There’s been a lot of ‘bully’ talk lately in Pit Bull circles. What used to be a catch-all term to categorize a specific group of specific breeds has become a mangled, multi-defined term of mass confusion and misuse. SO what IS a ‘bully’? Is it the same thing as a Pit Bull? Is it shorthand for American Bully? While we are at it, what’s an American Bully anyway? Let’s have a look…..
The term ‘bully’ or ‘bully breed’ has been and still is used as a term to categorize a group of breeds – the bull breeds. What’s a bull breed? Typically one of several breeds that are direct descendants of bulldogs, created from the old time English butcher’s dog. The term has typically referred to bull-n-terrier breeds, like the American Pit Bull Terrier (Pit Bull), American Staffordshire Terrier (AmStaff), Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and Bull Terrier. Some people also toss the American Bulldog into the mix. These four breeds are distinct and unique, with well-qualified histories. They are all officially recognized as breeds in reputable, all-breed registries. You could call them each ‘bullies’ in their own right. It’s not an official breed name, it’s just slang people have used to describe breeds of a certain historical nature.
Bully ‘Style’ Pit Bulls: Somewhere along the line, the term ‘bully’ got picked up by a certain group of people that began applying it not to a specific breed or category of breeds, but to a specific look within a breed. That breed? The American Pit Bull Terrier. The look? The overdone, too big, too wide, lumbering, jowly, poorly conformed look certain Pit Bull breeders had been producing for a while, some reportedly even secretly crossing in other larger, ‘bull- doggier’ breeds to enhance their supposedly ‘purebred’ Pit Bulls’ size.
These ‘bully’ dogs, produced by breeders selling dogs with bad conformation from unproven parents for outlandish prices, do not represent the true form of the American Pit Bull Terrier. Bullies aren’t ‘typical’ Pit Bulls, they are not correct based on the historical – or current day correct - conformation of the Pit Bull breed, and they do not conform to the official Pit Bull standards – in fact, most of these dogs would get laughed out of the show ring (which is why bully breeders now host their own shows – but more on that later).
The bully is essential the manifestation of whatever the breeder’s whims happen to be – there is no regard for breed type, soundness, or preservation of the standard Pit Bull; it’s all about what the breeder wants, thinks, believes the Pit Bull to be, his/her own ‘interpretation’. And that interpretation is ‘bigger and more exaggerated is better’.
Enter the American Bully: Along comes Dave Wilson, a ‘pioneer’ in the bully movement. Dave Wilson essentially took the ‘bully’ fad (or threw gasoline on a spark, depending upon how you look at it), and attempted to give it some credibility by naming these bully style dogs the ‘American Bully’ and prompting the creation of a new breed, separating ‘bully’ Pit Bulls from American Pit Bull Terriers. Sort of.
Creating a new breed takes time. Decades really, or more. It takes organization, and a lot of people on the same page, agreeing upon the same things, and working together towards a common goal. Dr Carmen Battaglia is a purebred dog expert, and says, in his article Creating a New Breed, “It is folly for breeders to think they can create, in a few years, what it took others a lifetime to accomplish.” Yet, this is exactly what the American Bully breeders seem to believe: that they can take an established breed, tweak it to suit their own purposes, and claim that suddenly, it’s a new breed!
There isn’t a distinct line drawn between the new American Bully ‘breed’, and the American Pit Bull Terrier. Peruse American Bully breeder websites, and you’ll see the dogs referred to as American Pit Bull Terriers, American Bullies, American Bullies aka American Pit Bull Terriers, and ‘bully style’ Pit Bulls. The newly formed American Bully Kennel Club actively promotes the American Bully as its own ‘breed’, yet states quite clearly on the website that, “All dogs currently registered as American Pit Bull Terriers and American Staffordshire Terriers will be registered with us as an American Bully”. A name change does not a breed make.
So, what is the American Bully? It is essentially an American Pit Bull Terrier that is poorly bred (i.e. does not comply with acknowledged and accepted breed standards), and in some cases perhaps not even purebred (there have long been rumors that ‘bully style’ breeders have crossed in other breeds to create the dramatic look of their dogs – and sure enough, some of the dogs produced by these breeders look nothing close to purebred American Pit Bull Terriers, bully or not). The American Bully is an unofficial ‘type’ that some people have attempted to legitimize, and turn into a breed. The problem is that there is no concerted or organized effort to actually turn the American Bully into a real breed, nor a full attempt to separate the American Bully from the American Pit Bull Terrier. The lines are so blurred as to be invisible at times.
The American Bully Community: The American Bully Kennel Club was, “created to be the sole registry to validate the rapidly growing American Bully breed”. The club hosts its own shows – where bullies can compete against other bullies for prizes and titles – and provides registration services. The organization accepts registrations from anyone with an American Pit Bull Terrier or American Staffordshire Terrier that meets the American Bully ‘standard’ (it is unclear how it is to be determined that the dogs being registered fit the standard, since registration happens by mail). Fill out the form, send your fee in, and ta-dah! Your Pit Bull or AmStaff is now a new breed – an American Bully. The American Bully Kennel Club also registers some other ‘types’ of bully – the ‘Pocket Bully’ and the ‘XL Bully’. The ABKC claims these are also breeds – but they share the standard with the American Bully (the standard has size notations for each ‘type’). Are they unique breeds, or just variations on a theme?
Typically, breed clubs are established around an already-existing breed or are formed with the purpose of helping an emerging breed to grow and solidify into a real, true acknowledged breed that will ultimately be accepted for registration into an all-breed registry (the AKC, UKC or FCI). At this point in time, it is impossible to tell what direction the ABKC wishes to go in. Do they wish to seek legitimacy for an emerging breed, one that is still very much in the stages of infancy, ultimately closing the gene pool and moving towards recognition in a reputable all-breed registry? Or do they wish to remain in the gray area between an existing breed (the Pit Bull) and a fad type that has largely been ostracized by the APBT community as being badly bred, poor representatives of an established breed?
Right now, the bully community seems to be content with simultaneously calling their dogs a unique ‘breed’ – the American Bully – while also continuing to refer to and register them as APBTs/Pit Bulls. There doesn’t appear to be any concerted effort to ‘break away’ from the APBT community in an effort to create a new, unique breed – the American Bully folks seem content, for the most part, to remain an oft-ridiculed ‘sub-culture’ of the legitimate APBT world.
Pit Bulls - What & Why: When talking about ‘Pit Bulls’, we’re talking about a very specific breed of dog – the American Pit Bull Terrier. Pit Bulls have been established as a breed since the 1800s. They are widely recognized and known as purebred dogs with standards – breed ‘blueprints, if you will – and registries meant to keep track of lineage and assure that dogs being bred, registered and passed off as Pit Bulls actually ARE Pit Bulls. Responsible and ethical breeders of American Pit Bull Terriers strive to produce dogs that represent the breed standard – both physically and temperamentally. Dogs that don’t meet the standard are spayed or neutered and removed from the gene pool. The Pit Bull is a ‘balanced’ dog – it should be neither too scrawny nor too bulky. It is a medium sized breed, leaning towards the smaller end of the medium range.
When breeders of Pit Bulls start exaggerating features, bending or outright ignoring the standards to suit fads and appeal to a specific customer base – as the bully style/American Bully breeders do – it’s actually a matter of distorting what the breed IS, for personal gain. Breeding dogs is all about preserving breed type, promoting the true form and nature of a specific breed of dog. It’s not about taking an established breed, then bending and twisting it to suit your own ideas of what that breed should be. Pretty soon you loose the breed – it turns into something else entirely.
If a person is looking for a Pit Bull, they should go to an established breeder who health tests and certifies their dogs, competes in recognized, sanctioned dog events hosted by purebred, all-breed dog clubs, and strives to breed according to the standard of their registry of choice (the legitimate registries are the UKC and the ADBA, or the AKC for American Staffordshire Terriers). Purchasing a dog from a ‘bully’ breeder means purchasing a dog that doesn’t fit the standard and isn’t a true representative of the breed. Why buy a Pit Bull if you aren’t getting the real deal?
What’s wrong with ‘bully style’ Pit Bulls? Maybe some people just want a dog that looks like a ‘bully’. What’s so wrong with that?
In today’s world of excessive and unscrupulous breeding, with Pit Bulls lining shelter hallways, and dying by the barrel-full, being banned and killed due to ignorance, the very act of purposefully breeding more is questionably ethical. Should we be producing more Pit Bulls when so many are already homeless, abused, dying? “But we must preserve the breed”, you may say. This is a legitimate concern for lovers of the American Pit Bull Terrier breed. Without the ethical breeders striving to preserve the TRUE Pit Bull, eventually the breed would die out or we’d have nothing but pseudo-Pit Bulls – poorly bred, mixed breed, or bad-tempered shadows of their once noble ancestors. Surely producing bully style Pit Bulls – dogs that don’t meet the standard, and are not, by anyone’s definition, true Pit Bulls – is a questionable act. Surely the ethics of producing oversize, monstrous dogs meant to appeal to a certain subset outside the mainstream Pit Bull community are questionable.
Does wanting or liking something justify creating and profiting off it, especially when that something is a living, breathing, sentient creature? Or are there other things to consider?
After viewing countless American Bully breeder websites, and talking with bully style breeders, it seems clear that they follow their own path. They have a vision in their head of what the perfect dog is, and it’s the American Bully or ‘bully style’ Pit Bull. They love their bullies, and with those $1000, $2000, $3000+ price tags and multiple litters born each year, are sure profiting from them. But what about the dogs? What justification is there really for taking an established breed – one with significant problems surrounding it – and manipulating it into a fanciful caricature, pawning it off as ‘the real deal’ Pit Bull, while simultaneously declaring it a ‘new breed’? What justification is there for producing dogs without health certifications (go ahead and try to find an America Bully breeder that OFA’s, CERF’s, tests for brucellosis, heart health, and a myriad of other diseases that plague the Pit Bull)? And when ‘champions’ within the American Bully camp are actually dogs that have competed in shows put on by other American Bully breeders – not legitimate all breed registries or sanctioned breed clubs – you really have to wonder if there is any justification at all for producing these ‘bully’ Pit Bull dogs.
What Conclusions are to Be Drawn? The term ‘bully’ is used by some to describe a group of legitimate purebred dog breeds. The term is also used to describe a subset of an existing breed, the American Pit Bull Terrier, bred to look a certain way that is outside the realm of acceptable according to all standards and long- established traditions. The American Bully – an attempt to legitimize the ‘bully style’ APBT – is not a breed. It has not been around nearly long enough for its supporters to have created a legitimate breed. And its supporters, by all observable counts, have not yet taken the necessary steps to move towards legitimate breed creation. The American Bully exists in a middle ground – somewhere between a newly emerging breed, and a fad- gone-wild within an already established breed. They are, at this time, merely poor representatives of the American Pit Bull Terrier, organized into some sort of loosely formal group with (dare we say!) questionable ethics. Will the American Bully eventually formalize into a true, legitimate, unique breed? That remains to be seen.
For now, we encourage individuals seeking a Pit Bull to avoid bully style or American Bully breeders, because by definition of an ethical breeder – one that works to preserve the breed (not make up their own distorted version of it) – the American Bully and bully style breeder is NOT ethical.