers have the most bite force at 328 pounds, German shepherds are a second at 238 pounds and the pit bull was at 235 pounds which is the least of the three breeds.

This conclusively refutes the theory that bully breeds can come down with a frightening 1,600 pounds of pressure. So, where do these rumors come from?

The lockjaw theory has been around for a long time and it comes from the fact that many people think breeds like boxers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Bulldogs fall in the lockjaw family. Over time, the myth turned into urban legend.

Another researcher, Dr. Lehr Brisbin has also categorically said that the studies conducted on the skulls and teeth of pit bulls have actually shown that their jaw is no different from any other breed of dog.

Pit bulls are stubborn and were bred for bull baiting because of their ability to hang on to strong bulls. After the bloodsport was outlawed, pit bulls were crossbred with other dogs that were also strong and could handle life in tough terrains.

This makes them great working dogs and like to finish every task they start. This is true even when they bite and it really is a bit of a task to get them to stop.

But it can be solved with the simple solution of training them while they are still puppies. A well-trained pit bull will give up the moment you command it to “stop” or “leave it”.

This is, in fact, common with any dog.

Related: Why Are Pitbulls So Popular?

Should You Shake for Release?

Pit bulls are known to hold on to their prey which makes them a bit of a danger. That is because they belong to the terrier breed which is capable of inflicting serious damage with its bite.

This is particularly true if the bite has broken your skin. In that case, shaking only makes it worse and leads to tissue tear and bone damage.

Common sense tells us that this is true for any dog which has a good bite. But that is the natural instinct of human beings and this is how we can do ourselves a favor.

When you see your dog play with their toys and do the same, observe them. If the front part of your dog’s body is bowed, it is being playful.

But if you see them shake the toy aggressively or grab anything that is not its toy, make them stop immediately using the right commands and redirect them to their toys.

Related: Do Pitbulls Howl?

So What Is Lockjaw Anyway?

Lockjaw is actually a medical condition that does exist and occurs in canines. It happens if the dog has a bacterial infection caused by Clostridium tetani.

The bacteria enters the canine through an open wound and attacks their nervous system. So, lockjaw is more like an illness that the dog contracts due to excessive contact with dirt, dead tissues left after an injury or from areas that have low oxygen concentrations.

Symptoms of lockjaw include fever, pain while urinating, not being able to poop, noticeable stiffness in muscles and trouble breathing and lack of energy. They will also be very sensitive to light, noise and touch.

It is a very serious disease and if you neglect the symptoms, it can even lead to death. So, the best course of action is to take your pet to the vet immediately.

The vet should ideally recommend blood tests to see if the bacteria has entered your canine’s bloodstream. Your dog might need hospitalization for at least a month if it is severe and they will need help eating.

The vet might also recommend inserting a tube to make sure your dog eats a healthy amount. They might even be sedated during recovery to make it easy to tolerate the sound and light in their surroundings.

Your vet must also observe your furry friend for asphyxiation considering that breathing trouble is one of the symptoms. If it is serious, they might recommend inserting a breathing tube.

None of this should worry you. It’s what is best for your puppy.

Wrapping Up

It is clear that lockjaw is not a mechanism—anatomical or otherwise—applied by any breed of dogs to viciously attack other beings. Pit bulls in particular have no such inclination except for being dogs that are determined to finish the task at hand.

If they are prone to grabbing things and biting into them aggressively, train them to let go.

In reality, lockjaw is a disease that can be treated when detected on time.