The American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT) has its roots in England and Ireland where it was bred from a variety of Bull Dog and Terrier breeds. The Pit Bull (also known as the Staffordshire Terrier here in the U.S. [see note at bottom]) was originally brought to the U.S. during the Irish potato famine of the mid seventeen hundreds. Irish and Scot-Irish loved their dogs and introduced them here.
Today's Pit Bull is a solid, medium-sized, short (single coat) haired dog.
It is a member of the molosser breed group. Molossers were it was (and still is) a shepherding breed from the area between Greece and Albania. Over time the people of the British Isles crossed this breed with bull dogs and terriers. Eventually the dog was used for bull-baiting.
Bull baiting involves tying a bull to a stake and giving the bull about thirty feet of radius in which to move. Dogs are then released upon the bull. The intention is for the dogs to immobilize the bull by biting and firmly holding the bull's snout until it stops moving. In fact this was the original purpose of the appropriately named bull dog. The bull was then "dispatched" and the town butcher parceled out the bull; the best cuts going to the winning dog's owner.
At the time there were actually laws specifying that any bull meat sold had to be "baited" first. The thought was the meat would taste better if the bull was stressed before the kill. Eventually the practice fell out of favor, not because of any cruelty issue, but because the noise of the fights were a nuisance to the rapidly expanding population. Parliament passed a law forbidding the baiting of bulls in 1835.
American Pit Bull Lineage
The American Staffordshire Terrier and The American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT) by breed are from the same lineage; "Staffordshire" was the name given by American Kennel Club, and American Pitt Bull Terriers by United Kennel Club.
The breeds are different despite the seemingly interchangeable name. The American Pit Bull Terrier tends to be about six inches taller and about thirty pounds heavier than the Staffordshire. Beyond that they appear to be the same dog.
All American Dog
With the outlawing of bull-baiting and other blood sports, owners bringing the breed to America tended to keep their dogs due to loyalty, bravery, and love of the human family. Over time the dog became so popular that it came to be viewed as "The American Dog."
It was prominently featured in war bond posters (see image left). RCA Records and Buster Brown Shoes both used the breed as mascot. A Pit Bull named Stubby was a decorated World War I hero. Helen Keller and Teddy Roosevelt both owned the breed.
Later. in the early twentieth century, Hal Roach Studios featured a Pit Bull named "Petey" in the "Our Gang" series. Petey typically playing with the children, rescued them or their possessions from villains and performed other brave acts of loyalty to his human "Our Gang" family.