The American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT), along with American Staffordshire Terrier and Staffordshire Bull Terrier comprise a group of dogs often referred to as Bully breeds; collectively and generically this group is most often referred to as Pit Bulls. Although the vast majority of American Staffordshire Terrier and Staffordshire Bull Terrier breeders disfavor the term, it is the result of the conflict surrounding the relationship between the three breeds, with some saying that they are completely separate breeds, and others saying that are merely different varieties of the same breed, e.g., Longhaired vs. Shorthaired Chihuahua.
The American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT) is a medium-sized, solidly built, short haired dog whose early ancestors came from England and Ireland. It is a member of the molosser breed group. Once very standardized, breeders of the American Pit Bull Terrier have created countless distinct varieties of the dog, and the breed is now incredibly variable in appearance. The American Staffordshire Terrier and American Pit Bull Terrier are also known as American Terriers, Yankee Terriers, Rebel Terriers, Pits, AmStaffs, APBT’s, and American Dogs. Currently twelve countries in Europe, Australia, Canada Ecuador, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, Singapore, and Venezuela have enacted some form of breed-specific legislation against pit bull-type dogs, including American Pit Bull Terriers. The laws range from outright bans to restrictions and conditions on ownership such as mandatory desexing, or requiring dogs be muzzled in public.
This breed is so closely related to the other types that comprise the Bully breed group, please see the history section of the article about Bully breeds for more information about the creation of the American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT) and its relationship to the other members of the group.
It is virtually impossible to make any generalizations about the appearance of the American Pit Bull Terrier because it has become one of the most variable in appearance of all dog breeds. This is the result of a combination of three factors. One is the fact that there are dozens of American Pit Bull Terrier registries, many of which promulgate their own standards. Another is the fact that this breed has been bred for several different primary working purposes for over a century. The final is the fact that many thousands of uneducated and inexperienced breeders breed dogs that suit their own personal fancy rather than any strict standard. For this article, the focus will be on the UKC standard, which was both the first American Pit Bull Terrier registry and remains the largest. The UKC puts a tremendous emphasis on working ability, especially for American Pit Bull Terriers, and heavily penalizes any exaggerated feature which would harm working ability. In general, the American Pit Bull Terrier is the most Bulldog-like of the three breeds (Bulldog here either meaning the American Bulldog or the English Bulldog of the 19th Century). Many fanciers claim that there are distinct varieties of American Pit Bull Terrier, and some even claim that there are multiple breeds. However, not major canine registry recognizes these distinctions.
The American Pit Bull Terrier is on average the largest of the three bully breeds. The UKC calls for an ideal weight of 35 to 60 pounds for males and 30 to 50 pounds for females. However, dogs bred for hunting and farm work are generally between 40 and 75 pounds. The UKC does not criticize weight in this breed unless it results in disproportionate dogs or those which are excessively massive. Some breeders greatly prefer the larger dogs (and often cross their Pit Bulls with other breeds) and have created American Pit Bull Terriers which weigh in excess of 120 pounds, as well as generally increasing the average size of this breed. The ideal American Pit Bull Terrier is very powerfully built and extremely muscular, but should also be quite athletic. Depending on the job they were bred for, some American Pit Bull Terriers are rather thin, while others are quite tank-like. Almost all breed members are noticeably longer than they are tall, a trait which is more pronounced in the females. The tail of the American Pit Bull Terrier is of medium length, and is generally carried straight out from the back sometimes slightly upraised. Although it is not an especially common practice, many owners dock the tails of their dogs to a very short length.
The head is the most important characteristic of this breed. The ideal head should be large, but not disproportionately so. This dog commonly has a flat or slightly rounded head that is extremely well-muscled to the point of being chiseled. The head and muzzle, which are relatively distinct from each other, form a blunt wedge. The muzzle itself is ideally 50% shorter than the head, but is quite wide and deep. The teeth of this breed are said to be exceptionally large, but that is not always the case. The American Pit Bull Terrier does not have wrinkles when at rest, but does when either at attention or “smiling.” The eyes of this breed are of medium size, and can be found in any color except blue, which almost all registries consider a serious fault. The nose of this dog is colored according to the coat, and is one of the most variable of all breeds. Most breed members have natural ears, which should be small, somewhat narrow, and folded. Many owners choose to have the ears of their dogs either pricked straight upright in the manner of a Doberman Pinscher or very close to the head in the manner of a Neapolitan Mastiff. These are just the ideal UKC standards. Many breeders have focused on the largest heads and muzzles, resulting in dogs with grossly disproportionate features.
The one thing that essentially all American Pit Bull Terriers have in common is their coat. This dog has a short coat that is glossy, smooth, and somewhat stiff to the touch. This dog is probably more variable in terms of color and pattern than any other breed, and every single one is equally acceptable except for merle, although such dogs are born on occasion. Many fanciers claim that there are distinct color varieties of this breed. By far the two most common are the so – called Rednose and Bluenose Pits. Rednose Pits are breed members with predominantly reddish brown coats and reddish brown noses. Bluenose Pits are breed members with predominantly bluish grey coats and bluish grey noses.
All three of these dogs are among the easiest to groom. Their coats never require professional grooming, only an occasional brushing. These dogs do shed, although the amount varies from dog to dog. Some are only average shedders who will leave some hair but not an excessive amount while others, especially some American Pit Bull Terriers, shed almost constantly.
The American Staffordshire Terrier and the American Pit Bull Terrier are regarded as being among the healthiest of all pure-bred dogs. Similar to the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, they have strongly benefitted from being bred primarily for working ability and from a gene pool that is larger than perhaps any other breed of dog. These dogs are definitely not immune from genetically inherited conditions, but do suffer from fewer of them and lower rates than many other breeds. These dogs are among the longest lived of any breed of this size, with a life expectancy of between 12 and 16 years. Much like the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, the pain tolerance of these dogs requires owners to be extra-vigilant in order to catch illness or injury before they become severe. Also like the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, it is highly recommended that owners get their dogs tested by the OFA and CERF, especially if they intend to breed.
The two most common health problems experienced by these breeds are hip dysplasia and demodicosis, better known as demodectic or demodex mange. Hip dysplasia is caused by a malformation of the hip joint. This causes the bones to connect to each other improperly. Over time, the result is discomfort, pain, difficulty walking, and in extreme cases even lameness. There is no universally accepted cure for hip dysplasia, but some possibilities are being experimented with. Although the disease is genetic, the timing and severity of symptoms can be influenced by environmental factors. Demodicosis is caused by a species of mite that is present on the skin of almost all dogs. The mite transfers from the mother dog to her puppies while she is nursing. These mites cause no problems at all for the vast majority of dogs, but cause an autoimmune reaction in others. This reaction causes the hair loss commonly known as mange. Demodicosis can impact either a very small patch of skin or the entire dog, depending on its severity. There are a multitude of treatment options available, although some cases require no treatment at all.
A full list of health problems experienced by American Staffordshire Terriers and American Pit Bull Terriers would have to include: