Pit Bull dogs, also recognized as American Pit Bull Terriers by certain dog clubs, have historically been known as courageous and heroic animals. However, they have had their share of bad press in recent decades. This is due to backyard breeders breeding the most aggressive specimens they could find to develop dogs for the illegal fighting trade. Pit Bulls bred by responsible breeders are energetic and have a very sweet nature.
Pit Bull Characteristics
Pit Bulls have their own unique features and temperments.
- Body - According to the United Kennel Club standard, Pit Bulls are rectangular, medium-sized dogs, and they are powerfully built with impressive heads, strong necks, broad chests and well-muscled hind quarters. Most Pits are very strong and hardy, and they are quite agile even though they are so muscular.
- Legs and feet - The legs are strong-boned, but this feature should not be overly exaggerated and take away from the dog's overall balanced appearance. The feet are substantial and in proportion with the legs. Toes should be well-arched and never flat or splayed. This gives an overall tight appearance to each foot that indicates its strength.
- Weight - The average adult male weighs 35 to 60 pounds, while females typically weigh 30 to 50 pounds. It's very important that an individual dog's height is in proportion with its weight.
- Colors - All colors and patterns are deemed acceptable except for merle. Breeders object to merle because, according to Scot E. Dowd, Ph.D. at APBTConformation.com, the pattern is a recent introduction to the breed, and it's suspected that Pits were crossed with another breed in order to bring in the gene for merles.
- Heads - The heads are broad, fairly flat and medium length with small to medium size ears which may be cropped. All eye colors are acceptable except for blue. The muzzle has a well-defined stop that is not overly exaggerated with muscular jaws and teeth meeting in a scissors bite. When they are excited, Pit Bulls raise their ears up and inward which creates distinctive wrinkles on their foreheads.
- Tails - Their tails are straight with an upward bend, but never corkscrewed. They are wider at the base and taper at the tip.
The Pit Bull's gait should be powerful and look effortless. The dog should display a confident and alert attitude.
- The feet on both the front and rear legs should point straight forward.
- The front legs should move parallel to one another when the dog walks, as should the rear legs.
- When moving faster, the legs tend to converge toward a center line.
Pit Bulls are naturally friendly, active dogs that need a lot of exercise. Well-bred and well-raised dogs are eager to please, inquisitive and very intelligent. Contrary to popular belief, most Pits are patient and adore children, which makes them wonderful family dogs, although young children should be supervised around any dog. Due to their breeding, Pits tend to be aggressive toward other dogs, but some co-exist well with other pets if they have been raised around them since puppyhood. While a dog of any breed may become aggressive when raised in an abusive environment, Pit Bulls are not naturally aggressive toward people. They actually crave love, attention and approval.
High Scores on Temperament Tests
It's worth noting that as of December 2017, The American Temperament Test Society, Inc. had tested a total of 931 American Pit Bull Terriers. Of that number, 814 dogs passed the test, and 117 dogs failed. Mathematically, this means 87.4 percent of the total number of dogs tested actually passed the test. Visit the ATTS.org site to see the most current temperament testing statistics on Pit Bulls and a variety of other breeds.
Working Pit Bulls
Since Pits are highly intelligent, eager to please, physically strong and tenacious animals, they make great service dogs. Pit Bull Terriers are often used in search and rescue operations and by law enforcement for bomb and drug detection. Pits also love to participate in sports. While cruel and dangerous sports such as dog fighting have been banned in most countries, weight-pull competitions have developed which give these dogs a chance to show off their strength and have some fun.
The Pit's coat is smooth and quite glossy, but it is also rather stiff to the touch as befits this dog's terrier heritage. Due to these characteristics, there is very little grooming required.
- A bath once every month or two should suffice unless your dog likes to play in the mud.
- Brush him at least once a week to remove loose fur and check for parasites.
- Train your dog to accept having his teeth brushed when he's a puppy so you can brush his teeth a minimum of twice weekly.
- Clean his ears once a week with a veterinary-approved ear wash and cotton swabs.
- Clip his nails once every one to two weeks or as needed.
It's a good idea to take them on walks every day for a good 20 minutes at the minimum. These dogs have energy to spare and will need plenty of exercise and mental stimulation.
- You can ride a bike as your dog runs alongside of you as another form of exercise. Just be sure to keep him leashed.
- A rousing game of fetch or Frisbee will also help your dog burn off energy and put his brain into action. This kind of mental stimulation relieves stress as well as boredom, and it will prevent your dog from engaging in destructive behaviors around your home.
- Other activities/sports in which these dogs excel include competitive obedience and Rally, weight pulling competitions, agility and scent work.
Socialization and Training
Puppies are eligible to attend socialization classes, also known as "puppy kindergarten," from the age of eight weeks old.
- They should then be enrolled in basic obedience training by the time they are six months old to build upon their socialization and the manners they learned in those earlier classes.
- Once a Pit has these two basic trainings, the sky is the limit. Feel free to move on to advanced obedience classes, utility dog training, search and rescue training, therapy dog training or training for any of the sports mentioned above.
- Your dog will thrive under all the attention, activity and positive reinforcement he'll receive, and he'll become a better pet than you ever imagined.
Nearly all breeds face particular health issues, and Pits are no exception. Still, these dogs are quite hardy overall. Here are conditions that have been noted in the breed.
- Congenital heart disease - Defects in the heart muscle lead to deterioration and eventual failure of the organ.
- Cataracts - Opaque or cloudy areas form on a dog's eye when there is a breakdown of the fibers in the lens.
- Dysplasia - This is a degenerative disease of the hip joint that can also affect the elbows.
- Allergies - Pits are primarily affected by grass allergy and a food allergy to corn.
The consensus seems to be that these dogs live an average of 12 years when they are cared for well and receive regular veterinary care, good shelter and high quality food. Some of the hardiest specimens even live a few years longer.
Pit Bull History
Pit Bulls in the United StatesPit Bulls were first developed in the United Kingdom where breeders routinely crossed bulldogs and terriers with the goal of creating dogs that had the terrier's feisty attitude with the bulldog's strength. These dogs were used in the dubious sports of bull baiting and rat baiting, which is where they got their name. Unfortunately these competitions eventually evolved into dog fighting for sport.
The Pit Bull was brought to the U.S. by immigrants and were used to drive cattle, work farms and hunt wild hogs.
- The breed was also pressed into service during both World Wars as a messenger dog because of its "never say die" attitude and ability to get the job done.
- Images of Pits were even used on posters that promoted the war effort and the dogs became heroic celebrities for a time.
- Pit bulls were also used in illegal fighting although the Animal Welfare Act of 1976 made it illegal in all 50 states.
A "Type" or a Breed?
As mentioned, the American Pit Bull Terrier is recognized as an official dog breed in some parts of the world. In others, it is just considered a "pit bull type" of dog that displays some consistent characteristics rather than a full-fledged breed. The American Kennel Club (AKC), for example, does not currently recognize these dogs as American Pit Bull Terriers.
The American Staffordshire Terrier
The AKC does recognize the very similar American Staffordshire Terrier, and many people consider both breeds to be the same. This is because the original dogs registered with AKC were really American Pit Bull Terriers.
- The AKC actually closed open registration for Staffordshire Terriers at one point and only registered dogs sired by parents that already held AKC registration.
- The studbooks were opened again for a brief period in the 1970s which allowed more American Pit Bull Terriers to be registered as Staffordshire Terriers.
- The studbook was then closed again, and Staffies were renamed American Staffordshire Terriers in 1973.
Clubs that Recognize the APBT
Some clubs that officially recognize American Pit Bull Terriers as a breed in their own right include:
- The United Kennel Club is an international dog registry for breeders and competitors in various dog sports.
- The American Dog Breeders Association Inc. is an association of breeders dedicated to promoting the American Pit Bull Terrier.
- The American Pit Bull Registry is a registry specializing in the American Pit Bull Terrier.
- The National Kennel Club is an all-breed registry for breeders and dog sport competitors.
- The Continental Kennel Club is another all-breed registry for breeders that holds their own sanctioned shows and events.
It's interesting to note that the United Kennel Club and the American Dog Breeders Association both allow American Staffordshire Terriers to be registered with their organizations as American Pit Bull Terriers.
Breed Specific Legislation
Today, the once beloved Pit Bull is villainized in the media and threatened by breed specific legislation. The media are quick to credit any dog bite to these dogs. Breed specific legislation affecting Pit Bull dogs ranges from all-out bans to laws that require Pit Bull owners to carry costly insurance policies. The Animal Legal & Historical Center at Michigan University maintains a listing of state legislation regarding these dogs.
Pit Bull Rescue Central is a national clearinghouse for Pit Bull information, including listings of shelters and rescues with dogs available near you.Far too many of these dogs wind up in shelters and many are automatically euthanized due to local laws or uncertain temperaments that make individual dogs unsuitable for adoption. If you think you can make a positive difference in a dog's life, consider contacting one of the following Pit Bull groups.
- The Animal Farm Foundation is a non-profit dedicated to promoting "bully breeds" and has a wealth of resources on their website for Pit Bull owners.
- Adopt a Pet and Petfinder are two national adoption websites where you can enter your zip code and desired breed and find dogs in public shelters and private rescues near you.
Is a Pit Bull the Right Dog for You?
Due to the Pit Bull's great strength and fearless nature, it's important to spend sufficient time socializing and training young dogs. The ideal owner is very responsible and dedicated to making sure this dog receives training. If you have a rather laid-back personality, this is probably not the breed for you.
Finding a Pit Bull Dog
Take time to visit breeders and Pit Bull rescues in order to assess available dogs' health and attitudes.
- Make sure they are outgoing and friendly. Dogs that shy away from you or behave aggressively have not been well socialized.
- Remember, a well-bred Pit is a confident, friendly character, and he's not afraid to check you out in hope of making a new friend.
- Puppies should be naturally curious and affectionate.
If you can locate a Pit that displays these characteristics, and there are plenty of them being raised by responsible breeders, you'll have found a canine companion that will bring you great joy and satisfaction.
Cost of a Pit Bull Puppy
The price for a Pit Bull Puppy can range widely, particularly depending on the quality of the breeder. You can often find Pit Bull puppies for as low as $50 to $100 on websites such as Craig's List but these are sadly backyard bred puppies produced to make a quick dollar without regard to their health or temperament. Research breeders carefully and expect to pay from $500 to $2,000 for a well-bred puppy. If you decide to rescue a Pit Bull Puppy from a shelter, adoption fees will average around $100 to $200.
Getting a Pit Bull Terrier
If you've done all your homework and know this is the breed for you, make sure you find a quality, responsible breeder and avoid backyard breeders and puppy mills. Consider as well that there are many wonderful Pit Bulls in shelters and it's not hard to find puppies available for adoption. Wherever you find your dog, proper training and socialization is a must for this impressive and loyal breed.