American Pit Bull Terrier History
When the Roman Legions conquered Britain, they civilized the savages, built roads and temples and fortresses and towns, built aqueducts, laid a basis for the language we know today as English, and brought a sport, a sport that dated back to Minos in Crete, the sport of bullbaiting. This sport developed from the cult worship of a warrior god, Mithras, whose devotees signified his might as a young white bullock, the form he assumed to give courage to his followers in battle.
In those early days, there were many large ferocious dogs, usually wild, that were caught and used for the soldiers’ sport. Through the years, the Romans were assimilated into the trives they had conquered, or moved on to other campaigns, but their civilization and their sport lived on and continued to flourish among their descendants, the landholders and royatly.
Through those same years, the dogs became more typified, due to selective breeding for the Roman sport, and also due to the fact that only the strongest and most intelligent dogs survived the sport.
Let us take a great leap through the centuries to the early 1700’s – a time which finds a middle class firmly entrenced in English society, a class of merchants, gold, silver, and black-smiths, inn-keepers, tailors, bankers, etc. This class mimicked the fashion, customs and diversions of the upper classes, among them the sport of bull-baiting.
Let us also take a look into the canine world of that day. Now we can see types, almost true breeds: terriers, cattle dogs, shepherds, and a large dog, call Bull-Dog. (for obvious reasons) or mastiff which at that time meant ”large dog.” There was the terrible Blue Paul, from Scotland, and the just as terrble Alaunt, from Ireland, all come to test their mettle against the English bulls; they wre bred with the great dogs of England, and their offspring baited the bulls. By 1800, the result of this breeding was a large long legged animal wighing 80 to 90 pounds, and , you must take into consideration, these dogs were not fed on a regular basis, to insure their ferocity against the bull.
The early 1800’s were poor years for the middle class; they could no longer afford the bulls for the ancient sport, and its popularity declined. In 1835, the sport was officially banned. A few followers of the sport defied the law and surreptitiously continued it for several years.
Law-abiding men, however, were busily developing a new sport, one not quite as costly, dog fighting. There were plenty of dogs left over from the bull-baiting days, huge dogs, ferociousdogs, but not quite fast or agile enough to make this mew sport truly exciting.
Let us at this time look at a segment of English society we have overlooked, the lower class. These poor unfortunates had had from time to time serious vermin problems, namely rats, which they also found a remedy for: terriers. While our upper and middle classes were developing their great dogs for sport, the lower class was refining the terrier for survival.
Terriers, small, agile, lithe and sinewy, caught and ate their own food. Although small, they were deep-chested and powerful enough to dig the rats right out of the burrow. A terrier was a necessity to a poor man – any chicken-stealing for or grain-thieving rat was fair prey to his terrier.
The terrier had his place in the poor man’s diversion, a sport called ”ratting”; rats were caught and placed in catges, a pit was dug, bets were placed and the rats and terriers released in the pit. The dog catching and killing the most rats was declared the winner, and his owner went home jingling a pocket of coins.
Several types of terriers were developed, but only the ones pertinent to this history will be discussed. The English White Terrier, which became extinct in the early 1900’s, resembled what is known today as the Manchester Terrier in size and conformity, but with a head that looks quite like the American Pit Bull Terrier of today. It was a very game dog, but perhaps not as game as the black-and-tan, which survives today in the Manchester Terrier, very little changed. There was the Fox Terrier also, a slightly larger, more burly type terrier, capable and adept at catching and killing the larger contenders for the farmer’s food.
No one knows who first thought to breed the huge Bulldog with agile terriers, nor were accurate records kept, but apparently it was handled quite successfully by the coal miners and iron workers of central England in the Staffordshire area and call the Bull-and-Terrier.
The Bull-and-Terrier quickly gained popularity among sporting men, as, owing to its more compact size, it was more easily handled, ate less and gave these fine sporting men the opportunity to participate. Rules were laid and usually abided by as a point of honor, but the very best facet of this newer breed was its terrier like prospensity toward mankind, which allowed the owner to be right in the thick of the sport, urging his dog with hands and voice, quite unlike the haphazard, strictly spectator bull-baiting. In the early days the sport took place in the old bull arenas, street corners, barns and sheds, but again the middle class was on the rise and took a fancy to the newer sport and the Bull-and-Terrier. Soon most every pub and inn had a small arena in a room to the side, or in the main room, depending upon the size of the establishment.
These arenas became know as pits, taken fromthe old lower class sport of ”ratting,” and , of course, fighting was soon called ”pitting,” and winning dogs became knows as ”Pit Dogs.” It became quite fashionable for the young dandies to be seen about town with a Bull-and-Terrier under their arm. Taking their dogs to a pub, it would be allowed to be on the bar for all to see and make wagers on, with the bar-keep or innkeeper holking the money.
Meanwhile the old Bull-Dog was becoming quite rare due to being used up as a base stock for the newer more agile breed; only the few men dedicated to the old Roman sport managed to save the breed from extinction. These men were landholders and could well afford to buy a newly introduced dog from China that was causing quite a stir among the royalty of the day, the Chinese Pug. By breeding the Bull-Dogs and the Pugs, these men gradually developed the short-legged, kink-tailed, broad, squatty modern day breed we known as the Bulldog.
The Bull-and-Terrier from Staffordshire had gained a sizeable reputation for their gameness and performance, and probably due to the close-knit mining community these dogs had a definite typiness; they became known as the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, but not until 1935 was this the official name, when the English Kennel Club designated it such and recognized is as pure-bred.
We are now going to go back in history once again, this time to the Western Hemisphere and the colonization of America and Canada. Wherever man goes he takes his dogs, and terriers were just as much in demand in the new world as in the old. as were the large, fierce Bull-Dog types needed to protect man from marauders. These men also needed diversion and looked to their dogs for sport. Through the years a type of Bull-and-Terrier developed here, a larger-boned, heavier dog than its English cousin.
Shortly before the Civil War, the English dogs were brought to America by merchants, sailors, and traders, and the sport of dog-fighting flourished in the port towns. The English and American Bull-and-Terrier types were cross-bred and refined through the concerted efforts of the sporting men.
Mr.C.B. Bennett, a renowned sportsman and fancier, as well as breeder, organized a stud book and registering office in 1898. He designated the breed name to be American Pit Bull Terrier. Mr. Bennett also established the rules governing the pitting of dogs and set up the official breed standart as it stands today.
The United Kennel Club was established 77 years ago by Mr. Bennett for the sole registration of the American Pit Bull Terrier, and has grown to be the second largest dog registering office in the United States.
The American Pit Bull Terrier is considered to be the most powerful dog, pound-for-pound, ever developed, even though they are also known for their devotion and steady temperament with humans. The versatility of the breed is perhaps its most outstanding feature. We all know of its reputation for prowess in the pit, so we will go on to other less known qualities.
The American Bull Terrier has a natural inclination for hunting and has been trained to hunt everything from bird to wild boar. Its deeply ingrained fearlessness, stamina and high pain threshold allow it to take brutal punishment without a whimper; for this reason, it does not make a good bear or wild-cat hunter, as its tendency to lock its jaws on an opponent leads to the dog’s destruction.
This breed is not known as an indiscriminate people-biter. It has the innate ability to distinguish between true aggression and play; therefore it is a good family companion that will offer protection when and if needed. It is unusually tolerant of small children and accepts their roughness as a matter of course, gauging the child’s strength and playing in accordance.
Adaptability is a key word for this breed. The APBT is at home in a city apartment, a suburban split-level, a farm or a kennel. Owing to the extremely short coat, shedding is minimal; therefore the little grooming required is just keeping the teeth free of tartar, the eras free of mites and dirt, and the nails filed down to prevent tearing.
Centuries of depending not only on its strength but also on its wits for survival has produced a very high intellect in this breed. Due to this intelligence and willingness to please, the APBT is easily trained and very rarely forgets. The dog has a long attention span and mind of his own, which often leads to him outsmarting his human owners.
Tn the early 1900’s the APBT was one of the most popular breeds in America, as witness Tige, Buster Brown’s companion in the comic strip, and the dog we still see today on R.C.A. products, purported to be Thomas A. Edison’s faithful APBT. During WWI the breed represented ”Old Glory” on our allies poster, with the squatty English Bulldog as a representative of the ”Union Jack” and the French Bulldog the ”Tri Color” flag. No history of the breed is complete without mention of Pete, the ring-eyed canine, comic companion of the ”Our Gang” kids. Pete has the distinction of being the first AKC registered Staffordshire Terrier.
Today we are again seeing a resurgence of popularity in this truly great breed, the American Pit Bull Terrier.