Pit bull mixes — in today’s world, these words have become more than the simple name of a dog, and instead have become loaded with negative meaning.
But what is a pit bull mix? To get started, let’s take a look at what a pit bull is.
Pit bull is a generic term used worldwide for several dog breeds in the Molosser breed group. The Molosser breed group contains large, solidly-built breeds descended from the same root stock. The original dog breed in this group is considered to be the Molossus, large shepherd dogs from Molossia in ancient Greece. Some other breeds within the Molosser group are the Mastiff, the Newfoundland, the Boxer, the Saint Bernard, and the Old English Bulldog.
In general, a dog in the Molosser group will have heavy bones, a short well-muscled neck, and a very short muzzle. While some of the Molosser breeds are used for search and rescue, most are used as guard dogs, because of their deep voices and a natural guarding instinct. Some of the breeds, such as the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, are so large that they are used as cart dogs.
Today, “Pit Bull” refers to either one of three specific breeds:
– the Staffordshire bull terrier
– the American Staffordshire terrier
– the American pit bull terrier
… or to any other dog that has the same appearance and physical characteristics of these breeds (most commonly referred to as a “pit bull mix”).
The most common pit bull mix you will find in shelters are pit bull labs.
Some legal jurisdictions also refer to the American bulldog as a pit bull, and some people call any bull terrier with a mixed parentage a pit bull mix. Some cities use these definitions of “pit bull” and “pit bull mix” in local laws that restrict the ownership of such dogs, due mostly to fears over human fatalities due to pit bull attacks. Although the first pit bulls were bred via specific crossbreeding between terriers and bulldogs, today’s pit bull (or pit bull mix) can have a very mixed parentage, possibly including other dogs of the Molosser breed group.
Staffordshire Bull Terrier
This breed is a medium-sized short-coated dog, muscular and stocky, with small ears and tight lips. The head and neck taper down to the broad shoulders, and the tail has a long smooth curl. Colors range from white, black, tan, red, and brown, to any blend of these colors with white. These dogs are 14-16″ tall at the shoulders, and weigh between 24-32 pounds, although male dogs can be up to six pounds heavier. The breed is long-lived, but can suffer in old age from hip dysplasia, cataracts, and breathing problems.
The Staffordshire bull terrier breed, bred in England centuries ago from the mastiff and the bulldog, was used for the Elizabethan sports of bear-baiting and bull-baiting. The first ones were 100-120 pound dogs, but soon were bred to a smaller, more agile size weighing about ninety pounds — the dog was called s both a “bull and terrier” and a “bulldog terrier.” The next step of breeding was a cross of these dogs with small English terriers and the English bulldog, resulting in a heavy-set terrier called the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, weighing between thirty and forty-five pounds. In 1860, that dog was crossed to produce the all-white English bull terrier, but, due to its fearsome reputation as fighting dog, the Kennel Club in Great Britain did not recognize the English bull terrier as an official breed until 1935. The American Kennel Club recognized the Staffordshire bull terrier as an official breed in 1975,
American Pit Bull Terrier
This dog is medium-sized, with small ears and round eyes, solidly built with a short glossy coarse coat and a well-defined muscle structure. It’s tail is thick and tapers out to a point. The American Pit Bull Terrier ranges in height from 18-28″ at the shoulders, and weighs from 35-60 pounds. These dogs have a great deal of energy, and need a firm hand and strict obedience training early on as a puppy. They live 12-14 years, putting them in the category of long-lived dogs — however, the breed tends, in its later years, to have hip dysplasia, knee problems, and congenital heart defects.
The American pit bull terrier is the result of breeding a terrier and a bulldog, combining the liveliness of a terrier with the strength of a bulldog — this breed was first bred in Ireland, Scotland, and England, and was brought into the United States by immigrants in the late 19th century. At that time, these pit bulls were used mainly as livestock herders. The United Kennel Club (UKC) officially recognized the American pit bull terrier as a breed in 1898; the breed is kept today in the US as a companion dog, therapy dog, or police dog, but is also used in illegal dog fighting, for guarding criminal narcotics operations, or as weapons to be used against police.
American Staffordshire Terrier
This medium-sized dog ranges in size from 17-19″ at the shoulder, and has a strong stocky head and body. The short coat can be patched or a solid color. Perhaps the best known example of this breed is “Pete the Pup” from the 1930’s American “Our Gang” and “Little Rascals” film comedies. This dog lives 12-16 years, and, in their later years, can suffer from skin allergies, heart murmurs, and hip dysplasia.
The American Staffordshire terrier was first bred in the 19th century in England from the Staffordshire bull terrier. These dogs came to America around 1870, becoming known as pit bull terrier, pit dog, American bull terrier, and Yankee terrier. The American Kennel Club accepted the breed under the name “Staffordshire terrier” in 1936, but the name of the breed was changed in 1972 to “American Staffordshire terrier,” because American breeders had developed a new version of the pit bull terrier as a heavier dog slightly different than the English breed.
Many American municipalities and local jurisdictions have enacted legislation specific to pit bulls and other breeds of dogs — even the US Marine Corps and the US Army have issued rules and regulations directed specifically at pit bull mixes. The legislation ranged from restrictions on ownership of pit bulls, to outright bans of any dog that is a pit-bull-type, a designation that has no actual meaning in dog breeding circles. All of these laws were based on a legal presumption that a pit bull is a dangerous or vicious dog. Elsewhere, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Singapore, Puerto Rico, Ecuador, Venezuela, and twelve countries in Europe have all enacted some type of breed-specific legislation putting restrictions on ownership of pit bull mixes or dogs classified as pit-bull-types.
In the United States, some state governments, in response to these local laws, passed “over-ride” bills that restrict the local breed-specific legislation — however, these state bills have no effect on military installations in those states. But then, at a national level, US case law seems to have determined that local jurisdictions do have the right to enact legislation targeting specific breeds of dogs. The effectiveness of such legislation is still being disputed, and the overall legal situation for owners of pit bulls and pit bull mixes is still unclear.