American Pit Bull Terrier
American pit bull terriers, also affectionately known as "pitties," are well-known for being loving and loyal to their owners. If you bring a pit bull home, chances are he'll become your second shadow, following you anywhere and everywhere you go—and with an adorable smile to boot.
Despite how popular the pups are, many negative misconceptions about American pit bull terriers still run rampant today—so much so, that some areas have even banned ownership of "bully" breeds. (Thankfully, pit bull bans around the nation are starting to get lifted as the dogs overcome their bad rep.)
Like with any other dog, if you love, care for, and properly train your American pit bull terrier, you'll wonder how anyone could ever think a pittie is anything but an angel. The key is to understand your pittie's care and exercise needs and to stay consistent with positive reinforcement training. If you check off these boxes, you will have a lifelong friend at your side.
What makes a pit bull is a little hazy. The United Kennel Club recognizes the dogs as their own breed with a set standard. But in the American Kennel Club, the "pit bull" is an umbrella term that commonly refers to breeds including the Staffordshire bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier, and American bulldogs, according to the Animal Humane Society.
But in general, dogs classified as American pit bull terriers come in many coat colors and patterns—there are blue, red, black, white, fawn, and brindle pit bulls, to name a few. They can also vary dramatically in size, from 35 pounds on the smaller end to a hearty 70 pounds.
No matter his coat pattern or how big he grows, the American pit bull terrier is easily recognizable for his trademark muscular body and blocky head—which can usually be found donning a sweet, tongue-out smile. Pitties have distinct almond-shaped eyes and adorably floppy ears atop their wide, flat head.
Although less common, you may see some American pit bull terriers with short, cropped ears. This is a controversial topic among pittie owners, and the American Veterinary Medical Association opposes ear cropping, citing it's a cosmetic procedure and not medically necessary. Many European countries have banned dog ear cropping and some U.S. states have discussed outlawing ear cropping as well, as there is not enough data to support claims of the procedure's health benefits.
An American pit bull terrier's temperament is perhaps one of the most misunderstood among dog breeds. Because pit bull breeds were historically bred for fighting, many people still associate the dogs' muscular shape and high-energy personalities with their long-gone ancestors.
However, today's pitties prefer to use their energy for lots of friendly playtime, goofy shenanigans, and tons of cuddle action.
Well-trained, well-exercised American pit bull terriers can be great family dogs and love spending as much time as possible with their loved ones. They can also get along well with children (the Staffordshire bull terrier earned the nickname "the nanny dog" because of the breed's tenderness around kiddos!). And while it's not unheard of for pitties to get along with other dogs and cats (some can be doting toward even the smallest kittens), some might be more comfortable in a single-pet household. Like with all breeds, it all comes down to the individual pup.
"Pit bulls get along with other dogs who are usually on the same level in terms of energy and temperament," Crow says. "Pit bulls tend to get along with humans much better, as they are extremely affectionate, loyal, and simply love attention."
Remember, while some dogs don't get along the greatest with other four-legged companions, that doesn't mean all American pit bull terriers are the same. If you socialize your pit bull puppy from an early age, chances are he'll get along just fine with dogs or cats. American pit bull terriers are very adaptable and easy to train—as long as you're consistent!
Nicole Ellis, CPDT-KA and pet lifestyle expert at Rover, recommends starting training as soon as possible. She says a pittie who hasn't nailed basic training could easily knock somebody over by accident due to their size, strength, and energy—even if they were just trying to say hi. As a tip for pittie parents, she says, "Since pit bulls can get super excited—while filled with love—teaching a nice 'relax and lay down' behavior early on can be super beneficial."
RELATED: How to Ground a Jumping Dog
"With the right foundations, pits can be really incredible family dogs," Ellis says. "The public often has a negative idea of pit bulls, so by having a well-behaved pittie, you can help become an ambassador of the breed for others."
If there's one thing to know about pit bulls, it's that they love attention and shouldn't be left alone for hours on end. Beneath that muscular and rugged exterior is a big softie who simply wants to be at his loved one's side. If you need to be away for longer than a four-hour period, consider having someone come by to check in on your pittie or take him for a walk. Exercising your pit bull with an extra-long walk or run outside can also help ease his nerves when he's home alone.
Before bringing home a pit bull puppy, check your local ordinances. Some cities, neighborhoods, and apartment complexes have breed-specific rules or legislation that limits (or even prevents) ownership of breeds with fighting origins. Some homeowners insurance policies may also not cover households with bully breeds.
With this in mind, make sure to begin your home search early before a move, and remember to be patient. If you're a renter, you may have better luck with privately owned properties instead of large, commercial complexes. Asking for advice or leads from fellow pittie parents can also be very helpful.
In terms of grooming, the American pit bull terrier is a very low-maintenance dog. They are single-coated pups with short fur, so brushing is a breeze. You may be surprised that pit bull terriers need brushing at all! While it's true you don't need to worry about fur tangling or matting due to a lack of brushing, running a comb or brush through your pittie's coat once a week or so will help remove dead hair and flaky skin cells. That means less shedding and a healthier, shinier coat.
One area that may require more care is the American pit bull terrier's ears. It's important to clean your pittie's ears regularly (about twice a month) with a vet-approved ear cleaning solution. But, if you live in a humid environment or if your pittie enjoys swimming laps around the pool, you may want to do weekly ear cleanings to prevent infections.
While the pittie's grooming requirements are pretty low-key, you can't say the same for their exercise needs.
"Pitbulls are strong dogs, so doing training and providing the right amount of exercise is really important," Ellis says.
So, how much exercise does your American pit bull terrier need? Between 30–45 minutes of daily activity is ideal, and it doesn't necessarily need to be anything intense like running a 5K.
"A daily walk and some playtime is perfect for them," Ellis says. "Finding a nice way for them to get their exercise and meet their mental stimulation is key, so try things like training tricks and sports, like lure coursing."
Like other terrier breeds, dogs classified as pit bulls are intelligent with an instinctive prey drive. This means they may be more likely to chase small critters, like neighborhood squirrels. Because of this and their higher-than-average intelligence, your pittie will have a ball with activities that combine physical and mental stimulation.
The typical American pit bull terrier lifespan is anywhere between 8–15 years. If you have a pittie or plan to bring one into your home, there are a few medical conditions you should keep a close eye on. Many American pit bull terriers may struggle with skin issues related to their short coat or suffer from allergies.
"Having short hair increases the chances of pit bulls having adverse reactions to their environment," Crow says. "Grass, pollen, and other common outdoor allergies can reach the skin much easier, causing them to have a reaction. Other common reasons are genetics and the breeding process."
If you notice that your pit bull is excessively scratching, has patches of red skin, or splotches on his coat, visit your veterinarian to figure out what's possible for allergy relief. Some vets may prescribe an allergy pill, a medicated shampoo, or other remedy.
"It's important to take extra caution with pit bulls during allergy-heightened seasons," Crow says. "This is typically in the spring and early fall when grass is being cut, pollen is flying in the air, and other seeds and plants are around. You should try to avoid freshly cut grass and fields with many flowers and plants to mitigate the effects."
The history of the American pit bull terrier can get a little confusing, as they are not a breed that's officially recognized by the AKC. But the dogs encompassed under the "pit bull" title all share a similar breeding history.
Going back to the 1800s, bully breeds were originally bred to harass bulls for entertainment (hence their "pit bull" name) and for rat-baiting and dog fighting, according to the Staffordshire Bull Terrier Club of America. Bulldogs (who have a large, stocky, and strong body) and terriers (with a natural high-prey drive, agility, and intelligence) were crossbred to create a strong and muscular dog that was quick, nimble, and intelligent.
Later, when dog fighting became outlawed, people remained attached to their pit bull breeds. Pitties were natural farmhands, where they would drive livestock, hunt, and live as family companions, according to the UKC. Today, pitties have continued to be bred as companions and are long removed from their dog-fighting past.
- The American pit bull terrier is well-loved by many famous celebrities. Kaley Cuoco, Kevin Bacon, and Rachael Ray are just a few famous pit bull advocates.
- Pete the Pup in The Little Rascals was played by a pittie.
- Many American pit bull terriers have been celebrated around the world for their loyal and loving nature and have even become service dogs. Pirate the pit bull makes his owner feel safe and acts as an ambassador for other "bully" breeds.