What is a Pitbull?

We couldn’t let this month go by without recognizing that October is National Pit Bull Awareness Month!

So, we thought it might be interesting to provide a little history on this often misunderstood and misrepresented dog. http://www.badrap.org provides an excellent history of the dog; the history below was pulled from their site.

Recent research including DNA has proven that dogs commonly identified as pit bulls are quite often a mix of multiple breeds, so breed identification by appearance alone is now considered to be inaccurate and misleading.

The ‘pit bulls’ you meet may be shelter dogs of indeterminate origin or they may have pedigree as American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, American Pit Bull Terriers (APBT) or more recently, American Bullies. Whichever definition or registry you prefer, fanciers and animal lovers alike can agree that the dogs that fall under this label are as well-loved as they are maligned in this society, with a history that’s as blended as their genetics.

While we puzzle over what a pit bull is, we should all take note that the dogs have been dutifully helping us learn what it means to be human. With unfailing optimism, the dogs that fill our shelters and homes seem to want to remind us that they are what we’ve made them to be, either victims of human cruelty, neglected sentries in lonely yards, or cherished family companions in our homes. Slowly, society is starting to recognize these lessons and accept responsibility for their station in life.

A dog (Olde English Bulldog) that looked much like today’s pit bull was originally used in the 1800’s in the British Isles to ‘bait’ bulls. These matches were held for the entertainment of the struggling classes; a source of relief from the tedium of hardship.

In 1835 bull baiting was deemed inhumane and became illegal, and dog fighting became a popular replacement.


Soon, a new bulldog was created by crossing the Olde English Bulldog with terriers to create smaller, more agile dogs. The best fighters were celebrated for their courage and fortitude during battle. At the same time, bite inhibition towards humans was encouraged through selective breeding so gamblers could handle their dogs during staged fights. Partially because of these early breeding efforts which frowned on “man biters,” pit bulls gained a reputation for their trustworthy nature with humans.

Immigrants brought their dogs across the ocean along with their families and prized possessions. They soon became a fixture in a developing nation.

In early America, the dogs were valued for much more than their fighting abilities. They were entrusted to protect homesteads from predators and worked as vital helpers on family farms. Homesteaders depended on their abilities to help in hunts and as hog catchers (hence, the common title “catch dogs”). They were constant companions to the young children who were entrusted in their care. Pit bulls earned their place as an important part of the fabric of a developing nation.

As cities sprung up, Pit Bulls remained a prominent part of the American culture. The USA admired this breed for qualities that it likened in itself; friendly, brave, hardworking, worthy of respect. Pit Bulls were thought of less as pit fighters and more as ‘regular dogs’. They show up in hundreds of turn of the century photos, flanked by loving family members. Early advertisements, posters, and magazines began to use the image of the All American Dog, including Buster Brown, whose companion was a Pit Bull.

Because the earliest breeders were going for speed, stamina and attitude rather than looks, the general appearance of the purebreds can vary greatly. They can range between 25 and 75 pounds. The earlier ‘classic’ APBTs were on the small side – an advantage which afforded them speed and agility in the fighting pits. As the pitdogs made their way to the working farms of America, larger characteristics were encouraged in breeding. In recent years, appearance and conformations vary so widely that it’s hard to recognize the ‘old world’ pit bull anymore in the ‘new world’ creations. A good reminder why DNA analysis keeps coming back with mixed breed results for so many dogs considered to be ‘pit bulls.’

Pit bulls are beautiful in their variety, but their most appealing features are their inner qualities. Strength, confidence, a sense of humor and a zest for life are all hallmarks of the breed. They also tend to be sensitive and get their feelings hurt easily. Properly socialized dogs are quite affectionate and friendly, even with strangers, and therefore do not make good guard dogs. They’re intelligent and eager to please and tend to remain playful throughout their lives. While some can be low key ‘couch potatoes,’ many others need a job to channel their enthusiasm and energy. They excel in dog sports, search and rescue work, drug and bomb detection work, and as therapy dogs. Severe shyness, fearfulness or human-directed aggression is not characteristic of the breed and highly undesirable in any dog.

Before the end of the 1800’s, the dogs we think of as ‘Pit Bulls’ were typically called bulldogs – a name that’s still used by many breed enthusiasts. In 1898, Chauncy Z. Bennet founded the United Kennel Club (UKC) and re-named the bulldogs ‘American Pit Bull Terriers’. This move gave legitimacy to the breed and provided a framework for breed standardization. Then, in the 1930’s a group petitioned the Amercian Kennel Club (AKC) to allow pit bulls to be shown in the conformation ring. To separate the dog from its reputation as a pit fighter, they were given the new title ‘Staffordshire Terrier’ which was later changed to ‘Amercian Staffordshire Terrier’ to avoid confusion with the English Staffordshire Terrier. Right: The original ‘Pete the Pup’ from Our Gang fame was one of the first to be duo-registerd as a UKC American Pit Bull Terrier and an AKC American Stafforshire Terrier.

The American Staffordshire Terriers have been developed since that time for conformation, while the APBTs have been developed for working drive, in addition to conformation. The two styles are basically mirror images of each other, with slight differences in build and character that have started to show over the past 65 years. To make matters even more confusing, some AmStaffs are dual registered as both UKC APBTs and AKC AmStaffs, while APBTs cannot be registered with both organizations. Depending on who you talk to, AmStaffs and APBTs can be the exact same breed, or completely separate breeds.

In 1909, Guy McCord founded an organization titled ADBA (American Dog Breeders Association). This was created exclusively for APBTs and continues to be the lead registry for this breed. In 1976, the ADBA outlined its own breed standard, or, Basis of Conformation. In 1990, a new registry called ABKC was formed to promote ‘American Bully’ dogs – a new breeding style of thick, bulldoggy looking dogs that are said to have English Bulldog in their background as well as other breeds.

While large numbers of pit bull type dogs in this country live out their lives as cherished family companions, many not so fortunate suffer from man-made shortcomings, including unspeakable cruelties, the socio-economic pressures of under-resourced owners, and the relentless biases and discrimination of an ill-informed public. The All American dog began to be exploited through dog fighting in greater numbers in the eighties and were soon associated with poverty, ‘urban thugs’ and crime, myths and untruths. This set the stage for breed specific laws (BSL), which cropped up in select places as the dogs began to be used as a political platform by opportunistic politicians.


Despite the societal pressures many of the dogs and their owners endure, one thing rings true: The canine hero who was admired by this country’s earliest citizens continues to show itself in the faces of the overwhelming majority of pit bulls in our homes and even most of our shelters. The animal that was once courageous enough to grab a bull by the nose or save human lives on a WWI battlefield, now utilizes that same bravado to accomplish modern day feats — including surviving conditions that would drive most humans to madness.

So, what can you expect if you are interested in adopting a pit bull?  Well, just like people, each dog is an individual! Most are very loving and great with people; some are not so great with other dogs, and should live in a single dog household. Most do great in apartments and condos. Most aren’t big barkers and make great neighbors! Most are great to cuddle up with on the couch on a chilly night with some popcorn and a good movie!

Dawg Squad has several pit bulls just waiting for their perfect home! Dumpling, Bubbles, Bayou, and Mumbles would love to meet you!

And please join us at Unleashed by Petco in Ladera Center this Saturday from 11:00 – 3:00 as we celebrate Halloween! A costume parade is planned and should be great fun! Hope to see you there!

And, HAPPY PIT BULL AWARENESS MONTH!

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