Author Topic: History of the American Pit Bull Terrier.  (Read 1435 times)

D.M. Norrod

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History of the American Pit Bull Terrier.
« on: December 16, 2015, 09:55:33 AM »
The American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT) is a descendant of the original fighting dogs from Europe and has historically been bred with performance/working goals in mind. The challenge of describing the American Pit Bull Terrier inevitably invites a long sequence of superlatives.

 The APBT is a supremely athletic, highly versatile, adaptive, gushingly affectionate, eager to please, all-around family dog.
 In courage, resolve, indefatigableness, indifference to pain, and stubborn perseverance in overcoming any challenge, the APBT has no equal in the canine world.
 Although the APBT was once used as a national symbol of courage and pride, the breed is largely misunderstood today.
 Even though the APBT has historically been bred to excel in combat with other dogs, a well bred APBT has a rock steady temperament and contrary to popular belief, is NOT inherently aggressive towards humans.
 However, as adults, most APBTs may show aggression towards other dogs.
 This fact, along with the APBT's strength and determination, should be taken into account when considering if the APBT is the right breed for you.
 As with any companion dog, socialization and consistent fair minded training is a must from a very early age.

 Although some APBTs may be suspicious of strangers, as most dogs are, and will protect loved ones if necessary, in general they do not excel in protection/guard work. If your main reason for getting a dog is for protection/guard work, perhaps a Rottweiler, German Shepherd, or a Doberman Pinscher would suit you better. Or, if you really like the bulldog phenotype, look into an American Bulldog.

 There are several types of dogs that are commonly thought to be called "Pit Bulls."
 When in truth there is only one, The American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT).
 Primarily, these are the American Pit Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier (AST), and
 the Staffordshire Bull Terrier (SBT).
 The American Staffordshire Terrier was created from the breed of American Pit Bull Terrier.
 The American Pit Bull Terrier and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier share some of the same ancestry.
 All three of these dogs share some common ancestry but have been subsequently bred emphasizing different breeding criteria and characteristics.
 Due to this divergence, most people feel that they are now different breeds.
 This FAQ is primarily about the American Pit Bull Terrier, specifically those dogs of relatively old time game bred ancestry. None of the material may ring true for the AST and the SBT, but the authors are biased against the APBT from performance bred lines.

 Among enthusiasts, the history of the APBT is as controversial as the breed itself is among the misled public.
 The breed's history is a recurrent subject of lively debate in the magazines devoted to the breed.
 In fact, this FAQ was hotly debated among the contributors before it reached its final form,
 and still everyone isn't 100% happy!

 Although the precise origin of the APBT is not known, we can reliably trace its roots back at least over 200 years or so to Europe. During the late 18th and early 19th centuries the sport of bull and rat baiting was very much alive and dogs were bred to excel in these endeavors. The same type of dog was also used by hunters to catch game and by butchers and farmers to bring down unruly cattle. These dogs were called "bulldogs." Historically, the word "Bulldog" did not mean a specific breed of dog per se, but rather it was applied to descendants of the ancient Mastiff/Hound type dogs that excelled in the task of a killer hound or catch dog. The "bulldogs" of yore were much different from, and should not be confused with, the loveable clowns of the show ring today. The old performance bred working bulldog was closer in phenotype and spirit to the APBT. The use of the word "bulldog" applied to APBT's persists even today among APBT fanciers.

 When bull and rat baitng was outlawed in England and Ireland, the sport of matching two dogs against one another in combat rose in popularity to fill the void.
 One point of contention about the history of the APBT is whether these pit fighting dogs were essentially a new breed of dog specially created for this popular pastime.
 Some authors, notably Richard Stratton, have theorized that the APBT is essentially the same breed as the Renaissance bull/rat baiting dogs, largely unmixed with any other kind of dog, specifically terriers.
 These authors consider the present name, American Pit Bull Terrier, is a misnomer, in their view,
 the breed is not a terrier.
 They explain the popular attribution of the breed's origin to a cross between bull/rat baiters and terriers as a retrospective confusion with the breeding history of the English Bull Terrier, which is a totally distinct breed that was never successful at pit fighting but whose origin is well documented.

 Other authors who have researched the topic, such as Dr. Carl Semencic, argue that the APBT is indeed the product of a cross between bull/rat baiting dogs and terriers and
 that the breed simply did not exist in its current form during the Renaissance.
 This hypothesis is total ridiculous because it is a known scientific fact
 Bulldogs were crossed with Hounds to make Terriers.
 Many ancient painting show the photogenic appearance more of today's APBT then any breed of dog which was created from a bulldog and terrier cross.
 They would argue that when we think of the terriers in the APBT's ancestry, we should not envision modern day show dogs like Yorkshire Terriers, Manchester Terriers, etc. but instead working terriers
 (which are still used today) that were bred for great tenacity in hunting.
 The problem of proof, which hangs over the discussion of any early breed history,
 is compounded in this case by the over exaggerated claim of extreme secrecy of the breeders of pit dogs.
 When in truth most were illiterate at a time when education was considered a wealthy privilege luxury.
 In the 19th century pedigrees, if committed to paper at all, were not divulged, since every breeder feared letting his rivals in on the secrets of his success and replicating it. When in truth, most were un-capable of explaining their luck of success, other then just breeding their best to best within their family of dogs.
 In any case, by no later than the mid-19th century, the breed had acquired all of the essential characteristics for which it is still prized for today: its awesome athletic abilities, its peerless gameness,
 and its easy going temperament.

 The ancient ancestors of the APBT were of mostly Irish and English pit fighting dogs imported to the States in the mid-19th century. Once in the United States, the breed diverged greatly from what was being produced back in England and Ireland. Other breeds of fighting dogs from Europe such as, the Blue Pauls (aka Blue Paulies) of the Scottish Mastiff/Bulldog type, the Black & Tans from the German Mastiff/Bulldog type, the buckskin French Mastiff/Bulldog type, the Black and Brindle Mastiff/Bulldog type dogs from the mountains of Spain and Italy were also imported with immigrants from those countries.

 In America, where these dogs were used not only as pit fighters, but also as catch dogs (for forcibly retrieving stray hogs and cattle) and as guardians of family, the novice breeders started producing a slightly larger, leggier dog. However, this gain in size and weight was small until very recently. The Old Family Red dogs in 19th century from Ireland were rarely above 25 lbs., and 15-lb. dogs were not uncommon.
 This information of this breed is simply untrue and it is common knowledge of one of the first and most important importers of the Irish Old Family Reds was William Lightner and his family. It is a well known fact Mr. Lightner started to cut back on using stock which were predominately made up of the Irish Old Family Reds because the stock was to large for his preference.

 In American books on the breed from the early part of this century, it is rare to find a specimen over 52 lbs conditioned pit weight. (with a few notable exceptions). From 1900 to 1975 or so, there was probably a very small and gradual increment in the average weight of APBTs over the years, without any corresponding loss in performance abilities. But now that the vast majority of APBTs are no longer performance bred to the traditional pit standard (understandably, since the traditional performance test, the pit contest itself is now a felony in most states), the American axiom of "Bigger is Better" has taken over in the breeding practices of the many neophyte breeders who joined the bandwagon of the dog's popularity in the 1980s.
 This has resulted in a ballooning of the average size of APBTs since 1980,
 a harmful phenomenon for the breed, in my opinion.

 Another much useless attempt of less visible modification of the breed since the 19th century was the selective intensification of genetically programmed fighting styles (such as frontend specialists, stifle specialists, etc.), as performance breeding became more sophisticated under competitive pressures. In spite of this utterly useless attempts of immature breeders for style changes, there has been a remarkable continuity in the breed for more than a century. Photos from a century ago show dogs indistinguishable from the dogs being bred today. Although, as in any performance breed, you will find a certain lateral (synchronic) variability in phenotype across different lines. You will nevertheless find uncanny chronological continuity in these types across decades. There are photos of pit dogs from the 1860s that are phenotypic (to judge by contemporary descriptions of pit matches), constitutionally identical to the APBTs of today.

 Throughout the 19th century, these dogs were known by a variety of names "American (pit) Bull Terriers", "Pit Terriers", "Pit Bull Terriers", "Half and Half's", "Staffordshire Fighting Dogs", "Old Family Red Fighting Dogs"(the Irish name), "Yankee Terriers"(a reference to Americans by English people), to name a few. In 1898, a man by the name of Chauncey Bennett formed the United Kennel Club (UKC) for the sole purpose of registering the breed, as the American Kennel Club wanted nothing to do with them. Originally the word "American" was used so the breed wouldn't be confused with the English Bull Terrier. The word "pit" or (pit) in parentheses was placed in the name to help identify the breed more clearly from other suppose fighting breeds of bulldog and terrier crosses.
 The parentheses were removed from the name back in the late 1970's circa. All other breeds that are registered with UKC were accepted into the UKC after the APBT.
 Another registry of APBTs is the American Dog Breeders Association (ADBA) which was started in September, 1909 by Guy McCord, a close friend of John P. Colby.
 Now under the ownership of the Greenwood family, the ADBA continues to register only APBTs and has the same general perception of the APBT as does UKC.
 The ADBA does sponsor conformations shows, but more importantly, it also sponsors weight pulling (so does UKC except, UKC weight pulls are all-breed pulls), competitions which test a dogs strength and stamina.
 It also publishes a quarterly magazine dedicated to the APBT called the American Pit Bull Terrier Gazette.
 UKC publishes a monthly magazine called Bloodline Journal.
 No one single registry is the flagship of APBT as others are doing just as much to help preserve the original characteristics of the breed.

 In 1936, thanks to "Pete the Pup" in the "Lil Rascals" and "Our Gang" who familiarized a wider audience with the APBT, the AKC jumped on the bandwagon and registered the breed as the "Staffordshire Terrier". This name was changed to "American Staffordshire Terrier" (AST) in 1972 to distinguish it from its smaller, English cousin the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. In 1936, for all intents and purposes, the AKC, UKC, and ADBA version of the "Pit Bull" were identical since the original AKC stock came from pit fighting dogs, which were UKC and ADBA registered. During this time period, and the years that preceded it, the APBT was a well-liked dog in America. At this time the APBT was considered an ideal family pet. Because of his fun loving and forgiving temperament, the breed was rightly considered an excellent dog for families with small children. Even if most of them couldn't identify the breed by name, kids of the Lil Rascals generation wanted a companion just like "Pete the Pup". During the First World War, there was an American propaganda poster that represented the rival European nations with their national dogs dressed in military uniforms; and in the center representing the United States was an APBT declaring in a caption below: "I'm neutral, but not afraid of any of them."

 Since 1936, due to different breeding goals, the American Staffordshire Terrier and the American Pit Bull Terrier have diverged in both phenotype of conformation to perform and spirit/temperament. The American Staffordshire Terrier also never had the full spectrum of different fighting breeds from Europe as did the American Pit Bull Terrier. The American Staffordshire Terrier Club of America would only allow certain strains and bloodlines from the American Pit Bull Terrier to be single registered with AKC. Thou the American Pit Bull Terrier continued to have an easy going, friendly disposition. Some folks in the fancy feel that after 70+ years of breeding for different goals, these two dogs are now entirely different breeds. Other people choose to view them as two different strains of the same breed (working and show). Either way, the gap continues to widen as breeders from both sides of the fence consider it undesirable to interbreed the two.
 When the conformation, temperament and most of all heritage is different,
 then you have two DIFFERENT breed of dogs!

 To the untrained eye, ASTs may look more impressive and fearsome, with a larger and more blocky head, with bulging jaw muscles, a wider chest and thicker neck. In general, however, they aren't nearly as "game" or athletic as game bred APBTs. Because of the standardization of their conformation for show purposes, ASTs tend to look alike, to a much greater degree than APBTs do. APBTs have a much wider phonotypical range, since the primary breeding goal, until fairly recently, has been not to produce a dog with a certain "look" or "type" but to produce one capable of winning pit contests, in which the looks of a dog counted for nothing. There are some game bred APBTs that are practically indistinguishable from typical ASTs, but in general they are leaner, leggier and lighter on their toes and have more stamina, agility, speed and explosive power.

 Following World War II, until the early 1980s, the APBT lapsed into relative obscurity. But those devoted few who knew the breed knew it in intimate detail. These devotees typically knew much more about their dogs' ancestry than about their own, they were often able to recite pedigrees back six or eight generations. When APBTs became popular with the public around 1980, nefarious individuals with little or no knowledge of the breed started to own and breed them and predictably, problems started to crop up. Many of these newcomers did not adhere to the traditional breeding goals of the old-time APBT breeders. In typical backyard fashion they began randomly breeding dogs in order to mass produce puppies as profitable commodities. Worse, some unscrupulous neophytes started selecting dogs for exactly the opposite criteria that had prevailed up to then: they began selectively breeding dogs for the trait of human aggressiveness. Before long, individuals who shouldn't have been allowed near dog were owning and producing poorly bred, human aggressive "Pit Bulls" for a mass market. This, coupled with the media's propensity for over simplification and sensationalizing, gave rise to the anti-"Pit Bull" hysteria that continues to this day. It should go without saying that, especially with this breed, you should avoid backyard breeders. Find a breeder with a national reputation; investigate, for example the breeders who advertise in one of the breed's flagship magazines.
 In spite of the introduction of some bad breeding practices since 1980 or so, the vast majority of APBTs remain very human friendly. The American Canine Temperament Testing Association, which sponsors tests for temperament titles for dogs, reported that 95% of all APBTs that take the test pass, compared with a 77% passing rate for all breeds on average.
 The APBT's passing rate was the fourth highest of all the breeds tested.

 The American Pit Bull Terrier are loyal, loving, companion dogs and family pets. One activity that has really grown in popularity among APBT fanciers is weight pulling contests. Weight Pulls retain something of the spirit of competition but without the sport of matching.. The APBT is ideally suited for these contests, in which the refusal to quit counts for as much as brute strength. Currently, APBTs hold world records in several weight classes. I have seen one 70-lb. APBT pull a mini van! Another activity that the APBT is ideally suited for is agility competition, where its athleticism and determination can be widely appreciated. Some APBTs have been trained and done well in Schutzhund sport. These dogs, however, are more the exception than the rule. The American Pit Bull Terrier should never be trained for bite work towards humans..