What’s a pit bull?

Is this doggo a pit bull?

American Staffordshire Terrier

Photo credit: American Kennel Club

How about this one?

Bull Terrier

Photo credit: New Castle Beach

And what about this good boy?

American Bulldog

Photo credit: Dogster

The answer is yes ... and no. The term “pit bull” doesn’t refer to a single dog breed. Pit bull is a description for a type of dog. Many dog breeds, including American Staffordshire Terriers, American Bull Terriers, American Pitbull Terriers, and American Bulldogs — just to name a few — are classified as pit bulls.

So when you hear about pit bull bans, pit bull bite statistics, and pit bull abandonment rates, they all refer to a much larger group of dogs than you’d imagine.

Grouping so many dogs together under one label can skew statistics and lead to harmful stereotypes.

For example, in 2018 Delta Airlines announced a ban on all bully breeds stating that even service or support animals classified as “pit bull type dogs” weren’t allowed on their planes. But how does Delta determine if a dog is pit bull? It’s entirely visual.

And visual identification can be tricky. Pit bulls are known for their muscular builds, large blocky heads, and often shorter snouts. So are the dogs below pit bulls, too?

Just as herding dogs and hound dogs can refer to a vast array of breeds and mixes, “pit bull type dogs” can vary greatly in their personality, demeanor, and appearance.

Beagle

Beagles are considered "hound dogs." Photo credit: Pet Barn

Greyhound

Greyhounds are also considered "hound dogs." Photo credit: Pet Barn

It’s important to understand some basics about breed classifications when thinking about adopting. Hounds will likely howl and pit bull-type dogs are likely to be athletic. But the most important thing we can do as animal lovers and responsible pet owners is to treat every dog as an individual.

Any domestic dog breed has the potential to be your best friend. Discovering your new pal’s personality is what makes having a pet so wonderful!

Determining dog groups and breeds can be difficult and confusing, especially in a shelter environment. Learn more about how AHS and other shelters determine dog breeds.

For caring, compassionate advice and resources to address all your animal concerns.

Contact the Pet Helpline