Many people, often even including pit bull owners, don’t understand that “pit bull” isn’t one specific breed of dog. This leads to a lot of confusion when it comes to issues like breed-specific legislation, shelter regulations, and housing regulations. In the broadest sense of the term, a “pit bull” is not a breed of dog at all, but a category of breeds that encompasses several similar-looking breeds descended from crosses between bulldogs and terriers. The ASPCA states that, depending on who you ask the term “can refer to just a couple of breeds or to as many as five.” Here are the most common types of dog referred to as pit bulls:
Staffordshire Bull Terrier
This type of pit bull is the easiest to distinguish from others, because it is much smaller than an average pit bull. The AKC places an upper size limit limit of just 16 inches tall and 38 pounds for an adult Staffordshire bull terrier, and they can be as small as 24 poundsLike other pit bulls, they are very muscular and have a somewhat square-shaped head, and they tend to be obedient and affectionate but strong-willed and stubborn.
American Staffordshire Terrier
The American Staffordshire terrier came about in the late 19th or early 20th century. Its ancestral breed, the Staffordshire bull terrier, was imported from England, but American breeders worked to create a much larger and bulkier variation. Weighing in at an impressive 62 to 88 pounds, the AmStaff is bold and energetic and has all the size, strength, and intelligence, typically associated with pit bulls. This makes them wonderful companions but can also make them formidable fighters and, often, the target of breed-related discrimination.
American Pit Bull Terrier
The only type of pit bull with “pit bull” its name, the American pit bull terrier comes from a slightly different bloodline than the Staffordshire breeds. It was bred separately by combining terriers and bulldogs. Its name is actually a misnomer, since it was developed in England and Ireland and is only recognized by kennel clubs in the U.K. (not the U.S.). The American pit bull terrier can weigh anywhere from 30 to 90 pounds, and is said to make a terrible guard dog because it’s excessively friendly, even with strangers!
The bull terrier is probably the easiest to distinguish from other types of pit bull at a glance. It has a much longer muzzle than other pit bull breeds, and (although some colors are permissible in shows) it is usually all-white with just a few colored markings on its head. Bull terriers can weigh 50-70 pounds and tend to look intimidating, although they’re usually very friendly and tend to bond strongly with their owners. Since the bull terrier is physically different from other types of pit bull, it isn’t always included in the “pit bull” category.
There are several other types of dog that are often incorrectly called pit bulls. The ASPCA notes that, despite sometimes looking like pit bulls, other breeds such as the boxer, Presa Canario, Cane Corso, Dogo Argentino, Tosa Inu, bullmastiff, dogue de Bordeaux, Alapaha blue blood bulldog, and Old English bulldog are completely distinct from the pit bull group and can’t be classified as pit bulls.
If you have a recently adopted or found dog and you’re not sure whether or not it falls into the category of “pit bull,” ask a veterinarian for an exam that might help to identify its breed or breed mix. This can make it easier to determine whether you actually have a type of pit bull, or simply a dog with some “bully” traits. Most importantly, understand that there is no single breed called a pit bull, so there isn’t a single set of traits that can distinguish pit bulls from other types of dog.