Which Dog Breeds Are ACTUALLY “Pitbulls”?

The term “Pitbull” often causes confusion, especially among those unfamiliar with dog breeds.

The origin of the term can be traced back to the early days of dog fighting, when the Bull & Terrier breeds had to compete against each other in small fighting arenas known as “pits.”

During this time, there was no clear distinction between different breeds. All of these breeds, however, have evolved from various crosses of the original Bull & Terrier.

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Today, ‘Pitbull’ has become the umbrella term for dogs with a gym membership – It refers to a specific phenotype or appearance, not a specific breed. This phenotype is characterized by a muscular build, broad skull, and pronounced jaw muscles.

However, the confusion begins here because many different dog breeds can exhibit these physical characteristics, including the Rottweiler, American Bulldog or Dogo Argentino just to name a view. 

Image from the left: American Pit Bull Terrier, Carne Corso (not a Pit Bull), American Staffordshire Terrier, American Bully

Our goal is to shed light on and differentiate between the breeds commonly grouped under the label “Pitbulls.”

This involves distinguishing between the bull-type terriers that have their roots in the Bull & Terrier breed, including the American Pitbull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and Bull Terrier.

All these breeds are the result of diverse crossbreeding practices involving the original Bull & Terrier. By selectively breeding the old type Bulldog with various terriers, these breeds have been carefully refined and developed into the unique and recognized breeds we are familiar with today.  

Bull Terrier 

The Bull Terrier is the most distinct among the bull-type terriers. Visually, the Bull Terrier looks the least like the American Pitbull Terrier, particularly because of its unique profile, with its ‘egg-shaped’ head.

The breed was developed in the 19th century in England and was originally bred for dog fighting, which was a legal and popular entertainment of the era. After dog fighting was outlawed, the breed’s enthusiasts steered its use towards more companionable roles.

The Bull Terrier’s temperament is known to be spirited and friendly, contradicting its fighting origins. It’s recognized by major kennel clubs and has been featured in various roles in popular culture, like the iconic “Spuds MacKenzie” in Budweiser beer advertisements and the lovable “Bullseye” in Target department store commercials. 

The modern shape of the Bull Terrier’s head is the result of many years of deliberate breeding aimed at creating a visually appealing dog with a distinct and unmistakable profile. This head shape does not impact the dog’s health or behavior but serves purely aesthetic purposes and as a distinctive characteristic of the breed. 

The Miniature Bull Terrier, created to mirror its larger counterpart in all aspects except size, has become increasingly popular for those desiring a smaller, more apartment-friendly terrier.

Despite their reduced stature, Miniature Bull Terriers retain the breed’s characteristic bravery and exuberance.

It’s important to note that while they are not listed in breed-specific legislations due to their size, they still require the same level of commitment to training and socialization as their larger breed relatives to ensure they develop into well-adjusted pets. 

Staffordshire Bullterrier 

The Staffordshire Bull Terrier is relatively small, with a maximum height at the withers of just 40.5 cm. It features a round, almost square skull that gives its head an endearing appearance. Unlike the other three bull-type terriers, it has a shorter snout and a noticeably smaller body. 

Expanding on this, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier’s compact size and distinctive head shape set it apart from its bull-type counterparts like the American Pitbull Terrier and the American Staffordshire Terrier, which are generally larger and have more elongated skulls.

The breed’s smaller stature doesn’t diminish its robustness; these dogs are known for their muscular build and strength relative to their size. People often mistake adult Staffordshire Bull Terriers for Pitbull puppies.

Originating from the Staffordshire region in England, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier was historically bred for bull-baiting and later became popular as a family companion.

Despite its fighting heritage, the breed is renowned for its affectionate nature, especially towards children, earning it the nickname “nanny dog” in some circles.

Its playful and friendly demeanor, combined with its manageable size, makes the Staffordshire Bull Terrier a popular choice for families and individuals living in both houses and apartments.  

Moreover, the breed’s health and temperament are also noteworthy. While generally healthy, they can be prone to certain genetic conditions, and thus responsible breeding and regular health check-ups are essential.

Their intelligence and eagerness to please make them relatively easy to train, although early socialization is vital to ensure they develop well-rounded personalities.

The Staffordshire Bull Terrier’s loyalty and loving nature, coupled with its unique physical characteristics, have made it a beloved breed worldwide. 

American Staffordshire Terrier 

The American Staffordshire Terrier is the largest among the four bull-type terriers. It possesses a broad skull and is the heaviest of the group.

The breed is characterized by a sturdy, broad, and solid build, yet it retains an athletic appearance. It closely resembles the American Pitbull Terrier but is broader, larger, and less agile compared to the latter. 

Going into more detail, the American Staffordshire Terrier and the American Pitbull Terrier share the same origins and were once considered the same breed. However, around 1900, a desire for a showline variant led to a divergence in breeding paths.

This division among breeders resulted in the development of what is known today as the American Staffordshire Terrier. The breed was first registered by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1936.

Since then, the American Staffordshire Terrier has evolved to be larger and more robust than its cousin, the American Pitbull Terrier. 

Interestingly, these two breeds are genetically indistinguishable. This means that breed-specific DNA tests yield identical results for both.

In fact, our American Staffordshire Terrier Mix shows American Staffordshire Terrier in the DNA test results, but phenotypically, with her smaller, more athletic figure, she more closely resembles the American Pit Bull Terrier. 

Phenotypically, distinguishing between the two can be challenging and requires a trained eye. Once one becomes familiar with the subtle differences in their appearance, such as the American Staffordshire Terrier’s broader build and less defined agility, it becomes easier to differentiate between the two. 

The American Staffordshire Terrier’s history is intertwined with both working and show lineages. While initially bred for strength and endurance, the breed’s show line evolution has emphasized physical appearance and temperament suitable for conformation shows.

Today, the American Staffordshire Terrier is celebrated not just for its physical attributes but also for its loyalty, intelligence, and affectionate nature. These traits make it a popular choice as a family pet.

However, due to its strength and potential for protective behavior, responsible ownership, including proper training and socialization, is essential to ensure a well-adjusted and sociable dog. 

American Pit Bull Terrier 

The American Pit Bull Terrier is the true “Pit Bull.” It is a very agile, lean, and slender dog. The bulky appearance is minimal in the American Pit Bull Terrier.

Expanding further, the American Pitbull Terrier’s history is deeply rooted in both athleticism and versatility.

Originally bred for various roles, including hunting, herding, and guarding, their agility and strength were highly valued. Over time, the breed’s focus shifted towards companionship and competition in dog sports.

The American Pit Bull Terrier is known for its intelligence, loyalty, and high energy levels, making it an excellent choice for active families and individuals. 

In terms of physical appearance, the American Pit Bull Terrier often features a more defined muscular structure and a sleeker build compared to the more robust American Staffordshire Terrier.

It’s important to note that while they share a common lineage, the breeding goals and standards for these two breeds have diverged significantly over the years. The American Pit Bull Terrier’s agility and endurance make it a standout in dog sports such as agility, weight pulling, and obedience competitions.

American Pit Bull Terriers bred under the American Dog Breeders Association (ADBA) highlight the notable differences between the American Pit Bull Terrier and the American Staffordshire Terrier.

However, those bred under the United Kennel Club (UKC) standards often closely resemble the American Staffordshire Terrier, as many American Staffordshire Terriers were historically integrated into their breeding lines.

American Bully 

In the dynamic world of dog breeds, the American Bully stands out as a unique and relatively new addition.

Recognized by the United Kennel Club (UKC) in 2013 as a separate breed, the American Bully is a derivative of the American Pitbull Terrier.

However, it significantly diverges from its Pitbull lineage, both in appearance and temperament. 

This breed is the result of an innovative mix, blending various Molosser breeds with the American Pitbull Terrier. The outcome is the American Bully – a robust, muscular dog with a distinct physicality that sets it apart from its ancestors.

Unlike its Pitbull relative, the American Bully exhibits a more laid-back and gentle demeanor, making it an ideal companion for families.  

One of the defining characteristics of the American Bully is its impressive size. Typically weighing at least 30 kg, these dogs are known for their substantial mass, contributing to their striking presence.

Despite their formidable build, American Bullies are less energetic compared to traditional Terrier breeds, often displaying a relaxed and easygoing nature. 

The American Bully stands as a testament to modern breeding practices, combining the strength and stature of Molosser breeds with the gentleness and affectionate nature suitable for family life. 

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Edda Reynolds

Edda's journey into pet ownership began with a rescue dog that was deeply fearful of humans. To better support her first dog, Edda immersed herself in Canine Behavior Psychology. When her cherished companion passed away at 16, she chose to adopt a Pit Bull mix from a shelter. This new dog, Toffee, was not only affectionate towards people but also showed a keen aptitude for dog agility. Toffee introduced Edda to the strength and gentleness of Pit Bull-type breeds, sparking a deep love for them. This led Edda to welcome Runa, a Blue Staffordshire Bull Terrier puppy, into her family, providing Toffee with an ideal companion for play and companionship.

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Light Up Dog Collar for Small Medium Large Dogs, Rechargeable Flashing LED Dog Collar Light Adjustable Waterproof Lighted Dog Collar for Night Safety, Green-M
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