The Pit Bull is, without a doubt, the most misunderstood dog breed. In fact, one of the most misunderstood things about it is that it’s not really a dog breed at all. Pit Bull is actually a general term that means different things to different people. To some, it’s simply a synonym for the American Pit Bull Terrier. To others, it refers to a group of breeds that includes the American Pit Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier, and possibly other similar-looking dogs.
See, you can’t even begin to talk about Pit Bulls without running into some confusion. No wonder there’s so much myth and misinformation swirling around them. To help you look past the noise and learn the truth about Pit Bulls, we’ve assembled this beefy collection of fun and interesting facts.
Origins and History
Pit bulls pre-date the United States – they were bred in England and were brought to America by the settlers.
These dogs were bred to fight other dogs and animals, combining the strength of the English Bulldog with the gameness (fearless nature) of a terrier.
Even in the early days, aggressiveness toward humans was an undesirable trait for these dogs, as human handlers often had to be in the fighting ring with them.
Pit Bulls were often used in bear baiting, a blood sport in which bears were publicly tortured for the “entertainment” of onlookers.
After bear baiting was outlawed in England, the sport of ratting became popular. A pit was filled with rats and dogs competed to see who could kill all of them in the shortest time. Some believe that this is where the pit in Pit Bull comes from.
In the old days, Pit Bulls found many uses on farms, from hunting, to protection, to helping with livestock.
Pit Bulls were popular mascots in early 20th Century America, appearing often on Army recruitment posters and other advertisements.
Pit Bulls were considered to be so trustworthy with children that they were known as nursemaids or nanny dogs.
Pit Bulls were on the cover of Life Magazine three times – more than any other dog.
In addition to the American Pit Bull Terrier and American Staffordshire Terrier, other breeds sometimes identified as Pit Bulls include the Bull Terrier, Dogo Argentino, Japenese Tosa, Dogue de Bordeaux, and the Bulldog.
While it’s tough to estimate dog breed numbers, it’s believed that there are at least two million Pit Bulls in the United States.
Pit Bull puppies often have wrinkly foreheads. As the dog grows, the skin stretches out and becomes smooth.
Both the American Pit Bull Terrier and the American Staffordshire Terrier score exceptionally well on the test run by the American Temperament Test Society, beating out Miniature Schnauzers and many other terrier breeds.
Due to their athletic builds, Pit Bulls are some of the best fence-climbers in the dog world. Something to keep in mind if you need to confine one of these notorious escape artists.
Some people claim that Pit Bulls do not feel pain. This is patently false. However, all dogs are capable of blocking out pain – especially when they’re focused intently on something.
Despite their reputation, Pit Bulls aren’t considered great guard dogs by those in the know. They’re too trusting of humans, and may greet an intruder as a new friend.
Blue Nose Pit Bulls are popular due to their distinctive blue/gray coloration – however, they’re not actually a separate breed.
While not a recognized breed, the Razor Edge or Razor’s Edge Pit Bull is highly sought after for its unique (bulky) appearance and gentle nature. Razor Edge puppies often sell for thousands of dollars.
The claim that Pit Bulls have special “locking jaws” is a myth (they’re just really really strong).
Famous Pit Bulls
Sallie the Pit Bull stood guard over dead and wounded Union soldiers at the Battle of Gettysburg. She is immortalized in a Civil War monument in Pennsylvania.
When Horatio Nelson Jackson and Sewall K. Crocker made the first cross-country drive in 1903, they brought along a Pit Bull named Bud. Like most dogs, he loved the ride.
The most decorated dog of World War I was a Pit Bull named Sergeant Stubby. In between his 17 battles on the Western Front, the legendary pooch helped comfort wounded soldiers.
Petey, the dog from The Little Rascals, was a Pit Bull.
Theodore Roosevelt owned a Pit Bull named Pete.
The iconic RCA mascot Nipper was probably at least part Pit Bull.
Modern day celebrity Pit Bull owners include Jessica Biel, Alicia Silverstone, Linda Blair, Jessica Alba, Jamie Foxx, Rachael Ray, and Dr. Phil.
Helen Keller owned a Pit Bull named Stubby. While many Pit Bulls are used as service and therapy dogs, Stubby was purely a companion.
There are not one, but two reality TV shows specifically featuring Pit Bulls – Pit Bulls and Parolees and Pit Boss.
The Pit Bull Controversy
As a result of their breeding, Pit Bulls have a tendency to be aggressive toward other dogs – even if they act like perfect angels around humans. Experts recommend lots of socialization with other dogs when they’re still puppies.
Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) isn’t really all that, well, specific. It invariably focuses on the Pit Bull, which is a slippery subject for reasons mentioned earlier in this article. It also often targets “Pit Bull-type” breeds and crossbreeds.
Pit Bulls don’t always growl or display aggressive body language before attacking. They are also more likely than other breeds to attack a dog that has rolled over in submission. In other words, a lot of canine behaviors that are intended to avoid deadly conflicts between members of the species have been bred out of them.
Pit Bulls routinely top lists of breeds involved in dog bites and fatalities. However, because the dogs have become so popular with people who want a vicious dog, you shouldn’t read too much into these statistics.
Once known as America’s Dog, the Pit Bull could now be called Amerca’s Most Abused Dog. Not only are they tortured in dog fighting rings, but they’re also frequently chained up outside and neglected by lowlifes who want nothing more than a scary looking guard dog.
Contrary to everything you’ve read, Pit Bulls don’t bite especially hard. In a test of the bite force of three breeds conducted by National Geographic in 2008, Pit Bulls came in last – behind German Shepherds and Rottweilers.
Despite how long Pit Bulls have been around, stories of Pit Bull attacks didn’t begin to pick up steam until the 1980s. This happens to coincide with the reemergence of dog fighting in the United States.
Pit Bulls have been banned in England and Wales since 1991.
There have been various attempts to rename Pit Bulls to something that doesn’t carry negative connotations. However, no other name has caught on to any significant extent.
Pit Bulls are outlawed in many American cities, forbidden in many apartment complexes that otherwise allow dogs, and may raise your homeowner’s insurance. Before getting a Pittie, consider whether your current and future circumstances will allow you to keep it.
At any given time, there’s always a media scare about a particular dog breed. Before Pit Bulls, German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers, and even Bloodhounds had their turn.
Of the 51 dogs seized from Michael Vick’s dog-fighting ring in 2007, over 30 of them have been rehabilitated and gone on to loving homes. Four of them have even become therapy dogs.