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Pitbull vs. Labrador Retriever: Breed Differences & Similarities

Trying to decide if the American Pitbull Terrier or the Labrador Retriever makes the best canine companion for your family? Read on to find out!

Kelly Wilson

Last Updated: March 2, 2021 | 10 min read

American Pitbull Terrier vs Labrador

Are you comparing the American Pitbull Terrier vs. Labrador Retriever for your next four-legged friend? Both breeds are iconic in their own right, and most people can recognize them from a mile away. Both breeds are well respected and valued for their hardworking nature and family-friendly demeanor.

But, these breeds have many differences. Yes, they do share a similar work ethic, but their temperaments are different, and they are both suited for different types of families. Labradors are a top choice for first-time dog owners, while Pitbulls can be somewhat stubborn and are better in the hands of an experienced owner. It’s important to understand each breed before choosing your canine companion for the next decade.

So whether you are trying to compare puppy costs between the breeds, or are just curious how they compare, this article will help. We will cover the merits of both breeds, their histories, and the requirements of keeping them as a pet. Get ready to be an expert on Labradors and Pitbulls in no time!

Breed Comparison

American Pitbull Terrier

  • Height 14-21 Inches
  • Weight 35-65 Pounds
  • Temperament Intelligent, Loyal, Friendly
  • Energy Intense
  • Health Above Average
  • Lifespan 10-12 Years
  • Puppy Prices $1,000 and Up

Labrador Retriever

  • Height 21-24 Inches
  • Weight 55-80 Pounds
  • Temperament Friendly, Hardworking, Intelligent
  • Energy Energetic
  • Health Above Average
  • Lifespan 12-14 Years
  • Puppy Prices $1,000 and Up

Breed History

Let’s take a look at the origins of both the Pitbull and Labrador Retriever. Society’s ideas of the roles for both of these breeds have changed dramatically over time, and it may be useful for you to know exactly where the dogs come from. It’s also helpful to understand why each breed was created, and what they’ve been bred for in the past.

Pitbull

American Pitbull Terrier Sitting Outside
The Pitbull has earned a reputation as a farm-hand, working dog, and family companion.

Known in the UK as an American Pitbull Terrier, the Pitbull originally descends from bulldogs and terriers, first imported to the United States in the 1870s. However, the breed came into existence before that in the UK in the early 1800s.

Back in the day, people traditionally used the bulldog and terrier breeds in the brutal bloodsports of bull-baiting, rat baiting, and dogfighting. Breeders crossed dogs with the ideal physiques of the two breeds, resulting in a dog that excelled at these types of gambling sports, the Pitbull.

As time wore on, the Pitbull’s reputation shifted from fighting dogs to that of a working-class companion. Due to their intelligence and tenacity, the breed actually became the United States mascot during WWI and WWII. Posters everywhere linked the pitbull with the success of the nation.

In 1976, the United States Supreme Court passed the Animal Welfare Act, which among other things, prohibited dogfighting in all 50 states. In effect, criminals began seeking Pitbulls as illegal fighting dogs as underground dog fighting became more prevalent in the 1980s.

From here, animal rights ad campaigns condemning dog fights used Pitbulls as their poster dog. At large, the American public and the world began viewing Pitbulls not as a loyal working-class companion but as a dangerous and unpredictable breed worthy of condemnation.

That attitude is changing, though. More and more people recognize that it is how someone raises the dog that might determine how a Pitbull may act. The public perception is shifting back to Pitbulls being a worthy house dog that is as loveable and friendly as any other breed.

Labrador Retriever

Two Yellow Labradors
Labradors are one of the most well-known and sought after family dog breeds in the world.

Although it might be common to think that Labrador Retrievers originate in Labrador, Canada, the truth is that the breed came from St. John’s water dogs in Newfoundland, Canada, in the 1500s.

The water dogs were originally the perfect companion for fishermen, one of the primary industries in that time period. St. John’s water dogs would jump into icy waters to catch fish that may have gotten loose off a hook or help pull whole fishing nets in.

The water dogs were used exclusively in Newfoundland and nearby areas of Canada until royals imported them to Poole, England, in the early 1800s. The breed quickly evolved from a fishing dog to a hunting companion, being described by many as the perfect dog for any kind of shooting, gaining the name Labrador Retriever.

By the early 1900s, American farmers had begun recognizing Labradors for being incredible working dogs. In 1917, the Kennel Club officially recognized the breed, and it became a loving addition to many families.

Today, Labradors are still one of the most popular breeds in the US and UK. There are two types of Labs. The types of Labs within the breed are usually referred to as bench or field, and both are bred for different purposes. Prevalent in media and culture, Labradors hold a special place in society that is only rivaled by a small number of other breeds, like the Golden Retriever.

Appearance

Different Looking Dogs
The Pitbull and the Labrador look very different from one another.

Pitbulls and Labradors look completely different. Both breeds are easily recognizable and very different in terms of coat and physical appearance. Even someone unfamiliar with dog breeds would be able to tell a Pitbull vs. Labrador Retriever apart.

The American Pitbull is considered a medium to large breed, males weighing from 35 to 60 pounds and females from 30 to 50 pounds normally. Some males will be bigger, but it’s rare to see them eclipse 80 pounds.

Labrador Retrievers are also a medium to large breed, often heavier than their Pitbull counterparts. Males typically weigh around 65 to 80 pounds, and females approximately 55 to 70.

Their stocky shoulder muscles often characterize Pitbulls. Indeed, most Pitbulls are more muscular and wider than other dog breeds, especially more so than Labrador Retrievers. Their heads are noticeably broad, with pronounced jaws and necks that bulge with muscles.

In contrast, Labs are much leaner than Pits but no less physically fit. Often described as ‘short-coupled,’ Labradors are very proportionate, their legs and body seemingly perfectly matched to each other. They have wide skulls with a robust set of jaws and well defined facial features.

Both breeds have the same types of eye color in most cases. Typically, Labs and Pits have golden brown hazel, dark brown, or brown eyes. However, Pitbulls have an increased chance of blue eyes. Blue eyes are quite striking and highly valued by dog lovers everywhere.

Temperament

Two Inquisitive Looking Dogs
These dogs look different, and have very different personalities, too.

In terms of temperament, or how the breed behaves with people and other dogs, both breeds are friendly when trained correctly.

Despite their reputation, Pitbulls are often the most friendly dogs you’ll ever encounter. If correctly socialized, Pits are very friendly towards other dogs. With people, Pitbulls are very loyal to their owner but friendly towards others, especially children. It’s only when Pitbulls are socialized incorrectly or abused as a puppy do they exhibit negative behavior. They can be slightly more protective than Labs, just due to what they were bred for in the past.

Labs are very trusting and social dogs, always up to play, and often quite mischievous. They’re great companions to children and loyal additions to the family. They’ve usually never met a person they didn’t like, which makes them a favorite of many households with children. It also makes them fairly lousy guard dogs. While they might bark when strangers come, they will almost always soften up for a belly scratch, even from strangers, unless trained otherwise.

Exercise

Two Dogs Running in Snow For Toys
Both breeds will require at least 60-90 minutes per day of exercise.

Both Pitbulls and Labradors are highly energetic dog breeds. They need to play and have extensive bouts of exercise. Labs especially need a lot of space to run and play. Having a body of water nearby is especially beneficial to their exercise routine.

Playing fetch is a great way to keep your dog active and healthy, and so is having a rope toy. Pits really love to use their powerful jaw muscles, and a rope toy is an excellent way for them to expel excess energy.

Dog parks are great ways to encourage healthy physical activity for both Pits and Labs if they’ve been properly socialized when young. The bottom line is that both of these breeds need consistent daily exercise. Expect to spend at least 60-90 minutes per day exercising either breed.

Training

Pit and Lab in Training
Both breeds listen very well and are easier to train than other breeds.

The process for training both breeds is the same. Both breeds are very intelligent and friendly when socialized correctly. However, if you decide on a Pit puppy, you should spend more time socializing it with other dogs and people, especially children, due to the stigma around the breed.

Begin socializing your dogs young, exposing them to other dogs, and have them watch the behavior of an older, well-behaved dog. This will set them up nicely for good behavior later in life.

Both Pits and Labs should be crate trained from a young age to ensure they are comfortable and feel safe inside a spacious crate. Labs will need a large crate to make sure they have enough space. Usually it’s best to buy a crate with a divider when adopting a Lab, so they have room to grow. Pitbull crates can be a bit trickier depending on the dog’s size. Usually, medium or large will do.

Use positive reinforcement training and start a basic obedience program. Things like sit, stay, come, and heel are essential tools for your dog to remain well-behaved well into adulthood.

Health

Two Dogs Running Around Healthy
Both breeds are generally quite healthy.

As mentioned before, the best way to keep a Labrador or Pitbull healthy is exercise. Make sure you have a daily routine of play, more than just walks around the block. Both breeds need physical activity to ensure their bodies and bones stay healthy over a long time.

However, both breeds aren’t immune to various health hazards. As is the case with most dog breeds, Pits and Labs have an increased risk of illnesses specific to the type of dog.

Due to their short hair, Pitbulls are often prone to various skin disorders. Sunburns, itchy allergies, benign tumors, and skin cancer (in rare cases) are more common in Pits than other breeds.

Also, Pitbulls are reasonably susceptible to hip dysplasia and knee complications. Although you should still keep your Pit active, be on the lookout for limping or irregular walking movements that could indicate a problem with its joints.

Labs have their own set of health problems as well. While also susceptible to skin conditions, Labs are more likely to become overweight than Pitbulls. They are also well known for developing hip dysplasia and knee complications, almost more so than the Pit. Being overweight can contribute to this, as well as a wide range of other health issues, including gastrointestinal problems, joint issues, and ligament tears.

Nutrition

Two Dogs Waiting on Food
Both breeds will perform their best when eating a high-quality diet.

Providing your dog with healthy and nutritious food is critical to giving them a long and happy life. Labs and Pits have similar diets encompassing carbs, proteins, amino acids, fats, fatty acids, and vitamins and minerals.

Being medium to large dogs, Labs and Pits can eat a lot. Labs are typically slightly more active than Pitbulls and require more calories, approximately 1500 to 1875 per day. Labs will typically eat around 2 to 3 cups of food per day. Pitbulls need around 1000 to 1750 calories per day to maintain their energy and a healthy lifestyle. This means that Pitbulls will eat around 1.5 to 3 cups of food per day, depending on their size and activity levels.

One of the big debates recently has been that over commercial versus homemade food. While store-bought food is convenient and has the nutritional values listed on the pack, it’s often full of preservatives and excess fats. Homemade food demands more thought, often requiring you to calculate your dog’s macros and come up with the best dietary plan for their individual needs.

Grooming

Pitbull and Lab Getting Groomed
Pitbulls may shed less than labs, but both breeds need a regular grooming routine.

Grooming is a crucial part of taking care of any dog breed. One of the critical differences between Labs and Pits are their coats, with Pitbulls requiring significantly less grooming care than Labradors. Pitbulls shed less than Labradors who have a double coat.

Despite this, it doesn’t mean that Pits don’t need any grooming at all. Sticking to a high-quality diet will retain your Pit’s sheen. You should also be giving them a light brushing with a rubber curry brush one to two times every two weeks. However, if your Pit is losing some sheen, you should up this to every day until the coat looks better.

Labradors require a more intensive grooming routine. Since Labs shed frequently, they need brushing at least once per week to remove excess fur. If your dog tends to shed more than most, you should be brushing them twice per week.

Both breeds are relatively easy to groom on the spectrum of dog breeds. Although Labs shed more, their coat is still fairly short. You won’t experience any tangles or clumping in most cases unless there is a deeper issue.

Grooming is a great opportunity to check for skin lumps and fleas. If you notice any, take action quickly to avoid it spreading. Otherwise, you could wind up with expensive vet care, and your dog will be noticeably uncomfortable, possibly even in pain.

Puppy Prices

Pit and Lab Puppies Outdoors
Expect to pay around $1,000 and up for a purebred puppy of either breed.

The cost you might face when you purchase a Labrador, or Pitbull puppy may help determine which breed is a better fit. If you’re looking for a specific type of Pitbull, buying from a breeder might be your only option. Blue Nosed Pitbulls and Red Nosed Pitbulls will both cost more than White Pitbulls or other color combinations.

Pitbull puppies typically start from around $1,000 from a qualified breeder. However, this price can go way up depending on your preference. In fact, a pitbull puppy with the proper paperwork to feature in dog shows can go all the way up to $20,000. Since the breed isn’t on the AKC registry, finding a reputable breeder can be a bit more challenging. It’s recommended you start your search socially. Look at social media groups online, and do your research before choosing a breeder.

Labrador puppies can cost around the same amount, averaging around $1,000 and up from a qualified breeder. Start your search for a Lab puppy by searching the AKC breeder registry. Labs are highly valued based on their coat color. Yellow and Black Labradors are more common than Chocolate Labs, whose price is typically higher for puppies with a documented pedigree.

Red coated Labs and Silver Labs can fetch a higher price point, due to the rarity of their coat colors. Keep in mind that some breeders do not recognize these colors as purebred, which may lead to challenges if you plan to show your dog.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, this article has cleared up some of the confusion you might have if you’re deciding between a Labrador Retriever and a Pitbull. Both breeds are excellent choices for your next pet, and common misconception shouldn’t deter you from one or the other, especially Pitbulls.

If you are a first-time dog owner, a Labrador may be a better fit just due to ease of training. But don’t let that sway you away from a Pitbull if you have your heart set on one. Whatever you decide, you can be sure that with the right training, diet, and exercise, your dog will be a valued member of the family in no time. Whether from a breeder or a shelter, your next canine companion is just waiting to meet you!

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