Pit Bull Behaviors

Pit Bull Behaviors

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The Pit Bull is an often misunderstood dog. Learn more about this breed's true nature here.

Dogs commonly called Pit Bulls were used during the 18th and early 19th centuries to bait animals such as bears or bulls, and to fight other dogs, all for human entertainment. Because of continued misuse of the dogs by some, and as a result of negative publicity since the 1980s, Pit Bulls have acquired a reputation as being unpredictable and dangerous. While some dogs of this type occasionally exhibit such behavior, Pit Bull type dogs in general are known by those who share their homes with them to be loving family companions and intelligent working dogs; nonetheless, careful socialization should be a part of every Pit Bull's upbringing to guard against the unlikely.

The Pit Bull Type

"Pit Bull" is not a breed, but rather a term applied over centuries to a type of dog selected and used for a specific gladiator-like purpose. These dogs were generally Bull-and-Terrier crosses of various kinds, and several modern breeds established in the late 19th and early 20th centuries are based on such crosses. In Great Britain, one such breed is the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. In the U.S., two closely related breeds are the American Pit Bull Terrier, established in the late 19th century by the United Kennel Club; and the American Staffordshire Terrier, established in the 1930s by the American Kennel Club. Pit Bull-type dogs range widely in size, from 35 to 75 pounds, and are characterized by muscular builds, short coats, and broad heads with strong cheek muscles and short, powerful jaws. In general, they are intelligent, sensitive, extremely affectionate to people, love children, have strong prey drive, enjoy energetic games, and tend to be dog-aggressive.

Interaction with Humans

Pit bulls don't make good watchdogs because of their friendliness toward humans, including strangers. These dogs historically were bred specifically not to be aggressive toward humans, and the UKC and AKC both list aggression toward humans and shyness as automatic disqualifications for American Staffordshire terriers and American pit bull terriers in the show ring. AmStaffs and APBTs tend to be very attached to their owners, following them around the house. They have rambunctious, playful personalities.

Separation Anxiety

Pit Bulls want to be with their family members. Left home alone, they can suffer from separation anxiety and boredom. To prevent the destruction an anxious or bored dog can inflict on your home, it's a good idea to teach your pet to be relaxed and comfortable in a dog crate, whether at home or traveling in your vehicle, so you can confine the dog when necessary. The crate also can serve as a cozy, peaceful den where your dog can rest at any time.

Fighting Drive

Pit Bull type breeds tend to be dog-aggressive, and can fairly easily be provoked into a fight with another dog. Bred for "gameness," backed by their dog-fighting heritage and their powerful jaws, these dogs tend not to back down and can inflict serious damage in a fight. Like all dogs, they need to be properly socialized to reduce the likelihood of such conflicts. Puppy obedience classes offer a good way to expose your young dog to other people and dogs in a controlled environment, while giving you valuable skills to control your dog's behavior.

Dog Aggression

Pit Bulls shouldn't be taken to the uncontrolled environment of a dog park for socialization, nor should they be allowed to freely roam without a leash outside a securely fenced yard. Your dog may not start a scuffle with another dog, but if challenged, a Pit Bull is apt to respond.

Spay or neuter your Pit Bull to reduce the potential for aggressive behavior toward other dogs. Unaltered dogs tend to be more prone to aggression toward other dogs, especially dogs of the same gender.

It is important to take as many precautions as possible when you take your Pit Bull to different places, especially around other dogs. Your Pit Bull may never exhibit aggressive behavior, but it is best to exercise caution, not only to prevent the possibility of incidents, but to promote a positive image of the dog to the general public.

Prey Drive

Pit bull breeds are terriers, a type of dog originally selected to hunt and kill vermin. These breeds have a strong prey drive, and may pursue small pet animals such as cats or rabbits, especially if they have not been raised with them. Always supervise your pit bull around other pets, even if the dog has been socialized with them. Take special care when walking your pit bull to keep a firm hold of the dog's leash; a pit bull in sudden pursuit of a squirrel can easily run into traffic in the excitement of the chase.

Play Drive

Pit Bull breeds generally have a high play drive, and they require a lot of physical exercise. If they don't get vigorous exercise for at least an hour per day, whether it's games, dog sports, work of some kind, a jog or a brisk walk, they are apt to invent something to do. An exercised Pit Bull is a well-behaved Pit Bull. Playing or working with your Pit Bull strengthens your bond with the dog. Besides training and playing at home, consider joining in dog sports such as agility classes offered in your area. Not only do dog sports provide an outlet for your dog's energy, but they also reinforce socialization, basic obedience, and good manners.


Pit Bulls were bred for stamina, intelligence, and determination. Together, these traits make up the quality of gameness. Gameness gives your Pit Bull the tendency to persevere to achieve a given task. While this quality was what breeders sought when they crossed Terriers on Bull dogs for dog-fighting purposes, it is a positive trait for other purposes. Pit bulls love to complete a task given to them and to do it well. They want to please their owners, and with proper training they make good search-and-rescue dogs or therapy pets. These working dogs become excellent ambassadors for their breed.

References & Resources

National Canine Research Council: The Pit Bull Placebo: The Media, Myths and Politics of Canine Aggression
Pit Bull Rescue Central: Frequently Asked Questions
Annabelle’s Second Chance: Before You Purchase or Adopt a Pit Bull
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: The Truth About Pit Bulls
United Kennel Club: American Pit Bull Terrier
American Kennel Club: AKC Meet the Breeds: American Staffordshire Terrier
Pit Bull Rescue Central: The Art of Being a Breed Ambassador
Pit Bull Rescue Central: Pit Bulls Basic Care and Facts
Therapy Dogs International: Requirements for Registration With TDI

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian or other qualified professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard or delay seeking professional advice due to what you may have read on our website.

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