By Celeste Schmidt, Redding CA

Are you considering a Pit Bull-type breed for your future dog? Maybe seeing so many in the shelter and knowing these dogs are first to be euthanized makes you want to save one? Before you leap into the world of bully dogs, there are things to take into consideration.

There are four significant bully breeds in the US that are often grouped together as "bulldogs" or "pitbulls":

  • American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT)
  • American Staffordshire Terrier (Amstaff)
  • Staffordshire Bull Terrier (Staffie)
  • American Bully (Ambully) 
All share a certain number of temperament and body-type features.

highly people oriented

Bully breeds tend to be very people friendly and tolerant, confidently greeting strangers with a happy grin and wagging tail. Bullies tend to make poor guard or protection dogs due to their friendliness and lack of suspicion. The American Pit Bull Terrier UKC standard states that "the APBT is not the best choice for a guard dog since they are extremely friendly, even with strangers. Aggressive behavior toward humans is uncharacteristic of the breed and highly undesirable." This trait makes them great pets for socially active owners who need a dog that enjoys meeting all types of people, large and small.


 Dog and Animal reactivity/aggression

Dog and animal aggression is a trait that's more common in these breeds than in most. This trait is genetically programmed and may (or may not) surface even with the very best socialization and training. If a dog is dog-aggressive it does not make them a "bad dog", it just means they need a certain kind of person to handle them: someone who's willing to devote themselves to managing, enjoying, mentally stimulating and exercising the dog outside of dog-dog interactions like dog-parks or multi-dog household. Since dog-aggression may not appear until the dog matures, it is important for a bully breed owner to be informed long before an episode occurs on excited body-language hints, "crate & rotate" and how to separate a dog fight.

Strong will and high prey drive

American Pit Bull Terrier mix Velvet

Characteristic bully breeds like the American Pit Bull Terrier were bred as fighting dogs, which requires a relentless devotion to the task. The trait is called "gameness" which basically means the dog is willing to keep going to the end, when other dogs would turn tail and run. Because of this, the bully dogs of today are often strong-willed, not easily distracted or deterred from behaviors. They put a lot of effort and intensity into the things they want to do. And coupled with a high prey drive (desire to chase small game), they can be a handful. However in the right hands, this can be harnessed and channeled into something productive, for example sports like weight pulling, flyball, tracking, frisbee, dock-diving, and many more. But it can also be a real hassle for a owner who isn't prepared for the "hard-headed" determination of these dogs. American Staffordshire Terriers and American Bullies tend to be somewhat softer and less intense than APBTs and Staffies, making them a better choice for first timers.

Mentally and physically active

These dogs are often recognized for their athletic body structure, and they have a mind to fit it. Bully breeds thrive on not only physical, but mental stimulation. You will likely find a bully to be a very eager training partner. They learn quickly, and are very intelligent dogs who are willing to put a lot of effort into learning something new when taught that training can be fun. Dog sports or reward-based obedience classes are very beneficial, a good training session can be as satisfying as a moderate work-out.  Bullies (with the exception of some Ambullies) tend to have great stamina and make great companions for avid bikers, joggers, hikers, etc. However, backyard breeding and breeding for exaggerated structure and overly large dogs without considering health has caused high rates of hip and elbow dysplasia in the bully breeds. Dysplasia is a painful structural health issue that can severely hamper a dog's athletic tendencies. If you are looking for a sport or jogging companion, make sure the dog you're considering appears to move easily with a smooth, flowing gait, not a lumbering or rocking motion. If picking a puppy from a breeder, review the parents' and grandparents' health certificates. In this day and age, there is little excuse for a breeder not to health-test stock for common afflictions.

Thick Skin

Adrenaline K9's Loki is an American Bully who is a certified police dog.

Bully breeds tend to brush off rudeness and rough handling with a positive and forgiving attitude. But bully owners need have the same thick skin because of the negative image surrounding the breeds. It is not uncommon to receive snarky looks while out on a casual walk or to have mothers tell their children to stay away from your "vicious beast". Rather than taking offense, take pride in knowing that your dog is a safe member of society. Consider taking obedience classes and/or a CGC exam. Show off how well-trained your dog is by attending local dog events and taking them out in public.  Bully owners can be proud of their dogs' character and training as well as their breeding.


Bully breeds have excelled in pretty much every dog related activity out there. From sports like Schutzhund, French Ring, weight pulling, and rally obedience to serving humans as search and rescue dogs, therapy, police, and service dogs. In some areas bullies have become popular in decreasing the number of overpopulated and destructive animals like wild boar.

Keep in mind:Hector, a survivor from Michael Vick's dog fighting kennel is now a certified therapy dog. Not all bully breeds will fit their breed type/standard. These dogs have suffered from mass irresponsible breeding practices and can vary greatly due to that. Shelters and rescues are full of these dogs and their mixes and while all are equally deserving of a great home, they are NOT equally easy going, resilient, non-aggressive, driven to work, or easy to train. If you're interested in getting a bully breed but are concerned about possible animal aggression, your best bet is a fully matured dog. In a rescue setting the foster parent will be able to tell you about the dog's temperament and some shelters temperament test their animals prior to adoption.