6 min read

Pitbulls: Are They A Breed?


Written by Wag! Staff

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 08/21/2023, edited: 08/29/2023

The Pit Bull. One of the most instantly recognisable dog breeds around, thanks in part to its controversial – and unfair – reputation. But here’s the thing; the Pit Bull isn’t actually a breed in itself. You won’t find it listed on the American Kennel Club (AKC) website. And that’s because there isn’t a single ‘pit bull’ breed, but several different types of ‘pit bull’ type breeds.

The simple pit bull has become a catch-all term for a few similar breeds – among them the American Pit Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, American Bully and American Staffordshire Terrier. These breeds all broadly sit within a group called ‘Bully Dogs’, which can sound misleading and more than a bit ominous – but is more about their heritage and characteristics than anything else.

The term ‘bully’ immediately triggers negative associations, which certainly doesn’t help with the usually inaccurate perception of these types of dogs. Bully breeds can be sweet, gentle souls, especially if they’re cared for properly; they can make lovely family pets.

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What are bully breeds?

When you hear the term ‘pit bull’, it’s more likely to be in reference to a dog that’s a bully breed. There’s actually only one breed with pit bull in its name – the aforementioned American Pit Bull Terrier – and so the bully breed incorporates various bulldog and terrier types. As well as the breeds we’ve already mentioned, other bully breeds include the English bulldog, Cane Corso, Dogue de Bordeaux and Dogo Argentino.

Across these breeds, there are some obvious similarities. And so there should be – these breeds are all believed to originate from Molosser dogs and share certain physical traits; large heads, short muzzles, strong, muscular bodies, wide and deep chests and legs. Not all are large in size; some bully breeds are on the stockier side but, in the main, these are powerful dogs.

History of the ‘pit bull’ dog

The pit bull dog types are descendants of Old English Bulldogs, which date back to the United Kingdom in the 1800s. They were often used to fight, and to take part in blood sport activities including bull baiting, ratting and illegal dog fighting, just to entertain the public. The story goes that as the dogs were needed to be more agile and athletic, they were cross-bred with terriers, leading to the emergence of the Pit Bull Terrier.

The role and perception of the pit bull changed and developed when the breed migrated to the US. They became working dogs – herding and guarding livestock and other domestic tasks around farms and busy homes – and companion dogs. 

The Pit Bull Terrier became known as the American Pit Bull Terrier, and eventually one of the most popular breeds in the US. In fact, during the two world wars, pit bulls were portrayed as the nation’s mascot, used on recruitment posters and advertising campaigns.

One dog – the famous Sergeant Stubby (yes, he was officially promoted to Sergeant after helping to find and capture an enemy spy) – even served in WW1, tracking and locating wounded soldiers and alerting soldiers of the presence of gas following attacks. Look him up – there was even a movie made about him, in 2018.

Yes – pit bull dogs were genuine heroes at one stage!

Are pit bull types dangerous?

This is the controversial part. There’s no getting away from it – pitbulls and pitbull types have gained a reputation in recent years as dogs that can be intimidating, aggressive – even dangerous. That’s not really fair, and labeling multiple different breeds as ‘pitbulls’ hasn’t really helped; sadly, there’s been a tendency for widespread media coverage to accuse ‘pit bulls’ of acts of aggression without really highlighting the specific breed involved.

The AKC has commented previously on something called Breed Specific Legislation (BSL), which has seen many breeds either banned, or restricted in some way, throughout the USA. Pit bull types and pit bull mixes are among the breeds most affected.

But – make no mistake, there’s a lot of love out there for pit bull breeds. A host of celebrities, including NFL great Tom Brady, actor Channing Tatum and actresses Katherine Heigl and Kaley Cuoco, have all been proud owners of pit bulls – and the US even celebrates these dogs with a National Pitbull Awareness Day, every October.

National Pitbull Awareness Day was launched in 2007, designed to help spread awareness of bully breed dogs and promote their endearing qualities.

Do pit bull dogs make good pets?

Yes! A pitbull dog can make an excellent pet. They can be affectionate, fun – owners have often described them as ‘goofy’ – playful and immensely loyal. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), says this about them: ‘These dogs have long been popular family pets, noted for their gentleness, affection and loyalty.’

They love being with their people as often as possible. They can be gentle with any children in their family, though it’s advisable not to leave them unsupervised with little ones – this applies with all dog breeds. While they can interact peacefully with other dogs, again, it’s best to take a cautious approach.

Not all types of pitbull dogs get on well with other canines (there’s no guarantee any breed of dog will be friendly with stranger dogs) so keep them on the leash and under control when out and about. Many pitbull dogs will still have what’s called a strong prey drive, which means if they see rodents – like a squirrel or a rat – around and are off-leash, don’t be surprised if they make a play for them. And, if they’re on the leash, prepare to be pulled. These are powerful dogs, so can take some handling!

Like many breeds, pitbull dogs aren’t so happy being left on their own for long periods – what dog is? Some might show signs of separation anxiety if they’re isolated, so if you’re frequently away from home a lot you should think carefully about whether a pitbull terrier is the right type of dog for you and your lifestyle.

As with all breeds, training, environment and care is key to raising a loving, nurturing dog. Pitbull puppies should be trained as soon as possible; if you’re adopting a pitbull type, reinforce positive training quickly. Any dog’s behavior is usually as a result of its upbringing and surroundings rather than just the breed type itself – so a pitbull terrier needs plenty of mental and physical stimulation and exercise to see it thrive.

With the right kind of ownership, there’s no reason at all why a pitbull dog can’t be a wonderful family pet for the duration of its life

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We’ve already cleared up the misconception that the pit bull is an official breed (it’s not, if you missed that bit) but instead a general term for a series of dogs who form part of a group called bully breeds. There are a few breeds within this category, plus various other types such as the Cane Corso Pitbull mix, Husky Pitbull mix and even – wait for it – the Pitbull Chihuahua mix.

If you’re considering getting a pitbull type as a pet, popular specific breeds include:

American Pit Bull Terrier
American Bully
American Staffordshire Terrier
Staffordshire Bull Terrier
American Bulldog
Bull Terrier

You should treat each of these breeds as the individual types they are. They’re likely to share some physical attributes and characteristics, but temperaments may be different, as well as exercise needs, training requirements and potential health risks.

When it comes to diet, pitbull type dogs may fare best with a specific, targeted food. Our friends at Dog Food Advisor have recommendations for food for pitbulls and bully dogs here.

Comments (5)



I have a Pitbull. I have a Pitbull. I have a Pitbull. I have a Pitbull. I have a Pitbull. I have a Pitbull. I have a Pitbull. I have a Pitbull. I have a Pitbull. I have a Pitbull.

Janine Ahern


my American Pit Bull Terrier, Taz💕
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