Pit Bulls were originally bred for herding in some regions and in others; they became the center of blood sports. In a series of historical events, the owners of Pit Bull type dogs used them in various ways to their advantage. For some acts, they gained the status of heroism in the U.S, and for others, they got the ‘aggressive’ and ‘dangerous’ title to their name.
Pit Bull is not specifically any breed, it’s a type of dog that includes American Stafford-shire Terriers, Bull terriers, American Pit Bull terriers, and others.
The Pitbull dogs have a unique set of characteristics most of which are related to the way they look. You can identify them with their brick-like heads sitting on muscular necks. If you are still new to this breed of dog, you can read our article Pit Bull?’’
In this article, we will go down the history to see what Pit Bulls were bred for and how they gained and lost their hard-earned reputation. The focus is to let you know their unfortunate upbringing and shed light on the negative image this breed has.
Romans Used Them as War Dogs.
If we search back into history, we can find several motives behind what Pit Bulls were bred for.
From one Historical theory, the origin of Pit Bulldogs can be traced to Greeks who bred them as shepherds and guard dogs.
The breed is debated to origin from Molossus which is an extinct breed now. This Molossus breed even made to early Britain, gaining a new title as Mastiff.
When Romans defeated the Britons in the early first century, they came across this breed, and the dogs became popular in the Roman empire.
The modern Pit Bull came in to form mixing with other dogs from Europe over 400 years. During this time, Pit Bulls were used as War dogs, marching into battles alongside humans.
Gaining Popularity in the Bloodsport.
Pit Bull and blood sport are pronounced simultaneously. The sad history of Pit Bull and how their human owners have used them to gain entertainment became a great threat to the breed’s survival. Two Such blood sports were bull-baiting and dogfighting. Hence, the present stereotyping of the Pit Bulls as ‘aggressive’ came into the spotlight.
The idea behind the name ‘Pit Bulldog’ has an interesting history behind it. At the end of the 11th century, English butchers used Mastiff-type dogs to bite bulls. So, the term ‘bullenbessiers’ meaning ‘bull biter’ came into existence.
These Pit Bull type dogs were trained to bite on the nose of the bulls and became the only way to regain control of them. This practice however not aggressive in intent but rather used Pit Bulls as an advantage, became a bloodthirsty sport later.
Until the beginning of the 19th century, bull-baiting remained a popular sport in Britain. In this sport, bulls were tied to an iron stake, so it had 30 feet to move. The Pit bull-type dogs were then set to immobilize the bulls. All this just for the sake of entertainment and betting.
Thus, the name Pit Bull was originated.
The nature of this type of sport motivated owners to train Pit Bulls aggressively and only to kill.
Pit Bulls love meat! Don’t get afraid. All dogs love meat. That doesn’t make them aggressive and ferocious animals. Check out our dog foods for Pit Bull’s article to know more!
Although this breed still not specific, it was combined with terriers that gave rise to a more powerful and intelligent Pit Bull breed.
When bull-baiting got banned in Britain in the 19th century, many British immigrants came into the U.S with their dogs.
They started the dog-fighting trend in the U.S and gained popularity since then, though remaining as an underground blood-sport.
The Breed spread quickly in this region and to other continents. Soon, people started breeding them again as herding and working dogs.
Kept as Nanny Dogs.
You might have heard about this! Pit Bulls were once known as Nanny dogs. Although there is no clear evidence or written testimonials that prove the statement, sure there are vintage photographs to illustrate this point.
Many of the Pit Bulls were rehabilitated and trained to become gentle with humans. Even children remain safe with them. Some of the old stories even point out the fact that Pit Bulls were left to look after their babies and kids.
But I think such an assumption is absurd and you should never keep your babies with any animal without supervision. That would be the last thing on earth you want to do.
If you take a look at these photographs, you can hardly label these dogs as aggressive or bloodthirsty. What these photographs prove, is that families felt safekeeping their children with the Pit Bulls.
If we skip the commoner’s way of breeding Pit Bulls, we can also find them in the homes of many notable persons in history. Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Edison, and Fred Astaire all had Pit Bull type dogs.
That’s not the end. Hellen Keller, the famous blind and deaf author also had a Pit Bull type dog. She was so much touched by their affection that she even mentioned in her autobiography ‘The Story of My Life.’ It’s worth reading if you are Pit Bull fans and of course you will get to know the amazing life of Hellen Keller.
Becoming the Face of America.
Did you know Pit Bulls became the face of America in the 20th century? During this period Pit bulls were signified as American Heroes.
Horatio Nelson Jackson while traveling in 1903 came across a Pit Bull type dog named Bud. Bud with his famous googles became the new face of the advertising era. So, we can say at this stage many Pit Bulls were bred to be used in advertisements.
The entertainment industry surely capitalized on the goodwill of these dogs. Petey from the Little Rascals was portrayed by a Pit Bull type dog named Pal. They were the heroes of that time but alas some unfortunate incidents have put them into bars recently.
During the two World wars, Pit Bulls became national mascots in America and a sign of fearlessness and security. They were symbolized as military dogs in ads due to their immense popularity in the then American culture.
Used During Wartime in America
The use of Pit Bulls as War dogs in America began during the world war I. One of the first of these dogs was Seargent Stubby.
Stubby was a stray dog that was found near the army training camps and later on got training to work with soldiers. Stubby could even salute his soldier mates. That’s a hell of a dog I must say.
He did miracles when taken overseas with the U.S Army. He was noted to survive 18 months of war where he was part of 4 campaigns and 17 battles. Probably I couldn’t have survived such a prolific situation.
Stubby helped soldiers to carry messages and alerting them of any incoming threats. A German spy was even caught to his heroic act, and that speaks a lot for this type of dog breed.
Negative Image, Pit Bull Ban, and Change in Perception.
Dog-fighting is a banned and illegal activity in the U.S. The unfortunate negative image that Pit Bulls have got over the years are more or less because of how they were handled by their owners.
One of the early Pit Bull aggressive incidents occurred in the 1980-s. 26 Pit Bulldogs were set to kill a woman. And it was not the animals that were dangerous. Animals are just animals, it’s their handlers who are only to blame.
The State of Florida was the first among all the U.S states to put a ban on Pit Bull type dogs.
You may know about the high profile case of Michael Vick, the NFL player, and his dog ring. This was the case that shook all the football sports communities because of the cruelty that was associated. Most of these dog fighting rings are dealt with around drugs and other criminal activities. Although Michael Vick and other convicts served their sentences, the Pit Bull types gained serious media criticism and fear amongst people.
Among another such incidence of cruelty can be seen in the 1987 case of child-killing. A Pit Bull was happened to guard a marijuana crop in California and was reported to kill a 2.5 years old baby. The Anti-Pit Bull Hysteria rose with a series of such discrete events.
So, should we ban the dogs? Is that anything to do with their nature?
Apparently, no is the answer. In the temperament test done by the American Temperament Test Society Pit Bull was found to have an 86% rate of passing.
But things have started to gain positive momentum. After the Michael Vick case, the dogs were rehabilitated which showed people the true reason for their aggressive nature.
We believe that Pit Bulls are good dogs. You didn’t see them smiling ever, did you? The way they cuddle and get attached to their owners is truly amazing. If you live alone or feel lonely when your family members are away, there can’t be an any better dog than a Pit Bull.
Few Final Words.
You now have a good idea of the breeding history of Pit Bulls. They were never monsters, it’s their owners who made them such. I can say with a bit of love, proper training, and good intent, Pit bulls can show superior signs of charms, care, and loyalty.