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What are Pit Bulls?

By J.Gunsch
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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The American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier and Staffordshire Bull Terrier differ slightly in their build and size, but are collectively called pit bulls. There is also a sub-breed called the red nose pit bull, which is prized by many breeders. This sub-breed is an American pit bull terrier that has a red, instead of black, nose and a solid red coat.

Pit bulls are very muscular dogs, ranging in weight from about 35 to 85 lbs (about 16 to 39 kg). They have very short hair that is seen in a variety of colors and markings. These dogs characteristically have a large square head with a very defined jaw. They naturally have short floppy ears, but they may be cut even shorter so that they stand straight and pointy. The practice of cutting the ears is unfortunately used by dog fighters to help prevent wounds if the ear happens to be bitten by another dog.

Over the years, pit bulls have acquired a bad reputation for being aggressive, vicious and dangerous to people and other animals. However, the temperament associated with dangerous dogs is the result of irresponsible ownership and the use of them in fighting rings. Because pit bulls are strong, easy to train and eager to please, they have become a favorite breed for illegal activities. Sadly, many fall victim to abuse by the training methods employed by dog fighters and in the fighting ring. Thousands of these dogs are discarded daily because they end up in the wrong hands, are not aggressive enough for their owners or lose dog fights, rendering them useless to dog fighters.

The myths and stereotypes that surround these animals and their owners make up a very small percentage of the millions of dogs that are called pit bulls. One commonly held belief is that they have locking jaws. This belief is always false &mash; it is physically impossible for a dog’s jaw to lock. However, these dogs do have very strong jaws that can be clenched stubbornly, making it difficult for a person or animal to free itself in the event of a bite.

By nature, pit bulls are very gentle, affectionate and trustworthy dogs. They follow commands willingly and are loyal, family dogs that love children. It is extremely rare for a well treated pit bull to attack without serious provocation. They are very intelligent and make great companions and guard dogs.

Despite their great temperament, pit bulls are not for everyone. They require a lot of exercise and they are very energetic. Someone considering owning one should be able to make a commitment to obedience training. An untrained dog can be strong, very energetic and mischievous, making it a difficult animal to handle.

All Things Nature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By ninjagirl — On Oct 28, 2013

You forgot to mention that over 20 people have been killed in the States for far this year, by pit bulls. Fourteen of those were innocent children. Many of those that killed were loved and loving family pet pit bulls, not beasts trained to kill their owners or the children in the family. They most certainly are not dogs for everyone. They are unstable and highly dangerous -- the dog most likely to kill you or your child.

Add to that the numerous scarred and disfigured human victims, the dead and the maimed pet animals (especially dogs), livestock and wildlife, and you have a dog that is not worth the gamble nor the trouble. Yes, all dogs can bite, but pit bulls are designed not to let go, even on pain of death; many of them have to be shot off their victims. Please remember that the death toll this year does not include the toll of previous years. These dogs have been getting away with murder for many many years. So sad. Promotion of them is highly dangerous.

By anon296362 — On Oct 10, 2012

I just adopted my fifth pit. My last one died almost three years ago. Penny, my new girl, was found abandoned with a severely broken back leg. I am amazed how she could have been so abused and when she meets people all she wants to do is give them a hug.

I have never had a problem with any of my pits and it's the only dog I trust.

By anon135283 — On Dec 17, 2010

My son liked his friend's pit bull "Franklin" so much that one day while watching Franklin he took him to breed another friend's female, When he told me I tried to discourage him. Not a pit bull! Please don't. But he did!

He brought 'Ruger" home when he was six weeks old and he has been my grandson since that day. He was so cute, so much personality. My son said I created this dog. I bred those two just to create Ruger, and you didn't even want me to get him. I replied so I was wrong!! Last March my son was killed. He was 28, and Ruger was just over 1 year old. All of his friends wanted Ruger, but he was my grandson. He has been a gift to me and I don't know if I would have survived losing my son if not for this great dog. He is stubborn and a full time job but one of the smartest dogs I have known. He is more like a little child than a dog.

I never thought I would ever own a pit bull. I would have never picked one! But I was wrong I am so grateful for him. He is so much company gives me affection and watches over me. No one messes with me with ruger around.

If my son had to die and leave me alone in this world, I am thankful he left me with Ruger. He left me in good hands or paws! I think he knew Ruger would take good care of me and keep me safe if he could not be here.

By anon134179 — On Dec 13, 2010

I have a female pit boxer mix brindle. She was eight months old when I picked her up at the shelter. Now, six years later, she is very loyal, only chews on dog bones, not plush toys or rubber, for they represent other things.

She has done everything I ask, and if ever need protection she has a very good sense of bad people. unfortunately she knows who smokes pot, or meth and she doesn't like the smell and it makes her rage if she smells it on you.

Aside from that, she is an excellent partner -- yes partner. She has traveled 50 states with me and is by my side day and night. Never a problem and loved by all who meet her, even the ones who are timid at first learn different when they meet her. She is so strong that, when stuck in winter months, you can harness her to a car and she will pull it out.

When eating a bone, other dogs look out! Very protective of those but they are her favorite treat! Overall this is my second brindle and they are terrific!

By anon100830 — On Jul 31, 2010

To anon74230- this piece is great. My pit is full blood and AKC registered and he weighed nearly 90 pounds. It all varies when it comes to owning this amazing breed.

By PitbullCats — On May 02, 2010

The truth is, a pitbull can be very stubborn. They get something in their head like “I can get under that fence (or through a screen)” and they will be difficult to stop. They have a high pain tolerance. Our pitbull used to crawl under our neighbor's fence. We tried to fix the fence, but she didn't know she couldn't get under it, so she always found a way!

They need exercise, and a lot of it. The more they get, the more they need, as they seem never to stop amassing muscle. However, the more they get, the more they are contented being "good" dogs. They are very powerful for their size.

An aggressive pitbull is a very dangerous thing. They can kill a person, and the truth is that sometimes they do. You need patience to train one, and because they can be stubborn, they can seem kind of dumb sometimes.

However, their love and affection for the responsible owner (in my opinion) far surpasses any of these issues. Our pitbull, Molly, made a “terrible” watch dog. This is common. She never barked. She never growled. She seemed totally content to just sit in anyone's lap! She never even cared to sniff an offered hand. She just went straight for the lap, or a hug. We had to warn folks!

If you already own a pitbull, you will be discriminated against. You will find hotels, campgrounds, RV parks, apartments, and homeowners that will not allow you to stay on their property. You will find insurance companies that will not cover pitbulls.

In 2008 the entire state of Ohio tried to ban the breed! They all claim it's “too risky” to have a pitbull around. They are banned in many US cities.

You will be given “looks,” and a wide path. You will clear out dog parks. You will hear rude comments like, “You know that dog is going to kill and eat your child, don't you?” Everyone will secretly wonder why you would want to own a “devil dog,” even if they aren't insensitive enough to try and openly show it.

Your extended family may treat you like a child abuser just for having one. Your dog's “pitbull smile” will be mistaken for aggression. If your dog does bite, it will always be the pitbull's fault. You will spend far more time defending you dog than your dog will ever spend defending you.

Our pitbull came to us when she was four and a half years old. She chose us, so I have had the wonderful privilege of owning a pitbull. Her name was Molly, and we call her our angel dog. I adopted her from the Humane Society in Pennsylvania. She had been horribly abused, and when they found her dropped off at their door, she couldn't even walk.

I adopted her a month after the drop, and I could outrun her.

The truth is, I had heard many of the stories about those evil “devil dogs.” You have probably heard them too. Some are even true. It never entered my mind that I would own a pitbull one day.

Well, anyway, I had taken my three year old daughter to the Humane Society to get my wife a birthday present. I knew that she loved bigger dogs (I am a “psychotic attack cat” lover myself).

After spending two afternoons getting to know the Humane Society staff and the dog choices they had, I had kind of decided to settle. However, one of the staff discerned this and asked, “What would you think about a pitbull?”

Well, I pointed to my little daughter and said, “No way! I have a small child!”

“Well, let me introduce you to this one,” he said with a smile.

He asked me and my daughter to wait in a small petting room, and I just sat there wondering what was about to happen. The truth was, I had never seen a pitbull before. I was shocked at what I saw. He returned with the skinniest, most malnourished dog I have personally ever seen. You could count her vertebra. I was both shocked and repulsed! Her skin literally hung from her body like draped cloth. I could see how abused this animal had been, just by looking at her. Much of her hair was missing.

I could tell that she had been used in a “puppy mill.” As the fellow sat down in the floor, he unhooked her leash, and this malnourished, balding, sagging dog gave the man a hug. It was so close to a human hugging a human, that there was no doubt as to what was going on! I was totally dumbfounded!

The gentleman gently pushed her away and said, “He's the guy thinking about adopting you, go hug him” -- and she did exactly that!

In the meantime, my young daughter had decided to play with the pitbull's big leash. Before I realized what she was doing, she had conked the dog in the head with the huge collar clasp! The dog didn't even flinch. She just gave my daughter a doggy sniff, and then turned her love and attention back to me. I was convinced -- well, sort of convinced.

With some trepidation, I took the dog home (my wife was at work). I spent my day doing research on the Internet about pitbulls. I began to discover what the real truth is. The pitbull spent her entire day lying in my lap, and working her way totally into my heart.

By the time my wife got home, I knew that we would just have to keep this dog.

When I greeted my wife at the door, she took one look at the dog and said, “That's a pitbull!” I simply replied, “Yes she is, but you just have to sit down and meet her.” There was the hug thing again, and my wife was sold. She instantly named our new dog Molly. Molly became our angel. I say angel because anything that can be abused for over four years and not become mean, has to be an angel!

Still, there are so many bad things about pitbulls in the press, I kept looking for any sign of aggression in her. It just wasn't there. Molly totally recovered, and she became a beautiful example of what a healthy bully pitbull can look like. After we had had her for about two years, she became so healthy and strong that we finally decided to get her a Min Pin for a playmate.

After just a few days, they slept in the same crate together, played together, ate together -- and eventually died together.

You see, we were in the process of selling our house. Someone came by (unknown to us) and left our fence gate open. The Min Pin got out and got struck by a car and killed. Molly stayed by her side until she was struck and killed as well. We still miss our loving pitbull angle. She was so much more than “just a dog”.

In loving memory of the best dog my wife or I have ever had -- Molly.

By anon74230 — On Mar 31, 2010

Since when is the rednosed coloration considered a sub-breed? Additionally, who said Pit Bulls weigh up to 85 pounds? (The UKC standard reads 30-60.) Sorry, I see some good intent to promote proper temperament and responsible ownership, but this piece is poorly written. JMO.

By anon13290 — On May 23, 2008

I have 5 month pitbull all he does is sleep, eat, tear our plants. How can we make him a very obedient, and not eat everything?

By anon2362 — On Jul 08, 2007

i just acquired a beautiful brown and white four month old pit bull. my grand son thought i needed a watch dog. she is such a good dog. but i went to the store today left her outside. she jumped through the screen and made her own doggie door. how can i teach her right from wrong?

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