Looking for a Pit Bull? You will find them sitting on a sunny spot on your couch. Do be warned: Pit Bulls are loving, caring, and think they are lap dogs. Yet, no other breed of dog has been so severely misaligned and misunderstood than the Pit Bull, yet very few other breeds or mixed breeds of dog will be so loving and family-oriented.
You hear many horror stories about Pit Bulls. They are the dogs people love to kick under the bus. The media gets excited about reporting on Pit Bull attacks, bites, and fights, and your landlord may not let your Pit Bull come home with you. A Pit Bull is no more dangerous than your friendly Golden Retriever and much less dangerous than a Pekinese.
Although the American Kennel Club does not recognize the Pit Bull breed, other prominent clubs like the United Kennel Club and American Dog Breeders Association recognize the Pit Bull as a viable group. After thinking about it, however, who cares if your Pittie is pedigreed? If you love Pit Bulls, then it doesn’t matter.
The origins of the Amerian Pit Bull Terrier has always been in dispute. Different historians claim the Pit Bull breed was first bred for the blood sport of bear and bull baiting. Bull and or bear-baiting involved tethering a bull or bear to a pole and setting vicious dogs free to harass and attack the secured animal. Bear and bull-baiting were a fun spectator sport popular in medieval Europe.
The original breeders of Pit Bulls crossbred an Old English bulldog (the particular breed is now extinct) and terrier to produce a dog with the strength of the bulldog and the agility and gameness of the terrier. Perfect for baiting and harassing tethered bulls and bears and later baiting rats in a pit.
Breeding bulldogs and terriers produced a strong dog with a high fierce prey drive, but with one exceptionally trait – they were extremely people-friendly and loyal. As proof of this family orientation, in Ireland, bulldog/terriers or Pit Bulls were known as the Old Family Dog or the nanny dog. Pitties were perfect family pets; they loved children and had a protective nature.
Although Pitties have a fierce prey drive hardwired in their minds, they are excellent companions for humans. Historians attribute this characteristic to handlers having to jump into the fighting ring and separating the fighters. Handlers treated the wounded dogs after the fights were finished. The Pit Bull breed came to regard their human handlers as their saviors.
The Pit Bull arrived in America during the first half of the 20th century and became the closest animal the US had to a national dog. Pit Bulls were the dog of choice for people like Helen Keller, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and President Theodore Roosevelt. Pitties, as they are affectionately called, were chosen to be the mascot of the Buster Brown Shoe Company.
Later, the US military featured Pit Bulls on American propaganda posters for World War I and II. A delightful story comes from the first dog decorated with medals by the armed forces in WWI. Sgt. Stubby was the official mascot of the 102nd Infantry Regiment and was assigned to the 26th Division during WWI. He survived battle wounds – two were severe. Sgt. Stubby went on to capture a German spy and he also saved his entire platoon from a mustard gas attack. Who wouldn’t love a Pittie in their platoon?
An American Pit Bull Terrier, Bud, was the first dog to travel the entire US via car. In 1903 Bud accompanied his human companion to make a non-stop journey cross county. His fame eclipsed his traveling companion, Horatio Nelson Jackson, as newspapers in cities across America featured a goggle-wearing Bud, the Pit Bull.
What happened to the loveable Pit Bull? Nothing really, but by the 1980s the companion history of the Pit Bull was forgotten, and the myth of the dangerous fighting dog took over. No one knows why the 1980s saw the epic Pit Bull becoming a less pleasant sort of dog, but it may be because of an ultra-sensationalistic Sports Illustrated cover article.
The magazine cover features a snarling Pit Bull with its teeth bared and the headline blasting BEWARE OF THIS DOG, the Pit Bull Terrier. Ann Landers cried that “Pit Bulls were a national menace” and in a July 6, 1987 article by Michelle Green the first sentence claimed, “When 2-year-old James Soto got too close to a Pit Bull terrier he became of just one more casualty.” How about this headline, Behavior: Time Bombs on Legs. Violence-prone owners are turning Pit Bulls into killers. There’s the key! Violence-prone owners are turning Pit Bulls into killers. It’s the owners who are to blame for the Pit Bull’s bad reputation.
It is impossible to talk about Pit Bulls without exposing Bad Newz Kennels that housed and trained over 70 dogs, mostly Pit Bulls, to fight. Michael Vick, NFL Star Quarterback, and three of his associates took advantage of the Pit Bull’s muscular physique and agile momentum to stage dog fights. Bad Newz Kennels ran a high stake gambling ring with betting purses up to $250,000. The dogfighting activity was violent and bloody, and poor performing dogs were executed by drowning, electrocution, or hanging.
Michael Vick, a registered dog breeder, buried car axels and outfitted them with heavy chains for the dogs (a common method for securing fighting dogs). Pit Bulls were trained using slat mills and treadmills and turned against pet dogs to hone their killing instincts. The rest of the story is so horrible that it would make any dog lover cry.
Many of these abused Pit Bulls have found sanctuary in foster homes and with loving families. Proves that Pit Bulls so love people that even when they are horribly abused, they come back with wagging tails and happy faces.
Fortunately, most dog owners and specifically Pit Bulldog owners are responsible. They recognize that the breed is gentle, kind, and loving. Now these owners and numerous groups are promoting an accurate image of the dog breed, and Pit Bulls are beginning to make a comeback.
Learn more about the American Pit Bull Terrier and their new roles. Pit Bull are still participants in canine sporting events, but their drive and athleticism are used in weight pulling competitions. They distinguish themselves in agility and speed and excel in obedience trials. They are still working dogs, and many Pitties are quickly becoming recognized as therapy dogs, drug and bomb-sniffing dogs, and used in search and rescue.
Hurrah! Slowly, but surely, the American Pit Bull Terrier is gradually being accepted back into the fold as a great family dog and a beloved companion.