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Pit Bull

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A pit bull is a member of any of a number of breeds of dogs developed from the Old English Bulldog. Breeds recognized as pit bulls include the American Pit Bull Terrier and the American Staffordshire Terrier, although the name is also often used to refer to other breeds of similar characteristics, such as the American Bulldog and Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and mixed breeds that include any of these breeds.

The American Pit Bull Terrier is one of several bull terrier breeds. The American Pit Bull Terrier is one of several bull terrier breeds.

The pit bull is a descendant of bull- and bear-baiting dogs. The dogs left in Europe were bred along different lines, developing into a smaller, stockier dog. The dogs brought to America are larger, with longer legs. In no way should the pit bull be confused with the Bull Terrier, which is a cross between a Staffordshire Bull Terrier and the extinct English White Terrier.

Pit bulls were long considered, by some, to be an ideal family pet and are recommended to this day by the American Kennel Club as an especially good dog for children. But, since the early 1990s, a series of well-publicized attacks on humans by aggressive members of the breed occurred, making the ownership of pit bulls controversial. This breed may be very aggressive towards other animals or dogs of the other sex(the problem is worse in male dogs) but very human-friendly. As a result,it is difficult to keep more than a pair wihout segregation.


Pit bulls are medium-sized (males range 45-85lbs, females 30-80lbs), solidly built, short-coated dogs that require little grooming. They have an affectionate disposition, and are noted for their attachment to their masters as well as for their confident and intelligent temperament.

Pit Bulls are extremely athletic and energetic dogs, and require a great deal of exercise if they are not to become destructive. Although they can be short, they have extremely high muscle density and are generally capable of executing a standing four-foot-vertical jump. Pit bulls have also been bred to have a very high tolerance for pain.

Pit bulls were historically bred to display dominance aggression toward other dogs—a relic of the breed's dog fighting past. A pit bull displaying the correct breed temperament is friendly towards humans, and is generally a poor choice as a guard dog [1].

Supporters of pit bulls argue they can make good pets. Good breeding practices may help to minimize agressive behavior. Most pit bull advocates recommend getting a pitbull as a puppy so the owner has more control over the socialization process, and can more easily train it away from unacceptable behaviors.

The American Temperament Test Society, Inc. (ATTS) breed statistics as of December 2004 show an 83.4% passing rate for the American Pit Bull Terrier and a 93.2% passing rate for the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, as compared to an 81% average pass rate for all dog breeds. The testing process is not a direct measure of aggression. Some of the tests used by ATTS may give a passing grade to aggression toward humans considered appropriate for the situation, such as a stranger advancing toward the dog and handler in an threatening manner. Other parts of the ATTS test battery gauge response to unfamiliar situations such as walking on slippery surfaces or hearing nearby gunshots. Many veterenarians claim that Pitbulls and Labrador retrievers are the easiest breeds to handle as they are least likely to snap during the worst situations.

Many other common breeds look similar to the pit bull breeds to inexperienced eyes, and can be confused for them. A few of these breeds are the Argentine Dogo, the English Bull Terrier, the American Bulldog, and the Boxer. The Staffordshire Bull Terrier and the American Staffordshire Terrier are considered to be seperate breeds in most countries (including England, Australia and New Zealand), but in the U.S.A are considered to be pit bulls.Pitbulls come in a range of colors from fawn to brindle to red.Bluetick,harlequin and tricolor pitbulls are very rare but not unknown.

The Pitbull is larger than its forebearer,the Staffordshire terrier and is taller and more athletic than the lean Scottish staffordshire terrier. This is mainly because dogfighting was banned earlier in the UK and smaller dogs became favourable for ratting,in the Us,however,larger dogs became more popular in the dogfighting ring.Only in 1972 were American Pitbulls and Staffies considered seperate breeds from English Staffordshires.


The exact origin of this breed is uncertain,although it has its root in the British,Irish Staffordshire Terriers and possibly the now-extinct Blue-Paul (Scottish Staffordshire terrier). The ancestors of modern pit bulls, English and French bulldogs, and other related breeds were powerful mastiffs bred for farm work. Specifically, these dogs accompanied farmers into the fields to assist with bringing bulls in for breeding, castration, or slaughter. The dogs, known generally as bulldogs, protected the farmer by subduing the bull if it attempted to gore him. Typically a dog would do this by biting the bull on the nose and holding on until the bull submitted. Because of the nature of their job, bulldogs were bred to have powerful jaws, muscular bodies, and the resolve to hold onto a violently-struggling bull, even when injured.

Eventually these dogs' purpose inspired the widespread practice of the bloody sports of bull-baiting and bear-baiting. Bulldogs are believed to have been bred with terrier breeds to produce a more muscular, compact, and agile dog for these competitions. The resulting dogs are known as bull-and-terrier breeds, and modern examples include all pit bull-type dogs. In Elizabethan England, these spectacles were popular forms of entertainment. However, in 1835, bull-baiting and bear-baiting were abolished by Parliament as cruel, and the custom died out over the following years.

United States propaganda poster used during World War I depicting a pit bull

In its place the sport of dog-fighting gained popularity. Dogs were bred for specific traits useful in the dog-fighting ring, refining the agility, gameness, and power already present in the bull-and-terrier breeds. They were also bred to be intelligent and level-headed during fights and unaggressive toward humans. Part of the standard for organized dog-fighting required that the match referee who is unacquainted with the dog be able to enter the ring, pick up a dog while it was engaged in a fight, andget the respective owner to carry it out of the ring without being bitten. Dogs that bit the referee were culled.After a match,if an injured dog snapped at any passers-by thay were killed on the spot in an effort to remove human-aggressive dogs from the gene-pool.

As a result, Victorian fighting dogs (Staffordshire Bull Terriers and, though less commonly used as fighters, English Bull Terriers) generally had stable temperaments and were commonly kept in the home by the gambling men who owned them.

During the mid-1800s, immigration to the United States from Ireland and England brought an influx of these dogs to America,mainly Boston where they were bred to be larger and stockier, working as farm dogs in the West as much as fighting dogs in the cities. The resulting breed, the American Staffordshire Bull Terrier, also called the American Pit Bull Terrier, became known as an "all-American" dog. Pit bull type dogs became popular as family pets for citizens who were not involved in dog-fighting or farming. In the early 1900s they began to appear in films, one of the more famous examples being Pete the Pup from the Our Gang shorts (later known as The Little Rascals).

During World War I the breed's widespread popularity led to its being featured on pro-U.S. propaganda posters.

Safety and legal issues

Dog bite statistics

Of the 199 dog-attack fatalities in the USA between 1979 and 1996, dogs identified as pit bulls were responsible for 60 attacks—just under a third. The next most-dangerous group was Rottweilers, responsible for 29 attacks (statistics from the CDC). These statistics are tainted by the fact that the breed recorded as responsible is taken from the reports of witnesses and is rarely confirmed by dog experts or registration papers.

Because pit bull is an all-encompassing term used to describe several breeds of dogs, determining whether a dog is a pit bull is often particularly difficult. A study[2] for the US Department of Health and Human Services discusses some reasons why fatalities might be overstated for pit bulls, in large part because most people (including experienced dog owners) often can't distinguish a pit bull from any other stocky, broad-faced, or muscular dog. For additional discussions on this and dog-human aggression in general, see dog attacks.

According to The Age, pit bull terriers have been responsible for four of the seven dog attacks in which Australians have died between 1991 and 2002. The Endangered Dog Breeds Association of Australia denies these figures, claiming that registered, purebred pit bull terriers have caused no known fatalities in Australia. Most Australian state governments have introduced new legislation specific to pit bulls, requiring pit bull owners to muzzle and leash their dogs at all times when in public.

Some people contend that pit bulls are especially likely to cause fatalities when they do attack, due to their strong jaws and their tendency to clamp on to their victim when attacking. However although pit bull terriers are indisputably powerful dogs, there is no scientific evidence showing them to have a stronger bite than other large dog breed. In fact, when Dr. Brady Barr of National Geographic (Dangerous Encounters: Bite Force, 8/18/2005) measured the bite forces of three dog breeds using a computerised bite sleeve. The American Pit Bull Terrier generated the least amount of pressure of the 3 dogs tested (the other two dogs were a German Shepherd Dog and a Rottweiler).

Urban myths

There are many urban legends surrounding the pitbull terrier, mostly based on the idea that the dogs are somehow physiologically different to other breeds of dog.

Many websites propagate the myth that pit bulls have a "locking jaw" mechanism, and that the dog cannot let go once it has bitten. However, as stated by Dr. I. Brisbin (University of Georgia) "The few studies which have been conducted of the structure of the skulls, mandibles and teeth of pit bulls show that, in proportion to their size, their jaw structure and thus its inferred functional morphology, is no different than that of any breed of dog. There is absolutely no evidence for the existence of any kind of 'locking mechanism' unique to the structure of the jaw and/or teeth of the American Pit Bull Terrier." Furthermore, the pit bulls that compete successfully in protection sports such as Schutzhund obviously do not display an inability to release their grips after biting, as releasing the decoy's sleeve on command is an integral part of scoring the competition [3].

Another urban myth surrounding this breed states that pitbulls are the only type of dog that are not affected by capsaicin-based dog-repellent sprays. In fact, many other dog breeds also display this resistance to pepper spray when they are attacking. Documented cases include Bull Mastiffs, Rotweillers and many German Shepherds (including Police K9s)[4]. In the words of two Police Officers, it is "not unusual for pepper spray not to work on dogs"[5] and "just as OC spray doesn't work on all humans, it won't work on all canines"[6].

It is also untrue that the pitbull is the only dog that will keep attacking after being sub-lethally shot. Rotweillers, Mastiffs and German Shepherds have all exhibited this capacity - as, of course, have many humans[7] [8].

Some more extreme myths hold that Bullets bounce off a pitbulls body which stray to far from the truth. The strength of a pitbull is also greatly exaggerated in many myths.

Insurance discrimination

Many homeowner's insurance companies in the U.S. are reluctant to insure owners of dogs that are considered to be a dangerous breed. The CDC estimates that 368,245 persons were treated in U.S. hospitals for nonfatal dog bites in 2001, and that fully 2% of the U.S. population are attacked by dogs per year. These attacks most often occur on the owner's property. While breed-specific statistics were not collected in this particular study, the Pit Bull Terrier and Rottweiler in particular are often considered to contribute the most to the serious injuries caused by dog attacks and are the most common breeds that insurance companies will refuse to insure.

Some insurance companies have taken a compromise position, and will only insure Pit bull owners if their dogs have achieved a Canine Good Citizen award [9].


In response to a number of well-publicized incidents involving pit bulls, some jurisdictions began placing restrictions on the ownership of pit bulls, such as the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 in the UK, an example of breed-specific legislation. Many jurisdictions have outlawed the possession of pit bulls, either the pit bull breed specifically, or in addition to other breeds that are regarded as dangerous.

Recent pit bull mauling cases include the June 2005 attack on 11-year old Nicholas Faibish, who was killed by his family's dog in San Francisco while his mother was away running errands. This case, and others occurring shortly afterwards in the Bay Area, has led local and state politicians to consider ways to control pit bulls.

The Canadian province province of Ontario, on August 29, 2005 enacted a ban on pit bulls. It was the first province or state in North America to do so.[10] The breed can no longer be sold, bred, or imported and all pit bull owners must leash and muzzle their pit bulls in public. A 60 day grace period has been put in place to allow for owners to have their pit bulls spayed or neutered [11]. Also it left a period to allow municipalities to adjust to the new law. Prior to the bills passage, the Ontario government cited what it deemed the success of a pit bull bylaw passed by Winnipeg, Manitoba[12].

One American city to follow this lead is Denver, which recently passed legislation prohibiting citizens from keeping "pit bull type" dogs after May 9, 2005. Over 260 pit bull type dogs have been collected from their homes and euthanised since this date, resulting in widespread protest from dog owners and animal rights lobby groups [13].


The extent to which banning a particular breed is effective in reducing dog bite fatalities is contested. Some people maintain that pit bull attacks are directly attributable to irresponsible owners, rather than to any inherent defect in the breed itself. Other people believe that the pit bull terrier is a breed that, although not inherently dangerous, needs a particularly knowledgeable and committed handler and should not be freely available to novice owners. Still others maintain that pit bulls as a breed are invariably more unpredictable and dangerous than other dogs even when properly trained, and have no place in society.

Pit bull terriers are said to be popular with irresponsible owners, who see these dogs as a symbol of status or machismo. This type of owner may be less likely to socialize, train, or desex their pet. These are all factors that have been shown to contribute to increased likelihood of dog aggression, and may partially explain why pit bulls feature so heavily in dog attack statistics.

Some people argue that banning the pit bull will simply result in irresponsible dog owners seeking to own other large breeds with similar temperaments (such as the Dobermann, Rottweiler or German Shepherd Dog), resulting in an increased occurrence of dog bites from these breeds. It is possible that the Pit Bull has a particular appeal to many irresponsible dog owners because of its smaller size. An unruly pit bull can be restrained on a leash by an average adult, where a larger dog breed would easily overpower the owner's restraint.

The Centers for Disease Control, which maintains the nation's database on fatal wounds inflicted by dog bites, does not advocate breed-specific legislation, instead encouraging "Dangerous Dog" laws that focus on individual dogs of any breed that have exhibited aggressive behavior.

In November 2002, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that there was no genetic evidence that one individual dog is more dangerous than another, simply because of its breed.

American Airlines banned "Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Bull Terriers, American Pit Bull Terriers, and any mixed breeds containing one or more of those breeds" in August of 2002 following an incident involving an American Pit Bull Terrier puppy that escaped from luggage into the cargo hold of an airliner, causing damage to the cargo hold. The American Kennel Club lobbied the airline to lift the restriction, arguing that the incident was merely one of improper restrain, and could have involved any dog breed. The restriction was lifted in May of 2003 after a compromise was reached that requires portable dog carriers in the cargo hold to employ releasable cable ties on four corners of the door of the carrier.

Dog fights

In the United States, pit bulls are the breed of choice for dog fights, due to their strength, courage and dog-aggressive tendencies. Although dog fighting is illegal in the U.S., it is still practiced, and is usually accompanied by gambling. Pit bulls are often brutalised and abused to make them "mean", and may be terribly maimed or killed during the fight [14]. In the state of Virginia,it is illegal to be a spectator in a dogfight.

People who train pit bulls to fight usually prepare them for fighting by having them pull weighted sleds and run on specially designed treadmills. The term "game-bred" may be used as a code for a fight dog, but sometimes merely refers to a dog that is very determined to complete a task - be it a race, weight pull, or unfortunately even a fight.

Breeding human or dog aggressive pit bulls is sometimes associated with the hip hop culture, which consider it a status symbol to own the toughest dog [15].

Dog-fighters are the minority among pit bull owners. Most people who own these breeds direct their dogs' plentiful energy toward nonviolent athletic tasks. Some people train their pit bulls for dog agility. Others involve their pit bulls in weight pulling competitions, obedience competitions or schutzhund. The pit bull often excels at these sports. Out of the 17 dogs who have earned UKC "superdog" status (by gaining championship titles in conformation, obedience, agility, and weightpull), nine have been pit bulls. Unfortunately pit bulls are increasingly being prevented from participating in these events, due to the introduction of local legislation requiring the breed to be muzzled and on leash at all times when in public - with no exceptions for dog sports or obedience competitions.

Often much money is confiscated during a dogfight,often drugs are also involved.

A few centuries ago,it was common to Pit these dogs against Pumas and wolves. Pitting them against boars is still carried out in some places.

Positive press

Although negative information about pit bulls is widespread, there are also many positive stories. Some work in hospitals and care facilities as certified therapy dogs, many are well-loved family pets, and some have even saved people's lives. There are many incidences of pit bull terriers being productively employed by U.S. Customs [16], as police K9s [17] and as tracking K9s in various Search and Rescue organisations [18].


Famous pit bulls

  • Pete the Pup (or "Petey") from little rascals
  • Tige from Buster Brown shoe advertisements
  • The dog in Snatch (film) is a Staffordshire Bull Terrier

See also

External links

Media sites

Pit bull advocacy sites

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