The American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT) FAQ


Frequently Asked Questions


  • Do APBT's really have 1600 psi biting pressure and locking jaws? [Information gleaned from the ADBA phamplet titled "Discover the American Pit Bull Terrier]

    No, they do not have either. Dr. I Lehr Brisbin of the University of Georgia states, "To the best of our knowledge, there are no published scientific studies that would allow any meaningful comparision to be made of the biting power of various breeds of dogs. There are, moreover, compelling technical reasons why such data describing biting power in terms of 'pounds per square inch' can never be collected in a meaningful way. All figures describing biting power in such terms can be traced to either unfounded rumor or, in some cases, to newspaper articles with no foundation in factual data."

    Futhermore, Dr. Brisbin states, "The few studies which have been conducted of the structure of the skulls, mandibles and teeth of pit bulls show that, in proportion to their size, their jaw structure and thus its inferred functional morphology, is no different than that of any breed of dog. There is absolutely no evidence for the existence of any kind of 'locking mechanism' unique to the structure of the jaw and/or teeth of the American Pit Bull Terrier."

  • My Vet said the APBT and American Staffordshire Terrier are the same thing. Are they?

    Well, yes and no. How's that for straightforward? As stated in the introduction, there are several different "breeds" of dogs that are refered to as "Pit Bulls" by the general public. Primarily, these are the American Pit Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier, and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. There are two general schools of thought pertaining to this issue. The first is that these dogs come from the same English/Irish pit fighting stock of over 100 years ago but have been subsequently bred to differing standards and are now different breeds. The second is that these dogs are just different "strains" (working vs. show) of the same breed. It all really comes down to how one defines what constitutes a breed. In general, however, ASTs have lost most of the gameness of their pit fighting ancestors, while at least some well-bred lines of APBTs have maintained this quality unaltered. Dogs of both breeds, if well-bred, have similar human- friendly dispositions.

  • My Uncle's Friend's Wife's step-brother said that APBT's are born mean and can't be trusted. Is this true?

    No, this couldn't be further from the truth. Most people who think or say that "Pit Bulls" are inherently mean, have most likely never met one and rely on the inaccurate media hyped portryal of "Pit Bulls" as the basis of their opinions. Like any other breed of dog, the key areas of focus for ensuring a happy, well adjusted American Pit Bull Terrier as a pet are: owner education, proper breeding, socialization, and training. A break down in any one or more of these areas could lead to problems down the road.

    The APBT is, contrary to popular belief, very human-friendly and will not naturally be aggressive towards humans. The APBT is, however, very loyal and eagar to please, so that if an owner wants a dog to be aggressive toward humans and reinforces this behaviour from an early age, the dog will most likely be aggressive towards humans as an adult.

    Many people equate or confuse aggressivness towards other dogs with aggressivness towards humans. I have seen newspaper reports in which "concerned neighbors" are quoted saying things like, "This time it killed a stray cat; tomorrow it may be my children." Yet animal-aggressiveness is an entirely different thing from human-aggressiveness. There is no reason to infer from its killing a cat that a dog--any dog, not just an APBT--will ever show aggression toward human beings. Dogs can and do discriminate, even if irate neighbors cannot.

    One of the most enduring urban legends involving dogs is the one about Doberman Pinscher's supposed tendency to suddenly "turn on" their loving owners. This violent change in behavior is said to be precipitated by a natural swelling of the dog's brain at a certain age (the exact age differs according to the retelling). Of course this legend has no basis at all in fact. The "pit bull" has replaced the Doberman Pinscher as the stereotypical "vicious breed," but the same human ignorance and credulity is behind the persistence of such legends.

  • Did Hellen Keller really own a "Pit Bull"?

    Yes, she did. So have other famous people such as Fred Astaire, President Theodore Roosevelt, and General George Patton. Currently, people such as Michael J. Fox, Stephany Kramer, Jan Michael Vincent, and Jeremy Miller own or have owned an APBT.

    The APBT was once considered to be a wonderful family pet by the general public. During World War I, an APBT was used to represent the United States on a propaganda poster. During the 1930's and 40's, every kid who watched the Lil' Rascals wanted a dog just like "Pete the pup" who was an APBT.

  • Do APBT's make good guard dogs?

    [Under construction]

  • What are some activities that I can do with my APBT?

    Well, just about anything you want to do. The APBT is by nature very athletic and eager to please. Given proper guidence and training, an APBT can excell in just about any activity you could imagine.

    Due to the incredible strength and stamina of the APBT, one activity that has gained in popularity with APBT owners in weight pulling. Dogs compete against other dogs of the same weight in pulling a weighted cart a certain distance. The weight of the cart is incresed until a winner is determined. Currently, APBT's hold world records in several weight classes.

  • What exactly is "gameness"?

    [The following is an exchange that occured on bulldog-l between Scott Bradwell and Wilf LeBlanc. The passages offset with ">"'s are questions posed by Wilf.]

    Gameness in APBT's is a canine virtue that is most akin to the human virtue of unflagging courage. It is a determination to master any situation and never back down out of fear. It was developed in pit bulls by many generations of selective breeding. It is what allows a pit bull to keep fighting non-stop for two or more hours, in spite of broken bones, torn muscles, blood loss, dehydration, and exhaustion. But it is also valued by APBT owners who would never think of fighting their dogs. It is manifested in the can-do attitude of pit bulls toward any type of challenge, whether agility competitions, climbing up trees, or protecting their family against an armed attacker, etc. (Yes, check out Richard Stratton's books for photos of pit bulls actually climbing up the trunk of a big tree in order to nestle in the branches 15 feet off the ground.)

    Generally speaking, a game dog is an emotionally stable, easy-going dog, especially good with kids. Gameness should not be confused with aggressiveness. There are plenty of aggressive dogs that are not game, and there are game pit bulls who are not aggressive toward other types of dogs. Aggressiveness will propell a dog into a fight but will only sustain him for the first few minutes. Gameness, on the other hand, will not necessarily make a dog fight-happy; but if the dog has no other choice but to fight, a game dog will fight until it wins or dies trying, and will keep going as long as necessary. Gameness is an inner quality of pit bulls. There is no way you can tell by looking at a pit bull whether it is deeply game or not. The only test--and for many years the main criterion for selecting a dog for breeding purposes--is actually fighting the dog to see how it stands up to other dogs that have likewise already proven their gameness in the pit. Dogs that are emotionally unstable, or that fear-bite human beings are generally not game. If you want a nice pit, you're generally better off getting one that has been game-bred. These dogs represent the truest exemplars of all the best qualities in the breed. Your questions about my post on the nature of "gameness" posed a couple of very good questions that I would like to try to answer.

       > If it is indeed the case that the only way that you
       > can be sure that your dog is truly "game" is to have
       > a fight to (almost) the death, what is really the
       > point of having a game dog ?
    Many APBT owners like myself have no interest whatever in fighting our dogs, yet we appreciate the quality of gameness in our breed. I am quite content to know that just about any APBT, even one with only mediocre gameness as far as APBT's go, is still going to be far more game--that is, far more courageous and determined to succeed against any challenge he may confront--than the gamest individuals of just about any other breed. Thus, without ever having to match your dog against another, you can be confident that your dog is game simply by virtue of the fact of being an American Pit Bull Terrier. Of course not all pit bulls are equally game. It has been pointed out in a previous posts that there is a range in the variation in the *DEGREE* of gameness among individual pit bulls. If you plotted a distribution graph, you would get a classic bell curve, with a handful of dogs exhibiting dead gameness, another handful of dogs who are afraid of their own shadow, and the bulk of the dogs concentrated around the average in between these two extremes. If you then plotted the bell curves of gameness for other breeds, you would find that there is little overlap between the APBT's bell curve and those of all the rest. Your second question, Wilf, relates to whether the degree of a particular pit bull's gameness can be assessed by some test other than fighting; I'll return to this question below.

    All dog owners think there is something unique and superlative about their own dog's breed. Gameness is what I, as an APBT chauvanist, think is so special about pit bulls. Actually, let me modify that. What I love best about my own dog is how cute and cuddly and friendly she is with everyone. She's a dog I am proud to bring anywhere. She makes everyone laugh with her insane kissing compulsion. But these two qualities are not unrelated. As I mentioned in my prvious post, gameness seems to go hand in hand with a lovable, outgoing, licky disposition toward people. I have to say that I don't know and don't really care exactly *how* game my dog is relative to others of her breed. I imagine she's no great shakes, since her parents were weight-pullers, not fighters, and you'd have to go back to her great-grandparents to find dogs that were game-tested. But I can tell you that she is known, among more than a few neighborhood dog owners, as "the friendliest dog in Hyde Park." She is beside herself with happiness--literally leaping up and down for joy--whenever a passerby so much as smiles at her. It's important for people to understand the paradoxical truth that she, like all the other nice, human-loving pit bulls out there, is the way she is BECAUSE OF--NOT IN SPITE OF--her breed's history of selective breeding for fighting purposes.

    Until about 15 years ago, there were only a small handful of dedicated breeders who maintained this breed, and I would guess that nearly all of these breeders bred for gameness and game-tested their dogs in order to choose the ones to be bred. During all that time, you never heard of pit bulls mauling 5-year old kids. It was only when the breed became immensely popular in the 1980s--i.e., when lots of ignoramuses suddenly became backyard breeders--that you began to read stories (at least some of them must have been true) about man-eating pit bulls. These monster dogs were not "fighting dogs," but just the opposite. The scrupulous criteria that old-time breeders had used for selecting or culling dogs in breeding programs were thrown out the window--along with plain common sense. The backyard breeders didn't know the difference between gameness and aggressiveness. Many of them didn't grasp the fact that a champion fighting dog is born, not made; so they tried to make their dogs into "fighting dogs." How?

    Through abuse, teasing, "practice" on non-fighting dogs, etc.--all sorts of things that knowledgeable pit enthusiasts would find cruel and abhorrent--and counterproductive as preparation for pit contests. I read a story not long ago that was enough to turn my stomach; it was about the arrest of an 18-year old kid in Philadelphia on charges of animal abuse; he was keeping his wretched pit bull isolated in a tiny feces-covered kennel. The dog's only contact with the outside world was when this jerk would "feed" it live cats and dogs that he had stolen from neighobrs' homes. He thought he was preparing the dog to be a good fighter. Needless to say, it is this sort of person, rather than the old-time dedicated breeders, that the public--thanks to the mass media--associates with the breed. Speaking of the mass media, I wouldn't be surprised if this particular jerk got his bizarre ideas about schooling a pit dog from watching the sort of distorted, sensationalistic news coverage that purports to "expose" what pit fighting is all about.

    In the hands of ignorant breeders, the gentle, affectionate qualities that were so crucial to the old-time breeders also went out the window. You began to see idiotic ads in the classified section announcing "Pitbull pups for sale. Big-boned. Big heads. Excellent attack dogs. No papers. $250" From the old-time breeders' point of view, the gentle qualities were an absolutely indispensable safety precaution to be bred into a fighting dog, since no dog could be fought if it couldn't be safely handled by its owner during a pit contest. These breeders bred for a type that was extremely easy-going and docile around people and would NEVER think of biting a friendly hand, even amid the fury of a fight. A well-bred pit bull is so reliable in this respect that even if he is badly hurt in an automobile accident and is in extreme pain, he won't snap at his owner who tries to pick him up--unlike most dogs in that situation. Well-bred pit bulls are like labs in that they will never try to dominate their owners through threats, such as growling or baring teeth or snapping. Sure, they will try to dominate you--by outsmarting you, by doing something sneaky to get their way when they know you're not looking. But it is a very rare pit bull that will growl when you pick up his food dish or reach into his mouth to take a bone away. The analogy to labs is fitting because both of these breeds were selectively bred for tasks that demanded an extreme level of generosity toward people. Can you imagine a lab that snarled when you tried to take the duck from his mouth? Such a dog would have been culled from a serious performance-based breeding program. Likewise, any APBT that showed the least sign of aggression toward people was culled as unsuitable for breeding. Whether true or not, it was an article of faith among old-time breeders that a human-aggressive dog simply could not be dead game. In any case, such a dog would have been unsuitable for fighting purposes: no one would volunteer to be its handler or to referee the match. As a result of this careful breeding history, the APBT is an extremely easy-going, human-loving dog.

    This isn't just a personal, impressionistic perspective of mine. The American Canine Temperament Testing Association is an organization that titles dogs for passing its temperament test. The test consists of putting the dog into a series of unexpected situations, some involving strangers. The dog fails the test if it shows any signs of unprovoked aggression or panic around people. Of all dogs that take the test, 77% on average pass. But among pit bulls who take the test, 95% on average pass--one of the highest passing rates of all breeds.

    One wonderful thing about APBTs is that they have an uncanny ability to size up a potentially threatening situation correctly and decide whether or not it is actually something to get agitated over. This is related to their fearlessness and unphasability. Let me relate three stories about my dog Ruby that illustrate this point. (Please note: I'm definitely not claiming that Ruby is exceptionally game; all I'm saying is that she has a typical pit bull personality). This past summer, my wife had Ruby out in the back yard of our apartment building. Out of nowhere a little kid about 6 years old came charging at Ruby, swinging a big plastic sword over his head and screaming. He was pretending to be a Ninja turtle. Before my wife could cut him off, he ran right up to Ruby and whacked her right in the middle of the back with his sword. Ruby responded as she always does to the approach of little kids: celebratory dancing. She thought it was all a big game, just like tag. She was prancing up and down and straining at the leash to get close enough to lick the kid's face. A similar event occured this summer when my wife and I went out, with Ruby, to visit her brother in Portland, OR. My brother-in-law has an 8-year old kid, Ben, who is clinically diagnosed as suffering hyperactive/attention-deficit disorder. He's a nice kid but completely out of control. He acts impulsively without thinking of the consequences of his actions. He and Ruby fell in love instantly, but we vowed not to let him be alone with Ruby unsupervised. Not that we didn't trust Ruby, we didn't trust Ben. Well, one day the two of them somehow got out alone in the back yard. I was walking up the stairs inside the house when I glanced out the back window and, to my amazement, I saw Ben hauling off and repeatedly slugging Ruby in the face! I yelled out the window for him to stop it, and he did. But the incredible thing was Ruby's reaction: she was jumping up and down for joy as if getting punched in the face was the funnest game on earth. There was nothing Ben could do to her that she would see as threatening. She followed Ben right in the back door of the house. My brother-in-law sent Ben to his room for punishment. Ruby knew something was wrong. She stood outside the closed door of Ben's room, crying forlornly for her buddy to come back out and play. I told my brother-in-law, "Ben's lucky that the dog he decided to torment was a pit bull, and not a cocker spaniel or bichon. Otherwise, he might be missing a limb!"

    On the other hand, Ruby has growled only once in her life, and it was in an appropriate context. We live in the south side of Chicago, which has one of the highest crime rates in the country. 5 of the 9 apartment units in our building have been burglarized in the last two years; a foreign grad student was held up at gunpoint in the foyer of our building last year. There have been 4 fatal shootings in a three-block radius of our apartment since we moved in two years ago. You can hear gunfire most nights. So we're always a little anxious when we go out after dark, even just to take Ruby out to pee. Well, one night my wife took Ruby down to pee at about midnight. My wife noticed a guy walking down the other side of the street muttering to himself and shadow-boxing the air. He seemed to be drunk or on drugs. When he saw my wife, he crossed the street, still shadow-boxing and muttering, and approached her. Ruby didn't like the looks of this one bit. Her hair went up on her back, her whole body began shaking, and when this guy got within about 15 feet, she began to snarl in a deep, menacing tone. The guy backed off, muttering, "Whoa, pit bull, pit bull, pit bull," and crossed back over to the other side of the street and continued on his way, no doubt looking for an easier victim. We were pleasantly surprised to find out that Ruby actually had it in her to be protective; we had always thought she was just too goofy and too overly trusting of strangers to act the way she did.

       > If gameness manifests itself as climbing trees,
       > (etc etc) then aren't all these legitimate tests for gameness?
    Pit bulls will generally excel in activities that require sustained determination and that test their bodies' ability to endure pain and exhaustion to an extreme. But the fact is that there are very few activities that will test a dog's gameness to its limits, or that will provide a basis for comparing one dog's degree of gameness to another's. For example, wild boar hunting, in spite of the high level of risk to the dog involved, doesn't really test the limits of a dog's gameness. The tangle between boar and dog is fast, furious, and generally quite short (compared with a pit contest). Athletic ability, agility, explosive power, strength of bite, and smarts are of a higher priority here than gameness, which never really has a chance to come into play in so brief an encounter. The dog will either take the boar down or be killed before the depth of his gameness can make much of a difference. Several larger breeds of dogs--American Bulldogs and Argentine Dogos--seem to be at least equally adept at boar hunting as pit bulls. But this doesn't make them as game as pit bulls.

    Just because a game disposition will aid a dog in excelling at many different activities--such as agility competition, flyball races, tree-climbing, etc.--doesn't mean that these activities are sufficient tests for gameness. Gameness is multi-dimensional; the above activities do not stress all of these dimensions simultaneously to their extreme limits . Gameness is, in positive terms, a happy eagerness to pursue a challenge; but it is also, in negative terms, the stubborn refusal to heed the cries of the nervous system to stop struggling and and to flee the situation that is causing so much pain. None of the activities above can fully assess this second dimension. Unfortunately,the only activity that really tests the full extent of a dog's gameness is pit contests. It's a pity that this is the case. Personally, I don't much like the idea of dog fighting, especially when money is involved and takes precedence over the well-being of the dogs. If I knew of another method--say, a DNA test--which could determine gameness, I'd be happily promoting that method right now. But genetic research has a long way to go before it could provide such a test. And with slightly more imporant concerns, such as preventing cancer, I don't expect many research dollars to flow into DNA game -testing. As a result, I'm left in the rather hypocritical position of celebrating a canine virtue that is only made possible by a human vice. So be it. I still prefer game dogs.

    I said at the beginning of the post that I am uninterested in finding out just how game my own dog is. You might ask, "Why would anyone be interested in knowing exactly how game their dogs are?" Well, I'm not a breeder. Understandably, breeders only want to choose the very best exemplars of the breed in their breeding programs. If you breed APBTs without regard for their degree of gameness, their gameness will gradually be lost with each succeeding generation. This is essentially what has occurred with Am Staffs and Staffy Bulls, which for many generations have been selectively bred for appearance rather than for the invisible inner quality of gameness. (Furthermore, I should add, less than scrupulous selection of all these breeds also risks the loss of the breed's excellent dispostion toward people.) In order to maintain a high degree of the desired qualities, a breeder must carefully select only those dogs that have them in the highest degree. Gameness was an extremely difficult trait to develop; it took more than a century of tiny, incremental improvements through selective breeding to produce today's APBT. Though achieved only with great difficulty, gameness is easily lost, sometimes even in the hands of good breeders. If you mate two grand champions, you will be lucky if just one or two of the pups is of the same quality as the parents. Traditonally, the job of breeders was to identify these offspring and use only them to continue the breeding program. Sometimes it's the case that two great dogs will not produce any offspring who are their equals.

    You are right, Wilf, in the sense that the presence of gameness in a dog has nothing to do with making the dog fight. Fighting a dog obviously will not improve the genes it was born with. But if you were a breeder interested in *maintaining* the gameness of your line, well, that's a different story.

  • What is a breaking stick and how do I use one?

    I'm going to preface this tutorial with a little information on my background in order to establish a little credibility. I hope! Don't worry, I'll keep it short and to the point.

    In the early 1970s I worked as a trainer/agitator for the Aztek kennels in El Paso Texas followed by various other kennels over the course of about 15 years. I know, no big deal, right? Well, a lot of my work revolved around training dogs to be aggressive towards humans via the avenue of "Protection Work". "Compound dogs" for car lots to "Sentry dogs" for the military. It afforded me exposure to all kinds of breeds and personalities in the canine world. Concurrent to this I had a fascination with the American Pit Bull Terrier. Okay, the stage is set. You now know why I was exposed to conditions that were just right for accidental fights, especially when the dogs were new to protection work.

    Over the years I've seen so many kennel fights I couldn't possibly count them. In the early years I saw just about every technique known to man used to stop a dog fight. Some of them are as follows:

    • lifting and spreading the rear legs
    • water dousing
    • strangulation
    • electrical shocks
    • beating the dog with whatever was handy
    • praying to god
    • And so on, and so on ........

    In the late 1970s through the late 1980s I lived down the street from one of the most famous APBT breeders of all time, the late Howard Heinzl. Those of you familiar with the breed will immediately recognize his name. It was he who first showed me the use of a "Breaking Stick". Other folks call it a "Parting Stick". If you're around the breed long enough you will eventually witness an accidental fight and it was one of these occasions where I was introduced to the "Breaking Stick". I was visiting Howard one day when one of his bitches, (in heat), got out of her kennel, ran over to one of the other bitches on Howard's yard and YEEHA, they started to fight. Howard calmly walked into the house, came out with what looked like a contoured door stop and tossed it to me. I said, "what the heck is this thing?" He had one too. He said "it's a breaking stick" and that I should quit talking and get my ass over to where the two bitches were trying to kill each other. With a 5 second tutorial from Howard I was able to help him break the dogs apart in about 10 or 15 seconds and that, my friends, is considered slow! I became a believer in breaking sticks from that point on.


    There comes a time in the life of every dog, be it a small terrier or the powerful APBT, when it will get into some sort of a scrap. Those of you who frequent dog shows for the APBT will no doubt eventually be witness to dogs getting loose and starting a fight. So, what happens when they are serious? Well, each dog will bite the other, take hold and start to shake its head punishingly. It is so serious that in most cases nothing you do will cause the dog/bitch to give up that precious hold! Nothing! Choking, shocking, etc...It just doesn't matter!


    Known by both names. It is a very hard piece of wood or some other material suitable for the purpose of spreading a dog's jaws apart. It is usually about 5 to 8 inches in length, wedge shaped and contoured to prevent injury to the dog's lips. Its width is about 1 to 2 inches.


    Okay, imagine two dogs engaged in serious combat and each one has a very good hold on the other. Now, I'm assuming there are two of you and you are both right handed.

    STEP 1) Walk over to the dogs and as simultaneous as possible step over, straddle and then lock your legs around the dog's hips just in front of the hind quarters. Make sure your legs are locked securely around the dog.

    STEP 2) With your free/left hand grab a handful of skin from the back/nap of the neck and pull upward as if you are a mother canine picking up a young puppy. A strong grip on the skin is needed here. We are accomplishing two things, one is to neutralize the mobility of the dog by locking our legs around it's hips and the other is to neutralize mobility of the front torso by way of a skin hold on the back of the dog's neck.

    Before I continue with STEP 3, let's review what has now happened. Not wanting to let go, the dogs are still holding on to each other and each handler has his dog in a tight leg squeeze just in front of the stifle/hind quarters while at the same time holding the dogs front section by way of skin on the back of the dog's neck.

    Sidebar: When looking in your dog's mouth notice a gap where the teeth do not meet. This 'pre molar' area is why the breaking stick is so effective.

    STEP 3) Each handler inserts his breaking stick in the pre molar area where the gap is found. Sometimes you need to work the stick just a bit if your dog is biting real hard. The stick should be inserted from 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches into the dog's mouth.

    STEP 4) Now, as if you're twisting the throttle of a motor cycle, so too you must twist the breaking stick. This is the action that spreads the dog's jaws far enough apart so that you can now pull back with the other hand. Viola, the dog is off! I like to also use my legs for those big dogs when pulling them off.

    It is that simple.

    Now, I have a few comments about the mechanics of a dog fight. The first is that ALL dogs use their hind quarters for both leverage and mobility and it is the most important place to start when stopping a fight. Once you remove the back end from the equation you've stopped 75% of a fight. It's amazing, most of the time you'll see the dogs quit shaking and moving as soon as they feel their hind quarters locked by your legs. They almost freeze! Once their movement is under control it's super easy to grab the neck and insert the stick.

    Holding the neck with your free hand helps prevent a dog from biting you while stopping the fight. I've broken lots of accidental fights and all those times I have never been bitten by an APBT. But, I have been biten by other breeds because of the way they fight.

    My final comment is that with a little practice you can stop a serious dog fight in about 5 seconds, on the average. It's so easy you can't believe it, straddle/grab/break and you're finished! No unnecessary damage due to pulling, beating or whatever else one might employ!

    So, the next time you're playing with your dog, open the mouth and you'll see the GAP I mentioned. Then, when you get your 'stick', just play tug-o-war or have the dog grab something and try your breaking stick then.



The American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT) FAQ