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American Pit Bull Terrier: Your Complete Guide To The World’s Most Misunderstood Breed - PawSafe

American Pit Bull Terrier: Your Complete Guide To The World’s Most Misunderstood Breed

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

American PItbull Terrier

Welcome to the world of the American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT), a breed that often captures as much controversy as it does the hearts of its devoted owners. Renowned for their strength, intelligence, and affable nature, Pit bulls have weathered their share of misunderstandings. Yet, beneath the surface of societal stereotypes lies a breed that embodies loyalty, resilience, and an eagerness to please.

Adding to the discourse, Richard F. Stratton, a world-renowned expert on the breed, offers insights from decades of experience. His writings, like the seminal “This is the American Pit Bull Terrier,” provide a comprehensive look into the true nature of Pitbulls, debunking myths while presenting a factual account of their history and temperament.

As we explore what it means to own and love a Pitbull, we will delve into aspects of their suitability as family dogs, the nuances of responsible ownership, and how to harness their potential through training. Join us as we shed light on the realities of living with one of the most misunderstood breeds and discover why so many are proud to call them family.

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Understanding American Pit Bull Terriers: Clearing Up Misconceptions

The term “Pitbull” often causes confusion and is frequently subject to misconception. It’s important to distinguish between what is colloquially referred to as a “Pitbull” and the actual breed known as the American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT). This section will clarify these points and explore other breeds commonly lumped into the “Pitbull” category.

Pitbull: A General Type, Not a Breed

The word “Pitbull” is often used as a catch-all term for several breeds and not a specific breed itself. It generally refers to dogs with similar physical characteristics, usually encompassing several bull breed types and pit bull mixed breeds like the Pitweiler or the Dal PIt.

The most recognized breeds categorized under this term include the American Pit Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier, and sometimes the Staffordshire Bull Terrier.

American Pit Bull Terrier: A Defined Breed Standard

The American Pit Bull Terrier is a recognized breed with a specific standard as maintained by the United Kennel Club (UKC), but it is notably not recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC). 

The APBT is valued for its physical strength, courage, and gentle disposition with humans. According to the UKC, the APBT displays a great zest for life and is very agile with well-defined musculature, making it both powerful and athletic..

Comparison with Similar “Pitbull” Types

Here is a comparison of the APBT with the American Staffordshire Terrier (AmStaff), another breed often confused with or referred to under the general “Pitbull” term:

FeatureAmerican Pit Bull Terrier (APBT)American Staffordshire Terrier (AmStaff)
SizeMales: 18-21 inches, 35-60 lbs <br> Females: 17-20 inches, 30-50 lbsSlightly heavier and bulkier with males slightly taller on average
CoatShort, stiff, glossy coatShort, stiff, glossy coat
ColorAll colors and patterns except merleWide range, including merle, which is disallowed in APBTs
HeadMedium length, broad skull, wide deep muzzleSimilar but may appear slightly bulkier
BodySolid, muscular, slightly longer than tallGenerally stockier and more muscular

Important Distinctions

  • Recognition: The APBT is recognized by the UKC, not the AKC. To obtain an AKC-recognized dog of similar type, one would look to the American Staffordshire Terrier, which some consider a rebranded form of the APBT to distance the breed from negative connotations of its past.
  • Breed Purpose: While both breeds have historically been bred for similar purposes, the APBT has been closely associated with performance and sports, demonstrating significant agility and strength.

Are Pitbulls Good Family Dogs?

Pitbull puppy blue and white for sale is a good family dog

Pitbulls often get a bad rap, but those who own them know these dogs as big softies at heart. Hai Truong, a long-time Pitbull owner from Los Angeles, notes, “They’re super friendly when meeting new people. They just love attention and are really happy to greet everyone.” This makes them excellent companions who thrive on human interaction.

Playful Pals for Kids

If you’re wondering how Pitbulls do with kids, you’ll be pleased to know they are known for their playful and gentle nature. They have a lot of energy to burn, which makes them great playmates for children. However, always supervise interaction with children because this is a powerful breed.

They love to be involved in games and activities, keeping up with even the most energetic kids. “They’re not lazy,” Truong adds, “My dog Wes always comes when I call him — he’s always ready to join in on the fun.”

Other Dogs and Animals

When it comes to other dogs and animals, the story is a bit mixed. Pitbulls can be fantastic with household pets, especially if raised with them from puppyhood. However, they do have a high prey drive and can show signs of dog aggression if not properly socialized and trained. Truong shares his experience, “Wes is dog aggressive, but with all the training, it really helps. I’ve never had an incident.”

A Family Fit

In summary, American Pitbull Terriers can make loving and fun family pets in the right environment. They mesh well with family life when they receive the proper training and attention. Understanding their personality and needs goes a long way in integrating them into your home successfully. As Truong advises, “You have to respect what the dog really is and consider their history.”

With the right approach, a Pitbull can not only be a good family dog but a beloved member of the family.

Thinking of Adopting a Pitbull?

Adopting a Pitbull is a rewarding decision that can bring a lot of joy and companionship into your life. However, it’s important to consider a few factors before bringing one home. Understand that Pitbulls are energetic, require a lot of exercise, and thrive on strong leadership and clear boundaries. They are incredibly loyal and thrive on human interaction, but they also need proper socialization and training to integrate well with other dogs and animals.

Cost of a Pitbull Puppy

The cost of a Pitbull puppy can vary widely depending on where you get one. Adopting from a shelter might cost anywhere from $100 to $300, which usually includes vaccinations, microchipping, and spaying or neutering. 

If you’re looking for a dog that has a lineage of known temperament and characteristics, you might consider an American Staffordshire Terrier, a breed recognized by the AKC and closely related to the Pitbull. Prices for these dogs, particularly from reputable breeders, can be significantly higher.

Where to Adopt An American Pit Bull Terrier

Pitbulls are unfortunately one of the most common breeds found in shelters. Adopting from a shelter or rescue organization is not only cost-effective but also gives a home to a dog in need. Here are some reputable Pitbull and bully breed rescues where you can find your next family member:

The Importance of Adopting

Adopting a Pitbull from a shelter or rescue is crucial. These centers are often overwhelmed with Pitbulls due to misconceptions and breed-specific legislation, which has led to high numbers of breed abandonment. By choosing to adopt, you’re not only saving a life but also helping to mitigate the overpopulation problem in these shelters.

How to Train a Pitbull Terrier

Training a Pitbull Terrier can be incredibly rewarding, given their intelligence and eagerness to please. Here are some essential tips to ensure your Pitbull is well-behaved and happy.

Start with the Basics

Begin with simple commands like ‘sit’, ‘stay’, and ‘come’. Pitbulls respond well to positive reinforcement, so always have a treat or their favorite toy handy to reward good behavior. It’s important to find out what motivates your dog — some may respond better to treats, while others may prefer praise or a toy.

Example of Basic Training:

  1. Sit – Hold a treat close to your dog’s nose and lift your hand slightly up and back towards the dog’s tail which naturally encourages the dog to sit. Once their bottom touches the ground, immediately say “yes” and give them the treat. This helps the dog associate the action of sitting with a reward.
  2. Stay – Ask your dog to sit, say “stay,” and take a few steps back. Reward them with a treat and affection if they stay. Start with short distances and gradually increase the distance as your dog becomes more reliable.
  3. Come – This is crucial for their safety. Start in a controlled environment and gradually introduce more distractions. Use a long lead line if you’re in an open space. Call your dog’s name followed by “come.” When they come to you, reward them with lots of praise and a treat.

Importance of Early Socialization and Consistent Training

Socializing your Pitbull from a young age is vital. Expose them to different people, dogs, environments, and situations. This helps reduce fear and aggression and builds a confident, well-adjusted dog. Consistency is key in Pitbull training. They need to understand that rules are always the same, which only happens with consistent reinforcement.

Tools and Resources

Consider using a variety of tools to aid in training:

  • Treats – Always choose healthy, tasty treats that your dog finds irresistible.
  • Clicker –  A training clicker can be effective in marking the correct behavior the moment it happens.
  • Harness and Leash – A sturdy harness and leash are important for control during walks, especially given the Pitbull’s strength.

Training classes can also be invaluable. Look for trainers experienced with bully breeds. They can provide guidance tailored to your dog’s personality and needs. Additionally, books and online resources can offer new ideas and insights into effectively training your Pitbull.

Remember, training a Pitbull, like any dog, requires patience and persistence. Celebrate small successes and stay positive, and you’ll build a bond based on trust and respect.

Tailored Exercise for American Pitbull Terriers

Pit Bull exercise by pulling on tug toy excellent and favorite game of the breed

American Pitbull Terriers, renowned for their strength and endurance, thrive on physically demanding activities that also engage their minds. One specific sport that caters to their capabilities is “Gameness,” a multifaceted sport designed to harness and challenge the natural abilities of these dogs.

Gameness: A Sport for the Energetic Pitbull

Gameness is a sport that pushes the boundaries of a Pitbull’s physical and mental agility. It involves various obstacles that test different aspects of their capabilities, making it an excellent way for them to expend energy while engaging their minds.

Key Components of Gameness:

  • Long Jump and Free Jump – These activities test the dog’s ability to leap across distances or over hurdles, promoting athletic precision and agility.
  • Palisade and Wall Climb – These challenges require the dog to climb over vertical obstacles, enhancing their strength and problem-solving skills.
  • Suspension – This involves the dog hanging onto a suspended item, testing their grip and endurance.
  • Weight Pull – A test of strength, where the dog pulls weighted objects, often on a track or rail. It not only builds muscle but also focuses on the dog’s ability to handle physically demanding tasks.

The setup of these activities, the rewards, and the overall training depend entirely on the interaction between the dog and its owner, making it a deep bonding experience as well as a physical challenge.

Incorporating a Doggy Treadmill

In addition to engaging in sports like Gameness, using a doggy treadmill can be an excellent way for a Pitbull to burn off excess energy, especially on days when outdoor activities might be limited by weather or other constraints. 

Treadmills offer a consistent and controllable environment for exercise, allowing for customization of speed and duration to fit the dog’s endurance level and energy.

The Importance of Routine and Consistency

Establishing a regular routine for these activities is crucial. Consistent exercise not only maintains the physical health of a Pitbull but also helps in managing their energy levels, preventing boredom, and reducing behavioral issues. 

Remember, the average adult APBT needs about one to two hours of intense exercise a day to channel their tenacity and energy.

Overcoming Stereotypes: Pitbulls and Temperament

Pitbulls are often surrounded by myths and misconceptions, especially concerning their temperament. This section delves into what scientific studies say about Pitbull temperaments and addresses common stereotypes.

Debunking Myths

Pitbulls meeting each other in bark sniffing are Pitbulls aggressive

The idea that Pitbulls are inherently vicious has been a staple of negative stereotypes surrounding the breed. However, these beliefs are largely based on misinformation and a misunderstanding of dog behavior and breed characteristics.

Common Misconceptions About Pitbulls

  • Aggression: Pitbulls are often labeled as aggressive towards people and other animals. However, aggression can be highly dependent on the individual dog’s upbringing, training, and the circumstances they are exposed to.
  • Bite Force and Lock Jaw: There is a myth that Pitbulls have a bite force that is significantly stronger than other breeds and that they possess a “lockjaw” mechanism. Both claims are scientifically unfounded. The strength of a Pitbull’s bite is comparable to other large dog breeds, and they do not have any anatomical mechanism that would allow their jaws to lock.

What the Studies Say

A study referenced from Anthrozoös discusses the pitfalls of breed-specific legislation and the lack of scientific basis for deeming any breed, including Pitbulls, as inherently dangerous. The study notes several important points:

Breed Identification and Reporting Bias

Accurate breed-specific bite statistics are challenging to obtain due to difficulties in reliably identifying dog breeds and biases in reporting. For instance, any muscular, medium-sized dog can be misreported as a Pitbull in bite incidents.

Influence of Ownership and Upbringing

The behavior of a Pitbull, or any dog, is significantly influenced by its owner’s responsibility level and the dog’s upbringing. Pitbulls raised in loving, responsible, and stimulating environments are likely to develop temperaments that are affectionate and sociable.

Legislative Challenges

The study underscores the complexity of using breed as a predictor for aggression. Laws aimed at specific breeds do not account for the significant variability within and across breeds, nor do they consider the significant impact of the dog’s environment and training.

Understanding Pitbull Temperament

The truth is that Pitbulls, like any other dog breed, can exhibit a wide range of temperaments. Many Pitbulls are affectionate and loyal, thriving in family environments where they are treated as part of the family. They are often eager to please and responsive to positive reinforcement training methods.

Key Temperament Traits

  • Affectionate with Families – Many Pitbull owners report that their pets are particularly loving and gentle with family members, often seeking physical affection and bonding closely with children.
  • Energetic and Playful –  Pitbulls are known for their energy and playfulness, requiring regular exercise and mental stimulation to stay healthy and happy.
  • Responsive to Training – With consistent, positive training approaches, Pitbulls can be highly obedient and are often used in various roles, including therapy and service dogs.

The temperament of a Pitbull, as with any dog, largely depends on factors like genetics, training, and environment rather than breed alone. While it’s important to acknowledge the breed’s history and physical capabilities, it’s equally crucial to promote responsible ownership and broadened public understanding to overcome stereotypes and recognize the individual qualities of each dog.

Responsible Pitbull Ownership: A Guide

Owning a Pitbull, like any breed, comes with a set of responsibilities that are crucial for the well-being of the dog and the safety of the community. Here are some key points that potential and current Pitbull owners should consider.

Key Responsibilities of a Pitbull Owner

  • Proper Training and Socialization –  Engaging in early and ongoing training and socialization is vital. Pitbulls are intelligent and eager to please, making them highly trainable with consistent positive reinforcement techniques.
  • Exercise and Mental Stimulation – Pitbulls are energetic and require regular physical activity and mental stimulation to prevent boredom and destructive behaviors.
  • Regular Health Care – Routine veterinary care, including vaccinations, flea control, and regular check-ups, helps maintain their health and wellbeing.

Legal and Societal Considerations

  • Understanding Breed-Specific Legislation (BSL) – Owners should be aware of local laws regarding breed-specific legislation. Some areas may have restrictions or special requirements for owning Pitbulls.
  • Insurance –  Some homeowners’ insurance policies may have restrictions or higher premiums for Pitbull owners. It’s essential to check and understand these policies to ensure proper coverage.
  • Community Awareness – Educating neighbors and community members about the breed can help mitigate fears and misconceptions. Responsible Pitbull owners should advocate for their pets by demonstrating their dog’s good behavior.

Importance of Advocating for the Breed

Advocacy is crucial in changing public perception and combating breed-specific legislation. Owners can join or support advocacy groups, participate in community events, and share positive stories and accurate information about Pitbulls.

Interesting Facts About American Pitbull Terriers

The American Pitbull Terrier is a breed rich in history and character. Here are some interesting facts that highlight their role in society and media.

Historical and Lesser-Known Facts

  • War Heroes – Pitbulls have served in significant roles during wars. Perhaps the most famous Pitbull was Stubby, a dog who served during World War I and was recognized for his bravery, becoming the first dog to be given the rank of sergeant.
  • Media Stars – In the early 20th century, Pitbulls were iconic in American culture and were often portrayed as symbols of national pride and bravery. They were the face of the U.S. during World War I in propaganda posters.

Their Role in Society and Media Through the Years

  • Public Perception Shift – Initially seen as loyal and brave, the perception of Pitbulls shifted in the late 20th century, where media often portrayed them as aggressive, leading to increased fear and subsequent breed-specific legislation.
  • Celebrity Advocacy –  Many celebrities and public figures have owned Pitbulls and have advocated for the breed, helping to highlight their loving nature and suitability as family pets.
  • Therapeutic and Service Roles – Despite their tough image, Pitbulls have been successfully used as therapy and service dogs, assisting individuals with disabilities and offering emotional support to those in need.

By understanding both the responsibilities of ownership and the fascinating history of the breed, potential and current owners can contribute positively to the narrative surrounding Pitbulls, promoting a more informed and compassionate approach to their integration into our homes and communities.

Are Pitbulls Nanny Dogs? (Myth vs Fact)

The notion of Pitbulls as “nanny dogs” is a well-meaning but largely mythical portrayal that has been circulated widely. This section explores the origin of this myth and the actual dynamics of Pitbulls’ interactions with children.

Exploring the Origin of the “Nanny Dog” Myth

The term “nanny dog” for Pitbulls appears to have emerged from a combination of historical photographs and anecdotal reports where Pitbulls were depicted as gentle protectors of children. 

However, there is no substantial evidence or historical documentation that supports the idea that they were specifically bred or universally used as nanny dogs. This portrayal likely grew as a counter-narrative to combat the breed’s negative image due to its association with dog fighting.

Realities of Pitbulls with Children

Pitbulls, like any breed, can vary widely in temperament and behavior. Many Pitbulls are indeed affectionate and gentle with children, often showing a high tolerance for kids’ antics. 

However, due to their historical breeding as fighting dogs, some individuals may have a faster trigger for aggression. This does not mean they are inherently dangerous but highlights the need for careful supervision and management, especially around children.

Trigger Responses in Pitbulls

Historically, Pitbulls were bred to exhibit aggression without a gradual build-up. This means they might go from appearing calm to reacting sharply more quickly than other breeds, potentially without clear warning signs. 

This trait can be problematic in unexpected situations, such as when a child pulls on the dog’s ears, interferes while the dog is eating, or makes sudden movements. While not all Pitbulls have this quick-trigger response, it is a factor that owners must consider.

Safe Interactions Between Dogs and Children

It’s crucial to remember that no dog breed should be considered a “nanny” for children. All dogs, regardless of breed, require supervision when interacting with young children to ensure safety for both the dog and the child. Responsible ownership means teaching children how to interact respectfully with dogs, recognizing the dog’s body language and signals, and never leaving a child unattended with any dog.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, the American Pit Bull Terrier, often misunderstood and misrepresented under the general label of “Pitbull,” is a distinct breed with rich history and characteristics. This article aimed to clarify common misconceptions, differentiate the APBT from similar breeds, and emphasize the importance of responsible ownership.

By understanding the specific traits, needs, and backgrounds of these dogs, owners can ensure they provide the right environment and care, advocating for the breed’s true nature. Whether considering adoption, training, or simply seeking to understand these dogs better, recognizing the individuality of each breed under the “Pitbull” umbrella is essential for fostering a society that appreciates and responsibly cares for these remarkable animals.


Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe


Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.