Pit Bulls are one of the most controversial and misunderstood dog breeds. Images of muscular, tough-looking Pit Bulls are prevalent across social media and pop culture. Many people automatically associate them with aggression and danger – contributing to bans against the breed in some areas.
However, behind their bad reputation lies a breed with a complex history and some unexpected facts about their temperament, abilities, and reputation. In fact, much of what people assume about Pit Bulls is rife with misconceptions.
The term “Pit Bull” itself does not correspond to one specific breed, as there are several bully breeds that fall under the Pit Bull umbrella. Despite concerns about their innate aggression, Pit Bull breeds often outperform “family-friendly” breeds like Golden Retrievers on standardized temperament tests.
Pit Bulls also have a long history of companionship with humans that may surprise many. Even former U.S. Presidents like Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson kept Pit Bulls as cherished pets.
This article will highlight 8 fascinating and unexpected facts about Pit Bull dog breeds. The truths about Pit Bulls’ origin, history, capabilities, and genetics debunk many of the prevailing myths around this maligned yet captivating breed. Let’s take a factual look at what makes Pit Bulls unique.
1. The term “Pit Bull” refers to multiple breeds
One of the most common misconceptions about Pit Bulls is that they are a single, distinct breed. However, the term “Pit Bull” actually encompasses several breeds of dog under one umbrella name.
The breeds most commonly classified as Pit Bulls include the American Pit Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and the American Bully. While these breeds share similar ancestry and physical characteristics, they have been bred separately and have their own distinct breed standards today.
The confusion over Pit Bull breeds stems in part from the term being used informally to describe any muscular, short-haired dog with a broad head. Visually, the average person may have difficulty distinguishing between a purebred American Pit Bull Terrier and an American Bulldog mix that displays some Pit Bull traits.
Additionally, breed registries like the American Kennel Club (AKC) only recognize some Pit Bull breeds like the American Staffordshire Terrier, while other major kennel clubs recognize different Pit Bull breeds. This further muddies which breeds are defined as true Pit Bulls.
While genetics testing can identify ancestry in mixed breed dogs, there are no fixed parameters for which breeds classify as Pit Bulls versus similar bully breed types. This ambiguity has unfortunately contributed to misguided breed-specific legislation that targets Pit Bull “types” rather than specific breeds.
So while Pit Bull has become a widely used term, it does not signify one breed. Understanding that there are different Pit Bull breeds helps dispel myths about all Pit Bulls being the same in temperament and reinforces the importance of responsible ownership for these powerful dogs.
2. Pit Bulls pass temperament test at higher rate than Golden Retrievers
One of the biggest misconceptions about Pit Bulls is that they are inherently vicious and prone to aggression. However, controlled temperament testing shows Pit Bull breeds often act friendlier than expected.
According to the American Temperament Test Society (ATTS), which conducts standardized evaluations on dog breeds, Pit Bull breeds tend to pass temperament tests at higher rates than other breeds like Golden Retrievers.
The ATTS temperament test assesses a dog’s stability, aggressiveness, protectiveness and friendliness in a series of simulated scenarios. Breeds are scored based on their typical response in each test situation.
In the latest test data, the American Pit Bull Terrier passed the ATTS evaluation 87.4% of the time. This is above the average passing rate of 84%, and even slightly higher than Golden Retrievers which passed 85.6% of the time.
Considering Golden Retrievers are one of the most popular family dogs renowned for their gentle demeanor, it is revealing that American Pit Bull Terriers exceeded their passing rate.
This suggests that a well-socialized Pit Bull on average displays comparable or even better temperament than America’s darling Golden Retriever.
Of course, responsible ownership practices like socialization and training have a bigger influence on a dog’s behavior than its genetic background. But the ATTS data provides credible insights into overall breed temperament trends.
The better-than-expected passing rates of Pit Bull breeds on this standardized test contradicts their reputation as inherently aggressive. In reality, Pit Bulls have friendlier dispositions than these negative stereotypes imply.
3. Two American Presidents may have owned Pit Bulls
Pit Bulls are often associated with danger and aggression today. However, these powerful dogs actually have a long history as respected companions and family pets.
Two beloved U.S. Presidents, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, were even purported to own Pit Bull type dogs during their time in office in the early 20th century.
However, records show the classification of the Presidents’ dogs as Pit Bulls is debatable due to ambiguities over breed terminology and standards during that era.
Theodore Roosevelt had a dog named Pete who some sources list as a Pit Bull, while other records identify him as a Bull Terrier specifically. The distinction between the two breeds was less clear in Roosevelt’s day.
Similarly, Woodrow Wilson owned several breed types including Bull Terriers, which some sources categorize as a type of Pit Bull. But experts note Wilson’s dogs were likely not purebred Pit Bulls as defined today.
This confusion reflects the ever-evolving definition of what constitutes a “Pit Bull” breed throughout history. In the early 1900s, the term was used more loosely and interchangeably with related breeds like Bull Terriers.
While the exact breed of Roosevelt and Wilson’s dogs remains ambiguous, their choice of these loyal “Pit Bull type” canines as pets shows the breed group was held in high esteem and considered gentle companions at the time.
The Presidents’ bonds with their dogs contradict the modern portrayal of Pit Bulls as universally dangerous or aggressive. In reality, Pit Bulls have served faithfully alongside humans for centuries, when bred and raised responsibly.
4. Pit Bulls got their name from the sport of ‘ratting’
The term “Pit Bull” conjures up images of aggression and combat in modern times. However, the origin of the name dates back to a dark history of exploited dogs forced to fight.
Pit Bulls get their name from the cruel blood sport of “ratting” practiced in Victorian England. Ratting involved placing rats in a pit or enclosure and timing dogs on how quickly they could kill all the rats. Bulldogs and terriers proved adept at the savage sport.
Eventually, ratting gave way to the inhumane practice of dog fighting. Bull-baiting dogs and terriers were crossed to create larger, tougher dogs for the fighting pits. The name Pit Bull derives from dogs forced to fight one another in these pits for entertainment.
Sadly, the Pit in Pit Bull celebrates the torturous fighting pits where these dogs were abused and goaded to violence for spectator enjoyment. It was this barbaric “sport” that gave birth to the name Pit Bull.
While dog fighting is illegal today, the name stuck for a breed group that originated from such cruelty. The bloody history behind the Pit Bull name partly fueled their reputation as vicious fighters, even though most are bred as gentle companions now.
So while the name conjures up violence, its roots lie in the inhumane treatment of exploited dogs, not any inherent aggression in the breeds. The Pit Bull name reflects human cruelty, not canine temperament.
5. Pit Bulls do not have the strongest canine bite force
Pit Bulls are often singled out for having an extraordinarily powerful bite. However, scientific data shows their bite force is actually lower than many other dog breeds as well as wild animals.
According to recent measurements, an American Pit Bull Terrier has a bite force of 240-330 pounds of pressure per square inch (PSI). This pales in comparison to breeds like the Turkish Kangal and Rottweiler.
In terms of wild animals, a Pit Bull’s bite force doesn’t even come close to predators like lions and tigers, which bite with over 1,000 PSI. It is also quite small compared to reptiles like alligators, which have been measured to bite with over 2,000 PSI.
While a Pit Bull certainly has a strong bite, claims that it has the most powerful bite force among dogs or animals are simply untrue. Several dog breeds like Mastiffs, Bullmastiffs, and Dogo Argentinos substantially out-bite Pit Bulls.
Among wild animals, hyenas, hippos, and even saltwater crocodiles have proven bite forces well beyond what a Pit Bull can generate. The reality is Pit Bulls are nowhere near the top when it comes to bite strength.
While every dog’s bite can be dangerous, exaggerating Pit Bull bite statistics fosters unfair assumptions about the breed. In truth, multiple dog breeds and wild animal species have significantly stronger bites than Pit Bulls.
6. At least two Pit Bulls have served in the U.S. military
Pit Bulls have a long history of serving heroically alongside soldiers and law enforcement. One of the most famous examples is Sergeant Stubby, a Pit Bull mix who served in the U.S. Army during World War I.
Found as a stray wandering into an Army training camp in 1917, Stubby was adopted by Private J. Robert Conroy and became the unofficial mascot for the 102nd Infantry Regiment. Stubby accompanied the troops to Europe and served faithfully on the front lines of major battles.
His sharp senses warned soldiers of incoming mustard gas attacks. He located wounded allies on the battlefield. Stubby even captured a German spy lurking near the Allied trenches. For his bravery, Stubby earned promotions to the rank of sergeant, making him the first dog to hold an official rank in the U.S. military.
Another war hero was Sallie, an American Pit Bull Terrier who served as mascot for the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War. She accompanied the troops into nearly every battle, positioning herself alongside the front lines. Sallie was credited with barking furiously to intimidate enemies.
At the Battle of Gettysburg, she was separated from her regiment. Days later, Sallie was found still guarding the bodies of fallen soldiers at her post. Her fearless devotion in battle made Sallie legendary among the troops.
In modern times, Pit Bulls continue to serve in working roles thanks to their intelligence, trainability and eagerness to please. They work as police K9s, search and rescue dogs, service animals, and more. Their natural strengths can be channeled productively when given proper training and handling.
The stories of canine heroes like Stubby and Sallie provide inspirational examples of Pit Bulls’ potential for bravery, loyalty and duty when paired with responsible ownership. Their service is a testament to the outstanding abilities of Pit Bull type dogs.
7. A Pit Bull is credited with the largest drug bust in Texas history
In addition to their use as service animals, Pit Bulls are often employed as detection dogs thanks to their keen sense of smell and eagerness to work.
Law enforcement frequently uses Pit Bulls as drug and bomb sniffing dogs. Their determination and focus make them well-suited for scent detection work.
One legendary Pit Bull detection dog was Popsicle, who assisted in the biggest drug bust in Texas history in 1989. After being abandoned in a freezer as a puppy, Popsicle was adopted and trained by the police.
During a raid, Popsicle sniffed out over 3,000 pounds of cocaine with a street value of $100 million dollars. It remains the largest cocaine seizure by a single K9 in Texas to this day.
Popsicle’s outstanding nose and persistence is characteristic of many Pit Bulls. Organizations like the U.S. Customs and Border Protection utilize their excellent sniffing abilities at ports to locate contraband.
Other police departments have successfully trained rescued Pit Bulls to become K9 officers targeting drugs, explosives or missing persons. Their drive and trainability allows them to excel in scent detection careers.
The unique smelling capabilities and work ethic of Pit Bulls enables them to assist law enforcement in keeping communities safe. Whether sniffing out drugs or bombs, Pit Bull detection dogs like Popsicle prove the versatility and usefulness of the breed.
8. Pit Bulls have been on the cover of Life magazine 3 times
Despite their poor reputation today, there was a time when Pit Bulls were celebrated in mainstream American culture as model canine citizens.
In the early 20th century, Pit Bull breeds were synonymous with companionship, patriotism and tenacity – a stark contrast to modern stigma.
This popularity is evidenced by Pit Bulls appearing on the cover of Life magazine three separate times – more than any other dog breed.
Life magazine was the leading pictorial magazine in the U.S. for decades, giving Pit Bulls prominent and positive national exposure.
The first Life cover in 1937 featured Petey the Pit Bull from popular television and film franchise The Little Rascals. This highlighted Pit Bulls’ reputation as loving nanny dogs and child companions.
In the next two decades, Pit Bulls appeared on Life again representing American patriotism and resolve. At a time when Bulldogs and Bull Terriers were the predominant “Pit Bull” breeds, they were utilized in propaganda posters rallying citizens during World Wars I and II.
The Life covers reflected prevailing views of Pit Bulls as quintessential American dogs – loyal, tenacious and unwavering in their devotion. Presidents like Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson keeping Pit Bull type dogs as pets also reinforced this positioning.
While a far cry from modern breed stigma, the multiple Life magazine covers demonstrate there was an era when Pit Bulls were held in high regard and celebrated in popular culture. They were icons of their time rather than outcasts.
Reassessing Pit Bulls Beyond the Stereotypes
The surprising facts highlighted in this article reveal that much of the conventional wisdom about Pit Bulls is misguided. Behind the sensationalized reputations lie some unexpected truths about these maligned yet fascinating dogs.
While Pit Bull breeds have great physical strength, their temperament and history show tremendous potential for companionship when properly cared for. Temperament testing proves Pit Bulls can have exemplary dispositions.
Stories of Pit Bull war heroes and record-breaking detection dogs showcase their versatility, intelligence and eagerness to serve. Even the very name “Pit Bull” derives from an inhumane pastime, not an inherent trait.
Of course, no dog should be judged solely on its breed. But the realities illuminated here provide ample reasons to re-evaluate blanket assumptions about Pit Bull types. With compassionate ownership, they can defy their stereotypes and flourish.
If this glimpse into the lesser-known side of Pit Bulls prompts reassessment of the breeds based on facts rather than reputation alone, it has served its purpose. There is always more beneath the surface when it comes to understanding animals.
While breed-specific challenges exist, acknowledging Pit Bulls’ complexity allows us to set realistic expectations and help both dogs and humans thrive. Their story warrants an open mind and fair chance. When given the opportunity, Pit Bulls reveal their true colors as pets deserving of respect and love.