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American Pit Bull Terrier Breed Standard

Updated on December 12, 2018
My Dog Rizza (rizzabear)
My Dog Rizza (rizzabear)

The American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT) is a fascinating breed. With great strength and determination, The APBT is a superb athlete. Along with being an extraordinary athlete, the APBT is also very affectionate and eager to please. “In courage, resolve, indefatigableness, indifference to pain, and stubborn perseverance in overcoming any challenge, the APBT has no equal in the canine world” (American Pit Bull...FAQ ). The APBT breed standard (United Kennel Club) is meant to specifically portray the ideal APBT specimen.


The APBT descended from a mix of powerful breeds.  The breeds that shaped the APBT were the Bulldog and Terrier families.  “To understand the breed, it is necessary to start with some of the key elements that were brought together, homed in battle and blood-shed, refocused, and then shaped into the American Pit Bull Terrier” (Stahlkuppe 16).  In the late 18th century, dogs of England (Ancient Bulldogs) were bread to excel in bull-baiting events.  In the bull-baiting event, bulls were chained to a stake in the ground and a dog (or dogs) was expected to pin the bull by attacking it from the front and gripping its nose.  An excuse used for this entertainment was that it tenderized the meat.  “Historically, the word “Bulldog” did not mean a specific breed of dogs per se, but rather it was applied to descendants of the ancient Mastiff-type dogs that excelled in the task of bull-baiting” (American Pit Bull...FAQ ).  After bull-baiting was outlawed in 1835, pit fighting (the matching of two dogs against one another in combat) became a popular sport.  The bull-baiting dogs were crossed with terriers to reduce their size, thus making them more controllable in a pit fight.  This dog was referred to as a “Bull and Terrier” dog.  The “Bull and Terrier” dog was brought to the US in the early 1800s as farm dogs and guardians.  This “Bull and Terrier” dog was recognized as an American Pit Bull Terrier in 1898 by the United Kennel Club (UKC).


Figure1. Pit Bull Terrier   Source:  (O’Neil 4)
Figure1. Pit Bull Terrier Source: (O’Neil 4)
Achilles, Timon, Rogue
Achilles, Timon, Rogue


UKC American Pit Bull Standard

A breed standard is meant to represent the ideal specimen of a certain breed which includes ideal structure, temperament, and gait (all aspects of the dog). “At a dog show, the dog that wins is the one that comes closest, in the judge’s opinion, to the standard for its breed” (O’Neil 6).

Head: The Head is Medium length and bricklike in shape. The skull is flat and widest at the ears, with prominent cheeks free from wrinkles. The APBT’s cheek muscles are well-defined, and the skin fits smoothly over the protruding muscle with no excess to droop or wrinkle (O’Neil 6). “When viewed from the side, the skull and muzzle are parallel to one another and joined by a well defined, moderately deep stop” (UKC Standard…). “The head is well chiseled, blending strength, elegance, and character” (UKC Standard…).

Muzzle: The muzzle is broad and deep with a slight taper from the stop (see figure 1) to the nose. The length of the muzzle is shorter than the length of the skull, with a ratio of approximately 2:3 (UKC Standard…). “The tighter the lips fit on an American Pit Bull Terrier, the better” (O’Neil 7).

Ears: Ears can be cropped or natural (not important) and should be set high on the head, and be free from wrinkles. Preferred natural ears can be “rose” or “half-prick”. Rose ears have a backward fold allowing some of the burr (inner ear) to show. The tips usually point toward the side, but may also point toward the back of the dog’s head, depending on whether the dog is relaxed or alert. Half-prick ears start upward and then fold over toward the front about halfway up. Tips of the half-prick ear are always closer to the front then rose ears (O’Neil 8).

Eyes: “Eyes are medium size, round to almond-shaped, and set well apart and low on the skull. All colors are equally acceptable except blue, which is a serious fault” (UKC Standard…).

Nose: The nose is large and has wide open nostrils. Any color is accepted.

Neck: The neck should be muscular and moderate in length. “The neck should be narrowest just behind the ears and widen downward gradually to blend smoothly into the withers (top of the shoulders)” (O’Neil 8). The neck should be free from looseness of skin. Some faults are: Short and thick neck, thin or weak neck, and dewlap (loose skin in the area of the throat).

Shoulders: “The shoulder blades are long, wide, muscular, and well laid back” (UKC Standard…). “Well laid back” describes shoulders with a proper slope. The shoulder blade (scapula) should have a very evident backward slope from the dog’s upper arm to just in front of the withers. (O’Neil 9)

Back: The back should be short and strong, slightly sloping from withers to rump. The top-line should be slightly higher at the withers that at the rump, with a subtle arch just over the loin area (O’Neil 10).

Chest: The chest should be deep, but not too broad, with wide-sprung ribs. As the fore chest (also known as the brisket) goes down between the front legs to meet the chest, the fore chest should be deep enough at its lowest point to be even with the dog’s elbow when viewed from the side (O’Neil 11).

Tail: “The tail is set on as a natural extension of the top line (backline), and tapers to a point. When the dog is relaxed, the tail is carried low and extends approximately to the hock. When the dog is moving, the tail is carried level with the backline. When the dog is excited, the tail may be carried in a raised, upright position (challenge tail), but never curled over the back (gay tail)” (UKC Standard…).

Legs and Feet: The front legs should be straight and sturdy. The feet should point directly to the front, not toward each other (toed in) or away from each other. The pasterns (which are the lowest part of the front leg, from the joint just above the foot down to the foot) should stand erect and appear strong. The dog may have weak pasterns if the front feet are at either a forward or an outward angle when they meet the ground (O’Neil 13).

Thighs: The rear leg is made up of an upper and lower thigh which is separated by the stifle (knee joint). Both thighs should seem strong and be covered by hard muscle. The hock joint is located between the stifle and the foot. Hocks turning either toward each other or away from each other (when viewed from the rear) are faulty (O’Neil 14).

Coat: “The coat is glossy and smooth, close, and moderately stiff to the touch” (UKC Standard). “The hair should be rather coarse in texture, which provides the best protection in a short coat” (O’Neil 14).

Color: Any color and markings are accepted.

Height and Weight: The actual weight and height are less important then the actual proportion of weight to height. Desirable weight for a mature male is 35 to 60 pounds. Desirable weight for a mature female is 30 to 50 pounds. Dogs over these weights are not penalized as long as the weight and height are proportionate (UKC Standard…).

Gait: When trotting, the gait (way of walking) is effortless, smooth, powerful, and coordinated, showing good reach in front and drive behind. The backline remains level with only a slight flexing to indicate suppleness. Viewed from any position, legs turn neither in nor out, nor do feet cross or interfere with each other. As speed increases, feet tend to converge toward the center line of balance (UKC Standard…).

	General appearance, personality, obedience	20
	Head, muzzle, eyes, ears			25
	Neck, shoulders, and chest			15
	Body						15
	Legs and feet					15
	Tail, coat, and color				10
	TOTAL						100

The APBT as a Family Dog

There are aspects of owning an APBT that require alert, aware, and watchful owners. APBTs are naturally aggressive toward other aggressive dogs. “Animal-aggressive behavior is present in many dogs of every size and sort” (Stahlkuppe 45). Most other breeds will briefly fight, then one or the other will submit to the more dominant and the conflict ends. This is not the issue with APBTs. “Genetically, fighting to these dogs is not play, nor is it a display of canine macho” (Stahlkuppe 6). APBTs take any threat seriously and treat it as “business”. Because of this trait, the APBT must have understanding and responsible owners. “Most APBTs that are family pets never get into a serious fight, and many go through their entire lives without ever showing overt aggression to a nonthreatening dog (Stahlkuppe 6). “This is largely due to the fact that these APBTs have owners who understand them” (Stahlkuppe 6).

A big misconception about APBTs, is that they are naturally human-aggressive. They are not. Of course, the APBT can be trained to be aggressive toward humans. In the hands of a sane, responsible, and caring owner, the dog will not be human aggressive. This is why the APBT is not naturally a very good guard dog against human intruders.

The APBT can make an excellent family dog. They are very loyal. “The APBT whose ancestors fought in pits with survival as the main focus now find protecting the members of its immediate family worthy of intense concentration” (Stahlkuppe 65). “Old APBT breeders are fond of saying that you and your children are never safer than when with a game-bred APBT” (Stahlkuppe 65). APBTs have great companionability. “The APBT is a strong and confident companion who’s main purpose in life is to serve its master or mistress, even if it means stress, even if it means discomfort, even if it means death” (Stahlkuppe 66). An APBT’s loyalty, strength, companionability, eagerness to please, and beautiful appearance makes this breed a great family dog.

The American Pit Bull Terrier was first recognized in 1898 by the UKC. The United Kennel Club has established the standard for the American Pit Bull Terrier which is very specific and precise. Thanks to the UKC, these amazing dogs’ standards will be preserved.

Works Cited

American Pit Bull Terrier, The (APBT) FAQ. 20 June 2003.

O'Neil, Jacqueline. An Owner's Guide to a Happy Healthy Pet: The American Pit Bull Terrier. New York: Howell Book House, 1995.

Stahlkuppe, Joe. The American Pit Bull Terrier Handbook. Hauppauge, NY: Barron's Edu Series Inc, 2000.

UKC Standard for the American Pit Bull Terrier. 25 June 2003.


© 2009 rizzabear


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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I have had two rednose pits that I raised from birth till death. Now I just got another one, he is now 4months old. I have two daughters, and yes I was a little nervous about having them around the babies, but before I knew it, the dogs were listening and obeying everything the girls would say to them. Not once in 13 years did they ever bite them, and can you imagine little girls pulling and wrestling around with these so called killer dogs! People have so many different opinions about pits, I would bet you or any pit hater, that if you actually would take the time to study the dogs, or own one, you would fall in love! New best friend, plus, your dog will be more loyal, then any marriage, or girlfriend you will ever know. Please give these dogs a chance, you cant judge one, until you own one. Your just judging the owner, not the dog. If the dog is mean, usually the owner is mean or trained it to be mean. I cant sleep with out my dog!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      people say that pitbull terriers are mean and evil but i dont think they are cause its the way they raised them not based on the type of breed it is i have a red nose pitbull and hes not mean and evil but people think he is but when he was a baby he got thrown out of a car and we saved him

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      APBT's are the greatest dog companions. They're smart and full of life.

    • tkenworthy505 profile image


      10 years ago from Bloomfield NM

      what beautiful doggies those are!!!!! I

    • jabyrd82 profile image


      12 years ago from Farmington,New Mexico

      Nice hubpage dude lots of good info

    • Eternal Evolution profile image

      Eternal Evolution 

      12 years ago from kentucky

      Great hub, wonderful info.


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