The Real History of Pit Bulls Might Surprise You

Pit bulls have a reputation as brutal fighting dogs that attack without warning, and it is completely unfair. Learn how pit bulls went from being the family dog to being feared.

Every time I read a story about dog fighting it breaks my heart a little bit. I hate any animal cruelty, but dog fighting hits close to home for me. My sweet girl, Jenna, is a lab-pit bull mix, and one of my nightmares is that someone would steal her to use as a fighter or bait dog. The infographic below is so great, because it takes a fact-based look at pit bulls and debunks some common myths about them.

Related: 6 Dog Behavior Myths, Debunked!, 8 Good Reasons to Leash Your Dog, Natural Remedies for Dog Anxiety

Just like any other dogs, pit bulls can be aggressive or they can be friendly. It’s all about training and breeding. Unfortunately, pits have a bad reputation, and a lot of it is based on myths. These myths about pit bulls and other so-called “bully breeds” are dangerous in two ways:

1. They’re bad for these dogs. It’s harder to adopt out pit bulls – even friendly ones – because of their reputation. These dogs are also more likely to be used in dog fighting, because they have a reputation for being aggressive.

2. They make us less cautious about other dogs. We tend to assume that if a dog isn’t a pit bull or other bully breed that it will be friendly. This isn’t necessarily true.

If you don’t know a dog’s history, you don’t know how she is going to behave, so take your cues from that dog’s owner.

With any dog that you don’t know, it’s best to approach with caution. Whether you encounter a poodle or a pit bull, you don’t know if that dog is aggressive toward humans or other dogs. What makes the difference between a friendly, approachable dog and an aggressive one? Training and environment.

Pit bulls weren’t always considered vicious fighters. In fact, because of their loyalty, they were once considered the perfect family dog. In the graphic below, you can see pit bulls – once known as “nanny dogs” – posing with the children that they helped care for.

So, how did these sweet, protective pups become fighters? That’s on us.

The graphic below looks at the history of pit bulls and how their reputation has changed since the late 1800s because of how humans have bred and trained them. It also looks at some of the most aggressive dog breeds, and that list may just surprise you. There are a few “bully breeds” on there, but it turns out that small dogs may have the same aggressive tendencies as larger ones.

You can click the graphic below to view a full-sized version.

History of Pit Bulls

graphic via Vitamins for Pit Bulls


Rosslyn O.
Rosslyn O2 years ago

All dogs can have personality problems, and they mostly come from the persons that don't know how to socialise, obedience train and spend time interacting with the dog. Thanks for the info it is good.

Peggy B.
Peggy B2 years ago

Excellent article.

Debbie Crowe
Debbie Crowe3 years ago

My son had the best Pit Bull I ever met. She was just so happy to be with her people!! Sadly at 15, she passed away in October!! I miss her!!

Jayasri Amma
Jayasri Amma4 years ago

Thank you!

Magdalena J.
Past Member 4 years ago

Thank you!

Earl Kuon
Earl Kuon4 years ago

Merrit Clifton The Academic Imposter Behind the Pit Bull Hysteria

"Your choice here is to embrace Merritt Clifton -- a jaw-dropping conspiracy theorist, and a quack who lies about his academic qualifications -- or a specialized medical epidemiologist attached to the national public health institute.

A distressing number of people have sided with the charlatan. Merritt Clifton's quackery is the research underlying breed specific legislation across North America. Pit bulls are being banned, confiscated and killed based on numbers that have no demonstrable foundation in reality.

We are plagued these days by superstitious zealots who prefer cranks to experts. Epidemiology in particular seems to suffer from this -- all sorts of people take Jenny McCarthy more seriously than they do tenured professors at Harvard Medical School. The sheer disdain for actual expertise is depressing: Barbara Kay dismisses Dr. Sacks as a "guru." Excuse me? He's a specialized medical doctor on staff at the most important body in America charged with preventing epidemics.

If I need heart surgery, I go to a heart surgeon -- not some Clifton-like crank who has personal theories about how heart surgery really should be done, and who dismisses actual heart surgeons as biased and corrupt."

Mark Nye
Mark Nye4 years ago

I would love to get my hands on any one who fight dogs.
They are sick individuals & I would love to see these sickos take their last gasp of air,scum bags all they are.
Dogs ,all animals have feelings experiments on help-less animals is wrong as well & no matter what excuse is given computers are available to do the synthesis as to actually using an animal.
Please do take action against lab animals & anyone who abuses fights or hurt any animal.

Monica KS

Thank u for intressting reading.
And it couldent be more true.

here in Norway thees dogs are illigal.
if the police find out u have a pitbull, they can take it an "kill" it...
Its just so terrible.

yvone c.
yvone c4 years ago

of the dogs ive owned the most aggressive was a black lab.. the least aggressive is my current pit mix. The most dangerous part of her is her tongue,,,, doggies kisses. my lab would snap at me for certain things, the pit has never snapped at me once,, and LOVES to please me. Best dog i ever had.. smart, loving, loyal. Key is to establish WHO is boss early with the animal.. she knows Im the pack leader but I lead with love also...

Earl Kuon
Earl Kuon4 years ago

Where is the scientific evidence ?

On January 5th, 2011, James McWilliams published an article in the New York Times titled “Breeding Killers?” discussing the topic of BSL and breed bans. He attempts to describe the nature of pit bulls and uses his personal experience to qualify the argument that pit bulls are, “genetically hardwired to be anxious, aggressive and defensive.”[ii] Dr. Jim Ha, a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and professor at the University of Washington, responds, “There is no scientific evidence for this. When people make statements like that, they need to back it up. There are a lot of un-sourced statements out there.” Like so many other journalists, instead of reading and citing studies that would present scientific evidence contrary to his personal opinion, McWilliams justifies his genetic pontificating with personal anecdotes. His evidence is that he owned a pit bull in which “no amount of training or socialization helped him in the least”. Needless to say, his experience with just one pit bull does not constitute a scientific study and from a research perspective, this is a sample size of one dog that he uses to characterize millions of dogs.