What I Need to Know About Pit Bull Terriers

by Pam Goldberg Smith Google
It's up to you to keep a happy, healthy and safe pit bull.

It's up to you to keep a happy, healthy and safe pit bull.

sanjagrujic/iStock/Getty Images

Controversy over his fighting past surrounds the pit bull though he continues to be a popular pet. It's important to learn all the facts you can before bringing home a pit bull terrier. Understand the breed history, temperament and care requirements to ensure you can provide him with a loving, forever home.

Setting the Record Straight

Pit bull is not a classification of any specific breed. It's a term used for “bully” breeds with similar characteristics, applied to the Boston terrier, boxer, cane corso, mastiff and even mixed-breed dogs. Although pit bull doesn't refer to a certain breed, the information discussed here focuses on the American pit bull terrier, even when using the term pit bull. Furthermore, contrary to popular belief, it's not in the pit bull's nature to "flip a switch" and attack at random. These dogs are often the victims of negligent owners. Irresponsible breeding and poor training only add to the bad reputation with which pit bulls, even those who never fought, are labelled.

History of the Pit Bull Terrier

The pit bull terrier originated from England where, as a working, family dog, he was bred to control livestock on farms and hunt wild pigs, bears and large game. The breed was used for bull baiting until it was banned in the 1800s. This led to the popularity of dog fighting. The pit bull also became a preferred guard dog, though the trusting and friendly nature of the breed makes them unsuitable for this role. Today, more positive purposes for the pit bull include search and rescue, drug and bomb detection and therapy work. The American pit bull terrier is recognized by the United Kennel Club, but not the American Kennel Club.

Appearance and Personality

The American pit bull terrier stands 17 to 19 inches high at the shoulder and weighs a muscular 50 to 60 pounds. With proper breeding and care, your pit bull will live 12 to 15 years. An intelligent, loyal and loving dog, the pit bull is people-oriented and eager to please. His energy and athleticism make him a good jogging companion. Compatibility with other pets and children, however, depends upon the individual. Rescued pit bulls may be best as the only pet in a home without young children. According to the American Temperament Test Society, which tests aspects of a breed's temperament from aggressiveness to stability to protective instincts, a higher percentage of American pit bull terriers pass a temperament test than the beagle, border collie, German shepherd, giant schnauzer, golden retriever Great Dane or poodle.

Health Issues and Responsible Breeding

There are certain health issues that the American pit bull terrier can inherit, from allergies to cancer. Therefore, any breeders you want to adopt from should be able to provide documented certification as to the health of the parent dogs. For example, documentation from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals or the University of Pennsylvania can show that the puppy's parents are free from hip dysplasia. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals can certify the dogs are free from cerebellar degeneration as well as thyroid and heart disease. Asking for certification of health weeds out irresponsible breeders. Even with documentation, have your new pet checked and vaccinated by a veterinarian.

Care Requirements

The short hair of the pit bull terrier makes for easy grooming. Simply brush the coat a few times each week and bathe the dog every month or when necessary. Clean the ears with a cotton ball and gentle ear cleanser. Don't forget to brush his teeth often and trim his nails monthly. Digging and chewing is common in terrier breeds, so you’ll need to provide chewing toys and put away anything you don’t want chewed. Like any other dog, the pit bull terrier needs socialization, proper training, physical exercise and mental stimulation to thrive, not to be left home alone for long periods of time or kept outdoors. You'll still need to maintain control over your pit bull by leashing him when outside. It's best if you're confident, experienced with larger dogs and understanding of the breed to raise a well-behaved pit bull terrier.

Photo Credits

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About the Author

Pam Smith has been writing since 2005. In addition to her work for Demand Media, her articles have been published online at CBS Local. She also wrote for the Pennsylvania Center for the Book's Literary Map while earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in English at the Pennsylvania State University. She is currently an editorial assistant for Circulation Research.