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History of American Pitbull Terrier


            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 gladiator.


            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.


Bullbaiting: before 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 the bull.


When 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.


For 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.


Bearbaiting: bearbaiting 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.


Dogfights: 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.


As 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.



The Bull-and-Terrier


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.


An 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.”



Arrival in America


Blood 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 purpose.


Dogfighting 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


 Pilot 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.


One 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.


It 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 move westward.


Whereas 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 Breed.


The 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.


The 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.


During 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.



Media Monster


            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 terminating dogfighting.


            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.


            The Monster-Mobster Connection: monsters are 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.    


©2002 Pitbull Zone by Gatekeeper. All rights reserved. All other copyrights are the property of their respective owners.