If history is written by the victors, then the history of pit bulls depends on which side of the breed you’re on.
Does the dog have a history of combat? Yes.
Does it have a history of being a popular family dog? Also yes.
Can it be both types of animal at once? Apparently, yes and yes.
The answers are embedded in centuries of interaction with mankind.
According to the American Pit Bull Registry, the roots of today’s breeds may go back to the ancient Romans. At the time of Minos in Crete, the sport of bull baiting was popular and dogs were used.The sport was developed as part of the worship honoring the warrior god Mithras.
As the Roman tribes moved around they took their wild, ferocious dogs with them, according to the Registry. By the 1700′s there were two primary bull-fighting dogs that developed, both referred to as bulldogs.
People selectively bred different dogs to get the fighting attributes they wanted, sometimes mixing them with English dogs also used to bait bulls, the Registry says.
By the time of the early 1800′s a dog emerged similar to the American Pit Bull of today.
In 1835 bull baiting was banned and some owners changed to a sport known as ratting, where a number of rats were placed in a pit with a dog for a specified time. According to the Registry, this is where the “Pit” in the Pit Bull American Terrier name came from.
It is believed that the practice of mixing bulldogs and terriers began in the town of Staffordshire, England and the outcome became known as the Staffordshire Bull and terrier, according to the source.
Due to the strength, agility and gameness of this newfound breed some people began to fight some of the dogs with each other.
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As colonization of America and Canada began people brought their dogs. They became known as Pit Bull Terriers. The breed flourished in America, according to Bulldogbreeds web. It was a popular, highly prized breed.
The story continues with this from Pit Bull Rescue Central, a source favored by pit bull supporters and animal welfare officials alike:
Since the very beginning in America, pit bulls have been used as farm dogs, family dogs, military mascots, and all-purpose companions. They were trusted to watch the children while the adults worked in the fields.
In England, the Staffie Bull became affectionately known as “The Nanny Dog” or “The Children’s Nursemaid” because of their placid and nurturing demeanor toward children.
From their inception, these dogs were bred for general human companionship, and since the 1900s, they have been bred for confirmation showing as well.
As the years passed, pit bulls achieved a position of reverence among Americans, and they appeared in advertising campaigns such as Buster Brown and Pup Brand. A classic children’s television show, The Little Rascals, featured Petey the Pit Bull. The pit bull is the only breed to have been on the cover of Life magazine three times.
Many highly respected historical figures have owned pit bulls: President Woodrow Wilson, President Theodore Roosevelt, Helen Keller, Fred Astaire, Humphrey Bogart, and Thomas Edison, to name a few.
An Associated Press story released in 2007 picks up the story:
The breed’s image remained mostly positive until the late 1970s when some widely publicized attacks on children started to turn the public’s perception, says Karen Delise, a veterinary technician who has studied fatal dog attacks for 15 years and is author of the book “The Pit Bull Placebo: The Media, Myths and Politics of Canine Aggression.”
Delise blames the music industry – along with media and the Internet – for making the pit bull the devil dog dejour.
Today, many see the pit bull as either the center of a rural, white tradition of animal baiting or the the vicious dog snarling on the cover of rap CDs, or mauling other dogs for big-time purses as in the recent case involving NFL star Michael Vick.