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Honest FAQ for American Pit Bull Terriers (2022)

By Michele Welton, Dog Trainer, Behavioral Consultant, Author of 15 Dog Books

American Pit Bull Terrier

The responsibilities associated with owning this breed in society today must be taken seriously. If you acquire a genetically unstable Pit Bull Terrier from an irresponsible breeder, or if you raise and train your dog improperly, the results can be devastating.

What kind of temperament and personality does the Pit Bull Terrier have?

The most descriptive words that come to my mind regarding Pit Bull Terrier temperament and behavior are:

powerful, vigorous, athletic, strong-willed, dog-aggressive

I give you my honest opinions about Pit Bull Terrier temperament and personality traits and characteristics – positives AND negatives – in my dog breed review, Pit Bull Terrier Temperament and Personality Traits (What's Good About 'Em, What's Bad About 'Em).

Where did the name American Pit Bull Terrier come from?

"Pit terriers" were developed in England by crossing old-style bulldogs with tough working terriers. Pit terriers fought other animals in a pit that kept the animals confined and attacking each other until one was dead. After being brought to the US, the name American Pit Bull Terrier  was attached.

What were Pit Bull Terriers used for?

Fighting other dogs. Sometimes hunting game animals such as wild boar.

What traits would help Pit Bull Terriers accomplish their work? That's right... powerful drives to confront and kill other animals, great strength, endurance, athleticism, courage and tenacity, and high tolerance for pain.

How big are Pit Bull Terriers? Height and weight?

About 18-22 inches at the shoulder, and 40-80 pounds, which puts them in the MEDIUM category. However, the most heavily-muscled individuals seem more like LARGE dogs. In fact, some breeders deliberately produce oversized Pit Bulls. In my opinion, this practice emphasizes excessive weight at the expense of athleticism and sound structure.

What colors do Pit Bull Terriers come in?

Loads of colors and patterns, including brindle, red, blue/gray, white with colored patches, and others.

Do Pit Bull Terriers come in different "types"?

Yes. Some breeders focus on American Pit Bull Terriers for exhibition in the dog show (conformation) ring. These dogs tend to be the most mellow and the most uniform in appearance.

Other breeders focus more on performance/working abilities: weight pulling, flyball, agility, dock diving, protection dog sports, narcotics/explosives detection, or Search & Rescue. These Pit Bull Terriers vary wildly in size and shape, but are typically more athletic and high-energy. Don't think they'd be content just going for a walk and then sitting around doing nothing! That's just asking for trouble.

Then there is the "type" of Pit Bull that garners all the headlines – the ones with unstable genes from an irrresponsible breeder who does nothing good with his dogs. These are the Pit Bulls we should all be trying to avoid.

How much exercise do Pit Bull Terriers need?

Those from show lines need moderate exercise: long brisk walks, a decent yard to romp in, along with active games of fetch and tug. Pit Bulls from performance lines want more vigorous exercise and more challenging activities such as those I listed in the Q & A above.

If you don't provide enough exercise and mental stimulation, a Pit Bull Terrier, especially an adolescent or young adult, might vent his pent-up energy by destroying your house and yard.

Do Pit Bull Terriers need a fenced yard?

Absolutely. Preferably with a high solid fence. Why? and best and worst fences.

Are Pit Bull Terriers easy to train?

Yes and no. If you are an assertive person who can establish a healthy leader-follower relationship, an American Pit Bull Terrier can learn almost anything.

But if you're just a casual, live-and-let-live kind of person who thinks Pit Bulls are totally harmless or misunderstood.... well, that's exactly the attitude that results in a headstrong Pit Bull running amok. This breed is neither harmless nor misunderstood. It can kill other animals and people. If you recognize all this and are determined to take charge and do everything you can so that YOUR Pit Bull Terrier is well-trained and safe around others, excellent!

Are Pit Bull Terriers easy to housebreak?

They're about average, no real problems.

Are Pit Bull Terriers friendly with people?

Many Pit Bulls are friendly and good-natured with everyone. Others are very loyal to their own family, and a bit standoffish (though still polite) with strangers.

Are Pit Bull Terriers good watchdogs? Well-bred individuals will bark a warning, but shouldn't be threatening to dismember someone who is simply knocking at the door or walking along the sidewalk!

Some Pit Bulls, especially those from working lines, have protective instincts. But without actual protection training,  they are not effective protectors. But they're fantastic deterrents... as long as you stay in charge and immediately stop any unwarranted aggression.

You might be wondering, "But what about those Pit Bull Terriers who attack people?"

Pit Bull "defenders" declare,"There are no bad dogs – only bad owners."

Is that true? No. I'm defining "bad" as meaning a dog is potential threat to people. So there are indeed bad Pit Bulls, as well as bad Pit Bull crosses and mixes. Pit Bull Terriers who inherit unstable genes can be dangerously aggressive with people. Not always, of course, but often enough... and sometimes right out of the blue.

Now, I agree that NONE of those dogs asked  to be born with defective genes, or raised by irresponsible breeders or idiot owners. Nonetheless, it happened, and as sorry we might feel for the dog, the RESULT is that now this particular dog is a potential threat to others. In other words, bad.

Are Pit Bull Terriers good with children?

American Pit Bull Terriers from responsible, conformation-focused or performance-focused breeders are usually very tolerant with children.

And yet... I don't recommend Pit Bulls for children younger than about age 10. This is a very strong, vigorous breed that could knock over a smaller child. In addition, all of the bulldog breeds can have issues of resource guarding, which means being possessive of their food and chew toys. I don't allow children (or other pets) near a Pit Bull who is engrossed in his food or bones.

Are Pit Bull Terriers good with other dogs?

You've probably seen photos of Pit Bull Terriers living happily with other pets: dogs, cats, ferrets, parrots. In some photos, a Pit Bull rescued from a dog-fighting raid, or scooped from off the streets, is sleeping peacefully with six other dogs and the family cat.

Of course those situations happen. But we don't see what might have happened when the camera turned off. If that same Pit Bull goes on to kill one of those other pets, or even the dog next door, we'll not be told that this was the same dog whose pics showed how peaceful he was with other animals.

Pit Bull Terriers were developed to kill other dogs. "Developed" means that breeders carefully selected, with each generation, the most dog-aggressive, most pain-tolerant dogs to breed together. Selective breeding is how genes  become established in a breed. Once established, most Pit Bulls inherit those genes. Whether or not any given Pit Bull ever "gets triggered" into expressing those genes is unknown.

If you do decide to keep a Pit Bull Terrier with other dogs, I would recommend that those dogs be NON-APBTs and have peaceful and submissive,  personalities.

Are Pit Bull Terriers good with cats?

Very iffy. Some Pit Bull Terriers are fine with cats. Other Pit Bulls are predatory (and serious about it).

How much do Pit Bull Terriers shed?

Pit Bull Terriers are average shedders, which might surprise you if you thought shorthaired breeds shed less. Not true at all. American Pit Bull Terriers actually shed more than you might think, and those short coarse hairs can stick tenaciously to your clothing and furnishings.

Are Pit Bull Terriers hypoallergenic? Good for people with allergies?

If you're allergic to dog dander, no. If you're allergic to canine saliva, no. Pit Bull Terriers are not hypoallergenic dogs.

How much grooming do Pit Bull Terriers need?

Just an occasional quick brush to sweep the dirt, dander, and loose hair off your dog's skin.

What's a good training schedule for training Pit Bull Terrier puppies?

Here's the puppy training schedule I use for Pit Bull Terriers: Puppy Training Schedule.

What behavior problems do Pit Bull Terriers tend to have?

American Pit Bull Terrier puppies and teenagers can be boisterous. They may drag you around on the leash, jump on people, and also chew destructively if you make the mistake of leaving them alone and loose in the house, instead of properly crated/penned.

Once through the difficult adolescent period, as long as you've established the right leader-follower relationship and you're providing sufficient exercise and companionship, Pit Bull Terriers don't misbehave much. Their adult behavior issues center around dominance or aggression, usually toward other dogs.

What health problems might Pit Bull Terriers have?

Loose hip and elbow joints lead to lameness and crippling arthritic pain. Hypothyroidism may require a daily thyroid supplement. Skin problems are very common in American Pit Bull Terriers.

What breeds are similar to the Pit Bull Terrier?

  • The American Staffordshire Terrier shares the same history as the American Pit Bull Terrier, until the 1930s when the breeds separated. Overall as a breed, the AST is the more consistent and stable of the two.
  • The Staffordshire Bull Terrier is smaller than a Pit Bull, yet has a higher energy level and wants to go-go-go.
  • The American Bulldog has some dogfighting in his heritage, but today is more focused on big-game hunting, weight-pulling, and protection dog sports.

Where can I buy an Pit Bull Terrier puppy?

First I can tell you where you shouldn't  buy from. The riskiest place to get a Pit Bull puppy is from a pet shop, or from a breeder who doesn't compete with his dogs in anything,  whether it be the conformation ring or performance activities. This same breeder also doesn't X-ray his dogs' hips before breeding them, even though hip dysplasia is a serious issue in the breed.

So where should you buy? I stick with APBT pups from breeders who show their dogs in conformation, work them in performance activities,. and can show me official OFA or PennHip certificates of their dogs' hip health.

Read this article.

Where can I adopt an older Pit Bull Terrier?

I am a strong advocate of adopting dogs from Rescue groups. But with this breed, I personally wouldn't do that. I would too concerned about the dog having inherited unstable genes.

Adopting from the pound or animal shelter is even riskier, as you have no idea what that dog might turn out to be like, and the consequences of making a mistake concern me too much. Some shelters won't even offer Pit Bulls for adoption anymore because of concerns about legal liability.

Rescue groups have at least been fostering their Pit Bulls in normal homes, so they have a better idea what the dog might be like in a family setting. Still too risky for my taste, but you might be willing to do it.

So... rescue group or humane society/shelter? Read my article.

I just got a new Pit Bull Terrier. Which pages should I read first?

  • Pit Bull Terrier Health, which includes my advice on feeding, vaccinations, and daily health care. These pages are very important, because if you start your Pit Bull Terrier puppy off on the wrong foot, he will probably experience health problems later on. Starting off right is essential.
  • Training Pit Bull Terriers, which includes my advice on respect training, housebreaking, and socialization. Again, you must start your Pit Bull Terrier puppy off on the right foot by teaching him what he needs to know, and you must avoid doing the wrong things with him so that he doesn't develop bad habits that will be much harder to fix later on.

Do male dogs or female dogs make better pets?

Ah, let the debate begin! Honestly, male Pit Bull Terriers have pros and cons, and female Pit Bull Terriers have pros and cons. Visit Male Dogs versus Female Dogs

There's an adorable Pit Bull Terrier puppy at the pet shop. The store manager assures me they only buy from responsible breeders. Could this be true?

No responsible Pit Bull Terrier breeder would ever place one of their Pit Bull Terrier puppies in a pet shop for resale. To find out more about pet shop puppies, visit Pet Shop Puppies: Buying a Puppy From a Pet Store.

How do I pick the best American Pit Bull Terrier puppy from a litter?

You can do puppy personality tests. Visit How To Choose a Good Puppy.

What's the best dog food for Pit Bull Terriers?

3 Best Ways To Feed Your Dog Healthy Food.

I have to take my Pit Bull Terrier to the vet soon for shots. Which vaccinations does he really need?

The schedule of vaccinations that dogs really need has changed dramatically – but unfortunately most vets are not telling you this, because a good chunk of their income depends on frequent vaccinations. Please don't get any more shots for your Pit Bull Terrier until you've read my article on Puppy Shots and Dog Vaccinations.

What are the pros and cons of spaying and neutering my Pit Bull Terrier, and when should it be done?

Spaying and neutering are often recommended too early, which can lead to health problems later in life. Visit Spaying Your Female Dog or Neutering Your Male Dog for the straight scoop on the safest (and riskiest) times to spay or neuter.

I have a question about Pit Bull Terriers that I don't see answered on your web site.

It's probably answered in one of my books:

Michele Welton with BuffyAbout the author: Michele Welton has over 40 years of experience as a Dog Trainer, Dog Breed Consultant, and founder of three Dog Training Centers. An expert researcher and author of 15 books about dogs, she loves helping people choose, train, and care for their dogs.

To help you train and care for your dog

dog training videos Dog training videos. Sometimes it's easier to train your puppy (or adult dog) when you can see the correct training techniques in action.

The problem is that most dog training videos on the internet are worthless, because they use the wrong training method. I recommend these dog training videos that are based on respect and leadership.

book coverRespect Training For Puppies: 30 seconds to a calm, polite, well-behaved puppy. For puppies 2 to 18 months old. Your puppy will learn the 21 skills that all family dogs need to know.
If your dog is over 18 months, you'll want book coverRespect Training For Adult Dogs: 30 seconds to a calm, polite, well-behaved dog. Again your dog will learn the 21 skills that all family dogs need to know.
book coverTeach Your Dog 100 English Words is a unique Vocabulary and Respect Training Program that will teach your adult dog to listen to you and do what you say.
book cover11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy helps your dog live a longer, healthier life.
book coverDog Quest: Find The Dog Of Your Dreams will help you find a good-tempered, healthy family companion.