Where Did Pit Bulls Originate?

by Valerie A. Modreski
Pit bulls come in a variety of colors.

Pit bulls come in a variety of colors.

Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images

The American pit bull terrier has a convoluted history with different theories as to the dog's origins. Both theories reveal extensive research and historical documentation, and ongoing studies to unveil the pit bulls true genetic history continue to this day.

Pit Bull's Origins, Maybe

Starting out as a dog called Molossus, pit bulls were used in Greece as general purpose herding and working guard dogs. A reportedly loyal breed, the Molossus traveled with their humans to fight side-by-side as dogs of war. Making its way to Great Britain, the dog's name was changed to mastiff. During the first century A.D., Rome confiscated the breed after defeating the native inhabitants of Britain. Over the next 400 years, the dog spread over the entire European continent where it bred with a variety of other dogs. Pit bull enthusiasts who abide by this theory convey, through unregulated breeding, this convoluted mixture was destined to be today's pit bull.

Pit Bull History Theory Number Two

Conflicting documentation puts the pit bull in England during the Norman conquest of 1066. The English used this dog to rally bulls thereby earning the name bullenbeissers, which translates into bull biter. During this time period, a new betting sport was sanctioned. These dogs were entered into a pit to enliven a bull and were wagered upon for their prowess. This is the surest documentation relating to where the pit bull name originated. Still not a specified breed, bullenbeisser's descendants were bred with terriers combining the strength of a mastiff with the smaller stature and intelligence of a terrier. In this theory, it is believed British immigrants brought this mastiff-terrier mix to the United States.

They're Coming to America

After this mastiff-terrier dog's arrival to North America, dog breeders limited the breeding stock to smaller dogs, creating a small statured, agile dog of roughly 25 to 30 pounds. This dog was strictly bred with the American bulldog developing the modern-day pit bull. Even now, Americans purport some confusion with the "pit bull" label. The term pit bull is not an official designation for any breed of dog, but is often used to misrepresent a variety of different breeds. Because of similar body and head shape, breeds mistakenly referred to as pit bulls include the bull terrier, the Staffordshire bull terrier, or the American bulldog. Over time, dog breeders have narrowed the pit bull determination to two dogs which are the modern American Staffordshire terrier, or Amstaff, and the American pit bull terrier, or APBT.

Earliest Perception of the Breed

American author and dog expert Cesar Milan is a champion for the pit bull breeds and reminds us that pit bulls have been an American favorite for some time. As an example of the pit bull's American favoritism, during the first World War the U.S. personified the pit bull on military recruitment posters. Calling a professional athlete a pit bull is common in sports, and is a metaphor meant to compliment and as a testament of fortitude. Beginning in the 1930s, pit bulls starred in a variety of the earliest motion pictures. Often coupled with children, pit bulls were popular on television shows such as the Our Gang comedy. Buster Brown shoes and RCA Victor chose the pit bull as their mascot representing American pride. The modern pit bull is once again a popular companion pet, recognized by the American Kennel Club.

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images