Pit bulls are controversial dogs. Properly known as American pit bull terriers, they are a powerful, athletic and tenacious breed that, unfortunately, are therefore a target for misuse and abuse by unscrupulous breeders and those in the dogfighting business. According to the United Kennel Club breed standards, the pit bull's reputation as an inherently vicious and dangerous breed is as unfair as it is inaccurate.
The pit bull came about in the 19th century when breeders in England, Ireland and Scotland experimented with crossing bulldogs with terriers. The result was a strong and athletic dog who was both courageous and gentle, and also proved to be helpful with a variety of hunting and farming tasks. As immigrants brought these dogs to America, they became popular with farmers both as working dogs and as family pets. The breed type has been maintained for over 150 years, and the United Kennel Club was the first to register it in 1898.
The pit bull is a medium-size, muscular, short-haired and smooth-coated dog. The breed standards allow for any color or pattern of coat except merle. The head is broad with a flat skull and a wide, deep muzzle, with small to medium ears, either cropped or natural, set high on the head. The body is slightly longer than tall, with the length of the front leg measuring approximately half of the dog's full height at the withers (shoulders). The tail is set low and relatively short, thicker at the base and narrowing to a point at the end.
According to the UKC standards, the pit bull's primary characteristics are "strength, confidence, and zest for life." Pit bulls are characteristically friendly toward humans in general, and toward children in particular. They are intelligent, hardworking and eager to please, and tend to make excellent family dogs. They do, however, tend to show aggression toward other dogs, and should have owners who are willing to take the time to properly socialize and train them. They are also excellent climbers and tend to do well in performance events.
Pit bulls with certain faults or undesirable traits should be disqualified from events to discourage owners from breeding them and passing those traits on. These dogs should also be reported to the UKC. The problematic traits include viciousness or aggressiveness toward humans, extreme shyness, deafness, a long and/or merle coat, albinism, a screw tail, dwarfism and any other disproportionate physical characteristic that interferes with the dog's ability to work or perform.