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Is a Pitbull a Breed or Are They Technically Mutts? Vet-Verified Facts & FAQ

Written by: Codee Chessher

Last Updated on July 18, 2024 by Dogster Team


Is a Pitbull a Breed or Are They Technically Mutts? Vet-Verified Facts & FAQ


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Dr. Lauren Demos

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Pitbulls are one of the most recognizable dog breeds, known for their loyalty and powerful strength. However, if you actually look the breed up, you’ll find out that the Pitbull is not a recognized dog breed. Is a Pitbull a mutt, though? It can be, but it really depends on the definition that you use.

The term “Pitbull” is often used as an umbrella term to describe a group of dog breeds, such as the American Staffordshire Terrier, American Bully, and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. However, the term can also be used for any dog that has certain physical traits, such as a muscular body and broth head, and that certainly includes mixed breeds or mutts. Again, some of these breeds are recognized by clubs, while others aren’t. For example, the UKC recognizes the American Pitbull Terrier as a breed, but the AKC does not.

If you’ve ever wondered what breeds make up the Pitbull, why the breed is controversial, or why they’re called Pitbulls in the first place, you’re on the right page! Let’s explore a bit about the Pitbull’s origins, name, and lineage.

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What Breeds Are Considered Pitbulls?

A lot of Pitbulls have been bred with many other dog breeds over the years to produce more desirable genetic traits, such as loyalty, a strong bite, and a bold personality. According to the Animal Foundation, though, 90% of dogs identified in shelters as a particular breed are actually misidentified,1 and this often includes Pitbulls. For a better idea of what kinds of dogs may be considered Pitbulls based on appearance, refer to our list just below.

The Top Breeds Commonly Called Pitbulls:
American Pitbull Terrier with flowers
Image Credit: Jumpstory

Why Are They Called Pitbulls? Name & History Explained

Pitbulls have a long and storied history, much of it sordid in nature. They first came to light in the 1800s in the UK, the result of a cross between the bulky Old English Bulldog and the gamey Old English Terrier. The goal was to create a strong but agile dog to bait bulls and bears. When that practice was outlawed in 1835, English breeders continued to breed Pitbulls as fighting dogs.

Pitbulls were imported to the US soon after and were still used in cruel blood sports. However, Pitbulls proved versatile at many jobs and worked as guard dogs, herders, and beloved family companions. Throughout all this, the Pitbull’s infamous reputation for their aggression and powerful jaw hindered efforts to formally recognize the breed.

The AKC has yet to formally recognize the Pitbull as a breed, mostly out of concern for the breed’s association with dog fighting and their enduring reputation for aggression. Other schools of thought say the Pitbull is too crossbred to establish breed standards.

How Can You Tell a Dog Is a Pitbull?

Technically, an American Pitbull Terrier has both Old English Bulldog and Old English Terrier DNA. However, many so-called Pitbulls have proven to not be Pitbulls at all, and it’s nearly impossible to tell a “real” Pitbull from an imitator without genetic testing. According to this 2015 study, “reliable inclusion or exclusion of dogs as ‘pit bulls’ is not possible, even by experts.” One in three dogs pinned as Pitbulls in the study didn’t even have Pitbull DNA at all! It just goes to show that you really can’t tell a dog’s breed apart at a glance. Many animal shelters and rescue organizations are starting to even not bother identifying a breed if the dog appears mixed, like Pitbulls.

red and white pitbull
Image Credit: Mary Swift, Shutterstock

Misconceptions About the Pitbull

There are numerous misconceptions about the Pitbull and dogs that resemble them. Sensationalized media coverage doesn’t help by casting Pitbulls as bloodthirsty fighting dogs, either. Let’s deconstruct some of these common myths.

Misconceptions About Pitbulls:
  • They have locking jaws: Pitbulls do not have locking jaws, and their famous jaw strength is all thanks to their powerful jaw muscles.
  • They’re aggressive: While it is true that some dogs can be more aggressive based on genetics, aggression is largely a product of environmental factors, poor socialization, and improper training.
  • They bite without warning: Like all dogs, Pitbulls will often exhibit warning signs like stiff body posture and low growling before biting.

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Pitbulls are technically not a breed of their own unless you’re counting the breeds that are included under this umbrella term. Several different breeds are commonly confused for Pitbulls, like the Boxer and Bulldog, but most Pitbulls have a mixed bloodline that makes them mutts.

Featured Image Credit: otsphoto, Shutterstock

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