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The creation of the Pitbull Terrier

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In 1835 the Cruelty to Animals Act banned all forms of baiting in England and most of the British  Empire" .  Although the baiting of large animals such as bears and bulls "bulls"  continued for a while particularly in the black country it quickly declined in occurrence in most other parts, becoming almost extinct in Britain and Ireland. On the other hand the less conspicuous blood sports of dog fighting "dog fighting"  and "rat baiting"  became ever more popular. This is not to say that dog fighting and rat baiting had not been going on pre 1835, only that after the ban the demand for dogs particularly talented at fighting other dogs or in killing rats "rats"  increased.  It was during these times that most people believe the Pit Bull Terrier as distinct from the "Bulldog"  was evolved.  This change in preference for dog fighting and ratting over bear baiting and  "bull"  baiting  led to different selection pressures  on the dogs, and these changes in selection pressures happened in a very short period of time.  As we know a change in selection pressures will result (over time) in a change in genotype (genetic make up) and usually phenotype (physical appearance) of whatever organism those selection pressures are acting upon; in this case the baiting dogs. The resulting changes produced a smaller dog on average and some would say with increased “terrier type” of  behavior. 

What exactly is a terrier? A good description comes from Caius in 1576 and is the earliest description in the English language “hunteth the Fox and the Badger or Greye onely, whom we call Terrars, because they creep into the grounde, and by that meanes make afrayde, nyppe and bite the Foxe and the Badger in such sorte that eyther they teare them in pieces with theyr teeth, beyng in the bosome of the earth, or else hayle and pull them perforce out of theyr lurking angles, darke dongeons, and close caues; or at the least through cocened feare drive them out of theire hollow harbours.” In other words terriers were used for hunting underground quarry where normal dogs either could not or would not go.  This underground hunting required a small, brave, ferocious little dog, which became known as the Terrier.

It is the author’s opinion that Pit Bull Terrier  was indeed created by the mixing of the Terrier and  "Bulldog"  for several reasons as follows.

Pure bulldogs did not have the fighting skill or physical characteristics to be perfectly suited for either dog on dog fighting  or rat baiting "rat baiting" .  For example, a bulldog that is baiting a "bull"  would typically seize it by the nose, lie low and pin it to the ground without releasing its grip.  However this technique used alone, is not enough in a dog fight or especially a rat bait where killing quickly is required not pinning and holding is required.  Dogs known as “fast mouthed” were the preferred for dog fighting and rat baiting. A fast mouthed dog being one that could bite, hold, and shake, but release its hold and attack another part of the body at a moments notice, thereby changing positions to gain advantage in a fight and “pure” bulldogs were not “fast mouthed dogs.”

Some authors suggest that strains of dogs used for fighting other dogs were mainly composed of bulldog blood whereas dogs used for baiting rats were mainly of terrier blood, each strain being used exclusively for one task and never for both.  However, most evidence points to dogs being used for both tasks and not specialized for one alone.  Indeed some of the best fighting dogs were also the best ratting dogs. Hamilton Smith a dog writer of the time writes of the Pit Bull Terrier. “It is smaller more lively and if possible more ferocious than the bulldog, as having ears “always pointed” (probably cropped) and commonly white, with some black about it.  He also notices a dog of his colour or markings of which he had seen a portrait taken when it was four years old, considered the fiercest and trustiest of its kind, which had then fought thirty battles, won them all, and killed five of his proponents he was also an unrivalled rat catche and weighed thirty two pounds, his colour white with black around the head”.

Dog fighting also needed a higher level of stamina than was found in the Bulldog.  Terriers on the other hand already had the high levels of stamina as required during underground fights with Badgers which can last throughout the night.  If the reader is in doubt as to the high levels of endurance and stamina required for a terrier in an underground fight with a badger "badger" , I quote an example of one such battle from a Sporting magazine of the time called the Field “Let me relate the pluck of these three little beauties. Returning home from a marten hunt from Seat Sandal, our terriers marked, and went to ground under Helm Crag, which consists of large boulders and loose stones. We were not long waiting before a scrimmage was taking place far beneath us. To get them away by calling was useless; the labor of removing the rubbish was immense. With the aid of some willing assistance, after working all night, we came upon the terriers with their foe, a badger. They had fought the badger for more than ten hours. Poor Mart was lifted out almost lifeless, and never recovered her assailants bites; Pincher lost his nose, and his frontispiece was for ever marked; while little Wasp seemed to have escaped with few scars.”

Much Evidence indicates that the British and Irish "Irish"  breeders of the early 19th century preferred their Pit Bull Terrier to be ¼ bulldog and ¾ terrier.  Therefore, it may be more fitting to call the Pit Bull Terrier a strain of fighting Terrier mixed with some bulldog, rather than a new strain of bulldog  with a dash of terrier. Rawdon B Lee an esteemed canine author of the time says “Some of the navvies who worked in the construction of the early lines of railways owned sundry hard terriers, mostly dashed with bulldog blood. These, like their masters, could fight, were generally kept for such a purpose.”  Sydenham Edwards  in the “Cynographia Britannica,” 1800 says of the mix between bulldog and terrier “The terrier is querulous, fretful, and irascible, high spirited and alert when brought into action; if he has not unsubdued perseverance like the bulldog, he has rapidity of attack, managed with art and sustained with spirit; it is not what he will bear, but what he will inflict. His action protects himself, and his bite carries death to his opponents; he dashes into the hole of the fox, drives him from his recesses, or tears him to pieces in his stronghold; and he forces the reluctant, stubborn badger into light.”.

The evidence points to the Pit Bull Terrier as being a dash of the  bull baiting dogs but predominantly working terriers combining the speed, stamina, ferociousness and fighting skill of the terrier with the strength power and determination of the Bulldog.