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Forum Home > APBT History Discussion > History of the breed Part 2

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Since 1936, due to different breeding goals, the American Staffordshire Terrier and the American Pit Bull Terrier have diverged in both phenotype and spirit/temperament, although both, ideally, continue to have in common an easy-going, friendly disposition. [2] Some folks in the fancy feel that after 60 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. 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 phenotypical range, since the primary breeding goal, until fairly recently, has been not to produce a dog with a certain "look" 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 the second World War, 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 a gold fish 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 sensationalism, 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 the breed's flagship magazine, The American Pit Bull Terrier Gazette. In spite of the introduction of some bad breeding practices in the last 15 years 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.

Today, the APBT is still used (underground and illegally) as a fighting dog in the United States; pit matches also take place in other countries where there are no laws or where the existing laws are not enforced. However, the vast majority of APBT's--even within the kennels of breeders who breed for fighting ability--never see any action in the pit. Instead they 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 of the pit fighting world, but without the blood or sorrow. 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 (see the section on APBT's and protection/guard work).

[1]- Actually one can trace the "Bulldog" history back further than that, but for this document that's far enough. Readers who are interested in more information on the history of the breed are encouraged to refer to Dr. Carl Semencic's book "The World of Fighting Dogs".

[2]- Through out this document, unless otherwise noted, when we refer to the American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT), we are referring to the ADBA version which is more likely to be bred to the traditional APBT breeding standards. In general, the UKC version of the APBT is now being bred mostly for looks alone, and thus has much in common with the AKC AST.

The History of the Pit Bull (1a)

The modern American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT) can trace its roots back to England and the early 19th century. Crosses between “bully” type dogs and terriers eventually produced the modern APBT. Although not recognized as a “breed” and much smaller than the modern APBT, the early “bulldogs” were used as working dogs, controlling unruly bulls for butchers as well as farmers.

These “bulldogs” resembled, phenotypically, the modern APBT but were considerably smaller, weighing in at 15-30lbs. The courage and tenacity that made these dogs good at corralling dangerous bulls made them great at the blood sport of bull baiting.

The year 1835 saw the end of deadly bull baiting (countless thousands of dogs lost their lives to this “sport”) and the emergence of an even more sinister blood sport - dog fighting.

To understand the American Pit Bull Terrier, it is imperative to understand the breed’s fighting origins.

The lower class had used blood sports as an outlet for their frustration and aggression towards the monarchy - pit fighting was, in essence, an outcry and an outlet for that aggression. Dogs were bred to be courageous, utterly devoid of pain sensations (they, no doubt, felt pain but were bred and encouraged not to express that pain), tenacious and determined.

A quality that was never bred into them was human aggression. Human “aggressive” (aggression may not be the most appropriate term, it is more likely that these dogs simply had a lower bite threshold) dogs were undesirable as these dogs required extensive handling prior and during their fights - most of theses dogs were also family pets so no human “aggression” was ever tolerated.

Dogs that exhibited human “aggression” were typically killed, meaning that only human friendly lines were perpetuated and desired. It is highly unlikely, however, that these culled dogs were naturally more aggressive towards humans than their bred counterparts but their bite threshold may have been much lower meaning that it did not take much for them to turn around and bite their handler. Animals were bred for an increased bite threshold, as far as humans and only humans were concerned, which decreased the likelihood of humans becoming victims of dog bites.

In 1898, Chauncy Bennet formed the UKC, a breed registry aimed solely at the registration and acceptance of pitbulls. The AKC had wanted nothing to do with pitbulls, so Bennet sought to create an organization that would represent the breed as performance dogs. Mr. Bennet added “American” and initially dropped “Pit” from the APBT’s name but public outcry let to “Pit” being added back to the name - thus the American Pit Bull Terrier.

For a pitbull to be accepted into the UKC the dog had to have won three fights - a requirement that was later dropped. Another registry that was started solely for APBT’s, the American Dog Breeders Association was born in 1909. The ADBA was started by Guy McCord who was a close friend of one of the founding fathers of the modern APBT, John P. Colby. The ADBA was created to test the performance quality of a APBT without actual pit fighting; the ADBA’s main focus was on weight pulling competitions with a spattering of conformation shows.

The AKC decided to register Pit Bulls but under a different name - the Staffordshire Terrier, which was later changed to the American Staffordshire Terrier in 1972, or AST. Up until 1936, Pit Bulls and AST’s were physically identical. After 1936, AST’s were bred solely for conformation and their breed requirements became much more stringent. APBT’s were being bred for both performance (fighting) as well as conformation shows and the breed’s standard became much more lenient. The AST’s, phenotypically, became “flashier” with blockier heads, larger chests and a thicker jaw while the APBT’s varied phenotypically from lanky to stocky. Although the phenotypic expression varied in the APBT, relative weight, size and proportion remained constant and dogs over 60lbs were rarely seen. Both AST’s and APBT’s were bred to be exceptionally sturdy and extremely human friendly, not to mention athletic, courageous, and tenacious.

The History of the Pit Bull (2)

The 1980’s saw an upsurge in the popularity of American Pit Bull Terriers as “guard” dogs for drug dealers and also as an expression of ego or “manhood” for street kids. Thus, it began - the production of disproportionately large “Pit Bulls”. For all intensive purposes, these were not (and still are not!) true American Pit Bull Terriers - lines of American Bulldog, Cane Corso’s and other molosser breeds were incorporated into the APBT’s lineage to produce massive brutes. In some cases, a large APBT pup was born and was overused as a stock breeder, thus producing highly inbred dogs with serious behavioral issues. It is a myth that an APBT can weigh 80lbs or more - those are not true Pit Bulls and if a pedigree was attained, at some point, there would be molosser (mastiff) blood added or the dog would have come from highly inbred lines.

The majority of APBT breeders scoffed at these “bigger but not necessarily better” lines of dogs (I say majority as the minority would be the people who are actually breeding larger dogs).

Even “professional” (I use that term loosely) dogmen/women (those who fight dogs) were horrified to see the onslaught of massive hulks, for in the pit ring/box, bigger does not mean better performance.

Today, the vast majority of APBT’s do not get over 60lbs (and this is true for AST’s) and the vast majority are household pets. Unfortunately, a minority of Pit Bulls are poorly socialized, chained, abused, neglected or allowed to roam free and inevitably attack a living creature, typically a child. As with any breed of dog, it is imperative for owners to properly socialize their dogs and that means exposing them to everything imaginable: from young to old children, from the elderly to the wheelchair bound, from umbrellas to kites, etc.

Dogs should never be chained outside or left outside in the backyard for most of the day as that is simply creating a dangerous dog by circumstance. The APBT’s that have attacked have ALL been poorly socialized, under trained, and neglected - they never learned appropriate behavioral skills to cope with the outside world. All that these dogs had were the poor social skills that only a chained or neglected dog can receive; since they were never taught to suppress some of their predatory instincts, these dogs inevitably hear a screaming child and see the child running and instinct takes over.

APBT’s are no more or less difficult than any other dog to train or socialize. Owners most certainly need to understand the dog fighting history and take necessary precautions by ensuring early socialization with other dogs and monitoring of their interactions with other dogs. And even with extensive socialization, some APBT’s may never become comfortable around other dogs, so each dog should be treated as an individual with careful consideration. By their very nature, APBT’s strive to be around humans - centuries of breeding have seen to that. They need a kind heart AND a kind hand - physical reprimands are useless and ineffective for any dog and should rarely, if ever, be employed.

APBT’s have been used by the FDA and USDA for sniffing out bombs and drugs and have been used by the military as well as police forces. APBT’s have also been used as therapy and service dogs; in fact, the first certified hearing dog in Alaska was an APBT. APBT’s are great at weight pulling as well as agility, schutzhund, obedience and carting. As far as temperament is concerned, APBT’s have consistently scored an 82% and higher on the American Temperament Test Society’s evaluation, higher than Goldens, German Shepherds and most other breeds. With socialization, training and a kind hand - APBT’s are wonderful companions for all walks of life: from families to single individuals, from joggers to apartment dwellers, and onward.


January 1, 2010 at 4:26 AM Flag Quote & Reply

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