American Pit Bull Terrier

American Pit Bull Terrier
John Walton
Written by John Walton

The American Pit Bull Terrier dogs have been very versatile throughout the ages. At first, they were used to bite bulls and fight other dogs in Ireland and became farm dogs after being imported in the U.S. Finally, they made their way into their owners’ homes as loving companions and great nannies. This is because of their sweet and gentle personality and great patience with children.

Nowadays, Pit Bull Terriers are excellent agility, weight pulling and obedience show competitors and very few people still use them for dog fighting, which is illegal worldwide.

Breed Characteristics

AdaptabilityAbove Average
Health and GroomingAbove Average
All Around FriendlinessHigh
Exercise NeedsHighest

Dog Breed Group:Terrier Dogs
Height:1 foot, 5 inches to 1 foot, 7 inches tall at the shoulder
Weight:30 to 85 pounds 30 to 85 pounds
Life Span:12 to 16 years

It is surprising that a dog famous for its aggressive behavior may in fact be so gentle and patient. Well bred and trained American Pit Bull Terriers are appreciated and loyal family companions who actually need a lot of human contact to keep happy. This is not the kind of dog you can leave alone for a long time, or he may suffer from separation anxiety.

Pit Bull Terriers need a lot of socialization from a young age in order to grow up as well-behaved adults. They tend to be aggressive towards strange dogs, so it is better to introduce them to as many pets, people, places and situations as you can.

Because of their great resemblance, many people tend to call a wide range of breeds «pit bull». This includes the American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier.

Because of their bad reputation as fighting dogs, many people may regard you with great suspiciousness as the owner of such a dog. Many countries felt the need to include dog-specific legislation that also includes Pit Bull dogs. While some states restraint or condition the ownership of these breeds, some have even banned people from owning them to prevent any aggression incidents. Always make sure it is all right to keep an American Pit Bull Terrier in your state before getting your puppy.

Main Highlights
  • This breed has the tendency of being bossy and stubborn, so Pit Bull Terrier dogs must be well trained and socialized to learn that you are in charge;
  • They can also be aggressive towards other dogs, so you must always keep them on a leash in public places. They would hardly start a fight, but will never back down from one. And an American Pit Bull will fight until death in most cases;
  • Their tough character determined many countries to include this breed into dog-specific legislation. Some states or countries have restricted ownership of these dogs, while others have actually banned them;
  • The best owner for a Pit Bull Terrier is one that can always show him who is the leader. Firm leadership is compulsory with this breed, and this is why meek owners and those who are away all day long are not suited for keeping such a dog;
  • Pit Bull Terriers’ tendency to chew, combined with their high jaw strength would make them destroy any flimsy toy. Get them some strong toys to chew on if you don’t plan on going toy shopping every few days.
Breed History

The American Pit Bull Terrier breed actually originates in Ireland and descends from a small family of Pitt dogs called «The Old Family» in the 19th century. As all strains were closely related, the red gene became recessive to most coat colors except for white. This is why the breed was also known as «Irish Old Family Reds» and this was also the look they already had when they became imported into the U.S.

The aggressive traits were much appreciated in the early 19th century, when bull and bear-biting sports were considered an exquisite pass time. By 1835, these sports were deemed illegal, dog fighting gained a lot of popularity, so the aggression trait became even more obvious. Despite their aggressive behavior, they are also unwilling to bite humans. This is because handlers wanted to be able to separate fighting dogs without getting bitten themselves, so they managed to breed a strong fighting dog that is also a very good guardian as well as family-friendly and gentle.

Reaching the U.S., these dogs began working as farm dogs, and many other strains were bred into the Old Family Reds. They were used to guard their estates against unwanted animals, hunting game and as family companions. Americans seemed to prefer large dogs, so they began breeding larger Pt Bulls than those in their homeland.

This breed became recognized by the UKC in 1898 as American Pit Bull Terrier, but the AKC preferred to call it American Staffordshire Terrier in the early 1930s, to separate their dogs from the bull fighters in England.


Pit Bull Terriers may be classified as a medium-sized breed considering their height, but being so heavy, they can also fit into the large breeds category. Males measure up to 18 — 19 inches at the shoulder and females are 17 — 18 inches high. These dogs weight between 30 — 85 lbs.

Personality and Character

Despite their reputation of being aggressive dogs, Pit Bull Terriers are actually very affectionate dogs, that love to spend time with their humans. Their size never makes them think twice about being lap dogs, so prepare to get squished by your adult dog. They are also very loyal and sweet-tempered as long as they were firmly handled and trained by a gentle owner while young.

American Pit Bull Terriers need firm obedience training to suppress their stubborn behavior. These dogs can be independent thinkers, but their large size and great strength make them dangerous if challenged. Always use positive reinforcement, as shaming, scolding or beating them will do a lot more harm than good.

Their behavior and openness towards humans may vary widely depending on the dog’s ancestry line. Some may be reserved, while others may always want to «kiss» everyone. Their guarding instincts may also be very different from one dog to another, so it is of great importance that you meet at least one of the parents and some of your future puppy’s older siblings.

They are always very alert and will announce every new human or other animal approaching your home, thus making them excellent watch dogs. Though, the only reason most American Pit Bulls keenly alert you for this is because they want to greet THEIR own guests.

Health and Potential Problems

As most large dog breeds, American Pit Bull Terriers are prone to hip and patella problems due to their weight. Some lines may be more susceptible to genetic disease because of intense breeding, so it is very important that you get your puppy from a responsible breeder who is able to show you health clearance for all major health issues.

It is also helpful to meet at least one of the puppy’s parents (usually the mother is available) and some of his siblings, to get an idea of the family’s general health. Avoid puppy mills and pet stores, as they only sell dogs for profit and most of them are not really interested in their health.

  • Hip Dysplasia: usually affecting larger breeds, hip dysplasia may also appear in smaller ones. This is a hereditary condition, but it may worsen over time by a series of environmental factors, like rapid growth, jumping or falling from higher places. This condition may not be very obvious, so X-ray screening may be necessary to track it. Arthritis may develop as a dog with this condition ages, so keep a close eye on his joints, especially if you know his parents were also affected;
  • Patellar Luxation (slipped stifles): this is a common problem affecting small breed dogs. This is usually a congenital disorder meaning that the femur, knee cap and tibia are not properly lined up. This may also occur later in life. You may notice that your dog is lame, or skipping and hopping his leg while walking. Mild cases may be aligned manually, but more severe ones may require surgical intervention;
  • Hypothyroidism: this is a hormonal disorder, caused by the lack of thyroid hormone. Symptoms include obesity, infertility, low energy, mental dullness, coarse fur, or the skin becoming tough and dark. This problem may be kept under control with daily medication, which has to go on throughout the dog’s life;
  • Aortic Stenosis: this heart disorder is due to the narrowing of the aortic valve. It becomes obvious with exercise intolerance, fainting, and sudden death. It is not very common in adult  dogs, as most affected ones usually die before reaching one year old;
  • Allergies: Pit Bull Terriers are predisposed to allergies, especially skin allergies. They may be caused by specific food stuff or external factors, like fleas or other parasites. Immediately take your dog to the vet if you notice your dog is itchy or shows any discomfort when you touch him gently, to determine the cause of the allergy and eliminate it. Some causes cannot be entirely eliminated but the allergies may be kept under control with proper medical treatment;
  • Demodectic Mange: Demodectic mites are present on all dogs’ skin in small populations, but in some they may proliferate and make the dogs’ coats appear moth-eaten. You may notice them in a few isolated spots around the body or they may take over it entirely. The most susceptible dogs are juveniles between 3 and 13 months old, and adults over 5 years of age. At first, you may notice the hair around the eyelids, mouth corners and front legs thinning, but always have your dog checked, as this may also be a sign of ringworm infestation. In older dogs, Demodicosis may be associated with cancer or other internal diseases.
Care Features

American Pit Bull Terriers are very active dogs, which need at least an hour of intense exercise each day. Take them to long walks, jogging or biking, or consider playing fetch to keep their bodies fit and healthy. A bored Pit Bull Terrier can become really destructive given his great strength, and they are known for ripping sofas or chewing walls. They may also become stubborn and obsessive if left alone for too long, which can manifest itself through obsessive barking.

Provided that they get enough daily exercise, these dogs can live happily in an apartment without actually needing a yard. Actually, these are indoor dogs and should be allowed next to their human family at any time. Avoid keeping them outdoors especially on cold days, as American Pit Bull Terriers don’t tolerate cold weather very well.

Feeding Schedule

Feeding your dog the adequate food for his own needs can save you a great deal of money. For example, working and energetic dogs that burn a lot of calories need more fat and protein in order to keep their bodies in good shape. On the other hand, old or sedentary dogs need less calories because of their lower exercise levels. An adequate diet for your specific dog would also spare him food-related health problems like allergies or obesity.

A healthy adult should eat about 1.5 – 2.5 cups of dry kibble each day, depending on his actual size. Always read the feeding instructions on each dry food package, as different manufacturers may produce food of different concentrations. It is better to feed your dog several meals a day rather than one large serving or leaving food available at all times. Adult dogs should be fed 2 to 3 times a day, while puppies and young dogs should eat 3-4 smaller servings in 24 hours.

Pregnant or breastfeeding ladies should be fed a rich diet and given as much food as they want in order to sustain puppy development and lactation. It is advised that they eat food formulated especially for them, or even young puppy food. Some brands have dedicated «Starter» foods, suitable for these female dogs and puppies during their first weeks of age.

Coat, Color and Grooming

American Pit Bull Terriers have short, stiff coat with a shiny look. It comes in a wide range of colors: brown, blue, gray, red, black, white or brindle, but most dogs display at least two colors: mainly a solid color on most of the body, with white chest, forehead and tips of the legs.

Old Family Reds were among the first standard Pit Bull breeds and intensive breeding has resulted into the red color gene being recessive in most dogs. Actually, most litters have at least one red puppy depending on their parents and their own lines.

Their coat is easy to maintain and require little grooming. Regular brushing and wiping with a damp cloth is usually enough to keep the coat looking smooth and shiny. Bathing more than once or twice a year is usually enough (unless your dog gets into something really dirty). Of course, the bathing frequency must be according to your Pit Bull’s skin health condition, so it is better to ask your veterinarian for any particular advice, especially if you know he has a specific skin condition.

Brush your dog’s teeth at least two or three times a week, or even daily if you have the time and your dog is fine with this. Brushing his teeth avoids gum disease and accumulation of tartar, which can hurt the gums and teeth. Nails should be trimmed once they get too long to allow your dog to walk comfortably. Most dogs wear them down naturally, especially those living outdoors, but if you hear them clicking as they walk, than it’s time to trim them.

Children And Other Pets Compatibility

Despite their bad reputation, Pit Bull Terriers actually love children and are extremely patient. Being so energetic and sturdy, they are perfect playmates, as well as guardians for any kids. Even though, always supervise any interaction between dogs and kids to avoid accidental biting. This may occur as small kids won’t understand that pulling a dog’s tail or ears is not a nice thing to do, so it may fight back to defend himself.

This thing is usually found in younger dogs, but some breeds may be more sensible than others. Another important thing: always teach your kids never to surprise a dog by touching him as he eats or sleeps, and most important of all — never to touch or take away his food. Food is the final frontier and a dog will never let you pass it!

Always remember to check dog breed regulations in your country or area before choosing an American Pit Bull Terrier as a companion. Despite being loyal and affectionate family companions, they have an awful reputation of being aggressive dogs due to their past as fighting dogs.

Provided that you are allowed to keep such a dog, you can contribute to the improvement of their image by submitting them to intense obedience training from a young age. Always keep them on a leash in public places and don’t let them run free in dog parks unless you know they do get along with all of the other dogs there.

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.