The Truth About Pit Bulls

What are pit bulls really like? How did they become such “underdogs” in the first place? Is there any truth behind their terrible reputation? Find the facts here!

Fact #1: Surprise! A “pit bull” isn’t even a breed of dog

“Pit bull” is a generic term that refers to a number of breeds, including American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, and others. At Midwest Rescue, we’re dedicated to helping all of these breeds, including pit bull mixes.

Fact #2: Pit bulls are not mean and vicious

Pit bulls do carry a terrible stigma, and we’ll get to the reasons why in a minute. For the moment, put your preconceptions aside and read this description provided by the United Kennel Club – one of the most – respected authorities on dog breeds:

“The essential characteristics of the American Pit Bull Terrier are strength, confidence, and zest for life. This breed is eager to please and brimming over with enthusiasm. APBTs make excellent family companions and have always been noted for their love of children. Because most APBTs exhibit some level of dog aggression and because of its powerful physique, the APBT requires an owner who will carefully socialize and obedience train the dog. The APBT is not the best choice for a guard dog since they are extremely friendly, even with strangers. Aggressive behavior toward humans is uncharacteristic of the breed and highly undesirable. This breed does very well in performance events because of its high level of intelligence and its willingness to work.”

Eager to please? Extremely friendly? Noted for their love of children? Yes, that’s the real pit bull!

Fact #3: Pit bulls make great family pets (we have the numbers to prove it)

The American Temperament Test Society, Inc. (ATTS) is a professional organization that objectively tests the temperaments of various dog breeds. They do this by methodically exposing members of a breed to a series of confrontational situations, then measuring their reaction. The more aggressive the reaction, the lower the score the dog receives. The score is based on the percentage of dogs in a breed that passed the test.

Here are some of the most recent results available. We’ve included some widely considered “most friendly” (Beagles and Poodles) and some labeled “dangerous” (Rottweilers, German Shepherds, and of course, Pit Bulls).

Warning: you will be surprised by the results!

ATTS Scores by Breed

  1. Chihuahua: 70.6%
  2. Cairn Terrier: 70.7%
  3. Afghan: 72%
  4. Beagle: 78.2%
  5. Australian Shepard: 79.2%
  6. Yorkshire Terrier: 80.0%
  7. Toy Poodle: 80.9%
  8. Cocker Spaniel: 81.5%
  9. Rottweiler: 82.3%
  10. German Shepherd: 82.8%
  11. Golden Retriever: 83.6%
  12. Labrador Retriever: 91.1%

Now, compare these to the pit bull breeds:

  1. American Pit Bull Terrier: 83.4%
  2. American Staffordshire Terrier: 83.3%
  3. Staffordshire Bull Terrier: 93.2%

For this study, the ATTS evaluated more than 25,000 dogs and more than 200 breeds. The average score for all breeds together: 81%. As you can see, when it comes to having a reliably friendly temperament, the pit bull breeds well exceed the average!

You can find these scores and more at

Fact #4: Pit bulls are widely abused by dog fighters

We don’t understand why anyone would take pleasure in watching animals fight for their lives, but apparently some people find this high entertainment. Shame on them!

Hundreds of years ago, our ancestors enjoyed bull baiting and bear baiting, other bloodthirsty forms of animal abuse. Similarly, ancestors of the pit bull were bred for this purpose – to fight in a ring against bulls and bears, generally to the death.

In short, bull dogs (known for their strength) were bred with terriers (known for their agility and feistiness) to produce the pit bull breeds. Today, these dogs continue to be a favorite with dog fighters, for several reasons: they are very strong, supposedly have a high pain tolerance, and have a strong desire to please their owners, even if it means dying for them.

At Midwest Rescue, we have participated in rescuing puppies from the hands of dogfighters. We believe these sweet babies were going to be used as “bait.” The good news is, these pups are now on their way to good homes. This is the horror we are up against. This is why we need your help.

Fact #5: Yes, some pit bulls are “animal aggressive”

Because of dog fighting, some pit bulls have been bred to be “animal aggressive” – i.e., aggressive towards dogs and other animals. A dog that is animal aggressive may still make a fine pet. The key is socialization and training.

All our dogs undergo socialization and obedience training. Before we make any dog available for adoption, we test it. If a dog needs to be in a one-pet household, we clearly state that upfront. That being said, many pit bulls are quite friendly with other animals. Our volunteers tend to own multiple pets-pit bulls, other dogs, cats, even kittens-and they get along just fine.

Fact #6: Very few pit bulls are “human aggressive”

Pit bulls have never been bred to be aggressive toward people. As the United Kennel Club notes, this is uncharacteristic of the breed.

So what about those headlines you see in the newspaper? For the media, printing a “pit bull attack!” headline is like yelling “shark!” on the beach. It draws attention. Putting sensationalism aside, it is nearly impossible to get objective statistics regarding dog attacks and specific breeds.

However, we do know this: dogs that are abused are more likely to become human aggressive. And in urban America, pit bulls in great numbers have been grievously mistreated in an attempt to make them fighting dogs and guard dogs.

When we rescue a dog, we observe, test, and train it. We firmly believe human aggressive dogs should never be placed in a home. If a dog is found to be human aggressive, we will arrange to have it humanely euthanized.

Fact #7: Another surprise — pit bulls were once the #1 family dog!

In the early part of the 20th century, pit bulls were the most popular breed of dog. Think of the RCA dog, the Buster Brown dog, Tige, and Pete the Pup from the Li’l Rascals.

Helen Keller, President Teddy Roosevelt, and General George Patton all owned pit bulls. Were these very smart people somehow unaware of the pit bull’s dangerous reputation? No, the pit bull’s bad reputation is a recent development.

Fact #8: Pit bulls are indeed “underdogs!”

It is estimated that there 60,000 pit bulls in the city of Chicago alone! Tragically, urban pit bulls are at very, very high risk of abuse. The majority shelters won’t even accept them (we’ve listed some pit bull-friendly shelters-see Links). As a result, instead of finding loving homes, hundreds of friendly, loving pit bulls are euthanized every month.

At Midwest Rescue, our goal is to explode the myths, improve the statistics-and secure a brighter future for pit bulls, one dog at a time.