Facts & Myths
What is a Pit Bull?
The term "Pit Bull" doesn’t describe a single breed of dog; it’s a generic term used to define multiple breeds of working dogs that were initially bred by crossing bulldogs with terriers. The core breeds include the American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, but the term is now used to encompass a wide array of muscular dogs with short hair, many of which are mixed breeds with a similar look but a different lineage. Dogs commonly mislabeled as pit bulls include Boxers, Mastiffs, American Bulldogs and Plott Hounds, among others.
A Brief History of “Pit Bull” Dogs in America
It’s believed that the first Pit Bulls were brought to America by English and Irish immigrants before the Civil War. In Europe, the dogs had a mixed history of being used as working dogs to protect the family and field, and misused for savage sports like bull baiting, which was outlawed in the Cruelty to Animals Act of 1835.
When Pit Bulls came to the U.S., they were brought over as prized family possessions, and were typically general purpose herding and working dogs, earning their keep as hunters, herders, guardians and household pets.
By the early 1900s, the Pit Bull was one of the most popular breeds in the U.S., and had become a symbol of American pride. They were used in posters to recruit soldiers and sell war bonds, and a Pit Bull mix named Sgt. Stubby was the first dog to be awarded Army medals. He not only survived being wounded twice in combat, but also saved his entire platoon by warning them of a poison gas attack. Stubby went on to become an American celebrity, meeting three different presidents and becoming the mascot for the Georgetown Hoyas football team.
Pit Bulls were also embraced in popular culture, with respected companies like RCA and the Buster Brown Shoe Company using the Pit Bull as their mascot and in advertising. Petey, the beloved dog with the ring around his eye from The Little Rascals, was also a Pit. Popular figures from this era like Theodore Roosevelt, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Helen Keller were all proud Pit Bull owners. Because of their loyalty and temperament, they even earned the nickname “nanny dogs,” entrusted to watch over and protect children while parents worked on the farm. Pit Bulls were America's sweetheart breed: Admired, respected and loved.