Despite an unfair reputation, the American Pit Bull Terrier is a hugely popular pet. Loyal, gentle, playful, and energetic, the Pittie can actually be a real goofball and bring you and your family many years of joy.
But as with any large and muscular dog, the American Pit Bull needs knowledgeable handling to bring out his very best. We dig deeper into the breed to explore just why the American Pit Bull Terrier could well be the perfect pooch to welcome into your home.
|Dog Breed Group
|Males – 19 inches; females 18 inches
|30 to 80 pounds
|Average lifespan of 11 – 15 years
History of the American Pit Bull Terrier
The American Pit Bull Terrier is one of several breeds that come under the Pit Bull types label. But as a breed it is distinct and recognized by American Kennel Club as the American Staffordshire Terrier. We’ll explore the Pit Bull term a little later, but here’s a snapshot of the history of this brave and loyal breed.
The Bull and Terrier breeds originate back to England in the early 19th Century where they were originally bred as fighting dogs to feed the then hugely popular spectator sports of bear baiting and bull baiting which were held in ‘pits’. These violent sports were eventually banned in 1835, only to be replaced by dog fighting, for which the Bulls and Terriers were also used. For these dog sports, the Pit Bulls had to demonstrate some key traits, including strength, fearlessness, agility, and tenacity, which are still characteristics found in American Pit Bull Terriers today and make them a good choice for a guard dog.
Due to the dog fighting and baiting, the trait for aggression was also bred into the breeds. However, this aggressive behavior didn’t appear to be focused on humans and so the Pit Bull developed a reputation not just as a fighter, but also as a loyal and protective guardian who could be gentle and loving with his human ‘pack’.
As the first immigrants headed to America, so did the first Pit Bulls, where they developed new skills as adept farm dogs to herd semi-wild cattle. Also used for hunting, guarding and companionship, the American Pit Bull also grew in stature, becoming a larger canine than its English cousin. But his gentle character, particularly around young children, was also noticed, and the breed was soon brought into the home, where they also became known as ‘nanny dogs’ within the family.
In 1898, the United Kennel Club (UKC), an alternative to the American Kennel Club (AKC) recognized this newer breed and gave it the breed name of American Pit Bull Terrier. However, the AKC didn’t recognize the breed until the 1930s, choosing to rename it the American Staffordshire Terrier, in a bid to help distance the US breed from its unsavory pit-fighting and blood sport past. Using the title of Staffordshire Terriers has caused some confusion but the breed name American Pit Bull Terrier is, however, still recognized by both the ADBA (American Dog Breeders Association) and the UKC.
Before we delve deeper into the Pit Bull and how he should be cared for, here are the key things to note about the breed:
- The American Pit Bull Terrier is one of several breeds that come under the Pit Bull or ‘Bully’ umbrella.
- They have a good life span for their size and can live to up to 15 years or more. An adult Pit Bull will stand at around 19 inches and can weight up to 80 pounds.
- He is a muscular, agile animal that has a smart, highly trainable brain. This means the Pit Bull breeds make excellent service, therapy and guard dogs, and can excel at agility and weight pulling sports.
- The Pit Bull has an unfair reputation for being very aggressive, which is largely untrue. However, he is a tenacious dog that may or may not get along with other dogs and can also be protective of his human. This means that he will need consistent training and early socialization to ensure he can manage his reactions appropriately.
- The Pit Bull breeds are often included in Breed Specific Legislation and so are banned in some US states. As an American Pit Bull owner, it is your responsibility to know of the dog-owning rules in your area as well as when you travel across states.
- The Bully is an avid chewer, and those strong jaws will make light work of his dog toys so he will need durable playthings to keep him happy. Left too long to his own devices, he can also become destructive.
- As a loyal, eager-to-please breed, the Pit Bull Terrier thrives in company and is prone to separation anxiety if left alone for too long. He is also a lover of the indoors – he is ultimately a house dog – and will struggle if left outside, especially in colder weather.
- With moderate to high energy levels, the American Pit Bull Terrier will need exercising daily, with around an hour a day ideal, plus plenty of playtime with his human family.
- While he has a gentle, kind, and fun-loving side, the Pit Bull also has a high prey drive and will chase smaller animals, so it’s recommended he is kept on his leash while out walking and supervised at home if you have other pets.
- The American Pit Bull Terrier does best in a more experienced household, with owners who can provide the right amount of love and attention as well as firm, fair and consistent training, and handling.
A medium-sized, muscular dog, with a solidly built body, deep chest, deep muzzle and large, broad and flat skull, the Pit Bull Terrier is an impressive looking animal which can grow to 19 inches in height and weigh up to 85 pounds.
But despite its powerful build, the jowly face of the Pit Bull is softened by small but deep round eyes and a wide mouth with a clean scissors bite that curls into a ‘smile’. With a relatively short tail, the medium-sized ears fold forward, although they are also known to be cropped, while docked tails are not accepted by the AKC standard. He has a low center of gravity which gives him a splayed look but despite his muscular shape, this breed is surprising agile and light on its feet. Coat color-wise, the Pittie comes in a range of hues, with black and white, red, blue, brown, grey as well as brindle the most popular. Soft fawn, tan and white as well as blue and white can also be found. The colors also give the breed identifying monikers, with shades of red to brown with a matching nose known as red-nose Pit Bulls, and dogs colored shades of gray with a matching nose, known as blue-nose Pit Bulls.
The single coat of the American Pit Bull Terrier is short, shiny and feels stiff to the touch.
If you are still not sure whether a Pit Bull breed is for you, here are just a few facts about this loveable goofball:
They can climb walls: With their muscular body, the Pit Bull is also incredibly agile and is one of the best climbers of the canine world. They are strong enough to climb walls of up to 12 feet, which is why you need to be mindful of the enclosures in your yard.
Pit Bulls were the mascot for the military: By the early 20th Century, the American Pit Bull Terrier had started to shake off its fighting past and was fast becoming sought after as a family dog. Their bravery and loyalty also made them excellent service dogs, with the breed chosen as the mascot of the US Forces during both World Wars.
A Pit Bull is the most decorated: A Pit Bull type dog known as Sergeant Stubby is the most decorated dog to have served in the US military. Stubby served in the trenches alongside US soldiers during the First World War and was awarded the Purple Heart for his bravery.
They have the most gorgeous smile: The wide mouth of the Pit Bull will frequently break out into what looks like an open smile.
They are known as the ‘Velcro dog’: despite their unfair reputation for being tough and aggressive, the Pit Bull craves love and attention from his human family members. And their desire to stick close to their human for cuddles, snuggles, and belly rubs has led the breed to be known as the original ‘Velcro dog’!
American Pit Bull Terrier Temperament
Yes, he may look tough, but the Pit Bull Terrier certainly has a softer side when it comes to his temperament, as well as bags of energy and an infectious zest for life. In fact, this breed can act like an over-grown pup well into adulthood and so needs plenty of exercise and playtime to burn off all that exuberance!
The breed also has a long list of other personality traits which you need to consider, including loyalty, fearlessness, confidence, tenacity, courage, and a strong desire to please. When in the heart of his family, this breed is also super-loving and funny, although they can be a little intense when it comes to demanding attention, and can also consider his role to be the family guard dog.
And we do need to touch on his ‘aggressive’ label which, overall, is misunderstood. Pit Bull type dogs can be wary of other dogs and while they won’t necessarily start an aggression, they will stand their ground especially if they think they are being protective. And for this reason, early socialization, as well as consistent training and confident handling, is a must.
The American Pit Bull Terrier is a generally healthy breed, but as with all pure breeds, they can be susceptible to certain health conditions. So, when considering buying or re-homing a Pitbull, you need to be aware of the main issues that could affect them, which include:
This can be an extremely painful condition and is where the hip joint doesn’t fit properly into the hip socket. It can also lead to mobility issues as well as arthritis. As well as hip dysplasia, there are other bone diseases that can impact on Pit Bulls include degenerative myelopathy and kneecap dislocation.
Older Pitties can also develop hypothyroidism, which is a dysfunction of the hormone regulating thyroid gland. Symptoms include weight gain and poor coat condition, and medication can be given to control the condition.
Heart disease, in particular, a congenital condition called aortic stenosis can also affect American Pit Bull Terriers. This condition leads to an abnormal narrowing of the aorta as it goes into the left ventricle and can present as a heart murmur, impact on a dog’s energy levels and more rarely, lead to sudden death.
As the Pit Bull is already a stocky dog, over-eating and/or too little exercise can lead to excess weight. Prolonged obesity can also cause other health issues, including heart disease, diabetes, and joint problems.
All the Pit Bull breeds are prone to allergies due to their short fur and sensitive skin. Allergies in American Pit Bull Terriers can be environmental, such as dust or pollen, as well as food-related, with common culprits being beef, wheat, and corn.
Careful maintenance of their coat and skin, as well as a dog food diet appropriate for allergy-prone canines, can help to reduce or manage any allergies your Pit Bull Terrier may have.
Other health ailments the American Pit Bull Terrier can be prone to include digestive orders such as Gastric Dilatation – also known as bloat -and cataracts.
Welcoming a new Pit Bull into your home is a commitment of both time and attention and it is important that you take care of their day-to-day needs from the get-go.
Pit Bulls are energy-driven dogs and so need plenty of exercises, typically at least an hour a day, as well as plenty of playtime at home. Using play time as part of their training is also a good use of both of your time and will help create a strong bond with your dog.
Pit Bulls don’t necessarily need vast amounts of home space, as long as they are exercised daily, they can thrive in an apartment environment. However, this is a purebred breed that loves to be with his human and will quickly succumb to separation anxiety if left alone for too long.
His anxieties can also become destructive around the home, so do consider whether you’re away from home too much before deciding to bring a Pit Bull into your life. And, as the breed has a strong prey instinct, they may not work well around other smaller pets in the home.
Another thing to take into account when caring for your Pit Bull is that he is one of the most capable canine climbers so good fencing around any yard or outside space is essential.
Muscular and active, an adult American Pit Bull Terrier has high energy needs so requires protein-rich, high-quality pitbull dog food to provide all the nutrition he needs to be happy and healthy. However, if allowed he will over-eat and so the quality you feed your Pit Bull needs to be appropriate to his age, size, and activity level.
For sustained satisfaction, feed your American Pit Bull Terrier his daily allowance divided into two meals. And as with all dogs, keep any treats to no more than 10% of your pet’s daily food allowance.
While thick, the single-layered, short coat of the American Pit Bull Terrier is very short with a shiny but stiff appearance which makes it generally easy to keep clean. And that means a low fuss grooming routine. A stiff brush is good enough to keep his coat dirt and dust free, as well as maintain that healthy shine.
Although daily grooming is not necessary, it can be a good way to bond with your Pit Bull, and he will enjoy the attention. Plus, a daily brushing will help to spread those natural conditioning oils around his skin and hair follicles as well as give a lovely skin toning massage. Brushing also gives you a chance to check and monitor their coat condition and skin, especially if your Pittie pooch is prone to allergies. Don’t forget to also check his ears for any signs of wax or dirt build up, infections or discomfort, and carefully clean if necessary.
As his short coat doesn’t tend to hold on to bad odors, only an occasional bath is needed, unless his activities and outdoor playtime has left him particularly dirty.
You should also look after his dental hygiene by brushing his teeth two to three times a week. His claws need regular attention too, ideally trimmed at least once a month, or more if he is not wearing them down naturally.
Training American Pit Bull Terriers
Confident and outgoing, the American Pit Bull is also a smart cookie and takes learning new tricks and obedience commands in his stride. However, they can be tenacious, bordering on stubborn, and his upfront behavior can be a red flag to other dogs. And, as he was originally bred as a fighting dog, he will also stand his ground.
For some people, the perception that the Pittie is an aggressive dog can be an issue. So, for a well-grounded, happy, and socially easy-going Pit Bull, early and consistent training as well as socialization is a must to counter any potential dog aggression.
Training the Pitbull puppy as early as possible is the best approach to take and it can also help your pet avoid any behavior issue pitfalls later on in life. And socializing your pup will reduce any tense future canine interactions. Just remember, even as a pup your Pit Bull is high energy and strong, so start with socializing him with pups of a similar age and energy level to get him up and running. And teaching your young American Pit Bull Terrier to be calm and relaxed around other dogs can ensure he becomes a happy adult dog when out on his walks and in the dog park.
The breed’s natural agility makes the Pit Bull the ideal candidate for agility classes. It is also important to obedience train your pet as it can help you reinforce the bond with your Pit Bull and establish your position as his Alpha leader. Just don’t forget to lavish your pet with plenty of positive reinforcement and praise when he gets it right, as this is one breed that picks things quickly and you want it all to be a happy, supportive, and loving experience all around.
Different Types of Pit Bull Dog Breeds
The American Pit Bull dog we know today is not actually a single breed but rather a Pit Bull type, along with several other breeds.
As well as the American Pit Bull Terrier dog, the other breeds that come under the ‘Pit Bull’ umbrella are Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, and the American Bully. The Yankee Terrier is another name for a Pit Bull type. Other breeds that are also often considered a Pit Bull type include Boxers and Bulldogs, as well as mixed breeds due to a diverse breeding background.
Adopt Don’t Shop
Despite most American Pit Bull Terriers being purebred Pit Bull, the breed is a familiar sight in many rescue shelters, and are thought to represent between 30 and 50% of all shelter admissions. So, if you are considering the breed or other Pit Bull type dogs, especially older dogs, then a good place to start is your local animal or dog rescue group or charity.
Adopting a Pittie rather than buying a Pit Bull puppy can help the problem of so many being in the shelter system. Plus, you will get a dog that has already been vet-checked, neutered, or spayed. And there’s a good chance that the Pit Bull Terrier you are looking to adopt has at least the basic commands and house training as well as the socialization skills he needs to adjust to life in his new adoptive home.
If you buy from a reputable and responsible breeder, the typical price for an American Bull Terrier pup can be between $500 and $1,500 depending on whether it is purebred Pitbull or a Pitbull Terrier mix. However, Pitbulls from the best family lines or bred from show dogs can command a much higher price.
When buying any breed of puppy, it is essential that you do your homework and avoid buying from puppy mills. Always meet the breeder as well as see first-hand both parents of the litter, and the grandparents, if you can. And ask questions regarding health as well as ask to see proof of any relevant health screenings the parents and/or pups have had done.
Any dog that has not been trained, handled, or socialized well enough or has been badly treated can be aggressive, and the Pit Bull is no exception. However, the American Pit Bull and his associated breeds do get an unfair rap when it comes to how they are perceived.
The Pit Bull dog breed was originally bred for the qualities of strength, courage, tenacity, obedience and agility, traits which have in the past been exploited and encouraged to create a fighting dog. But this breed is also naturally gentle and loving as well as intelligent and loyal, which is why in the right hands they make wonderful family pets.
With the Pit Bull – as with any dog – it is not so much the breed but how it is raised and handled that matters. Time and attention, coupled with early socialization and consistent training is the key to raising a loving and happy Pit Bull ‘softie’, and this commitment means that this dog breed may not be for everyone.
With the Pit Bull dog continually trying to shake off its aggressive reputation, there is still some wariness about the breed. For anyone who has owned an American Pit Bull Terrier, this reputation is largely unjustified, and paints an unfair picture of what is essentially an intelligent, loyal, confident, and loving dog. However, under the US’s Breed Specific Legislation – also known as BSL – each US state has the choice to ban certain breeds on the grounds that it is considered aggressive. The BSL against Pit Bull type dog breeds is considered by many to be unfair, and the Humane Society has also spoken out against the legislation.
To find out if your city or location has banned the American Pitbull dog, you need to check whether your state has upheld a BLS for the breed.
What is clear about American Pit Bull Terriers is that they love to be loved and they also love to spend time with their family members, especially children. And, as they have endless energy as well as high tolerance levels, they can make wonderful playmates and excellent family companions.
But there’s no denying that the Pit Bull is a strong, muscular dog and he does need early training and socialization to learn to manage his size and exuberant attitude, particular towards other dogs. Which means they should be supervised at all times when playing with the kids as well as when they around any other family pets or small dogs.
All the breeds that come under the Pit Bull dogs umbrella are known for their smart brain and are considered to have above average intelligence for a dog. And, as well as their intelligence, most Pit Bulls are also eager to please, meaning they are very trainable.
It may come as a surprise to some that the Pitbull does not have the strongest bite of all the canine breeds. In fact, with a bite pressure of around 235 pounds (PSI), this comes in less than other breeds of his size and stature. A Pit Bull Terrier is however, known to hang on to the object of their bite, although this is not unique to the breed.
Don’t be fooled by that cool, muscular exterior, the Pit Bull is a total cuddle monster! Just like many dogs, American Pit Bull Terrier and other Pit Bull type dogs love affection – both receiving and giving – and the best way he can show he loves you is to get very close. Despite his size, this breed is agile and so adept at squeezing in on your lap which he will quickly turn into one of his happy places.
While it is not a recognized breed color according to the American Kennel Club, merle is considered the rarest Pit Bull color and as a result, is becoming increasingly desirable.
The merle coat on an American Pit Bull breed is stunning, with its mottled or speckled pattern which typically comes in red or black with lighter blue or gray. The merle pattern is often accompanied by piercing blue eyes which are caused by the dominant merle gene, but which can also lead to health issues that can affect the dog’s hearing or vision.