Why Saying the Words ‘Pit Bull’ Is Wrong

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There is a lot of high emotion surrounding the pit bull, both from those who are advocates and those who believe all should be exterminated. Misinformation is rabid, from the myth that the jaws of a pit bull lock to the belief that pit bulls are inherently aggressive.

The most ironic misunderstanding about the pit bull lies in the basic concept of the pit bull “breed.” The truth is surprising to many: the dog labeled a “pit bull” is not actually a breed.

Rather, a pit bull is actually a “type” of dog and refers to a number of breeds, all of which are descended from bulldogs and/or terriers. The American Kennel Club and United Kennel Club breed standards recognize four breeds that are most commonly identified as pit bulls: the American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and American Bully. (The American Bulldog is also sometimes included.)

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Besides a physical similarity, including stocky bodies and square-shaped heads, these breeds, surprising to some, also share an excellent temperament. The American Temperament Test Society regularly scores in the top 23 percent of all breeds tested. The test evaluates a dog’s behavior toward strangers, reaction to different noises like a gunshot, reactions to visual stimuli like an umbrella, reactions to tactile stimuli such as different flooring and self-protective or aggressive behavior. A dog fails the test if they show unprovoked aggression, panic without recovery, and strong avoidance. Pit bull-type dogs pass this test around 80 percent of the time.

Let’s take a look at the four breeds that often fall under the label pit bull.  

American Pit Bull Terrier

Height: 17 to 21 inches
Weight: 30 to 60 pounds
Life Span: 10 to 15 years

The American Pit Bull Terrier is a bit of a goofball. Confident and playful, these class clowns are intelligent and like to please, so early training will help curb their stubborn streak. Contrary to the urban myth, this breed doesn’t make a good guard dog as they tend to be a little too friendly; they prefer to crawl into your lap for a cuddle.

They love to dig, pull and chew, so provide lots of durable chew toys, and watch your garden or give your pittie his own plot of land where he can dig to his heart’s content. The American Pit Bull Terrier, recognized by the United Kennel Club, is an athletic breed that makes a great jogging or running partner. Many love to swim and retrieve, and they generally excel in dog agility sports.

Though they are usually healthy, like all breeds, they can be prone to certain health conditions including hip dysplasia, hypothyroidism, allergies, and demodectic mange. They are easy to groom and only require a brushing a couple of times a week to reduce shedding.

American Staffordshire Terrier

Height: 17 to 19 inches 
Weight: 50 to 60 pounds
Life Span: 12 to 15 years

The American Staffordshire Terrier is enthusiastically friendly, and will follow his people around because he just loves to be with them. The Staffie is a dedicated lap dog; he will try to wriggle into any tiny space on the bed or couch so he can be in physical contact with his family. This breed tends to be tolerant toward children, but children should always be taught how to be gentle to their dog. With proper socialization and love, the Staffie is a calm, loyal, playful dog.

Like the American Pit Bull Terrier, Staffies like to pull and chew. This breed is also athletic and prefers a job to do. Take him running, jogging or cycling. They also do well in canine sports and agility.

Staffies are generally a healthy breed, but they do have some of the same genetic propensity toward hip dysplasia, hypothyroidism, allergies and demodectic mange, along with a neurologic disease called cerebellar ataxia, and heart disease. They are also easy to groom; just brush a few times a week.

Staffordshire Bull Terrier

Height: 14 to 16 inches at the shoulder
Weight: 24 to 38 pounds
Life Span: 12 to 14 years

The Staffordshire Bull Terrier really loves people, but other dogs (and cats) may be an issue. If he’s raised with other pets, he can learn to get along, but should not be left alone outside the home with other pets unsupervised because of a strong prey drive. This breed is playful, sensitive and loyal. They live to play, go on adventures and love on his people. They also tend to be good with kids, but can be overly enthusiastic around very small children.

Related: Rescued From Euthanasia List, Pit Bull Goes on to Become First Deaf K-9 Dog in Washington

With very strong cheek muscles, this breed is also a chew machine and should be provided with a lot of very strong chew toys. The Staffordshire Bull Terrier likes to help you with whatever you’re doing, so be prepared for him to follow you around. He loves to hike and go on walks, and is good at agility and other sports.

This breed doesn’t do well in hot weather and should be watched carefully so he doesn’t overheat. They generally have good health, but can suffer from hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, patellar luxation, juvenile cataracts and they are prone to skin allergies.

American Bully

Too often people group together a number of breeds under the term pit bull.

Height: 13–20 inches
Weight: 66–88 pounds
Life span: 9-13 years

The American Bully is a fairly new breed appearing in the decade between 1980 to 1990. They are short, squat, muscular meatballs that have been bred as family dogs and despite their sturdy appearance, they are not known to be aggressive. Instead, they are enthusiastic, extremely affectionate and they live to snuggle. They usually do well with children. Some say that that Bully has been bred to be “bite inhibited,” and can be more tolerant of other dogs than the other breeds.

This breed comes in several sizes, from the Pocket Bully to XL Bully. Unlike the other pit bull breeds, the Bully is not considered to be super athletic but does require exercise to temper their abundant energy. They are very intelligent and eager to please, which makes them easy to train.

Related: Photographer Fights Stigma Against Pit Bulls with Adorable Photo Series

Because the Bully is a new breed, there is not as much know about their health. Yet, it has been noted that they are prone to an autoimmune reaction called demodectic mange like the American Pit Bull Terrier.

If you are thinking of getting any of these breeds, consider adopting one. The pit bull-type breeds represent the largest population of dogs in shelters. You will find all ages in rescue, from newborn puppies to seniors.