What Is a Pit Bull?

A pit bull smiles for the camera

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"Pit bull" is often used as a blanket term for dogs that resemble the American pit bull terrier or the American Staffordshire terrier. Officially, there is no such thing as a purebred pit bull, though the name is used as shorthand for the purebred American pit bull terrier.

Sadly, the term "pit bull" also has become associated with dogfighting and aggressive behavior throughout the years. Many times, this prejudice falls upon the entire category of dogs referred to as "bully breeds." The following are considered bully breeds:

Bully breeds share common ancestors, which is why they have many similar traits. They descend from dogs that were historically used in bull-baiting, dogfighting, and other inhumane bloodsports. Over time, people employed selective breeding to create distinct breeds. And there were crosses among the breeds, which resulted in mixed breed pit bull-type dogs.

These dogs generally still possess the strength, courage, and tenacity of their ancestors. However, over the years breeders have specifically bred for sweeter and more companionable temperaments, along with different appearances.

Are Pit Bulls Dangerous?

When asking whether pit bull-type dogs are dangerous, one must first remember that any breed of dog can be dangerous. To understand what can make a dog aggressive, consider the following factors:

  • A dog that was deliberately bred from a line of aggressive dogs is more likely to have natural aggressive tendencies.
  • A dog that is never properly socialized is more likely to be aggressive.
  • A dog allowed to roam free or left chained up and alone is more likely to develop aggression.
  • Intact male dogs are more likely to show aggression toward other dogs.

Unfortunately, pit bull-type dogs are sometimes preferred by irresponsible people who wish to use them for profit (illegal fighting), as guard dogs, or even to "toughen up" their own images. Many were bred for aggression and don't receive proper training or socialization. Any such ill-mannered dog can pose a danger. Pit bulls just have more stigma surrounding them due to their association with dogfighting, as well as their natural strength.

Should Pit Bulls Be Banned?

Most supporters of breed-specific legislation hope to see all pit bull-type breeds banned. But opponents feel that the banning of breeds won't correct the problem. Opponents of BSL feel that the banning of breeds will not correct the problem. Instead, they argue that unscrupulous people will still find a way to get the dogs or will simply move on to a new breed/type of dog. They feel the solution lies in the prosecution of bad owners as well as educating the public.

Most pit bull-type dogs with responsible owners are not dangerous. In fact, many are affectionate companions and can even be good family dogs. They also can make for excellent service and therapy dogs.

If you're interested in adopting a dog with an unknown history (regardless of whether it is a pit bull-type dog), the dog should have temperament testing done first. Professional dog trainers and behaviorists can help you work through issues using positive training methods. And in some cases, you might have to make lifestyle adjustments, such as keeping your dog that isn't dog-friendly away from other dogs. It all comes down to whether you can dedicate the required time and energy to giving the dog a quality life while preventing it from becoming a nuisance to the public.