When you click on an article about Pit Bull facts, are you immediately expecting to see a list of things highlighting how vicious and dangerous this dog is? If you are, you’re definitely not alone, which is why we’re here to set the record straight on this misunderstood breed.
For starters, the Pit Bull isn’t actually a breed. When people refer to a Pit Bull they could be talking about various dogs including the American Pit Bull Terrier, American Bulldog, American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, English Bull Terrier and other mixed breed dogs with similar traits.
The Pit Bull (mainly the American Pit Bull Terrier for the purpose of this article) has a reputation for being scary and violent but, if they’re raised correctly, they’re generally gentle, friendly and loving dogs.
1. They were bred for bull and bear baiting
It’s not hard to see where Pit Bulls get their reputation from. They were originally bred during the 19th century in England for bull and bear baiting and then brought to America by settlers. Although they were trained to fight, they were also trained to protect. While Pit Bulls may be aggressive towards other dogs if they are not socialised properly, they were originally trained to harm other animals, not their handlers. Believe it or not, the Pit Bull is easy to train and is always eager to please his owners.
2. They are one of the friendliest dog breeds
Despite their fearsome reputation, Pit Bulls are actually one of the friendliest dog breeds, second only to the Labrador Retriever. According to research by the American Temperament Society these dogs pass the temperament test 87% of the time and were rated fourth out of 122 breeds for most affectionate and least aggressive dogs. You’d think because of their size and vicious rep that they’d make great guard dogs, but they’re actually too trusting of humans.
3. They were once nanny dogs
It may surprise you to know that Pit Bulls were once popular family dogs. At the start of the 20th century they were used as nanny dogs and trusted to look after children thanks to their loyal and loving nature. At this time the portrayal of Pit Bulls in the media was much more family friendly - think Petey from the beloved TV show Little Rascals. If well trained, Pit Bulls are very good with children as they’re smart, keen to impress, and they love to show affection.
4. They were wartime heroes
If you look back at the history books, you may see pictures of Pit Bulls on army recruitment posters from the First World War. The US army used the breed as mascots because at the time they were a symbol of bravery, loyalty and determination. Pit Bulls were also used as service dogs in the military. The most famous of these was named Stubby. The brave Pit served in the First World War and was awarded the rank of Sergeant for his service. On his return home he was given a hero’s parade for having saved soldiers from mustard gas.
5. They’re great climbers
Pit Bulls are strong and agile. Because of this they have been known to climb walls and fences, one Pit Bull managed to climb an incredible 12ft. Their athletic and energetic nature makes them great at scaling vertical surfaces, but it also makes them good service dogs. They are often used as sniffer dogs as they tend to work harder than other dogs and are more determined and eager to please their handlers. They are keen to get in on the action and are able to keep their cool under pressure.
6. Helen Keller had a Pit Bull
Does it surprise you to know that activist Helen Keller had a Pit Bull? Pit Bulls are often used as therapy dogs because of their loving and affectionate nature. Helen Keller had autism, as well as being deaf and blind, and she loved her gentle Pit Bull. Pit Bulls are in tune with their owners emotions, which can also make them more sensitive, so be aware if they give you the silent treatment as you may have upset them. However, they will also forgive and forget quickly.
7. It’s a myth that they can lock their jaw
There are many myths about Pit Bulls, one of which is that they can lock their jaw and make it impossible to open. However, their jaw is no different to other dogs and has no locking mechanism. While its bite is strong (at 235psi it is equivalent to a Great White Shark) it isn’t as strong as you may imagine either, ranking behind the likes of the German Shepherd and Rottweiler, according to a test by National Geographic in 2008). They may love to chew, but if this dog bites, it is most likely down to bad owners and how they were raised.
8. There are lots of them
Despite their unpopularity, there are a lot of Pit Bulls, especially in the USA. Around 5-10% of the dog population in America are Pit Bulls - that’s over 2 million dogs! The biggest Pit Bull in the world weighs 174 pounds, the same weight as an average adult. His name is Hulk and he was raised as a protection dog as his owners though that he would be feared because of his size.
9. They are cover stars
The Pit Bull is the only breed of dog that has been on the cover of Life Magazine three times. They’ve also made a name for themselves in the film and music industry from 1983 film Flashdance to featuring in a Jennifer Lopez music video. Famous Pit Bull owners include former presidents Franklin D Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, as well as celebrities such as Jennifer Aniston and Serena Williams.
10. They tried to rebrand
Over the years, breeders have tried to change the Pit Bull’s name in an attempt to change the negative associations. Names such as New Yorkie and St Francis Terriers were tried but nothing stuck. Pit Bulls were originally bred to fight because they had the strength of the English Bulldog and the fearlessness of the Terrier. They were then used on farms for hunting and protecting livestock. But by the 1980s they were being used for dog fighting again. The breed has been banned in England since 1991 because it is seen as a dangerous dog, but unfortunately many of these dogs are either overbred or trained to be aggressive by bad owners.
In 2014, artist Sophie Gamand put together a portfolio of images exhibiting Pit Bulls wearing flower garlands to show these adorable dogs off in a more positive light. Hopefully one day breeds like these won’t need any help in convincing people that there’s more to them than meets the eye and that just like any other dog, they’re just looking for the right home and family to love them.
Former editor of World of Animals magazine, Zara is a freelance writer with a passion for wildlife. Born in South Africa, she developed a love of animals from an early age. She is currently looking for a bigger house just so she can get a cat and a dog.
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