Pit Bull Terriers have had a history of being angry, aggressive dogs. They were only reserved for criminals and dog fighters. While the Pit Bull may have been used by bad owners, this doesn’t make the breed bad.
Read below to learn more about how the Pit Bull has become one of the most well-known breeds around.
History of Pit Bull Terriers
The first thing to note is that the term “Pit Bull” is a generic term for a large range of dogs. Most Pit bulls originate from the United Kingdom, but what most people think of Pit Bulls today are what are called “American Pit Bulls.”
This breed’s origins come from the 1800’s. United Kingdom breeders would combine a Bulldog with a Terrier. Their idea was to create a dog that was as strong as the bulldog and as agile as the terrier. These dogs would go on to be used in blood sports like bullbaiting and bearbaiting. This went on until 1835 when Britain started introducing animal welfare laws.
These laws made bull and bear baiting very difficult to organize. But people still wanted sport to bet on. This led to ratting and dog fighting. Ratting involved counting the number of rats a dog could catch in a time limit. The sport demanded a strong and agile dog, so trainers bred Bulldogs with Terriers.
Pit Bulls were the main animal used in ratting and dogfights in Britain, but they also found their way over to America. They were an ideal breed for this purpose because they had been bred to be aggressive toward other animals. They were also culled if they showed any aggression toward humans since they would be in very close proximity with gamblers and other trainers.
It was in the 1860’s that the United States saw an influx of English immigrants, and they brought their dogs. This dog was renamed the “American” Pit Bull Terrier.
Importance of the Pit Bull in America
While the Pit Bull had been bred for fighting, they made an ideal work animal on the frontier. They were strong and loyal to their masters. This would make them companionable in the house, but hearty enough to be a true workhorse.
American Pit Bulls would be responsible for herding cattle and sheep, they’d guard livestock, and even help on hunts. Since Pit Bulls were bred to not bite humans, they were also great guardians for the home. It was common that a Pit Bull would be left protecting children. This led to the Pit Bull not only being a breed that can pull its own weight on the farm, but they were also considered a loyal companion for the family.
While Pit Bulls were a working-class dog, they also became a bit part of the culture. They were considered the “All American Dog” and were prominent figures in American media during the World Wars. They projected an image of loyalty and bravery. This was only intensified by the use of dogs in the war.
Most decorated of the first war dogs was Sergeant Stubby. Yes, he actually attained the rank of Sergeant through combat. His acute nose helped save soldiers from gas attacks. He could also hear distant artillery that humans couldn’t hear, and he could tell the difference between English and German. This skill helped Sergeant Stubby capture a German Spy at one point.
In all Sergeant Stubby served in 17 battles and four different campaigns.
Animal Welfare Act of 1976
Not much had changed for the Pit Bull since the end of World War Two. They went back to work herding and protecting. The Pit Bull had won a place in America’s heart and stayed there for quite some time. Some famous Pit Bull owners were Helen Keller, Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Edison, and Mark Twain. But there was a small minority of people who would use their dog for nefarious acts.
It was in 1976 that the United States government passed the Animal Welfare Act to help protect all animals. This act made dogfighting officially illegal in all fifty states. Since this act focused on dogfighting, many people saw Pit Bulls as aggressive since they were commonly used.
During the 80’s, many small-time criminals began seeking out Pit Bulls because they were thought to be good for fighting. This was the unintended consequence of making dog fighting illegal, and Pit Bulls were the ones who suffered. Soon they were used more as money making tools rather than loyal and devoted companions.
The American media picked up the story and soon Pit Bulls were considered one of the most dangerous dogs you could find. The story got worse in 2007 when a dog fighting ring was uncovered on Michael Vick’s estate. Pit Bulls were the main breed used. The silver lining is that 48 out of 51 of the dogs were able to be rehabilitated and placed in homes. The public was able to see that a dog can be rehabilitated, and today many celebrities happily have a Pit Bull companion.
The history of Pit Bull Terriers is a story of redemption. While many people love their Pit Bull, the breed has also found renewed use as military, police and service dogs.