5 Popular Types of Pit Bull Dog Breeds (Compared)
If you are wondering what the most popular types of pit bull dog breeds are, you may be surprised to learn that the answer is a little complicated. Officially, there is only one pit bull breed: the American Pit Bull Terrier.
There are also a handful of purebreds that are very similar to the American Pit Bull Terrier, and which are frequently mistaken for pit bulls. Then there are a slew of “pit bull type” dogs — that is, dogs that fit the general description of a pit bull, but which have very little, if any, American Pit Bull Terrier or similar in their bloodline.
When people think of pit bulls, they think of stocky dogs with blocky heads. While true American Pit Bull Terriers do indeed have stocky bodies and blocky heads, not all dogs who fit this description are purebred pit bulls. Confused? Let us explain. Keep scrolling for the five most common pit bull-type breeds.
1. American Pit Bull Terrier
When someone says “pit bull,” this is the breed about which they are technically speaking — whether they mean to or not. The American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT) is the only true “pit bull.” Because pit bull-type dogs are no longer bred as formally as other dog breeds, very few dogs that are described as Pit Bulls are truly, 100% American Pit Bull Terriers.
In fact, the breed has been diluted so much, the American Kennel Club (AKC) does not officially recognize the American Pit Bull Terrier. It is only because the international United Kennel Club (UKC) recognizes the American Pit Bull Terrier that the breed name remains so prominent — and misunderstood. But more on that later.
Historically, American Pit Bull Terriers were used on farms and ranches. Because of their large size and strong build, they were used as both hunters and herders. But because of their gentle nature, they were brought into their homes at night as family dogs.
These days, APBTs are more of a family dog than a working dog. Physically, American Pit Bull Terriers are taller than the other breeds on our list, though they are still considered medium-sized dogs. They are solidly built, with a short coat, and a low-set tail that comes to a point.
APBTs come in all colors and color patterns, with the most common coat colors being black, brown (sometimes called “red” or “fawn,” depending on the shade), silvery grey (sometimes called “blue”), white, and brindle. American Pit Bull Terriers are known for their strength and confidence.
They are also very playful and are eager to please. Though their loyalty to humans makes them popular family pets, many American Pit Bull Terriers tend to exhibit some level of dog aggression. However, the United Kennel Club makes it clear that “viciousness” or aggression towards humans is uncommon in American Pit Bull Terriers, and are therefore not breed standards.
APBTs are usually remarkably healthy dogs, with no breed-specific health issues. Lighter-colored American Pit Bull Terriers have a higher risk of skin cancer, while all large dogs — including APBTs — have a higher frequency of joint and tendon issues.
2. American Staffordshire Terrier
The American Staffordshire Terrier, or AmStaff, is the gentle giant of the group. AmStaffs have been the dog of choice for three U.S. presidents, plus millions of families around the world. Like American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers are medium-sized dogs in height, with shorter legs and muscular figures.
They usually have the appearance of being very strong dogs, though the American Kennel Club notes that they are actually very “agile and graceful.” Like other dogs related to the pit bull, American Staffordshire Terriers come in myriad colors and patterns.
Patched, black, brown, and white are especially common, though the latter isn’t encouraged because it is associated with a higher chance of deafness. “Confident, smart, and good-natured.” That’s how the American Kennel Club describes the American Staffordshire Terrier.
It is these qualities that made the AmStaff a popular choice of mascot and military dog during World War II, and it is these qualities that maintain the AmStaff as a popular family dog today. Though many people consider adopting an American Staffy for protection, it’s these same qualities that make the AmStaff a less-than-ideal guard dog.
3. Staffordshire Bull Terrier
Not to be confused with the American Staffordshire Terrier, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier is another breed that is very similar to the pit bull. A recent poll of dog lovers in Great Britain found that the Staffordshire Bull Terrier is actually the UK’s favorite dog.
Staffordshire Bull Terriers — or Staffies — originate from Staffordshire, England. They were originally bred from the Old English Bulldog and the Old English Terrier for use in dogfighting, rat baiting, and other blood sports. But it has been nearly 200 years since the criminalization of such blood sports, and so it is neither fair nor accurate to characterize the Staffy purely by its past. Today, Staffies are predominantly bred to be family dogs.
Staffordshire Bull Terriers are recognized by both the American Kennel Club and the United Kennel Club. Both organizations use words like “clever,” “brave,” “playful,” and “affectionate” to describe the Staffy. Red, black, white, fawn, or grey/blue are the most common colors for Staffies.
Even more common are white markings on their legs or chest. Physically, Staffordshire Bull Terriers are the smallest of this bunch. They typically measure just 14-16 inches at the shoulder and average anywhere from 24-37 pounds. This makes them an ideal choice for families who want a pit bull-type dog, but who live in an apartment or small home.
4. American Bully
Though he shares a similar name with the American Bulldog, the American Bully has a look all his own. American Bullies are relatively new as a breed. They were only recognized by the United Kennel Club in 2013. Before that, the American Bully Kennel Club recognized them in 2004, and the European Bully Kennel Club in 2008.
The American Bully is frequently compared to the English Bulldog. Both are stocky in body shape, with wide chests. American Bullies come in all shades and patterns that other pit bull-type dogs come in. American Bullies come in four sizes: pocket, standard, classic, and XL. Many breeders attempt to achieve the pocket or XL sizes, though both of these are extremely controversial.
Both tend to have a plethora of health problems, with XL Bullies being especially prone to debilitating hip and joint issues because of their overly muscular build. The largest American Bully on record weighed in at 175 pounds and was aptly named Hulk.
Though not all breeders are equal, generally speaking, human and dog aggression is strategically bred out of the American Bully, which is known as loving and loyal companion dogs.
5. “Pit Bull-Type”
But the most common type of pit bull? None of the above.
As previously mentioned, most people aren’t referring to any particular breed when they say “pit bull.” Animal shelters, governments, the media, and even dog owners have come to use the term “pit bull” to describe any dog that has certain physical characteristics:
- A blocky head
- Short fur
- A wide chest
- A snout-ish nose
As you can imagine, these criteria describe quite a few dog breeds! It’s also why pit bulls remain the most misidentified type of dog. Pit bull advocates like to insist on the term “pit bull-type” because it accounts for the dozens of breeds that exist under the umbrella of “pit bull-type” dogs
Such breeds include the American Bulldog, the Boxer, the Boston Terrier, the Dogo Argento, the Cane Corso, the Bull Terrier, the Presa Canario, and even some Mastiff types. Another reason to insist on the term “pit bull-type” is because many of the purebred breeds described above are not formally bred very frequently.
This has led to a major dilution of most bully breeds. Chances are a dog being labeled a “pit bull” is not an American Pit Bull Terrier (the only true pit bull), but a pit bull mix, or even a mix of many different breeds. Staffies and labradors, or Staffies and Boxers, tend to be especially common mixed-breed dogs, and neither is a true pit bull.
What About “Red Nose” and “Blue Nose?”
Every once in a while, someone tries to make their pit bull sound more special than it already is by using terms like “red nose” and “blue nose.” Red nose pit bulls and blue nose pit bulls are not breeds of pit bulls, nor are they rare or more valuable in any way.
The terms simply describe a dog’s nose color, which in turn describes its coat and skin colors. A fawn-colored pit bull-type dog will naturally have a fawn-colored (or “red”) nose, while a pit bull-type dog that appears grey in color will have a grey (or “blue”) nose. Despite common thinking, both colors are extremely common. Other pit bull-type dogs have black noses, also common.
Why Do Pit Bulls Have Such a Bad Reputation?
Unfortunately, the common misconceptions surrounding what exactly is a pit bull has led to a lot of controversy surrounding the breed. During the early 19th century (nearly 200 years ago!), Staffordshire Bull Terriers and some other bulldog breeds were bred and used for hunting and blood sports.
The latter included dogfighting, rat-baiting, bull-baiting, and other terrible pastimes. Although these bloodsports were outlawed in 1935 (the United Kingdom) and 1976 (the United States), their association with certain types of dogs remain.
Around this same time, various bully breeds — especially American Staffordshire Terriers — were known as “America’s Dog.” They were used as mascots and service dogs in both World War I and World War II, and in some cases received medals of heroism.
They were one of the most popular family dogs, and according to some, were even known as “nanny dogs” because of how well they interacted with children. In the United States, a resurgence in dogfighting occurred during the 1980s.
This resurgence, the evolution of the 24-hour news cycle, and the pit bull being used by certain populations and brands for its “tough” appearance only exacerbated the misunderstandings surrounding these dogs. German Shepherds, Dobermans, Rottweilers, and Chihuahuas are some other purebred dogs that have suffered similarly in recent decades.
This led to a rise in Breed Specific Legislation (BSL). Towns, cities, and even entire countries banned any dog resembling a pit bull. In some places, such as Denver, Colorado, thousands of dogs were taken from their families and euthanized in the days following the implementation of the legislation.
In the UK, any dog resembling a pit bull is banned and can be euthanized if caught (though Staffordshire Terriers and Bullies are allowed). Fortunately, the tide of public opinion is shifting for pit bulls and pit bull-type dogs.
In 2020, Denver reversed its Breed Specific Legislation and began allowing pit bulls for the first time in 30 years. Though they remain the most euthanized breed in American shelters, more and more families are choosing pit bull breeds as family dogs.
Setting Up Your Pit Bull for Success
Whether you welcome a true American Pit Bull Terrier into your home, or a similar breed or type, it is important to set up your dog for success. If you have adopted a puppy, socialization should be your main priority. Safely introduce your dog to as many men, women, children, dogs, and cats as possible.
The more your dog is allowed to meet and interact with others, the more comfortable your dog will be with anyone or anything she meets later in life. Get your pit bull-type dog spayed or neutered. Across all dog breeds, the most aggressive dogs are those that have not been altered.
This is true for pit bull-type dogs, too. Spaying and neutering your dog will also increase your pet’s chance of living a longer, healthier life. American Pit Bull Terriers, Staffies, and AmStaffs are very strong dogs. A little training will go a long way in ensuring your dog is a respectful citizen that is safe to be around.
Remember that as a pittie owner, you have a responsibility to the breed. If pit bulls and pit bull-type dogs are going to continue to improve in the eyes of society, then it’s up to us to ensure our dogs remain excellent representatives. Keep your dog leashed any time he is outside.
Socialize your dog so that she is friendly. Finally, respect your dog. Dogs that are treated with love and respect are more likely to be calm, loyal, and loving members of the family.
A Final Word
Pit bulls are easily some of the most misunderstood creatures on Earth. Not only are they often mistaken to be inherently aggressive animals, but they’re often categorized and named incorrectly.
As the image of the stocky dog with the blockhead continues to improve around the world, it is more important than ever to recognize that American Pit Bull Terriers are the only true pit bull, while similar breeds like the American Bully, American Staffordshire Terrier, and Staffordshire Bull Terrier are exactly that: similar breeds.