Everything You Need To Know About The Pit Bull Terrier

image showing a pitbull puppy

Discussions on the humble Pitbulls have continued for decades. Are they safe to keep as family pets, are they vicious? They always seem to be on the news. Many keep them as guard dogs because of their looks but are they really the best guard dogs?

Of course, the western media has made them famous for all the wrong reasons, but there has been a lot of genuine interest within India for the breed. They are some of the most popular dog breeds in central north India.

In this article, we will cover everything you need to know about Pitbulls in India! So hold on tight, this is going to be a long article.

History Of The Pitbull

We usually misunderstand Pitbulls as a singular breed but they actually refer to a small family of breeds like the American Pitbull Terrier, the American Bulldog, Staffordshire Bull Terrier and the American Staffordshire Terrier.

The three breeds mentioned above have something in common. Their ancestors were bred with terriers and bulldogs. The idea was to combine the speed of the terriers and the strength of the Bulldogs. After decades of breeding and perfecting, we had the Pitbull.

They were initially bred to herd cattle. But back then, they weren’t given an official name. The breed was known for its sturdy built and it was made for outdoors, for long hours. The looks were just a by-product of having such a powerful dog. 

That is perhaps why their tails were cropped and ears docked. It reduced the chances of injuries and made work easier for both the farmers and the dog.

It didn’t take long for people to notice them for their fierce looks and include them in bloodshed sports. These beautiful animals were pitted against bulls or bears (hence the name ‘Pitbull’). It was a sad part of history that continues to maim their image in the present.

Bloodshed sports were officially banned in 1835 in Great Britain, however, this did not stop people from pitting bulls against each other. It is an illegal practice but is still done to this day! Dogfighting has gone underground but their image hasn’t.

It wasn’t the dogs’ fault that they were pitted against each other and forced to fight, but people instantly started treating Pitbulls as aggressive dogs and a threat to human society. 

The American Kennel Club (AKC) had briefly registered some Pitbull Breeds only to remove them later as they did not want to represent ‘aggressive’ dogs on their list of breeds.

It has been more than a century since there has been a ban on dog fights but their notorious reputation remains. Many are afraid to adopt/buy a Pitbull and some only buy them to continue illegal dog fights with them.

The modern-day Pitbull faces a new calamity enforced by man. They are sensitive, intelligent, loving, dogs but since we have used them in dog fights for centuries, they hold a bad reputation for no real reason. So many countries have banned Pitbulls and in places where they aren’t banned, Pitbull owners struggle to rent apartments, walk their dogs and are often exposed to harsh treatment just for owning a Pittie.

Are Pitbulls Banned In India?

Thankfully they are not banned in India. They are in fact quite popular in the central north region like Delhi, Haryana, Punjab etc. Since they are easier to train and handle than Indian Mastiffs and don’t have a dense coat like the Himalayan Mastiff, many prefer to keep Pitbulls in India.

Unfortunately, the preconceived notions about Pitbulls have followed them across continents. Though Indian Pitbull owners don’t face as much discrimination as those in the west, simple activities like walking a Pitbull can sometimes be difficult. People tend to assume these dogs are dangerous and they impose unnecessary restrictions.

The only way to reduce this is to educate more individuals and help them see the majestic dog for what they really are.

American Pitbull Terrier

american pitbull terrier on white background

The American Pitbull Terrier is one of the four Pitbulls. They are perhaps the most popular Pitbull in India. When people say ‘Pitbull’ they often refer to the American Pitbull terrier.

Physical Characteristics

Breed Group: Terrier
Height: 43 – 48 cm
Weight: 16 – 30 kg
Lifespan: 8 – 15 years

The American Pitbull has a broad face and a slightly wrinkled muzzle. They belong to the molosser family, hence, you must take extra care of the loose wrinkles around their face to prevent skin infections and respiratory problems.

They have a large head, a broad jawline and a very muscular stocky body. Their ears perk up at the base and hang loose around the tip. Cropping is a redundant practice that pet parents would still do to give their dog a certain ‘look’ that does nothing more than feed the negative stigma.

Their strong jaw muscles allows them to grab and hold objects with such intense force that it is almost impossible to get free. This is another reason why Pitbulls have such a bad reputation. Their jaw strength is immense and it’s important to teach them when it’s okay to bite (like play-bite) and when it’s not okay to bite.

Trainability

Owing to their Terrier genes, the American Pitbull Terrier is resilient. However, they are perhaps the easiest to train amongst Pitbulls. They are very intelligent and are often used as Police dogs in the United States.

Resilience is the only hurdle in training but with the right kind of approach, you can make the American Pitbull Terrier do just about anything. They are often strength trained, but you can teach them to do pretty much anything. 

For police dogs to therapy dogs, with the right kind of encouragement, they can do it all!

If trained, they can guard too but guarding is not their strongest pursuit. They can guard their own family, but they struggle to understand that property needs to be guarded as well. If you want to keep a dog for guarding purposes you can keep other breeds that were made to guard people and property.

Personality and Temperament

The American Pitbull Terrier is more docile when compared to their cousins. They are often put in very bad situations and face the worst kind of torture in the hands of human beings. Even after all that, they have shown to bounce back and love their new homes with new human beings.

They are great with people and kids and are often called ‘nanny dogs’; these goofy, fun-loving little sweethearts are nothing like what they’re thought to be.

As with most terriers, they aren’t particularly good with other animals including dogs. So, if you have more than one pet in the house, consider bringing home an American Pitbull Terrier at a very young age and start socialising them with other animals very early on. 

Some APTs are calm around other animals but if you plan to adopt an adult, please introduce them with the other animals in your house; check if they can get along and only adopt them if they cope well in your family environment. Sometimes, even after all the training, they may still show aggression towards other animals.

Health Conditions

For a dog its size and built, Pitbulls have a good lifespan (8 – 14 years) and are generally quite healthy. They have a lot of stamina and are ideal for active families. But unfortunately, their active lifestyle cannot save them from a few genetic health conditions.

Because of their muscular stalky build, they are prone to different types of bone diseases, like hip dysplasia, degenerative myelopathy, kneecap dislocation etc.

Owing to their thin coat, they are prone to seasonal rashes. This is why you should take extra care in extreme hot and cold temperatures. They can get mange, seasonal hair fall and skin allergies too, so keep an eye on scabs and excessive itching.

Thyroid and heart problems are among other problems they face. Heart defects tend to be quite minor and can be left untreated but doctors may advise you to put them on a strict diet and reduced physical activity.

As they grow older, they often develop cataracts and other vision problems.

Treatment

Among all the above conditions, bone diseases are the most common among Pitbulls, it is also very painful as they grow older. Simple activities like walking, jumping, running etc become difficult for them with age.

Correctional surgery is an option for severe cases, however, it is usually not recommended. Surgery can be expensive and since it’s a major surgery, post-surgery care and recovery is a long and agonising process. It is not ideal for a senior dog to undergo surgery especially when it requires them to rest for days.

Most doctors would recommend non-invasive methods to handle bone diseases. Doctors may ask you to reduce exercise and put them on a low-calorie diet (if they are overweight). Massage, acupuncture and swimming will soothe the pain temporarily. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to reverse the damage.

Since hip dysplasia makes it difficult for them to walk or jump into the car, sofa, bed etc many use a hip brace to support them. This eases the pain in hip dysplasia and arthritis. You can manufacture stairs especially for them to help them climb sofas and beds.

American Staffordshire Terrier

amercian staffordshire terrier on white background

The American Staffordshire Terrier also falls into the Pitbull category mostly because it has the same history and unfortunate past as the American Pitbull Terrier.

In fact, the name ‘Staffordshire Terrier’ came about to distinguish this breed from the American Pitbull Terrier. The reasoning behind this was to change the stereotypes they have against this breed. It worked to some extent! Despite removing the APT from their breed list they do recognise the Staffordshire Terrier as an independent dog breed.

Physical Characteristics

Breed Group: Terrier
Height: 40 – 50 cm
Weight: 18 – 27 kg
Lifespan: 10 – 12 years

There is no major difference with the American Pitbull Terrier and the American Staffordshire Terrier. The Staffordshire Terrier is a little bulkier than the latter. This is perhaps why they have a shorter lifespan.

Secondly, since the American Staffordshire Terrier is bred as per the AKC standards, you’ll find fewer variations in the breed. Having a black nose is mandatory for this breed whereas an American Pitbull terrier can have a number of nose colours.

From a breed perspective, the American Staffordshire Terrier is preferred over the American Pitbull Terrier. Since the Staffordshire Terrier is better recognised as per AKC standards, than the American Pitbull, breeders are more careful with their breeding and pay closer attention to their genetics.

Trainability

The American Staffordshire Terrier is registered in the AKC which is why they are bred in better conditions. This is perhaps why they are slightly easier to train when compared to the American Pitbull Terrier. However, the slight variations between the two are very little and hardly makes any difference in their training.

It is a little difficult to train them during the initial phases in their puppyhood however once they cross their initial months, training becomes easier. Though they are high energy dogs, they make for excellent therapy dogs.

They have not been the best watch dogs/guard dogs because contrary to human belief, they actually love people and it is against their nature to fight people.

Personality & Temperament

They are not known to show aggression towards people. They may behave territorially with kids and some Staffordshire terriers are aggressive with kids. But, if they are raised well in a safe environment with ample opportunities to socialise they become very versatile and caring towards their family.

Just like the American Pitbull Terrier, the Staffordshire Terrier isn’t the best with other animals – dogs or cats. There are exceptions but most Stafforshires prefer only human company.

Health Conditions & Treatment

They tend to have the same health problems as the American Pitbull Terrier. Owing to their bigger size and bulkier body, they tend to slow down faster with age. Working them out is a  must but it is also important to reduce jumping and running as they become middle-aged/senior dogs.

Make sure to consult the vet as they become seniors. Yearly checkups are a must to prevent the deterioration of bones, eyesight etc.

Though efforts were made to protect the image of the breed, the Staffordshire Terrier is still used in dog fights and people are afraid of them. In fact most of us cannot make out the difference between the American Pitbull Terrier and the American Staffordshire Terrier. It is our responsibility to change the reputation we once brought on them.

American Bulldog

american bulldog on white background

The American Bulldog is easily distinguished from other Pitbulls because of their size. They are almost double the size of an American Pitbull Terrier and an American Staffordshire Terrier.

The American Bulldog comes from the British Bulldog which was bred during the 17th century. 

Physical Characteristics

Breed Group: Guardian Dogs
Height: 50 – 68 cm
Weight: 27 – 48 kg
Lifespan: 10 – 15 years

They have a short coat just like the above Pitbulls but they are moderate shedders hence they need frequent brushing. The American Kennel Club does recognise the American Bulldog as an independent breed and that’s why there are strict criteria involved for this breed to be registered.

Trainers and breeders who have closely worked with the American Bulldog say that they have a very high tolerance to pain. In many cases, they will only show pain when it is very severe. So, do not neglect routine checkups especially when they grow older.

Trainability

They are very intelligent dogs but they must be trained with patience and a strong commanding voice. They are not good with physical punishment and can easily turn aggressive towards those who treat them with violence. Positive reinforcement works really well for these dogs.

They are powerful resilient dogs, hence early training is a must and they do need a patient owner who can give them time, work them out and train them. This is why they are not the best for first-time owners.

As big dogs, you must start lead training from an early age because an adult American Bulldog can break leashes if they pull too hard. With early training and obedience, they become amazing dogs.

Personality and Temperament

The American Bulldog is brave and confident. They are not known the be aggressive however, they need a strong hand in training. Confidence can slowly turn to dominance if they are not trained properly, and that may pose a great threat to those who own an American Bulldog.

As we said earlier, the American Bulldog needs someone with a firm command. They often struggle in a house where they aren’t sure who leads the pack. Once they know where they belong in the family, they easily fit in place.

Since they are high energy, demanding dogs, it is ideal to have someone at home with them. If left for a long period of time they can act destructively out of boredom. In the long run, this may lead to behavioural problems. So if your dog has to stay alone for long hours every day, the American Bulldog may not be the best for you.

Health Conditions and Treatment

As big dogs they are prone to bloat and gastric problems. They generally live up to 10 to 15 years in good health if they are kept well. They are prone to bone cancer, hip and elbow dysplasia, kidney problems, hypothyroidism, cherry eyes etc.

They are bigger than other Pitbulls hence they tend to be slower in terms of their movement. Avoid making them jump too much at any age. Running and jogging is ideal when they are young and should be reduced as they grow older. 

Since they have shorter snouts, that need care. Make sure to clean their muzzle after an outdoor play session. It will protect their nostrils from getting clogged.

They have a short coat which makes them vulnerable to extreme temperatures as well. So, if you plan to keep them in places like Delhi, make sure to provide them with adequate protection in the summers and winters.

Staffordshire Bull Terrier

The Staffordshire Bull Terrier was bred in Staffordshire England and unlike the other Pitbulls, they were bred especially for bullfights. When bullfights were banned, their popularity started to dwindle. They became less popular until revived again in America.

Physical Characteristics

Breed Group: Terrier
Height: 35 – 40 cm
Weight: 10 – 17 kg
Lifespan: 12 – 14 years

As you can see from above, this Staffordshire Bull Terrier is a lighter dog. They have a short easy-to-maintain coat, a square face and droopy ears. Many are gravitated by their strong fierce looks but when they get to know a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, they realise that these dogs are muscular lovable babies who really just want to play and have a good time.

Trainability

Just like other Terriers, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier is an intelligent dog but they can be resilient at times. They were bred to show aggression towards other animals but never with their handlers. Which is why most SBTs are calm and playful with humans and aggressive with other animals.

SBTs are also great nanny dogs. They love kids but sometimes they may react if the child is too rough. Parental guidance is a must when you introduce your child to your dog. Children must also learn how to treat them with respect and kindness.

Staffordshire Bull Terriers are excellent learners and they make great companion dogs, however, owing to their resilient and aloof nature, they tend to go off on their own when they get the chance, and not listen to their owners.

They respond well to positive reinforcement rather than reprimands. Even after early training, exposure and socialisation, some SBTs are not able to tolerate other animals. Do not leave them off leash as it is hard to get their attention after they see a dog or a cat.

Since they are big dogs, there is nothing more dangerous than having an unattentive SBT out loose.

If you have more than one animal in the house, you can bring your Staff at a very early age. They usually get along better with opposite sex animals if they had ample socialising opportunities.

A single animal household is ideal for a Staff. Sometimes they get along with more than one dog at home but may still be aggressive towards other dogs.

Staffs are also not the best guarding dogs. They are protective of their family but not towards the property. And burglars can easily sway your dog with a few belly rubs. Hence, you should pick another breed if you are looking for a guard dog.

Personality and Temperament

They are goofy dogs, love to have fun and play with their humans. They have a people-pleasing side to them which makes them easy to train. Since they are strong-willed and resilient, they need a firm owner who can teach them good behaviour without getting frustrated.

Staffs struggle with separation anxiety and hate to be left alone. They may act out of anxiety and boredom if you’re not in the house. Hence, they must be trained on how to behave when left alone.

If they’re given the right kind of training and raised in good families, they shine. They love to play with kids and love having visitors around. They also enjoy fun activities – a day at the beach and so on.

Health and Treatment

The Staff has short fur and they are usually intolerant to extreme temperatures. They often get rashes during severe winters and summers. 

If you live in a place with massive temperature variations, make sure to take all the necessary precautions. Do not leave them out during the peak summers and winters.

They are energetic all throughout their lives and this often poses a risk for them when they grow old. Because of their stalkier build, they are prone to elbow dysplasia, hip dysplasia etc. 

They are also prone to this condition called Patellar Luxation. In this condition, the patella or the knee cap does not align with the femur (thigh bone) and the tibia (calf bone). It tends to slip when the dog walks or runs, causing them a lot of pain and discomfort. This is a hereditary condition that may lead to degenerative bones and arthritis later on.

Why Do Pitbulls Have A Bad Rep?

After going through each breed, we can all agree that Pitbulls are amazing dogs. They are kind, friendly and very loving. So why then do they have such a notorious reputation? They are banned in many states and countries and though they aren’t banned in some places around the world, residencies have strict regulations against Pitbulls.

Why ban the dog when they are clearly not the problem? There are many reasons why people feel afraid of Pitbulls. Many Pitbull lovers have taken initiatives to break stereotypes and show their loving side to the world. 

The truth is we are not ready to break those stereotypes and it just shows the shrewd nature of human beings. It seems easier to blame the dog than the person who made the dog aggressive.

Another possible reason is because of personal experiences. Pitbulls are not the most friendly with other animals. If someone has witnessed another animal being harmed by Pitbulls, they are less likely to trust the breed.

Another reason why people show hostility towards the breed may be because many people with criminal records tend to gravitate towards the breed. This adds more fear amongst those who don’t want any trouble in society. Check the explanation given by Zak Goerge in the video below:

So, it actually has very little to do with the dog and more to do with how we raise them. Any dog will be agitated if treated harshly. 

There’s no denying that Pitbulls are strong dogs and an angry Pitbull is a danger to the society. But the root of this problem is not the Pitbull, it’s us.

The only way to help them is by spreading positive posts about them on social media, adopting Pitties and getting rid of this age old stereotype. 

In India, their bad reputation hasn’t spread as widely as in the west. We can still save them and show to the rest of the world how amazing Pitbulls really are! Let’s have more Pitbulls in India!

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About The Author

Dheepakh Rajaram

Dheepakh Rajaram

Dheepakh is a dedicated pet parent. His love for his dogs turned him into a pet food enthusiast. He has dedicated all his life to understand pet food nutrition and is eager to learn everyday.

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