Pit Bull History

Love them or hate them — there’s rarely an in-between when it comes to the neverending debate of pitbull-type breeds and their place in society.

How did pit bulls go from being “America’s Dog” at the turn of the 20th century to the most vilified breed of the past few decades? In this article, we tackle that question by diving into the history of Pitbulls!

What is pitbull dog’s history?

In Scotland and England, there were pitbull-type dogs used for Bear Baiting and Bull baiting. This was in the early 1800s where entertainment was burning witches at the stake, so that should give you an idea of people’s mentality at the time.

Also during this time, they were using Pitbull type dogs for this job. When they had the Bulls in a fearful state, the butchers believed that it helped raise their blood pressure. They thought that the meat butchered from these terrified bulls would be more tender, and would sell at a higher price. However, what many meat-eaters now know is that this cruel process actually makes the meat tough. 

But at the time, it was actually the law! If you were butcher, you had to have a dog that was trained to scare the bulls and raise their blood pressure.

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Over time, they began to realize that they could use these dogs to make a little extra money. They would hold matches where the dogs would fight each other, and bets would be taken on who would win. Of course, this meant that many dogs were killed, maimed, and injured. Thankfully we now see this as abuse, but at the time, it was pure entertainment. 

Eventually, bullfighting and pit fighting fell out of fashion and became frowned upon. So the focus turned to smaller, scrappier dogs known as “ratters” who were trained to fight rats. That’s how they developed the rat terrier, interestingly enough.

When did Pitbulls come to the U.S.?

In the early 1900s, a man named Joseph Colby came over to the United States and brought these dogs with him. He is believed to have started the lineage of Pit-bull type of dogs in America.

Soon they became an invaluable part of many new American families. They were responsible for herding cattle, guarding livestock, and families against thieves and wild animals. Because of their loyal and friendly demeanor towards humans, especially children

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We can’t really talk about pitbull-type dogs without some mention of dogfighting. Many people use this time of the dogs’ history to make claims that pitbull-type dogs are more aggressive. But it is simply not true.

According to a study done by the Animal Temperament Test Society, dogs categorized as “pitbull-type” achieve excellent temperament scores. In fact, pit bulls scored in the top 23% of all breeds tested! Furthermore, several other peer-reviewed studies concluded that a dog’s breed has no determination on its aggressiveness or danger. Because of their excellent temperament, pit bulls have become increasingly popular dogs.
In 1976, the Supreme Court passed the Animal Welfare Act of 1976. This act made the cruel sport of dogfighting illegal in all 50 states, including the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. If fact, in most states, the act of owning dogs to fight it a felony offense! The Animal Welfare Act is so thorough that if you are caught even being a spectator at a dog fight, you will be persecuted!

Unfortunately, as with many laws, once an act is made criminal, it attracts more criminals. While dogfighting is no longer accepted in society, unfortunately, it continues to happen in underground clubs. 

Pit Bulls Today

Now that pit bulls were no longer bred and cruelly trained for fighting, people began to see them as working-class companions. Pit bulls became America’s favorite pet! They were often used for commercials and in popular television shows.

The most famous pitbull was probably Petey, the ring-eyed sweetheart featured on Little Rascals.

Pitbulls were also highly favored among politicians, celebrities, and scholars. Helen Keller, Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Edison, Mark Twain, Fred Astaire, and Humphrey Bogart, just to name a few, all had pit bulls as companions.

Today, the American pitbull Terrier is a beloved animal used in a variety of helping functions in society, including police dogs, search dogs, therapy dogs, and farm dogs. Even so, negative publicity has led many cities to condemn them as a community problem. This perception has been supported by the prevalence of illegal dog fighting in cities and small towns across America. In recent years, gangs have taken a fancy to dogfight and elevated the ownership of trained fighting dogs as a status symbol.

The hope is that this beautiful dog will soon be known as America’s Dog one day soon.

Eventually, bullfighting and pit fighting fell out of fashion and became frowned upon. So the focus turned to smaller, scrappier dogs known as “ratters” who were trained to fight rats. That’s how they developed the rat terrier, interestingly enough.

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Special thanks to:

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Deirdre ‘Little Darling’ Franklin, MSPP 

Deirdre “Little Darling” Franklin is the founder, president, and soul behind Pinups for Pitbulls. She holds a master’s degree in public policy from Drexel University, where she specialized in breed-specific legislation. She is also the Volunteer & Foster Manager for the ASPCA Behavioral Rehabilitation Center in Weaverville, NC.

Aly DelaCoeur, UW-AAB
Aly DelaCoeur, UW-AAB is one of the founders of Wag Enabled (originally Why Does My Dog). Aly has a certificate in applied animal behavior through the University of Washington and is a certified veterinary assistant and AKC Evaluator. She aims to provide an unbiased perspective on dog training by providing practical, intelligent, and caring advice for people to impart on their canine companions