What Were Pitbulls Bred For? (Pitbull History)

Pitbulls is an umbrella term for a range of dog breeds with similar physical and temperamental characteristics, these include the American Pitbull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and the American Bully.

But what were Pitbulls bred for? Well, Pitbulls have a complex history that has led to mixed modern-day perceptions.

What Were Pitbulls Bred For

Originally they were raised in the UK for public entertainment sports before being reinvented as all-purpose dogs in the US.

In this article, we explore the Pitbull history and also outline some key characteristics and Pitbull breed varieties to give you an overview of the journey of the breed through to the modern day.

History Of The Pitbull

19th Century

The origins of modern-day Pitbulls can be found in the 19th Century in the United Kingdom.

Originally bred from Old English Bulldogs which are very similar in characteristics to the American Bulldog, Pitbulls gained huge popularity in the public sphere.

Pitbulls were made famous in the UK for a cruel and violent sport known as ‘bull baiting’. The sport involved a few Pitbulls harassing a Bull for hours on end until it collapsed from tiredness or injury.

These events were held for the entertainment of the paying public, often the working class, who enjoyed the sport as light relief from their daily hardship.

In 1835 in the British Parliament, the Cruel to Animals Act was voted through which prohibited bull baiting as a sport. Bear baiting was also common and was outlawed in the same act.

After bull baiting was banned, the public turned their attention to another sport known as ‘ratting’. This sport saw dogs in a ‘pit’ battling against rats in a confined space.

The purpose of the sport was to time how fast the Pitbulls could kill the rats in the pit. This is how the name Pitbull developed.

In addition to ratting, the public also enjoyed dogfighting as an entertainment sport as it saw aggressive dogs fighting to death at high speed.

Ratting and dogfighting required dogs that were speedy and agile. The product of breeding Bulldogs and Terriers became known as Pitbull Terriers.

Although these dogs were bred for fighting and embodied tenacity and determination, common people also bred dogs with these traits as they desired them as household companions.

As breeding became more advanced, breeding Pitbulls with bite inhibition became increasingly important so that humans could easily manage them.

Removing this trait from breeding was important so that humans could be assured that they would not be attacked and their dogs would not be attacked when in the vicinity of a Pitbull. Around this time if a dog bit or attacked a human they would be culled.

A few years before the American Civil War, immigrants from Great Britain came to the US. With them, they brought Pitbulls. During this time, the Pitbull Terrier’s name evolved to the American Pitbull Terrier.

Although this dog breed had a history of dogfighting in the UK, in the US they were bred to become much larger and more valuable to a developing nation.

Pitbulls History

20th Century

In the state of early nationhood, Pitbulls took on an all-purpose role within the household.

They supported households by herding cattle and sheep, guarding livestock, and protecting families against wild animals and thieves.

They quickly became loved by many due to their versatile role. In addition to their multi-functionality, their loving and loyal temperament endeared them to many.

They were particularly loved by children and became known as ‘Nanny Dogs’.

As the American Century evolved, Pitbulls were central to American popular culture. The attention of the public shifted its view of Pitbulls as fighting dogs, to associating the breed with the best traits of working-class America.

The traits of bravery, friendliness, hard work, and respect allowed the Pitbulls to be known as the ‘All American Dog’ and represent the best of America.

An example of this is during World War I and World War II when Pitbulls became a symbol of American bravery overseas.

The Pitbull image was used regularly in advertisements as crucial wartime patriotism and symbolism.

One of the most prominent wartime Pitbulls was known as Sergeant Stubby. Often known as the most acclaimed dog of the war years, Sergeant Stubby was nominated for rank and soon promoted to sergeant for combat.

The dog served for 18 months on various war frontlines, which included 17 unique battles across four military campaigns.

Sergeant Stubby is an example of a dog that has loyally served its country in its hour of need, helping to elevate the Pitbull breed to superstar status.

Pitbulls became huge in popular culture also due to many celebrities owning them as well as being seen regularly on company logos and mainstream television programs.

One of the most famous was known as Petey, who was known for his ring-shaped eyes. He appeared on the show Little Rascals.

Pitbulls were also owned by celebrities including Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, Thomas Edison, Humphrey Bogart, and Fred Astaire, among many others.

Following WWII, the public perception of Pitbulls softened somewhat to become more regular dogs.

With less public attention, they were not deemed any more special than other dog breeds. Although Pitbulls were still used illegally for dogfighting, this was minimal and low-profile.

The main purpose of Pitbulls during this period was for hunting and herding, and they became increasingly popular as household companions.

Modern Day Perception Of Pitbull

Modern Day Perception

To address issues with dogfighting in the US, the US Congress adapted the Animal Welfare Act in 1976 to make the sport illegal in 50 US states, including Puerto Rico, Guam, and the District of Columbia.

Additionally, now most states institute a law that makes it illegal for humans to breed dogs for dog fighting. Also, being a spectator in these sports is illegal.

Unfortunately, dogfighting saw a re-emergence during the 1980s with advocates for animal rights highlighting the illegality and cruelty of blood sports.

The new emergence of the sport saw increasing numbers wanting to breed Pitbulls for dog fighting.

These criminals were trying to make the Pitbull breed, which had strong loyal, and protective instincts, into a bloodthirsty animal. To enable these traits, breeders need to breed without thought for socialization and temperament, but rather for the sole purpose of making money.

As a result, Pitbulls became associated as profit-making commodities for criminal gangs and not the loving companions of households.

The negative public perception of the Pitbull can largely be traced to an event in 1987. Time Magazine’s cover story was ‘The Pitbull Friend and Killer’.

Due to this media-driven hysteria, the all-American Pitbull became exploited at new levels and the mainstream media regularly peddled images of the Pitbulls associated with danger.

For example, Sports Illustrated’s front cover featured the headline ‘Beware this Dog’ when referring to a Pitbull. The article was explicit in saying that Pitbulls were dangerous and should not reside in family homes.

Due to this scare-mongering, many well-intentioned households started to kick out their Pitbulls which led to a large swathe of Pitbulls abandoned on the streets and becoming residents at dog shelters.

Public association of Pitbulls as dangerous led to the creation of breed-specific legislation, known as BSL, which outlaws the breeding and ownership of certain dog breeds.

Although this narrative took hold for many years until 2007 when the narrative started to change.

Famous breeder Michael Vick’s kennels, known as Bad Newz Kennels were broken into and the media footage showed the Pitbulls in his care as individual dogs that were vulnerable.

The break-in led to many of the Pitbulls being re-homed or placed in foster care. As a result of successful integration, the Pitbulls that were re-homed became embraced by societies and showed the Pitbull in a much more positive light.

The impression of aggression and violence was somewhat shattered, with many believing that if trained and socialized well, these dogs are perfectly suited as household companions.

Almost twenty years after the first negative mainstream media cover of Pitbulls, Sports Illustrated returned with much more positive coverage that conveyed sympathy towards the breed and also attempted to educate the public.

Although it can still feel like a battle, the modern-day perception of Pitbulls is generally positive.

Increased investments in advocacy and education have helped curate a mainstream media narrative that Pitbulls can be great household companions.

In the era of social media, having prominent celebrities such as Jon Stewart, Jennifer Aniston, and Rachel Ray posting pics of their Pitbulls with a positive glow, the breed appears much more appealing than it once did.

Across the media, Pitbulls are now shown as the versatile breed that they are.

Whether it be law enforcement activities such as drug detection, search, and rescue missions, on the front line with armed forces, or therapy dogs, Pitbulls are now seen for what they are.

Characteristics That Define Pitbull

Characteristics That Define Pitbull

Now you know the history of the Pitbull, it is useful to also know the key characteristics that define the breed.


Pitbulls are renowned for their athletic and muscular appearance. Some Pitbull breeds will stand wide and in a squat position, while others will stand taller and leaner.

One common appearance trait is the nose which appears fleshy and square-shaped with large almond-like eyes.

Pitbulls are low maintenance when it comes to grooming due to their short, bristly coat. Pitbulls’ ears are typically in a rose shape although they are often cropped.

Coat Coloring And Patterns

Pitbulls come in many different colors including brindle, white, black and blue.

They can also come in single, double, or tri-color patterns, with some patterns rarer than others. Rare-colored or patterned Pitbulls will cost much more than common-looking varieties.


As discussed in this article, Pitbulls are naturally loving of humans and crave attention. They will easily sleep beside you in bed or on the couch and they are very affectionate towards children.

To achieve these traits, early socialization and training are key. This allows them to develop good traits early and become obedient to their owners.

Different Types Of Pitbull

Different Types Of Pitbull

Pitbull is an umbrella term for a variety of breeds. These breeds have subtle differences in physical appearance and character traits but also have many similarities.

The main four Pitbull breeds are summarized below.

American Pitbull Terrier

American Pitbull Terrier is most commonly associated with the Pitbull name. That is even though the American Kennel Club and United Kennel Club are yet to officially recognize the breed.

American Pitbull Terriers are extremely athletic so make brilliant farm dogs.

If you don’t need them to herd, they will also make brilliant household companions, who will protect their loving home with passion. They will also display plenty of love and affection which is reassuring for owners.

American Pitbull Terriers are the largest and most agile of the Pitbull breed.

However, due to their size and power, they are more at risk to develop health issues. The breed comes in two varieties, the Blue Nose and the Red Nose.

American Staffordshire Pitbull Terrier

The American Staffordshire Pitbull Terrier is another popular breed within the Pitbull umbrella.

This breed is also not recognized by the United Kennel Club, but the American Kennel Club does officially certify them. In the US, they are ranked in the top half for the popularity of dog breeds.

American Staffordshire Pitbull Terriers are brilliant household pets with a gentle and loving temperament that endears them to children. The breed is supremely amenable and accepting of strangers.

As working dogs, they will be less effective as guard dogs compared to other Pitbull varieties but will make a very positive addition to your household.

Staffordshire Bull Terrier

Staffordshire Bull Terrier

The Staffordshire Bull Terrier originates from the UK and continues to be very popular. The popularity is not quite as high in the US, although they are recognized by the AKC and UKC.

Among the Pitbull umbrella, Staffordshire Bull Terriers are the smallest so are popular among households with limited space such as city dwellers.

The breed is highly regarded for its intelligence and ease to train. Although they are very affectionate and friendly, if they feel threatened, they will certainly show off strong protective instincts.

Staffordshire Bull Terriers are also great with kids and given their small size, they are less physically intimidating.

American Bully

The American Bully is the newest breed to come under the Pitbull umbrella. This breed was developed in the US in the 1980s and was initially created by combining an American Pitbull Terrier with an American Staffordshire Terrier. The breed was accepted by the United Kennel Club in 2013.

American Bullies were purpose designed to have a calm temperament and affectionate nature. They embody all the physical characteristics of Pitbulls in terms of their muscular and broad stature.

But for temperament, American Bullies are the most docile of all Pitbull breeds, provided they are given good training and early socialization.

American Bullies come in many varieties including the Pocket, Standard and XL. The breed has grown in popularity in the last decade in part due to the official recognition and the growth of the Instagram-able dog craze.

American Bullies can be used as therapy dogs, but the majority are bought for household pets. They are very kind and affectionate with those who reciprocate that love them.

How Long Does Pitbull Live?

Pitbulls typically live for 12 to 14 years of age, but this can differ between the breeds. Assuming you provide your Pitbull with a healthy, balanced diet and regular exercise, they are a healthy dog breed that should not encounter many serious health issues.

Regular monitoring and vet visits will also help you maintain your healthy existence. While regular socialization will help them develop social skills and provide stimulation.

What Size Is A Pitbull?

Pitbulls can vary significantly in size, but the vast majority range from 30 to 90 pounds in size.

Although some Pitbulls may appear small, the heavyweight is disguised by the strong muscle mass and high bone density. Also, most Pitbulls have broad and large heads which adds to their size.

How Much Is A Pitbull Dog?

The price of a Pitbull will depend on the breed variety, bloodline, breeder reputation, color, and pattern.

The average price for a Pitbull will range from $1,000 to $3,000 which is competitive compared to other breeds.

Cheaper Pitbulls are available but these dogs will likely be sourced from unethical breeding mills. Rare Pitbulls from prestigious bloodlines can fetch up to $30,000.

What Were Pitbulls Bred For – Final Words

In this article we have set out to give a brief potted history of the Pitbull breed and outlined some key characteristics and breed varieties, so you can be best placed to understand the intention and purpose of the breed.

Across much of the 19th and 20th centuries, Pitbulls were bred for entertainment through vicious blood sports such as bullbaiting, ratting, and dog fighting.

The paying public enjoyed watching these dogs showing off their aggressive traits and fighting to the death.

Over time, public perception and breeding purpose has changed regularly. From an association with American Patriotism in the mid-20th Century to an association with violence and danger in the early 21st Century.

Nowadays, it seems the public perception has shifted to be more accepting of the breed and that provided they are well trained and socialized, they are perfectly safe to breed as household pets.


Hi there, my name is Blake and I have an American Bully named Rocky. I fell in love with the breed around ten years ago after seeing some of my friends adopt a Bully. I love the combination of the muscular physique and calm, loyal companionship that the American Bully breed has to offer. My enthusiasm for the breed has led me to train as a dog behavioralist and trainer. Over the last ten years, I have supported many households in raising their American Bully and maximizing the potential of the breed. I’m delighted to share my knowledge and expertise on this site.

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