What Is A Pitbull? (A Definitive Guide)

What Is A Pitbull? (A Definitive Guide)

Who doesn’t love dogs? Fun, protective, and cuddly, dogs make wonderful housemates for people of all ages. If you're in particular looking for a breed of dog that is friendly with children, then you should definitely consider the American pit bull terrier.

Yes, we know that most people recommend a Golden Retriever, when it comes to family-friendly dog breeds. Very few would even consider the pit bull to be a good pet. But the truth is, pit bulls are just as loving and gentle as any other child-safe dog out there.

Here, we tell you everything you could possibly want to know about this polarizing breed - the American pit bull terriers.

Is A Pit Bull A Breed Of Dog?

A pit bull is a working dog that is owned by numerous people in the world. Although pit bulls are scientifically a category of dogs, the American Kennel Club doesn’t consider the animal an official “breed”. This is because the pit bull is a “type of dog" with numerous other sub-breeds within the category (similar to herding dogs, sporting dogs, hounds, toy dogs, etc.).

The AKC already recognizes some of these sub-species as separate and specific breeds. When you visit a kennel to bring home a pit bull pup, you’ll need to specify which type of pit bull you’re actually looking for.

What Is A Pit Bull

What Breeds Make Up A Pit Bull?

The pit bull is a type of dog that is bred by crossbreeding bulldogs and terriers. This gives them the strength of the bulldog, with the terrier's agility and cleverness, making the pit bull terrier the American super dog.

Now let’s learn more about the dog’s genealogy:


Bulldogs are fighting dogs that were originally bred for fighting and baiting. They are extremely energetic and powerful dogs that have the ability to take down large game. They were used as guard dogs and hunting dogs, in addition to being house pets.

History shows that bulldogs were bred from large mastiff dogs, which were used in the Elizabethan Era for hunting. Today, American bulldogs are one of the most-loved dog breeds in the country.


Terriers are small hunting dogs, renowned for being agile and clever. They are used to chase down small games like rodents and rabbits. When they were first bred, terriers were used to chase and kill rats that plagued households and farmlands.


Pit bulls were first recorded during the 19th century (1800’s) in the United Kingdom. The dog was specially bred by crossing terriers and Old English bull dogs, for fighting and bull-baiting.

Bull-baiting was a cruel game, where two or more pit bulls were made to harass and bait angry bulls, until either party collapsed or died. After the passing of the Cruelty to Animals Act, this horrifying practice was outlawed by the British Parliament in 1835.

Unable to use the dogs for bull-baiting, breeders soon put the pooches in pits filled with rats, to see how many vermin the dogs could kill at a time (this is where the word "pit" in pit bull comes from). This pastime became a British obsession until other animal-related games became more interesting and pit bulls were solely used as household pets.

Around the mid-1800s, when British residents moved to the United States before the start of the Civil War, they brought their pit bulls with them to America. Thus started the new legacy of the pit bull terrier and the American love for this exciting pet.

Once in America, the pit bull's strength, speed, and limitless energy made it a favorite companion of cattle and sheep herders. Farmers soon began using the dogs to guard their farms from wild animals. Working families in villages would use the pit bull as a "nanny dog" to care for babies, because of their love of children and loyalty towards the family.

The dog’s protective temperament and characteristic of being a hard worker, made it an American favorite and soon it was the nation’s mascot. Sergeant Stubby, a pit bull who played a vital role in WWI, is today the most decorated military dog in history. Closer home, the popular daytime soap, Little Rascals, featured Petey the pit bull as the group’s lovable pet - further generating adoration for the breed.

But right after WWI, things began to change. Aware of the dog’s fighting history, many breeders started to rear pit bulls for the express purpose of organizing dog fighting competitions.

In 1976, the Animal Welfare Act was enacted by the US Supreme Court and dog fighting was made a felony across the country. However, underground fights were organized illegally and pit bull breeders (with the temptation of easy money), began to advertise the dogs as mean and vicious.

Soon, the image of the pit bull as an angry dog with unpredictable mood swings gained the nation’s imagination. A few stray pit bull attacks on other dogs and children strengthened the view of the “demon dog”.

To prevent the breeding and sale of pit bulls, a breed specific legislation was implemented in America which restricted who could own a pit bull and where/how it could be taken in public.

Then in 2007, after the dogfighter Michael Vick’s Bad Newz Kennels business was busted and the enslaved pit bulls seized, a few animal rights organizations decided to re-train and re-home the animals. It was then that America saw a new side to the “sadistic killer dog” and the pit bull slowly regained it’s image of being a friendly and loving pooch.

Today, there are 4.5 million pit bulls owned as family pets in the USA, constituting 5.8% of the entire pet population.

Pit Bull Laying In A Field

Physical Characteristics - How To Identify A Pit Bull

The pit bull can be easily visually identified because of its unique body shape. The dog is defined by certain physical traits such as: 

  • A muscular body, with a broad chest.
  • A broad head that’s flattened at the top and boxy at the jaws.
  • A fleshy nose and short pointy ears.
  • A smooth and short coat that comes in black, brown, grey, red, fawn, white, brindle, blue and tan.
  • A thin and sharp tail, which looks like a whip. 

Pit bulls can be thin or stocky, depending on the breed. They are usually silent dogs and you’ll often see them with a goofy expression on their faces. They are droolers (courtesy of their bulldog parent) and you may often find them slobbering over your furniture.

Pit Bull Type Dogs You Need To Know About

There are four specific breeds in the pit bull category, that you’ll find in kennels:

  • Staffordshire Bull Terrier
  • American Staffordshire Terrier
  • American Bully
  • American Pitbull Terrier (further sub-divided based on color)
    • Rednose American Pitbull Terrier
    • Bluenose American Pitbull Terrier

Now, let’s understand how they differ:

Criteria Staffordshire Bull Terrier American Staffordshire Terrier American Bully American Pitbull Terrier
Height (in inches) Both males & females: 14-16 Males: 18-19

Females: 17-18
Comes in three sizes, with both males & females the same size:

Pocket: 13-17

Standard: 16-20

XL: 19-23
Males: 18-21

Females: 17-20
Weight (in pounds) Males: 28-38

Females: 24-34
Males: 55-70

Females: 40-55
66–88 (depending on the size) Males: 35-65

Females: 30-50
Recognition as a breed Is recognized by all major Kennel Clubs Is recognized by the American Kennel Club (but not by the United Kennel Club) Only recognized by the United Kennel Club Not recognized by the American Kennel Club (but is recognized by the United Kennel Club)
Unique Characteristics Extremely intelligent and brave dog, very reliable as the caretaker of the house. Courageous and social dog with a high desire to please people. Was the companion American Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson Extremely adaptable and friendly, reputed as a great companion dog. Very friendly and playful, high energy dog great for homes and farms.


Please note: While these measures pertain to the average size of the dogs which fall under the respective pit bull breeds, any pit bull and terrier may be larger, smaller, shorter, taller etc. depending on his/her parentage. It's best to speak to a qualified professional or get your pup from a qualified breeder, to ensure he/she is healthy. 

When Do Pit Bulls Stop Growing?

Most prospective pet parents want to know how quickly their pets will grow, so they can plan for the dog’s living space. You may want to know about pit bull growth too.

Just like most dog breeds, pit bulls grow very quickly in the first year of their lives. Your pup may double in height within 9 months of being born and may reach full weight in a year or year-and-a-half’s time. But, the growth spurt slows down significantly after the first year. For the next year or two, your pit bull may experience the occasional short bursts of growth. By the time he/she is three years old, your pit bull will have fully grown.

How quickly your dog grows depends on what you feed him/her, the vaccinations you get, the parentage and genetics of the pit bull puppy and how quickly you neuter your dog. 

You can learn more about pit bull growth spurts in this article.

Are Pit Bulls Naturally Aggressive?

Unfortunately, the term pit bull often strikes fear into the hearts of people who hear it. Many people believe that pit bulls are aggressive demon dogs who just cannot be controlled and must be handled only by highly-experienced dog owners.

What a gross misconception this is!

So, the question remains, why do people say that pit bull terriers are mean and ill-tempered? The answer lies in the dog’s legacy.

As we know, pit bull terriers are descendants of the olden English bull-baiting dogs. This breed was specifically reared to fight and bring down boars, bears, bulls and other large animals.

If you know about Charles Darwin's natural selection theory, you'll know that certain behavioral traits get passed-down generations because of the living conditions that the animal faces. Given that the pit bull’s ancestors (.i.e. the English bull-baiting dogs) were almost exclusively used for fighting, the aggression gene was passed down.

Often breeders used artificial selection (aka selective breeding) to retain and strengthen this aggression gene in English bull-baiting dogs, to make them more aggressive than they naturally were. This is why today’s pit bull terriers and American Staffordshire terriers still possess some traits that make them temperamentally more aggressive that some other dog breeds.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that every pit bull is mean spirited.

Dog aggression depends on more factors, than just genetics. The way a puppy has been reared, the environmental conditions it’s been subjected to, the way a handler/owner treats the dog and any past trauma in the dog’s history, can all determine how aggressive the dog will be. Even a golden retriever or Labrador can be very aggressive if it is raised/handled the wrong way. 

As long as your pit bull terrier is socialized with other people and animals from puppyhood and you use positive reinforcement when training your dog, your pit bull should be a sweet-tempered angel. Regular exercise, tasty treats and lots of cuddles from you will also make your pit bull a delightful pooch.

We urge you not to judge these dogs based on misleading sentiments and to interact with pit bull pups yourself, before you make a choice.


Pit bulls are misunderstood dogs that have a lot to offer. A family dog that can be a companion for life and pit bulls is perfect if you have children. Extremely gentle, energetic, happy and eager to please, they'll be an amazing family member for years to come.

So, go ahead and meet one of these fine fellows. See for yourself how brilliant pit bulls really are.

Visit Pet Pattern for more information about pit bulls and other dog breeds. We are a pet online store that produces custom pet-themed merchandize. Send us your pet’s pictures and enjoy these delightful patterned products today.

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