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Are Pitbulls Hunting Dogs? Breed History & FAQs

Nicole Cosgrove Profile Picture

By Nicole Cosgrove

red nose American pitbull terrier

If you were given a choice to pick a dog that would help you hunt large game, would you go for a Pitbull? 9 times out of 10, any knowledgeable and experienced hunter would go for a retriever or hound dog. While Pitbulls can be trained as a hunting dog, there are for more suitable breeds out there.

Then again, that’s not to say that the Pitbull is a terrible hunter. They are actually pretty good, just not as good as the retrievers or the hounds. To better understand the point we’re trying to make, we’ll kick this off by looking at the history of the Pitbull as a hunting breed.

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Brief History of the Pitbull as a Hunting Breed

Pitbulls are no strangers to hunting, seeing as they’ve been used throughout history for that specific purpose. These dogs were originally bred in England, way back in the 19th century, when the two most popular sports were bear- and bull-baiting. They had all the faculties required to make it the ideal dog for such activities, thus the reason why everybody wanted to own one at the time.

Things quickly changed in 1835, after the Cruelty to Animals Act was enacted. The public was barred from baiting certain animals—such as bulls and bears—forcing them to look for an alternative. Needless to say, it didn’t take long for them to come up with a different sport.

“Ratting” was the name of the new game, and as you might have guessed, it was all about baiting rats. This sport was very similar to the previously outlawed practice, as the rules were an outright match.

The prefix “Pit” in “Pitbull” is in reference to how the rats were captured and trapped in pits to prevent them from ever escaping.

Image Credit: Luxorpictures, Shutterstock

What Traits Make the Pitbull an Ideal Hunting Dog?

Strong Prey Drive

The Pitbull has something that hunters like to refer to as the “prey drive”. In simple terms, it’s a dog’s instinctive inclination, motivation, or excitement to find, pursue, and capture prey. All hunting dogs have a relatively strong prey drive, compared to other breeds.


Hunting a rabbit is not what one would call dangerous. But hunting a hog, on the other hand, is a different story. Their razor-sharp tusks are their most dangerous physical attribute, as they have the potential to inflict severe harm on you and any other animal that gets caught in their crosshairs.

Hogs are also capable of clocking speeds of 25 miles/hr. Meaning, by the time you realize you’re under attack, and should probably run or defend yourself, it will be too late. A hunting dog has to have some degree of courage to not only approach such an animal but also subdue it until the handler shows up.

Long story short, Pitbulls have the requisite courage to hunt dangerous game.

Agility, Durability, Strength

Hunting breeds love to hunt. It’s more or less like a sport to them, one that requires strength, agility, and more importantly, durability. Not every dog is cut out to do this job because running, chasing, and retrieving different items often compels them to exert more energy than they’re used to.

Pitbulls have muscular features and stamina that make them naturally suited to handle this kind of high-level energy activity. Rarely will you find them winded, struggling to keep up with prey, or injured as a result of fragile bones. Their sense of smell is also impressive, and that’s why you see them being used by law enforcement to sniff out explosives and drugs.


It’s virtually impossible to train a non-standard hunting breed if its level of intelligence is below par. Hunting is a skill that can only be mastered once the dog learns how to follow the commands given.

Fortunately for us, the Pitbull ranks way above average in this department.

a close up of american pitbull terrier
Image Credit: OlesyaNickolaeva, Shutterstock

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How Do Hunters Train Their Pitbulls?

Pitbulls respond really well to positive reinforcement. And this is the same technique used to train them for all the other tasks that are not related to hunting. Assuming you want to train your Pitbull to track prey, you’ll need a tracking harness, a distraction-free space, a 20–40 foot leash, and a training partner.

The work of the training partner will be to run and hide, as he/she will be carrying a toy or bone that’s supposed to act as prey. Because this breed has a keen sense of smell, your training partner can run and hide 30 yards away, as long as they don’t forget to scuff their feet on the ground. The scuffing will leave behind a scent strong enough for your furry friend to trace.

Once they are well situated, the other trainer left behind holding the dog will release the leash, thus cueing the animal to lead them to where the “prey” is. If the mission has been successfully accomplished, they’ll offer the dog praises, affection, and a few treats.

This process should be repeated at least five times, before trying out something different. For example, if the first time around you allowed the dog to see your partner run and hide, obscure their vision to give your “prey” the chance to run and hide without being seen. That way, they will learn to rely more on their sense of smell, and less on sight.

To hone this skill, you should strive to make the challenges a little bit more difficult every time. We’ve seen trainers go as far as creating a simulation that’s rainy and windy, just to see how the dog performs in such conditions—or gauge their ability in comparison to other well-rounded breeds.

pitbull standing on the grass with owner
Image By: Artsiom P, Shutterstock

What Are the Weaknesses of a Pitbull as a Hunting Breed?

They Don’t Do So Well in Extreme Heat and Cold

Dogs bred to comfortably live in extremely cold conditions often have thick, long coats. That’s something that the Pitbull lacks. Sweltering temperatures are also known to be their kryptonite, as they can lead to dizziness, rapid heartbeat, excessive drooling, and even sunburns.

They Are Weak Swimmers

The same muscular body features that make them well-suited for hunting are the same attributes that make them weak swimmers. And those that have been trained to swim only do so over short distances.

It’s safe to say that if you’re looking for a hunting dog that will carry prey in its mouth while swimming across a pond or lake, the Pitbull is not that dog.

They Are Not Good Retrievers

A Pitbull is not a Labrador Retriever. Of course, you can train it to retrieve any game if you want to, but it might not always bring it back in one piece. Sometimes, their prey drive is so strong that they can’t stop themselves from chewing up or tossing around the animal.

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Final Thoughts

For a dog to fall under the hunting breed category, it has to have a prey drive. And from our understanding, the prey drive is usually divided into five parts. There’s the search, the stalking, the chase, the grab, and finally, the kill.

While Pitbulls aren’t so good at searching, they do excel in the grabbing and killing department. That’s what makes them great hunting companions.

Would we choose a Pitbull over a Beagle or Bloodhound when planning a hunting trip? Probably not.

Featured Image Credit: KruBeer Photo, Shutterstock

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