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10 Breeds Most Commonly Mistaken for Pit Bulls

Updated on December 22, 2016
American Pit Bull Terrier
American Pit Bull Terrier

There is so much confusion these days about the pit bulls. Are they a breed or are they a “type” of dog? Even owners can’t agree.

The truth is that American pit bull terriers are in fact a distinct breed; they are part of a group of working breeds that descended from the Molosser dog. Because of this, they look similar to many other breeds. Also, the term "pit bull" is often used to refer to many breeds of terriers: American pit bull, the bull, the American Staffordshire, and the Staffordshire bull terriers. This leads to a lot of misunderstanding, and sadly it has even led to people losing their beloved pets due to misidentification and breed-specific legislation which targets “types” of dogs.

So is it a pit bull or isn’t it? Thanks to the media, crossbreeding practices, and well-meaning but incorrect information, it is very hard to be sure. The true American pit bull terrier is people-friendly to a fault and weighs no more than 60 pounds at the absolute largest. We will clear up some of the confusion by identifying the top 10 breeds that are mistaken for pit bulls.

Astute readers may notice the American Staffordshire terrier is absent from this list. Since many people consider American Staffordshire and American pit bull terriers to be essentially the same, and since dogs can register as being both breeds at once (like claiming citizenship to two countries), I've left them off.

10. The American Bulldog

Generally white or predominantly white with patches of color, these big friendly brutes can weigh in at over 100 pounds. A working dog (as all bulldogs are), the American Bulldog is a wonderful family pet equally at home working on a farm or relaxing in an apartment—provided he gets enough exercise and is properly socialized.

The American bulldog is an accomplished hunting and sport dog and a favorite in the show ring. He comes in two types: standard and bully, with the bully type being stockier with a shorter muzzle.

The American pit bull terrier, while sharing many of the same wonderful traits, is much smaller than either type of American Bulldog and differs very much physically.

9. The Presa Canario

The Presa Canario is a very large mastiff-type dog. He can reach 150 pounds and he is very powerful. He is a working dog, used for herding cattle and guarding. His temperament can be aggressive; he is only a good choice for a very experienced owner who can handle his size and attitude. This is a big dog that knows he’s big. Aggression toward humans and other animals can be problematic if he is not socialized properly.

The pit bull, in contrast, is much smaller and has a much friendlier, more family-oriented temperament. The Presa Canario is a natural guard dog, with innate suspicion toward humans and the “alpha” type of assertiveness we see with guarding breeds, but the pit bull possesses neither of these traits; they are not guard dogs. The huge aggressive “pit bulls” we see walking around are often crossbred with the Presa.

8. The Cane Corso

The Cane Corso (pronounced kah-nay kor-so) is another very large breed. Also known as the Italian mastiff, the Cane Corso weighs from 70 to 100 pounds. His history is as a guard dog and a working dog, as most Molosser breeds are. The Cane Corso is not a fighter and is not generally known to be aggressive toward other dogs but is a guard dog by nature and is not recommended for any but the most experienced handlers because of his great size. He is protective and bonds tightly with family members, often with one family member in particular, and he may become overprotective if he is not socialized very early and often.

The pit bull is far less aloof with strangers and is typically very social in comparison to the Cane Corso. The pit bull is also much smaller, with very different physical features.

7. The Bull Terrier

Easily remembered as the Spuds McKenzie dog from the Bud Light commercials, the bull terrier is often mistaken for the American pit bull. Stubborn, tenacious, and a true terrier at heart, the bull terrier is smaller in size than our previous entries but don’t let that fool you. He is stocky and muscular, with erect ears and a pleasant demeanor. As a terrier, he has a highly-developed prey drive and has been known to kill smaller animals if they challenge or harass him too much. He is the perfect blending of the bulldog-terrier lineage: strong, tenacious, and stubborn, and because of this, he is not recommended for novice handlers.

The bull terrier has a very distinct appearance, with an “egg-shaped” skull and triangular eyes, both of which are exclusive to the breed. He is very easily distinguished from the American pit bull because of these unique features.

6. The Boxer

The boxer is one of the most popular breeds of dog in the United States. She is a working dog and a hunter, as well as an excellent guard dog. Tall and proud, she can weigh up to 80 pounds and is often recognized by her fawn-colored coat. However, she can be white, brindle, or multi-colored. This probably adds to confusion with the pit bull, as many people have not seen boxers of any color other than fawn. The boxer is intelligent and high-energy. She is great with children but can be stubborn and protective. She’s prone to mischief such as excessive barking, chewing, and other nuisance behaviors if she is not exercised enough.

The boxer and pit bull have some temperament similarities, as they can both be stubborn, high energy, and excellent with children, but the pit bull is smaller and does not possess the boxer’s distinctive shape.

5. The Dogo Argentino

A super-athlete bred for hunting wild boar, killing mountain lions, and protecting her human to the death, the Dogo is a fierce hunter and a brave guardian, excellent for use in military and police applications. She is very large, heavily-muscled, and white in color, weighing close to 100 pounds. A fairly new breed that originated in Argentina and still largely resides there, these dogs are relatively rare in this country but they are growing in popularity due to their stamina, loyalty, and exceptionally beautiful appearance. They are a great choice for people looking for a very active breed they can hike, camp, climb, and work outdoors with.

They have been described as similar to the pit bull terrier, even though the pit bull is much smaller than the Dogo. This adds to the confusion surrounding the pit bull “type” and has led to the Dogo Argentino often being misidentified.

4. The Staffordshire Bull Terrier

Besides the bull terrier, the Staffordshire bull terrier (or “Staffy”) is probably the most similar to the American pit bull of all the breeds listed here, although he is still distinguishable from the pit bull with his trademark “Staffy smile” and a blocky, squared head. The Staffy is an affectionate dog, very friendly and wonderful with children. He loves to love and is an excellent family pet. He loves people and adapts to strangers very well. Like pit bulls, the Staffy possesses lower-than-average aggression toward humans.

Staffies are mistaken for pit bulls frequently, with many people believing the two breeds are the same. This is because up to a certain point in history, the American pit bull terrier, the Staffordshire bull terrier, and the American Staffordshire terrier were all the same breed of dog. They no longer are, however; they are now three very distinct and separate breeds.

3. The Bullmastiff

A very large dog, the bullmastiff is an excellent guardian and watchdog. He is a breed that needs no training in protection; he will react on instinct to any threat which presents itself. He is powerful and formidable, making him a great choice for activities such as pulling carts, which he greatly enjoys. He is smart and independent, making him a great agility competitor and a wonderful tracker in the field. He requires a somewhat special method of training because of his intelligence (he dislikes repetitive tasks) and requires a firm hand due to his size.

The bullmastiff is often confused for other breeds, including the pit bull. For instance, despite what many people think, the dog from the movie Turner & Hooch was not a bullmastiff—he was a Dogue de Bordeaux. The pit bull is much smaller than the bullmastiff, possessing a very different temperament and physical characteristics.

2. The Olde English Bulldogge

A fairly new breed, the olde English bulldogge is a throwback. This breed was an attempt to re-create the old bulldog of the 1800s, which was very different from modern bulldogs. This breed was created in the 1970s with foundation dogs that were English bulldog and bullmastiff, American pit bull terrier, and American bulldog (breeds that all have the old bulldog in their lineage). The olde English bulldogge is tenacious, agile, eager to work, and far less aggressive than the bull-baiter from the 1800s. He is muscular and strong, a true bulldog in every sense. This is a respected breed that thrives in pulling competitions, therapy work, and obedience competitions.

The olde English bulldogge, while similar to the pit bull and sharing a lineage, is a very distinct and different breed that is generally thicker, with a larger head and a shorter, trademark bulldog muzzle.

1. The Alapaha Blue Blood Bulldog

You may have never heard of this breed, but it is an old breed, surviving since the 1800s in isolated places in the South until 1979 when it was resurrected with a passion. The American pit bull we know and love today was created in part from this breed, as were a few others like the Black Mouth Cur and the Catahoula leopard dog. The Alapaha blue blood bulldog is a loyal, loving family member, as bulldogs are. She loves children and is a wonderful guardian and companion. She’s beautiful, spirited, tenacious, and eager, possessing the bulldog personality in spades. She can be aggressive if encouraged and because of this, she makes a wonderful protection dog but must be socialized well to prevent too much aggression.

This is in contrast to the American pit bull who, without training, generally won’t become naturally aggressive toward people.

What We've Learned

As this list unequivocally demonstrates, it is no easier to tell a dog’s genetic heritage just from looking than it would be to know a person’s heritage by visual clues alone. Breed misidentification plays a huge part in the stigma attached to pit bulls, and because of this thousands of animals lose loving families, are banned from cities, or are euthanized in shelters because they are incorrectly identified as “pit bulls” or “pit bull-types” based on how they look. Even experienced shelter personnel can’t get it right just by looking. DNA testing is the only way to be sure, but since that just isn’t feasible, to prevent needless deaths we must judge them based on their individual qualities instead of how they look.

Do you think Pit Bulls are misunderstood?

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Every Year, 1.2 Million Dogs Are Euthanized; Approximately 40% of Them Are "Pit Bulls"

This means that nearly half a million dogs that look like pit bulls are killed annually in shelters.

This is a hot topic. Got an opinion about it? Let us know.

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    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 22 months ago from Dallas, Texas

      Beautiful dogs and the photos are quite majestic looking. I love the looks of the Boxer and the Pit Bull Terrier. I have an old photograph from the early 1900s of my Grandfather with two dogs that look like these two breeds.

    • Larry Fields profile image

      Larry Fields 22 months ago from Northern California

      Voted up. These days, there's far too much Pitbull paranoia, and not enough real information, which you have kindly provided. I regard Breed Specific Legislation as mindless.

      I read about a case in Canada, where their goobermint attempted to confiscate a pure-bred Lab (with papers!), because he looked too bully.

      The law should target individual dogs that have actually bitten people. Unfortunately, this is a difficult concept for many legislators.

      My neighbor's younger daughter had a Staffie, named Mack. Nice dog!

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 22 months ago from The Beach of Brazil

      Voted up and interesting. Welcome to HP, looking forward to reading more of your work.

    • SinDelle profile image

      SinDelle 22 months ago from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

      Thanks to everyone! This is a topic I feel very strongly about so thank you for reading and sharing your opinions.

    • profile image

      felish 12 months ago

      this is so cute

    • profile image

      Vmez 10 months ago

      People tend to make judgements against dogs too fast without studying and talking to other knowlegable people that have dogs.they take things for granted don't appreciate an animal for it just being an animal.people are not perfect.why should animals,(all) animals be them for what they are.they are just animals.

    • profile image 9 months ago

      I am impressed! This is the most educated article on bullies I have ever read. I soooo want to shove this in my hater boss's face. I work at a boarding kennel, where I was told I was wrong about what I know about these dogs. I would say more , but I want to share this on my Facebook, and I actually love my job. Anyway,this article comes as a relief that there are educated people who are willing to make sense and share their knowledge. Especially after reading a particularly foul piece of crap on a website called stating the most dangerous dog breeds are "pit bulls" (the picture wasn't even of a pit bull) and basically any dog that weighs over 100 lbs. Oh, it was infuriating. Thank you, SinDelle, for brightening my mood and providing me with some well-researched info.

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      Unknown 8 months ago

      Sorry to be mean but to many people are just stupid. So many people say pit bulls are dangerous and they don't even know any about them. They only say it because they hear other people talk about it. Nobody even cares to do research. Any dog breed can be dangerous. Any dog breed can hurt people. It's how the dog is raised, trained and treated.

    • profile image

      Wolf 7 months ago

      this is what happens when people live to much of their life by fear and ignorance and with technology today why should people use their brains at all and it will only get worse......

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      Dale Beyrent 7 months ago

      It's so hard for me to find a place to live because no one will let us, with our Stafford shire terrier. She is so sweet.. It makes life hard. :(

    • profile image

      DogFam 5 months ago

      The amount of inaccurate information on this breed is wild! People need to READ! Things like this article lol.. Make informed decisions based on legitimate, reputable research, statistics, etc. Not news articles.. Like ??? Blows my mind! I've always since I was very very little been such a huge fan of bully breeds especially pitbulls. Every one I've ever delt with has been so smart and trainable.. They are such perfect dogs when with responsible owners

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      Sg503 5 months ago

      Thats true. Leave the pit bulls to those with a compasionate heart to raise and bring out an angel from a beast body. I love my pit bull. I am truly blessed to have her in my life. And id never give her up for anything.

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      Kathryn 4 months ago

      Pit Bull type dogs kill more people than all other breeds combined. The shelters are full of them, they attract the most irresponsible owners. That's a recipe for disaster. They need to be banned!!! Bred to kill an they all too often live up to that- 2 PB attacks on my street- one another dog being walked on a leash (pitty broke away from owner) and other was a sweet nanny dog that tried to kill its owner- witnessed attack- no provocation-dog beloved family pet in a home w/ children. If it had attacked one of it would probably be dead - owner in hospital for days w/ injuries- pit bull destroyed thanks goodness. Not all are bad but too many of them are to allow these killers among us!!!!!!!!!!! BAN PIT BULL TYPE DOGS OR AT LEAT REGULATE THEIR OWNERSHIP TO THOSE W/SECURE KENNELS W/ 6 FOOT FENCES AWAYFROM RESIDENTIAL AREAS.

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      Stephanie 3 months ago

      I am amazed by the hate I just read a few posts ago. Such ignorance, it is not the breed that is the danger, it's the specific dog itself and how it was raised. Next, you'll probably be saying that all people who play violent video games are going to become murderers and rapists. SMH. We had a beautiful boy, a delightful mix of Pittie and Staffie. He was the most gentle natured creature on the planet and I miss him every day. We had him well into his twilight years, from a 3 month old pup. It ripped us to shreds when we had to put him down due to the dreaded C-word. I still don't think my mom has gotten over hearing him cry as they injected him and holding him until he passed. Lord knows, I haven't! It's been 5 years and yet I am in tears as I type this, thinking of my Cy!

    • profile image

      Judy 3 months ago

      I have a 14 month old pit bull terrier he is very playful ! Too playful and other dogs get mad and want to beat him up !!!! How can l prevent this safely .

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      Siah Avis 2 months ago

      Of course the people here would vote that pittbulls are misunderstood-it's very likely that those who come to this site are dog enthusiasts or own a dog and want to know more. I have a lab mix and he has this squareish head that looks a bit like he could have some pittbull heritage. No idea if he is, he's exceptionally docile, very sweet and when I fed him beef jerky the other day, I wanted him to bite off the end and take it but he wouldn't bite it bc the rest of the jerky was in my hand and I had to break it for him. He's exceptionally sweet but 2 ppl people have freaked out in the past for having a 'pittbull'. Honestly, where they got that idea is beyond me bc this guy looks 98% lab, 2% miscellaneous. Either way, he's so sooooo sweet and now when I see a pittbull ish looking dog, I get nervous despite knowing how good they are. I guess that's the power of the media.

      What they need to do is have mandatory training classes for people BEFORE they get a dog AND restrict what based on their experience. I know people who have gotten German Shephards and telling me they don't walk it because it's too jumpy....erm what exactly did you expect???? Nothing? Well you should have done your research!

    • profile image

      Julie 2 months ago

      Judy, I'm not an expert but I do work with dogs every day (i am a groomer and work on a kennel) . Dogs have a way of letting other dogs know when enough is enough between themselves and letting them playfight is often harmless even though it may seem a little excessive to humans. That being said, pits were bred to fight to the death with other dogs (but should show no aggression to any humans) so socializing them from puppyhood and making sure they are trained to obey the "leave it" and "stay" command will ensure that you will have the confidence you need to properly diffuse the situation if it starts getting out of hand. The best thing is to get lessons for yourself on how to train your dog and how to avoid potentially perilous situations. Hope this helped.

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      David Craig Owen 2 months ago

      I have had from a child to now at age 53 many different breeds of dogs, from Irish setter to great Dane, husky, shepherd, collie to my 2 boxers now and cats throughout ; I really enjoyed this post on the distinction between pit bulls and other breeds that people mistake as pit bulls. I've been to friends with pit bulls and they're friendly and playful but also have had a loving home and where brought up that way. I wish more people could be like them and train them properly. I have also been to a shelter in New York after putting my dane down from liver tumour and there was nothing but pit bulls that were taken from drug raids and fighting rings, one had its eye burned out and hated male humans. I wish people would quit abusing these beautiful animals and ruining their reputation. Thank you for showing what breeds people mix them up with and if it's a must then figure out by DNA test what someone's best friend is before denying it a life!!

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      Pauline 5 weeks ago

      I had a beautiful American pitbull bitch years ago, she never was aggressive, lived with us, our young children a German shepherd pup and we introduced a older German shepherd dog to our home. Not once did she ever display any bad attitudes. None of our dogs were kept outside but were kept as part of the family and loved completely and in return gave their love to us. It's bad people who mistreat animals and brutalize them, they should be tortured not the dogs. We have a Staffordshire bull terrier, a German shepherd and two Yorkies who all get on great.

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      Sidhu 4 weeks ago

      Is American bully related to pitbul?

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      Nancy Carpenter 8 days ago

      My grandson has a pit bull and he has a son that is four years old. He adores his dog and they play together all the time. I wish more people would give this dog a break as they are a very gentle and loyal companion.

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