The American Pit Bull Terrier is one of the world’s most misunderstood dog breeds. While most people commonly refer to the American Pit Bull Terrier as simply a “pit bull” the reality is that many breeds fall under this umbrella term. These include the American Staffordshire Terrier, English Staffordshire Bull Terrier, American Bully, and the American Bulldog.
The American Pit Bull Terrier is distinct from these other breeds, however. Standing 18 – 21 inches in height, this medium-sized, solidly built dog can weigh anywhere from 30 – 60 lbs. American Pit Bull Terriers have short hair, are highly intelligent, and are fantastic family pets. Here, the origin, common stereotypes, and the reasons they are great companions will be discussed.
American Pit Bull Terrier Origin
The earliest ancestors of the American Pit Bull Terrier are believed to have been from the British Isles. The Pit Bull Terrier, which is the predecessor to the American Pit Bull Terrier, was first produced by breeding the old English Terrier to the Old English Bulldog. The result of this crossing was a dog with the enthusiastic eagerness of the terrier and the strong, athletic nature of early bulldogs.
The Pit Bull Terrier was initially bred in England for sports that included bull and bear baiting. Here, specially trained dogs would be placed in a ring with an enraged bull or bear, with the objective was for the dog to pin or immobilize the larger and stronger animal by gripping onto the bull or bear’s snout. Additionally, dogs were used for bull and bear baiting for hunting purposes. In this manner, selective breeding produced a dog that had a strong bite and an eagerness for work, regardless of the risk involved.
In 1835, bloodsports such as these were outlawed in Britain due to public outcry over animal cruelty. However, people who were fans of bloodsports found a way to continue to engage in these activities while concealing them from a law. Thus, the creation of dogfighting was born, where dogs were pitted against one another in a ring. While the majority of dogfighting instances were for gambling purposes, fighting was also used as a way for breeders to test the characteristics of the bloodlines of their dogs. To create a dog that was better suited to dog fighting rings than bull rings, the Pit Bull Terrier was reduced in size and selectively bred for dog-on-dog aggression.
Shortly before the Civil War the Pit Bull Terrier was brought to America. While dog fighting was still practiced in America as in Britain, the Pit Bull Terrier also found use on rural farms as working dogs. Their strength, athleticism, eagerness to please, and high tolerance for pain was useful in many capacities. The Pit Bull Terrier stole the hearts of Americans and quickly became a pop-culture icon. Used in advertisements for WWI, RCA, and the Buster Brown Shoe Company, the breed became iconic. Television shows featured Pit Bull Terriers as recurring characters, including the children’s program “Our Gang.” Popular figures including Theodore Roosevelt and Helen Keller also owned Pit Bull Terriers.
Even though the United Kennel Club officially recognized the Pit Bull Terrier as the “American” Pit Bull Terrier in 1898, the American Kennel Club did not follow suit until 1936, and only with the stipulation that the breed be called Staffordshire Terriers, based on their origin.
Stereotypes of the American Pit Bull Terrier
Unfortunately, the American Pit Bull Terrier is largely misunderstood and has fallen victim to a series of negative stereotypes.
As a result of this breed’s fighting history, many people assume that the American Pit Bull Terrier is dangerous; particularly around children. In fact, twelve countries currently have bans or breed specific legislations restricting or limiting the ownership of pit bull type dogs.
One of the most commonly held, yet inaccurate beliefs, is that pit bulls have locking jaws, making them inherently more dangerous than other breeds. In reality, there is no difference in the jaw of an American Pit Bull Terrier than any other breed of dog. While it is true that pit bulls have been bred for their determination, their jaws do not lock.
Another stereotype is that all pit bulls are vicious and dangerous, particularly towards humans. While it is true that some pit bulls have a genetic predisposition for aggression towards other dogs, dog-aggression and human-aggression should never be confused. True aggression towards humans from an American Pit Bull Terrier is extremely rare. In fact, people are more likely to be bitten by a Labrador Retriever than an American Pit Bull Terrier!
American Pit Bull Terriers as Companions
For people who have experience with American Pit Bull Terriers, there is one common stereotype: they are fantastic dogs that make wonderful family companions. According to the United Kennel Club, the American Pit Bull Terrier should be eager to please and extremely enthusiastic. These intelligent dogs are easy to train, and indeed excel in many types of canine sports. They are strong, confident, and possess a zest for life that is unparalleled by other breeds.
Contrary to the belief that American Pit Bull Terriers are aggressive and vicious, they are not recommended as guard dogs because of their extreme friendliness with humans, particularly among strangers. Due to the trusting nature of this breed, it is easy to see how humans with ill-intent have taken advantage of their willingness to obey the commands of their people, even to the detriment of themselves.
According to the American Temperament Test Society, which is an organization that conducts temperament testing for the purpose of dog placement, the American Pit Bull Terrier has one of the highest percentages of approval among temperament test administrators.
Perhaps most importantly, American Pit Bull Terriers are well known for their love of children, and indeed were once known as “nanny dogs.” While dogs and children should always be supervised together, one reason the American Pit Bull Terrier is such a wonderful dog is because of its gentle, loving, and protective nature of children.