Of all dog types, pit bulls get the worst rap. Is it deserved? It's always important to consider the purpose behind a dog's breeding. For example, greyhounds were bred for speed, collies to herd livestock -- and pit bulls, originally, to fight other dogs. Pit bulls have many fine attributes, such as intelligence and athleticism, but animal aggression is part of their heritage. Much depends on the individual dog, owner and proper training.
While "pit bull" is a generic term for dogs with certain characteristics, a purebred dog similar to the pit bull is the American Staffordshire terrier. The American Kennel Club notes that this is a loyal, people-oriented breed. The United Kennel Club registers a dog known as the American pit bull terrier. Both breeds possess strong protection instincts, traits characteristic of all pit bull types. For best results, these dogs need to feel they are part of the family. Both breeds also have a history as working dogs, and do well when trained for a job or competition. They do well in canine sports such as agility and obedience.
The AKC standard for the American Staffordshire terrier calls for a height of between 18 and 19 inches tall at the shoulder for males, and 17 to 18 inches for females, with weight proportionate to height. The American Pit Bull Terrier standard calls for a male dog to stand between 18 to 21 inches tall, with females slightly smaller. Depending on gender, the APBT should weigh between 30 and 65 pounds. While generic pit bulls might be considerably smaller, all pit types are muscular and strong. Take your own physical abilities into consideration if you're thinking about bringing a pit bull home. You must have the ability to control a strong dog when going out for walks.
While much of the bad publicity about pit bulls centers on their fighting dog history, what's often left out of the equation is that they are true terriers. That's means they're determined and unlikely to back down -- traits less worrisome in small terriers like the Scottie or Norwich. Think twice about taking your pit bull to the dog park or any other place in which he's likely to encounter strange dogs.
Early Socialization and Training
How a pit bull turns out often depends on the level of early socialization and training. While all dogs benefit from socialization and training, it's absolutely essential for a pit bull. Take your puppy to puppy kindergarten, and try to find a trainer familiar with -- and not prejudiced against -- the breed. Let your puppy meet and greet people, but also learn the boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable behavior.
If you have other pets, especially cats or small dogs, think long and hard before bringing home a pit bull. Even a pit bull who behaves well with people might attack other animals. That doesn't mean you can't keep a pit bull with other canines. Some pit bulls are just fine with other dogs, especially if both parties are spayed or neutered and neither are generally aggressive. It does mean you must always be careful when introducing your pit bull to another dog and never take good behavior for granted. As the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals website puts it, the pit bull's genetic history means it "may be easily encouraged to fight with other dogs."
- American Kennel Club: Get to Know the American Staffordshire Terrier
- American Kennel Club: American Staffordshire Terrier Breed Standard
- Vetstreet: American Staffordshire Terrier / American Pit Bull Terrier
- Vetstreet: American Staffordshire Terrier / American Pit Bull Terrier Temperament and Personality
- ASPCA: The Truth About Pit Bulls
- United Kennel Club: American Pit Bull Terrier
- Duncan Smith/Stockbyte/Getty Images