Why Do Pit Bulls Have Big Heads? (Explained By Vet Tech)

Why Do Pit Bulls Have Big Heads

Pit Bulls are an all-around champion when it comes to being a family pet. Despite the cruel myths and stigma behind this breed, these pups have proven their capabilities time and time again in regard to strength, agility, obedience, hunting, loyalty, kindness, and a lifelong friendship!

While these personality traits stand out, there’s one other feature that tends to stand out even more- yes, their head!

Their sometimes massive, square-shaped noggin and smile have captured the hearts of many Pittie owners and dog lovers alike, but why do Pit Bulls have these significantly sized heads anyways?

Pit Bulls have big heads largely due to selective breeding over thousands of years to promote certain characteristics. Big heads became desired through illegal pit fighting to appear threatening, and now owners love this appearance simply because it’s impressive and cool. They also have big heads due to their strong facial muscles and skull shape! 

First, let’s take a look at the three different types of heads that dogs can exhibit and see which category your Pit Bull falls into. Then, we will dive into the reasons that explain why your Pit Bull has such a big head.

After, we can point out some differences in head size between the four well-known, distinguishable Pit Bull breeds to see which squeaks out having a bigger head!

What Type Of Head Does A Pit Bull Have?

This may seem like a straightforward question since you are interested in why your Pittie has a big head!

However, there are three different dog heads: dolichocephalic, mesaticephalic (mesocephalic), and brachycephalic. So, in order to comprehend your pup’s rather large head, it is important to learn about the science behind different head shapes in dogs!

Dolichocephalic dogs have long noses (Greyhound, Dachshund), mesaticephalic dogs have medium-length noses (Beagle, Australian Shepherd), and brachycephalic dogs have short noses (Pug, French Bulldog)!

In both instances of brachycephaly and mesocephaly, the dog exhibits a widened skull, resulting in this “massive” head. However, the difference is that canine brachycephaly is defined by having a large head in comparison to an unnaturally shortened muzzle length.

Pit bulls tend to fall in the mesaticephalic group, though you will sometimes get the occasional brachycephalic pittie if bred for that specific look. And as we know based on brachycephalic breeds’ popularity (because of that adorable snout), artificial selection towards shorter heads and noses is likely to continue in various breeds as time goes on- Pit Bulls included.

Why Do Pit Bulls Have Big Heads?

If you’re looking at your pup and his massive square-shaped head, wondering how this came to be, look no further! Pit Bulls have large noggins due to a mix of selective breeding over the years and this breed’s anatomy of the face and jaw.

Our Pitties didn’t always have blocky heads. In fact, in the early days when they were used for hunting and restraining livestock, these dogs had much smaller heads than we see today!

Reason 1: Selective Breeding

Selective breeding has occurred over thousands of years, with humans utilizing this technique on both plants and animals. Many new dog breeds have been created from a combination of other breeds with the intent of producing particular desirable traits. Even within a dog breed, this occurs, such as in the case of Pit Bulls!

Pit Bulls are believed to have originated from a Bulldog and Terrier mix in hopes to create one dog that possessed great strength, agility, and ability to capture wild game more efficiently. It turns out that the result was a pup that offered loyalty, intelligence, obedience, athleticism, and gentleness- all in one!

As traction grew on these amazing dogs, Pit Bulls became a staple in many homes worldwide.

Following this first part of selective breeding and the consequential rise in popularity of Pitties, breeders decided to keep experimenting and producing traits in the dogs that were desirable to them and others.

During the height of dog fighting in pits, Pit Bulls were bred to have larger, wider heads, believed to be for the purpose of intimidation. They would simply find the pups in the litter that had this appearance and mate them to accentuate the look of a massive head!

I have met plenty of Pit Bull owners who comment on their dog’s physical characteristics, praising their dog’s massive head and how it is “cool”. So, while it may not be so much due to fighting rings anymore (though this still happens), this square, wide face is still sought after by the masses and likely to be selectively bred to continue this particular, desirable style.

Now, it can be difficult to discern what exactly a “Pit Bull” is now, as a plethora of crosses has occurred, diluting this breed’s true lineage. It is more of an umbrella term now since there are American Bullies, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, and American Pit Bull Terriers!

It is also hard to tell which dog is a true Pittie due to the amount of “spinoffs” there are from the first Pit Bulls. You’ll find that dogs are labeled as “Pit Bulls” even if they aren’t a mix but simply look like they could be one! Most often it leads back to this specific, large-headed quality that people use to distinguish a Pittie from other breeds.

Take a look at this video compilation which shows the difference in appearances of different types of Pit Bulls, while also showing a shared quality of a big head (and sweet personality)!

Reason 2: Anatomy And Physiology

The anatomy of dog breed heads is interesting, and each unique morphology helps explain why every breed looks so different. The same goes for Pit Bulls and also reveals why these dogs have seemingly such large heads!

Because Pitties are in the mesocephalic group, this means that they have the best ratio of muzzle length to teeth strength. With this said, they also have wide jaw muscles that extend to the crown of their skull.

The mandible is shorter on a Pit Bull than on dolichocephalic breeds, which allows for the masseter muscle to perform with more power, creating a tough bite force.

I should mention that Pit Bulls do have strong jaw muscles, though they aren’t abnormally strong biters. Bite force correlates with the size of your pup, meaning that Pitties of all sizes will vary in the strength of their jaw. However, there is a positive correlation between head and jaw size and the resulting bite force!

While the bite force of a Pit Bull doesn’t directly answer why they have big heads, it does help explain the function behind this appearance and as a contributing factor. They are characterized as having this blocky head due to this wider skull shape, intermediate (and sometimes slightly shortened muzzle), and unique jaw-muscle relationship.

Bullies also have a strong physique overall, and this muscular stature will translate into their facial muscles as well! We all know that the bigger (and stronger) the muscles are, the larger they appear on the body.

Do Some Pit Bull Breeds Have Bigger Heads Than Others?

Yes! As mentioned earlier, there are actually four distinct breeds that can all fall under the “Pit Bull” category. Not all of them have truly “massive” heads, but they are still known to be of a bulkier build.

So, what’s the difference? Well, this video runs through each of the four known Pittie breeds, then keep reading to find out more about each!

American Bully

The American Bully can be argued to have the largest head of all five Pit Bull type breeds. Since this pooch is a combination of the American Pit Bull Terrier and a few various bulldog breeds, breeders have managed to achieve a unique look altogether!

This breed was developed rather recently and officially recognized by the UKC in 2013 since their characteristics became so different from their parents and deserved their own title.

The noticeable, broader head shape is thanks to its bulldog heritage. This pup is compact, thick, and has impressive muscle definition. Even its muzzle is slightly square, complimenting its (also) square head perfectly! You can’t miss these lovable noggins anywhere!

American Pit Bull Terrier

This breed is suggested to have come about in the 19th century for the purpose of farming, game hunting, and companionship. It was recognized as its own breed in 1898 by the UKC. Over the years, this breed has fallen prey to illegal dog fighting, likely influencing the intimidating demeanor we see today.

However, once you get to know this dog past a first look, you will be amazed at how intelligent, loving, and loyal he is!

American Pit Bull Terriers display an intermediate-length head and a slightly longer muzzle than the American Bully offspring. Their skull is broad and flat, giving off that fan-favorite “big head”, though it is not as big as other Pitties. It is well chiseled though, and the UKC even mentioned it being a key element to distinguish this breed!

Staffordshire Bull Terrier

A devoted and loving breed, the Staffy has been around the block for a while! Bred in the late 1700s, these pooches actually got their name from the area they were most popular in order to separate them from other bull and terrier mixes at the time.

Officially recognized by the UKC in 1975, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier has a shorter head, more pronounced cheeks, and a stockier body. They carry a round, sizeable head, which when mixed with their athletic build, was sadly useful for illegal dog fighting.

Staffies can sometimes be brachycephalic depending on the breeder’s wants and demands, which can also contribute to this mighty skull. They are smaller in size than other Pit Bull types, though their strength is unwavering, so don’t discredit them!

American Staffordshire Terrier

Similar in appearance to the American Pit Bull Terrier (their close relative), this breed can be differentiated by its shorter height, heavier weight, and denser bone structure.

They also have a slightly larger head than the American Pit Bull Terrier because of these factors, though their head is still a bit smaller than other American counterparts! Their wide cheeks and pointy ears really show off their stocky head and make their smile unbearably sweet!

While not recognized as its own breed by the UKC, the American Staffordshire Terrier did gain a place in the American Kennel Club (AKC) by 1936. AmStaffs are confident, trainable, and always ready for some cuddles with their forever family!

Closing Thoughts

Pit Bulls come in various types and sizes. While their appearance may differ slightly, one feature will always stand out in the crowd: their heads!

As mentioned, selective breeding has played a large role in how Pit Bull heads got to be so huge. This pressure to meet the demand for an intimidating dog and appeal to the public eye has resulted in Pitties’ heads growing over generations.

Not to mention, this specific breeding pattern has also created a powerful dog with robust muscles, even in its face. It comes as no surprise that a fit, healthy Pittie can display a blocky head due to the sheer force they possess with that beefiness!

The popularity surge of a massive-headed pup has only caused more Pitties to pop up with this characteristic, though there isn’t any health concern surrounding this. It is simply a mixture of aiming for desired physical traits and an already muscular stature of these dog breeds.

These loving and athletic pooches will always have a reputation for having a big head, and we can thank selective breeding and anatomy for that! Just be sure to give your Pittie (and his noggin) a big hug for being the loyal and pleasant dog he truly is!

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