The term "pit bull" is not a breed. Historically, it was an informal and slang term that was used to describe any dog that was used for the cruel sport of "bull baiting" (using dogs to seize tethered animals such as bulls within an enclosed area called a "pit"). While many different breeds were used for this sport, dogs that resemble today's bully breeds were commonly used - it was not an activity limited to today's "pitbull-type" breeds. Furthermore, baiting is not an inherent trait for any breed, it is an activity that must be taught and honed (no different than teaching a dog to sit or fetch). Today, the term "pit bull" is a generic term used to describe a type (or category) of dog based only on its physical appearance (not on genetics or lineage) - just like a German Shepherd is one breed of many unique "shepherds" or "shepherd-type" breeds. The American Pit Bull Terrier is the only formal breed with the term "pit bull" in its name, but it is only one of several breeds that make up the pitbull-type category. Below, we provide a short summary of the history of pitbull-type dogs and list the four AKC/UKC breeds that are widely recognized as pitbull-type breeds.
The history of pitbull-type dogs:
Pitbull-type dogs are a crossbreed between a bulldog and a terrier originally bred in England in the early 19th century (then called "Bull and Terriers") to be working dogs on farms to herd, protect, and manage livestock. While their early history is complex and includes herding cattle and protecting homesteads, it also unfortunately includes the cruel sports of "bull baiting" and dog fighting. However, these "sports" were not specific to today's pitbull-type breeds - many different breeds were subjected to these activities which are now illegal almost everywhere. During the 20th century, pitbull-type dogs quickly became one of America's most popular family dogs to the extent that they became national mascots and were used on recruitment posters for World Wars 1 & 2 and were called "America's dog". More recently, their popularity has continued to grow to an estimated 20% of the total dog population in the U.S. (all pitbull-type breeds and mixes combined) and are successful as service dogs, as therapy dogs, as K9 police dogs, as family pets, and consistently achieve excellent temperament scores.
The 4 AKC/UKC breeds that are widely recognized as the "pitbull-type" breeds:
The American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT) is the tallest and most athletic of the four pitbull-type breeds. The American Staffordshire Terrier is slightly shorter and stockier than the APBT. The Staffordshire Bull Terrier is easily the smallest of the four. The American Bully is the most unique of the group as it is the most stout and resembles the classic Bulldog breed. Our Breeds & Pictures page has more pictures and information about the pitbull-type breeds.
Blog & News
Insight, news, and analysis on issues and topics relevant to pitbull-type dogs.