It is believed that the Pit Bull’s ancestry dates back as far as the Roman times in 50 AD when they were used by the Romans as fighting dogs. Sadly the Romans would not be the last to use pit bulls in cruel and grisly blood sports. When the Normans invaded England in 1066, they introduced a new sport called baiting. Baiting originated from the butchers who kept dogs to handle unruly bulls as they were herded to the market for slaughter. When a bull stepped out of line or exhibited uncontrollable behaviour, the dogs would clamp down on its nose and simply hang on until the bull was immobilised.
Like most dog owners, the butchers were very proud of their canine companions and their stubborn tenacity in dealing with the much larger and potentially dangerous bulls. As a result public displays were arranged to showcase the dogs’ abilities and grew in popularity for their deemed ‘entertainment’ value. By 16th century it is believed that nearly every town in England had its own baiting ring. Their popularity was further increased by the misguided perception that prolonged torture of the bulls ensured the tenderness of the meat.
Baiting was made illegal by the British government in 1835, however this did little to quench the public’s bloodlust thirst to watch the spectacle of dogs in fighting sports. As a result, their attention turned to a variety of other pursuits such as ratting – a practice in which a dog was thrown in a pit with a varying number of rats in a race to kill the most rats in the shortest time period. The “pit” in pit bulls comes from the fact that ratting was done in a pit to keep the rats from escaping. This in turn evolved to dog fighting. As fighting dogs needed to be more agile than those used in baiting, the fighting ‘bulldogs’ were bred with terriers, known for their unwavering focus and feistiness. Therein was born the Pit Bull Terrier as we know them today – a canine ‘gladiator’.
A little known fact about the Pit Bull is that they were bred to not show any aggression towards humans. This enabled their human handlers to enter the pit without fear of being bitten.
Dog fighting was an extremely cruel and sadistic pursuit, which sadly is still practised illegally in South Africa and around the world. The canine combatants who find themselves held captive by the thugs behind this underworld are put through rigorous training which instils in them the desire to savage their opponent and often kept in appalling conditions, deprived of normal contact with humans.
Pit Bulls that are brought up in a normal and loving home environment are well balanced, faithful and often goofy companions. As with all powerful and large dogs, early socialisation is important – commencing at 8 or 9 weeks of age.
This great video sums it up well. WARNING: This video does contain some brief content that may be offensive or upsetting to sensitive viewers. Pit Proud: The History of the Pit Bull