What is a pit bull?
Almost any dog can be labeled as a pit bull. The term "pit bull" encompasses many breeds and mixes, including the American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, and Staffordshire Bull Terrier.
Pit bulls have a rich history as family dogs in America. American Pit Bull Terriers were first developed to combine the drive of a terrier with the strength and athleticism of a bulldog. These "bull and terrier" dogs were the predecessors to modern pit bulls. Today, there is a huge range of breed mixes that are commonly identified as "bully breeds" or "pit bull-type dogs." Many dogs entering shelters with unknown backgrounds are identified as "pit bull type dogs" and can be a mix of these breeds, as well as a variety of other types such as bulldog or mastiff breeds. There is no such thing as a "pure bred" pit bull. DNA analysis shows that there are hundreds of breed mixes that are commonly identified as pit bulls.
Today, most pit bulls are everyday family dogs. Many also serve as therapy dogs, visiting hospitals, classrooms, and nursing homes to provide love and comfort.
What do they look like?
Pit bulls come in all shapes and sizes. They can be black, white, tan, brown, or reddish-brown; they can have patches or brindle "stripes."
Some dogs, like Reggie, have the bulging muscles and blocky head many associate with pit bulls, while others, like Lolayna, are much slimmer and more petite. Some, like Rufus, are small enough to pick up. Others, like Pete, weigh almost 100 pounds, and of course, they believe they are lap dogs!
Because dogs can vary so much in appearance, it's impossible to identify a dog as a pit bull simply by looking at it. Most shelters select breed labels for their dogs as a standard practice, but a dog's background can never be known for sure.
What do they act like?
The most important thing to know about pit bulls? They're just regular dogs. While pit bulls are known to be fun-loving, energetic, and social, they all have unique personalities and should be judged as individuals.
Because their lineage can vary so widely, it is impossible to make broad statements about the "pit bull temperament." A dog is just a dog, regardless of whether it's been labeled as a "pit bull," and all dogs are individuals. The National Canine Research Council offers more information on why it is impossible it is to predict a dog's behavior and genetics solely based on appearance.
Though few shelter pit bulls can be directly traced to the classic American Pit Bull Terrier, a standard temperament has been identified for this breed that defies common stereotypes. The United Kennel Club describes the American Pit Bull Terrier as follows:
"The essential characteristics of the American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT) are strength, confidence, and zest for life. This breed is eager to please and brimming over with enthusiasm. APBTs make excellent family companions and have always been noted for their love of children."
The United Kennel Club goes on to state, "The APBT is not the best choice for a guard dog since they are extremely friendly, even with strangers. Aggressive behavior toward humans is uncharacteristic of the breed."
A pit bull's behavior, like that of any dog, is a reflection of the humans who manage it. When loved, cared for, and set up for success, they make ideal family companions.
What kinds of things can pit bulls do?
Why are pit bulls misunderstood?
When someone meets a pit bull for the first time (and receives a face full of slobbery kisses), they see for themselves what goofy, fun-loving dogs they can be. However, many haven't had the pleasure of making a pit bull's acquaintance; they've only heard stories on the news that are sensationalized, and all too often, don't tell the whole story.
Read this study from the National Canine Research Council for examples of how pit bulls are unfairly targeted for bad press.
Lots of good news is out there, too! Read Positive Pit Press for happy news stories about pit bulls.