Dog fighting is a felony in all 50 states in
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.
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
the line that “Pit Bulls love to fight”; that getting torn up in the pit
for an hour or more is a fun and enjoyable activity for these dogs.
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 intradog 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
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. Intraspecies 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: http:
//network.bestfriends.org/stopbsl/news/24603.html ) - 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.
|In the Pit: A “Typical” Match
During its heyday, rules were been written up
meant to govern the "sport" of dog fighting. In
"professional" fighting circles, these rules are
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.