For the most accurate account of how the American pit bull was given AKC recognition and became the "American Staffordshire terrier" read COLBY'S BOOK OF THE AMERICAN PIT BULL TERRIER by Colby and Jessup.

CLICK HERE to order

 

 

As early as 1894, Englishman Rawdon Lee, an authority on bulldogs, stated "It is known that time plays grim jokes on historical monuments. There has probably never been a dirtier joke, however, than the one played on our national symbol, the English Bulldog." He further adds, "The lunacy of breeding for extreme exaggeration, for extreme foreheads and huge skulls, for totally exaggerated low-slung front legs, for shoulders pointing outwards at almost a right angle, for Bulldogs with a front wider than that of the opposing bull. None of this used to be the case and only recently came into fashion."

 

 

 

 

For more information on the difference between American pit bulls, American Staffordshires and Staffordshire bulls, click here.

 

 

Pit Bull Informational Pages
by Diane Jessup 

History of the Pit Bull

Fact: the dog called "English bulldog" today is a show bred animal developed well AFTER baiting was banned. Dogs with the bracycephalic nose and short, wide, deformed body of the show bulldog never were typical of animals used for bullbaiting. Rather, the true bull-dog was a 40 to 65 pound dog, long of leg, with a strong, medium, working muzzle, and a long, thin tapering tail. The watercolor above is by Thomas Rowlandson [1756-1827], who sketched scenes of English life, and often drew butchers, baiters, dog fighters and their dogs. The above is entitled The Bull Bait and shows the riff raff typical of baiting sports and their bull-dogs; identical to today's American pit bull.
Facts and Myths About Pit Bull History
pitt bull pittbull pitbull pit bull Pit Bull American pit bull terrier springpole weightpull weight pull treadmill conditioning training gamedog game dog fighting Boldog Training Kennel Diane Jessup
Hunting boar in the colonies. Primarily used as an animal which could pin and control large and dangerous beasts such as boar, bear and bull, dogfighting was never the original purpose of the bulldog. Dog fighters will argue this point, but the evidence is quite clear. The animals pictured here could enter the ring and win as representatives of the American pit bull today.

Back in the 1980's, I was sitting in a Washington state legislative hearing concerning the possible statewide banning of all bulldog breeds. I was sitting next to the then vice-president of the American Kennel Club. When he stood to speak, his words burned into my memory as some of the most inaccurate, ignorant and snobbish I had ever heard.

"There is," he told the lawmakers looking to him for accurate information, "absolutely no such breed as the 'pit bull'; it is not registered with the American Kennel Club."

As I stared at him, dumbstruck really, I couldn't help but think of the 300 plus breeds which do not happen to grace the stud books of the American Kennel Club. This man certainly did not know his American Staffordshire history - that much was evident. From whence did he think the show-bred brother to the pit bull came from? Was he unaware that the AKC had opened its "pure" stud books to this "non-breed", the "pit bull", not once, but three times (the last time as late as the 1970's)? And yet now, like a Peter, this man was denying the breed which formed the basis for at least three AKC registered breeds, its very identity.

Was it intentional, or truly ignorance? It certainly could have been either, for few breeds have such a straightforward history tangled into knots so fouled that many of its own fanciers can't unravel it.

pitt bull pittbull pitbull pit bull Pit Bull American pit bull terrier springpole weightpull weight pull treadmill conditioning training gamedog game dog fighting Boldog Training Kennel Diane Jessup
This dog is very obviously a very pure, very typey pit bull. He could win in the show ring today. This painting which depicts some boys about to set their pit bull on a badger, shows the breed as already very well established at the beginning of the 19th century.

 

 

 

pitt bull pittbull pitbull pit bull Pit Bull American pit bull terrier springpole weightpull weight pull treadmill conditioning training gamedog game dog fighting Boldog Training Kennel Diane Jessup  history hunting
When you see references to "bulldogs" from the middle ages, this is the animal they are talking about - a pit bull. This old painting is entitled "Bulldog".

 

 

 

The Butcher and his dog. Pit bulls have always been associated with butchers. This dates back to when they were used to control animals in market stalls. A strong, determined dog was needed to grip and hold unruly animals about to be butchered.

MYTH: The "Pit Bull" is not a purebred breed.

FACT: Pit bulls are actually one of the oldest and certainly one of the purest. Written pit bull pedigrees date into the late 1700's, something very few other breeds can boast of. Pit bulls have been a registered breed longer than most AKC breeds have been in existence. Louis Colby's father, John Colby, gave his son a handwritten pedigree of Colby's Blind Jack, an animal born in 1932. The pedigree stretches back more than 50 years, naming, in Louis Colby's words, "the best fighting dogs in England and America in the past fifty years." In the mid 1880's, the breed was already old.

MYTH: The term "Pit Bull" means all the bull and terrier breeds.

Fact: The media lumps all bulldog breeds and several mastiff breeds together as "pit bulls" because "pit bulls" makes new more sexy. Unethical reporters will lump unrelated breeds as diverse as cane corso mastiffs, presa mastiffs and animals over 100 pounds as "pit bulls".

MYTH: The term "Pit Bull" means all the bull and terrier breeds.

Fact: The term "pit bull" is the shortened form of the name American Pit Bull Terrier, the name by which the breed is registered with the United Kennel Club and American Dog Breeders Association. The term "pit bull" is correctly applied only to dogs of pure American pit bull blood or registry; not to American Staffordshire terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers, mixes of these breeds or any other breed.

MYTH: Pit bulls are a mix of terrier and English bulldog.

Fact: Actually, the breed know as the "English" bulldog is a relatively recently developed animal designed strictly for the show ring. In fact, "bulldogs" were not even created until several years AFTER bull baiting (the purpose for which it was supposed to have been bred) was banned and discontinued in the United Kingdom. So, it is impossible for the pit bull to have been developed from a breed younger than itself. In fact, the show "bulldog" is developed from the original working bulldog - the pit bull.

There is some terrier blood in the modern pit bull. Terrier blood was added, just as mastiff blood was also added. This explains why some lines of pit bulls are quite "bully" in build, and at the larger end of the standard, while others are quite "light" in build, and may weigh as little as 25 pounds. However, the pit bull is a "bulldog" in action and appearance. He is a gripping dog - not a terrier (which means "Earth dog" which pursues its quarry underground.

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This "bull-bitch" shows the strong, long legs, medium build and strong head and muzzle of the working bulldog. No other breed of dog will take on a bull. These dogs were bred and prized for their grip and courage.

 

 

 

The historical "bulldog". A far cry from the breed called "bulldog" today by kennel clubs. Also as far a cry from the recent "recreations" of "olde bulldogges" being peddled as replicas of the origional baiting dog. Heavy, short legged, short muzzled animals wouldn't have lasted one minute with an angry bull.

 

 

 

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A bullterrier from the turn of the last century. Notice the extreme "downface" bred for today had not developed yet. The dog looks like what it is - a cross between a pit bull and a terrier.

 

 

 

A bull terrier from the turn of the last century. You can see the fine terrier build and shape of the head.

 

 

 

An early bull terrier, before the show ring breeders developed the characterisric "down face" which the dogs are known for now. The dogs were light, athletic animals bred for the rat pit. Most bull terriers today are fat, shapeless animals. Pity, they are sweet dogs.

 

MYTH: If pit bulls were purebred, they would registered by the American Kennel Club.

Fact: Serious pit bull fanciers in the United States and the United Kingdom have never wanted kennel club recognition for the breed. They knew that once any breed became the victim of show ring breeding, it spelled ruination for any "purpose bred" dog.

Pit bulls breeders have - to this day - been notoriously secretive about how they breed their best dogs. Pete Sparks, one of the most noted authorities on pit bulls during most of the 20th century, stated that with only one or two exceptions (the Colby family being one of those exceptions) almost "all" breeders such as Corvino, Carver, and others would intentionally fake pedigrees.

The AKC did register pit bulls in 1936. They changed the name to Staffordshire terrier, and later, when they divided the breed again into two separate breeds, they changed it to American Staffordshire terrier and Staffordshire bull terrier.

MYTH: The pit bull was bred for dog fighting only.

Fact: The history of the pit bull far predates the time when bans on bull baiting caused blood sport fanciers to turn to fighting dog against dog. The very name "bull" or "bulldog" gives us the clue as to what the original purpose of this breed was.

Far back into history - too far for us to see - man had bred dogs for gripping large game like boar and bear. From these dogs developed the Butcher's Dog, or Bulldog. The bulldog was an animal from 35 to 80 pounds, long of leg, sturdy in body, athletic, with a strong head and muzzle. The pit bulls of today descend directly from these animals.

MYTH: Boston terriers and boxers are not related to pit bulls.

Fact: The Boston "bull" terrier was developed toward the end of the nineteenth century in the Boston area (a Mecca for dog fighters at that time) from pit dogs bred to small terriers - with a dash of the then extremely popular pug which gave the breed its screw tail. The boxer was developed at the same time, on the continent, by infusions of European baiting breeds with the English show-type bulldog. The show bulldog was just being developed at that time, and it was very popular with show folks both in the UK and on the continent. Show bulldog blood gave the boxer its deformed nose - a nose never found on real working bulldogs.

MYTH: "Bull terriers" are pit bulls.

Fact:The "bull terrier", that humorous white dog (though they come other colors) with the slanty eyes and deformed muzzle, is often confusedly called a "pit bull", and yet he carries only a portion of pit bull blood. The bull terrier was developed to perfection by a Birmingham man named James Hinks. In the words of his son, James Hinks II, his father "My father owned dogs from the bravest of the old breeds and had experimented in their breeding. He had also crossed in the white English terrier and the Dalmatian. In this way he produced a pure-white dog, which he named the bull terrier." The idea, again, was predominantly to develop a "stylish" dog, bred for its good looks. The original bullterrier cross looked much like a thinly built pit bulldog, as the characteristic "down-face" wasn't developed until a specific stud dog imparted that characteristic in the breed and it became the fad. Several years after the development of the white show bull terrier, pure pit bulldogs were bred back into some lines, for added mental and physical hardiness. The breeders of the pure white dogs, despite their increasing issues with deafness and other degenerate problems, fought tooth and nail to keep the pit bull-bull terrier crosses from the registry. These crosses were, however, admitted after a struggle.

 

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Pit Bull, around 1910. A very popular family pet at that time. This dog would have been known as a "pit bull" or "bull terrer" . The name "Staffordshire terrier" had not been invented yet. Image courtesy of the Animal Farm Foundation.

 

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Boldog Butcher's Dog, WDS (Butchie) greets volunteers at a city Animal Control. Here he gently greets a young woman who is blind and mentally handicapped.

 

THE WORKING PIT BULL BECOMES THE "PIT BULL",
AND THE PIT BULL BECOMES...

With all those show breeds to work with, the working bulldog was lucky enough to escape the notice of the show ring set until the turn of the century. How quickly the snobbish attitude became set - if a breed of dog is not "registered" with the kennel club, then it simply does not exist! The true bulldog was forsaken and its history grafted onto the pug/bulldog cross now named "English Bulldog". For those who do not believe that the pug played a significant part in the makeup of the show bulldog, please bear in mind that at the turn of the century dog show classes for "bulldogs" were divided into "Under 20 pounds" and "Over 20 pounds"! If further proof is needed, from whence did the screw tail come? The true bulldog has a short, straight tail. The pug, a tightly curled one.

In comparison with modern show breeds, the pedigrees of working bulldogs had been cherished for centuries. The pit bull actually has one of the most significant claims to purity of line of any breed. When breeds such as the German shepherd, Doberman, Rottweiler, English, Irish and Gordon Setters, Labrador and Golden retrievers were just beginning their genesis, the pit bull was already an established breed.

While the pit bull is thoroughly English and Irish in its origin, it was in America that the dog first was officially "registered". The pit bull soon had two single-breed registries, the UKC and the forerunner of the ADBA. These registries exist to this day, and, for the most part, continue to register pure pit bulldogs. [The UKC allows American Staffordshires to be registered as "pit bulls" which, in recent years, has had a tremendous impact of the breed as registered by the UKC. For the most part, UKC and AKC registered dogs cannot be differentiated, as they carry primarily the same blood. UKC dogs are now bred almost exclusively for show and pet purposes with little thought given to form, function or working soundness. The ADBA up until very recently has registered "anything", including obvious mastiff-pit bull mixes as a result of the craze for "large" pit bulls. Registries are driven by puppy registrations - and private registries are profit orientated businesses.]

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A photo from the 1880s showing the treasured place that the pit bulldog shared in family life. Notice how little the breed type has changed through time - this is common in working dogs, rare in show breeds.

 

Like all purpose bred dogs, the purebred pit bull can come in a variety of colors, sizes and builds. Some strains show a touch more terrier infusion; thin and racy, with narrow heads, they may weigh as little as 25 pounds. Others are small, but very stocky, showing a clear connection with the smaller, stockier strain known today as Staffordshire bull terriers. And there have always been large, more bullmastiff orientated strains. Some of these dogs can, in a pure state, reach into the nineties in weight. In the 1970's a small group of fanciers began a breeding program dedicated to not only saving these large pit bulls, but also of distancing themselves from the politically troubled name "pit bull". These dogs were the foundation for a breed now called "American bulldog".

 

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Three expressions of the same standard: (L) Overdone, (M) Underdone (R) Just right!

Then a small group of pit bull fanciers decided that their "Grand Old Breed" needed full American Kennel Club recognition in order to distance itself from its baiting/fighting heritage. A standard was drawn up and application made to the AKC. [John Colby's dog "Primo" was one of the dogs used to formulate the AKC standard, and Primo's picture illustrated the idea of perfection for many years. Those wanting to know what a real American Staffordshire is supposed to look like should study a picture of Primo.]

The dogs were accepted, but the AKC would not allow the word "pit" in the name, and so the rather dubious designation of Staffordshire "terrier" was chosen. Only the AKC could come up with a name like that! Staffordshire was a place in England noted for its harsh way of life and its fighting animals, however, it could hardly claim to be the place of origin. And placing this bulldog in the terrier group was simply ludicrous. Terriers, named for the Latin "terra" meaning earth, are smallish dogs which "go to ground" after small prey. They are noted for their quick tempers and sharp intelligence. True terriers are "hand spannable", meaning a man can grasp the dog behind its shoulders and have his fingers touch. Dogs larger than this are of doubtful use in ground work. To consider a breed which has always worked above ground, whose original purpose was the gripping of large wild game, then later wayward bulls, and then later still combat with a variety of animals, a "terrier" defies explanation.

The word "American" was added to the name of this very British breed in the 1970's when pit bulls began being imported to the US under the name Staffordshire Bull Terrier. Most registries simply lumped the two dogs together, since they were the same breed. The AKC and UKC did for many years. Yet the two lines of the same breed had changed in some important physical ways. The pit bulls developed in the UK after the turn of the century had been bred strictly for show and pet. Emphasis had been put on a stocky, "bully" look and small size. Top weight for the breed was 35 pounds - in reality the bottom weight for most pit bulls. Because of these differences, the AKC created two breeds where before their had been one (this has been done several times, as with the Norwich and Norfolk terrier to name one example). Because of this division of the same dog, there were now three distinct "breeds" all originating from the good ol' pit bulldog. The American pit bull terrier as registered by the ADBA and UKC, the American Staffordshire as registered by the American Kennel Club (and by the UKC, but as an American pit bull terrier) and the Staffordshire bull terrier as registered by the AKC and now the UKC. For further clarification on these three lines of dog, click here.

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