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The pit bull terrier (more accurately, the American pit bull terrier, but also called the pit bull) is a large, powerful working breed of dog. It is descended from the English bulldog. It has a very bad reputation presently in North America, and the degree to which this reputation is deserved can be questioned.

History

The origin of the pit bull terrier is not as well documented as that for other dog breeds. Its ancestry can be traced back at least 200 years to England. At that time, bull baiting was a popular sport, and large dogs were bred for this purpose and also to help cattle ranchers deal with unruly steers. Bull baiting was outlawed in 1835, and the sport of dog fighting rose in popularity as a consequence. In the mid 19th century, Irish and English fighting dogs were imported by Americans for both pit fighting and to work with hogs and cattle. At this time, the breed weighed approximately 50 pounds (20 kilograms), and over the next century enthusiasts produced the heavier and taller dog we see today.

Physical description

The dog is medium-sized but very large and powerful for its height. It has a short coat which may be of several colours and patterns. The ears are naturally small, but most specimens have even those cropped. They have medium length heads which are very broad, and have very powerful jaws. Their musculature is well defined, and they have particulary well developed shoulders and neck.

Character and behaviour

The pit bull terrier is an active, social breed which generally tries to please its owner. They are generally very trusting of people and very friendly dogs, a characteristic which can in fact work against the dogs' favour. They are not naturally aggressive (except for those rare cases where this trait has been selectively bred into the dog and reinforced by training), but due to their power may intimidate many people. Due to their outgoingness, their owners must take great care in properly socializing and training their dogs. Despite their friendly nature, this animal is so powerful as to make even the slightest slip in control, which would amount to no serious problem in other breeds, may result in serious injury to the animal or a human being.

Common misconceptions

  • Pit bull terriers have locking jaws, and can exert bites with a pressure of 1600 psi. There is not physical evidence of the ability of the pit bull terrier to lock its jaws, and there is no record of anyone ever measuring anything close to that biting pressure. The pit bull has, contrary to popular opinion, and jaw musculature in normal proportion to its skull. It is not freakishly strong for its size, but is instead a normally proportioned dog. This does not mean, however, that they cannot deliver devastating bites. They are large dogs with large heads, and thus can seriously injure a human.
  • Pit bull terriers are born mean, and aggressiveness is in their genes. The pit bull is not naturally aggressive; in fact, they are one of the more naturally friendly and social of the larger dogs. As is the case for all dog breeds, the comportment of the animal is a result of proper breeding, the attention and control of the owner over the animal, proper socialization and training. If any one of these four factors is either neglected or abused, an aggressive or dangerous pit bull may be the result. However, this is a common rule for all dog breeds.
Final note

The pit bull terrier has been outlawed in many municipalities, partly due to the number of incidents between the animal and humans and partly due to public hysteria. The principal problem with the pit bull and its image is not, in fact the breed itself, but is instead irresponsible owners. It behooves any owner of a large animal to train and control that animal. Pit bulls are not different, in this respect, to Doberman pinschers, German shepards, large Iguanas or Horses.


Most of this information was compiled from the rec.pets.dogs FAQ and the American Kennel Club.

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