The Complete Guide to the American Pit Bull Terrier

Last Updated on April 26, 2023

The American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT, Pittie, or Pitty) is a purebred that has endured much throughout its history.

From discrimination to abuse with dog fighting, this breed may have a dangerous reputation but the APBT is terribly misunderstood.

Two Pit Bulls with cropped ears standing side by side

On the contrary, the Pit Bull is a magnificent specimen, hardy and muscular with a broad range of desirable personality traits that make it useful for work and as a family dog.

It’s time to re-introduce the Pit Bull and showcase the true beauty of this breed. We’ve covered everything you need to know!

What is an American Pit Bull Terrier?

To learn about the American Pit Bull Terrier’s origin, we need to jump back in time to 19th century England.

Bull and bear baiting are blood sports that involve setting dogs upon a captured bull or bear for entertainment. The English began breeding a line of dogs with strong, athletic qualities for this activity, hence the birth of Bull and Terrier breeds.

In 1835 these sports were declared illegal due to their inhumane nature. Unfortunately, this gave rise to another gruesome vice: dog fighting.

Dog fighting would forever change the course of history for the breed and not for the better.

People involved with dog fighting began introducing new genes into the Bully mix to create a line of dogs that were more aggressive.

Interestingly enough, they strove to create a breed that was only aggressive towards dogs but would not bite human handlers. The American Pit Bull Terrier possesses this trait and has a natural unwillingness to attack humans.

From dog fights to nanny dogs

When immigrants began bringing these physically fit and protective Terrier breeds to the US, they enjoyed new lives far away from the blood and carnage of dog fighting rings.

These versatile dogs were sharp, agile, hardy, and alert. They were also quick learners that were eager to please.

American Pit Bull Terrier standing outside
A smiling American Pit Bull Terrier

Terriers were used primarily as farm dogs, whether they accompanied owners on hunting trips or guarded livestock and property. They were also used as nanny dogs, because of their gentle manner towards children.

A new breed of Bull Dog developed out of these Terrier bloodlines, and it was larger than the original English breed. It was named the American Pit Bull Terrier, receiving distinction from the UKC in 1898.

The AKC would eventually recognize the breed as well, but not without a bit of confusion.

The big misunderstanding about Pit Bulls

It wasn’t until the 1930s that the AKC recognized the American Pit Bull Terrier as a purebred.

Now, this is where it gets confusing. When the breed was finally recognized, the AKC changed its name from American Pit Bull Terrier to American Staffordshire Terrier (Staffy).

They did this to sever the history of dog fighting from the breed’s reputation. As time went by, dogs registered as American Staffordshire Terriers were bred according to the standard, keeping certain traits that made it distinctive.

As for dogs that were not registered or bred to the standard, they became the continued bloodline of the modern American Pit Bull Terrier.

American Pit Bull Terrier vs American Staffy: are they the same?

American Staffordshire Terrier running with its tongue out
American Staffordshire Terrier

Ever since the AKC made the historic name change, one lingering question continues to baffle dog lovers.

Are the American Pit Bull Terrier and the American Staffordshire Terrier two different breeds or are they the same dog?

Some will argue they are the same, but there are those that say the Staffy is smaller in size and, overall, just entirely different in mannerisms.

Here are some of the main differences declared between the 2 breeds:

  • The Staffy is bred to be used as a show dog, while the Pittie is not considered for the show.
  • The Staffy’s physical build is shorter, stockier, and heavier.

Both breeds are regarded as excellent family dogs with benevolent demeanors. When it comes down to which one is for you, it really all depends on personal preference.

Are you looking to invest in a dog that will take part in competitions? If so, then the Staffy is probably a better pick.

But, if you just want a companion dog that will never let you down, the APBT is the way to go.

Read all about: American Staffordshire Terrier vs Pit Bull

Quick American Pit Bull Terrier Facts

Let’s dive into some interesting and informative factoids about the Pittie!

  • Because of the Pittie’s reputation as a dangerous dog, it can be banned in certain cities or states (like the German Shepherd and the Kangal). If you own a Pittie and plan to travel, make sure you know what the laws are where you’re going.
  • The nanny dog culture really was represented by the American Pit Bull Terrier. Just ask these famous Pit Bulls: Petey, from the classic show the Little Rascals, Tige, the Buster Brown shoe mascot, and Nipper, the RCA dog.
  • During WW1, propaganda posters used different dog breeds to represent each country involved. The US chose the American Pit Bull Terrier because of its courageousness and loyalty.
  • Pit Bulls do not have locking jaws. There is NO physical mechanism that enables the function of “locking”. This misconception unfairly adds to their reputation as violent dogs.

What Do American Pit Bull Terriers Look Like?

An American Pit Bull Terrier lying on a rug
The powerful Pit Bull

The physical build of the American Pit Bull Terrier can be compared to that of the infamous David statue by Michelangelo. It is indeed muscular perfection.

If ever there was a physically versatile dog, the Pit Bull is it. Short and stocky, she reaches a height of 21 inches (53 cm) and weighs up to 85 lbs (38 kg).

Muscles ripple under a gleaming coat with short legs and a slender body that is incredibly quick and agile. The head is wide with large jaws that tend to intimidate.

The American Pit Bull Terrier’s coat is not hypoallergenic, but it is low-shedding. The coat needs minimal care. One rub-down a week is enough to keep her coat healthy.

The short-haired coat can come in a palette of gorgeous colors, including blue, red, black, white, and brindle.

The wide eyes of the Pitty are especially beautiful. Not only can they be stunning shades of yellow, grey, green, brown, or blue but they exude warmth and love.

Want to see those muscles in action? Check out this video that showcases a Pit Bull leaping up a wall:

American Pit Bull Terrier ears: cropped or uncropped?

The American Pit Bull Terrier with uncropped ears is becoming more commonplace as a backlash against dog ear clipping gains traction. Naturally, the ears fold over the sides of the head and are velvety to the touch.

The breed standard calls for an American Pit Bull Terrier with cropped ears, which results when the outer ear flap is surgically removed to give the dog pricked, wolf-like ears.

This practice serves no purpose other than to make the dog aesthetically pleasing for the judges in dog shows.

Still, you can find Pit Bulls with either cropped or uncropped ears, as the latter is also popular with this breed.

Read all about: The History Behind Pitbull Ear Cropping

Pit Bulls Have Powerful Jaws with a Bite Force of 235 PSI

One of the Pit Bull’s distinguishing features is its strong jaws. This breed is included in the Top 20 Dogs with the strongest bite force. They love to chew, and, if prompted during a game of tug-o-war with a toy, will bite and hold it down with immense determination.

Just how powerful is the infamous Pit Bull bite? Let’s compare it to some other tenacious dog breeds to get an idea.

1. American Pit Bull Terrier vs American Bulldog

Three American Bulldogs lying on the grass
American Bulldogs

The American Bulldog is another breed with a muscular build, large head, and wide jaws. It has a stronger bite at 305 PSI.

It shares a similar history with the Pit Bull, with its breeding origins in England. It was bred for hunting and rounding up animals, so it is also powerful and agile.

The big difference between these breeds is what motivates them to display their great strength. The Pit Bull is an emotional breed, not inherently aggressive towards humans. The Bulldog, though it loves its family, can be unpredictable towards people it does not know.

When comparing the strength of these two dogs, the Bulldog is the overall winner because of its higher bite force and its unpredictability.

2. American Pit Bull Terrier vs Boxer

Boxer sitting and looking up

The Boxer dog is just behind the Pit Bull with a bite force of 230 PSI.

This dog is tall and lanky, making it an unbelievable jumper. It has a high energy level and needs regular exercise.

Boxers are also wonderful family dogs, very affectionate and sweet. They do not share the same fighting or guard dog reputation of the Pitty.

Even though these two breeds have an almost identical bite force, due to the Pit Bull’s heritage, competitiveness and protective nature, it’s safe to say it could overpower a Boxer.

3. American Pit Bull Terrier vs Rottweiler

Rottweiler standing outdoors

The mighty Rottweiler bite force is 328 PSI. This pup is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to strength, agility, and endurance.

Bred as a working dog, the Rottweiler is easy to train and highly intelligent. Physically, it is a machine!

Compared to the Pit Bull the Rottweiler has the edge when it comes to overall strength and stamina.

Read all about: Rottweiler vs Pitbull

4. American Pit Bull Terrier vs German Shepherd

German Shepherd in the snow
German Shepherd

The German Shepherd (GSD) has a 238 PSI, which isn’t far off from the Pit Bull.

These two breeds are very different in appearance, but both share the unfair reputation of being dangerous. German Shepherds are also commonly found on ban lists and have a highly protective demeanor.

The GSD is one of the most intelligent dog breeds in the world. It is the preferred choice for police, military, and therapy work. Training comes easily to this high-performing pooch, and it’s no surprise that the GSD is a top contender in dog shows.

When comparing strength, these two breeds come to an even draw. While the bite force is similar, the GSD is fast and agile. That high intelligence doesn’t hurt either.

On the other hand, the Pit Bull is muscular and determined, with a drive to never give up.

Read all about: German Shepherd VS Pitbull

The Heart of a Knight

The American Pit Bull Terrier quickly gained a reputation as a “badass” in the dog fighting ring. Alas, this terrible pastime plagues the breed, even in this day and age.

The truth is, the genes of the Pittie have been carefully selected to create a prized fighter, but at the foundation of its original genetic makeup is a gentle soul.

American Pit Bull Terriers are highly intelligent and eager to please. They get their athletic talents, determination, and courage from the days of bull baiting.

They are competitive and easy to train. This makes the breed stand out when it comes to dog competitions.

Two Pit Bulls laying down in the grass

Let’s not forget the time these dogs were called nanny dogs, because of their natural love for children. Pit Bulls are extremely loyal and protective of family. If left alone for long periods of time, separation anxiety will set in.

As with any dog breed, to ensure a Pit Bull puppy grows up to display the very best traits and demeanor, early socialization and obedience training are mandatory.

How to Train a Pit Bull?

Caution: This breed is not for everyone!

You need to be willing to invest the time, money, and energy to care for a Pit Bull. This is not the easy-go-lucky lap dog that you can just tuck into your purse whenever you feel like it!

The Pit Bull is 100% dedicated to her family, with a strong urge to protect. But she may take on that responsibility believing she is the leader of the pack.

As the master, you need to show that you are in charge. This means guiding and correcting with a firm hand, backed by positive reinforcement.

American Pit Bull Terrier jumping through a tire

Training needs to be consistent, period. This is the only way you’ll conquer the stubbornness that is characteristic of the breed.

The stubbornness coupled with Pitty’s intelligence and determination makes it a handful if not trained properly. This behavior can come off as intimidating or dangerous, especially when it’s coming from a physically impressive dog.

It’s important to remember that these are characteristics that many dog breeds are prone to display. Don’t let looks, history, and unverified myths interfere with your overall outlook on this breed.

The 3 best training methods for APBTs

Remember that training needs to be serious with a Pit Bull. You may want to hire a professional dog trainer to handle the work. If you plan on taking the reins, these specific training methods will bring out the best in your Pitty.

1. Early socialization

This should be the base of any dog training regime no matter the breed. Getting your puppy out and socializing it with other children, adults, and dogs will make her less skittish and shy as she matures.

If you have other dogs, let your new puppy meet them and play outside.

That said, the Pit Bull breed does best in a house with a fenced yard. A tiny apartment just doesn’t offer enough space to romp and explore.

Scope out your local dog park and take your Pitty there on the weekends so she can get used to seeing and smelling new faces. Start by keeping her on a leash and allowing her to approach and smell friendly dogs.

Do not let your Pit Bull off the leash in a dog park. In case a dog fight breaks out, her determination will have her fighting to the finish. This breed won’t back down when provoked.

An American Pit Bull Terrier with a Belgian Malinois at the park
American Pit Bull Terrier on the right

2. Obedience training

Because of their history of dog fighting, Pit Bulls have a natural tendency to show aggression towards other dogs.

Yes, socialization is key to mellowing her out, but obedience training will give her confidence and etiquette to follow through by depending on you.

As previously stated, Pit Bulls love to follow commands and they have a ton of energy.

Pairing obedience training with agility training is not only a wonderful way for you two to bond, but it will keep her stimulated, help burn energy and teach her to look to YOU when making her next move.

Because of the American Pit Bull Terrier’s strength, leash corrections and punishments are often juxtaposed with obedience training, but it does not always work for this breed.

Try using clicker training or rewards to motivate your Pit Bull by pushing with positivity.

3. Canine Good Citizen Certification

This program and certification were developed by the AKC. Dogs are tested on a number of skills to gauge obedience and attitude. If a dog can prove that she has mastered each skill, she will receive a Canine Good Citizen Certification.

Of course, any dog can go for this program, but I mention it because it can especially be beneficial for Pit Bulls.

Depending on where you live, it can be difficult to rent a house because of legislation or a landlord might be reluctant due to the breed’s reputation. Presenting this certification shows your dog has gone through the training and testing to establish good behavior.

Completing programs such as this one is also another stepping stone toward abolishing Pittie’s bad dog rep.

Fun Fact: Pitties Love to Chew

APBT playing with a toy

The energy level of this breed is up there, leaving you with a destructive pup if she doesn’t get her exercise fixed. And she likes to chew, so you better make sure she expends all this energy and lets her turn it onto your shoes and furniture.

Expect to dedicate at least one hour each day to playtime. There are many ways you can get creative with your Pit Bull.

  • Go for a walk around the neighborhood.
  • Go for a jog on a park trail.
  • Work on socialization and have fun with a romp at the dog park.
  • Keep a selection of quality chew toys on hand for rainy days. Pit Bulls love to chew!
  • Set up an obstacle course in the backyard to practice agility.

Potential Health Problems of the American Pit Bull Terrier

This is an all-around hardy breed with excellent health. The Pit Bull has a longer average lifespan of 12 to 16 years.

No dog breed is immune from a few common genetic diseases, though, and the Pit Bull is no different.

Here are the top American Pit Bull Terrier health issues to be aware of.

  • Hypothyroidism: This disease attacks the thyroid when a certain hormone is not adequately produced. If you notice mental dullness, lethargy, exercise intolerance, and obesity in your Pittie, call the vet for a check-up.
  • Allergies: Pit Bulls are prone to skin allergies that leave them with patches of dry, itchy skin. Luckily, there are several natural and prescribed treatments you can try. Just talk to your vet to find the best solution for your dog.,
  • Heart disease: For the American Pit Bull Terrier this can be in the form of valve malformations, irregularities, and congenital heart defects.
  • Hip Dysplasia: This is a genetic disease that causes abnormal growth and deformity of the hip joints. Hip dysplasia is excruciatingly painful, eventually resulting in mobility loss and lameness.

Giving Your Pitty the Right Diet

Obesity is a factor that you’ll want to keep an eye on when choosing American Pit Bull Terrier food.

Opt for high-quality dry dog food that is divided between two meals each day. For Pit Bulls, it is recommended to serve no more than 1.5 to 2.5 cups for daily intake.

Since skin allergies are a common problem for this breed, talk to your vet about foods to avoid and other foods that can actually help improve the condition.

The Cost of Owning a Pit Bull

Pit Bull with a sad expression
A Red Nose Pitbull

If you love this breed and want to go all in on a Pit Bull puppy, get ready to dish out some serious dough.

A purebred Pit Bull puppy with top bloodlines will cost anywhere from $2000 to $20,000. Certain Pittie varieties, like a Blue Nose Pitbull and a Red Nose Pitbull, may also cost more.

Pittie puppies with moderate bloodlines are still pretty expensive, with breeders charging $800 to $1000 for each puppy.

That’s just the beginning. Once you purchase your puppy, it’s time to buy supplies, find a vet, get treatments done, and think about training.

Let’s break down the annual costs.

  • Register and tags: Check with your state to see if your Pit Bull needs special tags or needs to be registered. This can cost around $50.
  • Annual Medical Exams: $250
  • Pet Health Insurance: $225
  • Spaying or neutering: $200
  • Gear and toys: $300
  • Food: $120

Please bear in mind that these are merely estimations! Annual costs will depend on the unique needs of your dog, the brands you buy, the type of insurance plan chosen, and whether you undertake training or hire a professional.

The main point here is that you need to understand that a dog is not cheap. It’s not a toy that you can pay an initial price for and then let it run wild.

Your heart may be ready for a dog, but is your wallet ready?

Before making a decision, sit down and work out a monthly budget to estimate how much extra money you’ll need in order to provide a Pit Bull with the proper care and comfort.

Finding the Best Pit Bull Breeders

If you search for American Pit Bull Terrier breeders online, you’ll quickly discover that there are loads of ‘em. Here are a few APBT breeders you can check out:

  • Finest Pitbulls Made (Tennessee)
  • Mugleston’s Pitbull Farm (Oklahoma)
  • Tatonka Kennels (Florida)

This breed is everywhere, despite the sub-par reputation, making it difficult to separate the good breeders from the bad eggs.

Thorough research is needed to find the best puppy for you. With a Pit Bull, you definitely want to look for a breeder that has a passion for this breed, prioritizing quality over quantity.

Puppy mills are rampant, and the bozos running these inhumane businesses will say or do whatever it takes to make a quick buck. You might end up with a puppy with bad blood, meaning it is prone to diseases and behavior problems.

You’ll know you’ve found an ethical breeder if…

  • They are proud to be part of the Pitty community. Look for breeders that belong to respected breed clubs. They will also register their dogs, showing responsibility and commitment to maintaining the breed standard.
  • They want you to meet your parents. Check out the parents of a puppy to ensure good health and solid bloodlines. Its parents’ behavior says a lot about the pup’s possible temperament.
  • They invite you to their house for a visit: An ethical breeder is eager to have you visit the premises where the puppy was born and raised. That way, you get a glimpse of the conditions of the puppy’s first home.
  • They are concerned for the welfare of their puppies: The breeder should provide health clearances, vet references, and testimonials from past customers. They’ll also keep in touch after the initial purchase to ensure the transition period goes smoothly.

American Pit Bull Terrier puppy

American Pit Bull Terrier adoption & rescue

Thanks to puppy mills, dog fighting, and owners who cannot handle the responsibility of this breed, it’s no surprise that there are numerous Pit Bulls that end up in shelters.

If adopting is more up your alley, take a look at these American Pit Bull Terrier rescues.

  • Bad Rap (California)
  • A Rotta Love Plus (Minnesota)
  • Pit Bull Rescue Central (Missouri)
  • Biggies Bullies Rescue (Pennsylvania)
  • Animal Farm Foundation (New York)

Dogs like the American Pit Bull Terrier

After reading this, perhaps you might conclude that the Pit Bull is not for you. That’s okay! This breed is one that demands extra time and responsibility.

Don’t feel disheartened! There are plenty of other breeds that have a bit of Pitty in them. Check out these popular Pit Bull mixes:

Conclusion: Is the American Pit Bull Terrier For You?

Cute American Pit Bull Terrier

That’s a wrap! Now that you’ve had a thorough look at the American Pit Bull Terrier, there’s no dispute that this is a controversial breed.

It takes a special type of dog owner who has passion and time to give the Pittie the training it needs.

This breed is perfect for someone who does not work or travel a lot.

The right owner for this dog can take time off each day to take their Pitty out to exercise.

This dog gets attached to its owner, as well, so it can’t stand to be away from family for long periods of time.

If you live in a tiny apartment in the city, the Pittie may not be a good match for you. As the Pit Bull is medium-sized with high energy, a house with a yard suits her active needs.

Finally, you need to be patient, consistent, and dedicated to training. A Pit Bull needs an owner who can act like the alpha of the pack to quell stubbornness and aggression.

What do you think about the American Pit Bull Terrier? Tell us in the comments!

Further reading: Learn more about Pitbulls

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