Pitbulls - Their History and a Defence
by E.W.C. JUNNER in collaboration with ISOBEL McLAUGHLIN
If you were to take a survey about Pitbulls, 90% of the people polled would call them vicious monsters. Yet half of these people probably haven’t even encountered a Pitbull, basing their judgement on media accounts. The truth is any dog breed can be aggressive; the majority of dog attacks come from animals with vicious and otherwise problem owners.
Centuries ago ‘bull-baiting’ was a popular sport in Great Britain. Though this was mainly for the people’s entertainment, in particular wealthy gamblers, there was a belief that a bull’s meat was tenderer after he had bled profusely. This belief was so strong that some areas in England had a law requiring a bull to be baited before it was slaughtered.
Before being enclosed in a pit with a dog thrown in to bait it, a bull would be taunted and tormented by the men handling it. The purpose of this was to have the bull already angered, so when the dog harassed it even more there would be a ferocious confrontation between the two.
|Well-to-do gamblers (picture - public domain)|
The dog would flatten itself low to the ground to protect its soft belly, creeping as close as possible to the bull before darting up and trying to nip the bull on either the head or nose. The bull for its part would attempt to drive its horns into the dog’s belly in order to toss the dog high into the air.
The intention in bull baiting was for the dog to grip the bull by his tender nose, thereby to hold him and perhaps bring him down. Tremendous jaw power was necessary for this, therefore the breed usually chosen was a bulldog because of his incredible strength – they were developed as pulling dogs - and powerful jaws. Gambling was a major lure in bull baiting. On the outcome of each round great sums of money were wagered and fortunes frequently lost.
Since, regardless of their courage, few dogs had the strength and stamina to take down a bull or pull it around a ring, it was very much a matter of who struck first. Once it got a grip of the great animal’s snout, the bulldog hung on for dear life. The harassment must have seemed to go on forever to the enraged and maddened bull as it shook its great head violently from side to side in an attempt to shake the dog off.
|(from public domain) see the dog's ribs - probably underfed to keep him aggressive|
The gamblers continued using bulldogs in this horrible practice, until they realized that bulldogs were hefty dogs and weren’t agile enough to escape the lethal horns of a bull. There was, however, an agile and fast breed popular in Europe which was called the American Terrier, and so the two breeds were combined to produce the Pitbull – the breed to combat the bull tethered in the pit.
There had always been a public outcry against the whole cruel spectacle and finally in 1835 this barbarous practice was outlawed in Britain.
What was to become of the dogs? The original British Bulldog was taller than the modern one, but very fierce and not a particularly sociable animal, certainly not suitable as a household pet. So people who genuinely loved the dogs set about breeding them for sweetness of disposition as family pets. Though their legs are now much shorter, their heads are still as broad and wrinkled, their jaws as undershot – and their strength every bit as formidable. The main difference is their lovely, friendly nature.
Another breed similar to the Pitbull is the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. One of the main differences between the two breeds is in height. Staffordshires are roughly three or five inches shorter than Pitbulls. The coat colour is another difference in breed standards. Pitbulls can have any colour of coat other than merle. Staffordshires can be white, red, fawn, blue, black or brindle. Both breeds can have patterned coats. Pitbulls and Staffordshires have very similar body structure,both are very stalwart and muscular breeds, but Staffordshires are on the whole a lighter dog. If you look closely, Pitbulls have shorter muzzles, shorter than the length of their head, and tend to have broader heads than Staffordshires. Both breeds have assertive, playful, faithful and loving personalities. They are highly energetic and will happily join you on an adventure at any time of day. Except, perhaps, if it’s raining!
The Pitbull features in fiction. Pete the Pup was the faithful American Pitbull used in the Our Gang movies; in 1994 a remake called The Little Rascals featured an American bulldog as Pete.
|Pete the Pup (public domain)|
Carol Lea Benjamin’s entertaining and instructive mysteries feature P.I. Rachel Alexander and her Pitbull Dashiell. Aimed at the adult market, they may nevertheless be enjoyed by a literate middle grader.
And finally we have Daisy. She had one object in life – to be happy and have everyone around her happy. She loved pop music. She would climb on the sofa, lay her head along the back and nod meaningfully towards the player, her signal she wanted a record or CD played. Her favourites to ‘sing along with’ were Tangerine Dream and Abba. Her soulful “OOooOOOh”in accompaniment has been captured on tape.
It was amazing the number of children who were immediately attracted to Daisy, and she submitted happily to their various demonstrations of affection, however rough at times.When she died, many people, including the town workers, came to offer their condolences. She was one well-loved little dog.
|Daisy the well-beloved|
To conclude our Pitbull defence we have the magnificent Greyfriars Bobby. Named for the famous little Skye terrier, Bobby, like Daisy, was a rescued dog. Although he’s a big, powerful dog and very protective of his family, he associates well with other dogs, and is calm and obedient. He is also patient, even when disappointed:
excellent all-rounder, his family are very proud of Bobby's Canine Good Neighbour Certificate, which he gained on his first course in the programme.
|Who closed my store???|
|Greyfriars Bobby, CGNC.|