American Pit Bull Terrier

Popular in American Culture with Ties to the Rich and Famous

American Pit Bull Terrier

A Breed Popular in American Culture with Ties to the Rich and Famous

The American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT), also known as the "Pit Bull," is a working-class dog, and member of the modern Pit Bull family. Unfortunately, the APBT is most recognized today by reputation rather than the facts concerning its true nature. This is due in part to the media-hyping, unscrupulous dog owners who train and use the APBT for archaic blood sport entertainment. The myths surrounding this breed are further sensationalized for political reasons, by labeling the "Pit Bull" as aggressive and dangerous toward humans. However, it is widely agreed upon by professionals and caring owners that a dog’s breeding is far less a factor in dictating aggressive behavior, than owners teaching aggressive behavior.

The American Pit Bull Terrier is not a fighting dog, and without understanding the facts, no assumptions should be made that state otherwise. It is quite necessary to accentuate this point so that with the help of the Pit Bull community, these highly misunderstood dogs can reclaim their reputation as intelligent, loyal, hardworking, and fun-loving animals. To understand more about this unique breed of dog, we must go back a number of years to analyze the different dog types and the places from which they originated. Hopefully this will dispel myths about the American Pit Bull Terrier and provide a clear and concise analysis of this controversial breed.


It is important initially to lay out a few facts about the American Pit Bull Terrier. First of all, the APBT is a purebred dog that is recognized by the American Dog Breeders Association (ADBA) and the United Kennel Club (UKC). The term "purebred" is not applied to any other dog of this breed in the UKC registry such as Staffordshire Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, or Bull Terriers. No other breed of dog has the terminology "pit" and "bull" in their name except for the APBT. The Staffordshire Terrier is in essence an APBT; however, the American Kennel Club (AKC), refused to acknowledge its classification until 1936. It was later registered as an American Staffordshire Terrier in 1972. Therefore, the Pit Bull received an alias due to its English history as a fighting dog. Presently the UKC recognizes the American Staffordshire Terrier, which received its name from miners who worked in Staffordshire, England, and oddly enough helped create the breed for fighting. Since the AKC would not recognize the APBT, or other breeds of dogs, the UKC was formed and – lo and behold – in 1898 an American Pit Bull Terrier named Bennett’s Ring was the first of the breed to be registered.

Ancestry plays an important role with purebred dogs and the American Pit Bull Terrier is certainly no exception. Since there is no concrete evidence to support its true, undisputed lineage, theories about the American Pit Bull Terrier’s background are provided through possible scenarios based on the findings of experts who have conducted research in the field, and readers can discern the plausibility of each example. For the first scenario, it has been said that the modern APBT actually originated from a pure Bulldog due to a striking resemblance.

Some evidence to support this theory can be seen in paintings, sketches, and woodcarvings done in England during the nineteenth century. For example, the English bulldog in the painting Crib and Rosa, by Abraham Cooper in 1811, bears a strong likeness to the APBT of today. The idea that the Bulldog is in fact the APBT, based on paintings and sketches carries validity among some experts, but it is not the prominent belief. Perhaps a more sound theory is that the APBT comprised the English bulldog, which was bred with a certain type of terrier. We will examine this idea further to ascertain some possible breeds from which the Pit Bull is thought to derive.

In order to trace the APBT lineage, it is useful to begin as far back as ancient Greece and the Molossus, the first type of fighting dog known. From the Molossians, came a type of Mastiff that were known as Pugnaces in Briton and used as guard dogs and alongside soldiers in battle. In 50 AD, after the Romans, under Claudius, defeated the Brits, Mastiff dogs that prevailed in battle were highly respected and were brought to Rome to breed with a variety of dogs thought to precede the APBT. A millennium later, the Normans attacked England and brought with them a sport called baiting: chaining an animal (bear, bull, horse) to a post and goading the dogs to attack them. Baiting was started by English butchers who had dogs, now extinct, named Bullenbeissers, or bull biter, first used for herding bulls – hence the name Bulldog. This is the dog that looks much like the current APBT.

After centuries of using Bulldogs to fight various animals for sport, the English government finally outlawed this brutal activity in1835. Although not stamped out completely, the English found a new way to use the Bulldog in other kill-sport activities. A sport called ratting was created where a dog or dogs were put into a pit with rats that could not escape. The dogs were forced to kill as many rats as possible in the quickest amount of time. Here is where the name pit became attached to a Bulldog, which consequently became the Pit Bull.

To further promote this pit-fighting spectacle, it was inevitable that dogs would be used as fighting dogs for sport. However, the type of Bulldog used in this event was the precursor to the Boxer called the Alaunt, which was introduced by the Duke of York in 1585. Not a great deal about this animal is known today other than the fact that they were categorized into different areas for the tasks they performed as well as for their physical appearance. The Alaunt Gentil was much like a greyhound and can be correlated with hunting breeds along with the Alaunt Veantre. However, the larger mastiff type of dog, known as Alaunt de Boucherie, was one being developed for fighting in France.

The Alaunts played a major role as fighting dogs along with continuing to be used in the practice of baiting. The introduction of this type of dog is the hardest evidence we can gather that the dog was specifically created to provide blood-sport entertainment to the masses. In addition, it is important to state that Bulldogs of this era were a type of dog rather than a breed of dog, and that Bulldogs that shared Pit Bull characteristics went on to become the Pit Bull of today. What we have is a separation between Mastiff and Bulldog which shows they had become individual types.

Now that the history of the Bulldog in England has been discussed, we can go on to investigate some theories as to what type of dog was bred with the Bulldog to become an APBT. As a result of dogfights, handlers started to create animals that were quicker and feistier than the large Mastiffs that were their predecessors. This is when Bulldog and Terrier became the perfect storm for this type of activity. However, the task of finding the specific breed of terrier that was crossed with the Bulldog, again, is ambiguous and open to debate.

With this in mind, we can reasonably state that APBT came from English and Irish stock brought by immigrants who came to America with their Bull Terrier mixes. However, while this breed was being created, the question of which dog was the true "culprit" is still a great mystery. The first theory suggests that the Bulldog was crossed with a White Terrier, which no longer exists today, in what we now know as the APBT. As we discussed earlier, there is a great dispute over the name the AKC registry has for this particular breed. So, since the American Staffordshire Terrier is theoretically an APBT, it is justified to discuss their idea of its lineage. With this in mind, the AKC has a different idea of what dogs came together to create this breed.

For the Staffordshire Terrier, it is reported that the Black-and-Tan Terrier or the White English Terrier were bred with the Bulldog to create this breed. However, another theory is that the Fox Terrier of the early 1800s was responsible due to its agility and spirit, mixed with the bravery and sheer tenacity that the Bulldog imbued. As a result, around 1870, when they first came to America these dogs were called Pit Dog, Pit Bull Terrier, later American Bull Terrier, and still later, Yankee Terrier. Here lies much of the reason why it is so difficult to truly find an accurate account of exactly what animals were used to create the modern APBT. Moreover, registering the APBT animal continued as a contentious issue for many years. The AKC stud book accepted the name Staffordshire Terrier in 1936. However, in 1972 the name was changed to the American Staffordshire Terrier to distinguish between the Staffordshire Bull and the Terrier of England.

When the UKC was created by Chauncy Bennet in 1898, its main purpose was to register Pit Bulls. The APBT, was registered as an American Bull Terrier at first, but Pit Bull enthusiasts became outraged and the name was subsequently put back in place. Presently, the American Staffordshire Terrier has developed into a breed that is quite different from the APBT which only adds to the confusion of how these dogs really originated. Although we have covered a lot of information about the possibilities of this breed, and tried to provide some of the best examples taken from research, there are clear facts about today’s APBT that are quite reliable.


The pit bull has a history of fighting, but nowhere is it mentioned that these dogs were trained to be aggressive toward humans. Quite to the contrary, these dogs function well as working dogs, guard dogs, and hunters, and are great friends to many dog lovers. The American Temperament Testing Society has given a pass percentage of 84.3% for American Pit Bull Terriers. Characteristics of the APBT include confidence, strength, enthusiasm, and kindness to children.

By the same token, an owner must fully realize the amount of training that a breed of this caliber needs. The result of not training an APBT can lead to aggression and it must be remembered that this is a working-class dog which means it must be kept occupied with an activity such as sport or through obedience training. This breed has a high prey drive and some aggressive qualities that are inherent to their nature, which is why there is a stress on responsible dog ownership. The owner that leaves this animal sedentary, without proper attention or occupation, is asking for big problems regardless of how friendly the animal may have been as a puppy. And while the APBT can show aggression toward other dogs, that does not mean they should be isolated from other animals – it simply means they need to be taught how to interact with other animals just as you would teach a child how to behave properly at school. The APBT is a very smart dog that will respond extremely well to the owner who properly cares for it, offering clear guidance and kind reinforcement.


If we take a look at the APBT’s most prominent traits, we will notice how the breed has evolved into a very fine dog. There are a number of sizes and colors that appear in these dogs. Some have more Terrier in them, which makes them racy and thin, with narrow heads. They can weigh as little as 25 pounds, yet there are other American Pit Bull Terriers that are more muscular like Staffordshire Bull Terriers. In addition, some with more Bullmastiff in them have resulted in a much larger animal. It is possible for these animals to reach up to as much as 90 pounds. The English type is 14 -16 inches tall and has a weight of up to 45 pounds. The APBT is 18 -19 inches tall and weighs up to 80 pounds. UKC's American Pit Bull Terrier weighs from 30 to 60 pounds.

They have a bottom jaw that is quite developed, with a large nose of various colors. Eye size is usually medium and set low, and of many colors except blue. The ears are usually cropped, rise naturally or are semi-erect. They have a deep chest and muscular hindquarters with a medium-sized tail. The APBT is longer than it is tall and has a very powerful head shaped like a brick. For more detailed specifications on body, head, teeth, height and weight, please refer to the UKC website and search APBT. The major health concerns with these dogs are dysplasia, hereditary cataracts, allergies to grass, and congenital heart disease. Most American Pit Bull Terriers are expected to live about 12 years.


As with any dog, grooming is a concern and should be practiced regularly, although the APBT has a very short coat. They shed very little, but it is important to keep your dog clean and free of debris that may get into its coat. Proper healthcare is also mandatory and checkups help ensure the maximum health of your dog. Another point that cannot be stressed enough is making sure that these animals have a lot of activity and are able to exercise to the point where they do not become aggressive because they are bored and restless. This is absolutely not the kind of dog you want to take home and ignore, without expecting negative repercussions.

A Dog Quite Famous in American Culture

The American Pit Bull Terrier is a well-loved dog that has had some famous owners. The list of celebrities who have owned Pit Bulls include President Teddy Roosevelt, boxers Jack Johnson and Jack Dempsey, and famous author, Helen Keller. The APBT is also the mascot for the Buster Brown shoe company. In addition, these animals played a big role during World War I and II, as pictures on propaganda posters – and a Pit Bull named Stubby was decorated for being wounded in the First World War. In 1903, a Pit Bull named Bud was along for the ride as the first travelers crossed the United States in a car, and he became famous for a picture put in a newspaper of him wearing goggles. Perhaps the most famous Pit Bull was named Petie, who starred in the classic television show, Our Gang.

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