We use the term ‘pit bull type dog’ because that is biologically the most accurate term. In order to understand this, you have to look at the biological history of the present day pit bull type dogs. Their history is twofold.
The bulldog: The bull-baiting, bear-baiting, horse-shredding ‘bulldog’ has existed at least since the reign of Richard III in England (1452 – 1485), when watching ‘bulldogs’ slowly torture bulls, bears, horses and other animals to death was considered normal public entertainment. These dogs were also used to hunt wild boar, not only tracking the boar but engaging directly in killing it, and in dogfighting matches where they were pitted against each other in fights to the death. There were no breed clubs to give these dogs fancy names — they were called simply ‘bulldogs’. The term ‘pit bull’ was an American variation on the same theme, referring to any of the pit fighting bulldog types.
Until the late 19th century, the only pedigree that mattered for any bulldog was its fighting pedigree – the list of kills it had committed on some other bulldog in the fighting pit. It wasn’t until early in the 20th century, as dogfighting declined, that the breeders of these dogs sought other ways to sell them. They turned to the new kennel clubs, which had been established to cater to the upper class hobby of breeding dogs for shows. After much lobbying, the 1930s saw the registration and re-branding of the pit fighting bulldogs by various kennel clubs, always with a name intended to hide the type’s bloody history (eg, changing this molosser’s name from bulldog to ‘Staffordshire terrier’). Since that first deception, many new breed clubs have arisen, dedicated to producing slight physical variation in the fighting bulldog so as to claim a new pit bull type ‘breed’ all their own (eg, American Bully, Pit Bull XXL, Olde English Bulldogge, American Bulldog).
All of these dogs in fact come from the same limited gene pool, all of them retaining both the physical and the behavioral traits that have always typified the fighting bulldog. Pasting a new ‘breed’ label on yet another slight variation of the pit fighting bulldog does not change this fact.
The war dog: The Romans had left a legacy behind in Southern and Eastern Europe of their Roman slave-shredding war dogs. What we now call ‘mastiffs’ are probably distantly related to these war dogs the Romans had kept, many of them meanwhile developed into regional variations of the original biological population.
In the period when Richard III was watching his bulldogs shred large animals to death, Europeans were starting to discover and colonize the globe. They transported their ‘mastiff’ dogs, many of which were already mixed with fighting bulldogs, to newly discovered territories to conquer, cow, terrorize and sometimes even eradicate native human populations for the sake of colonization. Tired remnants of these war dogs remained in these countries long after the colonial period ended, mostly chained in yards or on farms as guard dogs. In places where dogfighting was popular, many of them were again mixed with fighting bulldogs, creating local variations that were named for wherever the mix had been made (eg, the Cordoba fighting dog).
The arms race
Most lately we’ve seen a modern arms race in circles that favor this type of inherently dangerous dog, leading to the mixing of ever more local mastiff types with fighting bulldog / pit bull types. The fans of the new mix then apply to kennel clubs to have their own pit bull – mastiff mix recognized as a new ‘breed’. It’s this arms race, with its greed for cash, that has given us the many pit bull mixes people are now pretending are a separate mastiff ‘breed’: the ‘Cane Corso’, ‘Dogo Argentino’, ‘Dogue de Bordeaux’, ‘Bullmastiff’, to name a few.
The instant a kennel club dispenses a new official name for such a mix, the mix’s fans start to claim that their ‘breed’ is distinct. Suddenly the newest pit fighting bulldog – mastiff mix is a ‘breed’ that has nothing to do with any other pit bull, mastiff, or pit bull – mastiff mix, as if the new mix’s genes materialized out of thin air.
In fact, these pit bull – mastiff mixes are pit bull type dogs, no less than any other backyard-bred pit bull mix.
We, dogfighters, and the law used to. Even the fur-mommy pit bull fans did. When the first laws were introduced to restrict or ban the ‘pit bull’, its fur-mommy fans were alarmed. They suddenly appeared everywhere to explain to us: “You can’t ban pit bulls, because it’s not a breed but a type of dog.” As deaths by this type of dog continued to mount, wise lawmakers listened to the fur-mommies’ wisdom – laws began to specify that restrictions applied to various ‘breeds’ that were of the pit bull type. The laws included all dogs (regardless of breed labels or mixed background) that displayed the main characteristics of this type of dog, and they include any mixes thereof. The American courts have also repeatedly taken this same position.
Most of the public understands nowadays that the distinction between the various fighting bulldog ‘breeds’ are a fiction, and that they are all included when we say ‘pit bull’. There is still some confusion about the pit bull – mastiff mixes. This is likely partly because they are so much larger than what people generally think of as a pit bull, and partly because of the invented ‘breed’ names that suggest these mixes are some local invention, unmixed with anything outside their area of origin. This is a fiction – the common thread that runs through all of these ‘mastiff’ types is the mixing of already inherently aggressive local mastiffs with fighting bulldog types.
All of these dogs come from juggling with the same narrow gene pool. In the end, they are all descended from dog types that were used either to maul bears, cattle and humans to death for entertainment, as well as to eradicate native populations in various colonies, and/or from pit fighting bulldogs that were mostly only pitted against each other and wild boar. They are a result of centuries of human selection for abnormally disinhibited behavior, a specific tenacious and deadly bite, grip and shear attack pattern, and the physical characteristics to make defense against an attack almost impossible.
They are all of them genetically and behaviorally closely related, all of them pit bull type dogs.