The history of the Pit Bull can be traced back to the early 1800’s in the United Kingdom. Pit Bulls were originally bred from Old English Bulldogs (these dogs are similar in appearance to today’s American Bulldog) who gained their popularity on the British Isles in a cruel blood sport known as “bull baiting”. One to two Bulldogs were set to harass a bull for hours until the animal collapsed from fatigue, injuries or both. These matches were held for the entertainment of the struggling classes; a source of relief from the tedium of hardship.
However, in 1835 the British Parliament enacted the Cruelty to Animals Act 1835, which prohibited the baiting of some animals such as the bull and bear. Once bull and bear baiting was outlawed, the public turned their attention to “ratting”. This practice pitted dogs against rats in which they were timed to see whose dog would kill the most rats in the least amount of time. The “pit” in Pit Bull comes from ratting as the rats were placed into a pit so that they could not escape. Ultimately, the public turned their eyes upon dog fighting as it was more easily hidden from view and thus the law. Ratting and dog fighting both required more agility and speed on the part of the dog, so Bulldogs were crossed with Terriers “Bull and Terriers”, more commonly known as the first Pit Bull Terrier.
Despite their tenacity and determination in battle, commoners actually bred pit bull terriers with some of the same qualities and traits that we still love about them to this day. Through selective breeding and culling, bite inhibition towards humans was greatly encouraged. Gamblers had to be sure that they could enter a pit and handle their dogs in close proximity without the danger of being bit themselves. If a dog bit a human, it was usually culled.
Shortly before the Civil War, immigrants from the British Isles came to the United States, but along with them came their Pit Bulls. It was during this time that the Pit Bull Terrier breed was named the “American” Pit Bull Terrier. Though these dogs had been specifically bred for fighting, they soon became a much larger and invaluable fixture in a developing nation. In early America, these frontier dogs took on an all-purpose role. They were responsible for herding cattle, herding sheep, guarding livestock and families from thieves and wild animals, helping on the hunts and as hog catchers.