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bronwen dickey pit bull

Three years ago, I received an email from a writer who wanted to interview me on what I knew about the history of bulldogs and bull and terrier types.

I have received several emails like these over the years.  They usually go nowhere, but when we were able to talk  on the phone, I was actually  quite surprised.

The author had actually read my blog very carefully, and the questions showed that she had done quite a bit of research on the topic. When you write these sorts of blog posts, you often wonder if people are actually paying attention to what you write.

She obviously had done her homework. She asked me something about Cuban bloodhounds, a defunct breed of dog used to catch runaway slaves. I hadn’t written on Cuban bloodhounds for many years. She asked about the ancient alaunt dogs, whether pit bulls had essentially become an urban landrace, and how society came to understand this concept of breed.

The author who contacted was Bronwen Dickey. I didn’t know it at the time, but she is the daughter of the great Southern poet and novelist James Dickey. And as I came to find out, she is a very fine writer in her own right.

In April 2013, she was delving deeper into the research around pit bulls. She was writing a book on the story of the pit bull type dog in America. Pit bulls, as we all know, are the most controversial dog breed in America. Many, many claims are made about them, but whether these claims withstand objective scrutiny is quite another thing. There is a widespread belief that these dogs have locking jaws or that they suddenly turn on people without warning. There is also a belief that a pit bull is a super canine that can readily dispatch  a feral hog on its own and then curl up with the kids as the “Nanny dog.”

Both advocates and detractors have created an image of this sort of dog. What Bronwen wished to figure out is which parts are true and which are parts of contrived to the point of being pure fantasy.

It turns out there was quite a bit.

Now, this book isn’t out yet, and it’s already being attacked.

Pit bulls are so contentious that I stopped writing about them quite a while ago. Of all the issues I’ve seen dog people invest emotional time and energy into fighting over, pit bulls are truly an outlier. Dog people fight over just about anything trivial, but when it comes to pit bulls, there is a whole other dimension:  If a pit bull mauls someone, there will be a group that wants them all executed. If a pit bull mauls someone, there will be a group of people who want that dog’s life spared at all costs.

I’ve never seen anything quite like this in dogs. Indeed, the only other topic that riles people up more online is whether feminism destroyed video games or not.

In one week (May 10), Pit Bull: The Battle over an American Icon will be released. There are people whose minds will never be changed on both extremes of this debate, but for that great middle, who really wants to know what the pit bull is and what it truly means to this country, Bronwen Dickey has produced a nuanced analysis that is well worth reading.

And she’s a good writer.

When she had me review a few chapters of her drafts, I found them to be quite fascinating in deed.

But if you really want to know– and are brave enough to have your assumptions challenged– buy a copy. Only a few more days to wait.

 

 

 

 

 

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skull 1

A recent study of pit bull skulls using 3-D imaging technology has revealed that they have skull measurements that are more similar to the extinct canids in the genus Borophagus. Further analysis involving SNP technology revealed that the average of 24.6 percent ancestry that is from a canid that is neither wolf nor domestic dog.

Abbott Millard, a canid researcher with the Dog Origins Project, has performed the 3-D imaging research, which included 130 pit bull skulls. His a comparison with the measurements of the pit bull skulls with those of several extant and extinct canids.

“Our results show that pit bulls have skull morphology most similar to the extinct dogs of the genus Borophagus. These results were quite shocking because Borophagus has been classified with an extinct group of canids that were thought not be related to modern dogs at all,” said Millard.

However, knowing that canids have a tendency towards convergent evolution in skull morphology, it is quite possible that pit bulls, a breed known for its massive jaw strength, evolved similar jaws to the Borphagus through similar selection pressures.

Which is why the Dog Origins Project decided to do some research on pit bull DNA. The researchers used SNP chip technology, which allows for extensive genome-wide assays. Similar research has been used to disprove East Asian origins for the domestic dog and raised real questions about the taxonomic status of the red wolf.

Otto Klinger, lead geneticist at the Dog Origins Project, compared DNA from 20 pit bulls, 15 boxers, 4 dingoes, 6 wolves from 4 different regions in the Old World, 12 coyotes, and 3 golden jackals. Pit bulls were found to be mostly domestic dog in origin, but a large sample of their genetic material didn’t match any extant canid.

“It is possible that this mystery canid was actually an undocumented wolf subspecies, but the finding that pit bulls have similar skulls to the Borophagus raises intriguing questions. It could mean that the pit bull terrier developed in America was crossed with a relict population of Borophagus,” said Klinger, “There are many mentions of strange wolves in the colonial literature that might be very suggestive of Borophagus, and there are mentions of blocky-headed wolfdogs belonging to the Algonquin peoples of the Northeast. Maybe these dogs and wolves were the relict Borophagus. They certainly would have been great fighting dogs.”

The discovery of the hybrid origin for the pit bull, though, does raise some important questions.

Millard believes that these studies mean that pit bulls deserve their own species status:

“The hybrid origin of the pit bull strongly suggests that we should not be classifying pit bulls as part of the greater dog species. We propose that the scientific name for the new pit bull species be Canis horribilus. Pit bulls are the grizzly bears of the dog world, so we think that we should use the grizzly bear’s name [Ursus arctos horribilus] to define the pit bull.”

With this new definitive DNA research on pit bulls, breed specific legislation will now be much easier to enforce, and the Dog Origin Project plans on donating its findings to law enforcement to develop a definitive pit bull genetic test.

“Our research will now have a positive impact upon society. I can’t tell you how thrilled I am wih the possibilities!” said Klinger.

So we now know why pit bulls are so different from other dogs. They are hybrids with a mystery canid that might be a survivor from the days of the ancient Borophaginae.

*The above is an April Fools’ prank. Not a single word of it is factual. Reposting or quoting this article as if it were fact will make you look extremely stupid.

 

 

 

 

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If it is, I doubt that it’s an F-1, though:

pit bull golden retriever

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dog of note

The answer to the question I asked nearly a month ago is that there are three correct answers.

This dog is Jock of the Bushveldt, not to be confused with Jock of the Bushveld, which is a novel by Sir Percy Fitzpatrick that details the life of a bull terrier type dog in the South African bush.

This dog was born in England in 1910.  The dog in the novel lived in the 1880’s.

And this, of course, leads to a lot of stupid debates on the internet. Many people actually believe the South African Jock was a Staffordshire bull terrier, because his father was purebred from England. However, in the 1880’s, the only bull terriers that were being registered and show with the Kennel Club were the Hinks-strain of bull terrier.  These were the white dogs that eventually became very popular throughout the world.  Jock’s mother was just a bull terrier, which means that she may have been derived from just generic bulldog and terrier crosses– which are also the source for the “pit bull” and “staffie” type dogs.

However, the dog in the photo is of more consequence than Jock.

This dog was actually a first cross between a brindle bulldog and a Manchester  (“black and tan”) terrier.

So the first correct answer is that he was a bulldog/Manchester terrier cross.

The second correct answer is that he was a Staffordshire bull terrier, for dogs derived from him became part of the Staffordshire bull terrier breed.

The third correct answer is “colored bull terrier,” for he was also an ancestor of the colored variety of bull terrier.

Black and tan and tricolor– often with brindling in the tan– are pretty common colors in bull and miniature bull terriers.

One of the Hinks-type bull terrier’s ancestors, the English white terrier, which was basically a white Manchester terrier, became extinct because deafness was so common in the breed.

And although the original color for all of these bull terriers was white, it was well-known  that breeding for the white color alone was clearly linked to increased deafness.

So it was decided to allow in blood from rougher strains of bull and terrier.

This was almost without controversy in the United Kingdom, but when it happened, many members of the Bull Terrier Club of America lost their minds.

For decades, American bull terrier fanciers refused to allow in any color but white. However, they eventually relented, but only if the “colored” dogs were show as a separate variety.

“Colored” is also a word that has a clear racial meaning, so I have often wondered if the distinction for “colored” bull terrier is actually meant to be some sort racial slur.

The white dogs bred by Hinks were meant for gentlemen.  All gentlemen in those days were white, so they should have a white dog to back them up. The dog’s nickname from that era even reflects a member of the white gentry– “the white cavalier.”

Cavaliers, of course, were the landed gentry who supported the king during the English Civil War. The Virginia planters, who themselves were actually rabble that rose to the status of gentlemen through their tobacco enterprises, backed the king in that war, which is one reason why the University of Virginia’s mascot is the cavalier.

The Staffordshire bull terrier type was pretty common long before James Hinks came along. They are really what you’d get if you crossed an old type bulldog with some sort of terrier. They are the basis for the pit bulls– which were usually called “bull terriers”– that have been in America for hundreds of years.

But they were the dogs of unrefined peasants and colonials.

They weren’t white cavaliers.

This same sort of bias exists in many parts of the country with BSL.  Pit bulls and staffies get the legislation; the egg-headed pig dogs usually don’t.

It is really amazing how class and race get mixed up in our discussions about dogs.

They are really reflections of what people were thinking about each other than the actually dogs themselves.

 

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I know I’m about to break one of my own rules.

I know I said I wasn’t going to write about pit bulls.

But I think I need to make an exception.

I’m not talking about BSL  or anything that controversial.

Instead, I’m going to talk about a particular type of conformation show that pit bulls are now being bred for.

To illustrate my issue, here is G. G belongs to my cousin, Laura Atkinson:

G is a brindle pit.  I don’t think anyone would argue about what he is.

He’s typical of the unregistered pit bull-type that exists throughout the country. (I know that technically there are American pit bull terriers, which are a UKC recognized breed, and there are “pit bulls,” which are not.)

The UKC standard calls for a dog that isn’t vastly dissimilar to G.

Something like this:

It’s not a particularly exaggerated dog in terms of its conformation.

The AKC recognizes another type of North American bull and terrier type, which is called the American Staffordshire terrier. (Not to be confused with the Staffordshire bull terrier, which is an English bull and terrier breed that was derived from bull and terrier types that were not bred from the Hinks strain).

These terms are all highly contentious, but let’s just say that the bull and terrier types that don’t have egg shaped heads aren’t particularly exaggerated dogs.  The official breed standards call for very moderate dogs.

But there are other conformation standards.

In recent years, there have been new “Atomic dog” shows. These Atomic shows actually do reward exaggeration in type.

This is the sort of dog they want:

These shows reward dogs with very wide chests and massive bone.

They aren’t being judged according to any breed club standards, so they’ve written their own.

Now, there’s nothing really wrong with people writing their own breed standards, but when these standards are rewarding exaggeration, then we do have to have some discussion about it.

I have not seen any studies on the health of these Atomic-type dogs, but my guess is they are being predisposed to certain growth-related health problems, like OCD .

It’s also very likely that these dogs are being given growth supplements to build these Schwarzenegger bodies, and in Atomic Dog magazine, these hormones are advertised. If you have to give a dog growth hormones to produce the type you want, then there are definite ethical questions that must be answered.

There is nothing in the bull and terrier’s history that would require the breeding of such beefy dogs.

It’s simple vanity.

And I don’t think we’ve looked closely at the welfare issues associated with breeding for this particular phenotype in this particular breed.

After all, the enthusiasts who breed this sort of dog aren’t operating even within the framework of established kennel clubs.

And it’s relatively new.

But it does need to be examined.

It’s not just the conformation shows within the major clubs that are causing canine distortions.

They are also happening in other places.

The main registry for this sort of “wide stance” pit bull is the American Bully Kennel Club.

They also register a “Shorty Bull,” a wide stance dog with even shorter legs!

They even have a totally bogus breed called an “Old Roman bulldog.” This is what it claims one of these dogs is:

Before all the modern Bulldog crosses of today, there lived a true giant Bull-Dog, the Bull-Dogs of old Rome. We have done the research and have acquired the right genetic makeup to produce what we feel is a good representation of a True “Original Bull-Dog”. A bull-dog that has a great temperment (sic) and can do work or just hang out with the family. The total package!

Um. No.

Bulldogs aren’t from Ancient Rome.

The best history on bulldogs traces them to the dogs of the Alani, but even that information is a subject to debate.

The truth is this sort of dog appeared in northern Europe and the British Isles during the Middle Ages, and over time diversified into a wide variety of breeds.

But if dog breeds didn’t originate in Ancient Egypt, then they obviously came from Ancient Rome!

Breeding for super exaggeration and making up certifiably nutty crap about bulldogs and bull-and-terrier types is not something confined to the Bedlams that are established breed clubs and registries.

The start-ups are often just as bad!

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Some people claim that the American bully is a different breed, but I’m not playing into this game. Even if the dogs do have other blood in them, so do most unregistered pit bulls.

This is a silly argument– on the level of trying to split apart all the different dogs we call Jack Russell.

Keep in mind that Labrador retrievers were the last retriever breed to have a fully closed registry. Some lines of Labrador have the influence of other retriever breeds that others lack. For example, “English Labs” have a influence from flat-coated and golden retrievers, and “American trial Labs” often have an influence from Chesapeakes.

No one splits hairs over them.

So I’m not going to here.

There’s already too much stupid splitting among dog strains that I refuse to indulge it any more.

That’s a very weaselly way of operating– and it’s intellectually dishonest.

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The Rev. John Russell was a parson in the Church of England. He had studied at Oxford and was given a parish in North Devon.

He was a fox terrier enthusiast and a founding member of the Kennel Club– yes. he was in the fancy.

But he was never fully comfortable there. Even though he helped write the standard for the smooth fox terrier, he never showed his own dogs.

He just wanted a good little fox bolter.

And he would later describe how he would create a fox bolting terrier, and this strongly suggests that the fox terriers, including the terriers which would eventually be given his name are partially derived from the bull-and-terrier types– pit bulls, if you will.

Russell describes the best way to create a fox terrier in this fashion:

“The process,” replied Russell, “is simply as follows: they begin with a smooth bitch terrier; then, to obtain a finer skin, an Italian greyhound is selected for her mate. But as the ears of the produce are an eyesore to the connoisseur, a beagle is resorted to, and then little is seen of that unsightly defect in the next generation. Lastly, to complete the mixture, the bulldog is now called on to give the necessary courage; and the composite animals, thus elaborated, become, after due selection, the sires and dams of the modern fox-terriers. This version of their origin,” continued he, “I received from a man well qualified to speak on the subject.”

The bulldog blood thus infused imparts courage, it is true, to the so-called terrier; he is matchless at killing any number of rats in a given time; will fight any dog of his weight in a Westminster pit; draw a badger heavier than himself out of his long box; and turn up a tom-cat possessed even of ten lives, before poor pussy can utter a wail. But the ferocity of that blood is in reality ill suited—nay, is fatal—to fox-hunting purposes; for a terrier that goes to ground and fastens on his fox, as one so bred will do, is far more likely to spoil sport than promote it; he goes in to kill, not to bolt, the object of his attack (A memoir of the Rev. John Russell and his out-of-door life, , by Edward William Lewis Davies, 1902 ed., pg. 54-55.)

So Jack Russells and other fox terriers likely do have some bulldog and bull-and-terrier blood.

And when you see someone who loves Jack Russells excoriate “pit bulls,” keep in mind that the acorn didn’t fall that far from the tree.

Who knows how much a Jack Russell is actually a bred down “pit bull’?

See related post:

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Source.

This is so cute. That dog must have very strong parental instincts.

I know this, because Miley would be busy carrying that little rabbit around in her mouth.

Little rabbits might be cute, but they are more fun to carry around.

 

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