Pit Bull(American Pit Bull Terrier)
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Form and Function
Few dog breeds have the ability to cause strong reactions in a room like the “Pit Bull.” Whether (like many animal-care workers) you’ve known and loved dogs with this label – or you have a fear of dogs with blocky heads and strong bodies who have been depicted in a negative light by the media, the term Pit Bull can often spark both positive and negative emotions here in the U.S. Even so, people are often surprised when they learn that “Pit Bull” is not an actual breed of dog. Instead, the term is used to describe a collection of a few different bully breeds, and many dogs get classified as “Pit Bull” even when they don’t belong to one of the breeds most commonly associated with the term. Since the term “Pit Bull” is ambiguous and flexible, it may be more accurate to say, “pit bull-type dogs,” and there has been a recent movement in animal welfare to remove the breed label entirely.
Dog Breeds that are commonly classified as Pit Bulls include Staffordshire Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, and American Bulldogs. In general, these breeds share certain physical characteristics, including stocky bodies, broad heads, and smooth, short coats. Mixed-breed dogs with these physical traits are also often called Pit Bulls. Other characteristics these dogs often have in common are a comical nature, a strong-willed personality and an abundance of energy and gusto.
It’s important to note that mixed-breed Pit Bulls, like all dogs, are individuals and could tend toward traits of one of the breeds of its parentage more than the other. For simplicity, we’ve averaged the traits of Pit Bulls below, but keep in mind that these characteristics may differ from dog to dog.
Friendliness To Dogs
Friendliness To Other Pets
Friendliness To Strangers
Ease of Training
Area of Origin
England, United States
Date of Origin
American Pit Bull Terrier
The first Pit Bulls originated in England. They were bred from Old English Bulldogs, and were used in the early 1800s as fighting dogs in a sport known as bull baiting. Later in 1835, when this was outlawed in England, dog fighting and rat baiting gained popularity. Bulldogs were then crossed with Terriers to create smaller and more agile fighting dogs. These dogs closely resembled the Pit Bulls we know today.
Despite originally being bred as fighting dogs, Pit Bull-type dogs gained a reputation for being friendly to humans and being loyal companions. The first immigrants to America brought their dogs with them, and many took on roles such as herding dogs, hunting dogs, and guard dogs. These intelligent, vibrant and gentle dogs also made excellent family companions. The look of Pit Bull-type dogs grew in notoriety, and they were so beloved they were even used in WWI and WWII in advertising as a national mascot.
In fact, many famous Pit Bulls have gained national love, including Sergeant Stubby who served in WWI and performed heroic acts of bravery, and Petey from the TV show The Little Rascals. However, a shift occurred in the 1970s and 80s, perhaps spurred by a resurgence in illegal dog fighting. National media began to sensationalize these dogs, and they’ve become a common target of breed specific legislation. Over-breeding, their vivacious personalities and this stigma have resulted in dogs labelled Pit Bull being those most-often found in U.S. shelters today.
Thankfully, Pit Bull enthusiasts have made recent progress in showing these clown-like and sweet-natured dogs for the individuals they are, and the tide of breed-specific legislation has been receding. Those considering adopting a Pit Bull should keep in mind that some home insurance policies require additional fees for these dogs, or don’t cover them, so it’s a good idea to call your insurance agent to find out.
Pit Bulls are typically affectionate, loyal, playful, and eager to please. They are also generally very good with children, although their boisterous nature can make them a bit over-exuberant for some small children. Despite this, the public perception of Pit Bulls is often quite the opposite. The negative stigma surrounding them stems in part from the fact that they are often associated with dog fighting and serving as guard dogs for criminal gangs. The mainstream media also tends to over-report Pit Bull attacks on humans.
It’s important to make sure that you check with local laws and housing if you’re considering adding a Pit Bull to your home. Breed-specific legislation often targets these dogs and many insurance providers or housing associations have different rules about them. Because of the negative stigma surrounding Pit Bulls, people who choose to share their lives with these wonderful dogs should also be aware that they’ll have to be their advocates.
Pit Bulls are athletic and energetic dogs that require frequent exercise. Stick to a daily walking routine and provide plenty of mental and physical stimulation both inside and outside the home. Socialization and positive reinforcement training can be very effective for preventing destructive behaviors.
When it comes to coat care, Pit Bulls are relatively low maintenance. Brushing their short coat weekly will remove dead fur and keep them looking their best. Most Pit Bulls will need bathing no more than once a month.
Major concerns: CHD, PRA
Minor concerns: thyroid disorders, hip dysplasia
Occasionally seen: cataracts, allergies
Suggested tests: hip, cardiac, thyroid, eye
Lifespan: 10-15 years
Note: CHD seldom causes problems or symptoms