About Pitbull Behaviors

Because of their violent pasts as fighting dogs, pit bulls' temperaments are often misunderstood.
Because of their violent pasts as fighting dogs, pit bulls' temperaments are often misunderstood. (Image: Ryan McVay/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Though many people try to categorize several different breeds as pit bulls, there are, in reality, two breeds that best fit the description. These are the American Pit Bull Terrier and the American Staffordshire Terrier. The American Kennel Club does not recognize these as separate. Pit bulls have a reputation for being unpredictable and dangerous. Whether this reputation is deserved or not, it is essential for a pit bull owner to understand the breed’s behaviors and traits so that he can make informed decisions about the care and training of his dog.


Pit bulls were bred for fighting for many years, and that past gave them a reputation as an aggressive and dangerous dog. Many pit bulls can become aggressive when they are provoked, but few will attack for no reason. The breed was originally intended to show dog aggression, not human aggression, and was actually bred to be friendly with people. A pit bull that has been properly socialized will be loving and loyal to its family and friendly with strangers. Pit bulls were even known for their patience with children and were sometimes called “nursemaid’s dogs.” If an owner is careful to socialize a pit bull from a young age, they can even live peacefully with other dogs and pets.


One word that can describe a pit bull’s behavior is “spastic.” Pit bulls are very energetic. They love to play and require daily exercise to stay both physically and mentally healthy. Pit bulls can become bored easily, and when they do they can develop destructive habits such as chewing or digging. A pit bull needs at least two 30-minute walks every day, or a vigorous jog or hike. Because they crave human attention, pit bulls also thrive when they can spend time playing fetch or tug with their owners or when they are involved in family activities. Even when you aren’t exercising with your pit bull, provide a way for it to keep itself entertained. Bones, rawhide chews or toys will help your dog exercise its mind and save your home or yard from the dangers of a bored pit bull.


If you have prior experience with a pit bull, you might have noticed a stubborn streak. This comes from the breed’s fighting days, when it was discouraged from backing down from a fight. Pit bulls are highly intelligent and eager to please, which will work in your favor when you are training your pit bull. The dog will quickly learn commands, especially if you use positive reinforcement techniques to reward desired behavior. Pit bulls should never be trained with negative reinforcement techniques or punishment because of the risk that they will become aggressive when provoked. These techniques will also bring out the stubborn side of the dog. If your dog resent the training, it will not obey the commands. Make rules for it to follow on a daily basis. Enforce the rules consistently and give commands firmly to let the dog know you are serious.


Pit bulls can be very protective. They are capable guard dogs that will loyally protect their families or territories when they feel threatened. Years of breeding for fighting made the pit bull unwilling to back down from a fight, and a pit bull will often tolerate pain, injury and even death if necessary to protect its family. Pit bulls are not as likely to develop bite inhibition as other breeds, so a bite from a pit bull can result in a more serious injury. If an owner is present, strangers can usually approach a pit bull without fear. According to the ASPCA, some owners purposely train their pit bulls to act aggressively in order to generate a “tough” image, however.

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