What is a Pit Bull? A Complete Guide to Pit Bull Breeds

We often use the term “Pit Bull” thinking we are referring to a specific type of dog; however, a Pit Bull is not a specific breed. Instead, the term is generally used to describe any of the following breeds: American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and American Bully. These four breeds are recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) or the United Kennel Club (UKC), but you may also see mixes of these breeds referred to as Pit Bulls as well. We’re not trying to write a book though, so in this article we will focus on the purebreds only.

About the Pit Bull Breeds

Though they are all listed as separate breeds, you will see that Pit Bulls have a lot of similarities, especially when it comes to their origins. The main differences between Pit Bull breeds tends to be height and weight, as they are quite similar in appearance. Let’s take a look at each breed’s basic characteristics and history, using resources such as the AKC and UKC to guide us.

American Pit Bull Terrier

According to the UKC, male American Pit Bull Terriers (APBT) weigh between 35 and 60 pounds with females weighing between 30 and 50 pounds. Males stand between 18 to 21 inches tall whereas females are about 17 to 20 inches tall. As their name suggests, they are part of the Terrier group. American Pit Bull Terriers live for 10 to 12 years.

Despite being titled the American Pit Bull Terrier, this breed is believed to have been brought to the United States in the 1700s or 1800s by immigrants who came from England. It was in England where breeders first began mating Bulldogs with Terriers. The goal was to create a dog that was powerful, athletic, and eager to fight. This is because both in England and America, a favorite pastime was, unfortunately, blood sports. These sports mainly included dog fights and bull baiting, and people would gamble on which animal they thought would win. Therefore, there was a desire for a dog that was strong and willing to fight to the death. Aside from participating in these gruesome sports, APBTs served as cattle-drivers, hunters, and companions.

American Staffordshire Terrier

The American Staffordshire Terrier, often called the AmStaff, is one of the larger Pit Bull breeds. Females weigh about 40 to 55 pounds and males weigh 55 to 70 pounds. Females are 17 to 18 inches tall whereas males are 18 to 19 inches tall. Also part of the Terrier group, these dogs have a life expectancy of 12 to 16 years.

1 AmStaffs are one of the larger Pit Bull breeds and are part of the terrier group.

(1) AmStaffs are one of the larger Pit Bull breeds and are part of the Terrier group.

The AmStaff’s exact heritage is still in question. All we know is that the breed is descended from Bulldogs and some type of Terrier. As with all Pit Bull breeds, they were bred to be fighters used in gruesome sports. Groups of AmStaffs would be set against bears and bulls while humans gambled on which would be the last animal standing. Once these baiting sports were outlawed, dogs, including AmStaffs, were made to fight one another instead.

Staffordshire Bull Terrier

The Staffordshire Bull Terrier (often called Staffys or Staffords), not surprisingly, is part of the Terrier group. These dogs stand between 14 and 16 inches tall, making them the shortest of our Pit Bull breeds. Males weigh 28 to 38 pounds and females weigh 24 to 34 pounds. They live for 12 to 14 years.

You’re probably getting tired of hearing this story, so I’ll keep it short. The Staffordshire Bull Terrier has the same roots as the other two Terriers. It is descended from Bulldogs and Terriers and was once used in bloody sports such as bear baiting, bull baiting, and dog fighting. This breed was popular in Staffordshire which is where it got its name from. The Staffy could be considered the AmStaff’s English counterpart, as the two breeds were once thought of as one. However, the AKC recognized them as separate due to considerable differences in size.

2 The Staffy was once considered the same breed as the AmStaff.

(2) The Staffy was once considered the same breed as the AmStaff.

American Bully

The American Bully is the only breed of the four that isn’t in the Terrier group. Instead, the UKC places it in the companion group. Males are 17 to 20 inches tall and females are 16 to 19 inches tall. Interestingly enough, the UKC breed standard does not list a weight for these dogs; it says that weight should be proportionate to the height of the dog. However, you can expect an American Bully to be a medium to large-sized dog. Their lifespan is roughly 10 to 14 years.

The American Bully was actually developed from the American Pit Bull Terrier. According to the UKC, the English Bulldog, American Bulldog, and Olde English Bulldogge found their way into the APBT bloodline, which eventually resulted in a similar but different breed altogether. That’s how today’s American Bullies came to be. This is a rather new breed, having been recognized as recently as 2013.

Pit Bull Temperament

Even though we’re talking about four different types of Pit Bulls, their temperaments are so alike that we don’t need to talk about them separately. In fact, I was writing separate sections for each breed, but then I realized each section said the same thing!

Pit Bulls are confident, loyal, people-loving dogs. They are intelligent and, at times, stubborn. They are usually great with children, but dogs and children should always be supervised when together. Pit Bulls’ muscular appearances are intimidating enough for them to make good guard dogs, but if not for that, their friendliness toward people would make them the wrong breed for such a task.

If you don’t have much time in your day to give to a dog, then a Pit Bull breed isn’t for you. When I said these dogs love people, I meant it. Pit Bulls live for attention, and all they want to do is interact with you and be near you. If you can’t provide them with this, they may become destructive in their boredom.

3Pit Bulls adore people and love attention. They don’t make good guard dogs because of their friendliness.

(3)Pit Bulls adore people and love attention. They don’t make good guard dogs because of their friendliness.

In fact, one of the things Pit Bulls love most is chewing. They need to have a constructive outlet for this or it can become a problem. Be sure to provide them with durable toys like Kongs. Puzzle toys that challenge them mentally are also beneficial. If you provide your Pit Bull with enough enrichment, then behaviors like chewing won’t become problematic.

Pit Bulls can live in homes or apartments, but the deciding factor usually has more to do with you than with the dog. As stated, you must be able to provide enrichment and exercise.

Pit Bull breeds absolutely cannot live outdoors. Their coats are short and stiff and do not provide enough protection from the elements. Since their muzzles are shorter than most dogs, they may also suffer more in hotter weather than other breeds. This is especially true for the Staffordshire Bull Terrier who is prone to overheating.

4 Always provide a Pit Bull with a shady place to rest when the weather is hot

(4) Always provide a Pit Bull with a shady place to rest and plenty of water when the weather is hot. 

Because fighting is in their history, Pit Bulls have a tendency to be aggressive toward other dogs. While early socialization and obedience training can help, you should never leave a Pit Bull alone with another dog. The UKC and AKC warn that even well-socialized Pit Bulls (regardless of breed) can be aggressive toward other dogs.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that Pit Bulls can’t live with other dogs; it all depends on the individual. Usually, a Pit Bull is more likely to get along with another dog if it grows up with that dog. Introducing a new dog to a home that already has a Pit Bull may be more difficult. You should never purchase or adopt a dog without first seeing how your current pets respond to that dog. Always introduce prospective members of the family in a neutral territory outside of your home. If your pets don’t get along with the dog you’re interested in, then it isn’t the right fit for your family.

Of these four Pit Bull breeds, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier likely has the strongest prey drive. However, a fence should be considered for any Pit Bull, as they tend to be strong enough or clever enough to get loose from tethers. Just any fence isn’t going to work, though — it needs to be tall so it can’t be climbed over (yes, Pit Bulls can get over fences!) and deep enough that your dog cannot dig its way under the fence. Pit Bulls should not be left outside without supervision.

Pit Bull Nutrition

You should feed your Pit Bull the best food you can afford within your budget. But what exactly is the best food? Labels on kibble are incredibly confusing, and the internet makes things more and more complicated, with some sources saying that ingredients like cereals or by-products are bad and others saying they’re perfectly fine. Raw diets are intriguing to some, but the danger of creating deficiencies in your dog is real and scary. You want to do the best you can for your dog, but it feels like you need to become a board certified veterinary nutritionist to do so. So how should you go about choosing dog food?

If you actually have access to a board certified veterinary nutritionist, start there. But since most of us don’t (they’re harder to come by than you might think), we instead need to put our faith in pet food manufacturers (unless you prefer to make your dog’s food yourself, but that’s a whole other can of worms). Whichever brands you are interested in, take time to check out their websites. Find out about their manufacturing practices and what safety measures they have in place. Do they ever do feeding trials or publish research in peer-reviewed journals? Who is responsible for creating the recipes for their food? You should be able to call or email the manufacturer and receive answers to any questions you ask. If they are unable to answer your questions, you may want to choose a different brand of dog food.

Generally, you want to pick foods that have meat or fish products high on the label. Avoid cheap grains like corn and wheat as they provide little in the way of valuable nutrition. Some people believe that grain-free diets are best for dogs, but you should be cautious about choosing grain-free food. This is because in 2018, the FDA discovered a correlation between grain-free diets and dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). Other ingredients to avoid are by-products and meat meals; even though these are protein sources, you don’t know what is going into them, especially if the label says something vague like “poultry.”

5 Dogs with deficiencies in their diets often have dull coats and dandruff. Switch your dogs food every few months to avoid deficiencies.
(5) Dogs with deficiencies in their diets often have dull coats and dandruff. Switch your dog’s food every few months to avoid deficiencies.

How much to feed a dog will also depend on several factors. You need to consider their age, size, activity level, whether or not they’re neutered, and whether they need to gain, lose, or maintain weight. This may sound like a lot, but don’t worry. You can follow the guidelines on the dog food you purchase and adjust the quantity as needed. Or, you can calculate your dog’s calorie needs using the Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center’s calculator. Don’t be afraid to call your vet if you have any questions.

Are Pit Bulls High Maintenance?: Grooming Needs

All four Pit Bull breeds have short, smooth, stiff coats. This means that they do not shed nearly as much as other dogs like Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, or any breed with a thick coat. However, Pit Bulls do still shed, with the majority of shedding happening seasonally (about twice per year).

Because of their coat type, Pit Bulls are pretty low maintenance breeds. They only need weekly brushing, which removes dirt and helps spread natural oils throughout their coats. Similarly, they only need a bath if they start to smell bad or if they’ve taken it upon themselves to roll in something messy.

As with any breed, you will need to trim your Pit Bull’s nails whenever they get too long, and brush their teeth often. You should also check for ear infections, especially if your Pit’s ears are not clipped.

Exercising Your Pit Bull

Although our four Pit Bull breeds come in different sizes, they are all athletic dogs and need daily exercise. Because of their affectionate nature, you need to play an active role in this and cannot just put them outside and expect them to exercise themselves.

Instead, you can take them for walks, jogs, bike rides, or hikes. You can also play games like fetch or tug of war. Whichever method of exercise you choose, make sure you pay attention to the weather. Hot weather can be dangerous to any breed, but Pit Bulls, especially the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, are poorly-suited to hot climates. During the summer, outdoor exercise should occur in the coolest hours of the day, which are usually in the morning and in the evening. Make sure your Pit Bull has plenty of water to drink and a shady place to lay. Some dogs may even enjoy a kiddy pool filled with cool water.

6 Pit Bulls are athletic dogs which means they can keep up with any exercise you enjoy including activities like hiking or biking.

(6) Pit Bulls are athletic dogs, which means they can keep up with any exercise you enjoy, including activities like hiking or biking.

Swimming is awesome exercise for both dogs and people because it provides a good workout without a lot of stress to our bodies. However, most Pit Bull breeds do not float well and should not be expected to swim. Some of them don’t even like water. If your Pit Bull likes water, you can purchase a life vest so that it can swim safely.

How much exercise a dog needs depends on the individual. If your dog is constantly getting into trouble, more exercise may be the solution.

Pit Bulls’ Training Needs

Although Pit Bulls are trainable dogs, their intelligence and stubbornness may cause new owners and novice trainers a bit of trouble. However, training these dogs is incredibly important. Their strength means they can easily drag you along during walks (or even pull you over), and it wouldn’t be hard for a Pit Bull to knock down children or elderly people when it is excited. Furthermore, we can’t ignore the tendency for aggression toward other dogs. It’s important that you always have control over your dog, and obedience training is a large part of this.

When training a Pit Bull breed, use methods that are fun and engaging such as positive reinforcement. Using food or play as a reward gives dogs motivation to do what you ask. Try to make training sessions similar to playing a game. If you’re new to owning Pit Bulls or you haven’t trained many dogs before, you should seek professional help.

7 When training is fun your dog is motivated to succeed and you build a positive relationship full of love trust and respect.
(7) When training is fun, your dog is motivated to succeed and you build a positive relationship full of love, trust, and respect. 

It’s best to start training a Pit Bull breed as young as possible. Though eight-week-old puppies don’t have a long attention span, you’d be surprised at what they’re capable of learning. Starting young means you’ll have your puppy under control before they become a strong, muscular adult Pit Bull.

If your Pit Bull is a rescue, don’t worry; it can still be trained. However, training may take longer and you can never get back a puppy’s critical socialization period, so you will have to accept your Pit Bull’s behavior around other dogs and adjust accordingly.

Remember that socialization is part of training your dog, too, and it’s especially important for Pit Bull breeds. You can socialize your puppy by taking it to group training classes or by having it meet your friends’ dogs. Be sure that you have a good understanding of another dog’s personality before taking your puppy for a get together. You want your Pit Bull to have the best experience possible, so hyper, pushy dogs aren’t a good choice. You should look to meet confident but mellow dogs who are polite and friendly.

What Health Issues Do Pit Bulls Face?

Health issues are one of the areas where Pit Bulls have some differences. Let’s look at the health risks faced by each breed.

8 We cant control what ailments our dogs will experience over the course of their lifetimes but we can set aside emergency savings.

(8) We can’t control what ailments our dogs will experience over the course of their lifetimes, but we can set aside emergency savings. 

American Pit Bull Terrier

According to Kennel Club Books’ American Pit Bull Terrier, APBTs are at risk for the following:

  • Hip dysplasia
    • When the hip joint does not fit correctly into its socket.
  • Patellar luxation
    • When a dog’s kneecap moves out of position.
  • Demodectic mange
  • Airborne allergies
  • Food allergies

American Staffordshire Terrier

According to the AKC and the Staffordshire Terrier Club of America, AmStaffs are at risk for:

  • Hip dysplasia
  • Skin allergies
  • Cardiac diseases:
    • Mitral and tricuspid valve murmurs
    • Subaortic stenosis
    • Pulmonary valvular stenosis
    • Cardiomyopathy
  • Cerebellar ataxia
    • Causes the death of brain cells in the cerebellum, which leads to a decrease in muscle coordination and other neurological symptoms.
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Eye diseases:
    • Progressive retinal atrophy
    • Juvenile cataracts
    • Entropion

Staffordshire Bull Terrier

According to the AKC and Staffordshire Bull Terrier Club of America, Staffys’ health risks include the following:

  • Hip and elbow dysplasia
  • Patellar luxation
  • Eye defects:
    • Hereditary juvenile cataracts
    • Persistent hyperplastic primary vitreous (PHPV)
    • Posterior polar subcapsular cataracts (PPSC)
  • Skin allergies
  • L2HGA
    • When an acid called L-2-hydroxyglutaric has elevated levels in the urine, cerebrospinal fluid, and plasma. This can cause seizures, dementia, disorientation, and more.
  • Cardiac diseases
  • Congenital deafness
  • Degenerative myelopathy

American Bully

Unfortunately, the UKC does not provide any information on what health risks one could see in the American Bully. This is likely because the breed was first recognized as separate from other Bully breeds in 2013. Because of how recent that is, there has not been much time for any definitive answers about the health risks this breed is prone to facing.

However, we do know that the American Bully’s bloodline consists of these breeds: American Pit Bull Terrier, English Bulldog, American Bulldog, and Olde English Bulldogge. Knowing this, we can surmise that the Bully would face a number of the same risks. You can scroll up to see which health issues the APBT may suffer from.

According to “A genetic assessment of the English bulldog” which was published in Canine Genetics and Epidemiology, here are some of the issues Bulldogs are at risk for:

  • Brachycephaly
  • Patellar luxation
  • Chondrodysplasia
    • Chondrodysplasia is a skeletal disorder that can cause “intervertebral disk disease, cruciate ligament rupture, hemivertebra, torsional pelvic deformity and problems with normal copulation and parturition” (Pederson et al).
  • Skin diseases
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Eye defects
  • Heart valve defects
  • Allergies
  • Demodectic mange
  • Cancers
    • Mast cell sarcoma, lymphoma, and glioblastoma

This list looks pretty scary, but remember that the Bulldog is not the only breed that went into the creation of the American Bully, and there’s a reason they are separate breeds.

The Importance of Health Testing

Looking at a breed’s potential health issues can feel overwhelming. None of us want to fall in love with a dog only for it to develop a life-threatening disease Luckily, current medical technology affords us some peace of mind in the form of health tests.

Before a pair of dogs is mated, both can be tested by a veterinary professional for a number of issues, including things like hip dysplasia, eye defects, deafness, and more.

Responsible breeders always make use of health testing, and they will even show you the results to prove that their dogs are in good health.

How Much Does It Cost to Own a Pit Bull?

If you buy any of these four Pit Bull breeds from a breeder, they can be pretty expensive. After all, you are paying for a dog with a traceable bloodline, and breeders are usually trying to breed for specific traits. Not only that, many breeders will become a resource for you after you purchase one of their pups.

Of course, if a purebred puppy from a reputable breeder is out of your budget, you can find a Pit Bull breed at a rescue. There are some rescues that are dedicated solely to Pit Bull breeds, but in my experience, Pit Bull Terriers are relatively popular dogs. I spent about a year volunteering at a Humane Society in Wisconsin’s Fox Valley area, and there were Pit Bulls there at any given time. Most often I encountered Pit Bull mixes or AmStaffs. While the prevalence of Pit Bulls at the shelter could have been due to a regional preference for these breeds, still be sure to check out the rescues in your state if you’re looking to adopt a Pit Bull at a reasonable cost.

The cost of keeping a Pit Bull is not too much more than any other medium to large-breed dog. However, you may find yourself spending a bit more on toys. Because Pit Bulls love to chew, even indestructible toys may not last long.

9 Pit Bulls need durable toys even then they are good at chewing them up.

(9) Pit Bulls need durable toys; even then they are good at chewing them up.

Aside from the increased budget for toys, it is highly recommended that Pit Bull owners invest in an experienced trainer. Because these breeds can be dog aggressive, obedience and socialization cannot be messed up. Do yourself a favor and get a good trainer.

If you are living in a home, you should consider investing in a sturdy fence that is tall and deep. Pit Bulls are clever escape artists and should always be supervised outside, but a good fence can help keep your dog and other dogs in the neighborhood safe while still allowing space for your Pit Bull to run and play.

If you live in an apartment that allows Pit Bulls and you don’t have ample time to care for your dog, you’ll want to look into pet sitting or dog walking services. A doggy daycare isn’t the right choice for breeds that can be dog aggressive, but neither is leaving them home alone for long periods of time.

Pit Bull Breeds: Summary

It’s understandable that the term “Pit Bull” is applied to a number of breeds. After all, American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, and American Bullies really do have a lot in common. They share a common history as fighting dogs, they are confident, people-loving animals, and are also quite similar in appearance, though their sizes certainly vary.

Because of how much they love people, Pit Bulls make great companions who are playful, loyal, and affectionate. However, it’s important that their families understand how much attention they need. A Pit Bull that is starved of attention (and good exercise) will find something to do, and you often won’t like its choice of pastime. If you live an active lifestyle and enjoy activities like jogging, biking, or hiking, Pit Bulls can certainly keep up. Pit Bulls are trainable dogs, but sometimes can have a stubborn streak. They can live in both apartments and homes, though a fenced-in yard is recommended for the latter. One of the best features of Pit Bulls is their low-maintenance coats. If you’re interested in this breed, find a reputable breeder who health tests their dogs or rescue a Pit Bull from a shelter.

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