The Bully breeds (Staffordshire Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier and American Pit Bull Terrier) are a group of three breeds often known collectively as Pit Bulls, but many Staffordshire Bull Terrier and American Staffordshire Terrier breeders greatly disfavor that term. There is a great deal of debate as to the relationship of the three breeds, with some saying that they are completely separate breeds, and others saying that they are mere varieties. There are perhaps no dogs in the entire world that are subject to as much fear, hatred, and negative publicity as these three, largely as a result of their continued use in illegal dog fights. Although banned in many jurisdictions and countries, Pit Bull-type dogs almost certainly are the most common dog found in America, and are especially prevalent in the American South. Additionally, these dogs have a massive number of incredibly dedicated owners and fanciers who insist that these dogs are actually one of the least vicious of all, at least towards humans. Once very standardized, breeders of the American Pit Bull Terrier have created countless distinct varieties of the dog, and the breed is now incredibly variable in appearance. The terms Bully Breeds, Staffordshire Terriers, Nanny Dogs, Pit Bulls, and Pit Bull Terriers are used interchangeably to describe all three breeds. The American Staffordshire Terrier and American Pit Bull Terrier are also known as American Terriers, Yankee Terriers, Rebel Terriers, Pits, AmStaffs, APBT’s, and American Dogs. Staffordshire Bull Terriers are also known as Staffordshire Terriers, English Staffordshire Terriers, English Pit Bull Terriers, Staffy Bulls, and Staffies.
The history of the bully breeds began in 1835. In that year, the British Parliament passed the Cruelty to Animals Act. This act banned two of the most popular sports in England, Bear Baiting and Bull Baiting; blood sports that pitted Mastiffs against bears and Bulldogs against Bulls, often in fights to the death. The loss of these sports (and the gambling revenue associated with them) created a void that was soon filled by dog fights and by the early 1840’s dog fighting had become incredibly popular in England, especially in London and Staffordshire. Early dog fighters experimented with a number of breeds for this purpose, but quickly realized that two dog types were much better suited than others, the Bulldog and various types of Terrier. The tenacious terriers had long been known for having serious levels of dog aggression, a result of century’s worth of breeding them to fearlessly attack and kill anything that they could tackle regardless of size. Many Terriers willingly fought dogs to the death over minor provocations. However, at the time the majority of the terrier breeds were too small and as a result unimpressive in the fighting ring. The Bulldogs of that time were a different story, tremendously different from the modern breed they were much taller, more athletic, considerably less bulky, and had considerably smaller heads with a longer tail. At that point (early 19th century), English Bulldogs were very much like the modern American Bulldogs of the Scott line. They had the size, power, and ferocity to make for impressive fights, but they tended to be very slow fighters and often times were not dog aggressive enough to fight to the death, although they were more than willing and able to cause serious injuries.
The shortcomings of both the Bulldog and the Terrier were largely been overcome by the 1840’s, when English dog fighters created what they considered to be the ultimate fighting dog by crossing the two, a cross initially known as the Bull and Terrier. Bull and Terriers were larger, stronger, and more impressive than other Terriers, but faster and more dog aggressive than the Bulldog. The Bull and Terrier would quickly rise to prominence and dominate the sport of dog fighting in Britain. Although the Bull and Terrier was initially nothing more than a mixed breed that highlighted the attributes of its genetic contributors it would not take long for the Bull and Terrier to bred true, at which point it would become known as the Bull Terrier. Although several different varieties of Bull Terrier were developed, each in an attempt to further improve the strain, only two would really stand out; a variety known as the Bull Terrier and another known as the Staffordshire Terrier or the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. Although it is unclear, the Bull Terrier is thought to have primarily descended from Terriers while the Staffordshire Bull Terrier is thought to be a more equal mix or to have slightly more Bulldog blood in its ancestry. While both varieties were initially quite popular in the fighting ring, the Bull Terrier was quickly adopted by dog fanciers with little interest in dog fighting. Likewise the Staffordshire Bull Terrier also quickly gained a reputation as an excellent family dog and the vast majority of fighting Staffordshire Bull Terriers were much beloved children’s companions after a night in the ring.
Although it is unclear when, sometime in the mid to late 1800’s the first Bull Terriers were imported to the United States. It was there that Staffordshire Bull Terriers were much preferred over all other Bull Terriers, almost to the point of exclusion. Initially imported to large Eastern cities such as Boston and New York, Staffordshire Bull Terriers would quickly spread across the entirety of the United States. In America, the term Staffordshire Bull Terrier was never preferred, perhaps because most Americans had never heard of Staffordshire. Instead, Americans chose to call these dogs Pit Bull Terriers because the fighting rings where they were pitted against other dogs were known as fighting pits. Although almost exclusively a fighting dog in Britain, Americans quickly found that the Staffordshire Bull Terrier was very useful for other purposes as well and they quickly became the premier American catch dog; meaning that they were used to grab and hold recalcitrant cattle and hogs keeping them immobile while farmers (or in the case of wild hogs, hunters) came to gain control of them.
The use of the breed as a catch dog was initially more common in Northern and Western states, as most Southern farmers were content to use the ancestors of either the American Bulldog or the Catahoula Leopard Dog. This is not to say that the Staffordshire Bull Terriers talent as a catch dog was totally overlooked in the American South, an area with a major need for a dog capable of dealing with feral hogs. Just that the breed was slow to catch on as it had to prove itself superior to the other breeds in use at the time in a culture largely dominated by tradition. The southern hog problem began in the 1500’s when Spanish Conquistadores released domestic pigs in states such as Florida and Texas to provide food. However, these pigs quickly reverted to a wild state. They became larger, more intelligent, and more ferociously tempered, as well as growing large and fearsome tusks. These hogs became so numerous that by the 19th Century they were a major agricultural pest in many Southern States. Staffordshire Bull Terriers proved themselves to be one of the only dog breeds strong and fierce enough to hold onto one of the beasts long enough for the hunter to dispatch it, and one of the only dogs resistant enough to pain to tolerate the severe injuries often inflicted by the razor sharp tusks of an enraged hog.
The breeds extraordinary abilities were the result of decades of targeted breeding by both American and British Breeders who were very careful to emphasize certain traits in their breeding practices. Dog aggression was obviously one of the primary ones, and these dogs became extremely combatative towards other canines. Another trait found in these dogs and perhaps the most important was gameness, a trait that is a combination of determination and dedication. A game dog is one that will continue its task until its master calls it off, no matter the pain or distractions. This is why Pit Bulls were willing to kill another dog in the pit or hold onto a hog even after being disemboweled, because they would not stop attacking until ordered to stop. Toughness and pain tolerance were also greatly favored, and these dogs became possibly the most pain resistant of all animals, able to suffer severe injuries without so much as a whimper. Immense strength, especially in the head and neck also became breed trait. Strong jaws capable of exerting over 200 pounds per square inch of bite force (19 times the psi pressure exerted by a 19 foot Boa Constrictor), enabled them to break bone as well as allowed them to hold on. A strong neck was vital because most of the damage caused by a dog bite is not the bite itself, but rather the shaking after the bite.
Pit Bulls in general were subject to greater selection pressures than most other breeds of dog. Those dogs that proved to be unsuccessful fighters usually died in the ring or were killed by their owner for losing or refusing to fight. What greatly surprises most of those unfamiliar with bully breeds is that lack of human aggression was one of the most important traits to Pit Bull breeders. This was for two reasons. One is that to end a fight, the owners would enter the ring and physically pull the dogs apart and it was considered unacceptable for a dog that was in the process of killing another animal to so much as turn and growl when pulled away. The other is that the majority of dog fighters at this time treated their fighting dogs like members of the family, allowing them to live in close quarters with their wives and children. These men could not tolerate any potential danger to their loved ones and for well over a century (and actually to the present day in some circles), any Pit Bull that bit a human being for any reason was immediately euthanized, as were its parents and all of its lineal descendants. The result was a breed that almost never showed aggression towards humans unless trained to, and was incredibly tolerant of rough play. Children could play extraordinarily rough with these dogs and get no complaints or snaps.
American breeders did create a distinctly different dog than their British counterparts. American breeders greatly favored larger and longer-legged dogs, resulting in a substantial size difference between the lines in the two countries. American breeders also selected for farm working and hunting ability, which was unnecessary for British dogs. Taste preferences also meant that American dogs had a slightly different head than their British counterparts, and regularly had their ears cropped.
Throughout the latter half of the 19th Century Pit Bulls became extremely popular in most of the United States, but especially along the Eastern Seaboard and in the American South and the breed was ironically known as both the Yankee Terrier and the Rebel Terrier at the same time. Seen as the ultimate family dog, Pit Bulls were also often used as a symbol of toughness and by the beginning of the 20th Century, the breed was almost certainly the most numerous dog in the United States. In the United Kingdom, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier had also become extremely popular as a family dog, but never quite reached the same popularity it did in America. It was during this period that the Pit Bull first became a source of extreme contention among kennel clubs of the time, whose membership typically included the more affluent and polished members of society. Because these dogs were initially bred solely for working ability by members of the working class, their owners had little interest in dog shows and kennel clubs, and throughout the majority of the breeds early existence the feeling was mutual. This hard line stance against registering the breed did; however, begin to change in the last years of the 19th Century, and many Pit Bull breeders decided to migrate towards acquiring formal recognition for their dogs.
One such breeder was Chauncey Z. Bennett. In 1898, he founded the United Kennel Club (UKC). Bennett claimed that he founded the UKC because in his opinion a dog’s working ability was far more important than its appearance, and because he did not believe the American Kennel Club (AKC) put enough emphasis on it. Bennett’s detractors, both at the time and up to the current day, claimed that he only founded the UKC for personal gain so that he could register his Pit Bull- Bennett’s Ring, which would unsurprisingly become the first dog registered with the UKC. No matter the real reason, the UKC proved to be immensely popular with many American dog breeders, especially those of hunting and sporting breeds who have traditionally distrusted the AKC. From humble beginnings the UKC has grown to the point where it is now the second largest dog registry in the world, behind only the AKC. Initially, the UKC called the breed the American Bull Terrier, but due to objections from fanciers quickly renamed the dog the American Pit Bull Terrier. Even after the UKC’s founding, a number of Pit Bull breeders were unsatisfied. They banded together to form the American Dog Breeders Association (ABDA). Initially the ABDA was dedicated solely to American Pit Bull Terriers, but has also grown to register other breeds as well.
The American Pit Bull would continue to grow in popularity throughout the first decades of the 21st Century. The breed’s popularity skyrocketed in the 1920’s as a result of Pete the Pup, famous for his appearances on the Our Gang comedy series, better known as The Little Rascals. Several other independent Pit Bull registries were founded during this time. It was also during this time that a number of distinct lines of American Pit Bull Terrier were developed, initially dividing between farm, hunting, and fighting lines. In the 1930’s, both the Kennel Club (KC) in the United Kingdom and the AKC in the United States became interested in registering the breed. In 1935, the Kennel Club granted recognition to the Staffordshire Bull Terrier as the Staffordshire Terrier, in part to distinguish the breed from the Bull Terrier. In 1936, The AKC registered the breed as the Staffordshire Terrier, the same year that the Staffordshire Terrier Club of America (STCA) was founded. It is unclear why the AKC did not choose to call the breed the American Pit Bull Terrier. Some sources (usually those affiliated with the AKC) claim that name American Pit Bull Terrier does not accurately describe a breed, but rather a generic type of dog such as the word Retriever or Spaniel. Other sources (usually those affiliated with the UKC, ABDA, and other registries) claim that the AKC either did not want to give any ground to rival kennel clubs or wanted a fancier and more sophisticated sounding name. Regardless, AKC and Kennel Club recognition initiated a nearly century long dispute between breeders of American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, and American Pit Bull Terriers.
There are currently at least six different commonly held beliefs as to the relationship between the three breeds. Some claim that all three breeds are actually the same exact dog with minimal differences. Others claim that the three dogs are three distinct varieties of the same breed. Still Others claim that the American Pit Bull Terrier and the American Staffordshire Terrier are the same breed, while the Staffordshire Bull Terrier is different. This group is further subdivided into two different beliefs, that the American Pit Bull Terrier and the American Staffordshire Terrier are the exact same dog and those that believe that they are distinct varieties. Another line of thought holds that all three are distinct breeds. Those holding this belief can also be divided into those who believe that there are distinguishable varieties of American Pit Bull Terrier and those that do not. The final grouping holds that not only are the American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier distinct breeds, but that several varieties of American Pit Bull Terrier which are distinct breeds as well. Major kennel clubs are themselves greatly split on the issue, even within the club. For example, some UKC American Pit Bull Terriers are also registered as AKC American Staffordshire Terriers, but not all are eligible to be, and vice versa. This has become more confusing with the advent of breed specific legislation. Many breeders of American Pit Bull Terriers now call their dogs American Staffordshire Terriers or Staffordshire Bull Terriers to avoid legal penalties.
After World War II, Pit Bulls began to fall out the public eye. The breed had a considerably lower visibility than it did earlier in the century. This especially became the case as animal activism was on the rise and dog fighting was made illegal in most American jurisdictions. In particular, these dogs were rarely seen in suburban areas. However, Pit Bulls would continue to be among the most common dog breeds in America. Thousands of illegal dog fighting operations continued across America. Although found everywhere in the United States, dog fighting was especially popular in major metropolitan areas and in many parts of the South. Additionally, the breed would remain a common working dog on many farms and ranches. During the post-war years, hog populations would also continue to grow and hog hunting would rise in prominence to become one of the most popular sports in the American South. This would continue to fuel the popularity of the breed and by the end of the 20th Century, American Pit Bull Terriers had become a symbol of, and an integral part of the lives of, several American cultural subgroups. In particular, Pit Bulls became identified with Southern Culture, Rural American Culture, and Urban Culture.
Prior to World War II, American and British Staffordshire Terriers were rarely imported to each other’s countries, or outside of the English Speaking world. After the Kennel Club recognized the Staffordshire Terrier, show lines of that dog began to be imported into the United States. It was quite clear that these dogs were substantially different from the recently recognized American dogs. In 1972, the AKC chose to rename the Staffordshire Terrier to the American Staffordshire to avoid confusion. In 1975, the AKC also granted full recognition to the British Staffordshire Terrier as an entirely separate breed, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. That same year, the UKC also granted the breed recognition and two years later, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier Club of America (SBTCA) was founded to promote and protect the breed. Beginning in the 1970’s, Pit Bulls began to become more variable in appearance. Some lines became increasingly large, while others developed differently shaped heads. The breed also became incredibly variable in terms of body shape, size and proportion. Some lines became thick and tank-like while others became lithe and athletic. This variation was largely the result of uneducated and inexperienced breeders, and was highly disapproved of by the UKC, ABDA, and many other Pit Bull registries. Many of these breeders did not care about official registries, and untold thousands of unregistered Pit Bulls began to be born every year. Despite their common occurrence and tough nature, Pit Bulls were very rarely used as guard dogs because they are not human aggressive.
Entering the 1980’s it was reported that a major crime wave was sweeping through American cities, although this may have been greatly exaggerated by the media. This would lead to an explosion of illegal dog fighting, of which Pit Bulls were the preferred dog. It also caused many irresponsible owners to aggression train Pit Bulls to act as protection animals leading to a series of Pit Bull attacks that were widely reported by the media, some of which ended in fatalities. A readily available target the media began to highly publicize Pit Bulls as a dangerous breed while at the same time forever linking the breed to the more nefarious classes of society . This scrutiny is highly controversial, and while there are many that claim that Pit Bulls are in fact extremely vicious and dangerous, there are just as many that claim that the Pit Bull has been the victim of a deliberate negative campaign conceived by the sensationalist media. Both sides have strong evidence to support them. Dog bite studies regularly conclude that dogs identified as Pit Bulls are responsible for more fatalities than any other type of dog. However, studies of media reporting regularly find that non-fatal serious attacks by Pit Bulls are reported at up to ten times as much (in terms of numbers of stories published and length of stories) as a fatal attack by a non-Pit Bull on the same day. Pit Bull supporters also point to other criteria such as the fact that most protection dog trainers will not use Pit Bulls because they are not human aggressive enough and that Pit Bulls regularly score higher than almost any other breed on temperament tests, including Labrador Retrievers and Poodles.
The excessive media scrutiny has also probably skewed dog bite studies. Most Americans cannot definitely recognize a purebred member of any of the three Bully Breeds, and automatically identify any aggressive dog as a Pit Bull. Unfortunately by the early 1990’s, Pit Bulls were almost universally regarded as vicious or dangerous, except by their fanciers or those who had been exposed to them. This reporting began to spread throughout the world, and the American Pit Bull Terrier, which had previously been rare outside of America, became a worldwide celebrity. At the same time that Pit Bulls were being promoted in the media as a highly aggressive and dangerous breed, Hip Hop music was also rising in prominence throughout the world. Pit Bulls, the dog of the common man had long been an important part of the Urban Culture which was glorified by Hip Hop, and many different artists both owned and promoted these dogs. People around the world who either wanted the toughest possible dog or to emulate their favorite rappers began to acquire American Pit Bull Terriers.
Throughout the 1990’s and 2000’s, the reputation of the Bully Breeds continued to worsen across the world. Many American municipalities and counties began to put restrictions on their ownership or to ban the dogs altogether. Laws targeting specific types of dogs became known as Breed Specific Legislation. In America, Pit Bull-type dogs are by far the most commonly banned, and virtually every Breed Specific Law in that country mentions Pit Bulls. In the United States, most laws ban American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, and Staffordshire Bull Terriers. These laws have met with substantial legal challenges, which have had mixed success. Some entire nations have banned ownership of American Pit Bull Terriers. Interestingly, many of these nations only ban American Pit Bull Terriers and American Staffordshire Terriers, but not the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. This has created nightmares for law enforcement agencies; because it is almost impossible to prove that a dog is not a Staffordshire Bull Terrier rather than an American Pit Bull Terrier, especially if that dog is a mix. The reputation of Pit Bulls has become so bad than many areas ban dogs that look like Pit Bulls, even if there is no connection between the breeds whatsoever. The most common examples are Dogo Argentinos and American Bulldogs, both of which are commonly banned alongside Pit Bulls based on that breed’s reputation, even though they are entirely different breeds with entirely different personalities and physical attributes. Interestingly, in many ways the only thing these bands have accomplished is that they have unified and galvanized not only Pit Bull owners against breed specific legislation, but also the fanciers of other breeds, as well as a large number of kennel clubs, animal welfare organizations, rescue groups, and veterinary organizations.
Despite the Pit Bull’s reputation, dogs of this type (if not pure bred or registered) are easily the most common dog in America, and one of the most common in the United Kingdom as well. The American Staffordshire Terrier and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier rank 70th and 74th out of 167 total AKC registered breeds respectively. However, breeders of these dogs have historically greatly favored the UKC and ABDA. According to UKC and ABDA registrations, American Pit Bull Terriers rank 2nd and 1st. These figures do not take into account the literally dozens of other Pit Bull Terrier registries, or the countless thousands of these dogs that are not formally registered. It is absolutely impossible to get accurate statistics on dog populations by breed. However, when such studies are attempted, the results show the immense popularity of the Pit Bull. Studies in some major metropolitan areas show that 40% to 60% of all resident dogs would be classified as Pit Bulls or Pit Bull mixes; a number that greatly increases in the American South. In large parts of the South, Pit Bulls and Pit Bull mixes are thought to comprise between 50 and 60% of all dogs, a percentage that may rise to as high as 80% in some rural areas. Depending on the methodology of the survey, total population estimates for Pit Bulls project that between 15% and 40% of all dogs in America could be classified as a Pit Bull. This means that there are somewhere between 11,500,000 and 31,200,000 Pit Bulls in the United States alone. Although Pit Bull-types are popular elsewhere, Staffordshire Bull Terriers are immensely popular in the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, where they rank in the top 5 to 10 most popular breeds on an annual basis. Critics of dog bite statistics often point to the fact that Pit Bulls are more likely to bite merely because there are so many more Pit Bulls.
An unfortunate side effect of both the popularity and the negative reputation of bully breeds is that a large number of them end up in shelters every year. Almost every animal shelter in America receives more Pit Bulls than any other type of dog. Again, it is impossible to get accurate statistics but it is likely that over 3,000,000 Pit Bulls end up in American animal shelters each year. One statistic that is universally agreed upon is that Pit Bulls are more likely to be euthanized by shelters than any other dog. Some shelters automatically euthanize every Pit Bull they receive, but even those that get put up for adoption rarely find new homes. Most estimates conducted by humane organizations state that 50% of all dogs euthanized by American animal shelters are Pit Bulls, although some claim that it is closer to 25% or 60%. When total euthanasia numbers are considered, it means that 1,250,000 to 3,000,000 Pit Bulls are euthanized in the United States every year. Although there are many different organizations dedicated to rescuing and adopting Pit Bulls, the sheer number of dogs in need means that they will never be able to keep up. However, despite the insurmountable odds they face some groups have great success. The most famous examples are the Pit Bulls formerly owned by NFL player Michael Vick. Most of the dogs from his dog fighting kennel have either been rehabilitated and adopted, and at least three have become therapy dogs.
Despite the controversy surrounding Pit Bulls, these breeds remain popular in the United States and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. Some even believe that their numbers are increasing. Also lasting for the foreseeable future are the legal battles between the millions of Pit Bull admirers and the millions of Pit Bull detractors. While an unfortunate number of bully breeds are still used in dog fighting, the vast majority of these dogs serve other roles. Pit Bulls serve as police dogs, sniffer dogs, guard dogs, personal protection dogs, hunting dogs, catch dogs, education dogs, rehabilitation dogs, and therapy dogs. Bully breeds also regularly compete at the highest levels of obedience trials, conformation shows, weight pull, and agility competitions, as well as virtually every other canine sport. However, the vast majority of American bully breeds are companion animals, a role which these breeds both excel at and thoroughly enjoy.
Although each breed is slightly different, the general temperaments of the three dogs are quite similar. The primary feature of these dogs, especially the American Pit Bull Terrier is known as gameness. Gameness is a combination of determination, dedication, ability to avoid distractions, and pain tolerance. Once one of these dogs starts doing something, it will keep doing it until it is finished or it is physically pulled away. This gameness was initially used to drive the dogs to attack each other until one was dead. However, it applies to any task that the dog is given or chooses, from holding on to a wild hog to digging a hole in the backyard. A gun firing is sometimes not even enough to distract a Pit Bull, nor is life threatening injuries. An extra word is necessary about the pain tolerance of these dogs, which is extreme. Bully breeds are so pain tolerant that many suffer broken bones or evisceration without so much as a whimper.
The bully breeds tend to be extremely people oriented. These dogs absolutely crave the attention and approval of their families. Almost all of these dogs are fawningly affectionate with those that they know best, and are extremely licky. Most Pit-Bull type dogs would greatly prefer to be lap dogs, and many have a tendency to “get in the way.” Although Pit Bulls tend to be more capable of dealing with time alone than similarly tempered breeds, many do suffer from severe separation anxiety.
These dogs are slightly more variable when it comes to strangers. When well-socialized from a young age, the vast majority are very friendly with new people. Most of these dogs make friends so quickly that they are commonly the victims of dog-nappings. This is especially the case with Staffordshire Bull Terriers and American Staffordshire Terriers. In fact, Pit Bull type dogs regularly score higher than almost any other in temperament tests, ahead of such breeds as Labrador Retrievers. Some irresponsible breeders have developed lines of American Pit Bull Terrier for human aggression. Such dogs are actually rarely pure-bred Pit Bulls, but instead are mixes between Pit Bulls and American Bulldogs or occasionally Rottweilers. These dogs are often trained to be extremely human aggressive, and can be quite dangerous as is any aggression trained animal. Unfortunately, aggressive Pit Bulls are among the most dangerous of all dogs because they will not stop what they are doing no matter the injuries they receive or other distractions.
Surprisingly to most people, these breeds generally make very poor guard dogs. Bully breeds are usually much more likely to follow an intruder home than to show them any aggression. In fact, very few professional protection dog trainers work with Bully breeds, because most are extremely bite inhibited. However, these dogs do intimidate many would be criminals based on their reputation alone. Also, this lack of aggression is based on property rather than people. All three of these dogs seem to have an innate awareness when a family member or friend is in physical danger from another human or animal and absolutely will not tolerate it. Once one of these dogs has determined that it must take action, most will not stop no matter the opponent. There are many true stories about Bully breeds that fought off armed assailants often not stopping their defense even after being stabbed or shot repeatedly.
Of great surprise to those unfamiliar with these dogs is that they have an excellent reputation with children. In fact, these dogs are commonly referred to as “Nanny Dogs.” The Bully breeds are known to be perhaps the most tolerant of all dogs when it comes to children. These breeds can tolerate any amount of rough play and handling from a child, and most do so with a wagging tail and licking face. These dogs are incredibly bite inhibited, and few would snap at a child. Bully breed members also tend to be extremely playful with kids. Many Pit Bulls form extremely close bonds with children and actively seek out their company. As is the case with any aggression trained dog, attack-trained Pit Bulls are not safe around children. Although generally gentle, some very young bully breed members may be slightly too exuberant for young children.
All three of these breeds have a well-earned and quite negative reputation with other animals, especially dogs. Most of these dogs can be socialized to accept other dogs if the process starts at a very young age. However, most also have extraordinarily high levels of dog aggression, and it is far from uncommon for a Pit Bull that was good with other dogs its entire life to suddenly become hyper-dog aggressive. Even with proper training, some of these dogs simply cannot be trusted with strange dogs. These breeds will attack other dogs with any sort of provocation, and sometimes another dogs mere appearance is provocation enough. Because of their gameness, bully breeds will fight other dogs to the death, and are responsible for far more dog on dog fatalities than any other breed in the United States. Many say that the Staffordshire Bull Terrier and the American Staffordshire Terrier are less dog aggressive than the American Pit Bull Terrier, but it is unclear if that is actually the case. Most bully breeds are less aggressive towards non-canines, and can be trusted with other animals which they are familiar. However, these dogs do have very high prey drives and often pursue and attempt to attack non-canine animals with which they have not been socialized.
All three of these breeds are extremely trainable and quite intelligent. Bully breeds are probably capable of learning almost anything that any other dog is, although they are perhaps not to the level of a breed such as a German Shepherd or Border Collie. These dogs are regular competitors at high levels of agility and obedience competitions. For the most part, these dogs are also very willing to please. However, these dogs do have a stubborn streak, and often decide that they don’t want to do something. Training them requires a consistent and firm hand. Because of their animal aggression tendencies, these dogs should always be kept under firm control at all times, and should always be leashed in public. Many fanciers highly recommend that all owners of Pit Bull-type dogs get their dogs certified by some training or temperament agency. This is unfortunately due to legal reasons such as the need to prove that the dog is not vicious or dangerous. Many trainers believe that the only way to train Pit Bulls is through force, but this is absolutely not the case. These responsive dogs actually perform much better with rewards based training methods.
Bred as working animals, all three breeds have very high energy levels. Bully breeds require a great deal of daily exercise, at least an hour of vigorous exercise and preferably more. Pit Bulls will accept a long daily walk, although they would greatly prefer some time to run. It can be difficult to provide these dogs with space to run as many cannot be trusted around other animals. With the proper dedication, bully breeds can live in apartments, and millions of them do. However, they love to have a yard of their own to play in. Owners must be aware that any enclosure holding one of these dogs must be incredibly secure. They can climb over six-foot fences, bite and tear through wood or metal fences, or dig underneath them. Pit Bulls that do not receive the proper exercise are very likely to become destructive, hyperactive, overly excitable, and highly animal aggressive. Pit Bulls like to get their exercise in many ways. Many like to have a task such as an agility course, and almost all of these dogs absolutely love playful games such as fetch. This high energy level is greatly desired by many owners. It allows these dogs to be excellent farm workers and hunting dogs. For those looking for a companion, few dogs are as eager to play with the kids or capable of going on any adventure, no matter how extreme that bully breeds. It is probably true that Staffordshire Bull Terriers are slightly more energetic that the other breeds, but this is a moderate distinction at best.
Bully breeds are among the “doggiest” of all dogs. These breeds love to play in the mud and roll around in the dirt, which they then track into the house. They have some of the strongest jaws of any dog and destroy even supposedly indestructible toys, as well as table legs and sofa cushions. Always in the mood to play, many can become irritatingly demanding. Inherently curious and fun loving, few other dogs are as capable of finding mischief. Constantly affectionate, bully breeds provide endless slobbery kisses and place their heavy frames right on top of people. Unlike many dogs whose rambunctious tendencies disappear with age, Pit Bulls retain their exuberance until extremely advanced ages. Those who are unprepared for 10 or more years of this are advised to consider another breed or species of pet.