There is a stigma against the Pit Bull as a breed due to numerous reports of attacks against humans, both adult and children. But, where did this dog come from?
The predecessors of the modern pit bull are the bulldogs and terriers of England. The dogs were originally intended for the ferreting out and killing of rats and other vermin. Once the sport of dog fighting gained in popularity, the bulldog was crossed with different English terrier breeds in an attempt to breed a dog exhibiting both aggressive and intelligent traits.
In the mid 1800s, when immigration from Europe to America hit its height, many people from England brought their pets with them to their new country. Mainly settling in the northeast, the pit bull was bred to be bigger and stronger and eventually developed into what is now referred to as the American Pit Bull Terrier. Because of their breeding as both intelligent and aggressive, pit bulls were seen as great family pets because they could bond with their owners and play with the children but also be called on to protect the family when danger approached.
In the early 1900s, the pit bull was such a popular breed of dog that it was actually featured on the cover of Life Magazine three times. The pit bull also appeared prominently on numerous patriotic posters and flyers during World War I encouraging the United States to get involved in the war or to buy war bonds. One of the most famous pit bulls ever was “Pete the Pup” from the Our Gang films (later, Little Rascals). It wasn’t until the 1970s and then 1980s that the stigma of dog vs. human attacks brought the pit bull out of favor with the American public.
A 2000 study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medicine Association contended that roughly 50% of all dog attacks that resulted in fatalities involved either pit bulls or rottweillers. A later study involving attacks in both Canada and the United States that was published in 2007 shows the pit bull alone as responsible for 65% of dog attacks against humans that result in a fatality.
The pit bull was originally bred for its aggressiveness and then stigmatized for that exact same aggressiveness. In between it was shown as being a wonderful and loving family pet. The pit bull breed has indeed come full circle.