American Pit Bull Terrier
- AKC - not yet recognized; CKC in 1898
- Lifespan: 12-16 years
- Size: Medium
- Energy: High
- Recommended Crate Size: 30” dog crate*
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The American Pit Bull Terrier is often labelled as simply Pit Bull. 'Pit Bull' is not its official dog breed name, rather it is the shorter phrase that refers to the American Pit Bull Terrier and other 'Bully' dog breeds. Some people may also refer to the American Pit Bull Terrier as the same breed as American Staffordshire Terrier, but they are a different breed from within the same family deriving their linage from the crossing between bulldogs and terriers.
This dog may often be misunderstood as a rough dog due to their much publicized history as fighting dogs and sporadic, heavily reported dog attack coverage. The Bull breeding group has been labelled as dangerous for years. For the most part, this is an unfair claim. The circumstances under which dogs 'break' and attack humans is largely directly the fault of their owners, and less the breed in question.
The fact is that the American Pit Bull Terrier is not the dog for everyone. It is important to invest a good amount of time to socialize and train them as well as give consistent and firm guidance from the start. This dog is very intelligent and will easily learn tricks and commands.
The American Kennel Club has not yet recognized the American Pit Bull Terrier, but the Continental Kennel Club did in 1898. These high energy dogs were originally bred as fighting dogs and it has the reputation to match.
There are also some cities that have banned this dog and many shelters are full with pit bulls. Even, saying the name of the breed strikes fear for some people. Despite all this negative reputation, well bred pit bull which are raised in a caring and loving (normal) home show the opposite of this ill-gotten reputation.
They can be a good companion for families, and are loyal and loving. In fact they are often considered playful joker or 'clown' dogs. when this breed steps away from its playful nature, it is most always human-caused. When they are in the wrong hands, they can be trained and deprived to become vicious and dangerous.
The American Pit Bull Terrier is a medium-sized dog with height around 18 to 24 inches and weights around 30 to 60 pounds. The medium-size body is solidly built and muscular. The head of a pit bull is large and proportional with the body size.
The forehead has some wrinkles. This Pit Bull has a single coat style which is short and close to the body. The most clear characteristic of Pit Bulls are their powerful and wide jaws.
It is recommended to provide feed formulated to medium-sized breeds. It is highly recommended to discuss your dog’s feed with your veterinarian and/or breeder in order to determine size and frequency of meals in order to ensure a health, long life. It is also important to ensure that clean, fresh water is always available.
Grooming an American Pit Bull Terrier is easy. They need occasional baths as needed as well as weekly brushing. They also require the occasional wipe down using a damp cloth to keep them look healthy and glossy. This is also important to keep any shedding to a minimum.
The American Pit Bull Terrier requires an hour of daily walks, exercise, or playing. As this dog is energetic and active, they need vigorous exercise to prevent boredom and destructive behaviors.
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Pet Crate Size
Pet Crates Direct recommends 30” dog crates* for most adult American Pit Bull Terriers.
* Links for crate sizes will bring you to the most appropriate Amazon page.
American Pit Bull Terrier - Life is the Pits!
The American Pit Bull Terrier might just be the most misunderstood, controversial breed in the book. Even the name commonly given to an American Pit Bull Terrier, “Pit Bull”, is not actually a breed name at all. His name is just one of many misrepresentations the Pit Bull Terrier is often said to be subject to. It’s time to set the record straight.
The American Pit Bull Terrier is a breed that many love and will defend to the end. On the other hand, there are those that take the complete opposite stand. Often the owners can be heard voicing complaints like how when they took their dog to the park and everyone vanished in fear. American Pit Bull Terriers are undeniably a breed most either love...or hate.
Taking a Deeper Look
American Pit Bull Terriers are of medium build and weigh and weigh anywhere from 35 to 65 pounds. Standing around 18 to 24 inches, they are solid, stout and athletic looking with short, fine, glossy single-coated hair that lays close to their body. Pits can be found in a variety of colors, some with patches. There are no recognized merle colored Pit Bull Terriers though.
Generally, they sport a fairly large wedge-shaped head. It is common for them to have a slight bit of wrinkles on their forehead which serves to give them more character. Their eyes may be any color, excluding blue. Pits sometimes have their ears clipped and sometimes their tail is clipped as well.
If it looks like an American Pit and walks like an American Pit...it may or may not be one. There are three breeds in particular that get called “Pit Bulls”. The American Staffordshire Terrier, American Pit Bull Terrier and Staffordshire Bull Terrier all have a good many physical traits in common and are often confused with one another.
The Rich History of the American Pit Bull Terrier
The American Pit Bull Terrier was actually used as a working farm and ranch dog. Then...he got promoted. While it goes completely against the bad reputation the breed has with some people, his loving, gentle and nurturing nature, including where kids are concerned, earned him the title of “nanny dog”. That’s right. The American Pit Bull Terrier was brought into the home in order to help care for the children.
Before the time as a worker on the farm, the breed’s job was to “bait” bulls and sometimes bears too. That meant they would flatten their bodies close to the group while creeping up as close as possible to the bull (or bear). Then the dog would suddenly dart out while attempting to bite the animal in the head or nose.
It all began in the early 1800’s in the United Kingdom when Pits were bred from Old English Bulldogs which look a lot like the modern American Bulldog. The breed was designed to engage in cruel blood sports that were very popular in the British Isles in that day and age - bull baiting and bear baiting.
But in 1835, thanks to the Cruelty to Animals Act, the British Parliament put an end to the barbaric event. The die-hard Bulldog fans, however, found a way around to skirt around the rules by pitting the dogs against rats rather than bulls or bears. The rats were literally placed in pits to avoid their escape. Thus, the word “pit” in their name came to be.
The fans decided that pitting the dogs against other dogs would be more discrete so the Bulldogs were bred with Terriers which begat the initial Pit Bull Terrier line. Ironically, the result of the breeding turned out to be a dog who was very endearing toward humans. The affection made it much easier for the dog to be handled, in and out of the pit.
And so it came to pass that immigrants who hailed from the British Isles migrated to the United States not long before the American Civil War. Along with them, they brought their Pit Bull Terriers. The dog line that had been bred for blood sports began to be recognized for much more during this time. They were handy helpers on the wild frontier.
Catching wild hogs, herding sheep and cattle, guarding livestock, protecting families and livestock from wild animals and dangerous thieves were among their newfound roles. They were even utilized to babysit the young. On the hunt, on the farm and inside the home, the American Pit Bull Terrier was making quite a name for himself. They were soon deemed the “All American Dog”.
The days of war came and American Pit Bull Terriers were ready to serve their country. They were deployed in World War l and World War ll, the Spanish American War, in Vietnam and have even been on duty for homeland security. Pits are also employed as police dogs.
The Darker Side
Unfortunately, the breed has still fallen into the wrong hands and have been used for illicit purposes. The Supreme Court officially made dogfighting against the law in 1976. Even watching the blood sport is illegal in all fifty states except for Hawaii and Montana. But just because it is against the law doesn’t mean it doesn’t take place. In fact, it seemed to make it more appealing to die-hard criminals.
In the 80’s, dog fighting made a comeback. American Pit Bull Terriers were sought out due to their history and their strength and tenacity, traits that once made them prime ranch and farm workers. Their human-loving characteristics were intentionally stifled by alienating them.
In addition to being forced into the ring to fight other dogs, Pits were scooped up by thugs and drug dealers to guard their property, often being chained or treated cruelly in order to bring out their worst side. Pits were being bred for fighting or vicious purposes by low-life breeders who were just out to make a buck.
Given a Bad Reputation
American Pit Bull Terriers began to get a bad name. In 1987, Time Magazine published a cover story about the breed along with warning the public that the dogs were both friends and could be killers. Sports Illustrated followed this story with an article warning readers to beware of Pits. Needless to say, the publicity gave them a very bad reputation with the general public.
In 1980, the first Breed Specific Legislation was passed in Hollywood, California. It required all American Pit Bull Terrier owners to register and carry $25,000 in liability insurance as a protection against attacks. Florida and Ohio followed suit with BSL regulations of their own. Soon there were thirty-eight states with various BSL’s intact. Cities like Denver, Colorado completely ban the breed from residing within the city limits.
Although the legislation caused much hardship for the pups, it gave Pit lovers and activists a cause to rally around for their beloved breed. When there was talk of a breed ban or heavy stipulations in the community of Norwood, Colorado, a pet-parent of three American Pit Bull Terriers took the podium. He did such a fine job presenting his well-researched case to the city council, he was asked to join the board. Today, many of the laws have been retracted, mostly due to passionate Pit lovers.
In 2004, almost 7,500 dogs were put down in Ohio animal shelters due to the ban on adopting Pits or similar-looking mixes. As some states banned or regulated Pits, other breeds became more popular to own. Interestingly, the number of dog bites and attacks soared. Perhaps the American Pit Bull Terrier had been falsely convicted after all.
At present, the Pentagon still upholds its ban on American Pit Bull Terriers, Chows, Dobermans, Rottweilers and wolf hybrids from being in military housing areas. Pit fans have their fingers crossed that the military powers that be will one day take to heart the patriotic history of the breed and the part humans played in the tragic turn of events.
Getting a Makeover
San Francisco attempted to rename the breed “St. Francis Terriers” in order to smooth over the rough image Pits had encountered. New York City tagged Pits as “New Yorkies” for the same reason. Although the names didn’t stick, the idea did.
Thankfully, there have been great strides forward. Numerous organizations have stepped up to redeem the good name of the breed and to attempt to reinstate his good name as the All American Dog. During this time, some kennels that bred Pits for fighting were raided, one in particular called Michael Vick’s Bad Nez Kennels.
Several rehabilitation groups rolled up their sleeves and ultimately proved that Pits can be successful students. Sports Illustrated even published a new article which stated as much.
Love-A-Bull’s Pit Crew is an organization that encourages the popularity of Pits. It uses the breed to reach out to comfort individuals who need it most like those in women’s shelter, children’s hospitals and hospices.
The history of the American Pit Bull Terrier has been a rocky road. They have been both loved and hated. Their rise and fall and rise back up appears to be determined not by the dogs but by human. It seems their fate is in our hands.
Home on the Range
While the American Pit has certainly gone through his share of changes where society stands, there are many characteristics, both physical and personality-wise, that have remained the same. His agility, intelligence and tenacity made him an expert helper on the range, ranch and farm; and, it certainly still plays a role in his life as a companion dog today.
Your Pit may have some herding instinct in him. He may attempt to line the children or other dogs up in an orderly fashion. It is important to keep these instincts under control so he doesn’t become too bossy.
American Pit Bull Terriers are stocky and muscular. They were able to take on a fairly large predator in the wild and can do so in the neighborhood too, if he feels threatened. Remember, they were originally used for hunting purposes.
Fortunately, the human bonding traits he was also known for on the ranch that first paved the way for him to be welcomed into the home still exist today as well. His love for you and willingness to please can stop him in his tracks if he does get into a tangle with an overly ambitious squirrel or a mischievous raccoon.
The Pit can dig! His sharp and thick claws came in very handy when he was primarily a working dog. You may find he digs up your flowers or digs an escape route under the fence. It’s good to keep an eye out for such unwanted behaviors and to nip them in the bud should they occur.
Popularity of the Pit
American Pit Bull Terriers have been an important part of the lives of Americans ever since they arrived in the country. There are many celebrity dogs like Petey with his adorable little bulls-eye markings in “The Little Rascals” and Grunt who debuted her dance moves in the hit movie “Flashdance”.
In the NBC show “Parks and Recreation”, a three-legged Pit stars a rescued dog named Champion. Interestingly, Champion is played by Lucy who truly was adopted from the dog pound.
Then there is Bud, the American Pit Bull Terrier who hitched a ride with his owner, Dr. Horation Nelson Jackson, in 1903. The road trip was the first documented road trip from San Francisco to New York City. Their journey was featured in a PBS special in 2003.
Television shows, like Pit Bulls and Parolees, are hot these days. The reality series confronts the Pit Bull misconceptions and pairs them up with people on parole. As the program depicts, the Villalobos Rescue Center plays a huge role in the show.
There are a number of celebrities that adore Pits. Jessica Alba, Rachel Ray, Jennifer Aniston, Alecia Silverstone, Kaley Cuoco, John Stewart, Jessse James, Tom Brady, Fiona Apple, Kevin Bacon, and tons more are crazy about the breed. Jessica Biel often tweets to her many followers about her APBT. Katherine Heigl, Michael J. Fox and Apollo are Pit fans too.
Theodore Roosevelt, Helen Keller, Thomas Edison, Fred Astaire and Humphrey Bogart all had Amercian Pit Bull Terrier fever. Even the famous author Mark Twain had a beloved Pit.
Cesar Millan’s right hand pup was a Pit named “Daddy”. He was a calming energy which helped Cesar work with humans and other dogs. Daddy often practically trained dogs himself as he showed them the ropes at the center. When Daddy was fifteen, Cesar decided it was time to get another dog in hopes Daddy would school a new pup to carry on. Cesar allowed Daddy to do the choosing and he picked a calm and gentle Pit named “Junior”. Daddy has passed now and Junior has taken over the role.
American Pit Bull Terriers have been loved as war heroes too. One of the first to serve was Sergeant Stubby, the most decorated dog in military history. Serving 18 months in World War l and being on the front line in 17 battles, he won the hearts of all (except for the enemy, of course).
Jack Brutus served in the Spanish American War for the First Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, Company K. His status was never made formal but he played his part, especially in boosting the morale of the men. He did have a very obnoxious snoring problem though and was encouraged to sleep far enough away from the tents that the men could get their rest. In his later years, he was nick-named “Old Jack”. He fell ill during one stretch of the war and the men feared he was going to die. They nursed him back to health. He passed away of a spinal complication in 1898.
Other Popular Stories
Here are some more stories that show why this breed grows in popularity.
- During a bout of severe flooding in California in 1993, a Pit named Weela assisted in saving the lives of 29 dogs, 32 people and 1 cat.
- Then there was a young American Pit Bull Terrier puppy who was found almost frozen to death inside a freezer. He was affectionately named “Popsicle” and ended up being a very notorious police dog.
- Norton rescued the wife of his owner when she suffered an aneurysm.
- D-Boy who took three bullets from an intruder for his family.
The American Pit Bull Terrier is very low maintenance when it comes to grooming. Brushing his coat weekly is recommended to keep it healthy and glossed. It will also keep him from getting flyaway hair. Bathing is done as needed but usually, he can just be tidied up with a damp rag.
You’ll want to keep his ears clean and watch for wax build-up. A vet-approved ear cleaner is a good idea since the breed does have a tendency to have ear issues. Take him in if you notice any signs of infection or irritation in his ears.
Be sure to brush his teeth weekly so tartar does not build up. If you notice his breath stinking, you should have his teeth and gums checked. A good monthly nail trim is also a good idea, especially if he isn’t outdoors enough to wear them down naturally.
Some health woes the Pit tends to suffer from is mostly due to inheritance. Other issues are not. Some medical conditions can be prevented and others can’t be.
Skin issues are quite common for the American Pit Bull Terrier. They lean toward having itchy skin, usually due to allergies.
Demodectic mange is another skin problem they may be prone to. Demodectic, also known as “red mange” or “demodex”, is cause by a parasite that resides in the follicles of dog’s hair. It is shaped like a cigar and has eight legs. Although it is common for the parasite to be present, it only causes problems when the immune system is down. Lesions and hair loss are common symptoms. The itching is aggravated by inflammation and is usually localized to one area. It can be passed from dog to dog.
Skin cancer and skin tumors are other medical conditions Pits may be genetically prone to. If you notice any abnormalities of the skin, don’t waste time taking your dog to the veterinarian.
- Elbow and hip dysplasia conditions run in the American Pit Bull Terrier family. The issue is due to the ball of the hip or elbow not staying in the socket. Surgery can usually correct the problem.
- Eye diseases that lead to blindness are not unheard of in the breed. Cataracts are fairly common too. Deafness is yet another problem to keep an eye out for. If you are adopting a puppy, check for both blindness and deafness.
- Hereditary heart disease can also strike Pits. They are one of the breeds that have the highest rates of hypothyroidism so be sure to keep his diet under control as a preventative measure.
All in all, American Pit Bull Terriers are a strong and healthy breed. There are certain things to keep watch for, however, and precautions you can take to help keep him in tip top shape.
Super smart and oozing with energy and playfulness...that’s the American Pit Bull Terrier. He loves to be active and is a superb athlete but you might just as easily find him in the comfort of your lap. They are lovers, through and through.
Because he is bounding with energy, it is imperative that you exercise your APBT every single day. At least 20 minutes, twice per day is highly recommended. In addition to his walks, you might as well add some agility drills and/or Frisbee in the mix too. Not only is he highly energetic physically, he needs mental challenges and stimulation too. If you don’t give him both, he will be sure to let you know it by the mischief he will get into.
It is important that you socialize your Pit with humans, other dogs and even with other animals, like cats, at a very young age. Because he is so attached to his human family, he can easily become too protective and aggressive if he isn’t trained to interact properly with others.
Pits have strong temperaments. They can also be quite stubborn. With a little help from his owner, some early and consistent training, he can be a great companion for your family.
Training Your American Pit Bull Terrier
American Pit Bull Terriers are very easy to train once you establish who is boss. It may take a few rounds but if you are loving, patient and persistent, you’ll ace it and have a great student to work with.
Be sure your Pit knows what to expect. Doing so will make him more secure. Enforcing the rules is important too. If he feels confused, trouble can begin to brew and you won’t get the results you are looking for.
Basic commands such as sit, stay, shake and down are a cinch for this breed. You will also want to include obedience training to keep him and others safe. They are a vocal breed at times, like when someone is knocking at the door.
Pit Bull Terriers do have a knack for discerning intruders from welcomed house guests though you might never know it from their insistent barking. You will want to get a handle on the barking right away by having him hush when he starts in.
Be sure that he is obedient on the spot and isn’t dependent upon a treat to carry through. That way you can give him the order to stop if a car is coming or to heal if a small critter is looking tempting to chase after. He should be taught to obey immediately upon command.
Since Pit are so strong, you will want to leash train him right away. You don’t want him pulling you down the street or getting away from you. Always enforce the rule that he is never to walk in front of you or he will assume he is the Alpha leader. Never let him get by with tugging the leash.
Another potential problem you can deal with immediately is jumping up. If he jumps up on you or others, he is likely to knock you down. Forbid him to jump on anyone, even when playing and you will have a better, safer environment.
Training your American Pit Bull Terrier will unlock his potential. Be sure to include activities like agility training, pulling and physical activities. You will be amazed at how capable and willing he is to engage in new fitness routines.
Remember that Pits are very loving and sensitive. If you praise him for a job well done, you’ll go far in your training sessions.
What’s in a Name?
The American Kennel Association (AKA) refuses to recognize the American Pit Bull Terrier as an official breed. There are only three “Bully” (Bulldog types) that are acknowledged by the Federation of Cynologigue Internationale. Those are: the Miniature Bull Terrier, the Staffordshier Bull Terrier and the Bull Terrier. The Canadian Kennel Club has recognized the breed since 1878.
It is difficult to tell bully breed dogs apart, even for experts. Pit Bull is a term loosely used but is not an official name for any breed according to the AKA because their roots did not originate from the cross-breeding of Bulldogs and Terriers. It is the hope of American Pit Bull Terrier fans that one day the breed will be recognized by all.
Is the American Pit Bull Terrier a Good Fit for You?
The American Pit Bull Terrier is much like a shoe...it is either a good fit, or not. There’s really no in between. The more you know about the breed, both the good and the bad, the better decision you will be able to make when deciding “to be...or not to be”.
If you are afraid of the breed, scratch him off your list. It is not a healthy situation for you or for him and you will not be able to properly lead him. Pits require confident leadership to help mold them into being the best dog they can be.
American Pit Bull Terriers can be so excellent with young children, they are more like babysitters than dogs. On the other hand, if your Pit has a tendency to snap, young children can be a trigger. But this is often due to lack of adequate exercise and poor training. Either way, supervision is recommended. The same is true for other dogs and cats too.
Getting to know your individual pup before you bring him into your household is important. If you are adopting an adult dog, find out all you can about him and his history. Pups often exhibit their personalities right away so pay close attention. You will definitely want to evaluate yourself as well.
Much of “the fit” is a matter of what you are willing to put out. Will you commit to walking him daily and stimulating his mental energy as well? Have you checked the regulations of your city to see if there are any specific rules or laws for the breed? Will you be required to carry insurance on him and if so, can you afford it? There are many things to check into when it comes to this controversial dog.
Consider the other members in your household too. If your spouse is very laid back, he or she may be vulnerable to being dominated. If your spouse or roommate is afraid of the breed, let that be a red flag warning not to get one.
You may want to second think the adoption if you have a concern about another dog in the house or a cat. Often times you can take the dog home for a trial run and that might be a great idea if you’re not 100% certain he’ll be a good match for the entire household.
Where you live is another thing to think of. Pits aren’t allowed in some apartment complexes and are a bit too energetic for such small spaces anyway. If you live in a neighborhood, be sure he will have a good sized yard and will be allowed to go on walks with you. In the event that you live on some land - perfect. Do take any livestock you may have into consideration though.
If you are aware of all the potential negative factors that might come along with American Pit Bull Terrier ownership and are still on board, congratulations. You have found yourself to be one of the many passionate Pit owners that swear that “life is the Pits”.
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