What has a big head, broad shoulders, and a knack for finding every last crumb in his bowl?
If you guessed a pit bull, you’re right!
This block-headed terrier has a fearsome reputation that scares away as many potential owners as it draws in, but there’s more to this stocky sniffer than his roots. In fact, much of what you’ve probably heard about him is nothing but tall tales and tater tots.
Below, we’ll discuss the American pit bull terrier’s history, temperament, and more to help you decide if he’s the right dog breed for your lifestyle.
Pit Bull Breed Profile: Key Takeaways
- Pit bull is short for American Pit Bull Terrier. The pit bull is a dog of many names, including the APBT, pitbull, pittie, and pit, which can be a little confusing if you’re unfamiliar with the breed.
- Pit bulls are often misidentified. Many people confuse pit bulls with similar-looking breeds with stocky builds and blocky heads, such as the Staffordshire bull terrier, American bully, and more.
- Pit bulls are not recommended for first-time dog owners. An aloofness to strange dogs and propensity for stubbornness make the APBT a poor choice for newbies.
American Pit Bull Terrier Breed Basics
Understanding the pit bull terrier starts with knowing the basics about the breed. Since pitties are so commonly confused for similar-looking doggos, this is a good starting point when considering the breed for your family.
- Breed: American pit bull terrier
- Other Names: Pit bull, pit terrier, pit bull terrier, pitbull, pittie, pit, APBT, pibble
- Coat: Short and smooth
- Coat Pattern: Any except merle and albinism
- Weight: 30 to 60 pounds
- Height: 17 to 21 inches
- Intelligence Level: Medium
- Shedding Level: Medium
- Grooming Requirements: Minimal; bathe and brush as needed
- Energy Level: High
- Trainability: High, but can be challenging for novice dog owners
- Clinginess: High
- Breed Popularity: Highly popular. The exact ranking in the U.S. is unknown, as the APBT isn’t a recognized breed by the AKC.
- Origin: United States
- Breed Registries: United Kennel Club (UKC) and American Dog Breeders Association (ADBA)
- Lifespan: 8 to 15 years
- Suitability for First-Time Owners: Not recommended
History of the American Pit Bull Terrier
The American pit bull terrier doesn’t have the best origin story, as he was developed for dogfighting and bull-baiting in the 1800s.
But it’s important to know his roots to understand his behavior and instincts better.
Sadly, his name echoes this cruelty, with “pit” referring to the fighting pits of the time.
Back then, blood sports like these were common sources of entertainment, and unfortunately, this ugly history still hangs over the breed today.
The breed was formed by breeding English bulldogs with terriers to create a strong, athletic dog with a relentless drive.
At the same time, the pit terriers were friendly enough to be handled safely by humans, making them more versatile.
As a result, these dogs earned a reputation in blood sports and on farms too, where they hauled supplies and helped during hunts.
Pit bulls remain prized workers today, though they’ve picked up a few more roles over the years, including stints in police work, catching feral hogs, and companionship.
Different Types of Pit Bulls
In addition to having a million and one names for the breed, pit bulls can be broken down further by other terms used to describe their appearance. They are still the same breed, they just differ in coloration.
The two types of pit bulls include:
- Blue nose: Blue nose pit bulls appear gray with a black nose. The gray coat coloring can range from silver to charcoal and may appear solid or patched. Despite the “blue” label, these dogs aren’t actually blue or gray but a diluted black.
- Red nose: These pit bulls get their name from their “red” nose, which is more of a pink or brown. A red nose pit also has either a red or tan coat that’s solid or patched with white.
Temperament and size-wise, there are no differences between the two, but there are some health concerns to be aware of with each coat color.
Like other blue dog breeds, blue nose pit bulls can suffer from alopecia, causing thin hair or complete hair loss. This makes them more susceptible to cold weather and at risk of sunburn and skin cancer. A red pit bull’s light nose is also prone to sunburn.
Be wary of breeders charging exorbitant prices for specific coloring, as unethical breeders often advertise blue nose pups as rare. They may also offer “exotic” patterns like merle, which isn’t part of the UKC breed standard.
Breeds Commonly Confused With Pit Bulls
Pit bulls are one of the most misidentified dog breeds, with many people lumping all blocky-headed barkers into the “pit bull” category.
This misidentification is a headache and contributes to real harm against the breed’s reputation, as bites are often wrongly attributed to the breed and further spread misinformation surrounding pit bulls.
These are just some of the breeds commonly confused for pit bulls:
- Staffordshire bull terrier: The Staffy is a relative of the APBT with a stockier frame and broader head. His muzzle is much wider, and he has a trademark “Staffy smile” expression that’s easy to spot.
- American Staffordshire terrier: Also known as the AmStaff, this handsome pooch is a relative of pit bulls but differs in size. He’s taller and heavier with a bigger head than his canine cousin, the APBT.
- American bulldog: Despite standing taller and weighing far more than pit bulls, these mighty pups are often labeled “pit bulls.” He’s a descendant of the English bulldog who started as a farm dog in the 1800s.
Dozens of other breeds are often confused with pit bulls, including other so-called “bully breeds” like American bullies, Patterdale terriers, and mastiffs like Cane Corsos and Dogo Argentinos.
Getting Real about Pitties: The Good and the Bad
The American pit bull terrier is a great dog, but he isn’t for everyone. As with any breed, he has ups and downs that make him better for some families and worse for others. Understanding and acknowledging the good and bad is critical in determining if the pittie may be the right breed for you.
First up are the best parts of the pit bull. If these sound like what you’re after, the pittie might be a good fit.
The positives of living with a pit bull:
- Pit bulls are loyal. The pittie’s sensitive spirit and devotion to his family make him one of the more loyal dog breeds. He’s happiest at your side, not running off doing his own thing.
- The pit bull is a “big dog” in a more portable package. These beefy barkers may look big and tough, but they’re shorter than you’d think, making them easier to travel with, provided you don’t encounter any breed restrictions.
- Pit bulls thrive with positive reinforcement training. As a people-pleaser at heart, your pittie does best when rewarded for a job well done. High-value treats also go a long way in training, as these so-called “house hippos” love food.
- Pit bulls are incredible athletes. If you’re looking for a sportstar of a dog or a running buddy, the pibble is your breed. He’s not opposed to tackling trails at your side or trying a new sport, from weight-pulling to flyball.
- Pit bulls are excellent cuddlers. The APBT is among the most affectionate dog breeds, as these tough-looking terriers are nothing but big mushes on the inside. They’re highly sensitive and crave time with their people, rewarding you with licks and a warm lap (even if they’re a tad heavy for the latter!)
- Pit bulls require minimal grooming. The pittie’s short, smooth coat is super low maintenance, requiring only occasional brushing to remove shedding hair and baths as needed to wash away dirt. As with other dogs, your APBT’s nails should be trimmed when necessary to prevent overgrowth, and his ears and teeth should be cleaned regularly.
- Pit bulls can be good family dogs. As playful, affectionate four-footers, pit bulls have the personality to thrive in family settings when properly trained, socialized, and exercised. They’re a good match for active families who frequently hike or bike.
- Pit bulls are great watchdogs. Think of the pittie like a lamb in lion’s clothing. His looks and bark are great at deterring burglars. That said, he’s a terrible guard dog, so don’t expect him to protect anything, as most pits can be won over with a cheeseburger.
- Pit bulls usually don’t have a high price tag. Unlike super rare breeds, APBTs tend to be more affordable, with prices starting around $500 for a puppy. You can also readily find pit bulls and pit mixes in shelters for less if you’re interested in adoption.
- Pit bulls come in many coat colors and patterns. With every color and pattern except merle and albinism acceptable under the breed’s UKC standard, you can find a wide assortment of pit bull appearances, including brindle, fawn, black, and more.
While the American pit bull terrier is a dream dog for some owners, he can be too challenging for many others, as his daily demands, health concerns, and housing restrictions can make life difficult. Consider this list long and hard before bringing a pit bull puppy home.
Negatives about owning a pit bull you must consider:
- Breed restrictions can limit you considerably. Pit bulls are often the target of breed-specific legislation (BSL) that bans or restricts certain dog breeds under the guise of protecting public safety. Across the U.S., hundreds of towns and cities ban pit bulls despite AVMA objections. These restrictions are also seen at a lower level, with apartment communities and HOAs often banning the breed too. Such restrictions are a massive roadblock if you’re ever looking to move with your pit or even considering doggy daycare or boarding.
- Pit bulls can make your insurance go up. Some homeowners insurance companies charge more if you own certain breeds, including pit bulls. They may even refuse to cover you. This isn’t always the case, but it is something to look into, especially if you plan on bringing a pittie home and have an existing plan.
- Negative (and laughably incorrect) stereotypes about pit bulls are everywhere. Locking jaws, an inability to feel pain, and a taste for blood are just some of the ridiculous falsehoods spread about pit bulls. You need to have a thick skin to deal with the stigma, as you’ll run into it frequently, whether someone crosses the road to avoid you and your pit during a walk or people in your life continually bring up the breed’s unsavory reputation.
- Pit bulls are plagued with health issues. Pitties can suffer from the same joint troubles as similar-sized dogs, like hip dysplasia, but they’re also prone to hypothyroidism, severe skin issues, and heart problems. Pits are also more susceptible to parvo than some other breeds and more likely to develop mast cell tumors.
- Pit bulls are needy. This isn’t a breed you can “set and forget” at home or outside for hours on end (no dog is, really, but especially pit bulls.) He’s happiest when he’s with his family, whether you’re on a hike together or vegging out on the couch. If not, he’s prone to separation anxiety and destructive behavior.
- Pit bulls can be dog selective. Early and ongoing socialization with other dogs is a must with pit bulls, as they’re often one of the less dog-friendly canines. They’re not as pack-like as other breeds, so don’t expect every pittie to be a social star. Some are happiest as solitary pups, soaking up all the human attention.
- Pit bulls are super chewers. From chewing up beds to tearing through toys, this breed is one heck of a chomp-happy canine. This is expensive in terms of replacing the items and potentially dangerous, as some pits ingest the destroyed material, risking intestinal obstruction. Stick with top-rated chew toys for pit bulls and the most durable pittie beds to avoid hiccups.
- Pit bulls require daily exercise and enrichment. As a working dog at heart, the pit bull needs physical and mental activity daily to avoid frustration. These dogs require a brisk 30 to 60 minute walk to burn off energy, along with a host of stimulating enrichment activities for mental engagement.
- Pit bulls aren’t the best dogs for households with cats. With roots as a catch dog, pit bulls have high prey drives that can turn into predatory aggression around smaller animals if not properly socialized.
- Pit bulls can be stubborn. Training a pit can be challenging, as he may decide he’d rather do anything but focus on the lesson. He may also ignore commands or recall outside training as he sees fit. Patience and positive reinforcements are musts with a pit bull. Never use harsh methods, as he’s incredibly sensitive.
- Finding a good breeder can be tricky. Purebred APBTs may be hard to come by in your area, especially those from reputable breeders. Pit bulls aren’t recognized by the AKC and often fall into the hands of unethical breeders who mate them with other bully breeds to achieve unique coloring or larger builds.
- Pit bulls aren’t cold-weather canines. Winter weather can be a real challenge for pit bulls, as their short coat doesn’t offer much insulation. Limiting outdoor time during cold snaps is a must. Offering a winter coat is also a good idea.
Remember that every dog is unique. You’re sure to find couch-potato pitties along with those who are social butterflies. Some may go their entire lives without any health issues, too. These are just the norms of the breed, not the rules. You’ll always find dogs outside of the “usual” with any dog breed.
Kelsey’s pit mixes live in a multi-dog household without issue, for instance. They also live in harmony with several cats and a Chihuahua. That said, the vacuum cleaner is public enemy number one, along with the doorbell.
We asked Certified Dog Behavior Consultant Kayla Fratt to share some of her thoughts about pit bulls. Here’s what she had to say:
In my times working on the behavior team at three different animal shelters (Denver Dumb Friends League, Humane Society of Western Montana, and Humane Society of Boulder Valley), I’ve had the joy of working with a lot of pit bulls.
Many pit bulls are relinquished to the shelter for the same reasons as other dogs – changes in family structure, financial woes, or a mismatch between the dog and the home.
However, pit bulls are especially susceptible to losing their homes due to breed-specific legislation and housing regulations. This can make it difficult for pit bull owners to move, especially if they’re experiencing financial woes or familial turmoil.
Furthermore, pit bulls can be a lot of dog. They are strong, enthusiastic, and intense. Both at home and in shelters, this can make them a bit tricky to manage.
They can be challenging for shelters to place due to breed stereotypes and that pesky breed-specific legislation. It is also important to acknowledge that when pit bulls do exhibit dog aggression, they tend to be pretty intense about it.
Because pit bulls are such strong, determined dogs, dog fights that involve pit bulls can be particularly nasty. In the shelter world, it’s a quite common reality that pit bulls are euthanized at higher rates than other breeds because they are more challenging to adopt out.
Bottom Line: Are Pibbles Good for Your Family?
We know this is a lot of information, but bringing home a dog is nothing to do on a whim, especially a breed like a pit bull. Doing your homework is an absolute must.
Before purchasing or adopting a pit bull terrier, consider these questions and be honest with yourself:
- Do you have the time and energy to devote to daily exercise and canine enrichment activities? Pit bulls need at least an hour of exercise every day, including physical and mental activities, whether a jog and flirt pole session or a canine sport.
- Are you an experienced dog owner? A pit bull isn’t a Lab. Sure, he’s a lovable lump, but he can and will test you frequently. He’s as “bull-headed” as his name implies, and also needs early and ongoing socialization with other dogs and situations to ensure he won’t become reactive or anxious. A novice dog owner just isn’t equipped for the challenge, and sadly, the pittie often pays the price and winds up in a shelter.
- Are you committed to positive training methods? Aversive training methods don’t work with any dog but are particularly harmful to pit bull terriers. A sensitive breed like the pit bull needs a strong bond with his owner to thrive, not a fear-based relationship.
- Do you have stable housing in an area that permits APBTs? Breed restrictions make finding a place to live with a pit bull difficult. Apartment and condo communities often forbid them, as do some jurisdictions.
- Can you afford surprise vet bills or pet health insurance? Pit bulls can rack up steep veterinary bills, especially if your pup suffers from allergies, skin issues, or joint problems. Your pittie’s boundless energy may even result in a sports injury. Pet insurance is a solid choice with a pibble around.
- Do you have thick skin? Owning a pit bull comes with a lot of flack. Untruths about the breed grow daily, and some people genuinely fear the breed. You may hear countless myths or judgments from family and friends and face outright shunning while walking your pup. The bombardment will get on your last nerve, but you must learn to ignore it.
- Can you be a great example? The truth is, you’re under a harsh spotlight as a pit owner. Another breed might get away with snapping at someone or biting another dog, but your pittie won’t. He’ll be labeled a dangerous dog or banned. With a pittie, you must be an advocate every day and ensure he is the best example of his breed.
Hey there, folks. Pibble-mix mama Kelsey here.
I have a confession: I once swore I’d never own a pit bull or pit mix.
Did I buy into the tales about bloodthirsty, block-headed beasts? Nope. But I did meet countless pits that made me think they were all hyperactive and aggressive, as many people dive into this breed without putting in the work to make them well-rounded canines.
Tasha had so many puppies that she’d lost her girlish figure and had to wear a t-shirt at adoption events so people would give her a chance.
She was tiny and beyond timid, with the cutest cow-print coat and waddle I’ve ever seen.
Had I not had a full pack of pups, she would’ve easily come home with me.
After she was adopted and I moved onto a new job, I lost my cairn to cancer and started “not looking” for a puppy, which resulted in Maya, a pit bull/Staffy mix.
She fit in with my old Lab, Peke mix, cats, and Chihuahua without a hiccup.
A year later came Moxie, another pit bull/Staffy mix. Together, they’ve reshaped my opinion of pit bulls and other bully breeds, and I can’t picture my family without one.
Are they difficult?
Absolutely, even for someone who has worked with and owned many dogs.
If I want a solid training session with either, I’d better have a hotdog handy, and I swear their farts could peel the paint off a car, but these are easily the most devoted dogs I’ve ever had.
There are Velcro dogs, and then there are pit bulls.
A Velcro dog wants to be at your side. A pit bull wants to be in your lap and up in your business at all times.
While this mild obsession with me is lovely, it can be problematic.
Like many pit bulls, my pit mixes have separation anxiety. Maya’s is severe and has cost me a few hundred dollars in damage. This is why crate training your pit is a must.
Maya has never met a dog she didn’t like, while Moxie is fear-aggressive with ones she doesn’t know. This marked difference is important to note, as this breed isn’t one-size-fits-all, as we’ve said many times.
Every dog is unique and has his or her own likes and dislikes.
The negative reactions surrounding the breed can’t be stressed enough, either.
People are straight-up rude if they know you have a pit bull. Numerous relatives tell me to my face that my dogs are going to “turn on me.” I’ve also been told to rehome them before I have kids because the breed is “too dangerous.”
Over time, you will develop all sorts of fun comebacks, but it’s upsetting to hear at first.
Lastly, it’s important not to gloss over the fact that these are powerful dogs requiring an experienced owner willing to put in the time to shape them into happy, healthy canines. Don’t simply get a pit bull to “look tough.”
They deserve better.
Hey gang, Megan here to give my two-cents on pitties.
Remy is my rescue pittie mix, and I basically worship the ground he walks on. But there is no denying he is challenging dog.
A lot of that has to do with his individual genetics and early upbringing, but he also displays some of the worse qualities of pitties.
Specifically, his arousal levels are off the charts!
Pitties are known for easily being able to go from 0 to 50 in terms of arousal level, and that definitely describes Remy to a tee.
In our early months together, when everything was new and overwhelming to him, he was constantly tipping over into extreme arousal, which would lead him to nipping at me constantly.
These issues have basically disappeared after adding more focused, planned enrichment activities to Remy’s day. Pits are often very clever and Remy in particular needs a lot of stimulation and engagement to not get frustrated.
But even still, when friends come over and he gets excited, he can easily tip over into more mouthy behaviors that I need to actively manage.
I do believe Remy is an especially severe case, but it’s not uncommon to see arousal issues with pits.
This quick escalation is — on one hand— what makes them such amazing competitors. But in, a home environment, it can sometimes be a challenge.
That being said, I would encourage folks to give their local shelter pits a chance at least.
Not all will be good fits, but I’ve met many a calm cuddle-bug pittie at our local animal shelter in Austin.
Even Remy, he has his own host of issues, is such a cuddly sweet guy. And his exercise needs are actually quite minimal – a 25 minute walk along with 3-4 mental enrichment activities each day and he’s pretty set.
If you want to learn more about the history of the pit bull and how this breed went from being a symbol of America to a media scapegoat, definitely check out Bronwen Dickey’s “Pit Bull”. It’s a fascinating and extensively researched piece that I can’t praise enough!
The American pit bull terrier is a versatile athlete with a lot of love to give if you’re willing to put in the work behind the scenes in training and socialization.
Reading about them is great, but the best way to learn more about the breed is to meet with a reputable breeder and get hands-on experience around them and knowledge for someone who lives and breathes pitties. This ensures you’re making the best choice for your lifestyle.
Do you have a pit bull at home? Any words of wisdom for anyone considering the breed? Share them in the comments. We’d love to hear.