Pit bulls are some of the most feared dogs around. Organizations like LA Responsible Pit Bull Owners would like you to take a moment on National Pit Bull Awareness Day to learn a little more about this breed.
- Pit bulls share ancestors with St. Bernards, Great Pyrenees, Rottweilers, Great Danes, Newfoundlands, Bernese mountain dogs and cane corsos. Among the theories about their origins is that they are descendants of a now-extinct breed called Molossus that the Greeks used for sheep-herding and guarding. The dogs spread to early Briton where they were discovered by the concurring Romans. Adopted as war dogs, the Molossus went with the Romans throughout their empire, mixing with local dogs.
- Pit bulls originally were working dogs forced into sport fighting. Centuries from their roots as shepherds and guards, pit bulls were used by English farmers and butchers to control agitated bulls. The dogs’ enthusiasm and determination was soon turned to the sport of bull- or bear-baiting. The dogs were put into a pit with a bear or bull while spectators placed bets on which dog could hold on the longest or bring down the other animal first. When animal-baiting was outlawed in the 1800s, the sportsmen skirted the laws and began pitting the dogs against each other.
- Until the late 20th century, pit bulls were well loved dogs. In the early 1900s, an image of a dignified pit bull was used to represent the United States on World War I propaganda posters. Sergeant Stubby, the most decorated dog of War War I, was a pit bull. The mascot of the 102d Infantry, Yankee Division, Stubby attacked and held a German spy until American soldiers took him prisoner. Petey of the “Our Gang” and “The Little Rascals” movie shorts of the 1920s was a pit bull. Tige, the iconic dog of the Buster Brown shoe advertisements, was a pit bull. A number of famous of people have chosen pit bulls as pets, including Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, inventor Thomas Edison, blind and deaf author and speaker Helen Keller, author John Steinbeck, General George Patton and actors Fred Astaire, Humphrey Bogart, Mel Brooks, Anne Bancroft and many, many contemporary celebrities.
- Not all pit bulls were bred to be fighters; some were bred for work or companionship. According to the ASPCA, “While a dog’s genetics may predispose it to behave in certain ways, genetics do not exist in a vacuum. Rather, behavior develops through a complex interaction between environment and genetics. This is an especially important consideration when we look at an individual dog versus a breed.” Many people who have had pit bulls consider them to be gentle, affectionate and loyal.
Just as broad-brush judgments about people based on race, gender or age are frequently false, the same is true for individual dogs of a particular breed. Whether an unfamiliar dog is a Chihuahua or a pit bull, it needs to be approached with caution and attention until you know its true nature better.
For more information about the ASPCA’s position on pit bulls and breed-specific legislation, check this site.