Pit Bulls – From America’s Dog to the Most Feared Dog

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American Dog - Most Feared Dog

Whether you are those who love them or those who fear them, there’s no denying that pit bulls have long been a subject of debate and controversy.

And from being known as America’s dog to being feared by many, pit bulls have certainly undergone a dramatic transformation over the years.

How and why did this happen? What led to the pit bull’s transformation from America’s dog to one of the most feared dogs?

To begin, let’s look at pit bulls’ origins.

Table of Contents

History of the Pit Bull

Pit bulls’ history can be traced back to the early 1800s. They were bred from Old English bulldogs (a now-extinct breed used primarily for bull baiting, a popular blood sport that involved setting dogs to harass and attack a chained bull for the entertainment of spectators.)

Later in 1835, when bull baiting was outlawed, the public quickly turned to rat baiting as a new form of entertainment. And eventually, dog fighting became the new blood sport of choice, and because both rat baiting and dog fighting required faster and more agile dogs, Bulldogs were crossed with Terriers, and the first pit bull terrier was born.

These dogs were brought to the United States before the Civil War and named American Pit Bull Terriers. While they were originally bred for fighting, they quickly took on a much wider role in American culture and were used for various purposes, such as guarding farms and ranches, herding livestock, protecting property and families, and helping out with hunting.

Photo Credit: Love A Bull
What’s more, pit bulls were used as the national mascot during World War I and II and were commonly used in commercial advertising. They were also featured in movies and television shows, with the most famous American Pit Bull Terrier being Petey from The Little Rascals. Many politicians and celebrities were also pit bull lovers and owners, including Theodore Roosevelt, Helen Keller, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Thomas Edison, Mark Twain, Fred Astaire, and Humphrey Bogart.

The Rise of Fear of Pit Bulls

Given their strong roots in American culture, why have pit bulls come to be viewed as dangerous dogs by so many people and become one of the most feared dogs in America today?

Where did things start to go wrong?


Things changed in the 1980s when there was a surge in the popularity of dog fighting in the United States. As a result, more and more pit bulls were being bred specifically for this purpose, disregard for their welfare became more common, and many of these dogs were abused or neglected.

Additionally, it’s not uncommon to see these dogs in spiked collars, which adds to their fearsome image and naturally leads people to believe pit bulls are vicious dogs.

Around the same time, the criminal started to use these dogs for protection and underground fighting rings, further contributing to their image as dangerous dogs.

Sports Illustrated Pit Bull

However, what many saw as the turning point of the pit bull’s reputation was in 1987 when the Time Magazine cover featured a snarling pit bull titled “The Pit Bull Friend And Killer.” Since then, there has been a steady stream of negative media coverage about these dogs. And that’s also when Breed-Specific Legislation (BSL) was introduced, with many cities and states banning or restricting the ownership of pit bulls.

Pit Bulls Today

Despite their image as dangerous dogs, there is a growing movement of pit bull owners and supporters working hard to change people’s views of these dogs and show that they are loyal, loving companions.

And thanks to the efforts of these advocates promoting the accurate image of these dogs, there has been a shift in the public perception of pit bulls. More and more people realize that dogs are not inherently aggressive and that their behavior is shaped by how they are raised and treated. In fact, many cities have repealed bans or BSL targeting pit bulls.

Did You Know Pit Bulls Pass the Temperament Test with Flying Colors?

Yes, you read that right. Many people are surprised to learn that pit bulls pass the temperament test with flying colors, with the most recent testing showing that they had a passing rate higher than many popular family dog breeds! And here are the test results for pit bulls:

  • American Pit Bull Terrier – 87.4%
  • American Staffordshire Terrier – 85.5%
  • ​Staffordshire Bull Terrier – 90.9%

So what exactly is the temperament test, and why are these results so important?

The temperament test is a standard evaluation of temperamental characteristics that dogs display. This includes testing a dog’s behavior towards strangers, how they react to various situations and stimuli, and their instinct for protectiveness towards the handler and/ or self-preservation when threatened.

And what these results tell us is that pit bulls have a lot of desirable qualities and are one of the most stable and reliable dogs out there. To give you an idea of how well they do on this test, here are the results for some of the most popular dog breeds:

  • Labrador Retriever – 92.2%
  • French Bulldog – 96.20%
  • Golden Retriever – 85.60%
  • German Shepherd – 85.30%
  • Poodle (Standard) – 87.20%

So as you can see, pit bulls have some of the best temperament scores and are really great dogs to own.

And as more and more people become aware that it’s not the dogs but rather how they are treated and trained that determines their behavior, we will hopefully see a continued shift in public perception toward pit bulls and that the negative stigma surrounding these dogs will eventually disappear.

After all, they deserve to be loved, cared for, and treated with kindness and respect, just like any other dog.