This is a regularly posted faq and appears every thirty days in
rec.pets.dogs.info, rec.answers and news.answers.
The most recently posted ASCII version of this file is available via
anonymous ftp to rtfm.mit.edu in the directory
13APR95: Original document created by authors.
15APR95: Initial posting to the net.
25APR95: Authors decide to make "guard" section more
09MAY95: Approval by news.answers.
18JUL95: Authors section updated.
25OCT95: Still no revised "guard" section.
Unless otherwise noted, this article is Copyright (c) 1995 by
Michael Bur. It may be freely distributed in its entirety provided
that this copyright notice is not removed. It may not be sold for
profit nor incorporated in commercial documents without the author's
written permission. This article is provided "as is" without express
or implied warranty.
Michael Bur (aka MAC)
Internet: mb...@nyx10.cs.du.edu USmail: PO BOX 966, Greenbelt, MD 20768
The American Pit Bull Terrier(APBT) FAQ
Table of Contents
* Socialization, Training, and Recreational Activities
* Frequently Asked Questions
+ Do APBT's really have locking jaws?
+ My Vet said the APBT and American Staffordshire
Terrier are the same thing. Are they?
+ My Uncle's Friend's Wife's step-brother said that APBT's
are born mean and can't be trusted. Is this true?
+ Did Hellen Keller really own a "Pit Bull"?
[*]+ Do APBT's make good guard dogs?
+ What are some activities that I can do with my
+ What exactly is "gameness"?
+ What is a "breaking stick", and how do I use one?
+ The Rules.
+ Match overview.
+ Performance vs. Conformation.
+ APBT's and the law.
+ Where to find breeders.
+ Breed Clubs.
+ Breed Rescue Organizations.
[*] - Section is currently being re-worked.
The primary authors/editors of this FAQ are Scott Bradwell and
Michael Bur. Mikel Bartol also wrote or helped write several
sections. This FAQ, however, is the result of a collaborative
effort. Others have contributed a great deal through discussing
and debating the material contained in this document. These people
are(in alphabetical order): Aaron Dial, Paul Dunkel, Bryan Hinkle,
Tim Mason, Carl Semencic, and Geoff Wright. Also, in the interest
of keeping information within this document as accurate as possible,
reputable dogmen was contacted for feedback regarding this FAQ.
These people have a national reputation for having bred and campaigned
some famous dogs in the past and we could not have presented 'inside'
information without his/her help. Furthermore, the authors wish to
acknowledge and thank both Carl Semencic and Richard Stratton whose
books were drawn on heavily in the formation of this document. The
current maintainer of this FAQ is Michael Bur. All comments should
be directed to him at mb...@nox.cs.du.edu.
This FAQ contains information that may seem disturbing or distasteful
to some readers because it refers at various points to the subject of
pit fighting. A prospective owner might reasonably ask, "I definitely
don't want my next dog for fighting purposes, so why should I even have
to think about all that?" The answer is that if you are considering
this breed as your next pet, it would be irresponsible NOT to know
about this aspect of the APBT's breeding history. To comprehend both
the admirable qualities and the potential drawbacks of this breed it
is important, particularly for first-time dog owners, to understand
the specific qualities for which it was selectively bred. Ignorance
is always dangerous, and in this case it is particularly so.
The authors want to stress that the presentation of this material is
for academic and historical purposes. We in no way condone the activity
of dog fighting as it is a felony in most parts of the United States.
Now, let's talk bulldawgs!
The American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT) is a descendent of the original
English bull-baiting Bulldog and has historically been bred with
working/performance goals in mind. The challenge of describing the
American Pit Bull Terrier inevitably invites a long sequence of
superlatives. The APBT is a supremely athletic, highly versatile,
adaptive, gushingly affectionate, eager-to-please, all-around family
dog. In courage, resolve, indefatigableness, indifference to pain,
and stubborn perseverance in overcoming any challenge, the APBT has
no equal in the canine world. Although the APBT was once used as a
national symbol of courage and pride, the breed is largely
Even though the APBT has historically been bred to excel in combat
with other dogs, a well-bred APBT has a rock-steady temperament
and, contrary to popular belief, is NOT inherently aggressive
towards humans. However, as adults, some APBTs may show aggression
towards other dogs. This fact, along with the APBT's strength and
determination, should be taken into account when considering if the
APBT is the right breed for you. As with any companion dog,
socialization and consistent fair-minded training is a must from a
very early age.
Although some APBTs may be suspicious of strangers, as most dogs are,
and will protect loved ones if necessary, in general they do not
excel in protection/guard work. If your main reason for getting
a dog is for protection/guard work, perhaps a Rottweiler, German
Shephard, or a Doberman Pinscher would suit you better. Or, if you
really like the bulldog phenotype, look into an American Bulldog.
There are several types of dogs that are commonly called "Pit Bulls."
Primarly, these are the American Pit Bull Terrier, the American
Staffordshire Terrier (AST), and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier (SBT).
All three of these dogs share common ancestry but have been
subsequently bred emphasizing different breeding criteria. Due to
this divergence, some people feel that they are now different breeds.
Others choose to view them as different "strains" of the same breed.
Neither view is wrong, as it comes down to how one defines what a
"breed" is. This FAQ is primarily about the American Pit Bull Terrier,
specifically those dogs of relatively recent game-bred ancestry.
Some of the material may ring true for the AST and the SBT, but the
authors are biased toward the APBT from performance-bred lines, and
this bias will be clear throughout the FAQ.
Among enthusiasts, the history of the APBT is as controversial as
the breed itself is among the misled public. The breed's history is
a recurrent subject of lively debate in the magazines devoted to
the breed. In fact, this FAQ was hotly debated among the
contributors before it reached its final form, and still everyone
isn't 100% happy!
Although the precise origin of the APBT is not known, we can
reliably trace its roots back at least one hundred and fifty years
or so  to England. During the late 18th and early 19th centuries
the sport of bull-baiting was very much alive and dogs were bred
to excel in this endeavor. The same type of dog was also used by
hunters to catch game and by butchers and farmers to bring down
unruly cattle. These dogs were called "bulldogs." Historically,
the word "Bulldog" did not mean a specific breed of dog per se,
but rather it was applied to descendants of the ancient Mastiff-
type dogs that excelled in the task of bull-baiting. The "bulldogs"
of yore were much different from, and should not be confused with,
the loveable clowns of the show ring today. The old, performance-bred,
working bulldog was closer in phenotype and spirit to the APBT and/or
the modern American Bulldog. The use of the word "bulldog" applied
to APBT's persists even today among APBT fanciers.
When bull-baiting was outlawed in England in 1835 the sport of
matching two dogs against one another in combat rose in popularity
to fill the void. One point of contention about the history of the
APBT is whether these pit fighting dogs were essentially a new breed
of dog specially created for this popular pastime. Some authors,
notably Richard Stratton, have theorized that the APBT is
essentially the same breed as the Renaissiance bull-baiting dogs,
largely unmixed with any other kind of dog, specifically terriers.
These authors consider the present name, American Pit Bull Terrier,
a double misnomer, since, in their view, the breed is not of
American origin and is not a terrier. They explain the popular
attribution of the breed's origin to a cross between bull-baiters
and terriers as a retrospective confusion with the breeding history
of the English Bull Terrier, which is a totally distinct breed
that was never successful at pit fighting but whose origin is
well-documented. Other authors who have researched the topic,
such as Dr. Carl Semencic, argue that the APBT is indeed the product
of a cross between bull-baiting dogs and terriers and that the breed
simply did not exist in its current form during the Renaissance.
They would argue that when we think of the terriers in the APBT's
ancestry, we should not envision modern-day show dogs like
Yorkshire Terriers, but instead working terriers (probably now
extinct) that were bred for great tenacity in hunting. The
problem of proof, which hangs over the discussion of any early
breed history, is compounded in this case by the extreme secrecy
of the breeders of pit dogs. In the 19th century pedigrees, if
committed to paper at all, were not divulged, since every breeder
feared letting his rivals in on the secrets of his success and
replicating it. In any case, by no later than the mid-19th century,
the breed had acquired all of the essential characteristics for
which it is still prized today: its awesome athletic abilities,
its peerless gameness, and its easy-going temperament.
The immediate ancestors of the APBT were Irish and English pit
fighting dogs imported to the States in the mid-19th century.
Once in the United States, the breed diverged slightly from what
was being produced back in England and Ireland. In America,
where these dogs were used not only as pit fighters, but also as
catch dogs (i.e., for forcibly retrieving stray hogs and cattle)
and as guardians of family, the breeders started producing
a slightly larger, leggier dog. However, this gain in size and
weight was small until very recently. The Old Family Dogs in
19th century Ireland were rarely above 25 lbs., and 15-lb. dogs
were not uncommon. In American books on the breed from the early
part of this century, it is rare to find a specimen over 50 lbs.
(with a few notable exceptions). From 1900 to 1975 or so, there
was probably a very small and gradual increment in the average
weight of APBTs over the years, without any corresponding loss in
performance abilities. But now that the vast majority of APBTs
are no longer performance-bred to the traditional pit standard
(understandably, since the traditional performance test, the pit
contest itself, is now a felony), the American axiom of "Bigger
is Better" has taken over in the breeding practices of the many
neophyte breeders who joined the bandwagon of the dog's popularity
in the 1980s. This has resulted in a ballooning of the average
size of APBTs in the last 15 years--a harmful phenomenon for the
breed, in our opinion. Another, less visible modification of
the breed since the 19th century was the selective intensification
of genetically programmed fighting styles (such as front-end
specialists, stifle specialists, etc.), as performance breeding
became more sophisticated under competitive pressures. In spite
of these changes, there has been a remarkable continuity in the
breed for more than a century. Photos from a century ago show
dogs indistinguishable from the dogs being bred today. Although,
as in any performance breed, you will find a certain lateral
(synchronic) variability in phenotype across different lines,
you will nevertheless find uncanny chronological continuity in
these types across decades. There are photos of pit dogs from
the 1860s that are phenotypically (and, to judge by contemporary
descriptions of pit matches, constitutionally) identical to the
APBTs of today.
Throughout the 19th century, these dogs were known by a variety
of names. "Pit Terriers", "Pit Bull Terriers", "Half and Half's",
"Staffordshire Fighting Dogs", "Old Family Dogs"(the Irish name),
"Yankee Terriers"(the Northern name), and "Rebel Terriers"(the
Southern name) to name a few. In 1898, a man by the name of Chauncy
Bennet formed the United Kennel Club (UKC) for the sole purpose of
registering "Pit Bull Terriers" as the American Kennel Club wanted
nothing to do with them. Originally, he added the word "American"
to the name and dropped "Pit". This didn't please all of the
people so later the word "Pit" was added back to the name in
parentheses as a compromise. The parentheses were then removed from
the name about 15 years ago. All other breeds that are registered
with UKC were accepted into the UKC after the APBT. Another registry
of APBTs is the American Dog Breeders Association (ADBA) which was
started in September, 1909 by Guy McCord, a close friend of John P.
Colby. Now under the stewardship of the Greenwood family, the ADBA
continues to register only APBTs and is more in tune with the APBT
as a breed than the UKC. The ADBA does sponsor conformations shows,
but more importantly, it sponsors weight pulling competitions which
test a dogs strength, stamina, and heart. It also publishes a
quarterly magazine dedicated to the APBT called the American Pit
Bull Terrier Gazette (see the "References" section). The authors
feel that the ADBA is now the flagship registry of APBT as it is
doing more to preserve the original characteristics of the breed.
In 1936, thanks to "Pete the Pup" in the "Lil Rascals", who familiarized
a wider audience with the APBT, the AKC jumped on the bandwagon and
registered the breed as the "Staffordshire Terrier". This name was
changed to "American Staffordshire Terrier" (AST) in 1972 to
distinguish it from its smaller, "froggier", English cousin the
Staffordshire Bull Terrier. In 1936, for all intents and purposes,
the AKC, UKC, and ADBA version of the "Pit Bull" were identical since
the original AKC stock came from pit fighting dogs, which were UKC
and ADBA registered. During this time period, and the years that
preceded it, the APBT was a well-liked dog in America. At this time
the APBT was considered an ideal family pet. Because of his fun-loving,
forgiving temperament, the breed was rightly considered an excellent
dog for families with small children. Even if most of them couldn't
identify the breed by name, kids of the Lil Rascals generation wanted
a companion just like "Pete the Pup". During the First World War,
there was an American propaganda poster that represented the rival
European nations with their national dogs dressed in military uniforms;
and in the center representing the United States was an APBT declaring
in a caption below: "I'm neutral, but not afraid of any of them."
Since 1936, due to different breeding goals, the American Staffordshire
Terrier and the American Pit Bull Terrier have diverged in both
phenotype and spirit/temperament, although both, ideally, continue
to have in common an easy-going, friendly disposition.  Some
folks in the fancy feel that after 60 years of breeding for different
goals, these two dogs are now entirely different breeds. Other people
choose to view them as two different strains of the same breed (working
and show). Either way, the gap continues to widen as breeders from both
sides of the fence consider it undesirable to interbreed the two. To
the untrained eye, ASTs may look more impressive and fearsome, with a
larger and more blocky head, with bulging jaw muscles, a wider chest
and thicker neck. In general, however, they aren't nearly as "game" or
athletic as game-bred APBTs. Because of the standardization of their
conformation for show purposes, ASTs tend to look alike, to a much
greater degree than APBTs do. APBTs have a much wider phenotypical
range, since the primary breeding goal, until fairly recently, has been
not to produce a dog with a certain "look" but to produce one capable
of winning pit contests, in which the looks of a dog counted for nothing.
There are some game-bred APBTs that are practically indistinguishable
from typical ASTs, but in general they are leaner, leggier, and lighter
on their toes and have more stamina, agility, speed, and explosive power.
Following the second World War, until the early 1980s, the APBT lapsed
into relative obscurity. But those devoted few who knew the breed knew
it in intimate detail. These devotees typically knew much more about
their dogs' ancestry than about their own--they were often able to
recite pedigrees back six or eight generations. When APBTs became
popular with the public around 1980, nefarious individuals with little
or no knowledge of the breed started to own and breed them and
predictably, problems started to crop up. Many of these newcomers did
not adhere to the traditional breeding goals of the old-time APBT
breeders. In typical backyard fashion they began randomly breeding
dogs in order to mass produce puppies as profitable commodities.
Worse, some unscrupulous neophytes started selecting dogs for exactly
the opposite criteria that had prevailed up to then: they began
selectively breeding dogs for the trait of human aggressiveness.
Before long, individuals who shouldn't have been allowed near a
gold fish were owning and producing poorly bred, human-aggressive
"Pit Bulls" for a mass market. This, coupled with the media's
propensity for over-simplification and sensationalization, gave rise
to the anti-"Pit Bull" hysteria that continues to this day. It
should go without saying that, especially with this breed, you should
avoid backyard breeders. Find a breeder with a national reputation;
investigate, for example, the breeders who advertise in the breed's
flagship magazine, The American Pit Bull Terrier Gazette. In spite
of the introduction of some bad breeding practices in the last 15 years
or so, the vast majority of APBTs remain very human-friendly. The
American Canine Temperament Testing Association, which sponsors tests
for temperament titles for dogs, reported that 95% of all APBTs that
take the test pass, compared with a 77% passing rate for all breeds
on average. The APBT's passing rate was the fourth highest of all
the breeds tested.
Today, the APBT is still used (underground and illegally) as a fighting
dog in the United States; pit matches also take place in other countries
where there are no laws or where the existing laws are not enforced.
However, the vast majority of APBT's--even within the kennels of
breeders who breed for fighting ability--never see any action in the
pit. Instead they are loyal, loving, companion dogs and family pets.
One activity that has really grown in popularity among APBT fanciers
is weight pulling contests. Weight-pulls retain something of the
spirit of competition of the pit fighting world, but without the blood
or sorrow. The APBT is ideally suited for these contests, in which the
refusal to quit counts for as much as brute strength. Currently, APBTs
hold world records in several weight classes. I have seen one 70-lb.
APBT pull a mini-van! Another activity that the APBT is ideally suited
for is agility competition, where its athleticism and determination
can be widely appreciated. Some APBTs have been trained
and done well in Schutzhund sport; these dogs, however, are more
the exception than the rule (see the section on APBT's and
- Actually one can trace the "Bulldog" history back further than
that, but for this document that's far enough. Readers who are
interested in more information on the history of the breed are
encouraged to refer to Dr. Carl Semencic's book "The World of
- Through out this document, unless otherwise noted, when we refer
to the American Pit Bull Terrier(APBT), we are referring to the
ADBA version which is more likely to be bred to the traditional
APBT breeding standards. In general, the UKC version of the APBT
is now being bred mostly for looks alone, and thus has much in
common with the AKC AST.
Socialization, Training, and Recreational Activities
APBTs are generally inclined to be extremely friendly and trusting
around people. This is usually true even with dogs that have not
been properly socialized around people. Still, you will want to
take no chances. From the time your puppy is tiny, you should
encourage friends, strangers, and neighborhood kids of all ages
to pick her up and play with her. Try to make your puppy's
associations with humans overwhelmingly positive. Walk your
puppy through crowded public places, such as street fairs, to
get her accustomed to the presence of lots of people. With this
breed, human-aggressiveness is rare. Until fairly recently in the
APBT's breeding history, this highly undesireable trait was kept
out of the breed through brutal simplicity: a dog that displayed
aggression toward people was shot on the spot, no second chance.
As a result of this ruthless culling, today you're more likely to
encounter the opposite problem: figuring out how to restrain your
dog's insistence on licking every face that goes by. However, as
in all breeds, there will occasionally be a human-aggressive
individual--usually, but not always, the result of backyard
breeding or neglect and abuse. Owning such a dog is, to say the
least, a tremendous liability. There are various degrees and
causes of human-aggressiveness in dogs. Sometimes the problem is
classic dominance-aggression, and it can be nipped in the bud at
an early age if you appropriately re-establish your dominance.
In any case, at the first sign of a problem, you should immediately
seek expert help from a behaviorist or trainer with experience
specifically with this breed. For your own safety, the safety of
your neighbors, and for the sake of the breed, you should not
hesitate to euthanize such a dog if necessary.
With APBTs, a much more common problem than human-aggressiveness is
dog-aggressiveness. If you want to be able to take your APBT to
parks and other public places where other dogs may be present, you
must begin its socialization very early. Socialization with other
dogs is important for every breed, but it is especially crucial for
APBTs. Not all APBT's are naturally inclined to dog-aggressiveness,
but many are. Early socialization is not a guarantee against the
eventual development of dog-aggressiveness, but, combined with basic
obedience training, it is often effective in countering the breed's
aggressive tendency and permitting your APBT to enjoy the company
of other dogs throughout its life. The socialization process cannot
begin too early. Find other responsible owners of small puppies and
non-aggressive adult dogs (all innoculated, of course) and make sure
to have regular (daily, if possible) periods where the dogs can get
together and play. Like human beings, dogs are social creatures.
They are happiest in the company of their own kind. Yet playing
with other dogs is not something that a dog is born knowing how to
do; it is learned through experience: by imitiation a puppy learns
the difference between appropriate and inappropriate behaviors.
You should closely supervise your puppy in these dog play groups.
Dog play consists of two primary actitivies: imitation of fighting
and imitation of predatory chases. To a novice dog owner, these
play activities may seem much more serious than in fact they are.
Dogs can take a lot of rough play with plenty of barking,
play-growling and play-biting, so long as none of the dogs feels
threatened. You should look to see whether the dogs are exchanging
top and bottom positions and taking turns chasing each other; this
is an indication that they both accept the rules of appropriate play.
A common problem with APBTs is that they play too roughly, and,
not realizing this, frighten their play-mate into serious defensive
posturing. Ideally, you should choose large, easy-going dogs for
your APBT puppy to play with. If your puppy becomes too rough for
her playmate, let her know your disapproval verbally and correct
her by temporarily picking her up and ending the fun. Remember, a
10-week old pup is not a monster; she can't seriously hurt her
playmates. The crucial formative period between 8 and 16 weeks is
the time to socialize your APBT puppy most intensively. If you
wait till she is 6 months old before exposing her to other dogs,
it may be too late to socialize her safely, and you will be stuck
with a dog that can never let off-leash in public places.
Socialization will not always succeed in preventing your APBT from
becoming dog-aggressive; but failing to socialize your dog will
almost certainly guarantee that you dog will become dog-aggressive.
Throughout the process of socialization, you never want to allow
your APBT to imperil other dogs. You must keep in mind that
sometimes even well-socialized APBTs, once they reach a certain
age (usually between a year and a half and three years), can
suddenly "turn on" toward dogs. To be on the safe side, every
APBT owner should carry a breaking stick and learn how to use
it properly. When you decide to buy an APBT, you must be clear
that there is a possibility that your dog may eventually need to
be isolated from other dogs, no matter how diligently you socialize
her. This is one of the potential inconveniences of owning
Like socialization, basic obedience training should also begin early.
With this breed, it is essential to have your dog completely under
voice control. Contrary to a common misunderstanding, training will
NOT "break the spirit" of an APBT. Dogs are hierarchical pack animals.
Their psychological well-being depends on their knowing with certainty
their exact status in the pack and on their having a definite lead
to follow. This "pack mentality" is the instinct that made canines
domesticable: a dog regards her human family as her pack and looks to
her masters as the pack leaders. A dog that is never trained and is
allowed to do anything it pleases will be perpetually anxious and
confused, since this absolute freedom and the resulting uncertainty
as to who is really the pack leader produces insecurity in a canine.
It is mainly for this reason, and not for hunger alone, that lone
wolves and lost dogs are especially unhappy; their freedom is too much
for them to handle. The APBT is no different in this respect than any
Another harmful myth about APBTs is that they require a different
kind of training than other breeds: "The only way to get these dogs
to respect you is to beat the crap out of them." In fact, APBTs
tend to be very eager to please and emotionally sensitive, so that
harsh treatment is counterproductive. APBT's really love being
praised and hugged, and it is mainly by these positive means that
your APBT will learn to anticipate what you want and do it eagerly,
just like any other breed of dog.
When you find an obedience class in which to enroll your dog, you
will need to make a decision about a training collar. The APBT is
the world's most pain-insensitive breed. Therefore, an ordinary
chain choke collar may not be sufficient to get your dog's attention
when she gets a mind to chase a squirrel. An ordinary chain choke
make also do cumulative damage to your dog's trachea. In this case,
you should probably use a pinch collar. Not only is it able to get
a dog's attention better, but it is less likely to injure the dog's
Once your dog is properly socialized and trained, there is no limit
to the actitvities that you can enjoy with your dog. APBT's are
extremely versatile and tireless athletes. They have been known to
excel at agility, fly races, tracking, and frisbee. Many excel
at big game hunting. Having been bred for prolonged,
high-intensity activity, they can run for hours and hours, and so
they make great hiking or mountain-biking companions. Many have
phenomenal leaping ability. Some can even climb trees. One
competitive sport specifically designed for APBTs is weight-pull
competitions, a regular feature of ADBA-sponsored shows.
APBTs not only enjoy lots of hard exercise, they NEED it. An
exhausted APBT is a happy APBT. If you won't have the time to
exercise your dog regularly, you should choose another breed. You
don't need a big back yard to provide you dog with sufficient
exercise. One popular indoor exercise device that many APBT owners
rely on is a treadmill. You can work your dog up to 30-45 minutes
daily. Another stationary exercise device is the spring pole.
This device is a simple solo tug-of-war machine that some dogs
will play with for hours.
Be careful not to push your puppy to overexertion while her bones
are still growing. Puppies should be allowed to establish their
own comfortable level of exercise. Serious use of a treadmill
should only begin at a year and a half or older.
On the whole, the APBT are a very healthy, robust breed. They usually
do well at the vets, because they are not threatened too easily and
have a high threshhold for pain. My sister, who is a veternian
technician and has handled thousands of dogs, said that the easiest
breeds to work with/on are the Labrador Retreiver and the Pit Bull.
The only health problem that I am aware of in certain lines is
demotectic mange. This can be treated with baths and topical ointment.
As far as life span in concerned, 12-13 years is probably about average,
although a 15-16 year old APBT is not unheard of.
This is a regularly posted faq and appears every thirty days in
rec.pets.dogs.info, rec.answers and news.answers.
The most recently posted ASCII version of this file is available via
anonymous ftp to rtfm.mit.edu in the directory
Frequently Asked Questions
+ Do APBT's really have 1600 psi biting pressure and locking jaws?
[Information gleaned from the ADBA phamplet titled "Discover the
American Pit Bull Terrier]
No, they do not have either. Dr. I Lehr Brisbin of the University
of Georgia states, "To the best of our knowledge, there are no
published scientific studies that would allow any meaningful comparision
to be made of the biting power of various breeds of dogs. There
are, moreover, compelling technical reasons why such data describing
biting power in terms of 'pounds per square inch' can never be
collected in a meaningful way. All figures describing biting power
in such terms can be traced to either unfounded rumor or, in some
cases, to newspaper articles with no foundation in factual data."
Futhermore, Dr. Brisbin states, "The few studies which have been
conducted of the structure of the skulls, mandibles and teeth of
pit bulls show that, in proportion to their size, their jaw structure
and thus its inferred functional morphology, is no different than
that of any breed of dog. There is absolutely no evidence for the
existence of any kind of 'locking mechanism' unique to the structure
of the jaw and/or teeth of the American Pit Bull Terrier."
+ My Vet said the APBT and American Staffordshire Terrier are the
same thing. Are they?
Well, yes and no. How's that for straightforward? As stated in the
introduction, there are several different "breeds" of dogs that are
refered to as "Pit Bulls" by the general public. Primarily, these are
the American Pit Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier, and
the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. There are two general schools of thought
pertaining to this issue. The first is that these dogs come from
the same English/Irish pit fighting stock of over 100 years ago but have
been subsequently bred to differing standards and are now different
breeds. The second is that these dogs are just different "strains"
(working vs. show) of the same breed. It all really comes down to
how one defines what constitutes a breed. In general, however, ASTs
have lost most of the gameness of their pit fighting ancestors, while
at least some well-bred lines of APBTs have maintained this quality
unaltered. Dogs of both breeds, if well-bred, have similar human-
+ My Uncle's Friend's Wife's step-brother said that APBT's are born
mean and can't be trusted. Is this true?
No, this couldn't be further from the truth. Most people who think or
say that "Pit Bulls" are inherently mean, have most likely never met one
and rely on the inaccurate media hyped portryal of "Pit Bulls" as the
basis of their opinions. Like any other breed of dog, the key areas of
focus for ensuring a happy, well adjusted American Pit Bull Terrier as
a pet are: owner education, proper breeding, socialization, and training.
A break down in any one or more of these areas could lead to problems down
The APBT is, contrary to popular belief, very human-friendly and will
not naturally be aggressive towards humans. The APBT is, however, very
loyal and eagar to please, so that if an owner wants a dog to be
aggressive toward humans and reinforces this behaviour from an early age,
the dog will most likely be aggressive towards humans as an adult.
Many people equate or confuse aggressivness towards other dogs with
aggressivness towards humans. I have seen newspaper reports in which
"concerned neighbors" are quoted saying things like, "This time it killed
a stray cat; tomorrow it may be my children." Yet animal-aggressiveness is
an entirely different thing from human-aggressiveness. There is no
reason to infer from its killing a cat that a dog--any dog, not just
an APBT--will ever show aggression toward human beings. Dogs can and do
discriminate, even if irate neighbors cannot.
One of the most enduring urban legends involving dogs is the one about
Doberman Pinscher's supposed tendency to suddenly "turn on" their
loving owners. This violent change in behavior is said to be
precipitated by a natural swelling of the dog's brain at a certain
age (the exact age differs according to the retelling). Of course
this legend has no basis at all in fact. The "pit bull" has replaced
the Doberman Pinscher as the stereotypical "vicious breed," but the
same human ignorance and credulity is behind the persistence of such
+ Did Hellen Keller really own a "Pit Bull"?
Yes, she did. So have other famous people such as Fred Astaire,
President Theodore Roosevelt, and General George Patton. Currently,
people such as Michael J. Fox, Stephany Kramer, Jan Michael Vincent,
and Jeremy Miller own or have owned an APBT.
The APBT was once considered to be a wonderful family pet by the
general public. During World War I, an APBT was used to represent
the United States on a propaganda poster. During the 1930's and
40's, every kid who watched the Lil' Rascals wanted a dog just like
"Pete the pup" who was an APBT.
+ Do APBT's make good guard dogs?
[Upon further discussion amoung the authors, we felt that this
section really didn't tell the whole story regarding APBTs and
guard work, so it is currently being re-worked. Look for it
sometime in the future.]
+ What are some activities that I can do with my APBT?
Well, just about anything you want to do. The APBT is by nature
very athletic and eager to please. Given proper guidence and
training, an APBT can excell in just about any activity you could
Due to the incredible strength and stamina of the APBT, one
activity that has gained in popularity with APBT owners in
weight pulling. Dogs compete against other dogs of the same
weight in pulling a weighted cart a certain distance. The
weight of the cart is incresed until a winner is determined.
Currently, APBT's hold world records in several weight classes.
+ What exactly is "gameness"?
[The following is an exchange that occured on bulldog-l between
Scott Bradwell and Wilf LeBlanc. The passages offset with ">"'s
are questions posed by Wilf.]
Gameness in APBT's is a canine virtue that is most akin to the human
virtue of unflagging courage. It is a determination to master any
situation and never back down out of fear. It was developed in
pit bulls by many generations of selective breeding. It is what
allows a pit bull to keep fighting non-stop for two or more hours,
in spite of broken bones, torn muscles, blood loss, dehydration,
and exhaustion. But it is also valued by APBT owners who would never
think of fighting their dogs. It is manifested in the can-do attitude
of pit bulls toward any type of challenge, whether agility competitions,
climbing up trees, or protecting their family against an armed attacker,
etc. (Yes, check out Richard Stratton's books for photos of pit bulls
actually climbing up the trunk of a big tree in order to nestle in the
branches 15 feet off the ground.)
Generally speaking, a game dog is an emotionally stable, easy-going dog,
especially good with kids. Gameness should not be confused with
aggressiveness. There are plenty of aggressive dogs that are not game,
and there are game pit bulls who are not aggressive toward other types
of dogs. Aggressiveness will propell a dog into a fight but will only
sustain him for the first few minutes. Gameness, on the other hand,
will not necessarily make a dog fight-happy; but if the dog has no
other choice but to fight, a game dog will fight until it wins or dies
trying, and will keep going as long as necessary. Gameness is an inner
quality of pit bulls. There is no way you can tell by looking at a
pit bull whether it is deeply game or not. The only test--and for many
years the main criterion for selecting a dog for breeding purposes--is
actually fighting the dog to see how it stands up to other dogs that
have likewise already proven their gameness in the pit. Dogs that are
emotionally unstable, or that fear-bite human beings are generally not
game. If you want a nice pit, you're generally better off getting one
that has been game-bred. These dogs represent the truest exemplars
of all the best qualities in the breed. Your questions about my post
on the nature of "gameness" posed a couple of very good questions that
I would like to try to answer.
> If it is indeed the case that the only way that you
> can be sure that your dog is truly "game" is to have
> a fight to (almost) the death, what is really the
> point of having a game dog ?
Many APBT owners like myself have no interest whatever in fighting
our dogs, yet we appreciate the quality of gameness in our breed.
I am quite content to know that just about any APBT, even one with
only mediocre gameness as far as APBT's go, is still going to be
far more game--that is, far more courageous and determined to succeed
against any challenge he may confront--than the gamest individuals of
just about any other breed. Thus, without ever having to match your
dog against another, you can be confident that your dog is game
simply by virtue of the fact of being an American Pit Bull Terrier.
Of course not all pit bulls are equally game. It has been pointed out
in a previous posts that there is a range in the variation in the
*DEGREE* of gameness among individual pit bulls. If you plotted a
distribution graph, you would get a classic bell curve, with a handful
of dogs exhibiting dead gameness, another handful of dogs who are
afraid of their own shadow, and the bulk of the dogs concentrated
around the average in between these two extremes. If you then
plotted the bell curves of gameness for other breeds, you would find
that there is little overlap between the APBT's bell curve and those
of all the rest. Your second question, Wilf, relates to whether the
degree of a particular pit bull's gameness can be assessed by some
test other than fighting; I'll return to this question below.
All dog owners think there is something unique and superlative about
their own dog's breed. Gameness is what I, as an APBT chauvanist,
think is so special about pit bulls. Actually, let me modify that.
What I love best about my own dog is how cute and cuddly and friendly
she is with everyone. She's a dog I am proud to bring anywhere. She
makes everyone laugh with her insane kissing compulsion. But these
two qualities are not unrelated. As I mentioned in my prvious post,
gameness seems to go hand in hand with a lovable, outgoing, licky
disposition toward people. I have to say that I don't know and don't
really care exactly *how* game my dog is relative to others of her
breed. I imagine she's no great shakes, since her parents were
weight-pullers, not fighters, and you'd have to go back to her
great-grandparents to find dogs that were game-tested. But I can tell
you that she is known, among more than a few neighborhood dog owners,
as "the friendliest dog in Hyde Park." She is beside herself with
happiness--literally leaping up and down for joy--whenever a passerby
so much as smiles at her. It's important for people to understand
the paradoxical truth that she, like all the other nice, human-loving
pit bulls out there, is the way she is BECAUSE OF--NOT IN SPITE OF--her
breed's history of selective breeding for fighting purposes.
Until about 15 years ago, there were only a small handful of
dedicated breeders who maintained this breed, and I would guess that
nearly all of these breeders bred for gameness and game-tested their
dogs in order to choose the ones to be bred. During all that time,
you never heard of pit bulls mauling 5-year old kids. It was only
when the breed became immensely popular in the 1980s--i.e., when lots
of ignoramuses suddenly became backyard breeders--that you began to
read stories (at least some of them must have been true) about
man-eating pit bulls. These monster dogs were not "fighting dogs," but
just the opposite. The scrupulous criteria that old-time breeders had
used for selecting or culling dogs in breeding programs were thrown
out the window--along with plain common sense. The backyard breeders
didn't know the difference between gameness and aggressiveness. Many
of them didn't grasp the fact that a champion fighting dog is born,
not made; so they tried to make their dogs into "fighting dogs." How?
Through abuse, teasing, "practice" on non-fighting dogs, etc.--all
sorts of things that knowledgeable pit enthusiasts would find
cruel and abhorrent--and counterproductive as preparation for
pit contests. I read a story not long ago that was enough to
turn my stomach; it was about the arrest of an 18-year old kid in
Philadelphia on charges of animal abuse; he was keeping his wretched
pit bull isolated in a tiny feces-covered kennel. The dog's only
contact with the outside world was when this jerk would "feed" it
live cats and dogs that he had stolen from neighobrs' homes.
He thought he was preparing the dog to be a good fighter. Needless
to say, it is this sort of person, rather than the old-time dedicated
breeders, that the public--thanks to the mass media--associates with
the breed. Speaking of the mass media, I wouldn't be surprised if
this particular jerk got his bizarre ideas about schooling a pit dog
from watching the sort of distorted, sensationalistic news coverage
that purports to "expose" what pit fighting is all about.
In the hands of ignorant breeders, the gentle, affectionate qualities
that were so crucial to the old-time breeders also went out the
window. You began to see idiotic ads in the classified section
announcing "Pitbull pups for sale. Big-boned. Big heads. Excellent
attack dogs. No papers. $250" From the old-time breeders' point of
view, the gentle qualities were an absolutely indispensable safety
precaution to be bred into a fighting dog, since no dog could be
fought if it couldn't be safely handled by its owner during a pit
contest. These breeders bred for a type that was extremely easy-going
and docile around people and would NEVER think of biting a friendly
hand, even amid the fury of a fight. A well-bred pit bull is so
reliable in this respect that even if he is badly hurt in an
automobile accident and is in extreme pain, he won't snap at his owner
who tries to pick him up--unlike most dogs in that situation.
Well-bred pit bulls are like labs in that they will never try to
dominate their owners through threats, such as growling or baring
teeth or snapping. Sure, they will try to dominate you--by
outsmarting you, by doing something sneaky to get their way when they
know you're not looking. But it is a very rare pit bull that will
growl when you pick up his food dish or reach into his mouth to take
a bone away. The analogy to labs is fitting because both of these
breeds were selectively bred for tasks that demanded an extreme level
of generosity toward people. Can you imagine a lab that snarled when
you tried to take the duck from his mouth? Such a dog would have
been culled from a serious performance-based breeding program. Likewise,
any APBT that showed the least sign of aggression toward people was
culled as unsuitable for breeding. Whether true or not, it was an
article of faith among old-time breeders that a human-aggressive dog
simply could not be dead game. In any case, such a dog would have been
unsuitable for fighting purposes: no one would volunteer to be its
handler or to referee the match. As a result of this careful breeding
history, the APBT is an extremely easy-going, human-loving dog.
This isn't just a personal, impressionistic perspective of mine. The
American Canine Temperament Testing Association is an organization that
titles dogs for passing its temperament test. The test consists of
putting the dog into a series of unexpected situations, some involving
strangers. The dog fails the test if it shows any signs of unprovoked
aggression or panic around people. Of all dogs that take the test, 77%
on average pass. But among pit bulls who take the test, 95% on average
pass--one of the highest passing rates of all breeds.
One wonderful thing about APBTs is that they have an uncanny
ability to size up a potentially threatening situation correctly and
decide whether or not it is actually something to get agitated over.
This is related to their fearlessness and unphasability. Let me
relate three stories about my dog Ruby that illustrate this point.
(Please note: I'm definitely not claiming that Ruby is exceptionally
game; all I'm saying is that she has a typical pit bull personality).
This past summer, my wife had Ruby out in the back yard of our
apartment building. Out of nowhere a little kid about 6 years old
came charging at Ruby, swinging a big plastic sword over his head and
screaming. He was pretending to be a Ninja turtle. Before my wife
could cut him off, he ran right up to Ruby and whacked her right in
the middle of the back with his sword. Ruby responded as she always
does to the approach of little kids: celebratory dancing. She thought
it was all a big game, just like tag. She was prancing up and down and
straining at the leash to get close enough to lick the kid's face. A
similar event occured this summer when my wife and I went out, with
Ruby, to visit her brother in Portland, OR. My brother-in-law has an
8-year old kid, Ben, who is clinically diagnosed as suffering
hyperactive/attention-deficit disorder. He's a nice kid but completely
out of control. He acts impulsively without thinking of the
consequences of his actions. He and Ruby fell in love instantly, but
we vowed not to let him be alone with Ruby unsupervised. Not that we
didn't trust Ruby, we didn't trust Ben. Well, one day the two of them
somehow got out alone in the back yard. I was walking up the stairs
inside the house when I glanced out the back window and, to my
amazement, I saw Ben hauling off and repeatedly slugging Ruby in the
face! I yelled out the window for him to stop it, and he did. But
the incredible thing was Ruby's reaction: she was jumping up and down
for joy as if getting punched in the face was the funnest game on
earth. There was nothing Ben could do to her that she would see as
threatening. She followed Ben right in the back door of the house.
My brother-in-law sent Ben to his room for punishment. Ruby knew
something was wrong. She stood outside the closed door of Ben's room,
crying forlornly for her buddy to come back out and play. I told my
brother-in-law, "Ben's lucky that the dog he decided to torment was
a pit bull, and not a cocker spaniel or bichon. Otherwise, he might
be missing a limb!"
On the other hand, Ruby has growled only once in her life, and it was
in an appropriate context. We live in the south side of Chicago,
which has one of the highest crime rates in the country. 5 of the 9
apartment units in our building have been burglarized in the last two
years; a foreign grad student was held up at gunpoint in the foyer of our
building last year. There have been 4 fatal shootings in a three-block
radius of our apartment since we moved in two years ago. You can hear
gunfire most nights. So we're always a little anxious when we go out
after dark, even just to take Ruby out to pee. Well, one night my wife
took Ruby down to pee at about midnight. My wife noticed a guy
walking down the other side of the street muttering to himself and
shadow-boxing the air. He seemed to be drunk or on drugs. When he
saw my wife, he crossed the street, still shadow-boxing and muttering,
and approached her. Ruby didn't like the looks of this one bit. Her
hair went up on her back, her whole body began shaking, and when this
guy got within about 15 feet, she began to snarl in a deep, menacing
tone. The guy backed off, muttering, "Whoa, pit bull, pit bull,
pit bull," and crossed back over to the other side of the street and
continued on his way, no doubt looking for an easier victim. We
were pleasantly surprised to find out that Ruby actually had it in her
to be protective; we had always thought she was just too goofy and too
overly trusting of strangers to act the way she did.
> If gameness manifests itself as climbing trees,
> (etc etc) then aren't all these legitimate tests for gameness?
Pit bulls will generally excel in activities that require sustained
determination and that test their bodies' ability to endure pain and
exhaustion to an extreme. But the fact is that there are very few
activities that will test a dog's gameness to its limits, or that will
provide a basis for comparing one dog's degree of gameness to
another's. For example, wild boar hunting, in spite of the high level
of risk to the dog involved, doesn't really test the limits of a dog's
gameness. The tangle between boar and dog is fast, furious, and
generally quite short (compared with a pit contest). Athletic ability,
agility, explosive power, strength of bite, and smarts are of a higher
priority here than gameness, which never really has a chance to come
into play in so brief an encounter. The dog will either take the boar
down or be killed before the depth of his gameness can make much of a
difference. Several larger breeds of dogs--American Bulldogs and
Argentine Dogos--seem to be at least equally adept at boar hunting as
pit bulls. But this doesn't make them as game as pit bulls.
Just because a game disposition will aid a dog in excelling at many
different activities--such as agility competition, flyball races,
tree-climbing, etc.--doesn't mean that these activities are
sufficient tests for gameness. Gameness is multi-dimensional; the
above activities do not stress all of these dimensions simultaneously
to their extreme limits . Gameness is, in positive terms, a happy
eagerness to pursue a challenge; but it is also, in negative terms,
the stubborn refusal to heed the cries of the nervous system to stop
struggling and and to flee the situation that is causing so much pain.
None of the activities above can fully assess this second dimension.
Unfortunately,the only activity that really tests the full extent of a
dog's gameness is pit contests. It's a pity that this is the case.
Personally, I don't much like the idea of dog fighting, especially
when money is involved and takes precedence over the well-being of
the dogs. If I knew of another method--say, a DNA test--which could
determine gameness, I'd be happily promoting that method right now.
But genetic research has a long way to go before it could provide such
a test. And with slightly more imporant concerns, such as preventing
cancer, I don't expect many research dollars to flow into DNA game
-testing. As a result, I'm left in the rather hypocritical position
of celebrating a canine virtue that is only made possible by a human
vice. So be it. I still prefer game dogs.
I said at the beginning of the post that I am uninterested in finding
out just how game my own dog is. You might ask, "Why would anyone be
interested in knowing exactly how game their dogs are?" Well, I'm not
a breeder. Understandably, breeders only want to choose the very best
exemplars of the breed in their breeding programs. If you breed APBTs
without regard for their degree of gameness, their gameness will
gradually be lost with each succeeding generation. This is essentially
what has occurred with Am Staffs and Staffy Bulls, which for many
generations have been selectively bred for appearance rather than for
the invisible inner quality of gameness. (Furthermore, I should add,
less than scrupulous selection of all these breeds also risks the loss
of the breed's excellent dispostion toward people.) In order to maintain
a high degree of the desired qualities, a breeder must carefully select
only those dogs that have them in the highest degree. Gameness was an
extremely difficult trait to develop; it took more than a century of
tiny, incremental improvements through selective breeding to produce
today's APBT. Though achieved only with great difficulty, gameness is
easily lost, sometimes even in the hands of good breeders. If you mate
two grand champions, you will be lucky if just one or two of the pups
is of the same quality as the parents. Traditonally, the job of breeders
was to identify these offspring and use only them to continue the
breeding program. Sometimes it's the case that two great dogs will not
produce any offspring who are their equals.
You are right, Wilf, in the sense that the presence of gameness in a
dog has nothing to do with making the dog fight. Fighting a dog
obviously will not improve the genes it was born with. But if you were
a breeder interested in *maintaining* the gameness of your line, well,
that's a different story.
+ What is a breaking stick and how do I use one?
I'm going to preface this tutorial with a little information on my
background in order to establish a little credibility. I hope! Don't
worry, I'll keep it short and to the point.
In the early 1970s I worked as a trainer/agitator for the Aztek
kennels in El Paso Texas followed by various other kennels over the
course of about 15 years. I know, no big deal, right? Well, a lot
of my work revolved around training dogs to be aggressive towards
humans via the avenue of "Protection Work". "Compound dogs" for car
lots to "Sentry dogs" for the military. It afforded me exposure to all
kinds of breeds and personalities in the canine world. Concurrent to
this I had a fascination with the American Pit Bull Terrier. Okay, the
stage is set. You now know why I was exposed to conditions that were
just right for accidental fights, especially when the dogs were new
to protection work.
Over the years I've seen so many kennel fights I couldn't possibly
count them. In the early years I saw just about every technique known
to man used to stop a dog fight. Some of them are as follows:
. lifting and spreading the rear legs
. water dousing
. electrical shocks
. beating the dog with whatever was handy
. praying to god
And so on, and so on ........
In the late 1970s through the late 1980s I lived down the street from
one of the most famous APBT breeders of all time, the late Howard Heinzl.
Those of you familiar with the breed will immediately recognize his name.
It was he who first showed me the use of a "Breaking Stick". Other folks
call it a "Parting Stick". If you're around the breed long enough you
will eventually witness an accidental fight and it was one of these
occasions where I was introduced to the "Breaking Stick". I was visiting
Howard one day when one of his bitches, (in heat), got out of her kennel,
ran over to one of the other bitches on Howard's yard and YEEHA, they
started to fight. Howard calmly walked into the house, came out with
what looked like a contoured door stop and tossed it to me. I said,
"what the heck is this thing?" He had one too. He said "it's a breaking
stick" and that I should quit talking and get my ass over to where the two
bitches were trying to kill each other. With a 5 second tutorial from
Howard I was able to help him break the dogs apart in about 10 or 15
seconds and that, my friends, is considered slow! I became a believer
in breaking sticks from that point on.
There comes a time in the life of every dog, be it a small terrier
or the powerful APBT, when it will get into some sort of a scrap.
Those of you who frequent dog shows for the APBT will no doubt
eventually be witness to dogs getting loose and starting a fight.
So, what happens when they are serious? Well, each dog will bite
the other, take hold and start to shake its head punishingly.
It is so serious that in most cases nothing you do will cause the
dog/bitch to give up that precious hold! Nothing! Choking, shocking,
etc...It just doesn't matter!
Known by both names. It is a very hard piece of wood or some
other material suitable for the purpose of spreading a dog's
jaws apart. It is usually about 5 to 8 inches in length,
wedge shaped and contoured to prevent injury to the dog's
lips. Its width is about 1 to 2 inches.
Okay, imagine two dogs engaged in serious combat and each
one has a very good hold on the other. Now, I'm assuming
there are two of you and you are both right handed.
STEP 1) Walk over to the dogs and as simultaneous as possible
step over, straddle and then lock your legs around the
dog's hips just in front of the hind quarters. Make sure
your legs are locked securely around the dog.
STEP 2) With your free/left hand grab a handful of skin from the
back/nap of the neck and pull upward as if you are a mother
canine picking up a young puppy. A strong grip on the skin
is needed here. We are accomplishing two things, one
is to neutralize the mobility of the dog by locking
our legs around it's hips and the other is to neutralize
mobility of the front torso by way of a skin hold on the
back of the dog's neck.
Before I continue with STEP 3, let's review what has now happened.
Not wanting to let go, the dogs are still holding on to each other and
each handler has his dog in a tight leg squeeze just in front of the
stifle/hind quarters while at the same time holding the dogs front
section by way of skin on the back of the dog's neck.
Sidebar: When looking in your dog's mouth notice a gap where the
teeth do not meet. This 'pre molar' area is why the breaking stick is
STEP 3) Each handler inserts his breaking stick in the pre molar
area where the gap is found. Sometimes you need to work the
stick just a bit if your dog is biting real hard. The
stick should be inserted from 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches into the
STEP 4) Now, as if you're twisting the throttle of a motor cycle,
so too you must twist the breaking stick. This is the action
that spreads the dog's jaws far enough apart so that you can
now pull back with the other hand. Viola, the dog is off!
I like to also use my legs for those big dogs when pulling
It is that simple.
Now, I have a few comments about the mechanics of a dog fight. The
first is that ALL dogs use their hind quarters for both leverage and
mobility and it is the most important place to start when stopping a
fight. Once you remove the back end from the equation you've stopped
75% of a fight. It's amazing, most of the time you'll see the
dogs quit shaking and moving as soon as they feel their hind quarters
locked by your legs. They almost freeze! Once their movement is under
control it's super easy to grab the neck and insert the stick.
Holding the neck with your free hand helps prevent a dog from biting
you while stopping the fight. I've broken lots of accidental fights
and all those times I have never been bitten by an APBT. But, I have
been biten by other breeds because of the way they fight.
My final comment is that with a little practice you can stop a
serious dog fight in about 5 seconds, on the average. It's so easy
you can't believe it, straddle/grab/break and you're finished! No
unnecessary damage due to pulling, beating or whatever else one
So, the next time you're playing with your dog, open the mouth
and you'll see the GAP I mentioned. Then, when you get your 'stick',
just play tug-o-war or have the dog grab something and try your
breaking stick then.