The pit bull has to be one of the most, if not the most, controversial dog breeds there are. Putting aside feelings and politics, let's look at the history of this misunderstood animal.
To clarify, the term “pit bull” isn't actually the name of one breed, but covers a group of breeds with similar characteristics. Since mixed breeds with a certain “look” can be considered pits there is some leeway as to what constitutes a pit bull, but there are specific breeds that fall into the “pit” category. In North America, the American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier are these formal breeds — though the American Bulldog and Bull Terrier are sometimes included.
Dating as far back as the 1500's we find bulldogs in paintings. A famous one from 1817 , entitled Crib and Rosa, shows the Old English Bulldog breed from which the pit bull was bred.
The pit bull's origin traces back to Ireland where bulldogs and terriers were bred for the combination of agility and strength. Later, the dogs were used in the United Kingdom for blood sports such as bull-baiting, bear-baiting, and cock fighting. As America was settled by Europeans, pit bulls were eventually used as catch-dogs for wild animals and driving cattle.
Today, blood sports have been outlawed, but “underground” fighting rings still exist. Unfortunately, this often leads pits to still be thought of as fighting dogs. Despite the pit bull's current reputation for violence, the bulldog it is bred from was typically a guard and companion dog.
There is now a distinction between the two main groups of pits: the red nose and the blue nose. Just as they sound, each group really does have a different colored nose. However, there are more differences. Coat color of the blue noses tends to be in the gray ranges and smooth, whereas the red noses are the brown and red coats. Being thought of as the original pit and more “true” to the original breed, the blue nose tends to fetch a higher price. The red nose tends to have the look of a pit, but be diluted with the American breeds that came later.
Nowadays, this group of breeds is becoming more welcome to play key roles in society. These include working dogs such as soldiers and police dogs, search and rescue dogs, and guide dogs. For many, they still carry the stigma mentioned above, but despite this the pit bull has become the beloved dog of many homes.