The dog we commonly refer to as the Pit Bull was developed in England from a cross between the English Bulldog and terriers. The exact terrier breeds used to create this cross is not clearly recorded, but popular opinion points to the White English Terrier, the Black-and-Tan Terrier and the Fox Terrier. The result of these combinations became known as the Staffordshire Bull Terrier and were used to manage cattle and by hunters to help hold wild boar and other game.
As time passed, the breed entered the blood-sport of bull and bear baiting. After these sports were outlawed in England around 1835, dog fighting rings took their place. Dogs were forced to fight one another to the death in hidden arenas called “pits.” The Staffordshire Bull Terrier was highly successful in the fighting ring because of its tenacity, courage, stamina, strength and intelligence. Equally important was its loyal, non-aggressive and responsive nature with people. Fighting dogs were expected to be obedient, trustworthy and easily handled by their owners at all times. Because of their popularity in dog fighting pits the breed became known as “Pit Bulls”.
The Staffordshire Bull Terrier came to America with European immigrants and was bred into three new breeds. The American Bulldog, the American Staffordshire Terrier and the American Pit Bull Terrier are similar looking, but as pets, suit different types of people.
“Pit Bull” Family History
Staffordshire Bull Terriers came to the United States from England in the mid-1800’s, and the breed was accepted for registration into the American Kennel Club in 1936 as the Staffordshire Terrier. By this time, American breeders had developed a much larger and heavier animal than the Staffordshire Bull Terrier of England, and many wanted to distinguish their dog as a separate breed from the AKC’s newly-recognized Staffordshire Terrier. The name of the breed was revised on January 1, 1972, to the American Staffordshire Terrier. Other breeders preferred the name of American Pit Bull Terrier; their dogs were recognized by the United Kennel Club and have been bred independently from the Am Staff for more than 50 years.
The American Bulldog, though resulting from the same bulldog-terrier breeding, is not a terrier. He is more closely related to the bulldog breeds and displays instincts and behaviors common to those dogs, including strong protective instincts toward family. The Staffordshire Terrier is a true terrier because of his ancestral proximity to other terrier breeds, including the Manchester Terrier. While he is also protective of his family, he has strong terrier instincts, which include a propensity for chasing small animals, which the American Bulldog doesn’t have.
The American Pit Bull Terrier has been a beloved symbol of Americana. In World War I, a pit bull named Stubby captured the heart of the nation. Stubby was the unofficial mascot of the 102nd Infantry Division and was credited with saving the lives of several of his human comrades. For his valiant service, Stubby won several medals and was even awarded the rank of sergeant! He came home from the war to a hero’s welcome and went on to become the mascot for Georgetown University.
Many famous Americans have owned pit bulls. Mark Twain, Theodore Roosevelt, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Thomas Edison, Woodrow Wilson, John Steinbeck, Helen Keller, and Fred Astaire have all been proud to own dogs of this breed. The actor Ken Howard (the father on the TV show Crossing Jordan) even credits his pit bull with saving his life.
Pit Bull Terriers have crept in the hearts of Americans through a variety of ways. For years, RCA recording company looked to a pit bull named Nipper as its corporate logo. Similarly, Buster Brown Shoes used a pit bull named Tige as the cornerstone of their marketing campaign. But, perhaps the most famous pit bull was Petey, the adorable ring-eyed cutey featured on the TV show Little Rascals.
In recent years the term “Pit Bull” has been incorrectly slathered onto all of these dog breeds that share similar characteristics. Because these breeds are forced into American dog fighting pits, they have been unfairly labeled as uncontrollable and vicious. This could not be further from the truth!
The American Staffordshire Terrier is considerably smaller than the American Bulldog. Staffordshire Terrier males typically grow no taller than 19 inches at the shoulder, with females growing no taller than 17 inches.
The American Pit Bull Terrier is 14 to 24 inches in shoulder height and weighs: 22 – 78 pounds. A common misconception is that American Pit Bull Terriers are muscle-bound hulks that weigh in at 85 pounds or more. This is generally not the case. Most of the pit bulls that are that large have been crossed with other breeds and are being called American Bullies.
American Bulldog males can grow up to 27 inches in shoulder height. Female American Bulldogs typically outgrow even the tallest male American Staffordshire Terriers, achieving a typical maximum height of 25 inches.
All these breeds have an athletic, powerful physique, but the American Bulldog is leaner with a less prominent chest than the others. The Staffordshire Bull Terrier and American Pit Bull Terrier while smaller, have more “chunky” physiques. All three have strong front legs and short coats that come in a variety of solid and mixed colors, including white with tan patches, brindle and all white. With mixed color coats, the American bulldog typically has more white coverage than the others. The coat of all breeds is short and requires minimal grooming. All these breeds are active and benefit from daily walks and regular play. The larger, leaner American bulldog is most suited to a highly active family as he will take longer to tire out than the smaller, less agile breeds who will adapt well to a moderately active daily routine.
All these breeds descend from a mixture of bulldog and terrier breeds. However, the American Bulldog is not a terrier. He is more closely related to the bulldog breeds and displays instincts and behaviors common to those dogs, including strong protective instincts toward family.
The Staffordshire Bull Terrier is a true terrier because of his ancestral proximity to other terrier breeds, including the Manchester Terrier. While he is also protective of his family, he has strong terrier instincts, which include a propensity for chasing small animals, which the American Bulldog doesn’t have.
The American Pit Bull Terrier is a good-natured, loyal and affectionate family pet that is good with children and adults. Almost always obedient, he is always eager to please his master. These are courageous and intelligent guard dogs that are full of vitality. Highly protective of his owners and the owner’s property, he will fight an enemy to the death. He is usually very friendly, but has an uncanny ability to know when there is a need to protect and when everything is okay. The American Pit Bull Terrier can be willful with meek owners and needs a firm hand: someone who will be the pack leader.
The American Pit Bull Terrier, the American Bulldog, and the American Staffordshire Terrier all share a common ancestry, similar physical characteristics and similar personalities, but vary slightly in size and temperament. However, none of them deserve the reputation of “natural killer” that they’re being painted with because of the actions of dog fighting rings. It’s these people who are vicious and should be banned, not the dogs they exploit.