American Pit Bull Terrier: Dog Breed Characteristics & Care

History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

American pit bull terrier headshot

Jody Trappe Photography/Moment / Getty Images

The American pit bull terrier is a medium-size terrier dog breed native to the United States with a short coat, well-muscled body, and big smile. While there is inaccurate stigma against pit bull-type dogs for being aggressive, American pit bull terriers are generally loyal dogs that love people. However, they don’t always get along with other dogs and might view smaller animals as prey.

Breed Overview

GROUP: Terrier

HEIGHT: 17 to 20 inches (female), 18 to 21 inches (male)

WEIGHT: 30 to 50 pounds (female), 35 to 60 pounds (male)

COAT: Short, smooth

COAT COLOR: Black, white, brindle, fawn, blue, red, brown, tan, gray

LIFE SPAN: 8 to 15 years

TEMPERAMENT: Loyal, affectionate, courageous

HYPOALLERGENIC: No

ORIGIN: United States

Characteristics of the American Pit Bull Terrier

American pit bull terriers generally have a friendly and affectionate personality. They also usually have a very playful temperament and love to engage in games and dog sports with their humans. They also tend to take well to training.

Affection Level High
Friendliness High
Kid-Friendly High
Pet-Friendly Low
Exercise Needs Medium
Playfulness High
Energy Level Medium
Trainability High
Intelligence Medium
Tendency to Bark Medium
Amount of Shedding Medium
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Click Play to Learn More About the Affectionate American Pit Bull

History of the American Pit Bull Terrier

The modern American pit bull terrier can trace its roots back to England in the early 19th century. Breeders crossed bulldogs and terriers to create spirited, courageous, and athletic dogs that were gentle with their family. They became multipurpose working dogs—driving livestock, going on hunts, protecting property, and engaging in other duties. Plus, they were family companions. They also sadly were used for inhumane blood sports, such as bull baiting and dog fighting, which is why they are still unfairly stereotyped as aggressive and even banned in some areas. 

The breed arrived in the United States in the mid-1800s where it was further refined. And in 1898, the United Kennel Club formed with the American pit bull terrier as the first breed on its registry—its founder's own dog.

Throughout the 1900s and to modern day, American pit bull terriers filled many roles in society. Besides being companion dogs, they also can make excellent service and therapy dogs, police and military dogs, search-and-rescue dogs, and more. The American Kennel Club has not yet recognized the breed.

American Pit Bull Terrier Care

American pit bull terriers need sufficient physical activity every day to help prevent problem behaviors from developing. Proper training and socialization also are a must to make your dog a good breed ambassador, as the breed is often wrongfully stereotyped as having poor manners and being unruly. Fortunately, grooming is a fairly easy task for this breed.

Exercise

Because this is an athletic breed, exercise is very important. Provide at least an hour per day of physical activity, such as brisk walks, jogging, hiking, and fetch. Dog sports also can be good mental and physical challenges for an American pit bull terrier. Without a proper outlet for all that energy, a pit bull might become destructive, hyperactive, or develop other behavior problems. Furthermore, these dogs often like to chew and have powerful jaws, so be sure to provide durable chew toys.

Grooming

The short, smooth coat of the American pit bull terrier requires little more than basic grooming. Brush weekly to remove loose fur and distribute skin oils. You might notice an uptick in shedding in the spring and fall as the weather changes. An extra brushing each week can help to keep up with the loose fur.

Baths will be necessary roughly every month, depending on how dirty your dog gets. You also can clean your dog between baths with a damp towel. Check nails monthly to see whether they need a trim. And look in your dog's ears at least weekly for any wax buildup, debris, redness, or other abnormalities. Also, aim to brush your dog's teeth every day.

Training

As with any dog breed, proper training and socialization are a must for an American pit bull terrier. Start as young as possible with your dog. There is extra pressure on this breed to be well-behaved to help quell the negative stereotypes. Animal professionals often recommend that American pit bull terriers complete the Canine Good Citizen certification to learn how to be calm and well-mannered in a variety of situations.

In general, this is a fairly smart and trainable dog breed that responds well to positive training methods. But it can be stubborn if you’re not consistent with your commands. 

It’s also important to expose your dogs to a variety of people and situations in a positive manner to teach it to be comfortable and confident. While some pit bulls can learn to coexist peacefully with other household pets, socialization can be difficult due to the breed’s strong prey drive and history of dog fighting. Always walk your dog on leash, and supervise it around other dogs. These dogs might not start a fight, but they often don’t back down once challenged.

tan pit bull terrier in water
grase / Getty Images

Common Health Problems

American pit bull terriers are generally healthy dogs, but they are prone to some hereditary health conditions, including:

American pit bull terriers as pets illustration

The Spruce / Emilie Dunphy

Diet and Nutrition

Always have fresh water available for your dog. And feed a quality, nutritionally balanced canine diet, typically in two measured meals per day. Discuss the type of diet and the quantity with your vet, as this can vary depending on size, activity level, age, and other factors.

Also, be mindful of treats and other extra food to help prevent overeating. Many American pit bull terriers are food-motivated and will beg and/or perform tricks for a treat. To keep them at an ideal weight, consider setting aside a portion of their daily meals for treats instead of adding extra food. 

Where to Adopt or Buy an American Pit Bull Terrier

American pit bull terriers and other pit bull-type dogs are commonly available at animal shelters. There also are breed-specific rescue groups that deal with pit bull-type dogs. Check with them first to help you find a dog in need of a home. You’ll likely find dogs in a range of ages, appearances, and personalities. Except to pay around $500 to $2,000 for a reputable breeder puppy, though this can vary widely depending on bloodline.

For further information to help connect you with an American pit bull terrier, check out:

American Pit Bull Terrier Overview

Pros
  • Affable and playful

  • Only basic grooming required

  • Can make a good family dog

Cons
  • Doesn't always get along with other dogs

  • Stigma against the breed

  • Banned in certain areas and might impact insurance coverage

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

Before you decide whether the American pit bull terrier is right for you, be sure to do plenty of research. Talk to veterinarians, pit bull owners, reputable breeders, and rescue groups to learn more.

If you’re interested in similar breeds, check out:

There’s a whole world of potential dog breeds out there—with a little research, you can find the right one to bring home!

FAQ
  • Are American pit bull terriers good family dogs?

    With proper training and socialization, American pit bull terriers can be excellent family dogs. The breed tends to be patient and gentle with children.

  • Are American pit bull terriers aggressive?

    Inaccurate stereotypes claim that American pit bull terriers are aggressive. But in fact this breed is generally loving, playful, and friendly around people. However, the breed doesn't always get along easily with other dogs.

  • Are American pit bull terriers good apartment dogs?

    American pit bull terriers can be good in apartments as long as they receive sufficient daily exercise and mental stimulation. Be sure to check apartment regulations, as some do not permit pit bull-type dogs.

Article Sources
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  1. American Pit Bull Terrier Puppies and Dogs. Adopt a Pet.