The Evolution of the Pitbull

Many people have misconceptions regarding the history of the American Pit Bull Terrier.
Many people have misconceptions regarding the history of the American Pit Bull Terrier. (Image: Jupiterimages/ Images)

One of the more controversial breed of dogs, the American Pit Bull Terrier has a very prominent place throughout history. From Ancient Greece to the modern age, the Pit Bull has evolved from a dog used purely for warfare to a dog bred exclusively for fighting and finally, to a breed that is now internationally recognized and beloved by many people and families.

Molossi Dog

The Pit Bull’s ancestor is traced back to the Molossians of Ancient Greece. The breed was named after the Molossi tribe. In Ancient Greece, Molossi dogs were used during warfare and were known for fierceness and intimidation.


In Britain, the Mastiff breed was already established. When Claudius defeated the Briton Chief Caractacus in 50 A.D., he began exporting Mastiffs back to Rome. The Mastiffs were cross bred with the Molossi breed between 50 A.D. and 410 A.D. The cross breeds were used as fighting dogs. Eventually, the various breeds scattered throughout Europe, including England and Spain. Originating with the Molossi dog, these breeds are considered the predecessor to the modern American Pit Bull Terrier.


In 1066 the Normans invaded England. Once in England, a sport called “baiting” was introduced. Baiting originated with butchers. The premise of the sport was to pit dogs against various animals such as bears. Early incarnations of the Pit Bull were bred specifically for the sport. When the dogs were pitted against the larger animal, the dog would clamp onto the face of the animal and not let go until the animal lost blood and stopped fighting. In 1835, baiting was made illegal.

Ratting and Dog Fighting

After baiting was made illegal in England, Ratting became a popular sport. The premise of ratting was to place a dog in a literal pit with rats. The more rats the dog killed in the pit, the better the dog ranked in the game. Around this time, early versions of the pit bull were bred with terriers to make the dogs better at ratting. Ratting eventually led to dog on dog fighting. Many people assume that dog on dog fighting was the origination of the American Pit Bull Terrier. However, this is not the case. Pit bulls were often used in dog on dog fighting and were mistreated as a result. Often the dogs were only given a diet of blood and raw meat. The dogs were often kept in complete darkness and handlers were known to kill dogs that seemed hesitant or did not win a fight.

Immigrating to America

As Englishmen immigrated to America, Pit Bull Terriers followed. Once in America, Pit Bulls became a family dog. The dogs were used as guard dogs, family dogs and herding dogs. In 1884, the AKC refused to recognize the American Pit Bull Terrier as a pure breed due to the breed’s violent history. The UKC was started to recognize breeds not recognized by the AKC. The American Pit Bull Terrier was the first breed recognized. In 1936, The AKC finally recognized the breed. The breed is recognized in the association as the Staffordshire Terrier -- an ancestor of the American Pit Bull Terrier.

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