The American Pit Bull Terrier: A Guide for Owners

Updated on July 3, 2020
Larry Slawson profile image

Larry Slawson received his Master's Degree from UNC Charlotte. He has 15+ years of experience with dogs and various pets.

The American Pit Bull Terrier: A Guide for Owners.
The American Pit Bull Terrier: A Guide for Owners.

The American Pit Bull Terrier

Throughout the world there exists several dog breeds known for their fun-loving demeanor, courageousness, and devotion to owners. One of these dogs is the American Pit Bull Terrier. Although originally bred as a working dog in the early 1900s (for work on farms), this breed is now favored for its companionship qualities and suitability as a family dog. This work provides an in-depth examination of the Pit Bull with a focus on the dog’s behavioral patterns, temperament, and general characteristics. It is the author’s hope that a better understanding (and appreciation) of this remarkable animal will accompany readers following their completion of this work.

“Dogs love their friends and bite their enemies, quite unlike people, who are incapable of pure love and always have to mix love and hate.”

— Sigmund Freud

Scientific Classification

  • Common Name: American Pit Bull Terrier
  • Binomial Name: Canis Lupus Familiaris
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Carnivora
  • Family: Canidae
  • Genus: Canis
  • Species: Canis Lupus
  • Subspecies: Canis Lupus Familiaris
  • Other Name(s): Pit Bull; APBT; Pitty; Pit; Pitbull

Sweet American Pit Bull Terrier posing for the camera.
Sweet American Pit Bull Terrier posing for the camera. | Source

History of the American Pit Bull Terrier

  • Life Span: 12 to 16 years
  • Group: Terrier
  • Area of Origin: England & United States
  • Date of Origin: 1800s
  • Original Function: Bull-baiting, dog-fighting
  • Family: Terrier

Origins

The American Pit Bull Terrier has a complicated history as it originated from a long line of bull and terrier breeds created in England, Scotland, and Ireland during the early 1800s. These dogs, which were bred for gameness and athleticism, were originally used for bull baiting and bloodsports (such as dog fighting). However, following a rapid increase in immigration by the Irish during the mid-1800s (following the Irish Potato Famine and the banning of dog fights in Europe), many of these original “pit bulls” were brought to the United States where dog fighting practices were both allowed and legal.

Once in the United States, selective breeding practices were implemented by owners for the purpose of enlarging the pit bull’s weight, jaws, and head. This ensured maximum effectiveness in regard to dog fights and bull-baiting. As a result of their efforts, a new breed of pit bull was officially recognized in 1898 as the American Pit Bull Terrier.

Function

Originally bred for bull-baiting and dog fighting, many of these practices continued once the pit bull was introduced into the United States in its Americanized form. Due to the dog’s natural power and strength, however, many American farmers began to recognize the pit bull’s remarkable abilities as a farm dog. In turn, American Pit Bulls were used for much of the early 1900s as “catch dogs” on farms, where they would aid in hunting and driving livestock (such as cattle and hogs).

While the American Pit Bull Terrier continues to be an excellent working dog (suitable for a variety of roles), the breed is now recognized for its remarkable companionship qualities. And despite its fierce reputation, many of these dogs are even used as therapy dogs for the disabled in both Europe and the United States.

American Pit Bull Terrier playing outdoors.
American Pit Bull Terrier playing outdoors. | Source

Appearance

Body

  • Weight: 30 to 85 pounds (male and female)
  • Height: 17 to 19 inches (male and female)

Head

Heads on the American Pit Bull are medium in size, with a bricklike appearance and shape. Heads are usually widest at the ears, with faces that possess prominent cheeks. Likewise, muzzles are usually square-like (with a wide and deep appearance). Completing the head is a pair of ears that sit high on the head, along with rounded eyes of varying color.

Forequarters

Forequarters on the American Pit Bull are quite strong and muscular in appearance. Shoulders are usually wide and sloping towards the back, whereas the chest is broad with well-sprung ribs. Completing the forequarters is a pair of straight (and rounded) legs that are completed by a pair of medium-sized feet that are arched and well-padded. Dewclaws can be removed if desired.

Hindquarters

Hindquarters on the Pit Bull follow many of the same characteristics of the front. They are generally quite strong and muscular in appearance, and follow a consistent balance with the front regions of the dog. Thighs should be well-developed, with well-bent hocks, and straight rear pasterns. Completing the hindquarters is a pair of rounded paws that possess a high arch and hard padding.

Tail

Generally speaking, tails on the Pit Bull are relatively short when compared to its overall body size. They should sit low, and will usually taper to a point. Tails carried over the back are considered major imperfections for this particular breed and should be evaluated promptly by a qualified veterinarian.

Coat and Coloration

Coats on the Pit Bull are usually described as short, stiff, and glossy. In regard to coloration, nearly any color (or marking) is acceptable with this breed. However, red, buckskin, and black are the most common.

Despite their fierce reputation, the American Pit Bull Terrier is actually a highly intelligent and affectionate breed.
Despite their fierce reputation, the American Pit Bull Terrier is actually a highly intelligent and affectionate breed. | Source

Are Pit Bulls Right for Your Home?

General Characteristics

  • Energy Level: 4/5
  • Exercise Needs: 4/5
  • Playfulness: 5/5
  • Affection Towards Owners: 5/5
  • Friendliness Towards Other Animals: 1/5
  • Training Difficulty: 1/5
  • Grooming Level: 1/5

Note: Scale of 1 to 5 (1=Lowest, 5=Highest)

Temperament

The American Pit Bull is perhaps one of the most misunderstood dogs of the canine world. Due to its history as a dog fighter and bull baiter (as well as unscrupulous coverage by the news media), the pit bull has become one of the most feared dogs in the world. And while this breed can certainly be aggressive and dangerous, these behaviors are almost always the result of poor training, neglect, or mistreatment on behalf of their owners. With a loving home (as well as proper training and socialization), the pit bull is actually one of the friendliest and affectionate breeds available. They are also quite gentle, and are renowned for their companionship qualities.

Are Pit Bulls Good With Children?

Yes! The American Pit Bull is often a great choice for families with children as they are a highly energetic, playful, and tolerant breed. For these reasons, children are ideal playmates as they are capable of meeting the pit bull’s attention needs through one-on-one interaction. As with all dogs, however, it is crucial that parents maintain constant supervision of their dogs when they are around children. This is especially true for the American Pit Bull as they are prone to roughhousing and cause serious injuries if boundaries are not set. Moreover, children should always be taught to avoid pulling on the pit bull’s ears or tail, and to leave dogs alone that are sleeping or eating. Any of these actions may be interpreted by your dog as an aggressive behavior and can result in bites. As a result, families with smaller children (i.e. toddlers) are generally not recommended for Pit Bulls.

How Smart is the American Pit Bull?

American Pit Bull Terriers are an incredibly intelligent breed, and can learn a wide array of tricks (or commands) in their lifetime due to their receptive and inquisitive nature. For these reasons, they are incredibly easy to train as long as positive reinforcement and reward-based incentives are followed during training regimens. And while few studies have been performed to measure the pit bull’s intelligence capabilities, it is generally accepted that the APBT possesses both adaptive intelligence and problem-solving capabilities. As a result, most pit bulls are capable of learning new commands with only a handful of repetitions. Moreover, they are excellent at responding to the emotional state of their owners.

Grooming and Training Needs

Grooming Requirements

As a short-haired breed, the American Pit Bull requires only minimal grooming to maintain their fine coat. Generally speaking, a weekly brushing (with a stiff brush) is sufficient to prevent excessive shedding and matting. Owners should also wipe down their Pit Bull with a dry cloth once brushing is complete (to remove leftover hairs and debris).

As with all dog breeds, owners should pay particular attention to their Pit Bull’s ears, nails, and dental hygiene. Ears should be checked daily for dirt, earwax buildup, and debris (such as hairs that become lodged in the ear canal during regular shedding). Likewise, nails should be kept clean, short, and trimmed on a regular basis. Generally speaking, owners should trim nails at least 1 to 2 times a month. Failure to do so can result in serious injuries to your dog’s feet as longer nails are prone to tear over time.

Finally, dental hygiene is also extremely important for the American Pit Bull Terrier. Ideally, owners should plan to brush their dog’s teeth daily in order to remove food-based debris from the gums and teeth. Maintaining proper hygiene of the mouth is an important element of grooming that is often ignored by owners. The absence of proper cleaning will almost certainly lead to gingivitis, gum disease, and tooth decay for your pet. Bad breath is also quite common with this breed, and will only grow worse over time if not treated.

Training and Exercise Needs

Pit Bulls are an energetic and playful breed. As a result, they require regular exercise to maintain a happy (and fulfilling) lifestyle. Prospective owners should plan to spend an hour a day walking or playing with their APBT. This includes running and off-leash activities (where allowed).

In regard to training, owners will be pleased to know that the Pit Bull responds well to a variety of commands. As a relatively stubborn breed, however, it is crucial that obedience training is undertaken at an early age to deter this natural impulse. While training, owners should also pay close attention to their dog’s receptiveness. Pushing your Pit Bull too hard can result in serious injuries over time. This is particularly true during hotter weather, as dehydration can occur quickly without adequate hydration.

Nutritional Needs

Choosing dog food can be quite difficult with the large array of choices that are available at convenience stores and supermarkets. For this reason, owners should work actively with a trusted veterinarian to establish a dietary plan that meets the needs of your Pit Bull Terrier. Whatever choice you decide on, always ensure that the ingredients are sourced from a high-quality product. And while table scraps may seem tempting for many owners, it is important to note that many human-based foods are extremely harmful to dogs as they contain fats and other contaminants that are difficult to digest for canines. The following list provides 10 examples of foods you should avoid giving to your American Pit Bull Terrier:

Avoid giving these 10 foods to your American Pit Bull Terrier.
Avoid giving these 10 foods to your American Pit Bull Terrier.

How Much Food Should an American Pit Bull Terrier Eat Per Day?

As with all dog breeds, feeding requirements vary significantly with every pet and depend greatly on your dog’s weight, energy level, and age. For this reason, owners should work actively with their veterinarian to establish a feeding cycle that fits their dog’s specific needs. For average adult Pit Bulls, experts recommend approximately 1.5 to 2.5 cups of dry dog food a day (divided into two separate meals). Active Pit Bulls may require more, while less active ones will require less.

Water Needs

Maintaining proper hydration is also extremely important for the American Pit Bull Terrier. Nearly 70-percent of a dog’s body is comprised of water. Therefore, owners should pay active attention to their dog’s water needs throughout the day as their requirements can change in response to both outside temperatures and their daily activity levels.

As with most breeds, standard water requirements are usually determined by your dog’s weight. For every pound of weight, an American Pit Bull Terrier should consume approximately 0.5 to 1 ounces of water per day. For example, a 56-pound dog would require 40 to 56 ounces of water in a day’s time. More active dogs will require more, where less active pets will require less.

Signs and symptoms of dehydration in the American Pit Bull Terrier.
Signs and symptoms of dehydration in the American Pit Bull Terrier.

What Type of Home is Good for an American Pit Bull Terrier?

Are Pit Bulls Good With Other Pets?

Not exactly. Due to their history as dog-fighters and bull baiters, the American Pit Bull Terrier can be quite aggressive towards other pets and animals (in particular, dogs and cats). This is particularly true for strange pets outside of your home (i.e. neighborhood pets). It is for these reasons that many neighborhoods throughout the United States have banned pit bulls from being off-leash. In spite of these aggressive tendencies, early socialization and training can help to alleviate these behaviors over time. This should be implemented during the pit bull’s puppy stage of development in order to prevent bad behaviors from becoming permanent fixtures of your dog’s personality over time.

Even with training and early socialization, however, owners should always supervise their pit bulls when in the presence of other animals. Without supervision, serious injuries (including death) could occur.

Is the Pit Bull a Good Guard Dog?

Yes! The American Pit Bull Terrier makes for an excellent guard dog due to its strength, agility, and overall intelligence. And while the Pit Bull is renowned for its loving and affectionate demeanor towards family members, this breed can be extremely aggressive when it comes to protecting their family from harm. Not only will a Pit Bull actively engage with a would-be intruder to your home, but they will also protect you with their life. In spite of this, owners should always take great care in training their Pit Bull for a guard dog role. Without proper guidance (and obedience training), aggressive tendencies can become problematic with this breed due to their prior role as dog-fighters. As such, protection training should always be left to dog-training experts.

Health Concerns

Recommended Medical Tests and Evaluations for the Pit Bull Terrier:

  • Hip and Elbow Evaluation
  • Allergy Exam
  • Thyroid Function Test
  • Cardiac Exam

Owners should actively work with a qualified veterinarian in their area to develop a nutritional and preventive-care plan for their Pit Bull Terrier. Proper diet, nutrition, and early detection of health issues can go a long way in helping your dog achieve a happy and healthy life. Generally speaking, however, the Pit Bull is a remarkably healthy dog breed, as they are prone to only a handful of health conditions. This includes hip dysplasia, allergies, hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid function), and heart disease. Nervous system issues (such as Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinosis) are also common, as well as Progressive Retinal Atrophy. Nevertheless, with proper care, owners can typically expect their American Pit Bull Terrier to live between 12 to 16 years (though it is common for this breed to live several years beyond this).

Always be on the lookout for these signs of illness in your American Pit Bull Terrier.
Always be on the lookout for these signs of illness in your American Pit Bull Terrier.

Pros and Cons of the American Pit Bull Terrier

Pros:

  • Extremely affectionate towards family members.
  • Lively and friendly temperament.
  • Highly intelligent breed.
  • Minimal grooming requirements due to their short coats.

Cons:

  • Can be extremely stubborn.
  • Can be aggressive towards other animals (especially other dogs and cats).
  • Tendency to chew on objects.
  • Requires extensive exercise on a daily basis.
  • Needs regular attention.

Concluding Thoughts

In conclusion, the American Pit Bull Terrier is a wonderful dog breed renowned for their intelligence, playfulness, and affectionate demeanor. Despite its reputation as a fierce and dangerous breed, many of these claims have proven to be both exaggerated and false in recent years. And while aggression is certainly an issue that must be recognized with this particular breed, dog lovers will be hard-pressed to find another breed that is as affectionate and amiable as the American Pit Bull Terrier. For these reasons, the APBT will likely remain a favorite of dog owners for the foreseeable future.

Works Cited

  • American Kennel Club. The New Complete Dog Book 22nd Edition. Mount Joy, Pennsylvania: Fox Chapel Publishing, 2017.
  • "American Pit Bull Terrier: Dog Breed Information, Pictures, Characteristics & Facts." Dogtime. Accessed July 03, 2020.
  • Coile, Caroline. The Dog Breed Bible: Descriptions and Photos of Every Breed Recognized by the AKC. Hauppauge, New York: Barron’s Educational Series, 2007.
  • Dennis-Bryan, Kim. The Complete Dog Breed Book. New York, New York: Dorling Kindersley, 2014.
  • Larkin, Peter and Mike Stockman. The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Dogs, Dog Breeds, & Dog Care. London, England: Hermes House, 2006.
  • Mehus-Roe, Kristin. Dog Bible: The Definitive Source for All Things Dog. Irvine, California: I-5 Press, 2009.
  • O’Neill, Amanda. What Dog? A Guide to Help New Owners Select the Right Breed for their Lifestyle. Hauppauge, New York: Interpret Publishing Ltd., 2006.
  • Schuler, Elizabeth Meriwether. Simon and Schuster’s Guide to Dogs. New York, New York: Simon & Schuster, Incorporated, 1980.
  • Slawson, Larry. “The Top 10 Smartest Dog Breeds.” (PetHelpful). 2019.
  • Slawson, Larry. “The 10 Best Dogs for Children.” (PetHelpful). 2019.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Larry Slawson

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    • profile image

      Bea Dela Fuente-Becker 

      3 weeks ago

      Nice article but i do not agree on some of the info that you wrote regarding attacking other dogs and still an early socializayion stage can still develop agression on other dogs. We have pitbulls and i agree what you said about the possibility of attcking other dogs, that is because of the wrong history of owners. Remeber that there are no bad dogs or aggressive dogs. only bad and irresponsible dog owners. To correct this article, i should say that the pitbull terrier , once socialized at an early stage like having other dog companions at home will not develop agression. Pitbullbulls have become agressive bevause of their experience with their owners and attacks happen because of irresponsible and negligent parents . any dog can be aggressive. THAT IS WHY PROPER AND RESOPNISBILE PARENTHOOD IS ALWAYS NECESSARY WHEN YOU HAVE KID AND HAVE PETS OF ANY BREED. Also, they pitbull terrier is an an excellent guard fog becasue of their super friendly nature and characteristics. that. is why most of the time their actions are misinterpreted as attacking somoene because of their playfulness and friendliness. THE PITBULL WERE NAMED NANNY DOGS BECAUSE OF THEIR GREAT COMPASSION FOR KIDS. and in the early 1900, if you are a kid, parents always get pitbulls as pets to take care of the kids. THIS ARTICLE is ok but as a writer you should have your full experience and encounter with a pittbull breed not just only basing your article of texts.

    • Nela13 profile image

      Manuela 

      4 weeks ago from Portugal

      I read that pitbulls are excellent dogs with a false bad reputation. They are very tender and sweet.

    • Lisha C profile image

      Lisha C 

      5 weeks ago

      This is a comprehensive guide. I regret to say that I am included in the ones who misjudged these dogs and thought them to only be fierce and aggressive. It's great to know that they are actually affectionate dogs when treated well and trained properly. I am glad I finally learnt this, thanks for sharing this article.

    • Larry Slawson profile imageAUTHOR

      Larry Slawson 

      5 weeks ago from North Carolina

      Thank you, Pamela! So glad you enjoyed.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      5 weeks ago from Sunny Florida

      My youngest son has a pit bull and he is just like all the things you wrote about this breed. He is such a sweet dog. Your article is very good and thorouh, Larry. I am glad to see this information out there for people as these dogs do get such a bad rap.

    • Larry Slawson profile imageAUTHOR

      Larry Slawson 

      5 weeks ago from North Carolina

      Totally agree, Louise!

    • Coffeequeeen profile image

      Louise Powles 

      5 weeks ago from Norfolk, England

      These are gorgeous dogs. I love them.

    • Larry Slawson profile imageAUTHOR

      Larry Slawson 

      5 weeks ago from North Carolina

      Thank you so much, Sam! I’m so glad you enjoyed! I always enjoy your articles as well!

    • Sam Shepards profile image

      Sam Shepards 

      5 weeks ago from Europe

      Excellent article Larrry. Your guides are really exhaustive and nicely structured, an inspiration for me!

      All the best!

    • Larry Slawson profile imageAUTHOR

      Larry Slawson 

      5 weeks ago from North Carolina

      Haha, I know what you mean! I'm in the same boat with my wife.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      5 weeks ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Cool stuff as always. I think one would go well for us, except my wife is subject to common miss-generalizations. So probably a non-starter.

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