A Brief History of the American Pit Bull Terrier

32

Like all of us, today's American Pit Bull Terrier is a product of its past. A great companion animal for humans, the pit bull wasn't always viewed through the media-created bogeyman lenses of today. Indeed, it was once America's sweetheart breed.

Read more about Pit Bulls:

Bulldog Beginnings

While the precise origins of the current American Pit Bull Terrier remain in dispute, with different historians favoring similar but not identical accounts of the past, a few elements seem beyond doubt.

The original "bulldog," used primarily for boar hunting as well as companion and guarding purposes, appears in paintings dating back as far as the 1500s. These dogs look remarkably similar to today's pit bull. They were given the name "bull dogs" because when the horrible sport of bull baiting became popular, they were by far the dog best suited to this purpose.

Once bull baiting was outlawed in England in 1835, its promoters began looking for new means of profit. They turned to ratting and dog fighting. At this point, it seems likely that at least one and probably more strains of terrier were introduced into the breed to make it more "game" (that is, having a higher level of prey drive and aggression) as well as smaller and more agile.

Pit Bulls and People

Despite the fierce prey drive hardwired into the original pit bulls, they always made excellent companions for humans. In part, this came out of their fighting ancestry. Handlers had to be able to jump in the ring and separate the fighters, and then treat the wounded dogs after the fights were over. Dogs that showed aggression toward humans, even in the middle of a fight, were usually killed and never bred.

From this selective breeding came a dog that possessed a fierce prey drive, but was exceptionally people friendly. The Irish version of the pit was actually known as the "Old Family Dog," because it was considered the perfect family pet, known to be especially good with children.

Related:

Coming to America

The American Pit Bull Terrier comes from a combination of English and Irish stock brought to the US in the 19th century. Once in the US, pit bulls excelled as cattle dogs and "catch dogs" for pigs. And unfortunately, they were still used as fighting dogs.

However, the majority of pit bulls were NOT fought, instead earning their keep as hunters, herders, guardians and friends. Yes, friends. Ease of training and a predisposition to interact well with humans was essential for all of their traditional jobs.

Thus, it is no surprise that by 1900, the American Pit Bull Terrier gained its greatest renown as a courageous and loyal companion to both adults and children, even acquiring the nickname "nanny dogs" in some locations.

Humans Squabble More than Dogs--Breed Organizations and Labeling

Because of the fighting stigma, when the American Kennel Club was formed, they refused to recognize pit bulls. Thus, in 1898 a man named Chauncy Bennet formed the United Kennel Club specifically for the purpose of registering the American Pit Bull Terrier, though it later expanded to include other breeds. In 1909, the American Dog Breeding Association was formed by breeders who felt the UKC failed to adequately focus on the breed's working traits.

In the 1930s, pit bulls were admitted to the AKC under the name Staffordshire Terrier. Despite the different name (chosen because Staffordshire, England is believed by many to be where the traditional English bulldog was first crossed with terriers to create the modern pit bull), the original Staffordshires were all UKC-registered pit bull terriers, and many dogs continue to be cross registered to this day.

The UKC accepts dogs with AKC pedigrees, though the AKC does not recognize the UKC breed registry. Meanwhile, the ADBA encourages working--i.e. weight pulling--bloodlines but registers all pit bulls. And finally, in the 1970s, the AKC Staffordshire was split into the English and American Staffordshire, based primarily on size differential, with the larger AmStaff being closer to traditional pit bull conformation.

Related:

The Pit Bull--American's Sweetheart

During the first half of the 20th century, the American Pit Bull Terrier was the closest thing the United States had to a national dog. Pit bulls were the dog of choice for famous personages such as Helen Keller, Laura Ingalls Wilder (of Little House on the Prairie fame), and President Theodore Roosevelt.

Meanwhile, pit bulls were chosen as mascots by the Buster Brown shoe company and by the United States itself, which featured pit bulls on American propaganda posters for each of the first two world wars.

Fittingly, the first dog decorated with medals by the armed forces was one Sgt. Stubby. In the first world war, Sgt. Stubby not only survived being twice wounded in combat, but captured a German spy and saved his entire platoon from a poison gas attack.

In 1903, an American Pit Bull Terrier named Bud became the first dog to travel across the entire US via car. He accompanied the first humans to make a non-stop journey cross country by automobile, but his fame eclipsed theirs, as newspapers in cities across America featured a goggle-wearing Bud.

After WW II, pit bulls retreated to relative obscurity, accorded neither more nor less notoriety than other breeds. Surely, underground fighting took place, but this was only a small percentage of pits. Others were used for herding, hunting or guardian purposes, but most were bred and kept primarily as companions.

The Killer Dog Myth

By the 1980s, the companion history of the pit bull was forgotten, and the myth of the dangerous fighting dog took hold. It is uncertain exactly why this decade saw the pit bull suddenly rise to a new, less pleasant sort of fame, but many trace the entire trend to a single, ultra-sensationalistic Sports Illustrated cover article.

Whatever the reasons for the sudden infamy, the unwanted publicity not only caused problems for the vast majority of well-behaved pits, but actually encouraged unscrupulous individuals to deliberately purchase and breed pit bulls and similar looking dogs for nefarious purposes.

More about this:

Pit Bulls Today

Fortunately, despite a few bad apples, most of the humans lucky enough to own pit bulls are responsible caretakers. With responsible owners and numerous groups devoted to promoting an accurate image of the breed, pit bulls are beginning to make a comeback in the popular imagination.

Even Sports Illustrated's most recent article on the breed was entirely positive, devoted to showing how nearly all of the supposedly "beyond rehabilitation" dogs from the Michael Vick case were now happy, friendly members of loving homes.

As the new century begins, the American Pit Bull Terrier is still a common participant in canine sporting activities, but now their wonderful drive and athleticism is exercised in more joyful activities than in centuries past.

Pit bulls routinely defeat all comers in weight pulling competitions, where they hold every world record in their own weight categories. They consistently distinguish themselves in agility and flyball, where their marvelous speed and coordination make them a joy to watch. And perhaps surprisingly to the uninitiated, they also excel in obedience trials.

And yes, they are still a working dog, but in a variety of new roles. Pit bulls make great therapy dogs and are commonly used in search and rescue. Following in the footsteps of Sgt. Stubby, they have also distinguished themselves in the role of drug and bomb sniffing dogs. A pit bull named Popsicle holds the Texas record for biggest drug bust, having sniffed out 3000 lbs of cocaine.

Most of all, the American Pit bull Terrier continues to be, as it has always been, a great family dog and beloved companion.

What happened to the Michael Vick dogs? Find out.

Articles: 
Login or Register to post comments.

32 comments

Comments

true loyalty's picture
true loyalty
Wed, 07/07/2010 - 2:54pm

i think more people need to read this article about the pitbull history

josh steckbauer's picture
josh steckbauer
Sun, 09/05/2010 - 6:03pm

i agree pitbulls r misunderstood and as we kno people who dont understand something reject it and that is the worst thing we as people can do imagine if u were misunderstood and people didnt want anything to do with u and ridiculed u and the media spread rumors about u that r not true think about that for a minute not a fun way to live if u ask me

Tonya Dean's picture
Tonya Dean
Mon, 07/12/2010 - 8:52pm

Anyone who believes in BSL should read this...

Kolla's picture
Kolla
Mon, 08/09/2010 - 1:58am

Great post. Thanks for sharing. Search for top gov articles

bert's picture
bert
Tue, 09/07/2010 - 4:25pm

im really glad to here some real truth to this artical on pit bulls they are great dogs,ive had pure colby lines.bullyson,carver, n many more,these are great n loving dogs bred by people who knew how to breed.the old timers knew what they had, you never heard of pit bulls attacking or killing humans until the 80s when punks , gangs n people that have no idea of what they got.i dont like dog fighting but at the same time i must say this GAME BRED PITBULLS HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH BEING AGGERSIVE TOWARDS HUMANS that is such false information.

Cokie_Mnstr's picture
Cokie_Mnstr
Sat, 09/18/2010 - 5:11pm

im doing a persuasive speech at school about why pit bulls should not be feared...can anyone tell me what year that sports illustrated came out so i can put that in there. this website is so helpful for everything! I <3 my puppy Zeus and the late Georgie <3

raisins mom's picture
raisins mom
Sat, 09/18/2010 - 6:54pm

12/29/08 is this the one ? http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/cover/select/2008-01-01/2008-12-31/dd/1/index.htm

raisins mom's picture
raisins mom
Sat, 09/18/2010 - 7:21pm

Did you also see the Parade flyer w/ the vick dogs on it ??
http://badrap-blog.blogspot.com/

Cokie_Mnstr's picture
Cokie_Mnstr
Mon, 09/20/2010 - 7:37pm

yeah that would be cool. i found the magazine cover too. thank you

bmf6973's picture
bmf6973
Wed, 09/22/2010 - 6:39pm

My Step-son got MY!!!! baby before she was ever winged and I did not want her at all like most I had a case of the dumb ass when it came to PIT BULLS. With a lot of beggeing and pleading from my wife and step-kids we kept Ali. While she was a puppy her and our beagel tore up a love seat and Ali pulled back the carpet in every corner,I mean every corner in the only place in the house. She chewed on one of my new nikes I busted her butt and all I got was a wimper and I am not a wussy. Anywho a couple of weeks after I did that she came down with parvo, not eating no drinking barfing up spit. So my son and I took her down to the vet got her some shots. I babied her for about a week,( I just dropped 150.00 on a dog that I didn't want so I was atleast gonna make sure she was ok.) since that day she has been my baby. My 7 year old grandson and my 12 year
old son can hang all over her and she just eats it up.

VickieMiller24's picture
VickieMiller24
Wed, 11/24/2010 - 8:02pm

My story is the same. The APBT landed in my lap to take care of very sick. Full of worms and all of her brothers and sisters died from Parvo. I dropped about the same amount. Pet Smart helped me with her training, groomin the works. I love her so much oops that I adopted another Pit Bull that I never intended to have much less one Pit Bull...ha still she is very highly intelligent. She will learn anything I'm willing to teach her. Very smart.

cali-sue's picture
cali-sue
Wed, 10/20/2010 - 5:48pm

this article should most definately be out there for more people to read. It would change the perception of pitties for many people. Especially people from here. As soon as they lay eyes on my Cali(she goes everywhere I go) they freak out and try to tell me I better be super careful. No I trust my dog and I'm really not dumb enough to ever believe she would intentionally try to hurt me.

VickieMiller24's picture
VickieMiller24
Wed, 11/24/2010 - 11:54pm

I've been treated bad too b/c of having Eden with me. When I first come into Pet Smart, most will stare at me with that goofing look on their face of "why do you have this dangerous dog in here" But, as soon as they see how all the team at Pet Smart see her and she knows all of them, they start to think a little differenly. I went to the park in a quiet area and was walking her with my son, and everyone kept coming up to her and playing with her, at one point every kid at this party was all over her. They came to her, not the other way around. All she did was lay there and let the kids crawl all over her. This man walked up with his nose in the air and told us to get the pit bull away from everyone b/c he didn't want any pit attacks. I thought ok, then maybe you should be watching your kids, their the ones who came to Eden not the other way around. Makes me mad I've paid for that park with tax money a hundred times over and he probably doesn't pay anything. Well, I was upset, like I said the kids ran over to Eden where we were not the other way around. I was watching my dog, he wasn't watching his kids! Maybe they should have classes for parents about proper parenting. But, I have to say after the majority sees everyone all over her their expressions do change. Some people hate everything no matter what.

pudog's picture
pudog
Tue, 02/08/2011 - 12:53am

i dont have a pit bull but thats so stupid of him

makayla2408's picture
makayla2408
Mon, 10/25/2010 - 11:50am

i totally agree my pit jake is the best dog ever.........he gets along with all animals and is truly a sweetheart plus lapdog!!!!!!!

tcratty's picture
tcratty
Sun, 11/14/2010 - 1:04pm

I loved it, and I love the pit bull breed.

spirit030's picture
spirit030
Sun, 11/28/2010 - 6:21pm

I agree that this article is informative. I am using it as research for my persuasive essay in English Comp. 1. I have 2 pits and wouldn't trade them for anything in the world. Babygirl and Bones r like my kids and I love them dearly. I just wish people would understand that it depends on how they r raised, and not just because they r "pitbulls" that makes an animal vicious. Some people need to educate theirselves on a topic before they draw a conclusion.

luvbluepits's picture
luvbluepits
Wed, 12/22/2010 - 10:54pm

I know, i have a tattoo shop and my blue pit goes wherever i go, so i take him to work with me every day. People come in and ask me about him all the time. I will admit hes big and may look a little mean with cropped ears but i have seen black labs that are more agressive than Ty. But if someone told me i needed to do something with him before he attacked. They better b more worried about me than my pitbull, because i would probably loose it. All of this hype about pits is really getting on my nerves. But i do like having the sidewalk to myself when i walk my dog down the street...

Princess&#039;sMom's picture
Princess'sMom
Thu, 01/20/2011 - 8:52am

When people first meet Princess they are so surprised.  No teeth, a lot of licking!  She has won over so many folks just being herself.  Nice to know Laura Ingalls Wilders Jack was A Pitbull. Thinking back at the way she descibed him, I understand why she was so fond of him. He died in By The Shores of Silver Lake, before they left Plum Creek.

voniie's picture
voniie
Mon, 01/31/2011 - 8:38pm

I have five dogs and my pit bull stands alone in companionship to me.  He is so smart and loyal.  HYowever he has a hatrid for other dogs that is a very real responsibilbilty.   It is a real risk to have a dog like this.  This dog is not for the novice.   

brouncemypitbull's picture
brouncemypitbull
Thu, 02/17/2011 - 6:17pm

I had my pitbull since he was 3weeks old his name is Brounce. And now he is 18months he is very good with people and kids and dogs to he wouldnt hurt a fly dappy as anything he loved his cuddles and walkes in the parks  and he loved sleeping with us he was like a human. Very clever dog because i live in the uk in london gangs ang thugs fights these loving dogs we had our blue pitbull took off us because there band in uk because off people dont no how to treat these dogs better we have to figght to get him back they said it would take up to 6months he has to have his bballs cropped off tatteod on his leg . i havent seen him for 3months i miss him so much i cant wait to get him back thats if we do but i wont stop fighting till i get him back just illgle lise pits there the best dogs a family could ever had if there brought up the rite way . them people should beloud dogs i miss him so much x 

 

brouncemypitbull's picture
brouncemypitbull
Thu, 02/17/2011 - 6:17pm

I had my pitbull since he was 3weeks old his name is Brounce. And now he is 18months he is very good with people and kids and dogs to he wouldnt hurt a fly dappy as anything he loved his cuddles and walkes in the parks  and he loved sleeping with us he was like a human. Very clever dog because i live in the uk in london gangs ang thugs fights these loving dogs we had our blue pitbull took off us because there band in uk because off people dont no how to treat these dogs better we have to figght to get him back they said it would take up to 6months he has to have his bballs cropped off tatteod on his leg . i havent seen him for 3months i miss him so much i cant wait to get him back thats if we do but i wont stop fighting till i get him back just illgle lise pits there the best dogs a family could ever had if there brought up the rite way . them people should beloud dogs i miss him so much x 

 

brouncemypitbull's picture
brouncemypitbull
Thu, 02/17/2011 - 6:17pm

I had my pitbull since he was 3weeks old his name is Brounce. And now he is 18months he is very good with people and kids and dogs to he wouldnt hurt a fly dappy as anything he loved his cuddles and walkes in the parks  and he loved sleeping with us he was like a human. Very clever dog because i live in the uk in london gangs ang thugs fights these loving dogs we had our blue pitbull took off us because there band in uk because off people dont no how to treat these dogs better we have to figght to get him back they said it would take up to 6months he has to have his bballs cropped off tatteod on his leg . i havent seen him for 3months i miss him so much i cant wait to get him back thats if we do but i wont stop fighting till i get him back just illgle lise pits there the best dogs a family could ever had if there brought up the rite way . them people should beloud dogs i miss him so much x 

 

haleybaby's picture
haleybaby
Thu, 02/24/2011 - 1:58am

for those interested, here is the sports illustrated cover that makes pits look bad. 

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/cover/featured/9073/index.htm

my family & I have 4 pits now, ranging from 8 months - 5 years old, and they are the only breed of dog I will ever own!

BlueOnyx's picture
BlueOnyx
Mon, 02/28/2011 - 3:22pm

You must Love the breed to understand My mother inlaw was nervouse when I got my Babie boys then she got to actualy spend time with them and seen there temper was very calm and listened to comands at 7 weeks Its all in how people raise them and display them in puplic

pitbent1996's picture
pitbent1996
Sun, 03/27/2011 - 6:57am

Had a 16 year old red nose pit and she recently died and just yesterday I got a blue brindle pit and this article is so true and I hate when I say that I have a pitbull and everybody says omg did he bite you.......lol

Vanilla&#039;s_Daddy's picture
Vanilla's_Daddy
Sun, 03/27/2011 - 2:02pm

I'm sorry for your loss but am glad you were able to make room for another.

MoonChild02's picture
MoonChild02
Sat, 06/04/2011 - 5:42pm

I was referred here by a Yahoo! article on pit bulls being nanny dogs. I had no clue that pit bulls were such great dogs! My mother always taught me to be wary of pit bulls, but it's great to learn that these dogs really aren't anything to be afraid of. I knew that Petey from Our Gang/The Little Rascals was a pit bull, but I always wondered why they used such a dog. Awesome article! Keep up the great work! Hopefully someday soon these dogs will finally get back the respect they deserve!

chris k's picture
chris k
Fri, 09/02/2011 - 6:51pm

My son got his pit when he was 8 weeks old and my sons dad was so mad at me for letting him get one.  I told him that it is all the way they are raised and they are loyal dogs.  He was still mad.  After about a week my husband loved the little guy so much he started looking for one himself and my son and I found him one and they are both great family members with their own personality.  Theres not a day that goes by that they dont do something almost human like that makes us laugh.  They are great dogs who the press and ignorant people have given a bad rap to.  Would recommend them to anyone who wants or needs a companion.  The love they give you is alot more then people would believe. 

chris k's picture
chris k
Fri, 09/02/2011 - 6:55pm

My son got his pit when he was 8 weeks old and my sons dad was so mad at me for letting him get one.  I told him that it is all the way they are raised and they are loyal dogs.  He was still mad.  After about a week my husband loved the little guy so much he started looking for one himself and my son and I found him one and they are both great family members with their own personality.  Theres not a day that goes by that they dont do something almost human like that makes us laugh.  They are great dogs who the press and ignorant people have given a bad rap.  Would recommend them to anyone who wants or needs a companion.  The love they give you is alot more love then people would believe. My sons boy thinks he is a 65lb lap dog and my husbands girls want picked up and held like a child does.  The best breed we have ever had and will continue to have.

pitluvtlc's picture
pitluvtlc
Sat, 10/29/2011 - 9:04pm

All I have to say to anyone that thinks pitbulls are just killing machines, is that to own a pitbull is to luv all pitbulls. I have owned APBT all my life and I have never seen a dangerous one but I have saw a lot of dangerous owners . As you can see from this article pits have been known to be one of the most trusted family dogs for hundreds of years, but all of the sudden in the past 20 or so years they have just changed into this mindless killer,I don't think so ! blame the owners not the loyal dog.

ddiva's picture
ddiva
Tue, 12/06/2011 - 8:33pm

this web site is cool