- Breed group – Terrier (United Kennel Club)
- Height – 17 to 20 inches (females), 18 to 21 inches (males)
- Weight – 30 to 60 pounds (females), 35 to 65 pounds (males)
- Coat colors – Black, white, fawn, red-brown, blue-gray, brown, brindle, and tri-color coats of white, black, and brown. As pit bull puppies mature, their fur’s pigment can change.
- Exercise needs – Above average
- Intelligence – High intelligence
- Barking – Moderate
- Temperament – Playful, energetic, affectionate, determined, and loyal
- Lifespan – 8 to 16 years
- Hypoallergenic – No
- Origin – United States
American pit bull terrier fun facts
- Featured on American propaganda posters during two world wars
- Wrinkly foreheads at birth smooth out as they grow up.
- Recognized by the United Kennel Club and the American Dog Breeders Association (but not the American Kennel Club)
American pit bull temperament and characteristics
The American pit bull terrier — plus other types of pit bulls — has been controversial over the past few decades because of differing views on its temperament. While some animal organizations point to an inherently affectionate nature, others point to a dangerously aggressive streak.
Most agree that the American pit bull terrier is an independent, intelligent, and energetic breed. Determination is one of its strongest traits. The characteristics that make American pit bull terriers excellent work dogs and loyal pets can also be challenging for people unfamiliar with pit bull-type dogs or those unprepared for the breed’s high energy level.
American pit bull terriers vs. pit bull-type breeds
American pit bull terriers are sometimes confused with dogs that possess a common general phenotype or appearance and are mixed breeds. The United Kennel Club (UKC) considers the American pit bull terrier to be a member of the terrier group, but the American Kennel Club does not recognize it.
Common American pit bull health problems
Overall, American pit bull terriers are a strong and healthy breed. On average, they live about 12 years, with lifespans ranging from eight to 16 years.The following health conditions are common in pit bulls. That doesn’t mean yours will experience them, but they are at higher risk.
- Hip dysplasia. A condition that typically affects larger breeds, canine hip dysplasia occurs when your pooch’s femur bone doesn’t fit neatly into the hip joint. Over time this leads to inflammation and pain in the hip joint.
- Dental disease. American pit bull terriers are more likely than other dogs to have problems with their teeth. If left untreated, dental disease can cause the loss of teeth and risk damaging the kidneys, heart, and other organs.
- Skin disorders. Skin problems range from easily managed conditions such as skin allergies to terminal diseases like mast cell tumors or melanomas.
- Thyroid problems. Pit bulls are prone to hypothyroidism when the body doesn’t make enough thyroid hormone. It can result in dry skin and coat, hair loss, weight loss, fearfulness, aggression, and other behavioral changes.
- Demodectic mange. This skin mite can be found on any dog breed, but young pit bull terriers often have a larger number living in their hair follicles, leading to hair loss and secondary skin infections.
- Progressive retinal atrophy. Two genetic mutations have been found in American pit bull terriers that can cause this eye condition. The retina quickly deteriorates, leading to vision loss in affected American pit bull terriers under one year. Genetic testing can detect mutations before breeding.
Cost of caring for American pit bull terriers
Like any breed of dog, the cost of caring for an American pit bull terrier throughout its lifetime can be expensive. Some estimates exceed $15,000. This figure includes the price of food, toys, and vet visits. Pet insurance may reduce out-of-pocket expenses and provide peace of mind. It’s also a good idea to set up a pet savings account to cover expenses not covered by insurance.
History of the American pit bull terrier
The American pit bull terrier descended from the English bull-baiting dog bred to bite and hold bulls, bears, and other large animals, and smaller and more agile terriers with a higher drive for hunting and conquering prey. Once bull baiting was outlawed in England in 1835, promoters turned to dog fighting.
Pit bulls were brought to the United States in the 19th century and while some were still used as fighting dogs, the majority served as hunters, herders, guardians, and loyal pets. The AKC refused to recognize pit bulls because of their reputation as fighters, and Chauncy Bennet formed the United Kennel Club specifically to register the American pit bull terrier, though it later expanded to include other breeds. In 1909, the American Dog Breeding Association was formed by breeders who felt the UKC failed to adequately focus on the American pit bull terrier’s working traits.
Pit bull controversy
Today, some communities have imposed restrictions or outright bans on pit bulls and other breeds. According to the Humane Society of the United States, breed-based policies are based on myths and misinformation rather than science or credible data. Those who say the dog’s aggressive reputation is unfounded often point to a study conducted by the American Temperament Test Society, which found that pit bulls with proper handling passed its test 87% of the time.
Every year, there are reports of pit bull bites or maulings, but it isn’t only pit bulls or pit bull-type dogs that inflict these injuries, but a range of breeds. A 2019 study found an average of 337,103 emergency room visits each year for dog bites at a cost of $400 million — 1.7% of those cases resulted in hospital admission. All pit bull owners must get the proper training for their pups.
Caring for your American pit bull terrier
If you adopt or buy an American pit bull terrier, be prepared to give your puppy a lot of time and attention and enroll your pup in training and socialization classes at a young age. They are social dogs that can become depressed and/or destructive if left alone. Also, be wary of leaving them unsupervised outdoors. Known for being accomplished escape artists, American pit bull terriers can climb high fences and wiggle out of seemingly safe enclosures. Pit bulls do well in an urban environment, provided they have enough exercise and other positive outlets for their energy.
American pit bull terriers are rambunctious until they mature — and maturity comes later than with some breeds. Regardless of age, most pit bulls require 45 to 60 minutes of exercise daily. A mix of physical and mental stimulation, including playful interactions with their human family, is the way to keep them happy and healthy.
The best home environment for a pit bull is one where owners have the time, energy, and physical ability to train and play with their dog regularly. The regrettable history of the American pit bull terrier means that they may not fare well in a home with other dogs and other pets. Because of a pit bull’s high prey drive, smaller animals, including cats and rabbits, may become hunting targets.
The American pit bull terrier prefers to be indoors with their owners at least some of the time. But they should be taken outdoors regularly, too, where there’s ample room for exercise. With proper training, they can be great companions on long walks or runs.
A pit bull’s coat is short, yet they can still shed quite a bit. American pit bull terriers require regular baths with a vet-approved shampoo. Here’s a tip: Go for a walk before bath time to expend some nervous energy, and you might meet less resistance from your American pit bull terrier.
Regularly brush your pit bull. Not only does this cut down on shedding, but it also removes excess moisture and reveals any skin issues. Other parts of the grooming process that you need to work into your schedule include:
- Nail trimming. Keeping your dog’s nails trimmed is essential. Untrimmed nails become vulnerable to breaks or tears.
- Ear cleaning. Keeping your dog’s ears clean prevents infection and discomfort from debris or excess ear wax.
- Teeth brushing. Gum disease is one of the most prevalent problems plaguing dogs so brushing your pup’s teeth with canine toothpaste regularly is essential — every day if possible.
Diet and nutrition
Because of their athletic build and high energy levels, American pit bull terriers require a balanced diet of proteins, carbohydrates, fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals. Puppies require higher amounts of nutrients than mature dogs. It’s best to feed a pit bull puppy a high-quality puppy formula created especially for large-breed dogs. Wet food can also be mixed with the dry kibble but should be added sparingly to avoid plaque forming on the teeth. As much as you may want to give your puppy table scraps, don’t. This practice can lead to digestive problems in younger dogs.
Talk with your vet to find out how much to feed your dog daily. Portion size depends on your dog’s age, weight, energy level, and type of food. Overeating can lead to obesity, joint problems, and digestive tract disorders. It’s a good idea to feed your pit bull twice a day, rather than allowing for food to be available constantly.
Training your American pit bull terrier
Pit bull terriers are intelligent dogs that respond to training if done early and correctly. While pit bulls have a reputation for being aggressive toward other dogs, socializing them early — and in an obedience training setting — can offset this propensity. They’re usually responsive to training and eager to please. Therefore, enroll yours in obedience classes as soon as they are up to date on their shots.
If they’ve undergone the correct puppy training and socialization classes early on, American pit bull terriers can be sweet, funny, affectionate, and loyal to their human families. Nearly any dog breed trained improperly or mistreated is capable of aggression toward other dogs or people.
Breeds similar to the American pit bull terrier
Not quite sure that an American pit bull terrier is right for you? Even if you are, it’s worth taking the time to research and consider other similar breeds. Here are a few to get you started:
- Bull terrier. The bull terrier has a similar build to an American pit bull terrier with more of an oval-shaped face and small pointed ears.
- Boxer. This breed is also strong, playful, curious, and can make excellent guard dogs.
- German shepherd. This large, muscular dog is similar to an American pit bull terrier because they are highly intelligent, loyal, courageous, and can make gentle family pets.
Frequently asked questions
What is a pit bull?
A pit bull is a medium-sized, short-haired dog that is highly intelligent and has lots of energy. They typically have wide skulls, muscular jaws, and strong, athletic bodies.
Are pit bulls good family dogs?
Pit bulls are known for being affectionate and extremely loyal to their owners. If trained properly, they can make terrific family dogs. They were once actually called “nanny dogs” because of their good demeanor with children. However, because of the way that American pit bull terriers were bred and often treated, they can also be unpredictable and difficult for some owners to handle.
Why are pit bulls so feared?
American pit bull terriers and other breeds of pit bulls are feared because of their history. Originally bred for blood sports like bull- and bear-baiting, pit bulls were trained to attack and immobilize the agitated animals. When these sports were outlawed in the early 1800s, people formed pit bull fights, a sport more easily concealed from the authorities. While occasionally pit bulls attack other dogs, or more infrequently humans, these incidents receive widespread media coverage. Although fatal attacks are extremely rare, many communities have enacted bans against any type of pit bull. In reality, a properly trained and cared-for pit bull can make an affectionate and loyal pet.