American Pit Bull Terrier: One of the Most Controversial Breeds

Mádi-Krezinger Cintia

2024. June 4 - Photos: Getty Images Hungary

Despite its checkered history and reputation, this breed is one of the most affectionate dogs – every owner can attest to this.


Disputes Regarding the Breed

Before delving into the characteristics of the American Pit Bull Terrier, it is important to clarify the controversies surrounding the breed.

The term “pit bull” is used as a collective name for American Pit Bull Terriers, Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, and Staffordshire Bull Terriers. Some people believe that the American Pit Bull Terrier and the American Staffordshire Terrier are one and the same, while others vehemently insist that they are two distinct breeds.

The controversy traces back to the dogs’ history and arrival in the United States. These animals were originally kept in England and Ireland specifically as fighting dogs. Initially, they did not have a specific breed designation—any strong, muscular dog used for fighting was referred to as a pit bull. The term “pit” in English means a hole or a pit, as dog fights often took place in pits dug into the ground. In 1835, the British Parliament banned dog fighting, prompting many “owners” to migrate across the ocean, bringing their dogs with them.

For a time, dog fighting continued in the USA, but the locals soon recognized the potential in these magnificent animals and began using them as working dogs instead of for fighting. This shift led to a demand for uniform appearance and temperament, and selective breeding began. However, the American Kennel Club did not want to recognize the breed due to its dangerous past. Consequently, the breeders decided to forge their own path and established the United Kennel Club, which officially recognized the breed in 1989. The dogs were registered as American Pit Bull Terriers. Compared to their British ancestors, these dogs had a more uniform appearance – they were larger and stronger – and their behavior was much gentler.

Three in one

Around the same time, another group of breeders felt that the breed standard promoted by the UKC deviated too much from the appearance of the ancestors. They founded the American Dog Breeders Association and also registered the breed under the name American Pit Bull Terrier. However, for them, the name represented a smaller, more agile dog.

Both versions gained increasing popularity, eventually prompting the American Kennel Club to take action. However, they maintained that they did not want to register a “violent and dangerous” breed under any circumstances, so they accepted the dogs under a new name, the American Staffordshire Terrier. Their breed standard in terms of appearance is more similar to that described by the American Dog Breeders Association, but the characteristics are closer to those of the UKC’s American Pit Bull Terrier.

Thus, working from the same genetic pool, the three clubs bred dogs that were slightly different in appearance and temperament. As a result, there is still no complete agreement regarding the breeds. Often, an American Staffordshire Terrier owner will vehemently assert that they do not own an American Pit Bull, and a Pit Bull owner may also be upset if their pet is called a Staffie.

In light of this, the following describes the characteristics of the breed as registered by the United Kennel Club as the American Pit Bull Terrier.

Breed standard

The American Pit Bull Terrier is a medium-sized, sturdy, short-haired dog with strong muscles. Its body is slightly longer than its height, with females being slightly longer than males. Its appearance combines strength and athleticism with grace and agility. The body is muscular but not bulky.

The American Pit Bull Terrier should be powerful and agile, so the ratio of weight to height is more important than the actual weight and height of the dog. Generally, males weigh between 16-27 kg and stand between 45-53 cm tall, while females weigh between 14-23 kg and stand between 43-51 cm tall. However, according to the standard, the dog can be larger if its body is proportionate.

They have wide, flat skulls with a broad nose. Their ears sit high, and their tails are relatively short.

The breed comes in every color and pattern except for merle.


The fundamental characteristics of the American Pit Bull Terrier are strength, confidence, and zest for life. They enjoy pleasing their owners and are always full of enthusiasm. The Pit Bull can make excellent family pets, but only with one owner who dedicates sufficient attention to the animal’s proper socialization and obedience training.

They are generally unsuitable as guard dogs because a well-socialized American Pit Bull Terrier is extremely friendly and curious towards strangers. Aggressive behavior is not characteristic of the breed according to the UKC breed standard, and is not desirable at all. Experts also agree that there are no inherently dangerous dogs; it’s all about how they are raised and trained.

The pit bull was initially very weak, but was happy to be close to humans./ Image: YouTube

Ideal environment

These dogs are exceptionally intelligent and it’s important for them to have tasks to fulfill, which they eagerly undertake. They thrive with an owner who provides the physical and mental stimulation necessary for their balance.

If they live in a house with a garden, it’s important to have a sturdy fence. The breed is an excellent climber, so a less stable, lower fence won’t pose a challenge for them.


American Pit Bull Terriers do not require special grooming. Regular brushing, as with any breed, along with occasional bathing, nail trimming, and cleaning of the ears, is all that’s needed.

American pit bull terrier bull type dog pitbull

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