A brief history of "Pit Bulls"

A brief history of "Pit Bulls"

The modern "Pit Bull" began in the early 19th century when Old English Bulldogs were bred with Old English Terriers, creating a heterogeneous grouping of dogs known as "Bull and Terriers".  These dogs were often used for Bull-Baiting; a practice in which the dog would be thrown into a hole (or pit) in the ground with a Bull, and encouraged to attack/immobilize the bull. 

The actual term "Pit Bull" originated in the British Isles as a term used to loosely describe these "Bull and Terrier" type dogs. It did not designate a specific breed.

In 1835, Bull-Baiting was outlawed by British Parliament, but dog fighting was not. Breeders shifted away from heavier bulldog-centric dogs, and leaned more towards leaner, terrier-centric dogs for agility, behavior, and show.  Ironically (given their current stereotype), these dogs were bred to have good dispositions with humans to allow humans to break up dog fights or otherwise engage with the dogs safely.

Immigrants from Britain brought these dogs to America shortly before the Civil War.  Here, these intelligent and friendly dogs were often family pets or were used to perform a variety of jobs.  In Britain, these "Bull and Terriers" eventually became today's Bull Terriers and Staffordshire Bull Terriers.  In the US, they were the ancestors of today's American Staffordshire Terriers, American Pit Bull Terriers, Boston Terriers, and Miniature Bull Terriers (among others).

Today, "Pit Bull" purists will argue that the American Pit Bull Terrier is the only "true Pit Bull".  They note that it is the only breed with "Pit Bull" in the name, and that when the other related breeds (such as the American Staffordshire Terrier) diverged around the mid 1800's, their breeders intentionally left behind the "Pit Bull" name and bred their lines away from fighting/bull baiting.

And, in much of the world today, these varied breeds are indeed referred to by their specific names; "Pit Bull", in many countries, is merely a nickname for the American Pit Bull Terrier.

In the United States, however, "Pit Bull" has, over many decades, become a colloquially accepted umbrella term used to describe these varied breeds of a similar appearance and origin.  Large animal organizations in the US have adopted this umbrella definition, as have many animal professionals, and most average folks use the term generically.

The result of these two divided approaches is a great deal of confusion in the general public as to what a "Pit Bull" actually is, and an ongoing debate between breed purists and those who accept the colloquial definition. This causes serious consequences for the dogs, as a fluctuating definition of "Pit Bulls" results in misrepresented statistics and inaccurate information.

For example, 30+ other breeds - such as the Dogo Argentino, and even some mixed breeds - are regularly confused or lumped in with "Pit Bull" type dogs.  As a result, actual "Pit Bulls" are frequently misidentified and are often unfairly accused in reported incidents. 

For decades, "Pit Bulls" were actually considered "America's Dog" and were used frequently in advertising as a national mascot.  In the 60's and 70's, however, a resurgence of dog fighting rings began to evoke a misguided fear for "Pit Bulls" in the public. 

Now, perpetuated by a media who feeds off of fear, misinformation and lack of understanding has resulted in decades of societal abuse and discrimination of "Pit Bulls", leaving them the most misunderstood and judged breeds of dogs in existence.

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