You probably know the pit bull terrier by its trademark short coat, well-muscled body, and adorable smile. You may have heard that pit bulls are dangerous. Or maybe you’ve heard that they’re affectionate and great with kids. So which is it?
In this breed profile, we’ll cover common myths about the Pit Bull Terrier personality, how to care for a pit bull, and the best living environment for a Pit Bull. Read on to learn about this special dog type, and discover whether a Pit Bull Terrier is the right dog for you.
- Origin: United Kingdom
- Weight: 30-85 pounds
- Lifespan: 12-16 years, depending on the subtype
- Breed group: terrier
- Activity level:
- Barking/howling level:
- Good with dogs: yes
- Good with kids: yes
- Good with cats:
- Easy to groom:
- Easy to train:
You might not be aware that the pit bull terrier is not a single breed in itself, but a type, which consists of a few different breeds. Pit Bull-type dogs include the American Pit Bull terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier, the American Bully, and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier.
What’s common among these Pit Bull-type breeds is the square-shaped head, muscular body, short hair, and that adorable jowly face. Pit Bull Terriers also have a variety of colorings, including red, blue, brown, gray, black and white, brindle, and more.
Because of that gorgeous short coat, pit bull terriers need very little grooming. A well-exercised Pit Bull makes for a very attractive dog, but since they have a reputation for being aggressive, some people might find a muscular pit bull intimidating. As a counterpoint to negative (and often unwarranted) assumptions about Pit Bulls, read one of our writer’s passionate arguments for why Pit Bulls are “among the most lovable dogs in the world”.
Affectionate, tenacious, attached, intense…a pit bull longs to be a companion to the right person. They’re protective but love people (so they don’t make very good guard dogs). You can count on your Pit Bull to be your BFF and never wish to part.
Because they were historically used as fighting dogs (this is now illegal), Pit Bull terriers have a rough reputation. Generally, a Pit Bull, just like many other breeds of dog, is as good as its training. Compared with other dog breeds, the Pit Bull is not disproportionately dangerous.
Like other terrier breeds, Pit Bulls have a strong prey drive. And although we now keep dogs mostly as family dogs, many dogs were purposely bred to do the exact things we fault them for. Terrier dogs were originally put to work catching and killing rats. Although we might see this kind of dog aggression as horrifying, it’s important to remember that once upon a time, that was their job.
Early socialization and consistent training will go a long way. And to be on the safe side, it’s a good idea to keep your Pit Bull on a leash just in case their prey drive is provoked by a squirrel.
A Pit Bull is first and foremost a house dog. They want to be around their people and don’t do well when outdoors for long periods, especially in cold weather. Their moderate energy level makes them great pets for a variety of living situations, as long as you don’t have too many other pets and can spend plenty of time with them. Pit Bulls notoriously don’t like to be left alone.
If you happen to leave for a few hours, put your pet in a crate or kennel with something to chew, unless you want them to show you how much they missed you by chewing up the whole house. These dogs can make quick work of pretty much any material, so don’t think they’ll stop at your shoes.
Pit Bull Terriers tend to have a moderate energy level, but a strong drive to do what comes naturally to them: jumping and chasing. As long as you can make time for a daily walk and the kind of play they like best, they’ll be happy as long as they’re with you. If you can’t be there for a daily walk, enlisting the help of a trusted pet sitter or daycare provider can be a lifesaver.
A note on owning a Pit Bull: Many apartments have special requirements when it comes to certain dog breeds, including Pit Bull Terriers. Make sure you know the rules that apply to your space. Some regulations might be specific to your city. Additionally, many homeowner’s insurance policies don’t cover (or cover with strings attached) dog bite damages if you own a Pit Bull Terrier.
The ideal Pit Bull owner is prepared to spend a lot of quality time with their pet. A Pit Bull left alone for long stretches of time during the day will likely be lonely and melancholic. An owner who works only part-time (or from home) is the best human for this dog breed. The Pit Bull needs someone who will treat them like a true family member, and get to know their personality and needs for affection and stimulation. Alternatively, you could hire in-home daycare to keep your pup company while you’re away.
The Pit Bull Terrier is a stigmatized dog breed, and many Pit Bull owners find themselves sticking up for their dog in a number of situations. Patiently allaying other people’s fears and providing light education on pit bull myths might be a regular part of going out in public. The ideal pit bull parent will be comfortable standing out in a crowd, and more often than not, Pit Bull owners are themselves unique (and we think that’s great).
Remember that Pit Bull intensity? The same thing that helps them forge such a strong bond with you will also make them stubborn and bossy. Early and consistent training will help curb these traits and help you establish authority before your dog gets too big to handle.
You may want to make a more concerted effort to establish your role as alpha (think: peaceful leader), and keep a crate or kennel as a safe place to put the dog for a calming break, a trip out of the house, or when with children unsupervised. As with any other breed of dog, a bored pet usually means a naughty pet. Give your pit bull plenty of exercise and attention, and you’ll avoid a lot of behavior problems before they start.
Leash up when you go out, use gentle discipline, and reward your Pit Bull Terrier with positive attention and food treats. And be sure to supply toys that are tough enough to withstand heavy, enthusiastic chewing.
With good training, a pit bull terrier can become everything from a fantastic snuggle buddy to a well-respected service dog. Many Pit Bulls go on to work in search and rescue, as therapy dogs, or even Pit Bull police dogs.
The American Pit Bull Terriers’ short coat doesn’t require regular grooming. Instead, they’ll thrive with a regular bath, brush, and nail trim. A healthy coat depends on the combination of a good diet and a weekly brushing routine. Once per week, use a brush in a circular motion to loosen dead hair and stimulate the skin to increase the production of natural oils. This will keep their coat shiny and fresh. Though they don’t need their hair cut, a visit from a groomer is productive. A groomer will often give them a bath, trim their nails, express their anal glands and clean their ears—all necessary to ongoing health and hygiene of your pup.
Compared with other breeds, pit bull terriers are generally healthy. However, they’re predisposed to some health problems, such as elbow and hip dysplasia, skin and food allergies, hypothyroidism (which is very treatable), and, rarely, a type of heart disease called aortic stenosis.
For general home hygiene and prevention of minor health conditions, it’s important to (carefully) trim your pit bull’s nails, brush their teeth regularly, and check ears for signs of infection. To address possible allergies, consult with your veterinarian about allergy testing, and the best dog food for Pit Bulls who might tend toward skin or food allergies.
The history of the Pit Bull Terrier is somewhat tragic. As a cross between bull-baiting dogs and terriers, they were first used as fighting dogs in the early 19th century UK, pitted against adversaries such as bears (bear baiting), and bulls (bull baiting). In 1835, when blood sports were banned, pit bulls were used instead for fighting other dogs, as catch dogs trained to hunt and catch semi-wild prey, to drive livestock, or as family companions.
Because of the Pit Bull’s bloody history, this dog type has a tricky reputation. In the United States, pit bulls are still used in illegal dog fights or as violent guard dogs for criminal enterprises. But rather than seeing this as further evidence of a pit bull’s character, many Pit Bull advocates see this as a reason to get more Pit Bulls into good, loving hands that won’t exploit them for personal gain.
Getting a Pit Bull is relatively simple, but it’s important to be prepared. If you’re buying a Pit Bull puppy, you’ll spend plenty of time discouraging biting, teaching basic obedience skills, socializing the puppy to other people and dogs, and teaching important skills like sleeping through the night and going to the bathroom outside.
Finding a Pit Bull puppy or adult dog can be as easy as an internet search, but be careful of puppy mills and internet scams. There are many ways to find a reputable breeder, and it’s good to ask around, visit before committing to payment, and trust your gut.
Pit Bull Terrier Rescues
Another way to find a Pit Bull is to adopt a rescue. Unlike puppies, rescues often come spayed and neutered, and with all their shots. Some Pit Bull rescues are surrendered by individual owners, and these dogs might also know basic commands and be socialized. If not, that doesn’t mean you can’t work with them. Contact a trusted dog trainer for more information on how to teach a Pit Bull who hasn’t experienced much structure, or how to help a dog who has been traumatized to feel safe and welcome.
More on American Pit Bull Terriers
Want to know more about Pit Bulls? See what Rover has to offer beyond the basics: