Learning your dog’s pedigree helps you wholly appreciate your canine companion, hence why you’ve begun researching the lineage of your Pit Bull. Where your dog’s ancestry traces to is probably an extinct canine species. Where do Pit Bulls come from?
What breeds make a Pit Bull? The Pit Bull lineage began with the British Bull and Terrier, a now-extinct canine from the 19th century. The Bull and Terrier’s ancestors were the Old English Bulldog and the Old English Terrier, two breeds that are also long since extinct.
Although these dogs have been gone for centuries, they live on in the Pit Bulls of the 21st century and will continue to live on for generations to come. Ahead, I’ll discuss in great detail the origins of the British Bull and Terrier as well as the Old English Bulldog and the Old English Terrier.
Let’s get started!
Where Pit Bulls Come from – The British Bull and Terrier
A Pit Bull itself is not a dog, but rather one of four dog breeds: the American Bulldog, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier, or the American Pit Bull Terrier. Yet the dogs that would be classified as Pit Bulls had to start somewhere, and that’s through a breed of dog known simply as the Bull and Terrier.
The Bull and Terrier itself was a crossbreed of Old English Terriers and Old English Bulldogs, two breeds of which I’ll discuss further in the next section. The Bull and Terrier had many names, among them Pit Bulldog, Bulldog Terrier, Pit Dog, half-bred, and half-and-half. One name that almost stuck was the Bull-Terrier, and yes, with the hyphen.
Bull-Terriers later became their own breed after a man named James Hinks began breeding dogs in the 19th century that would eventually be known as the Bull Terrier, this time no hyphen. Bull Terriers and the Bull and Terrier are two different breeds, yet 19th-century engravings, texts, and paintings called the Bull and Terrier the Bull-Terrier at times, which blurred the line between true Bull and Terriers and Hinks’ dogs.
The way to tell Bull Terriers and Bull and Terriers apart was to look a little closer at the dog. Hinks only bred white dogs, so that was one giveaway. So too was the shape of the dog’s eyes, which were more triangular, as well as its head, which was longer.
Although the British Bull and Terrier is the most popular one, it’s not the only Bull and Terrier that existed at the time. And no, I’m not talking about James Hinks’ Bull Terriers either. Ireland had its own version of the Bull and Terrier that combined various Terrier breeds with the Old Irish Bulldog.
Even within England, several variations of the Bull and Terrier emerged. One Bull and Terrier was called the Cradley Heath type and the other was the Walsall type after two towns in England. The latter dog went to the United States sometime in the 19th century and helped become the American Pit Bull Terrier that you know and love today.
With their strong lineage to the Old English Bulldog (at least a quarter), Bull and Terriers were very adept hunters. They could be bitten by badgers and didn’t mind.
As I’m sure you could imagine, the Bull and Terrier was primarily used for bull-baiting and other forms of fighting. Bull-baiting, by the way, is exactly what it sounds like.
People would send a dog into a field against a raging bull and see which animal came out alive. Baiting was banned in 1835, but dogfighting wasn’t, so that was the Bull and Terrier’s new purpose.
Although this sounds bad now, had dogfighting not been allowed at the time, the Bull and Terrier might have fallen extinct sooner than it did. At that point, we wouldn’t have gotten the Pit Bull breeds we have today.
By 1860, there now existed two recognizable branches of Bull and Terriers. One was James Hinks’ white Bull Terriers and the second was a more colorful dog that had 70 more years before falling into extinction. These dogs became Staffordshire Bull Terriers or Staffy dogs.
There was a third, less recognized Bull and Terrier breed emerging as more British residents moved to America and began breeding their dogs. The shape of the Bull and Terrier changed, as the new breed weighed more and stood taller.
These were working dogs with an aggressive streak that could be entrusted for hunting and farm work. This dog became the American Pit Bull Terrier by 1898 and gave rise to the American Staffordshire Terrier by 1936.
The Ancestors of the Bull and Terrier – The Old English Bulldog and the Old English Terrier
You can see how the extinct Bull and Terrier gave us so many of the Pit Bull breeds that are today’s standard, but the Bull and Terrier itself wouldn’t have existed without the Old English Bulldog and the Old English Terrier.
I want to talk about these parents (so to speak) of the Bull and Terrier so you can even more deeply understand the lineage of your Pit Bull.
Old English Bulldog
Let’s start with the Old English Bulldog. What we know about this dog’s appearance comes from engravings and paintings, but the Old English Bulldog was regarded as muscular, broad, and compact.
The dog weighed about 45 pounds and was 15 inches tall. Old English Bulldogs loved bull-baiting and other forms of blood sport that were popular around England at the time.
Where did the Old English Bulldog itself come from? Well, historians aren’t quite sure. It’s believed the dog had some ancient war dog blood, maybe from the Alaunt or the Old Mastiff.
The Alaunt was a dog bred in Europe, Central Asia, and North Caucasus for guarding and fighting. It lived until sometime in the 17th century. Mastiffs are still around today.
When the Cruelty to Animals Act 1835 was passed in England, dogfighting and bull-baiting both stopped for a period. People at the time had no interest in the continued breeding of the Old English Bulldog since they couldn’t make it fight.
Even though the Duke of Hamilton had three Old English Bulldogs (named Billy, Child, and Wasp), once those dogs died, the Old English Bulldog was all but considered extinct.
That wasn’t before the Bull and Terrier came into existence, however. The reason there was even interest in breeding for the Bull and Terrier was that, despite the illegality of it, dogfighting did still occur in underground circles.
The Bull and Terrier mix was even stronger, more dexterous, and faster than the Old English Bulldog, so it excelled at fighting.
In the decades since, experts have tried to revive the Old English Bulldog into a modern-day companion. However, with no knowledge about DNA at the time of its existence, what genetic material remains of the original Old English Bulldog is unfortunately very sparse.
The resultant dogs take a page from the Old English Bulldog’s book but without necessarily being direct descendants.
For example, at Ohio State University in the 1970s, they bred what became the Leavitt Bulldog and the Olde English Bulldogge, which were lighter-weight, streamlined, and less violent canines.
Old English Terrier
Not as much information abounds on the Old English Terrier, also referred to as the Black and Tan Terrier, but here’s what you need to know. This breed was considered one of the first Terriers ever. Today’s Welsh Terriers might have come from the Old English Terrier; that’s also the case with the Fell Terrier.
Why Knowing Your Pit Bull’s Pedigree Matters
If these dogs are ancient history, why do you need to learn about them? I think it’s helpful. As I said before, unless and until Pit Bull breeding standards change, some characteristics of the Bull and Terrier do live on in modern-day AmStaffs, Staffy dogs, and all Pit Bull breeds.
Here are some important things that knowing your Pit Bull’s pedigree can tell you.
Why is your Pit Bull breed here? Most Bull and Terriers were hunting and fighting dogs, but others were favored for helping out around the farm. Knowing that your Pit Bull today could have hunting and farming instincts helps you understand what drives your dog. You could give your Pit Bull tasks like hunting for toys in the yard to satisfy their base primal instincts. This might prevent unwanted behaviors like chasing after the family cat.
Have your Pit Bull’s parents, grandparents, or even their great-grandparents ever won any trophies from the American Kennel Club or other dog organizations? Without researching your pup’s pedigree, you’ll have no way of knowing whether your dog possesses a championship bloodline.
Potential Health Issues
How healthy your Pit Bull’s parents or grandparents were can also indicate the health of your dog. Did other dogs in this line develop hip dysplasia, cataracts, thyroid disease, allergies, or other common Pit Bull health afflictions?
That doesn’t necessarily mean your dog will, but you can be preventative about your Pit Bull pup’s health now, and that’s a great thing!