Sunday, October 11, 2015

INSIGHT ON BULLY BREEDS AND THEIR EVOLUTION


We know that all modern day dogs have been selectively bred for ages to enhance certain behaviors, capabilities, and physical attributes.  Their basic physical make-up though, no matter how altered, is that of their wild ancestors.  In other words, all domestic dogs, from Chihuahuas to Great Danes have the same traits.

If all dogs share the same traits, why is it that, at present, one of the most prolific and victimized dogs filling shelters is the Pit Bull?  We hear a lot about Pit Bulls, and about them being a “bully breed”.  Are Pit Bulls deemed aggressive, vicious, and unpredictable because they are then equated with the perceived “schoolyard bully”?  A term originally used to categorize a group of specific breeds has become fodder for confusion and misrepresentation, so it is time to clarify and provide a bit of insight on bully breeds and their evolution.

A Pit Bull is defined as an American Pit Bull Terrier, an American Staffordshire Terrier, or a Staffordshire Bull Terrier and any cross in-between.  In some regions, the American Bulldog and the Bull Terrier are classified as a 'Pit Bull'-type dogs.  These dog breeds are also known as being part of the “bully breed” group.  This grouping also includes other breeds like Boxers and Boston Terriers.  Many breeds that are classified bulldog, mastiff or that are brachycephalic (having skull bones that are shorter in length, giving the face and nose a pushed in or flat appearance) are bully breeds.

The term “bully breed” actually has nothing to do with temperament, size, or reputation.  It does have to do with the lineage and the dogs’ purpose.  Bully breeds are descended from an extinct large breed of dog called Canis Molossi.  These dogs, famous for courage and ferocity, were trained by the Molossis people to serve as guardian and war dogs.  Originating in the mountainous regions of northwest ancient Greece and southern Albania, they are believed to be the early forerunners of Mastiffs.  The Molossers are described as good-sized dogs that have a stubby jaw with two fangs projecting from it, a large head with drooping ears, thick shoulders and neck, powerful hindquarters, and large paws.
  
Phoenicians regarded these huge dogs as a valuable commodity for trade, the Romans valued them for their hunting ability.  Exported to Asia and Northern Africa, the Molossers interbred with dogs of the regions, resulting in offspring with shorter coats while retaining the characteristics of massive heads and short muzzles.  Eventually, the dogs made their way to the British Isles, where they again bred with Celtic tribe dogs.  The resultant dogs were trained to grab a horse by its nose during battle.  By holding onto the nose, the horse would buck its rider off in order to dislodge the dog.  The Romans called these dogs Pugnace Britannicii, later known as the Broad Mouthed Dogs of Briton. 

In England, as early as 1154, bull baiting became a popular sport.  Originally, the “Broad Mouthed Dogs of Briton”, were set upon a bull that was restrained.  The dog that grabbed the bull by the nose and pinned it to the ground would be the winner in betting circles.  Over time, the owners of these dogs realized that the size and structure of the animal had to change for it to have a better chance at survival.  Through selective breeding, the Bulldog gradually evolved and became a separate breed from the Molosser, the Mastiff-type breed. 

After 1835, when bull baiting became illegal, dog fighting saw a rise in popularity.  Hardy, scrappy sporting Terriers were crossed with the bull baiting Bulldogs to enhance the traits necessary for fighting in smaller pits.  These cross breeds were called bull-and-terriers and are considered the first Pit Bull-type dogs.

The following are Molosser descendants, known as the “Bully Breeds”: Alapaha Blue Blood Bulldog; American Bulldog; American Mastiff; American Pit Bull Terrier; American Staffordshire Terrier; Bandog; Belgian Mastiff; Boerboel, Boston Terrier; Boxer; Bull Terrier; Bulldog; Bullmastiff; Cane Corso; Dogo Argentino; Dogue De Bordeux; English Mastiff; French Bulldog; Great Dane; Neapolitian Mastiff; Olde English Bulldogge; Perro de Presa; Pug; Renascence Bulldogge; Rottweiller; Staffordshire Bull Terrier; and Victorian Bulldog. 


As a last note, while the word ‘bully’ is mainly associated with the Bulldog and bull baiting, Bully breeds later became a term to refer to those dogs that were “Bulldog-like”, including the brachycephalic breeds like the Pug.  There are many who associate the term with Pit Bull-type dogs, only.  Next week, I will offer a more in-depth look at the often-misjudged Pit Bull.


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