One of these dogs is (or is not) like the other: Defining a “pit bull” dog

Pop quiz: which of the Chickderdoodles is a “pit bull” dog?

 A) Both
B) Neither
C) Chick only
D) Doodlebug only

photo by Juliana Willems

Here is the ringer:  They share zero common breeds as identified by their Wisdom Panel Insights DNA tests.

So . . . are they both pit bulls because they fit the general physical characteristics that many people think of when they think “pit bull” dog? Are neither of them pit bulls because neither is a pure bred American Pit Bull Terrier (whatever that is) or American Staffordshire Terrier? Are they both pit bulls because they have some DNA of at least one breed identified by the broadest definitions of “pit bull” dogs?

And even more confusing: is Chick less of a pit bull after his DNA test, which revealed no SBT or AST? And is Doodlebug more of one? And can two mixed-breed dogs that share zero common breeds both be “pit bull” dogs?

It’s easy for us — homeowners who live in a state with no breed-discriminatory legislation at the moment — to shrug our shoulders and say “who really cares, anyway?”  But in our home state of Maryland, and many other communities around the nation, the fate of huge numbers of family dogs hangs on these questions. Chilling, isn’t it?

Please share your answers to today’s quiz — and your thoughts — in the comments section. If we receive enough good feedback, we will put together a follow-up post next week!

59 responses

  1. I don’t think either should be labeled as a “pitbull” more like a Heinz 57 with all the breeds in the them. Just because they might have “the look” doesn’t mean they are. It’s like juding a book by it’s cover till you start reading it and then you end up really enjoying the book! So in my opinion they are both excuse the expression “mutts” but very handsome and loveable “mutts”.

  2. My biggest “Aha!” moment was discussing this with you in May. Until then I’d dreaded when anyone used the Pit Bull title because I thought it only referred to APBT and they were using it incorrectly. So my guess is A! I’ve written the rest of my comment a hundred times because I have a bunch to say, but I’ll just wait for the follow up post 🙂 Can’t wait!

  3. Who cares what breed they are should be the way we think, in my opinion. Yes, some dogs have historically been bred to be more aggressive and may not be quite as gentle as some other dogs but really we need to look at each dog as an individual. You could take a Labrador and make it aggressive if you treated it badly, equally many bull breeds make amazing pets when treated with respect and love. I don’t see how legislation can determine whether or not a particular dog is suitable as a pet just based on its breed!

  4. They aren’t a Pit Bull, but a Pit Bull type dog. Unfortunately, in many places like Maryland and Denver, it’s not what they are it’s what someone else thinks they are that puts them in danger. My Ruby probably doesn’t have any Staffie (of any kind) in her. But she still almost lost her life in a shelter for being a “Pit Bull” and that’s why I am an advocate.

  5. Keep spreading the word. People have already started to listen and changes have taken place. Every BSL that is thwarted or rescinded by knowledgeable voters and legislators is progress.

    “Punish the deed, not the breed.”

  6. My answer(s) to the quiz are A and B. Both and Neither. This is how I also describe my little Ray. He is a Pit bull-type dog with no Pit bull types in his DNA! As a matter of fact he doesn’t have any type of terrier in his DNA but to me and to most of the world, he is my Pit Bull and I love him.

  7. The answer to this question, for me, can be answered with a quote from Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride, “I do not think it means what you think it means.”

    People who *don’t* know, think they know what it means and which dogs it covers. Then there are those of us who *do* know and all we really know is that usually no one knows what it means and which dogs it covers.

    My answer is A and D for the win. I’m guessing anyone looking to cause trouble by enforcing breed restriction wouldn’t wait around for you to explain their DNA since most legislation is written rather vaguely to encompass dogs that have a “certain physical attributes”. But if we’re being very literal and the Chick is SBT and APBT genes free – then he’d be out on a technicality while the Dooglebug’s staffordshireness colors him a pit bull.

    From a piece I wrote a while ago: “…when you say ‘pitbull’ do you mean specifically the American PitBull Terrier? Or do you mean also American Staffordshire Terriers? Staffordshire Terriers? Bull Terriers? Bulldogs? American Bulldogs, only? Also English and French? Is it a terrier thing? Do you then include Border Terriers? Cairn Terriers? Yorkshire Terriers? No. Of course not. Now I’m being silly. You mean, as stated *clearly* in BSL legislation: dogs with certain physical attributes. So you mean to also include Presa Canario, Cane Corso, Mastiffs: English, Italian, Argentinian. And then, any mix of any breed herein which would exhibit ‘certain physical attributes.’ “

    • The princess bride quote is PERFECT! I’m (fingers crossed!) on my way to adopting a little ‘pitbull’ dumpling that can’t weigh more than 25 pounds soaking wet. Hard to believe anyone (let alone a court of law!) could, with a straight face, label her as “inherently dangerous”. Insanity!

  8. It depends on the situation.
    A) when walking down the street being examples of responsible pitbull owners.
    B) in general because Chick and Doodle are individuals.
    D) if you’re ever (and I hope you’re never) in a BSL situation, because Chick has a piece of paper that states that he’s not a pitbull

    • I think this is such a great answer that I am going to say “ditto”!

      It’s disappointing that so many other dog owners can say their dogs are any type of mix if it isn’t pure bred and yet “pit bull” owners have this very broad label designated on their dogs without any latitude for the mix. Just like people, every dog is individual and should be evaluated as such.

      • I couldn’t agree more with Rebelwerewolf and Zoki. It’s just so sad “pit bulls” fall into this very broad and very vague label. I always say what you said Zoki “Just like people, every dog is individual and should be evaluated as such” – you nailed!

  9. Generally I think of dogs as ‘pit-bull mix’ or ‘terrier mix’ or ‘beagle-mix’ depending on which breed I think they look most like physically. So I would call both of your dogs ‘pit-bull mixes’ if you lived in my neighborhood. But that would mostly be for easy identification not about my preconceptions about how the dog will act. Although where I live we do have some weird law about not breeding ‘pit-bull mixes’ inside the city limits. I can see why some people wouldn’t want to use that description.

  10. It seems like most pibble dogs are a mix of so many different breeds, but if they have that square head and stocky build, they’re automatically labeled “pit bull”. It’s fine by me for someone to call my Weezy a pit bull type dog because I think they are so lovable and I hope that she can somehow be an ambassador for our block-headed friends.
    I prefer “pit bull type dogs” because it includes mixes as well. I would love for “bull” to stop being a four-letter word so more dog parents could proudly say they love one without people shrinking back in fear. Hopefully over time breed discrimination will come to an end and more people will know what it’s like to love-a-bull!

  11. Thank you SO MUCH for highlighting this issue in such a clear and compelling way. This speaks to the heart of the matter for us here in Maryland (and other places affected by breed specific legislation). It is the logical hurdle that trips up all of the pro BSL arguments. How can you possibly define a ‘pit bull’ (if one could be defined at all) without encompassing a hugely wide swath of genetically disparate dogs? How can BSL be enforced – using any definition – unless DNA testing is mandated? How can shelter workers or veterinarians, not to mention police or the media, be relied upon to accurately identify a group of dogs for which there is no common legal or scientific definition? It’s mind boggling to me that BSL would even be considered in this context, but we clearly have a long way to go when it comes to educating policy makers. What gives me hope, however, is that the legislative task force that is currently reviewing the MD ruling is asking GREAT questions about this very topic.

  12. I have a boxer mix dog, with blue eyes, and he is constantly mistaken for a pit. It scares me so, that if my county decides to ban pitts i will lose my dog-son. I have pics of him with his mother as a pup, before I got him and the vet has wrote him up as a boxer mix but everyone who sees him think he is a pit. The answer to the question, I think both dog are perhaps pit mix. Perhaps the brown and white more so, or possibly an American bulldog mix But as crazt as BSL are, it wouldnt matter. Any bully-breed isnt safe.

    • No legislation can require YOU to give up any pet you own. IN fact there is plenty of court case (case law) all over the US that gives you “grandfathering” of your rights. In some areas those rights will CONTINUE even after the death of your current Staffie as liong as you continue to constantly own them.

      Constitutionallly ANY siezure of any animal requires payment in full or a bond issued to the owner, unless ordered by a court of law after trial if the animal value os over $20. This is your constitutional right.

      In fact such legislature if applied to you would be SIEZURE of personal property wihtout court action.

      Just so we all understand, the ONLY purpose of licencing dogs was to assure thier rabies shots. At one time anyone could order rabies vac and administer it themselves. In fact back then the vaccines were not as good as avalaible today. Then it had to be re-administered in up to 3 years. Today there are standard vaccines that are used that are ONE TIME administration for LIFE. So why does your vet use antiquated vaccines.

      It is the Veterinary INDUSTRY that wants to use outdated vaccines and this causes the requirement for continued licensing and booster shots.

      Today, many municipalities with large numbers of raccoons use edible baits that are vaccines that last a LIFE TIME, and are proven. So why won’t your VET? Ask him, he wont have an answer…except that maybe the VET industry lobbbied and you cant get it for your pet, only for raccoons and only by the government.

      The pet industry wants your $$$$$ and wants to allow the politics of licensing.

      Get active, know what is happening.

      By the way, there are termatidides that are sold for about 60 per QUART. They contain the EXACT percentage of the EXACT same flea meds that are in Advantage. If we average 10ml per animal dose, this $60 of “meds” will treat about 100 animals! WE are being charged about 10 per dose. So that same $60 bottle is worth $1000 when used on animals. Think about what id really going on.

      The pet industry has your pocket book and writes the check themselves.

  13. Sadly, I’d say both and neither. As far as the law is concerned a pit bull dog is one that looks like a pit bull dog. So sometimes Chickerdoodle may be pit bulls and sometimes they may not. It all depends on who is looking at them and if that person has legal authority.

    I have been told many times that my dog looks like a pit bull. But all my friends look flabbergasted when I tell them this. They don’t think there is anything pittie like about her.

    Pit bull-ness apparently is in the eye of the beholder.

    • Actually, this ios NOT true. The brits and the US both have REGISTRIES and they have actual genetics that can be proven by testing. If your dog has minimal or no DNA applicable, then no authority can say that it is what it is NOT.

  14. I like Debra’s answer of “Both and Neither”.

    A breed is a breed. A type is not a breed. If “big square head and shortish but still present muzzle” makes a type, they’re both it. But a lot of people make mistakes. A lot.

  15. I live in Denver with two shelter rescue dogs that ironically, look just like your dogs. I can tell you first hand, do everything you can in your State to eliminate breed specific legislation. It has been a nightmare finding a house to purchase. In a down economy, with money in hand, it took months to find a house where my dogs did not violate county, city, or HOA ordinances. This State preaches tolerance from one peak to another, and then executes your dog based on some asinine review by a kennel technician.

    • IN all states the insurance companies are the ones in control. THey can refuse to insure if your dog is any specific breed and there is no way to stop it at all. It is commercial based legislation.

      There is NO way to combat this at all.

  16. This is so fun! Ok, so I know Dude has Staffy but Chick looks more like American Bull Dog to me. He looks a lot like our Lady Bird….tall, longer legs, boxy square head. Most likely other non “pit type” breeds in there but my guess is American Bull Dog. My guess on Lady Bird (you can see her at….adoption page) is American Bull Dog and Pointer and she is my bullet proof ambassador sweetie. Every dog park we go to, every walk we take, every school function she attends someone grabs their dog and moves away or walks up to me and tells me that she is obviously a Pit. I dislike the judgement that even innocent people are so quick to share but I love trying to be at least a tiny bit of the solution. You just can’t not love Lady Bird as she wiggles her rear end in joy and adoration at everyone she meets and if she looks like a “Pit” to everyone, so be it…hopefully it gives them an idea of what a wonderful dog is no matter the shape of their head. My hats off to Chick and Dude who do the same thing every day. Much Love Aleks!

  17. Dude looks “Pittier” than Chick does imo….but I just wish they could just be dogs. I remember this really “country-ish” dude came in to look for his dog and when we were taking the lost report and I asked him what type of dog it was and he acted like he had no concept that there were different kinds of dogs and he just kept saying “I dunno he’s just a dog”. It made me mad at the time for some reason….but now I find something poetic about it. Who cares…he’s just MY DOG!

  18. While often incorrect/unclear “pit bull”-typification is a compelling technical argument against breed-specific legislation and treatment, I’m more concerned by the fact that our society will still arbitrarily judge and treat entire groups of beings based on stereotypes and labels. My dog is a papered, DNA-confirmed American Pit Bull Terrier. We rescued her from a breeder who couldn’t use her because she has a minor heart defect. If BSL came to our town, there would be no question that she would fall under it. It doesn’t change the fact that she is wonderful. I ultimately fear that in tolerating the inherent prejudice of legislation like BSL, we become desensitized to the way we treat our fellow man.

    • Excellent point. I think the categorization/ definition issue is deeply embedded in the arbitrary judgement issue you speak of. If people didn’t ascribe the “pit bull” label to every big-headed short-haired dog (particularly in negative contexts), it would be much more difficult for them to make such sweeping generalizations. If the media was reporting “mutt attacks” or just “dog attacks” instead of “pit bull attacks” the connection between danger and pit bulls would not be so easily made in the public’s minds The prejudice is totally unacceptable, but it wouldn’t occur without all of the really terrible misinformation that is out there.

    • Remember that any NEW legislation does NOT apply to you in any way. YOu are grandfathered as long as you continueally own one. PERIOD.

  19. Works both ways, we have a 10 year old Pit/Rott mix that friends/neighbors/landlords believe is a Lab/Rhodesian Ridgeback mix. Hey, if I have to tell a little white lie to protect my family, I will. He should not be discriminated against due to his breed.

    Keep fighting the good fight.

  20. I have to answer A and B. Sadly, depending on the time and the place, the answer could mean the difference between life and death. I suspect that a huge percentage of the people making the decision regarding “is it or is it not” have not and never will be the proud caregiver of a pitbull/pit bull type dog. I am proud to say that I am! I will do whatever I can, for as long as I can, to change minds…one at a time!

  21. I am going to have to say unfortunately, that it matters more where they are than what they are. In a BSL state they would be considered to be of the Pitbull persuasion making them Pitbulls in the state’s/jurisdictions eyes, therefore the answer would be “A” both. Anywhere else they would be considered just two stinkin’ cute dogs, mutts and therefore the answer would be “B” neither . Please follow up and post the DNA results, it is a great teaching tool for those who dont understand the importance of it all.

  22. I don’t know which dog is Chick and which dog is Doodlebug so….I would guess the redish one to have some pit bull type but I think that terms is overused and it doesn’t really matter.

  23. I’m going to guess that Doodle comes up with Staff or Pit and Chick comes up as American Bulldog.

    Love them both!

  24. Thank you for sharing that. It’s so unfortunate and upsetting when dogs are discriminated against because of their breed. Looking at Chick or Doodlebug you would never think they would be the vicious stereotype that people fear. My dog Sonny also looks a bit “pittish” and I wouldn’t be surprised if he was part American Staffordshire Terrier, but that doesn’t mean anything except that he is super cute.

    It’s all about the people who raise these dogs and more awareness and attention needs to be brought to that point. There are many shows on TV now advocating for the pits (such as Pitbulls and Parolees and Pit Boss, both great shows that show the wonderful qualities in the pits and people).

    • Wow, this is incredible! I haven’t read such a thoughtful and in-depth blog post in a really long time. Please thank Carlos for me — Ben and I had a great time reading this and talking about it last night!


  25. I’m wondering, a little, at your comment above about a “purebred American Pit Bull Terrier, whatever that is.” Like any other purebred dog, a purebred APBT is one that is purebred as defined by those registries which accept the breed and track parentage in order to register. For the APBT, those registries are the United Kennel Club (UKC) and the American Dog Breeder’s Association (ADBA), both of which were started originally because of the AKC’s refusal to accept the breed. So, neither of your dogs is an APBT, since neither of them is a purebred dog. However, I find that comment about purebred APBTs a little insulting to those people who carefully breed and show these dogs, and to those who happen to own a true purebred APBT.

    • My apologies – I see how that comment seemed flip and came off that way. I certainly don’t mean to discredit those who own and love true APBTs. Yes, I am aware that they are a breed with conformation standards. Over the years I have met a bazillion dogs whose owners claim they are “American Pit Bull Terriers,” and the group of dogs could hardly be more diverse, in terms of appearance, behavior, and inclinations. It seems like people sometimes confuse the overly broad colloquial term “pit bull” with the very specific breed “APBT,” which is what I was getting at. Both of my dogs have been called APBTs by many people, even though neither of them is (especially obvious with Chick, who is an AmBull mix).

    • APBT not distinguishable through most DNA analysis. It is possible that either of those two dogs could have APBT if the genes for that breed can be isolat d and dogs be so identified.

  26. I love your dogs smiling faces. They bring joy to my heart when I see their photos. Thanks for sharing them on your blog.

  27. Aleksandra, every time I meet a “pit bull” owner (and usually their dog’s DNA is as mixed up as Doodlebug’s), I tell them to read your blog. I hope some of them have followed up.

    Two weeks ago I met a woman at a rest stop off the highway with two “pit bulls.” One had a badly-beat up nose. She had just rescued them from death row that day. Both were timid and sweet and lucky to be alive. So not everyone gets scared off by the term “pit bull.” And the answer to your pop quiz? Like Kristine (we Canadians think alike), and in deference to kkoira above, I think the answer is both and neither. Many might *think* they are, and in places other than Texas they may run afoul of breed discrimination laws… but mutts, whatever the mixture, are the most AWESOME dogs. And what you got there, lady, are two mutts.

  28. We live in Denver (loop-hole: we’re outside the “county” of Denver, but inside the City, thankfully this area does not fall under the ban, but we were careful where we purchased our house to make certain this was the case) and our two pitty’s are drastically different-looking. We have never undergone DNA testing so I couldn’t tell you if they have any common breeds, but to me it is so silly how we label breeds. It is sort of like me saying I am American Indian if my great-great-grandmother was 1/4 or something. That doesn’t make me much of one and seems silly for me to claim the label.

  29. I assert (and I will stick by my brutal assessment) that both of these dogs are of the same breed. That breed is: Cute.

    Sooooo cute!

    Sorry. I’ll stop being stupid now. I know this is a very serious issue. Where I live, dogs with the “pitbull” appearance are banned from dog parks and not covered by home-owner’s insurance, but that is all. It is weary work trying to change people’s minds when it comes to breed-stereotyping.

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  32. I volunteer at a shelter and the staff there automaticly labels a dog “pitbull” even though it looks like a similar breed like a American Straffordshire or even a american bull dog. Even a bull terrier was labeled a “pitbull” and those two dogs have a completely different face. i see about 10 – 20 pitbull in the shelter EVERY other day. How sad for the pitties.

  33. well i know this is late, but the brown/white has alot of apbt, tell by the eyes and size…white one looks like got some lab, lil boxer too…cut as a button tho…but in my town both are pitbulls..sad that they get the stigma….my baby is a mixed, mom was a miami blu/rednose dad was full amstaf…she looks kinda like one on the left(brown/white one)….She’s scared of her own farts….kinda funny at times…

  34. After I initially commented I seem to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and from now on whenever a comment is added
    I get 4 emails with the exact same comment.
    Perhaps there is an easy method you can remove me from that service?
    Many thanks!

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  37. Pit bull is when the dog has One of 4 breeds in the mix. That is the officially accepted definition. Since both of those dogs have substantial amounts of the Staffordshir or American bulldog, they are both pit bulls. In some areas, just their appearances would suffice.

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