Pit bull is a term commonly used to describe several breeds of dog in the Molosser family. Many breed- specific laws use the term “pit bull” to refer to the modern American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, and Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and dogs with significant mixes of these breeds; however, a few jurisdictions also classify the modern American Bulldog and Bull Terrier as a “pit bull-type dog”. The term can also refer to dogs that were known as “bull terriers” prior to the development of the modern Bull Terrier in the early 20th century.
The history of the pit bull-type dog reflects the history of its constituent breeds: the American Pit Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier, and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. There are an estimated 74.8 million owned dogs in the United States; however, the number of pit bull-type dogs has not been reliably determined. Animal shelters in the United States euthanized approximately 1.7 million dogs in 2008; approximately 980,000, or 58 percent of these were assessed as pit bull-type dogs.
American Pit Bull Terrier
The American Pit Bull Terrier is the product of interbreeding between terriers and a now-extinct breed of bulldogs to produce a dog that combined the gameness of the terrier with the strength and athleticism of the bulldog. These dogs were initially bred in England, Ireland, and Scotland, and arrived in the United States with immigrants from these countries. In the United States, these dogs were used as catch dogs for semi-wild cattle and hogs, to hunt, to drive livestock, and as family companions; however, some were selectively bred for their fighting prowess, and starting in the early 20th century, they began to replace the bull terrier as the “dog of choice” for dog fighting in the United States.
The United Kennel Club (UKC) was the first registry to recognize the American Pit Bull Terrier. UKC founder C. Z. Bennett assigned UKC registration number 1 to his own dog, “Bennett’s Ring”, as an American Pit Bull Terrier in 1898.
American pit bull terriers today successfully fill the role of companion dog, police dog, and therapy dog; however, American pit bull terriers in general have a higher tendency towards dog aggression and constitute the majority of dogs used for illegal dog fighting in the United States. In addition, law enforcement organizations report these dogs are used for other nefarious purposes, such as guarding illegal narcotics operations and are used as weapons in areas where guns and knives are heavily proscribed.
The fighting reputation of pit bull-type dogs led the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1996 to relabel pit bull terriers as “St. Francis Terriers” (not to be confused with the “Terrier” mascot of St. Francis College in New York) so that they might be more readily adopted; 60 temperament- screened dogs were adopted until the program was halted after several of the newly adopted dogs killed cats. The New York City Center for Animal Care and Control tried a similar approach in 2004 by relabeling their pit bull terriers as “New Yorkies”, but dropped the idea in the face of overwhelming public opposition.
American Staffordshire Terrier
AThe history of the American Staffordshire Terrier is rooted in its bulldog and terrier ancestry, for it was the interbreeding of the bulldog’s courage and tenacity with the spirit and agility of a terrier that produced the “Bull-and-Terrier Dog”, “Half and Half”, and at times “Pit Dog” or “Pit Bull terrier” that later assumed the name in England of the Staffordshire Bull Terrier.
The original bulldog, also known today as the Old English Bulldog, was bred in England for the sport of bull-baiting. The original bulldog breed is now extinct, but 19th century artwork depicts the bulldog as being agile and standing straight on front and back legs; some have full muzzles and long, tapering tails; and generally appear more like the present day American Staffordshire Terrier than the present-day English Bulldog. Game terrier breed(s) were bred to aggressively hunt down and kill vermin in a fight to the death; the terrier breed or breeds bred with bulldogs to produce the “Bull-and-Terrier” dog are not definitively known, but candidates include the English White Terrier, Black-and-Tan Terrier, and especially the Fox Terrier.
These dogs began to find their way into America as early as 1870, where they became known as “Pit Dog”, “Pit Bull Terrier”, later “American Bull Terrier”, and still later as “Yankee Terrier”. In 1936, they were accepted by the American Kennel Club as “Staffordshire Terriers”. The name of the breed was revised effective January 1, 1972 to American Staffordshire Terrier since breeders in the United States had developed a type which is heavier in weight than the Staffordshire Bull Terrier of England and the name was changed to distinguish them as separate breeds.
“Sergeant Stubby”, A mixed-breed “bull terrier” named “Sergeant Stubby” was an unofficial member and mascot of the 102nd Infantry Regiment (Connecticut National Guard), 26th Infantry (“Yankee”) Division, during its deployment to Europe as part of the American Expeditionary Force during World War I; he was “promoted” to the honorary rank of Sergeant for biting and holding a German soldier who was scouting the American trenches until American troops arrived and completed the capture. Stubby wore the following honorary military decorations: the Purple Heart, World War I Victory Medal (Champagne-Marne, Aisne- Marne, St. Mihiel, and Meuse-Argonne campaign clasps), and the French Médaille commémorative de la bataille de Verdun and Médaille commémorative de la Grande Guerre. After the war, Stubby participated in fundraising activities for the American Red Cross and was the first live mascot of the Georgetown University “Hoyas”. Upon his death on April 3, 1926, Stubby’s remains were mounted by a taxidermist and donated to the Smithsonian Institution, where he remains as part of the collection of the National Museum of American History.
Staffordshire Bull Terrier
The Staffordshire Bull Terrier had its beginnings in England many centuries ago when the bulldog and Mastiff were used for the sports of bull-baiting and bear-baiting; in the Elizabethan era, breeders produced large dogs for these sports but later on the 100-120 pound animal gave way to a small, more agile breed of up to 90 pounds.
The sport of dog fighting gained popularity in England in the early 19th century and a smaller, faster dog was developed. It was called by names such as “Bulldog Terrier” and “Bull and Terrier”. The Bulldog at that time was larger than the modern-day English Bulldog we know today, weighing about 60 pounds. This dog was crossed with a small native terrier, related to the present-day Manchester Terrier, to produce the Staffordshire Bull Terrier weighing on average between 30 and 45 pounds.
James Hinks, in about 1860, crossed the Old Pit Bull Terrier, now known as the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and produced the all-white English Bull Terrier. The Kennel Club in Great Britain recognized the Bull Terrier in the last quarter of the 19th century, but the Staffordshire Bull Terrier’s reputation as a fighting dog was such that The Kennel Club did not recognize the breed until 1935, a century after the sport of dog fighting became illegal in Great Britain under the Cruelty to Animals Act 1835.
The Staffordshire Bull Terrier was admitted to registration in the American Kennel Club Stud Book effective October 1, 1974, with regular show classification in the Terrier Group at AKC shows available on and after March 5, 1975.