American Pit Bull Terrier

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American Pit Bull Terrier
000 American Pit Bull Terrier.jpg
Other names
  • Pit Bull
  • Pitbull Terrier
Common nicknames
  • Pit
  • APBT
OriginUnited States
Foundation stockBull and terrier
Old English Bulldog
Old English Terrier
Height Dogs 45–53 cm (18–21 in)
Bitches 43–50 cm (17–20 in)
Weight Dogs 15.8–27.2 kg (35–60 lb)
Bitches 13.6–22.6 kg (30–50 lb)
Coat smooth
Color Multiple accepted colours and combinations (except merle).
Red, black and buckskin are the most common
Litter size 5–10
Life span About 8–15 years
Kennel club standards
United Kennel Club standard
Dog (domestic dog)

The American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT) is a dog breed recognized by the United Kennel Club (UKC)[1] and the American Dog Breeders Association (ADBA),[2] but not the American Kennel Club (AKC).[3] It is a medium-sized, intelligent, short-haired dog, of a solid build, whose early ancestors came from the British Isles. When compared with the English Staffordshire Bull Terrier, the American Pit Bull Terrier is larger by margins of 6–8 inches (15–20 cm) in height and 25–35 pounds (11–16 kg) in weight. The American Pit Bull Terrier varies in size: males are normally about 18–21 inches (45–53 cm) in height and around 35–60 pounds (15–27 kg) in weight, while females are normally around 17–20 inches (43–50 cm) in height and 30–50 pounds (13–22 kg) in weight.[1]

According to the ADBA, the American Pit Bull is prescribed to be medium-sized and has a short coat and smooth well-defined muscle structure, and its eyes are to be round to almond-shaped, and its ears are to be small to medium in length, typically half prick or rose in carriage. The tail is prescribed to be slightly thick and tapering to a point. The coat is required by the ADBA to be glossy, smooth, short, and stiff to the touch. Many colors, color patterns, and combinations of colors are acceptable to the ADBA, except that both the ADBA and UKC do not recognize merle coloring.[1][2] Color patterns that are typical in the breed are solid and tuxedo.[4][5]

Despite the colloquial use of the term "pit bull" to encompass a whole category of dogs and the legal use of the term to include several breeds in legislation, some conservative professional breeders of the American Pit Bull Terrier as well as some experts and supporters claim that historically the APBT is the only true "pit bull" and the only breed that should be denominated as such.[6][7][8][9]

Twelve countries in Europe, as well as Australia, Canada, the United States, Ecuador, Malaysia, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, Singapore, and Venezuela, have enacted some form of breed-specific legislation on pit bull–type dogs, including American Pit Bull Terriers, ranging from outright bans to restrictions and conditions on ownership. The state of New South Wales in Australia places restrictions on the breed, including mandatory sterilization. The breed is banned in the United Kingdom, in the Canadian province of Ontario,[10] and in many locations in the United States.


A bull and terrier type. Paris, 1863.
"Watchful-Waiting". World War I poster featuring a pit bull as a representation of the U.S

Until the mid-19th century the now extinct Old English Terriers and Old English Bulldogs were bred together to produce a dog that combined the gameness of the terrier with the strength and athleticism of the bulldog.[11][12] This type of dog, which was bred in the British Isles, became known as the bull and terrier.[12] These dogs arrived in the United States in the late nineteenth century where they became the direct ancestors of the American Pit Bull Terrier.[1]

In the United Kingdom, Bull-and-terriers were used in bloodsports such as bull baiting and bear baiting. These bloodsports were officially eliminated in 1835 when Britain introduced animal welfare laws. Since dog fighting is cheaper to organize and far easier to conceal from the law than bull or bear baits, bloodsport proponents turned to pitting their dogs against each other instead.[13] Dog fighting was used as both a bloodsport (often involving gambling) and a way to continue to test the quality of their stock. For decades afterwards, dog fighting clandestinely took place in small areas of Britain. These dogs arrived in America around 1845 to 1860, where the dog fighting practice had continuity.[14][15] On February 10, 1898, the breed was recognized by the United Kennel Club (UKC) named as American Pit Bull Terrier.[1]

For some time in the early part of the 20th century the UKC began to register the breed name with the word "pit" in parentheses (American (Pit) Bull Terrier), to facilitate public acceptance as an American Bull Terrier.[16] However this only lasted a short time and returned to the previous form.[1]

In the early 20th century, pit bulls were used as catch dogs in America for semi-wild cattle and hogs, to hunt hogs, and drive livestock, and as family companions.[11] But the dog fighting remained the main use of the breed until 1976 when it was outlawed in all states.[17]

Pit Bull Terriers successfully fill the role of companion dogs, working dogs, athletic sport dogs (Weight pulling, French Ring Sport, Top Dog), police dogs,[18][19] and therapy dogs.[20] Pit Bull Terriers also constitute the majority of dogs used for illegal dog fighting in America[21] In addition, law enforcement organizations report these dogs are used for other nefarious purposes, such as guarding illegal narcotics operations,[22] use against police,[23] and as attack dogs.[24]

In an effort to counter the fighting reputation of pit bull–type dogs, in 1996 the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals renamed pit bull terriers "St. Francis Terriers", hoping that people would be more likely to adopt them.[25] 60 temperament-screened dogs were adopted until the program was halted, after several of the newly adopted pit bulls killed cats.[26] The New York City Center for Animal Care and Control tried a similar approach in 2004, relabeling their pit bulls as "New Yorkies", but dropped the idea in the face of overwhelming public opposition.[27][28]


The UKC gives this description of the characteristic of the American Pit Bull dog: "The essential characteristics of the American Pit Bull Terrier are strength, confidence, and zest for life. This breed is eager to please and brimming over with enthusiasm. APBTs make excellent family companions and have always been noted for their love of children. Because most APBTs exhibit some level of [inter]dog aggression and because of its powerful physique, the APBT requires an owner who will carefully socialize and obedience train the dog. The breed's natural agility makes it one of the most capable canine climbers so good fencing is a must for this breed. The APBT is not the best choice for a guard dog since they are extremely friendly, even with strangers. Aggressive behavior toward humans is uncharacteristic of the breed and highly undesirable. This breed does very well in performance events because of its high level of intelligence and its willingness to work.[29]

The standard imposed by the ADBA and Old Family Red Nose Registry (OFRNR) considers the human aggression a disqualification factor.[30] The American Preservation Dog Registry (APDR) standard points out that "the temperament must be totally reliable with people".[31]

In September 2000, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a study that examined dog-bite–related fatalities (human death caused by dog-bite injuries) to "summarize breeds of dogs involved in fatal human attacks during a 20-year period and to assess policy implications."[32] The study examined 238 fatalities between 1979 and 1998 in which the breed of dog was known. It found that "the data indicates that Rottweilers and pit bull–type dogs accounted for 67% of human DBRF [dog bite-related fatality] in the United States between 1979 and 1998" and that it was "extremely unlikely that they accounted for anywhere near 60% of dogs in the United States during that same period and, thus, there appears to be a breed-specific problem with fatalities."[32]

However, the article continued, noting that care should be taken in drawing conclusions based on these data because:

  • first, the study likely covered only about 74% of actual DBRF cases;
  • second, records of DBRF may have been biased by the propensity of media to report attacks by certain breeds over others;
  • third, it is not always straightforward to identify a dog's breed, and records may be biased towards reporting "known" aggressive breeds; and
  • fourth, it was not clear how to count mixed breeds.
  • fifth, such breeds have traditionally been used in dogfighting at a far higher percentage than others.

The authors concluded by noting that "breeds responsible for human DBRF have varied over time" (for example, Great Danes caused the most reported DBRF between 1979 and 1980). In the face of this inconclusive data, the study authors recommended that breed should not be the "primary factor driving public policy", instead making the following policy recommendations: "adequate funding for animal control agencies, enforcement of existing animal control laws, and educational and policy strategies to reduce inappropriate dog and owner behaviors" as likely to be beneficial and specifically to decrease the occurrence of dog bites.[32]

In a peer-reviewed literature review of 66 dog-bite risk studies, the American Veterinary Medical Association determined that:

"breed is a poor sole predictor of dog bites. Controlled studies reveal no increased risk for the group blamed most often for dog bites, ‘pit bull–type’ dogs. Accordingly, targeting this breed or any other as a basis for dog-bite prevention is unfounded."[citation needed]

As stated by the National Animal Control Association:

"Dangerous and/or vicious animals should be labeled as such as a result of their actions or behavior and not because of their breed."[33]

In 2014, new statistical evidence emerged regarding the province-wide ban on "pit bulls", more specifically the American Pit Bull Terrier and American Staffordshire Terrier, in the Canadian province of Ontario. Since the ban had been implemented, dog bites involving pit bull types had dropped considerably as their populations decreased in the province's largest city Toronto,[34] yet overall dog bites hit their highest levels this century in 2013 and 2014.[35] Statistical evidence published in Global News implicates several other dog breeds had contributed to the rise, stating that "Toronto's reported dog bites have been rising since 2012, and in 2013 and 2014, reached their highest levels this century, even as pit bulls and similar dogs neared local extinction."[35]


The breed tends to have a higher than average incidence of hip dysplasia.[36] Culling for performance has helped eliminate this problem and others such as patella problems, thyroid dysfunction and congenital heart defects.[37] American Pit Bull Terriers with dilute coat colors have not had a higher occurrence of skin allergies as other breeds.[38] As a breed they are more susceptible to parvovirus than others if not vaccinated, especially as puppies, so vaccination is imperative beginning at 39 days old and continuing every 2 weeks until 4 months old. Then again at 8 months. Once a year after that, as recommend for all breeds.[39]

They are very prone to Demodex Mange due to culling for performance. There are two different types of Demodex Mange, namely Localized and Generalized Demodex. Although it is not contagious it is sometimes difficult to treat due to immunodeficiency in some puppies. The Localized symptoms are usually loss of hair in small patches on the head and feet of the puppies. This type will usually heal as the puppies grow and their immune systems grow stronger. The second type which is Generalized Demodex mange is a more severe form of the sickness. The symptoms are more severe and include loss of hair throughout the entire body and the skin may also be scabby and bloody. Generalized are usually hereditary due to immunodeficiency genes that are passed on from Sire and Dam to their puppies. A simple skin scraping test will allow the vet to diagnose demodex mange. The most widely used method to treat Demodex Mange is ivermectin injections or oral medications. Since Demodex Mange lives in the hair follicles of the dog, Ivermectin will kill these mites at the source.[40]


The APBT has several bloodlines (strains), many originated in "professional" dog fighting throughout the 20th century, and others developed for the conformation shows of the United Kennel Club at the 80s.[41]

Colby Pit bulls[edit]

Colby's Pincher, a great-grandson of the famous Lloyd's Pilot. Weight 56 pounds. US, 1896.

The Colby dogs are an ancient black-nosed bloodline that served as one of the pillars of the APBT breed. Considered one of the most important and one of the most famous bloodlines the Colby dogs were started by John Pritchard Colby in 1889, who acquired the best fighting dogs (bull and terriers) imported from Ireland and England.[42] One of the most famous dogs of his bloodline was Colby's Pincher. Pincher was known as an invincible fighting dog and was widely used as a stud dog. For this reason Pincher is present in the pedigree of the vast majority of APBT specimens. Today, the Colby dogs bloodline remains preserved by the family of John P. Colby.[43]

Old Family Red Nose[edit]

Old Family Red Nose (OFRN) is an old strain or a family of bloodlines originating in Ireland, and known for their specific and unique reddish coloration. Many dogs of the OFRN strain has a copper-red nose and coat, red lips, red toe nails, and red or amber eyes.[44] But not every American Pit Bull Terrier with these characteristics is necessarily an OFRN, since for this the dog must have a high percentage of the recognized bloodlines of this family in its pedigree.

A regular male red nose Pitbull (APBT), not OFRN dog.

In the middle of the 19th century, there was a strain of pit dogs in Ireland that were known as "Old Family." At that time, all the bloodlines were closely inbred with each family clan. Since red is recessive to all colors but white, the strain was known as "Irish Old Family Reds." When the dogs began coming to America, they were already showing the red nose.[45][46] The "Old Family Reds" dogs found their way to America in the 19th century mainly via Irish immigrants though many in the United States did import the breed.[45][46]

Many strains have been crossed with the Old Family Reds at some time in their existence. Consequently, nearly any strain will occasionally throw a red-nosed pup. This means that not every red-nose dog is a true OFRN. The Old Family Reds produced more than their share of good ones unlike other strains are known. Old Family Reds were sought after for their high percentage in ability to produce deep gameness. The strain in its purest form continues to be preserved by remaining breeders specializing in this bloodline.

It was once renowned for its gameness, but now it is bred to maintain its unique reddish color. Some of the most reputable breeders of the past, such as Lightner, McClintock, Hemphill, Williams, Menefee, Norrod and Wallace have contributed to the preservation and development of the strain. Finally, as McNolty said in his 30-30 Journal (1967) "Regardless of one's historical perspective, these old amber-eyed, red-nosed, red-toe-nailed, red-coated dogs represent some of the most significant pit bull history and tradition that stands on four legs today."[46]

Jeep bloodline[edit]

The Jeep bloodline was started by the dog Crenshaw's Jeep, a male black-nosed buckskin APBT bred by James Crenshaw in 1976. Crenshaw's Jeep was considered one of the best fighting dogs of his time and produced a large number of champion dogs.[47]

American Staffordshire Terrier[edit]

In 1935 in England a Cradley Heath bull and terrier strain was accepted and registered as a purebred breed by The Kennel Club as Staffordshire Bull Terrier.[48] One year later in America the American Kennel Club (AKC) noted the growing popularity and acceptance of a similar breed already registered years earlier by the United Kennel Club (UKC), the American Pit Bull Terrier. The AKC finally decided to accept to register and recognize the American breed, but would rename the breed with the commitment that the associate breeders would not breed dogs for dogfighting.[49]

American Bull Terrier without the "pit" (a word that referred to dogfighting arenas) was the first name considered by the AKC, but quickly dismissed due to protests by English Bull Terrier's breeders.[16] Yankee Terrier was another option, also dismissed.[16] The name "Staffordshire Terrier" was chosen with the claim that the breed originally came from Staffordshire in England.[50] On June 10, 1936, around 50 UKC dogs entered the AKC stud book under the name Staffordshire Terrier. Wilfred Truman Brandon founded the AKC Staffordshire Terrier Club of America (STCA). The Colby dog named Colby's Primo was one of the first to be regarded as an ideal model of the breed standard in the AKC. The AKC stud book was opened a few more times until it was last closed around the 1970s. In 1972 the AKC changed the name of the breed to American Staffordshire Terrier[50] as it already intended to recognize the British Staffordshire Bull Terrier as a separate breed in subsequent years.[51]

Today a discussion persists whether the American Pit Bull Terrier and the American Staffordshire Terrier are two separate breeds or still the same breed.[50] The fact is that Pit Bull and AmStaff breeders have distanced themselves from each other by pursuing different goals over than 30 years, producing dogs with physical and temperament differences. Since 2015, the American Dog Breeders Association (ADBA), which has registered the American Pit Bull Terrier since 1909,[52] considers the American Staffordshire Terrier to be a different separated breed.[53][54][55] The UKC is the only kennel club at the moment to accept to register American Staffordshire Terriers as American Pit Bull Terriers.[56][57] The UKC conformation champions are very similar to those of the AKC, as both clubs share many judges. The AKC has not accepted to register American Pit Bull Terrier as American Staffordshire Terriers since the late 20th century.[58]

To this day there are dogs called dual registered, dogs registered at the same time as American Staffordshire Terrier in the AKC and American Pit Bull Terrier in the UKC, due to past breeders who decided to keep the two pedigree registers parallel.[49][58] Since 2015 the ADBA classifies most (or all) of these dual registered (AKC-UKC) dogs as American Staffordshire Terriers.[54]

The ADBA conformation champion dogs differ greatly from UKC and AKC champion dogs. The AKC standard does not accept red nose dogs.[51] The UKC dogs and the AmStaff are generally heavier and more robust and bulky than the ADBA American Pit Bull Terrier dogs.[49]


American Pit Bull Terriers excel in many dog sports, including weight pulling, dog agility, flyball, lure coursing, and advanced obedience competition. Out of the 115 dogs who have earned UKC "superdog" status (by gaining championship titles in conformation, obedience, agility, and weightpull), 34 have been American Pit Bull Terriers, and another 13 were American Staffordshire Terriers.[59][60]

The American Pit Bull Terrier is a working dog, and is suitable for a wide range of working disciplines due to their intelligence, high energy, and endurance. In the United States they have been used as search and rescue dogs,[61] police dogs performing narcotics and explosives detection,[62][63] Border Patrol dogs, hearing dogs to provide services to the deaf, as well as general service dogs, including therapy dogs.

In some places they are often a favorite dog for catching feral pigs.[citation needed] Although, the Australian Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) describes how this practice can be dangerous for the hunting dogs, noting that the dogs may experience severe injuries, "heat exhaustion, poisoning, vehicular trauma, snake bite, and accidental shooting".[64]

Breed Specific Legislation[edit]

Australia,[65] Ecuador,[66] Malaysia,[67] New Zealand,[68] the territory of Puerto Rico,[69] Singapore,[70] Venezuela[71] Trinidad and Tobago,[72] Denmark, Israel,[73] France, Germany, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, and Switzerland[74] have enacted some form of breed-specific legislation on pit bull–type dogs, including American Pit Bull Terriers, ranging from outright bans to restrictions on import and conditions on ownership.[74][75] The state of New South Wales in Australia places restrictions on the breed, including mandatory sterilization.[76][77]

Certain states and cities in the United States have banned ownership of the American Pit Bull Terrier, as well as the province of Ontario, Canada.[74][78] American Pit Bull Terriers are regulated in the United Kingdom.

See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]