Dog Fighting
Then, Now
RPB opposes all forms of dog fighting, including "rolling" and "game
testing". Dog fighting is a disgusting, heinous human endeavor, an
abusive act against innocent animals.
There is NEVER an excuse
for dog fighting.

Some History

Fights between two or more animals have always been popular
spectacles. The  Romans, the Greeks, Spanish, as well as French have
pitted dogs  against other animals, dating back hundreds or thousands
of years.  So when the British people began selectively breeding the
popular old-time bulldog for use in dog-on-dog combat, they couldn't
take credit  for having been the first to pit one animal against another.
(It seems the bloodlust of humans extends across time and the globe!)

The dogs that were used in these British dog fights became known
as the American Pit Bull Terrier.

The original, old-time bulldog was used for all manner of stock-related
work, particularly as a catch dog: used by the butcher to manage unruly
bulls,  and by the hunter for help in catching and holding wild boar and
other  game. The sport of bull baiting became popular in England,
having arisen from  these functional jobs that the bulldog performed for

Baiting was extremely popular and nearly a national past time. At one
point, there was even a law mandating that the flesh of a bull could
only be sold if the animal had  been baited prior to slaughter. But the
baiting of animals was  eventually outlawed due to the increasingly
loud voices of opposition.  

And so humans--with their insatiable lust for blood and violence–-
turned to the sport of dog-on-dog fighting.  

The bulldog, mixed with tough hunting terriers, was created to be used
in this emerging ‘sport’. Selectively bred down to a smaller size to
increase agility in the pit, these dogs were also bred for stamina and
wrestling ability. However, the most important trait in the fighting dog
was gameness. Gameness--the willingness to keep going and not give
up--is a trait common to breeds of bulldog ancestry.  It may also be
described as that plucky, never-say-die attitude seen in terriers.  Lastly,
the fighting dog had to be easily handled by humans, and so any
aggression shown towards people was carefully selected AGAINST.  

These dogs were eventually to become known as the “Pit Bulldog” or
“Pit Bull Terrier”, the precursors to our modern APBT.

Pit Bulldogs (the new bulldog/terrier fighting dogs)were imported to
America around the time of the Civil War, and they gained great
popularity over the years. The dogs were not only the fighting dog of
choice, but they were also surprisingly popular with the general public
who embraced the breed wholeheartedly.

Viewing art and old photographs from the early to mid 1900’s, you can
see that the Pit Bulldog was viewed as a valuable part of American
culture.  Back then, the breed was known as a sound family companion,
and a dog that was great with kids—despite the fact that it was also a
fighting breed.  

In the realm of the American dogman, dog fights provided betting
opportunities, entertainment, and also served as a means to establish
and then preserve a specific type of dog--the American Pit Bull Terrier
(aka “Pit Bull”). In 1898 the United Kennel Club was formed in order to
preserve the breed, establish a stud book, and create rules for the pit.
UKC founder CZ Bennet officially named the breed: American Pit Bull
Terrier. Through dog fights, breeders could identify certain traits in a
dog and  then breed that dog that manifested the sought-after traits.
Besides gameness, a  very stable, sound dog was extremely important.
Aggression towards humans was not tolerated. Through this type of
careful selection, the Pit Bull breed was refined. (Please see Pit Bull
History for more information about the development of the breed.)

Dog fighting continued on into the 1900s, although it began to lose  
favor after the turn of the century. Throughout the 1900’s, dog fighting
would gradually lose ground. The fighting amendment added  
to the Animal Welfare Act in 1976 helped propel stricter laws (and to
push dog fighting underground where it unfortunately still flourishes). It
was eventually outlawed as a felony all across America.   

From a brutal past springs a beautiful breed

Many people wonder how a breed that sprang from a brutal past could
make a good companion in today’s modern world. One reason is that
despite the fact that dog fighting was--and is--so violent, the dogs
themselves were bred specifically to be easily handled by humans; in
fact, aggression directed towards humans was not tolerated, and dogs
that were friendly and liked people were sought after and bred. And Pit
Bulls, although originally a fighting breed, also have a long, strong
history as companion dogs. They have been kept as such since their
beginning, serving a sort of dualistic purpose: one of fighting dog, one
of all-American rough and tumble canine friend and partner.  

Like many bull as well as terrier breeds, some Pit Bulls prefer to be ‘only
children’ and do not get along with other dogs. Dog fighters took this
personality trait, and exploited it. Dog fighters routinely created an
environment for the fighting dog-– from the time he was a pup--that
promoted and encouraged unsocial behavior towards other dogs.  The
fighting pit itself was such a confrontational, hostile environment that a
dog almost could not help but fight.  Even so, many dogs DID refuse to
fight or quickly gave up and attempted to escape.   

Today, many fighting dogs have been successfully rescued. They have
shown they can not only be social with but truly enjoy being around
other members of their species; this is testament to the fact that
environment has a huge influence over behavior.  Change the
environment and you change the dog. It is only just now being shown
on a widespread scale that ex fighting dogs CAN be integrated into
society, despite their violent pasts. These dogs have shown that it is
never too late to teach an old–- or abused!--dog new tricks!  

Consider that most Pit Bulls today are far removed from their ancestors
who fought, and have been all across the course of their history bred to
be human-friendly, biddable, and highly adaptive - and have always
been companion dogs. Even so, the ones that do fall victim to dog
fighting abuse and manage to find their way into the safety of rescue,
have shown they are perfectly capable of making loving family

Pit Bulls are truly amazing dogs. For those who know them, it is no
wonder they are so popular. They are a breed that has had to endure a
huge amount of suffering and struggle. But they show, through it all,
that they are capable of directing gentleness and love towards that
same species that has subjected them to such brutality and pain.  

Dog fighting is a felony in all 50 states in
the U.S.

Spectating is illegal in all states except
Hawaii and Montana. It is considered a
felony to be a spectator in 24 states, and
the list of states is growing.
Dog Fighting Today

Dog fighting is a huge concern to animal advocates. All across the
country, humans abuse dogs in heinous ways. From nonchalant,
impromptu ‘street fights’ to the large-scale organized matches held on
a regular schedule at set locations, dog fighting still occurs every day.

Dog fighting is an ANIMAL ABUSE ISSUE. Pit Bulls happen to be the
breed most used in dog fights. But if Pit Bulls did not exist, dog fighting
would still take place. There is no quenching the blood lust of human
‘kind’. Brutality against animals in the form of staged matches or fights
between animals or even between man and animal is an activity
almost as old as man himself – it was in existence long before the Pit
Bull. Those who make dog fighting a PIT BULL ISSUE do the dogs a
grave disservice. These dogs are VICTIMS in every sense of the word.
Exploited, abused, tortured for human gain, Pit Bulls are innocent
beings caught up in a tragic societal issue.

Pit Bulls are NOT part of the problem. The only PROBLEM is PEOPLE.
The dogs are not perpetrators, they are not evil partners of the
humans, nor are they mere ‘tools’ of a ‘trade’. These dogs abused by
man are living, feeling, breathing, helpless victims, with a world to
offer if humans would only give them the chance. They have so much
worth and substance, but their countless positive traits are trampled
on and stifled by the real ‘animals’ who mistreat them. Allowed the
opportunity to blossom into their true selves, even those dogs who
have been exposed to the cruelty of the pit can live as companions
and enjoy those luxuries afforded to ‘normal pet dogs’. Dogs saved
from fighting busts do not need ‘rehabilitation’ – what they need is a
chance to show who they truly are, their intrinsic natures - their
positive attributes of love, trust, loyalty, courage, and gentleness.

If you've done even a minimal amount of research on the Pit Bull
breed, you have most likely read or been told somewhere along
for an hour or more is a fun and enjoyable activity for these dogs.
You may have cocked your eyebrow in skepticism in response, if
you didn't
outright reject such "information". "How could dogs like getting
torn to shreds", you may have asked. "Surely they are goaded
and tormented and trained to kill before they would ever engage
in such behavior." Here’s some information to consider……

Pit Bulls can and do willingly fight - without training, and even
when “raised right”. That is the fact of the matter. Here is another

ALL dogs can potentially fight, and interdog aggression is a
very common behavioral issue.

Certain breeds – because of selection of traits that helped dogs
do a specific task or job – anecdotally tend to show snarky or
outright aggressive behavior towards other dogs more often than
some other breeds. With Pit Bulls, their main, original task was
dog fighting.

Today, pit fighting is a felony in all states in America and the
majority of Pit Bulls here have been bred as companions and
show/working dogs. But selective breeding is an extremely potent
tool. Not just physical traits, but tendencies towards certain
behaviors can be selected for and perpetuated in future
generations. A willingness to engage in - and then finish - a battle
with members of their own species was a trait that
was selected for in Pit Bulls. In other words, normal and natural
fight drive in dogs was exaggerated.

Behavioral traits that are manifest in domestic, selectively-bred
canines are traits that occur normally in wolves and other
"natural" canines. Certain traits have been "customized" and
exaggerated, however, through selective breeding. Border Collies,
for instance, are herding dogs. Dogs bred to herd have had their
prey (hunting) drive streamlined through selective breeding.
While herding a flock of sheep, they go through, more or less, all
the behaviors a wolf would go through while out hunting a herd of
elk, minus the climax of the predatory behavioral sequence -
actually biting, bringing down, and then killing/consuming the
prey. Int
erspecies aggression and fight-drive are two other
naturally occurring canine behavioral traits that can potentially
appear in any and all breeds but may be more common in some.   
We are talking about a genetic propensity here – to a degree.

Dogs still have to learn a behavior before they can perform it.

With fighting Pit Bulls, they are raised in an environment that
reinforces and maintains fighting behavior.

All behavior is both genetically and environmentally influenced.
That is nature. Dogs fight with other dogs because “fight drive” is
a normal and naturally occurring drive in dogs. An important point
to consider, however, is that without the environment reinforcing
the behavior, it would never occur to begin with. Behavior is
performed because it is viewed as somehow valuable to the
animal – it gets him something good, or helps him avoid
something bad.  Outcomes for behavior influence whether that
behavior occurs again in the future.  A dog who fights views his
behavior as somehow beneficial – he is protecting himself from a
threat, driving away an enemy, or protecting something that is his.

Fighting Pit Bulls may have the natural ability and inclination to
fight members of their own species, but they are also consistently
placed into situations that reinforce fighting behavior. Saying that
Pit Bulls are “trained to fight” isn’t exactly accurate (no dog has to
be trained to fight – fight drive and the ability to fight is natural).
It would be more accurate to say that fighting Pit Bulls are "set
up”, “allowed”, and "conditioned" to fight; these dogs have
naturally occurring canine traits that humans exploit and

(In the right hands, and with some re-conditioning, rescued
fighting dogs can make wonderful family companions and even
therapy dogs (see the story of ex-Vick fighting dog, Leo:
// ) - and YES,
they can get along with other dogs as well, with good
management on the part of their human guardians.)

What about “pet” Pit Bulls?

Any caregiver to multiple companion Pit Bulls that has had to deal
with an accidental fight can tell you: the dogs - even when raised
with the utmost care, concern, and proper training - still retain that
exaggerated fight drive, and may be quick to learn to fight to get
what they want – and sometimes,  that is nothing more than
space (we call Pit Bulls “dog-sensitive”, because they tend to get
uppity about other dogs in their space). “Raisin’ ‘em right” goes a
long way. But underlying temperament tendencies cannot be
altered or “trained out of” dogs. You can’t eliminate normal canine
drives through training. It’s just not possible.  

Aggression in nature is an energetically costly endeavor that puts
an animal at risk. But it is, from an evolutionary standpoint,
necessary behavior. Animals engage in aggressive behaviors to
protect/obtain needed resources, protect themselves, or their
territory. Aggression is not a “fun” pastime, it is serious business.
Aggression in Pit Bulls isn't some unique or special form - it is still
aggression, plain and simple. Aggressive behavior by definition is
defensive behavior. And it is dangerous and costly behavior that
can result in serious wounds or death - dogs only aggress when  
they perceive a strong need. It is foolish to assume that Pit Bulls
fight for “fun”, or for any reason other than what makes any other
breed of dog fight – it is defensive, there is a perceived need, and
the dog feels it has no other choice.

The "they love to fight" defense has been used too often, and it
is time this notion was put to rest.

During its heyday, rules were been written up
meant to govern the "sport" of dog fighting. In
still utilized to one extent or another. There are
various versions, all mostly following a similar
pattern.  A fight that was conducted under
typical rules would have been conducted as

Dogs were matched into other dogs who  
were similar in size/weight, and also well-
conditioned. Dog fighters  typically rejected the
proposition of pitting a Pit Bull against a poorly  
conditioned or sick dog, or against a breed
other than a Pit Bull. Many considered it
inhumane to match any breed that hadn’t   
been bred for the task. The irony of this
position seems to have been lost on the dog
fighters, considering the dogs suffered in the pit
no matter what breed they were.

Two dogs along with their handlers and a
referee were present in the pit during the fight,
handlers in very close contact with their dogs at
all times. A dog who would snap or attack his
handler would be terribly difficult to handle, so
dogs who displayed this tendency were
typically eliminated from the gene pool. Dogs
and their handlers waited on opposite sides of
the pit until the referee commanded "release
your dogs", at which time the fight began.  
The dogs were broken off each other
throughout the match, returned to their
corners, and then released again. Each time the
dogs were released, they had to cross over
what was called a "scratch line" (a
predetermined distance a dog needed to travel
from his corner towards the center of the pit), in
a certain amount  of time, or else the opposing
dog would be declared the victor. Fights could  
last anywhere from a few minutes to over 2

Dogs who lost because they refused to fight or
gave up (e.g. the ones that didn't display
gameness, typically called ‘curs’) were usually
destroyed.  Dogs who survived or won a match
went on to fight again, and/or to become stud
dogs. Essentially these dogs were mere money-
making machines for humans.  

Old match reports and accounts from eye
witnesses describe brutality and violence that is
difficult to imagine. Dogs with broken limbs,
disemboweled, faces half torn off, struggling to
survive in the pit are commonly referenced.  
These were not simply ‘wrestling’ matches, or
exhibitions just to demonstrate ‘gameness’ as
some dog fighting supporters would have you
believe – these were life and death struggles
for the dogs involved, and they routinely went
through incredible amounts of pain and
suffering during their ordeals.  

Today, this archaic brutality continues, despite
being illegal all across the U.S.