The Truth About Pitbulls: 12 Surprising Facts

Pitbulls are strong and protective dogs that are fast learners, but the question is how much of their abilities are overshadowed by their reputation.

Nov 25, 2023byLisa Szymanski

The pitbull is an incredibly powerful, agile, and friendly breed that makes a truly loyal companion. They have a strong inclination to protect their families, but despite their loving and protective nature, these dogs have been criticized for being too aggressive. While pitbulls are very determined dogs, they do well with training, especially at a young age. Regular exercise and firm leadership are important when you want to raise a well-adjusted dog. To better understand the breed, we uncover the truth about pitbulls with 12 surprising facts.

1. Pitbull Temperament

blue pitbull with cropped ears side of face profile
Pitbulls are attentive and smart dogs.

The pitbull is a highly intelligent dog that is attuned to the emotions of its handlers. When properly trained, exercised, and socialized, they have friendly temperaments and a bold nature. Because they are so eager to please their owners, pitbulls are responsive to training and easily learn basic commands such as sit, stay, and heel. The American Temperament Test Society, or ATTS, conducts temperament tests for dogs based on shyness, overall friendliness, and aggressiveness. Based on their assessment of the pitbull, they found that more than 80% of pitbulls passed. They rank in the top ten for best temperament out of 122 breeds. This is despite their reputation as being perceived as the most fearsome dogs in the world.

2. History of The Pitbull

painting of pitbull bull baiting
The practice of bull baiting.

The roots of the pitbull can be traced back to 19th-century Europe, where the stocky bulldog was crossed with the nimble terrier. The result was an agile and strong breed that was used in cruel sports such as bull baiting, ratting, and dog fighting. Over time, people recognized the loyalty of the breed, and pitbull terriers became popular guard dogs for families and farm animals. Eventually, the pitbull was called the American pitbull terrier after European settlers arrived with their dogs in the United States. These dogs were a firm favorite in America and became active working dogs during WWI and WWII. It was only in 1898 that the American pitbull terrier was registered as an independent breed by the United Kennel Club.

3. The Physical Characteristics of Pitbulls

brown pitbull outdoors wearing black harness
Pitbulls are athletic dogs that love the outdoors.

The pitbull is a medium-to-large-sized dog that has a lean body and good muscle definition. They weigh anywhere from 30 to 60 lbs, but stockier dogs are on the heavier side, reaching up to 90 lbs. The height of a male pitbull is around 21 inches at the shoulder, while females are slightly smaller at 17 to 20 inches. They have high-set ears, or cropped ears, a broad muzzle, and a tapered tail. You can find American pitbull terriers in a wide range of coat colors, including brown, blue, white, and black, except merle. Overall, pitbulls should be well-defined with lean bodies to perform physical tasks from agility training to endurance events.

4. Pitbull Intelligence for Obedience

tan pitbull trained by woman handler wearing white jacket on grass
Pitbulls enjoy being rewarded during training.

If you want an incredibly smart dog, the pitbull has a higher level of intelligence than most breeds when learning new commands. They can understand simple commands such as sit, stay, and heel, as well as complex tasks like retrieving items and acting as physical support dogs. Despite their impressive performance in obedience, these dogs do not have a very high IQ compared to working breeds such as German shepherds, labradors, or rottweilers. This is due to their temperament. A determined pitbull can learn new dog commands quickly and easily, but if they become distracted or have an “off-day,” they will lose interest in training. The trick to successfully teaching pitbulls is to keep sessions short and provide plenty of positive reinforcement in the form of praise and treats. When you notice they’re losing interest or getting bored, end the training and start fresh the next day.

5. Pitbulls Exercise Needs

brown pitbull leaping after red frisbee
Pitbulls can jump very high.

Pitbulls were bred to be loyal, and most dogs are loving and affectionate, with some even serving as therapy dogs. On the other hand, this breed is very protective and can be stubborn, so they need firm and consistent leadership to prevent doggy behavioral problems. Another important aspect of their care is their high energy levels. Pitbulls were bred for hunting and are fast and muscular, allowing them to easily scale walls and fences up to 6 feet high. To prevent pent-up energy from causing them to dig up the garden or clear high fences, these powerful dogs need regular exercise. Agility courses and games, such as flyball, are excellent ways to keep them mentally and physically stimulated. They also benefit from constant socialization from a young age to avoid any aggressive tendencies toward other dogs, people, and animals.

6. Keeping Your pitbull Looking Fresh

blue pitbull with front white foot running on sand

If you want an energetic, low-shedding dog that doesn’t require a great deal of grooming, then the pitbull is the perfect choice. These dogs have very short coats and only need to be brushed once a week. Most pitbull terriers are not fond of intense heat or very cold weather. My pitbull really struggles in winter because of his flat coat, but to help him cope, he wears a soft fleece-lined jacket when temperatures plummet. Active pitbulls that spend most of their time outdoors need a good tick and flea prevention program. While their short fur makes it easier to spot external parasites, smaller fleas can easily hide in the folds of their skin, including the back of their legs and ears. Pitbulls don’t require frequent bathing, and a good soaking every 2 to 4 months is enough to remove dirt and odors from their coats.

7. Common Health Issues in Pitbulls

brown and white pitbull lying on sofa
Pitbulls suffer from mobility issues in their senior years.

Despite their physicality and low grooming requirements, pitbulls are prone to mobility and skin-related conditions. They’re affected by common health issues in dogs, including allergies and sunburn, because of their short hair. Pitbulls and staffies suffer from hip dysplasia, which is a genetic condition causing misalignment of the hips, arthritis, and severe pain. Due to their active nature, pitbulls are at higher risk of sustaining cruciate ligament injuries. Furthermore, they’re affected by cataracts that can develop by 6 years old. If you notice your dog’s eyes becoming cloudy, a veterinary examination can determine the presence of cataracts. The average age of a pitbull is 12 years; however, some terriers can reach 14 to 16 years. The oldest recorded pitbull cross, by the name of Max, reached an astonishing 29 years old!

8. The Pitbull Encompasses Different Bully Breeds

blue pitbull panting and lying on pavers

The pitbull breed does not only include the American pitbull terrier. The Staffordshire bull terrier, American bully, and American bulldog are part of the pitbull breed. Because pitbulls adopt traits from the bulldog and terrier, many breeders believe that pitbulls encompass the so-called bully lineage. The American Kennel Club does not regard the pitbull as an independent breed but as consisting of different bully breeds. In the United Kingdom, the stocky Staffordshire bull terrier is not recognized as a pitbull. Whether the pitbull is thought of as a standalone breed or as encompassing other bully and terrier traits, they remain popular and beloved pets today.

9. Trained Pitbulls are Social and Friendly Dogs

brown pitbull playing with black and white puppy

Although the ATTS found that pitbulls have stable temperaments, their aggressive reputation has led to many misconceptions about the breed. A pitbull that is a well-trained and confident dog is not anxious around other people or pets, which significantly reduces the risk of aggressive behavior. If we look at the history of bully breeds, pitbulls were used as fighting dogs, and combined with their jaw strength, they are formidable opponents. While most dog breeds can become aggressive, care must be taken with breeds that are powerful, tenacious, and physically capable of doing damage. Fortunately, training pitbull puppies can socialize and desensitize them so they don’t become fear-reactive or overprotective.

10. Pitbulls Don’t Lock Their Jaws

pitbull with cropped ears running in water
Pitbulls are strong and fast.

There’s no denying the aggressive reputation of the pitbull. This breed has a long history of aggression because of backyard breeding, dog fighting, and failure to maintain their original temperament and traits. Part of the perception that pitbulls are dangerous dogs is because they are believed to lock their jaws when they bite. This is a myth because pitbulls cannot physically lock onto their target when they bite and hold. They have a determined nature and hold on as long as they want to. Combined with their immense jaw strength, they appear to lock down, but such canines are physically incapable of locking their jaws.

11. Pitbulls were Called Nanny Dogs

petey the pup from little rascals posing with a boy
Pete the pitbull from The Little Rascals.

During the 18th century, there was a shift in the purpose of the American pitbull terrier. These dogs went from fierce fighters to becoming wartime dogs, guardians of families, and beloved characters on television. Petey, the black-and-white pittie from the Little Rascals movie, is a great example of a devoted and iconic pitbull. Owing to their dedication and playfulness, many children came to love the American pitbull. This led to the breed being referred to as “nanny dogs,” but they were not left to care for children. The name nanny dog only referred to their protective and loving nature, especially when it came to kids.

12. Pitbulls have the Lowest Adoption Rates in the United States

brown pitbull face looking out window
Pitbulls are overlooked in shelters.

Sadly, pitbulls are among the least adopted dogs in the United States, and part of the problem is that their reputation precedes them. Despite their popularity as a breed, many families looking to adopt a companion consider bully breeds aggressive and more challenging to train. Even the mixed pitbull breeds are overlooked because they’re associated with the pitbull label. A large number of shelter pitbulls are assessed and trained prior to being placed up for adoption. If you want to offer a pittie a home, ask the shelter whether the dog is trained and whether they have any behavioral problems. This way, you can choose a true companion with the right temperament.

Lisa Szymanski
byLisa Szymanski

Lisa is a wildlife enthusiast who enjoys hiking and gardening and has four years of experience volunteering at pet shelters. She is the proud mom of two dogs, a Pitbull named Ragnar, a Boerboel named Blueberry, and four feisty chickens, or as she calls them, the \"queens of the yard,\" Goldie, Gray, Peaches, and Brownie.