The American Pitbull is a breed that often gets a bad rap but if you take the time to know and understand this large terrier dog, you’ll soon see this reputation is undeserved. Instead, you will discover a loyal, obedient and intelligent animal that will fast become your best canine friend.
Yes, the Pitbull can be physically strong, perhaps a little over-energetic and needs a confident owner to give them the time and attention they deserve. But with the right training and plenty of socialization from the start, your Pitbull pup will grow up to be an affectionate and fun-loving member of the family.
We take an up close and personal look at how to care for your American Pitbull and get the best out of this magnificent breed.
The Pitbull Lowdown
The Pitbull can be traced back to 19th Century England and was originally bred for hunting, baiting and driving livestock, before coming across to the States in the late 1800s. A cross between various bulldog and terrier breeds, Pitbulls were also used for ratting and dog fighting, which has unfortunately left them with a mixed reputation.
The very first American Pitbull officially registered with the United Kennel Club was a male called Bennett’s Ring back in 1898. Since then, their popularity has slowly grown and there’s now an estimated 3.6 million ‘Pitties’ in the US today.
The average adult Pitbull is a stocky, well-built animal that weighs in at between 30-65 pounds, packing more muscles per bodyweight than almost any other dog breed. With a shorthaired, flat coat, they come in any color or mix of colors and have a distinctive wide face, strong jaw and a broad, flat skull. Classed as a mid-sized canine, Pitbulls can typically live to around 11-13 years and are known for their strength, agility, energy, tenacity and loyalty, topped off with an in-built desire to please. Oh, and a sprinkling of stubbornness!
Far from the perception of Pitbulls being ideal guard dogs, their people-orientated temperament actually makes them pretty poor candidates for the job. In fact, they can be too sociable and will actually try to make friends with strangers!
Betraying their hardman looks, American Pitbulls are just big softies deep down and crave attention, especially from their very own, designated human. Their intelligence, desire to please and obedience hardwiring make them good dogs to train, but they do need structured and consistent handling. Socialization from an early age is also essential otherwise they can be instinctively aggressive towards other dogs. The Pitbull’s energy and power means they do need a home where they’ll be exercised regularly and get a lot of attention, but they are also fun-loving and totally worth all your time and investment as they can bring a lot of joy to the right family.
Training Your Pitbull
It may come as a surprise to know that Pitbulls actually make great agility dogs as they are bright and very eager to please. This desire makes them a good candidate for obedience training, but it is essential that you start their training early so all that strength and exuberance can be positively contained. For more options, check out our detailed review of dog agility tunnels.
Working with a Pitbull puppy, you should use positive, firm and consistent reinforcement to clearly set the ground rules and get them used to new situations, sounds, people and other animals. Even as pups, Pitbulls need an assertive but loving owner and a clear sense of the dominant order in the home. Your aim is to get a well-socialized dog that is comfortable and happy with people, will behave on the leash, can accept other canines and will respond to your command.
A healthy, Balanced Diet
Because of their size, muscular build and rather energetic nature, your Pitbull will need a high-quality diet that is specifically formulated for active dogs. The best dog food for Pitbulls should provide a balance of quality protein and good carbs to give him the long-lasting energy he needs to spend his day as a blissed-out Pittie.
Pitbulls are also known for potential food allergies as well as sensitive stomachs so you need to be careful what you feed them. If your dog shows any food intolerance symptoms such as scratching, rashes or unusual bowel movements, check the food label for bone meal, meat by-products, corn, soy or wheat, which are the five most common food irritants for American Pitbulls.
When it comes to how much and how often, adult Pitbulls should be fed twice a day, carefully splitting their total daily intake in two. An active adult Pittie will need around 1500 calories a day while a fast-growing pup should get 1,000 calories, divided between three, evenly spaced small meals, using the best dog food for Pitbulls you can buy.
Both adults and puppies can also have healthy treats but be careful they don’t mount up to more than 10% of your dog’s total calorie intake for the day.
Exercising Your Pittie
Ah, if you are a Pitbull owner, then you are already accustomed to spending quality time with your dog outside! Exercise for a Pitbull is not just about working off that energy and keeping him in tip top physical condition, it is also about being stimulated and busy, busy, busy. A daily walk, maybe even twice a day, is essential for a Pitbull as a bored and unstimulated Pittie could start to take it out on your soft furnishing or lovely home décor! At least 30-45 minutes of medium to high level physical activity will result in a fun, happy Pitbull. Taking your dog out on a leash for a sociable walk is also a good idea, as it reinforces his socializing training and how to ‘play nice’ with other dogs. Find out more about dog leashes here.
Back home, a well-set up yard with plenty of space to play with his toys is also a good way to keep your Pitbull on the move and entertained, although they do have a tendency to dig, so you’ll need to protect your petunias, just in case. Oh yes, and make sure the yard fence is high enough as, despite their squat, stocky build, Pitties are very good at the vertical escape!
If low-maintenance grooming is your preferred thing, then the Pitbull easily ticks the box. With a smooth and glossy coat that is rated as ‘low’ for shedding and overall grooming effort, you’ll spend less time preening and more time playing with your beloved Pittie pooch. But that doesn’t mean you should neglect the dog grooming all together, a short daily routine using a comb or rubber curry brush is a good idea to keep his fur in tip-top condition and help to maintain a nice, shiny coat. The massage from the brush will also stimulate the oils in his skin, keeping it healthy and hopefully scuff-free.
When it comes to bathing, there is no hard and fast rule with a Pitbull, it purely depends on how active they are and how dirty they get as a result! You can bathe your dog as often as once a month if they need it without harming the delicate balance in their fur and skin, but on average every couple of months should be enough to keep him smelling sweet (well, for a dog anyway).
As well as daily brushing, be aware of your dog’s response to cold or heat and adjust his routine accordingly. Although they look tough dudes, Pitbulls are actually fair-weather dogs and don’t cope with the cold particularly well. So, when the temperature drops, look at ways to shield him from the elements, such as a waterproof dog coat to keep him toasty on his beloved daily walk.
Create Some ‘Pittie’ Space
You’ve welcomed a beautiful American Pitbull into your home, which now makes him or her an official member of the family unit. And that comes with some Pittie ‘personal space’ rights. It is important that you create a comfortable environment for your dog, a private space where they can feel familiar and relaxed.
Your Pitbull will need his own bed, food and drink bowl and blanket which he can claim for his very own. And for such an intelligent, inquisitive and playful breed as a Pitbull, he will need his toys, so try to provide a good variety that will keep his interest such as chew toys, food puzzles, stuffed animals and rope toys.
Looking After Your Dog’s Health
Pitbulls are generally very healthy animals, living up to 13-14 years on average with few serious issues. As pups they are particularly susceptible to parvovirus and as adults, skin and food allergies, while as geriatric dogs, they can be prone to hereditary cataracts.
Other known Pitbull health issues can include:
Hip dysplasia – the Pitbull breed tends to have a higher than the average incidence of hip dysplasia, where the hip joints do not form properly, and which can lead to painful arthritis.
Mange – a rather unpleasant skin condition in dogs, mange is caused by the scabiei mite, which burrows deep into the skin causing intense itching, irritation and in many cases, patch loss of hair.
Ichthyosis – if mange wasn’t unpleasant enough, then Pitbulls can also contract this congenital skin condition which causes the epidermis to become dry and horny like fish scales.
Thyroid problems – this is where your dog doesn’t produce enough (or in some cases produces too much) of the thyroid hormone that regulates its metabolism, growth and development. Problems are usually caused by inflammation and atrophy of the thyroid gland and in most cases can be treated with medication.
Kneecap dislocation – otherwise known as patella luxation, this is where the kneecap moves out of its normal position. It can be remedied with surgery.
Congenital heart defects – The Pitbull can be prone to heart disease and congenital heart defects, including valve malformations and irregularities in heart rhythm. Some are minor problems which can be left untreated but monitored while others may require surgery as well as medication for life.
Heat sensitivity – Pitbulls are short-haired dogs which means as well as being susceptible to the cold and hypothermia, they are also prone to overheating. You can help prevent your dog getting sick from heat by providing shade and plenty of water during the hot summer months.
Weight issues – while not an illness in its own right, food-loving Pitbulls can also be a candidate for obesity if their diet is not kept in check or they are not exercised enough. As well as hampering your dog’s overall quality of life, weight issues in Pitbulls can also lead to a host of obesity-related conditions such as diabetes, liver disease and high blood pressure. With such a stocky body type, excess weight can also put strain on your Pitbull’s joints, affecting his ability to exercise and play.
As with any dog, you can reduce your Pitbull’s risk of getting sick by feeding him well (but not overfeeding), exercising regularly, ensuring he is inoculated as a puppy against the usual suspects such as parvo and distemper and taking him to his regular vet checks.
And, if you are in any doubt about your pet’s behavior or if he seems off-color, seek professional veterinary advice as it is better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your Pitbull’s health.
And Finally…How to Be the Best Human for Your Pitbull!
How an owner trains, socializes and behaves with their American Pitbull, both at home and out and about, will have a positive impact on their dog’s happiness and quality of life, as well as how the breed is generally seen.
For all the perceived negatives of the breed, Pitbulls are loving, loyal, bright, fun and energetic dogs that respond well to their training, a firm owner, a calm, loving home and positive reinforcement. Yes, you will need to regularly exercise them and be able to deal with their boisterous, energetic nature as well as set boundaries when it comes to obedience but with a little time and effort you will have a happy, loyal and confident family dog. Enjoy.
- Needs of the Pitbull-Type Dog – Pittie Rescue