Archeologist agrees that dogs were the first animals domesticated
by man. Cave drawings from the Paleolithic era, the earliest part of the
Old World Stone Age (50,000 years ago), show men and dogs hunting
together. Gradually, man found additional uses for dogs. The earliest
known ancestors of the American Pit Bull Terrier serve as guards and
draft animals, but they were especially esteemed as dogs of war.
Origin of the Pit Bull
The ancient Greeks
had huge, ferocious dogs of a type called Mollossian, which historians
believe originated in Asia. During the sixth century B.C., Phoenician
traders bought some of these guard dogs to England. There they
flourished and became the ancestors of England’s early Mastiff-type
dogs. When the Roman Legions invaded Britain, they were met on the
beaches by the Britons’ fierce Mastiff-type war dogs fighting side by
side with their owners. The Romans admired these fighting dogs so much
that they sent many of them home to Italy. There the dogs were called
Pugnaces, or the broad-mouthed dogs of Britain. As the Roman legions
spread across Europe, so did the dogs.
Warrior dogs also starred in the bloody Roman circuses, where
they were used to fight savage animals of other species, armed men and
each other. Around 395 A.D., the Roman historian Symmachus wrote about
seven Irish Bulldogs who excited a circus audience with their savage
fighting and brave attitude. Symmachus called the deadly dog Bulldogs,
because dogs of that type were used to fight bulls.
The Ancient Bulldog
During ancient times there were no breeds as we know breeds today, and dogs were usually named for work they did. For example, in England all guard dogs of massive size were considered Mastiffs, and all dogs quick, brave and small enough to enter a hole in the ground (terra) after wild game, such as badgers or foxes, were called terriers.
Eventually, some of the Mastiff-type dogs became specialists. A
1632 defined the Alaunt as a Mastiff-like dog used by the British
butchers to round up and pen fierce oxen. The bandog was any large guard
dog who was kept chained by day. And the Bulldog, of course, was the
George R. Jesse, the famed British canine historian, wrote that
the Bulldog was the result of selectively breeding Mastiffs to produce a
smaller. More agile dog with a recessed nose and a protruding jaw. This
Jesse contented, would enable the dog to breathe freely while holding
onto the bull.
The fearless, ferocious Bulldogs who were used to fight bulls and
bears long ago were different from today’s sophisticated sour mugs in
both appearance and attitude. Ancient Bulldogs were taller and more
agile, with nearly straight front legs, and they had longer muzzles than
modern Bulldogs. Some even had fairly long, straight tails.
The Blood Sports
Blood sports were so much part of daily life in England that around 1800, in the town of Wednesbury in Staffordshire Country, church bells rang in celebration of “old Sal,” when she finally managed to have puppies. Sal was never been able to whelp a litter. If a Bulldog bitch died during whelping in that mining district women often raised the puppies by suckling them at their own breasts.
Bull baiting and other blood sports were not just entertainment
for the working classes. In fact, kings and queens often mandated that a
contest be arranged. When French ambassadors visited the court of Queen
Elizabeth in 1559, the Queen graciously entertained them with a fine
dinner followed by an exhibition of dogs baiting bulls and bears.
King James I continued Queen Elizabeth’s tradition by having a
special baiting arranged to entertain ambassadors from the Spanish
Court. His song, King Charles I, was also an avid spectator of blood
sports, and during the days of Queen Anne (1665 – 1714), such
spectacles continued to flourished.
baiting, the bull is prepared in a prescribed manner. Either a heavy
rope was tied around its horns or a wide leather collar was buckled
around its neck. A stake was driven into the ground, and large iron
ring, acting as a swivel was connected to it. Then one end of a heavy
chain or rope was attached to the ring and the other end was fastened to
a dog was released, he was expected to pin the bull by attacking it from
the front and gripping its tender nose. Sometimes two or more dogs were
released at the same time. Most bulls were tortured for hours in this
manner before they were either killed by the dogs or slaughtered for
meat, but an occasional bull became famous for its ability to defend
itself and was used over and over.
bulldog owners, baiting was compelling competitive event. They paid an
entry fee for their dog to have a turn at the bull, and the owner of the
dog who managed to pin the bull win the prize. During a baiting, bulls
often tossed dogs 30 or more feet into the air. Meanwhile, owners
scrambled to line themselves up below their plummeting dog, as they hope
to break his fall by catching him with their own shoulders. Men
sometimes get too closed to the madden bull and were also tossed. Dogs
who were so deeply gored that their organs hung out were still urged by
their owners to continue the assault, and many dauntless dogs were
trampled under the bull’s hoofs.
is similar to bullbaiting except that bear’s weapons were teeth and
claws instead of horns and hoofs. Reports before the 16th
century describe the bear wearing a collar and fastened to a ring and
stake in the same manner as the bull. Later writings refer to a ring in
bear’s nose. Like exceptional bulls, an occasional bear became famous
for its ferocity and fighting ability. Sackerson, a particularly savage
specimen, was mentioned by Shakespeare in The Merry Wives of Windsor.
England passed the Humane Acts in 1835 making blood sports illegal.
Although dogfighting was popular before then, it was just one part of a
full day blood sports, a kind of warm-up before the main event. Interest
on dogfighting grew rapidly after blood sports were abolished because,
unlike bullbaiting rings, dogfighting pits did not require much space.
Contests could be secretly held in cellars and the back rooms of pubs.
dogfighting’s popularity soared, the contests became more organized.
Fight rules were written and upheld, and handlers developed conditioning
programs (keeps) for their dogs in an effort to have them reach optimum
fighting weight just prior to a match. A dog was said to be at her best
fighting weight when she carried as few pounds as possible while
maintaining her full strength. Much more than pride was involved in the
desire to win: betting was heavy and purses were large.
During the early 1800’s, some Bulldog breeders tried something new, hoping t breed faster, fiercer fighters. They bred the most formidable baiting and fighting Bulldogs with the toughest, quickest, and bravest terriers. This cross was believed to enhance the fighting ability of the Bulldog by reducing his size while maintaining his strength and increasing his speed and agility. Although some historians say the smooth-coated black and tan and White English Terrier (now extinct) were most frequently crossed with Bulldogs, other say the Terriers were chosen only on the basis of gameness and working ability, and that variety of Terrier-like dogs were used. The result of these crossed was called the Bull-and-Terriers were selectively bred, they became recognizable as an emerging breed.
early Bull-and-Terrier named Trusty was so famous in England that an
article and picture of him appeared in an 1806 edition of The
Sporting Magazine. The picture is the first one known of a
Bull-and-Terrier cross. Trusty was “as renowned for his battles as
Bonaparte,” according to the article, and “fought 104 battles and
was never beat.” Raised by prizefighter and later owned by a
succession of boxers, Trusty was eventually purchased by Lord Camelford
and came to be known as Lord Camelford’s dog. Later his lordship
changed the dog’s name to Belcher and presented him to fighting Jim
Belcher, boxing champion of England. His lordship explained that “the
only unconquered man was the only fit master for the unconquered dog.”
sports were popular in America, too, and the first Bulldogs and
Bull-and-Terriers imported to New World were brought over for that
purpose. While bearbaiting was banned in New England as early as the
1600’s, public spectacled such as bullbaiting, rat-killing
competitions for dogs, dogfighting and cockfighting were extremely
popular in New York City during the late seventeenth and early
eighteenth centuries. Nearly all of America’s early fighting dogs were
British or Irish imports bred for generations to do battle, and many of
the Americans who imported them continued breeding them for the same
was accepted in America that 1881, when a fight was held in Louisville
between the famed English imports, Lloyd’s Pilot owned by “cockney
Charlie” Lloyd and Crib, owned by Louis Kreiger, the Ohio and
Mississippi Railroad advertised special excursion fares to big battle.
Upon arrival in Louisville, bettors and spectators were taken to a fine
hotel where they were warmly welcomed by the president of the Louisville
board aldermen, the police chief and other local officials. The referee
for the fight was William Harding, sports editor of The Police
Gazette, and owner-publisher Richard K. Fox served as stakeholder.
Pilot and Crib each Weighed in at just under 28 pounds, and thrilled the
spectators by fighting gamely for an hour and 25 minutes before Pilot
won the victory.
Americanization of the Breed
and Crib, two of the most famous dogs of their period, weighed under 28
pounds, yet the weight of a male Pit Bull today ranges from 40 – 65
pounds. What happened? Pilot and Crib were fighting weight, but though
they would normally have weighed several pounds more, it would not have
been nearly enough to make a difference.
explanation is that because Americans always seem to believe the bigger
the better, they selected bigger dogs for breeding and thereby created a
larger animal. Although this theory is partly correct, there is a partly
correct, there is more to the story.
is believe that the breed’s general usefulness on the frontier was a
factor in increasing its size. The American pioneers discovered the
Bull-and-Terriers versatility, bravery and devotion, and soon the dogs
traveled west, becoming indispensable members of many ranch and farm
families. These dogs were well suited to life on the frontier, and
guarded homesteads and children with confidence and authority. Many of
them also helped round up stock. In addition, they protected the farm
animals from predators and varmints ranging from rats and snakes to
coyotes and bears. Eventually, the settlers probably decided that a
slightly larger dog with the same body style and bravery, would have an
even better chance of defending the stock against marauding mountain
lions and ravaging wolves. Consequently, when selecting breeding
partners for their dogs, they chose larger specimens. For a more
complete picture of the role of the American Pit Bull Terrier as America
few pioneers kept breeding records on their dogs, American dogfighters
painstakingly cataloged pedigrees of their breeding stock. In fact they
kept pedigrees (either in files or by memory) for generations, many of
them registered their dogs in 1898 when Chauncy Z. Bennett founded the
United Kennel Club (UKC)
with the American (Pit) Bull Terrier as its first recognized breed.
Bennett created that breed name to help establish the dogs as an
American Dog Breeders Association (ADBA) was created in 1909 by its
first president, Guy McCord, and his close friend, John P. Colby. While
some American Pit Bull Terrier breeders chose one organization or the
other when registering their dogs, other listed their stock with both
registries, and many still do.
The Dog of the Day
Every dog does not
have his day, but the Pit Bull certainly did. His day was just before
and during World War I, when he was so highly regarded that he
represented the U.S. on a World War I poster depicting each of the
Allied forces as a gallant dog native to this country. During that time,
many issues of Life magazine featured political cartoons with Pit
Bulls as the main characters. Pit
Bulls even graced the covers of Life on February 4, 1915, and
again on March 24, 1917. The first picture, captioned “The Morning
After,” showed a bandaged and scarred Pit Bull; the later captioned
“After Six,” displayed a gentlemanly Pit Bull in a bow tie and top
hat. Both were drawn by Will Rannels.
During World War I, the breed proved deserving of its country’s esteem. A Pit Bull named Stubby was the war’s most outstanding canine soldier. He earned the rank of sergeant, was mentioned in official dispatches and earned two medals, one for warning of a gas attack and the other for holding a German spy at Chemin des Dames until American troops arrived.
Following the war, the Pit Bull’s popularity continued to grow. Depending on what it was used for and where it lived, the breed was still known by many different names, such as Bulldog, American Bull Terrier, Brindle Bull Dog, Yankee Terrier, Pit Dog, and of course, American Pitbull Terrier.
first Pit Bull movie star was whelped on September 6, 1929. Pete, a
brindle and white bred by A. A. Keller, achieved fame on stage and
screen as the dog actor in the Little Rascals and the Our Gang
comedy series owned and trained by Harry Lucenay, Pete’s UKC
registered name was Lucenay’s Peter.
the mid 1970’s, both American Pit Bull Terrier registries, the UKC and
ADBA, began sanctioning shows for the breed. Since then, the number of
American Pit Bull Terriers entered in shows has grown steadily.
As the years went by, pockets of underground dogfighting activity
continued in the United States. By the late 1960’s, some dog lovers
were determined to put a stop to it, and in 1970 the American Dog
Owner’s Association (ADOA) was established for the purpose of
The ADOA was instrumental in getting the Animal Welfare Act
revised, leading to the arrest of many dog fighters. Meanwhile, the
media focused its cameras and commentary on the teeth and muscles of the
bloodied, exhausted dogs picked up during police raids on dogfights,
instead of on the people who placed those dogs in the pit and wagered on
the outcome. A media monster was born and its name was Pit Bull.
exciting. Children like to dress up Jason, Freddie, Frankenstein and
Dracula on Halloween; its fun to pretend to be bad for one night. But
the headlines and TV stories concocted about the Pit Bull attracted the
typed of people who weren’t pretending. When the media manufactured a
“bad dog” monster, young toughs, those who reveled in flaunting
their badness, believed that swaggering through their turf with a Pit
Bull by their side would enhance their image. When thugs heard stories
about teeth that locked and incredible jaw pressure, they not only
believed them, but exaggerated them when they bragged. Soon drug
dealers, gang members and other hoodlums all wanted such dog. Biologists
eventually proved these theories ridiculous, but the punks read
headlines, not academic reports. Thus the same breed of dog that laid
its life on the line for its dogfighter owners became the preferred
mascot of minor mobsters.
It didn’t remain the same breed of dog for long. While the
dogfighters like the bullbaiters before them, never wanted and never
bred a dog who was aggressive toward people, the thugs had something
else in mind. With no knowledge of genetic or dog breeding, they
indiscriminately mated their dogs to larger and nastier dogs of any
breed. The result was mixed-breed dogs that the punks still proudly and
defiantly called Pit Bulls. They used them to terrorize their enemies,
guard drug caches, and slow down the police during drug raids. These
dogs, now mixed with Rottweilers, various Shepherds and even mongrels,
are no more American Pitbull Terriers than puppies from a Border
Collie-Labrador Retriever cross are still Border Collies. But the press,
and sometimes the courts, still persists in lumping the mobster’s
mongrels with registered dogs.
Today, the media loves its monster. After all, Pit Bulls sell
papers and attract TV Viewers. A few years ago, for example, there was a
New York Post story about a man who was attacked and severely
bitten on the leg by a dog of another breed. He called the local media,
but they didn’t find it exciting enough to report. So a few days
later, out of curiosity, he falsely told the same story to the same
media, but this time he said the dog was a Pit Bull. Three television
news stations and four newspaper sent reporters immediately.
The result of the rash of Pit Bull headlines across the nation
was that some cities sought to pass laws banning the breed. These were
challenged by the ADOA, the major dog registries and dog owners in
general, as dog clubs dedicated to all breeds soon realized that if one
breed were banned, others could easily follow. In most cases,
breed-specific wording was revised and the laws that eventually went
into effect were vicious-dog laws that encompassed all dogs equally.
The Pitbull of Today
The real American Pit Bull Terrier, the one registered with UKC
or the ADBA, is the same affectionate, reliable, hard-working,
people-loving dog it ever was. A multi-talented companion, the
well-trained Pit Bull is suited for a variety of exciting activities.
She excels at obedience, agility, and weight- pulling competitions,
events which showcase intelligence, trainability and strength. In
addition, the Pit Bull’s pleasant nature makes her an ideal candidate
for therapy work with people. Today, because dog shows emphasize
balanced structure and fluid movement, and obedience competition
emphasizes trainability, the Pit Bull is sometimes an even more
attractive companion then she used to be. In addition, the breed still
functions as a farm dog in rural America. The Pit Bull began her ranch
work on the homesteads of frontier America and is still depended upon
varmint control, rounding up stock and sometimes even stopping and
holding an angry steer.
The American Pit Bull Terrier has always been a dog with a strong desire to please her owner, when that owner wanted her to fight, no matter how over matched the dog was, the Pit Bull fought gamely. And today, when an enlightened owner raises her to be a happy, dependable family companion, that is exactly what she becomes. No dog does it better.