There's a lot of confusion about pit bulls, including what a pit bull is. The American pit bull terrier, often called the APBT, and the American Staffordshire terrier, or Amstaff, are the breeds best fitting the pit bull description.
Two Dogs, One Label
Though the Am Staff and APBT used to share bloodlines, today these are considered two separate dogs. Both are commonly labeled pit bulls. The American Kennel Club recognizes the American Staffordshire terrier but doesn't recognize the American pit bull terrier. The United Kennel Club recognizes both breeds. The breed standards for the dogs are nearly identical, though they have different bloodlines today.
Hey, Good Looking
If you get one of these pups, the first thing to understand is you're getting a powerful dog. The Am Staff reaches 75 pounds and the APBT usually keeps it under 60 pounds. They're both muscular, stocky dogs and come in a variety of colors, including blue, red, black, brown, fawn, liver and white.
Lovers, Not Fighters
Pit bulls were popular with families and farmers, serving as playmates, chasing vermin and helping with hunting. Their strength, agility and powerful jaws made them popular among people who enjoyed watching them fight large animals in the 1800s, unfortunately. Eventually people began to pit the dogs against each other for sport, giving rise to dog fighting. The dogs at that point were bred to be smaller and more agile. Today's pit bulls are still tenacious, and they will take on another dog, even without provocation, if they're not socialized and trained. Their terrier heritage means they have a high prey drive, so they may see the family cat as something to be chased and caught. Despite their reputation, they don't tend to be good guard dogs. They love people and are very affectionate dogs.
Living With the Pits
With a strong, athletic build, pit bulls tend to pull when they're leashed, making them good for pulling carts. They make good jogging partners; they do well in agility and other obedience sports. Pit bulls also like to dig and chew, and will enjoy unearthing your prized flowers if given access. If you're interested in a pit bull breed, check with your local animal control officer about local ordinances or special requirements. Some towns require special insurance if you have a pit bull; others have banned pit bull breeds.
Facts, Not Myths
Many myths surround pit bulls. Contrary to what you may have heard, they don't have locking jaws. Their jaws work like any other dog's jaws: They open and close. They do have strong jaw muscles, but not the strongest. Their determination is what makes them hang on when they bite. Another myth is that they'll attack people, other dogs and other animals at random. The truth is some pit bulls are aggressive toward other animals; however, many are quite easygoing. The keys to success are socializing and training an individual dog, and keeping him out of potentially volatile situations -- which can be said for any breed of dog.