American Pit Bull Terrier

  • While the breed got a bad rap during the 1980s and 90s, the Pit Bull Terrier was a top choice as a “nanny dog” during the mid 20th century. Their affectionate and loyal natures, along with their sturdiness, made them ideal for families with children.
  • The American Pit Bull Terrier is not officially recognized by the American Kennel Club or Kennel Club (in the United Kingdom) but is a recognized breed of the United Kennel Club. However, the AKC and Kennel Club do recognize the Staffordshire Terrier and American Staffordshire Terrier, which are only different from the Pit Bull in size and particular conformation requirements for the show ring.
  • Many mixed breed dogs are categorized as Pit Bulls, making it confusing as to what is and isn’t an American Pit Bull Terrier.
  • Celebrate Pitties on National Pit Bull Day, held every year in October. The initiative is meant to encourage education and awareness about the breed and has been an annual event since 2007.
  • Bully breeds like the American Pit Bull Terrier were frequently used as symbols of American courage and patriotism during World War I and II. The “All American Pit Bull” was featured on many posters from the time, helping to spread pro-American sentiments.
  • A breed of many names, the American Pit Bull Terrier (and Pit mixes, which can make it confusing) also goes by “Pittie,” “Pibble,” APBT, and “Pits.” Additionally, you’ll see “Pit Bull” referenced as both two words and one, “Pitbull.”

Breed Summary



12 to 14 years



30 - 60 pounds

17 - 21 inches tall


Energy level



Breed Group

Not recognized by the American Kennel Club. Terrier Group (United Kennel Club).

About the Pit Bull Terrier breed


Physical features

  • Stocky, muscular build
  • Broad and blocky head


American Pit Bull Terriers are devoted, loyal, and loving dogs. With their wide goofy grins and frog-legged splooting abilities, they are entertaining and endearing. And their terrier ancestry means they’re ready and willing to work and have a never-give-up attitude.

Similar breeds to Pit Bulls

  • American Staffordshire Terrier
  • Staffordshire Bull Terrier
  • Bulldog
  • Bull Terrier
  • Boxer

History of the American Pitbull Terrier

A descendant of the powerful and massive Molossian dogs of ancient Greek and Roman times, the American Pit Bull Terrier shares much of its history with the terriers and bulldogs developed in England, Scotland, and Ireland. Their predecessors were used as droving dogs that would drive livestock to and from the market, as well as for bull-baiting during slaughter or for “sport” during the 17th and 18th centuries. When this practice was outlawed in England in 1835, many of these dogs found themselves fighting each other in the pit for the entertainment of a crowd.

Having made their way across the ocean, Pit Bull Terriers in the United States were useful working dogs on farms and ranches. The breed wiggled its way into the hearts of many families and was considered a “nanny dog” due to their protective and gentle nature with children. However, their terrier tenacity and physicality meant they were a favorite choice for the wrong crowd, making them a favorite for illegal dog fighting rings.

Breed recognition

The American Kennel Club does not officially recognize the American Pit Bull Terrier, instead adding the American Staffordshire Terrier to their breed list. Due to their exclusion of the breed, an American Pit Bull Terrier owner C.Z. Bennett founded the United Kennel Club in 1898. The first registration in the club was his Pit Bull named “Bennet’s Ring.” The American Dog Breeders Association was formed for the same reason in 1909. The breed has been consistently popular throughout the last century, and this popularity has withstood the myriad of breed bans and restrictions for Pit Bulls and Pit Bull mixes.

American Pit Bull Terrier Behavior and Training

There are many misconceptions about the Pit Bull Terrier breed when it comes to behavior and training. This breed is an absolute pleasure to train due to their eagerness to please and love for their owners. Because the Pit Bull is a strong breed and has been labeled as “aggressive” in the media, it’s best for experienced dog owners who can set them up for success and properly advocate for the breed.

Socialization is incredibly important for this breed, not only because of their tendency towards high prey drive but also because of the public’s quickness to judge the breed overall for any unwanted but natural canine instincts. A Pit Bull needs an owner who is committed to providing positive and proactive exposure to a variety of experiences and maintaining socialization and training throughout their dog’s life.

Training myth vs. fact

Many people describe the breed as needing a firm hand or an owner who asserts dominance. This is 100% false! Punishment or force-based training is not needed. Once a Pit Bull understands what you want, they are eager to please. Their motivation to work for reward is much higher than any motivation to avoid punishment. Punishments, whether verbal or physical, not only damage the relationship between a Pittie and their owner but also tend not to work in the long run. Often, it creates long-term behavioral issues. By focusing on teaching a Pitbull what to do, rather than on reprimanding or otherwise correcting unwanted behaviors, they will be well-behaved and excel in training.

Do Pit Bulls get along with others?

When socialized well as a puppy, Pitbulls are happy to meet new people and go to new places. Proper proactive exposure to new sights, sounds, people, dogs, and other animals as a young puppy is essential for their socialization skills.

Pair meeting new people or animals with high-value training treats or a favorite toy, and keep introductions short and sweet, so it doesn’t get overwhelming.

Pit Bulls and children

This breed can do exceptionally well with children in the home. It’s all about proper and positive exposure to children as a puppy, as well as managing interactions to ensure children are respectfully interacting with the dog. Young children and dogs should always be supervised, and it’s helpful for a dog to have their own “safe space” where they can go when they need some quiet time.

Pit Bulls and other animals

Pit Bulls can enjoy the companionship of other animals in the home, as long as they have been properly socialized as a puppy and introduced. It’s especially important to properly manage a home with other pets when you have a Pittie, as the breed can have high prey drive that causes them to chase other animals (especially cats). However, many Pit Bulls live happily with pets of all kinds.

Exercise needs

Daily exercise, beyond a walk around the block, is crucial to keep the Pit Bull Terrier happy and healthy. They can make great jogging partners or hiking companions. Active play with your Pit Bull is a great way to burn off energy, and they will enjoy a game of fetch, tug, or flirt pole play with you.

Trainer tip

Tug is a great game to play with your Pittie, and, contrary to behavior myths out there, does not necessarily promote aggression or resource guarding in dogs. When played correctly and paired with positive training, tug-o-war can be a beneficial game used for exercise and in training scenarios. However, this game should be avoided if a dog already exhibits aggressive or resource guarding behaviors.

Speak with your veterinarian about appropriate exercise for a Pitbull puppy. Until they are full-grown (bone growth plates typically all close by around 12 to 18 months of age), avoid jogging or running beyond what they would do on their own. This helps minimize the risk of damage to the growing bone and cartilage, which can cause pain and future joint issues.

Mental enrichment

A variety of mental enrichment is essential for a Pit Bull Terrier. They are intelligent and always looking for a challenge. It’s important to keep their focus on acceptable behaviors. Otherwise, they might decide digging up your backyard or chewing a hole in your wall is their best option.

Teach your Pitbull new tricks, attend obedience classes, join a dog sport, and provide lots of dog puzzles and interactive toys. By working out their brain as well as their body, you’ll prevent unwanted puppy behaviors and also help prevent separation anxiety.

Activities for American Pitbull Terriers

American Pitbull Terriers do well in many different activities:

  • Agility
  • Flyball
  • Therapy Work
  • Cart pulling / Weight pulling
  • Earthdog / Barn hunt
  • Service Dog Training
  • Nosework / Tracking
  • Lure coursing

Pit Bull grooming and care

The Pit Bull Terrier has a smooth, short coat and comes in any color except merle. You might hear references to a Pit Bull’s nose color being black, red, or blue. Red-nosed Pits have a red or red-brown nose, while blue-nosed Pitties have a grey or light black nose. If a Pit Bull has a nose with two colors, it’s called a butterfly nose.


American Pit Bull Terriers need weekly brushing to keep any shedding manageable but are overall an easy breed to keep well-groomed. Regular brushing will help keep their skin and coat healthy by distributing natural oils throughout. It’s important to keep a Pit’s nails trimmed, ears clean, and brush their teeth regularly.

It’s always helpful to introduce a Pit Bull puppy to basic grooming experiences when they are young. Make any handling and brushing a positive experience by pairing these things with treats and praise.

Best Brush for an American Pit Bull Terrier: Curry brush, Boar bristle brush, Grooming glove

Pits in pop culture

Famous Owners of the American Pit Bull Terrier

  • Jessica Biel (Actress)
  • Miley Cyrus (Singer)
  • Kaley Cuoco (Actress)
  • Linda Blair (Actress/Pit Bull Advocate)
  • Alicia Silverstone (Actress)
  • Andrew Vachs (Author)
  • Fiona Apple (Singer)
  • Michael J. Fox (Actor)
  • Rachel Bilson (Actress)
  • Ira Glass (NPR Host)

Famous American Pit Bull Terriers

Hulk, the biggest Pit Bull — and possibly the largest dog — in the world

American Pit Bull Terriers in Books, Movies and TV

  • Pete from The Little Rascals
  • Grunt from the movie Flashdance
  • The dog in the Oscar-nominated Pixar short, Kitbull

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