Fanciers of Pit Bulls all disagree on the exact history of the breed. Ideas about the breed's history and uses run from the romantic to the absurd. The reason is simple - none of us were there, thousands of years ago, at the beginning. However, a few things are known as fact.
* The bulldog and mastiff came from the same common ancestor, gripping dogs used for thousands of years in many cultures to hold dangerous wild animals while hunters killed them.
* The bulldogs of the middle ages resembled the breed we know today as "Pit Bull", and like the dogs of today, varied in size from quite small to bull mastiff size.
* Through history, the term "Bulldog" referred to a type of dog, not a breed, just like "coonhound" or "pointer" describes a type of dog, of which there are now many varieties. Through history, "Bulldog" was a name used for any dog showing bulldog "type" or doing the work of a bulldog.
Like most performance breeds (those bred for a purpose, not to a physical standard), the Pit Bull varies in appearance. They always have. Magazine ads for "purebred Pit Bull" from the turn of the century show dogs ranging from pure white 100 pound specimens from which the "American Bulldog" was developed, to brindle dogs weighing as little as 15 pounds from which the Boston Bull Terrier was developed. Pit Bull dogs were most commonly crossed with mastiffs or terriers, and this shows in some strains. Large, phlegmatic, heavy headed Pit Bulls show the mastiff influence, while small, thinly built, sharp nosed dogs show the terrier influence. Most purebred Pit Bulls, however, fall somewhere in between these two extremes. The true Pit Bull has existed in his present state far longer than most breeds. The average Pit Bull owner can trace their dog's written pedigree back to a time before their neighbor's "purebred" dog even existed as a breed! I find it amusing that the AKC continues to state that the "breed of the Pit Bull does not exist" and yet it has existed, in its present form and with written pedigrees, longer than 90% of the AKC recognized breeds. The Pit Bull has had a variety of jobs through his long history, first as a gripping dog for hunters, then as the work-mate of butchers. When you realize how large, strong and unfriendly most bulls are, you realize that ancient and medieval butchers had need of a strong, absolutely fearless dog which would, when bidden, race out and become a "living nose - ring" by attaching themselves to the noses of out of control bulls. Quite a job! This was the only way at the time, that a runaway bull could be controlled. No wonder good bulldogs were held in high esteem. No other animal on earth could do such a thing. From this work came the contest known as "bull-baiting" in which butchers and gamblers would set their dogs on a tied bull to determine who had the better bulldog. The dog which could grasp the bull by the nose and not be shaken nor thrown off, and which could subdue the bull by pinning its nose to the ground, would be the winner. Don't be fooled by the myths which have sprung up around the show - bulldog, the one about "bulldogs" needing or having severely shortened noses in order to hang on. Nothing could be further from the truth! A dog with a shortened nose, then as now, has trouble breathing and biting. Have you ever watched a boxer dog trying to do schutzhund? They have a very difficult time just getting a grip on the sleeve. Look at old pictures of dogs from the age of bull - baiting they had normal noses.
When bull - baiting was outlawed, certain types of people still wanted to watch animals injure and kill each other, so dog fighting became popular. Since a dog fight is much easier to hide from the police than a bull - bait, dog fighting has remained to this day the most popular way for enthusiasts of animal fighting to get their kicks. From his history as a hunter's gripping dog, butcher's bull - baiter and gambler's dog fighter, the Pit Bull has inherited a strong desire to test his mettle against other animals. Many Pit Bulls are friendly with other dogs, and many live with cats and livestock, but it is not unusual for some Pit Bulls to be intolerant of other dogs. Despite the good intentioned advice of dog trainers who have little experience with bulldogs, or who fail to understand the dynamic nature of the breed, training and early socialization has only a minor effect on how dog aggressive a specific Pit Bull will become once it matures. Genetics plays a role as well. It is important that a person wishing to purchase a Pit Bull have a good understanding of the genetic background of the dogs from which their puppy will be bred. Find a breeder who breeds the type of dog you want. For those wanting an attractive, good natured family pet, it is possible to find breeders who specialize in large, oversized dogs which are often quite phlegmatic in character. These are often beautiful, blocky, wonderful dogs, though they are not really typical of the performance bred Pit Bull. These big dogs are very suitable for the first time Pit Bull owner who wants an even tempered family dog and the look of a "big, blocky" Pit Bull. True Pit Bulls are not big, nor terribly blocky, but the heavy, large dogs are very popular with novice owners. Some people feel they want only a "game - bred" dog, not even knowing what that really entails. If you live in a neighborhood, do you really want a dog which may spend its waking hours trying to grab every dog it sees? If your kid leaves the front door open just once, and the dog gets out, do you really want the law suits and hassle if it kills the neighbors poodle? When many of these "game - bred" fans ends up with the type of dog they thought they wanted, they decide Pit Bulls are "dangerous" after all. This is a case of foolish people - not dangerous dogs... These types of owners (and the breeders who sell them the dogs) are responsible for the majority of "Pit Bull incidents" and for dogs which show up in rescue and animal control shelters. Many, many people also equate "game bred" with dogs which will make good guard dogs. Nothing could be further from the truth. More often than not, "game bred" dogs are softer with people than show bred dogs.
What can you expect from a Pit Bull? You can expect a medium sized, active, intelligent and faithful dog. You can expect a dog who will need hard daily exercise, EVERY DAY (rain or shine). You can expect a dog which will probably not get along well with other dogs, especially of the same sex. Do not buy a Pit Bull "to keep my other dog company". Many foolish people have come home to dead or injured dogs when they have left two Pit Bull, or a Pit Bull and another breed together unattended. DO NOT leave Pit Bulls (or members of other strong, capable breeds together unattended, no matter how well they seem to get along. This applies to all breeds, and yes, many, many Pit Bulls live in peace with other dogs all their lives. This is just advice for novice people who may not "have a feel" for their dogs yet. You can expect a well bred, stable and sound Pit Bull to not be much of a guard dog. While some dogs may protect you if the need arises, it is NOT a breed trait to be defensive of your car or home. They love people, and are glad to see them. Most Pit Bulls greet strangers like long lost friends. If you want a snapping, snarling guard dog, don't get a Pit Bull. I suggest a Cane Corso or Fila instead; they will snap and snarl and do a much better job of guarding your property. Pit bulls are healthy dogs. They can easily live ten to fifteen years. Make sure you are ready for that kind of a commitment before you get one.
Much of dog history is speculation, and quite akin to the piecing together of puzzles. Because of this, opinions vary about exact details of breed origin. We are fortunate in that the American Pit Bull Terrier, and its chief ancestor the bulldog, have a fairly well - documented history. Even so, debate occurs when trying to establish something as simple as whether or not the Pit Bull is the original bulldog, or whether it is, as popular short - histories insist, a 50/50 cross between the brachycephalic bulldog of England (the ancestor of the modern day AKC Bulldog) and now - extinct hunting terriers. Part of the reason for the confusion lies in the fact that until very recently, many dogs were classified and named according to general appearance and job function, not so much by "breed". Historically, the words "terrier" and "bulldog" were used quite frequently, but had ambiguous meanings. This makes it especially difficult to trace the Pit Bull's exact ancestry. Bulldogs and terriers are mentioned in the breed's history, but WHICH bulldogs and terriers should we be considering?
Presented here is a well - researched document on the history of the breed, along with bibliography to enable easy research for the interested reader. The reader is encouraged to further study the history of this most fascinating breed, for in its history lies the essence of the animal -- an understanding of its history will give one an understanding of the breed.
As far back as one cares to go in recorded history, one will find reference in both word and art of molossoid dogs that were used for fighting, hunting, and war. There were different "types" of molossi, spread about the world, used for similar functions and these dogs evolved into our modern day mastiff and bulldog breeds. It is unknown if these types sprang up individually, or from one main ancestor. Some believe that this type of dog originally came from an area close to China. British Chief Caractacus was defeated by Emperor Claudius of the Roman Empire in 50 AD. The Romans were so impressed by the fierce fighting dogs they met when they landed in Britain that they began importing the dogs back to Rome for use in the great arena, along with the animals they already possessed for such uses. It seems reasonable to assume that the British dogs were at some points crossed into the Roman dogs. Ancestors of these dogs were exported to all parts of the continent, including France and to Spain where they became renowned fighting dogs. Later some of these dogs found their way back to Britain. A variety of breeds of mastiff/bulldog type were scattered about, and most likely contributed to the creation of the bulldog that was to be one of the main ingredients used in the development of the Pit Bull.
Circa 1406 Edmond de Langley, Duke of York, wrote a treatise entitled "The Mayster of the Game and of Hawks" in which he described the "Alaunt" or "Allen" dog (a descendant of the ancient molossoid dogs), which was the popular baiting dog of the time because of its tenaciousness and strength. In a 1585 painting, dogs described as Alaunts that look very similar to modern day Pit Bulls, only of a larger size, are shown hunting wild hogs.
The name "bulldog" was first mentioned in print in 1631. Later, dogs described as bulldogs were used to bait bull and bear. These bulldogs are most assuredly the descendants of the Alaunt. A letter written in Spain in 1632 by an Englishman named Prestwich Eaton to his friend George Wellingham who was in London, asked for a "good mastiff dog and two bulldogs." This gives indication that a split had occurred and the bulldog had already formed into a distinct type by this time.
By viewing art, we can see two distinct types of bulldog - like dogs. Some are more low - slung, with undershot jaws, heavier-boned, and broader. It is to be assumed that this is the prototype from which the modern - day AKC English Bulldog was drawn upon, having been created by the crossing of the Alaunt with a Chinese brachycephalic breed Pai Dog. However, also to be noted are bulldogs in art that are strikingly similar to modern day Pit Bulls, with less - exaggerated features, normal bites, and longer legs. Might these be the main ancestors of the current day Pit Bull? It would seem likely. It must be noted that "bulldogs" at this time were not dogs of any particular strain or breed, but rather a type of dog with certain traits that was used for certain things. Dogs which possessed more Pit Bull - like features went on to become the Pit Bull breed, while the more "bulldoggy" bulldogs were used in creation of the brachycephalic breeds (English Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, etc).
Bulldogs were used for all manner of work, including baiting, fighting, stock work, hunting, and farm dog. They were an agreeable animal, capable of extreme ferociousness but unwavering loyalty and gentleness towards humans. They were an animal - aggressive breed, but were routinely used in pairs to bait animals and hunt, so overt aggression towards others of their same species was not an extreme trait.
In 1835, a law was set in motion that would make the sport of baiting illegal, and over the next few years, the activity eventually died down upon enforcement of the law. The people turned to another blood sport -- that of dog fighting, and of course people looked to the bulldog as the likely choice for use in the fights. Selective breeding produced a bulldog with heightened dog - aggression, smaller size, and greater agility for performance in a pit that was decidedly smaller than the large areas that baits were typically held in. Hardy, scrappy sporting terriers were crossed into some of the fighting bulldogs to further enhance these traits. The crosses were called bull - and - terriers, half - and - halfs, and pit terriers. It is considered general knowledge that these crosses were the first Pit Bulls, however there is some speculation as to whether or not the history of these crosses is that of our Pit Bulls, or rather a history "borrowed" from the Bull Terrier, which is a documented bulldog/terrier fighting dog cross. Some students of Pit Bull history believe that the Pit Bull is practically a living replica of the old - time bulldog, and that during this time the bulldog was refined as a fighting dog as is, without any crossbreeding. The question presented is this: why would the devotees of the already extremely game bulldog dilute the blood of the perfect fighting dog with non - game terriers? The typical argument is that the terrier blood increased agility and decreased size. However, the jobs the bulldog was typically required to perform would have demanded agility and the ability to avoid the antics of an enraged bull. As already pointed out, bulldogs came in a variety of sizes and shapes, so breeding down the size to be more compatible with the pit would not have been a difficult task, even without looking outside the gene pool. Examining works of art from all points in history, one will discover dogs that look remarkably similar to today's Pit Bull. It is the opinion of the author, however, that, while the APBT is probably made up mostly of old bulldog blood, at least some terrier blood *was* indeed introduced, if only by virtue of the fact that quite a bit of cross - breeding went on among the gamedog fanciers of the time who were not so much interested in purebred dogs as they were in dogs with fighting ability, and would therefore breed accordingly to dogs that were game, regardless of pedigree.
The breed known as the American Pit Bull Terrier was selectively bred specifically with the idea of it becoming the ultimate canine gladiator. But by virtue of the fact that so much of the breed was made up of versatile bulldog blood, the breed also proved adept at a number of non - fighting activities, including those which the bulldog had been used for. Also, the traits bred for in pit dogs were surprisingly ambiguous in their usefulness, specifically the trait of gameness (which was also present in the bulldog). Gameness is defined as the willingness to see a task through to its end, even under penalty of serious injury or death. Gameness was the trait most cherished in a fighting dog for obvious reasons, however this same trait proved useful in other areas -- a dog who had the tenacity to hold a wild bull or boar, steadfastness to protect his master's home and property, and extreme tolerance for pain which made for a very stable dog less likely to bite out of fear or pain was terribly useful in rural old England. So while a core group of fanciers focused on the fighting uses of the breed, and bred with the pit in mind, still others kept dogs for bulldoggy tasks. Pit Bulls were imported to America shortly before the Civil War, and used in much the same manner as they were back in England. But in the USA the breed solidified and was named -- the American Pit Bull Terrier. Strains of the fighting dog that remained in England later came to be known as Staffordshire Bull Terriers. There is speculation as to how closely related the Stafford and Pit Bull are as a breed, but the most convincing case is made up of claims that they are a similar breed, developed during the same time, made up of similar but seperate strains of bulldog and terrier blood. Cousins, but not brothers. The Staffordshire Bull Terrier became recognized as a breed by the English dog registry, the Kennel Club, in 1935. In America, the Pit Bull flourished. It was one of the most popular breeds, highly prized by a wide variety of people. The Pit Bull was used to represent the US in WW1 artwork; popular companies like RCA and the Buster Brown Shoe Company used the breed as their mascots. A Pit Bull named Petie starred in the popular children's television series, Our Gang; a Pit Bull mix named Stubby became a decorated WW1 hero. Pit Bulls accompanied pioneer families on their explorations. Laura Ingalls Wilder of the popular Little House books owned a working Pit Bulldog named Jack. Famous individuals like Theodore Roosevelt and Helen Keller owned the breed. It was during this time that the Pit Bull truly became America's sweetheart breed, admired, respected and loved.
In 1898 the United Kennel Club was formed with the express intent of providing registration and fighting guidelines for the now officially - named American Pit Bull Terrier. Later, those who wished to distance themselves from the fighting aspect of the breed petitioned the American Kennel Club for recognition of the Pit Bull so that it would be eligible for dog shows and other performance events. The AKC conceded in 1936 but only under the stipulation that the dogs registered with them be called "Staffordshire Terriers", the name of the province in England the breed supposedly originated in. Upon acceptance of the breed, many people dual-registered their dogs with both the AKC and the UKC. Lucenay's Peter (the dog that starred in the Our Gang series) was the first dual-registered Pit Bull/Staffordshire Terrier. The UKC evolved, eventually beginning to register other working - type breeds, and later holding shows similar to those of the AKC. Currently, the UKC is the second largest purebred dog registry in the United States, complete with strict bylaws that ban anyone who is convicted of dog fighting. The American Dog Breeders Association was formed in 1909 because of certain fanciers' opinions that the UKC was not doing it's job protecting and preserving the Pit Bull breed as they felt it should be preserved. The ADBA's goal is the same now is at was then: to register, promote and preserve the original American Pit Bull Terrier fighting - type dog. The AKC eventually closed it's studbooks to American Pit Bull Terriers. They allowed registration only to those dogs with parents registered as Staffordshire Terriers. For a short period in the 1970's, the AKC reopened its studbooks to American Pit Bull Terriers. In 1973 the AKC added the prefix "American" to the breed's name in an effort to distinguish it from the newly recognized Staffordshire Bull Terrier. Today, only those dogs with Am Staff parents are eligible for registration. Both the UKC and the ADBA allow registration of Am Staffs, but in these organizations the dogs carry the original name, "American Pit Bull Terrier." Today the Pit Bull has evolved into a marvelous working and companion dog, used for purposes as varied as those it originally performed. Pit Bulls are employed as police/armed services dogs, search and rescuers, therapy animals, and livestock workers. They compete in all manner of organized dog sports, from herding to agility to conformation to obedience and the bite sports like Schutzhund and French Ring. They make loving pets for children and seniors, and everyone in between. The are indeed one of the most versatile breeds on the planet. Much of this is owed to the activities it once performed. The harshness and physical demands of the activities molded a strong, healthy, stable animal, one anyone should be proud to own.