What exactly is a Pit Bull…? Ask ten people, and you’ll get ten different responses. However, this much we do know, there is no such recognized breed known as just “Pit Bull” in any dog registry. Pit Bull is a catch-all, umbrella term typically referring to three separate recognized breeds: the American Staffordshire Terrier, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and the American Pit Bull Terrier. The confusion between the three resides within the two most popular American registries, the American Kennel Club (AKC) and the United Kennel Club (UKC). Both accept Staffordshire Bull Terriers, but the AKC also accepts American Staffordshire Terriers (AST), and the UKC only the American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT). So, what is the difference between those two…?
American Pit Bull Terriers were first registered when the UKC formed back in 1898, by founder, C.Z. Bennett, who assigned registration number 1 to his own dog named, Bennett’s Ring. They describe the APBT as an absolutely wonderful dog, who originally was developed in the nineteenth century by crossing the gameness of a terrier with the strength and athleticism of a bulldog. Immigrant settlers from England and Ireland brought them with them to the States due to their farming and ranching ability, along with being a family companion, as they were known to have an immense love for children (not to be confused with the “nanny dog” theory). American Pit Bull Terriers were working dogs, not fighting dogs, who assisted as catch dogs for semi-wild cattle and hogs, to drive livestock and to help hunt. Contrary to popular belief, American Pit Bull Terriers were not meant to be big dogs, and by the UKC’s definition, are medium-sized, who should weigh no more than 60 pounds with their body in proportion with the rest of him or her.
The American Staffordshire Terrier was originally registered by the AKC in 1936. Their definition of its ancestry takes them back to early nineteenth century as well. The belief is the American Staffordshire Terrier was created when a bulldog (no longer in existence) was crossed with a game terrier, originally calling it the Bull and Terrier, Half and Half, or Pit dog, and later became known as the Stafforshire Bull Terrier, given its name due to the area it was created in the Staffordshire region in England. Later, when it reached the United States, the name was changed again to American Stafforshire Terrier to reflect the heavier body type and to distance them from the checkered history of the original bull-baiting bulldog (a completely separate dog) of a century ago. Some of the same characteristics regarding body type and size apply to the AST as the APBT, with the exception of weight. The American Staffordshire Terrier can weigh up to around 70 pounds, but, again, it is not as important as being proportionate.
So when we look at the two definitions of the breeds by the registries that accept them, the American Pit Bull Terrier and the American Staffordshire Terrier are closely related, sometimes almost identical in appearance and definiton. Either way, most people believe their main reason for existence is to take part in the inhumane blood “sport” of dogfighting. The fact is they are the most common type of dog used in this sickening match between dog and dog, but it is not the sole reason they were created. As one individual who rescue’s Greyhounds once told me… “Greyhounds were not originally created to be race dogs. ‘Farmer Bob’ and ‘Farmer Bill’ got together one day and said “I bet you my dog can beat yours in a race.” …and so years later a popular belief is born that all Greyhounds are bred to be good race track dogs, even though that is not correct. This is the case for “Pit Bull” dogs as well.
Can Pit Bulls have some levels of animal aggression? The answer is, yes, they can (not do) have some level of intolerance towards other dogs and animals, not because they are Pit Bulls, but because they fall in the Terrier group, and even that is on a per dog basis. Additionally, any rescue shelter or animal behaviorist will say that aggression is not breed specific, since aggression is a learned behavior, and not always a gene passed down from generation to generation. Most dogs are dog selective, meaning they are good with some dogs but not all. To assume all Pit Bulls are dog aggressive, or Labrador Retrievers love all dogs…couldn’t be further from the truth. Once we understand all dogs, like humans, are individuals and more of a product of our environment, the better our society will be.
“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animal are treated”