Friday, June 10, 2011

What is a 'pitbull'?

The actual origins of the APBT are still disputed. Therefore the answer is not so simple. What is often agreed upon though is there are three specific dog breeds that are often being referred to when using the general term “Pit Bull”. (Some may even argue there’s more then three.)

However, it’s important to remember that each of these is considered their own type of breed.  Owners of these beautiful breeds will be the first to tell you there are specific differences with each.  There’s the obvious differences such as appearance, coloring, weight.  It should also be pointed out there’s other differences as well.  Like any breed they have their own behaviors, temperaments, and quirks.  

American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT)

Brick like heads that are broader between the cheek area. Thick muscled defined neck sets on a well sprung chest.  They are agile despite their stocky muscular build. This sturdy dog’s good looks are topped off with a tail that tapers to a point. Don’t forget those soulful round eyes. Sadly many sport docked ears. Their shiny coats come in all colors. (Both the UKC and ADBA do not accept docked tails, blue eyes, or merle colored coats.) 

When the general term “pit bull” is used it’s typically referring to this breed.  Most sources suggest that the APBT was a product of interbreeding between Terriers and a breed of Bulldogs.  This pairing produced dogs that had the gameness of Terriers with the strength and athleticism of the Bulldog.  

They were originally bred in England, Ireland, and Scotland. Immigrants from these countries brought them to the United States.  Here they were used as catch dogs for semi wild cattle and hogs, to hunt, and drive livestock.  Like today the APBT was also a family companion.  Unfortunately because they were such a smart, strong, and overall great dog many began being selectively bred for fighting. 

Today many APBT are used in a variety of fields. Some work closely with the military, search and rescue and police. While others are more suited for service and therapy work. Since they continue to be a loving and loyal breed many of them are still family dogs.

APBT are often bred for function. Hunting, weight pulling, agility, service are just some examples. Function bred dogs result in a variety of colors, body styles, and sizes.

This breed evokes more human reactions then any other breed. Whether it be emotional, rational, or even irrational. One thing is for certain the APBT can’t be missed. Perhaps it’s because though they may sometimes  have a natural dislike for other animals they love humans. This good natured, amusing, and affectionate dog is extremely loyal. 

APBT are full of vitality, extremely courageous, and protective towards their family and home. They are very friendly and absolutely love and adore humans of all ages. These dogs seem to have an uncanny sense of when they’re truly needed. If provoked to protect their loved ones they can and will fight their enemy to the death. Sadly in some cases even to their own death.

Since these highly intelligent dogs are eager to please they are not too difficult to train. They do need a firm, calm, confident leader that is always consistent. Another important step towards a well behaved and obedient dog is socialization. This key component of a well balanced personality needs to start at an early age and continue throughout the dog’s life.

As wonderful as these dogs can be they aren’t for everyone. If you’re not a firm leader with an understanding of how dog’s think this can pose a problem. These high energy dogs need structure, guidance, and exercise. They have to be reminded that they are not the boss. Training is very important to not only establish rules but to help curb any aggressive or behavioral issues. In fact if properly socialized and trained they can happily coexist with other animals including other dogs. 

APBT are typically healthy. Some may be prone to hip dysphasia, hereditary cataracts, congenital heart disease, or even allergies to grass.

Sadly there’s often a misconception that all “pit bulls” are muscle bound vicious beasts that tip the scales at 85lbs or more. Originally these dogs were bred small for fighting and were only 20-40lbs. Generally the standard male weighs 35-60lbs. Females tend to be a slightly smaller 30-50lbs. However, APBT can weigh anywhere from 22lbs to 110lbs. To achieve the larger sizes APBT are crossed with other breeds. 

*Interesting little tidbit of information - The United Kennel Club (UKC) was the first registry to recognize the APBT. In 1898 the UKC’s founder assigned his own dog the registration number 1.

American Staffordshire Terrier (AmStaff/AST)

Muscular stocky build makes them extremely strong for their size. They have medium length muzzles that round on the upper side abruptly falling below their dark and round eyes set far apart and low in the skull.  The AKC considers pink eyelids a fault. All these beautiful traits are combined into a large powerful head.  

Their strong jaw consists of close even lips. Ears are set high on the head.  They can be cropped but not cropped is preferred. They are either held rose or half prick.  

Their thick, stiff, and glossy coat comes in all colors. Solids, parti, or patches are all permissible by the AKC standard. However, anymore then 80 percent white is not encouraged. Their undocked tail tapers to a point and is short compared their size. 

Many sources suggest this breed evolved by an interbreeding of the Bulldogs and Terriers. The dogs from this pairing were often referred to as “Half and Half”, “Pit Dog” or “Pit Bull Terrier”. Eventually they were named the Staffordshire Bull Terrier in England. The Bulldog in that time differed from the modern Bulldog we know today. The had a full muzzle and a long tapering tail. There’s also a debate if the White English Terrier, Black and Tan Terrier, Fox Terrier or some combo of these were used.

This breed began to show up in America in the early 1870s. They became known as Pit Dog, Pit Bull Terrier, American Bull Terrier, and then the Yankee Terrier. Sadly they were primarily imported for pit fighting. 

AST are: intelligent, happy, outgoing, stable, confident, gentle, loving towards humans, good natured, amusing, affectionate, and courageous, people pleasers, obedient, full of life, friendly, trustworthy, very good with and for kids, great family dog, 

With all that said they can be a persistent fighter if provoked. They’re very protective of their family and home. They will fight to the death even if it’s their own because they are just that loyal. 

Much like their cousins they can be animal and dog aggressive. The key to helping to curb this is early socializing. Some have a hard time getting housetrained. This awesome breed is definitely not for the passive person.  AST must have consistent, confident, and firm leaders.   

Today the AST are considered the show version of the APBT and usually bred for appearance and confirmation. Typically breeders of the AST and APBT deny that these two are anything alike these days. Generally the AST has a larger bone structure, head size, and weight then the APBT. They weigh anywhere from 57-67lbs.

AST can be prone to: heart murmurs, hip dysphasia, hereditary cataracts, thyroid problems, congenital heart disease, tumors, and skin allergies.  

*Interesting little tidbit of information - American Kennel Club (AKC) accepted this breed in 1938 as the Staffordshire Terrier. Later the name was revised to American Staffordshire Terrier in January of 1972. The name was changed to distinguish them as a separate breed. The U.S. had begun developing a type which was heavier in weight then the Staffordshire Bull Terrier of England. 

Staffordshire Bull Terrier (Staffie)

Strong for their size due to their muscular build. Their broad skulls adorn a short and deep head with short foreface that comes to a distinct stop. Their strong jaw consists of tight lips. They have somewhat small ears either rose or half pricked. Their noses are black. They have straight front legs.  Dewclaws are sometimes removed.  Medium sized paws are well padded. Thicker at the base the tail tapers to a point. It’s carried low and shouldn’t curl too much. The tail can be compared to an old fashioned pump handle. 

Last but not least they have beautiful clean dark round eyes. Their eye color is in relation to the coloring of their short coats. Beautiful colors such as red, fawn, white, black, blue. Any of these colors can have white. Shades of brindle with or without white markings can also compliment the smooth texture of their coats.   

This breed can be traced to the Elizabethan Era. Bulldogs and Mastiffs were used for the sports of bull and bear baiting. Breeders produced large dogs for these sports. Eventually the typically 100-120 lb dog changed to a smaller 90lbs.    

Dog fighting gained popularity in England in the early 19th century. The smaller and faster dog was developed. It was known as the Bulldog Terrier or the Bull and Terrier. The Bulldog during this time was larger then English Bulldogs we know today. The 60 lb dog was crossed with the Native Terrier (related to the Manchester Terrier of today.) The result of this pairing was the 30-45 lb Staffordshire Bull Terrier.

In 1860 this breed was crossed with the old Pit Bull Terrier (now known as the Staffordshire Bull) This breed pairing resulted in what was called the all white English Bull Terrier.

Staffies are intelligent dogs that seem have a full throttle personality. Whether it’s playing, working, or just loving their family it’s with everything they have. 

These dogs are friendly, affectionate, persistent, and obedient. They seem to almost have a sense of humor to top off their attractive personality. Being a extremely courageous  human loving spirit can be a drawback. Staffies tend to not be wary of strangers. Of course there’s exceptions with some people the dog encounters. 

Staffies love their humans especially the children. They can usually co exist with other animals that live in their household. Of course to maintain balance within the pecking order they need a stern leader. Someone that is able to give corrections when needed. However, they may not be accepting of dogs out of their family. To curb the combative tendencies the key is always socializing.

It’s not recommended to allow them off leash or leave them unattended. Their curious nature can get them into a lot of trouble. Some are poor swimmers so great caution needs to be taken when near water. Their zest for life and curious nature can temp them to jump off somewhere they shouldn’t or walk into a dangerous area. These fearless Staffies should be watched closely to prevent a possible tragic result.  

Staffie puppies tend to chew a lot. It’s recommended that only strong toys are used. It takes no time at all for a determined puppy to break through a soft toy and rip out the insides. That can be very dangerous if they were to eat the material used to stuff it, plastic, squeakers or other noise makers. Be sure not to encourage their fondness for chewing by allowing them to chew hands. 

A great way to burn excessive energy is training them for completive sports and agility. In fact in the UK this breed often competes at the highest levels. They love a challenge and it’s a great safe way to challenge them. Obedience classes are also a great idea. This will help bond dog to owner, socialize, and teach them how to be the best dog they can be. 

Sometimes these dog can be stubborn and hard to housetrain. Be sure they have a firm, confident, consistent pack leader to enforce the rules. Place limits on what can and can’t be done. Without structure dogs of any breed have a hard time knowing what’s expected.  If this essential part of training and owning a dog can’t be established then Staffies are not the right breed for your family. 

Staffie males weigh 25-38lbs and the females come in a little smaller at 23-35lbs.

Staffie are prone to cataracts. Screening of both parents can help avoid passing it on. When the puppies are a few weeks old it’s recommended that they be tested as well.  Staffie puppies are sometimes prone to being born with an elongated soft palate. Like the APBT and AST they can also develop hip dysphasia or tumors. As with all the “bully breeds” they can also have gas problems. 

*Interesting little tidbit of information - The Kennel Club in Great Britain recognized the Bull Terrier by the end of the 19th century.  However, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier’s reputation as a fighting dog prevented The Kennel Club from recognizing it as a breed until 1935. (A century after dog fighting became illegal in Great Britain.) 

Finally the AKC registered the Staffordshire Bull Terrier in the early 70s. By the mid 70s they were a regular show classification in the Terrier Group. 

Now back to the original question: What is a “pit bull”?

As you can see there’s no single agreed upon definition of what a “pit bull" really is.  Much like not everyone can agree that whatever they are called these dogs are a wonderful loving breed.  A breed that needs to be understood, respected, and above all appreciated for the awesome dog they are. 

Technically “pit bull” is not a breed.  This is simply a type of dog.  For example the Retriever, Terrier, and Shepherd all describe a certain type of dog. However they are not a specific breed. There is no single scientific definition what exactly is considered a “pit bull”. In other words everyone has their own idea of what it is.

Unfortunately the media, and anti “pit bull” people, and even many lawmakers tend to lump many breeds together. If the dog looks like a “pit bull” or is deemed dangerous in any way for any reason they get tagged as one.

Sadly since they do have a high tendency towards dog aggression this flaw is often exploited. These amazing dogs have fallen into the wrong hands. The sad reality is a majority of these dogs are forced into the illegal world of dog fighting.  With this lifestyle comes other illegal activities. They are trained to guard illegal narcotics operations. Some are even forced to go against their human loving nature and are used as weapons against law enforcement. This only adds more fuel to those opposed to “pit bulls”.

To add to the “bully breed“ madness there are several breeds that have bulldog or bull in their breed name. The APBT and the Staffie are just two of many.  Some other bully breeds are: the English, American, and French Bull Dog, Bull Mastiff, Bull Terrier, Olde Bulldogge, American Pit Bull Dog (not Terrier)  These breeds are not all the same, nor should they be considered “pit bulls”.  Each is a breed that has different temperaments, and appearances.  Also as with any breed they have different histories on how they came to be.  Suffice it to say it’s not fair to lump all these unique breeds into one generalized statement such as “bully breeds” or “pit bulls”. However, this slang has become accepted in our society.   

On the whole “Pit Bulls” are generally affectionate, intelligent, and love humans. It often comes as a surprise when people learn that the APBT as well as their close cousins the AmStaffie and the Staffie ranks high as stable and human friendly breeds. In temperament testing they have passed higher then many other “family dog” breeds. The Golden Retriever, Collie, Cocker Spaniel, and even the Labrador Retriever are just a few examples. 

Information compiled from various sources. 
Pictures are courtesy of wikipedia online. No copyright infringement intended. 
No monetary gain was received.  Original was created May 22nd, 2011 by Carrie McCormick.

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