Much of dog history is speculation, and quite akin to the piecing
together of puzzles. Because of this, opinions vary about exact details
of breed origin. We are fortunate in that the American Pit Bull Terrier,
and its chief ancestor the bulldog, have a fairly well-documented
history. Even so, debate occurs when trying to establish something as
simple as whether or not the Pit Bull is the original bulldog, or whether
it is, as popular short-histories insist, a 50/50 cross between the
brachycephalic bulldog of England (the ancestor of the modern day AKC
Bulldog) and now-extinct hunting terriers. Part of the reason for the
confusion lies in the fact that until very recently, many dogs were
classified and named according to general appearance and job function,
not so much by "breed". Historically, the words "terrier" and "bulldog"
were used quite frequently, but had ambiguous meanings. This makes it
especially difficult to trace the Pit Bull's exact ancestry. Bulldogs and
terriers are mentioned in the breed's history, but WHICH bulldogs and
terriers should we be considering?

Presented here is a well-researched document on the history of the
breed, along with bibliography to enable easy research for the
interested reader. The reader is encouraged to further study the history
of this most fascinating breed, for in its history lies the essence of the
animal--an understanding of its history will give one an understanding
of the breed.

As far back as one cares to go in recorded history, one will find
reference in both word and art of molossoid dogs that were used for
fighting, hunting, and war. There were different "types" of molossi,
spread about the world, used for similar functions and these dogs
evolved into our modern day mastiff and bulldog breeds. It is unknown
if these types sprang up individually, or from one main ancestor. Some
believe that this type of dog originally came from an area close to China.

British Chief Caractacus was defeated by Emperor Claudius of the
Roman Empire in 50 AD. The Romans were so impressed by the fierce
fighting dogs they met when they landed in Britain that they began
importing the dogs back to Rome for use in the great arena, alongside
the other dogs they already possessed for such uses. It seems
reasonable to assume that the British dogs were at some points
crossed into the Roman dogs. Ancestors of these dogs were exported
to all parts of the continent, including France and to Spain where they
became renowned fighting dogs. Later some of these dogs found their
way back to Britain. A variety of breeds of mastiff/bulldog type were
scattered about, and most likely contributed to the creation of the
bulldog that was to be one of the main ingredients used in the
development of the Pit Bull.

Circa 1406 Edmond de Langley, Duke of York, wrote a treatise entitled
"The Mayster of the Game and of Hawks" in which he described the
"Alaunt" or "Allen" dog (a descendant of the ancient molossoid dogs),
which was the popular baiting dog of the time because of its
tenaciousness and strength. In a 1585 painting, dogs described as
Alaunts that look very similar to modern day Pit Bulls, only of a larger
size, are shown hunting wild hogs.

The name "bulldog" was first mentioned in print in 1631. Later, dogs
described as bulldogs were used to bait bull and bear. These bulldogs
are most assuredly the descendants of the Alaunt. A letter written in
Spain in 1632 by an Englishman named Prestwich Eaton to his friend
George Wellingham who was in London, asked for a "good mastiff dog
and two bulldogs." This gives indication that a split had occurred and
the bulldog had already formed into a distinct type by this time.

By viewing art, we can see two distinct types of bulldog-like dogs. Some
are more low-slung, with undershot jaws, heavier-boned, and broader.
It is to be assumed that this is the prototype from which the
modern-day AKC Bulldog was drawn upon, having been created by the
crossing of the Alaunt with a Chinese brachycephalic breed Pai Dog.
However, also to be noted are bulldogs in art that are strikingly similar
to modern day Pit Bulls, with less-exaggerated features, normal bites,
and longer legs. Might these be the main ancestors of the current day
Pit Bull? It would seem likely. It must be noted that "bulldogs" at this
time were not dogs of any particular strain or breed, but rather a type
of dog with certain traits that was used for certain things. Dogs which
possessed more Pit Bull-like features went on to become the Pit Bull
breed, while the more "bulldoggy" bulldogs were used in creation of the
brachycephalic breeds (Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, etc).

Bulldogs were used for all manner of work, including baiting, fighting,
stock work, hunting, and farm dog, as well as companion animal. They
were an agreeable dog, capable of extreme ferociousness towards
other animals but unwavering loyalty and gentleness towards humans.
They were a breed which was required to demonstrate a certain level of
animal-directed aggression, but were routinely used in pairs to bait
animals and hunt, so overt aggression towards others of their same
species was not an extreme trait.

In 1835, a law was set in motion in England that would make the sport of
baiting illegal, and over the next few years, the activity eventually died
down upon enforcement of the law. The people turned to another blood
sport--that of dog fighting--and of course turned to the bulldog as the
likely choice for use in the fights. Selective breeding produced a bulldog
with a heightened tendency to exhibit dog-directed aggression, a smaller
size, and greater agility for performance in a pit that was decidedly
smaller than the large areas that baits were typically held in. Hardy,
scrappy sporting terriers were crossed into some of the fighting bulldogs
to further enhance these traits. The crosses were called bull-and-terriers,
half-and-halfs, and pit terriers.

It is considered general knowledge that these crosses were the first Pit
Bulls, however there is some speculation as to whether or not the history
of these crosses is that of our Pit Bulls, or rather a history "borrowed"
from the Bull Terrier, which is a very well documented bulldog/terrier
fighting dog cross. Some students of Pit Bull history believe that the Pit
Bull is practically a living replica of the old-time bulldog, and that during
this time the bulldog was refined as a fighting dog ‘as is’, without any
crossbreeding. The question presented is this: why would the devotees of
the already extremely game bulldog dilute the blood of the perfect fighting
dog with non-game terriers? The typical argument is that the terrier blood
increased agility and decreased size. However, the jobs the bulldog was
typically required to perform would have demanded agility and the ability
to avoid the antics of an enraged bull. As already pointed out, bulldogs
came in a variety of sizes and shapes, so breeding down the size to be
more compatible with the pit would not have been a difficult task, even
without looking outside the gene pool. Examining works of art from all
points in history, one will discover dogs that look remarkably similar to
today's Pit Bull. Maybe the breed has essentially always existed as it
appears in today’s world, a preserved specimen of the original bulldog.

As tempting as it may be to sucked in by the allure of such a notion, the
odds of the APBT being the original, terrier-free bulldog is not likely. It is
the opinion of this author that, while the APBT is probably made up mostly
of old bulldog blood, at least some terrier blood *was* indeed introduced.
Please consider the fact that quite a bit of cross-breeding went on among
the game dog fanciers of the time who were not so much interested in
purebred dogs as they were in dogs with fighting ability, and would
therefore breed accordingly to dogs that were game, regardless of

The breed eventually to be known as the American Pit Bull Terrier was
selectively bred specifically with the idea of it becoming the ultimate
canine gladiator. But by virtue of the fact that so much of the breed was
made up of versatile bulldog blood, the breed also proved adept at a
number of non-fighting activities, including those which the bulldog had
been used for. Also, the traits (specifically gameness) bred for in pit dogs
were surprisingly relevant in other arenas. Gameness is defined as the
willingness to see a task through to its end, even under penalty of
serious injury or death. Gameness was the trait most cherished in a
fighting dog for obvious reasons, however this same trait proved useful in
other areas--a dog who had the tenacity to hold a wild bull or boar,
steadfastness to protect his master's home and property, and extreme
tolerance for pain which made for a very stable dog less likely to bite out
of fear or pain was terribly useful in rural old England, and later on in
America. So while a core group of fanciers focused on the fighting uses of
the breed, and bred with the pit in mind, others kept dogs for a variety of
tasks. And indeed, some family/working dogs were used in the pit and
some pit dogs were also family/working dogs. There was never a clear
line drawn between ‘fighting dogs’, and ‘non-fighting dogs’ in those early
years of the breed.

Pit Bulls were imported to America shortly before the Civil War, and used
in much the same manner as they were back in England. But in the USA
the breed solidified and was named--the American Pit Bull Terrier. Strains
of the fighting dog that remained in England later came to be known as
Staffordshire Bull Terriers. There is speculation as to how closely related
the Stafford and Pit Bull are as a breed, but the most convincing case is
made up of claims that they are a similar breed, developed during the
same time, made up of similar but separate strains of bulldog and terrier
blood. Cousins, but not brothers. The Staffordshire Bull Terrier became
recognized as a breed by the English dog registry, the Kennel Club, in

In America, the Pit Bull flourished. It was one of the most popular breeds,
highly prized by a wide variety of people. The Pit Bull was used to
represent the US in WW1 artwork; popular companies like RCA and the
Buster Brown Shoe Company used the breed as their mascots. A Pit Bull
named Pete starred in the popular children's television series, Our Gang;
Stubby, which many people call a “pit bull type dog” became a decorated
WW1 hero. Pit Bulls accompanied pioneer families on their explorations.
Laura Ingalls Wilder of the popular Little House books owned a working
Pit Bulldog named Jack. Famous individuals like Theodore Roosevelt and
Helen Keller owned the breed. It was during this time that the Pit Bull
truly became America’s sweetheart breed, admired, respected and loved.

n 1898 the United Kennel Club was formed with the express intent of
providing registration and fighting guidelines for the now officially-
named American Pit Bull Terrier. Later, those who wished to distance
themselves from the fighting aspect of the breed petitioned the
American Kennel Club for recognition of the Pit Bull so that it would be
eligible for dog shows and other performance events. The AKC
conceded in 1936 but only under the stipulation that the dogs
registered with them be called "Staffordshire Terriers", the name of
the province in England in which the breed supposedly originated.
Upon acceptance of the breed, many people dual-registered their
dogs with both the AKC and the UKC. Lucenay's Peter (the dog that
starred in the Our Gang series) was the first dual-registered Pit
Bull/Staffordshire Terrier.

The UKC evolved, eventually beginning to register other working-type
breeds, and later holding shows similar to those of the AKC. Currently,
the UKC is the second largest purebred dog registry in the United
States, complete with strict bylaws that ban anyone who is convicted
of dog fighting. The American Dog Breeders Association was formed in
1909 because of certain fanciers' opinions that the UKC was not doing
its job protecting and preserving the Pit Bull breed as they felt it
should be preserved. The ADBA's goal is the same now is at was
then: to register, promote and preserve the original American Pit Bull
Terrier fighting-type dog, although like the other two registries, they
officially frown upon the illegal act of dog fighting.

The AKC eventually closed its studbooks to American Pit Bull Terriers.
They allowed registration only to those dogs with parents registered
as Staffordshire Terriers. For a short period in the 1970's, the AKC
reopened its studbooks to American Pit Bull Terriers. In 1973 the AKC
added the prefix "American" to the Staffordshire Terrier's name in an
effort to distinguish it from the newly recognized Staffordshire Bull
Terrier. Today, only those dogs with AmStaff parents are eligible for
registration. Both the UKC and the ADBA allow registration of
AmStaffs, but in these organizations the dogs carry the original name,
"American Pit Bull Terrier."

Today the Pit Bull has evolved into a marvelous working and
companion dog, used for purposes as varied as those it originally
performed. Pit Bulls are employed as police/armed services dogs,
search and rescuers, therapy animals, and livestock workers. They
compete in all manner of organized dog sports, from herding to agility
to conformation to obedience and the bite sports like Schutzhund and
French Ring. They make loving pets for children and seniors, and
everyone in between. They are indeed one of the most versatile
breeds on the planet. Much of this is owed to the activities it once
performed. The harshness and physical demands of the activities
molded a strong, healthy, stable animal, one anyone should be proud
to own.