American Pit Bull Terrier
- Height: 17 to 21 inches
- Weight: 30 to 60 pounds
The APBT has a formidable reputation and appearance, but he is meant to be a dog who loves and accepts people. In the hands of loving owners and given the right amount of socialization, training, attention and love, he can be a docile, affectionate family dog.
Unfortunately, he comes with societal baggage. People who have Pit Bulls may face restrictions on where they can live or which homeowner’s insurance they can purchase.
Pit Bulls can be highly people oriented, but they don’t necessarily like other dogs or small furry creatures like cats. Some Pit Bulls may become friends with cats in the household and seem to love every dog they meet, but they arguably are not typical of the breed. If you want a dog you can take to the park who will play nicely with other dogs, a Pit Bull is probably not for you.
The APBT typically weighs 60 pounds or less, and is very muscular. Pitties are powerful dogs and can be a challenge to walk on leash if not well trained; pulling can become an issue. For healthy Pit Bulls, it can be a good idea to channel that desire to pull into a dog sport, such as weight pulling or nose work.
A Pit Bull’s grooming needs are modest. His coat needs brushing a couple of times a week to help manage shedding, and his ears need to be kept clean and his nails trimmed.
Before getting one of these dogs, it is important to realize that there is much misinformation around the nature of Pit Bulls, as well as campaigns to outlaw the breed. Check local ordinances carefully to be sure you can legally own one of these dogs in your town. Denver, for instance, is a major American city that (as of this writing) bans the breed. Some municipalities also have ordinances specifying how a fence has to be constructed for “Pit Bull-type” breeds. Your research can also help to educate friends and neighbors about the merits of this breed.
- The term “Pit Bull” is often applied indiscriminately to APBTs, American Staffordshire Terriers and sometimes Staffordshire Bull Terriers, a British breed. The term may also be used to label any dog who resembles those breeds, even if he is a Lab mix with little or no “Pit Bull” in his background.
- An APBT comes in any color, pattern or combination of colors, except merle.
- Celebrities who count Pitties as their best
friends include actresses Jessica Alba, Jessica Biel and Alicia Silverstone;
cooking guru Rachael Ray; and political satirist Jon Stewart.
The History of the American Pit Bull TerrierDuring a period of American history, dog fighting was a legal and popular activity. Many wealthy people and prominent politicians could be found at dog fights, betting on their dogs, which went by several names: Pit Bull, Yankee Terrier and half-and-half dog — a reference to their origin as a cross between Bulldogs and Terriers.
The same dogs were equally popular with farmers and families. They tended to be good ratters and useful in hunting dangerous wild pigs and bears, and they were said to be good with people. Pit Bulls could do it all, from being the kids’ playmate to serving in the military. A Pit Bull represented the United States on World War I recruiting posters, and pop culture Pitties included Tige in the Buster Brown comic strip; Nipper, the RCA trademark dog; and Petey, who starred in the “Our Gang” comedies of the 1930s.
The United Kennel Club has registered the American Pit Bull Terrier since 1898, when the club was established. The American Kennel Club does not currently recognize the American Pit Bull Terrier as a breed.
American Pit Bull Terrier Temperament and PersonalityFrom his earliest days as a farm dog to when he was bred for dog fighting, the Pit Bull in America has always been an active, confident dog with a playful nature and spirit. He is best described as enthusiastic and comical.
Whatever else those old dog-fighting breeders did, they created a dog who is extremely resilient and stable, as well as typically very friendly to people. That’s why so many Pit Bulls, even from the worst backgrounds, go on to be loving, trustworthy family dogs. That said, they need early socialization and training to become their very best. And they certainly have some normal behaviors that can be highly destructive when not properly channeled.
American Pit Bull Terriers are known for their propensity to dig, pull and chew. Protect your belongings by putting them out of reach. In the yard, provide your Pittie with his own special place he’s allowed to dig. And make sure you have a never-ending supply of tough, vet-approved chew toys and balls for him to play with.
Overall health permitting, this can be an athletic dog who could make an excellent partner for a jogger, runner or cyclist. Many Pitties enjoy swimming and retrieving. Thanks to their intelligence and desire to please, healthy APBTs also tend to perform well in dog sports, such as agility, drafting (pulling carts or wagons), freestyle, nose work, obedience, rally and tracking.
The Pittie is a good communicator. He will make all kinds of unusual noises as he tells you about his day.
One of the misconceptions about Pitties is that they are vicious guard dogs. Hardly. They might look scary, and that serves them well as far as intimidating potential intruders, but the truth is that most of these dogs are friendly. When it comes to being a guard dog, well, they’re sometimes just a little too outgoing to succeed. With their families, they’re not always aware of their size and will often attempt to squeeze into a lap for some loving.
Nonetheless, even carefully bred APBTs are usually strong, determined and smart dogs, and backing down is not part of their normal behavior. The idea that the Pit Bull is some kind of dual-personality dog ready to switch from a loving pet to a killer in an instant is generally unwarranted, but like all dogs, he needs to be trained and socialized.
When it comes to other animals, APBTs are typical Terriers. They are more likely to be fighters than lovers with other dogs, especially those of the same gender. It’s best not to keep intact dogs of the same sex together and to avoid taking these dogs to parks where they are allowed to run loose. Whether an APBT will get along with other dogs in public varies by individual dog. Some are friendly; others, not so much. And they are likely to view cats and other small furry animals as prey.
Whether your Pit Bull is from a breeder or a rescue group, a puppy or an adult, you’ll need to show him a lot of love. But he’s often a pushy kind of dog, and if you let him, he’ll walk all over you. Any dog, no matter how nice, can develop obnoxious levels of barking, digging, food stealing and other undesirable behaviors if he is bored, untrained or unsupervised.
Start training your Pittie puppy the day you bring him home. He is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Don’t wait until he is 6 months old to begin training, or you will have a more headstrong dog to deal with.
If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like the one for kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limiting exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including those for rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until his puppy vaccinations are completed.
Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see their puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality.
The perfect Pittie doesn’t spring fully formed from the whelping box. He’s a product of his background and breeding. Look for a puppy whose parents have nice personalities and one who has been well socialized from an early age.
Living with an APBT is a huge responsibility — one that cannot be easily given away if you later decide he isn’t the dog for you. Be as sure as you can that you are making the right decision before you get a Pit Bull.
What You Need to Know About American Pit Bull Terrier HealthAll dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on her puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.
The APBT can develop certain health problems that may have a genetic component, including the following:
Choose a puppy from a breeder who can show you that a pup’s parents have up-to-date health certifications for hips and thyroid with the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA). Ask if any of the dogs in the breeder’s lines have been diagnosed with allergies or demodectic mange or suffer from other skin problems.
Careful breeders screen their dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas, and a puppy develops one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in many cases, the dogs can still live good lives. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and what caused their deaths.
If a breeder tells you her dogs don’t need health certifications because she’s never had problems in her lines, that her dogs have been vet-checked or gives any other excuses for skimping on the genetic testing of dogs, walk away immediately.
Will your Pittie get any or all of these diseases? Not necessarily, but it’s smart to know the possibilities.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the more common canine health problems: obesity. Keeping a Pit Bull at an appropriate weight is one of the easier ways to help ensure a healthier dog for life.
The Basics of American Pit Bull Terrier GroomingThe grooming needs of the Pit Bull are modest. Brush his coat a couple of times a week to help manage shedding.
The rest is basic care. Trim the nails as needed, usually twice a month. Brush the teeth frequently — with a vet-approved pet toothpaste — for good overall health and fresh breath. If the ears look dirty, wipe them out with a cotton ball dampened with a gentle ear cleaner recommended by your veterinarian.
Finding an American Pit Bull Terrier BreederWhether you want to go with a reputable breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.
Choosing an American Pit Bull Terrier BreederBecause APBTs are associated with fighting, however undeservedly, they attract people who want a “macho” dog. Reputable breeders place puppies carefully to ensure that they go to appropriate homes. They look for people who are experienced with large dogs, who have securely fenced yards and who understand the responsibilities of caring for a dog with this reputation.
Research breeders carefully, and meet one or both of the puppy’s parents. The breeder should be someone you trust to have given a puppy the best start in life, not only through good nutrition and socialization, but also by breeding temperament-tested parents with health clearances. Look for breeders through organizations such as the American Pit Bull Terrier Club of New England or the American Pit Bull Terrier Club of Southern California. Contact the United Kennel Club for other suggestions on finding breeders. And ask if your veterinarian can refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization or other reliable source.
Finding a good breeder is a great way to find the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy and will, without question, have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as possible. She is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than making big bucks.
Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances and what the dogs are like to live with, and come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you can provide for him. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss which health problems affect the breed and the steps she takes take to avoid those problems.
Look for a breeder who is active in her national breed club and a local club too, if possible. She should regularly participate with her dogs in some form of organized canine activities, such as conformation showing, obedience or other dog sports. She should sell her puppies with written contracts guaranteeing she’ll take the dogs back if at any time during their lives the owners cannot keep them.
Avoid breeders who seem interested only in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from a website that offers to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It could save you money and frustration in the long run.
Lots of reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include puppies always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any puppy and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Quickie online purchases are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store or another source, remember the adage “
And before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult APBT might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up to become the dog of your dreams. An adult Pit Bull may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive and demanding than a puppy. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health, and you can find adult dogs to adopt through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home.
If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.
Adopting a Dog From an American Pit Bull Terrier Rescue or ShelterTake your search for a knowledgeable, responsible breed rescue organization seriously. The dogs should have been evaluated and made available for adoption only to suitable homes. If the staff tell you a particular dog isn’t right for you, believe them and keep looking.
There is certainly no shortage of Pit Bulls and Pit Bull–type dogs in shelters and rescue groups, so if this breed is the right dog for you, you should be able to find the right one for your family. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for an APBT in your area in no time. The sites allow you to be very specific in your requests (house-training status, for example) or very general (all the Pit Bull–type dogs available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter.org can help you find animal rescue groups in your area.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for an APBT. That includes vets, dog walkers and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescues
Most people who love Pit Bulls love all Pit Bulls. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. You can search online for APBT rescues in your area.
The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very up front about any health conditions the dogs may have. A rescue group is a valuable resource for advice.
4. Ask Key Questions
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a pup. These include:
- What is his energy level?
- How is he around other animals?
- How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors and children?
- What is his personality like?
- What is his age?
- Is he house-trained?
- Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone?
- Are there any known health issues?
Puppy or adult, breeder purchase or rescue, your APBT should visit your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that can help you avoid many health issues.