STAFFORDS AND BAITING SPORTS
By PHIL DRABBLE
I. Dog Fighting
For centuries the men who frequented bull rings and bear pits had enjoyed
watching two dogs fight, but it was only with the abolition of bull
baiting that dogs were bred and trained specifically for the sport.
It had been found that bulldogs were the only dogs which possessed the
requisite courage for the dog-pit but that they lacked the necessary
agility. Various bulldog crosses were tried, mainly with terriers,
until eventually a specific breed of bull terriers was produced which
was fast, strong and utterly game.
From that time dog-fighting increased in popularity. It was spectacular and
as searching a test of gameness and capacity to give and take
punishment as ever a bull bait was. There was little initial
interference from the law, since it was possible to fight two dogs in
any hollow or shed without attracting much attention, for fighting dogs fight
silently. They were easy to get away afterwards, as they could always
be carried in a sack if their condition was likely to draw suspicion.
And dog-fighting had the advantage over bull- or bear-baiting in that
at least both animals wanted to fight instead of the victim having to be
fastened with a rope or chain with no chance of escape.
Early fighting dogs were of all sorts of shapes, sizes and colours since
their breeding was very promiscuous. By about 1860 they more or less
fell into one of two groups, from one of which the English Bull Terrier
was developed and from the other the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. Both
breeds were initially very game, since nobody would keep a bull terrier
which was not, but men soon bred the English variety for show, and looks were "improved"
at the expense of courage. The Staffordshire bull terrier continued to be bred
for the pit and, though not very standardised even yet (despite being shown
for more than ten years) there is no living breed so game.
There is nothing very complicated in the rules of dog-fighting. The
important thing is not so much to kill the other dog as to be game
enough to try.
In days when the sport was still legal and at the height of its popularity,
between 1820 and 1830, dog-fights were a regular part of the sport at
such famous centres of attraction to "the fancy" as the
Westminster Pit. The arena here was used indiscriminately for dog-fights,
rat-killing contests, cock fights and various freak contests between dog and
raccoon or even monkey.
a pit. The sides can be either plywood or boards,
and the substrate can be covered with either a tarpaulin
or carpet. (Diagram by Richard Anderson.) Supplied
by Paul Skelton from a scan of the diagram from the
book " " by s s.
The pit itself was roughly 12-18 feet across, with a boarded surround about
three feet high, over which the spectators could watch. Each dog was
handled by his second and, after the preliminary formalities concerning
the stakes had been completed, each dog was weighed in the pit. It is
common for owners of bull terriers which develop a taste for fighting,
to boast that their dogs will "kill anything" and that this dog or
that "killed an Alsatian" (or something equally big) "in ten
minutes." They would alter their tune if they met a real fighting
terrier. So much does sheer weight count that matches were rarely made
at more than a maximum excess of one pound over the stipulated weight. If a match
were made to be fought at "38 lbs give or take a pound", a dog
coming to the pit so much as a few ounces over 39 lbs would be
disqualified and forfeit the stakes. And two good dogs would sometimes
take as much as two hours to decide which was the better and rarely
less than 25 or 30 minutes. However good a dog was known to be, nobody
but a fool would match him against anything but a cur outside his weight
class. And the and who kept fighting terriers considered all breeds to
be curs which were not game in the pit.
There was often a good deal of trickery, of the lowest sort, employed to
ensure a particular dog winning. He would be rubbed over with acid or
pickle or pepper or anything to discourage his opponent from biting
him. To avoid this a common butt of water was provided from which both
dogs had to be washed, or sometimes milk was used to "kill"
the acid. As an additional precaution, each setter was allowed to
"taste" (or lick) his opponent's dog both before and after
fighting to satisfy himself that nothing pernicious had been used.
When the preliminaries had been completed a coin was tossed to decide which
dog should "scratch first *
". They were taken to opposite corners of the pit where each second
held his dog between his knees so that the other dog got a fair unobstructed view
of his opponent's head. On a word from the referee, the dog which had to
"scratch" first was liberated and had to go across the pit to
attack his opponent. A line was drawn cross the centre of the pit,
which was known as the Scratch and the opposing dog could not be loosed
until the attacker had crossed this line. When he had crossed the scratch the
other setter could loose his dog when ever he liked and it was judgment here
that won or lost many battles.
it was customary in some parts to commence by loosing both
dogs simultaneously. The setters could not leave the pit until they commenced
fighting, and the first to "fault" had to scratch next time
when the battle continued
as described above.
If a setter thought his opponent was not "fast" (or aggressive)
he might risk holding his dog quite still and, if the other dog did not
begin to fight him, he automatically lost the battle. But if his
judgment had been wrong and the other dog did fight at once, the dog which
had been held still, until his opponent caught hold of him where he wanted to,
was at an obvious disadvantage. If, on the other hand, the setter
thought his opponent was pretty fast, his obvious tactics were to loose
his dog the moment the other dog crossed the scratch so that they could
meet on equal terms. Sometimes a setter opposed to a fast dog would
hold his till the last moment and slip him to one side, so that the other dog rushed
harmlessly by. He then loosed him, in the hope that he could get a hold before
his adversary had recovered his balance. This was an obvious case of
"not showing his dog's head fair to scratch" and should have
been penalised by the referee.
When both dogs commenced to fight, and not before, the setters could leave
the pit and though they could encourage their own dogs they were
forbidden to speak to their opponent's dog. Neither dog could be
touched again until both stopped fighting, which would eventually
happen when they were short of wind or otherwise exhausted. When this
happened either setter would pick up his dog. If the opposing dog showed fight
he was obliged to put it down again and allow them to continue. If he
could get him away unmolested he could take him to his corner and the
round had expired. One minute was allowed for sponging down and making
ready for the next round, and the referee gave warning after 50 seconds
so that both should be ready when the minute was up.
This time the dog who scratched first was held while his opponent came to
the scratch and the battle went on again for no set time but until both
dogs "faulted" again. Sometimes these rounds lasted for 20
minutes or more. Towards the end of a battle, when both dogs were
becoming weak or, short of breath, there might only be a few minutes
between scratches. A battle of an hour or more might have twenty scratches, or
one dog might be killed in the first scratch. It was very like the old
Prize Ring rules where men did not fight for a stipulated time but
until one fell to the ground.
The battle was lost by the first dog to fail to come to scratch in his
turn. It was not necessarily the dog which killed the other who won but
the dog which proved most game. If a dog was killed in the pit the
other had to stay at him for ten minutes at least and he could still
not be handled by his setter till he faulted. Then he was taken to his corner.
If it was the dead dog's turn to scratch the battle was automatically lost. If
it was the live dog's turn and he did not scratch, he lost the battle
although he had killed his opponent. Dog-fighting has become illegal
since the days of the Westminster Pit and by the middle of last century
it had to be carried on surreptitiously. It was very popular in London
until the beginning of this century and a little has been carried on in the Midlands
at intervals since then. Police interference has increased until al] organised
dog-fighting in this country has now been stamped out, but game
terriers are still bred and exported to America where the sport is
still perfectly legal in some States.
It is natural that a sport demanding such gameness should produce some
remarkable dogs. I saw a dog only last year which refused to mate a
bitch which was dead hot in season. Every time he was loosed he went
straight for her throat and we had to choke him off eight times before
he eventually mated her and he even tried to worry her when he was
knotted. No damage was done as it happened, since she was wearing her broad leather
collar. Puppies will fight to kill at three months and bitches are as keen as
dogs. Yet some strains are remarkably friendly to other dogs and will
put up with unusual insults before being goaded into fighting when once
they get a taste for it, they would rather fight than do anything in
Ch. Gentleman Jim
Staffordshire Bull Terrier (Fall)
If sheer love of fighting is the prime necessity of the
successful fighting dog, correct physique and complete physical
fitness are almost equally important. A dog fights with his mouth,
and the only places he can sweat are through his tongue and the pores of his feet. And no dog can do
much damage with
his tongue lolling out.
The first considerations in getting a dog fighting fit are
therefore his wind and the removal of all surplus fat. He must
be given constant hard exercise to get him muscled up and in
dead hard condition, this can be best achieved by giving
small quantities of highly nutritious food with an absence of
starchy food during training.
The jelly from cows' feet and an adequate supply of fresh green I forms a
good basis. Plenty of hard walking on a lead with a wide collar so that
can lay himself down and pull helps to strengthen his back and loin
muscles. old motor tyre or other piece of rubber hung up so that he can
jump up, catch ~ and shake himself about on it is simply vital. The damage
a fighting dog is not so much by the sheer force of his bite as by shaking
when he has got h And his neck and back muscles are essential for this.
Plenty of running jumping for a ball that bounces well strengthens all
the muscles he uses in tu~ and twisting, and produces the required
When he is thoroughly fit, the fighting dog is the very personification of
energy. His coat glistens until it seems to exude good health. His eye
is bright and there is a rippling mass of muscle from his cheeks, and
down his neck and shoulder to his loins. He dances like a boxer in the
ring and once he has tried fighting he will attack anything that moves, from
a mouse to a mule. Although there is no definite type of fighting dog, the
breed which was developed for this specific purpose was the
Staffordshire Bull Terrier. Many successful dogs were shipped to
America, where they became known as "Pit Bull Terriers" and
American periodicals devoted to dog-fighting and cockfighting regularly give
round-by-round commentaries of the battles their dogs have, at what they call
"Pit Bull Terrier Conventions".
Despite the illegality of the sport in this country it has always been
carried on spasmodically to a small extent. Periodically the Press
write of "orgies" of dog-fighting which are alleged to have
been carried on for fabulous stakes, usually behind locked doors in the
presence of beautiful women gambling away their fortunes or their honour on
the gory result of some battle. In point of fact the reports are usually an
elaboration woven round scraps of conversation overheard through the
fumes of some bar-parlour.
The battle which may or may not have been described will have taken place
in some cellar or pigsty or barn in the presence of from three to five
men, all of whom are intimately known to each other. They never fight
in the same' place twice. They rarely even keep the dogs they fight,
usually collecting them for the occasion from the men who trained them
and who will be busily engaged in securing a water-tight alibi elsewhere.
And the whole proceedings will be notable more for their sordidness than glamour.
Nobody but the people concerned know when or where the next "job" is
coming off and the sum total of battles fought is very small, so that
chances of detection are negligible.
The dogs themselves take to fighting like a spaniel to the gun and their
absolute craziness to get at each other has to be seen to be believed.
The men who watch them are of an equally unusual type. That they have
little imagination goes without saying. But I find it surprising what a
low percentage appear to have taken any purely sadistic delight. They
almost worship the quality of aggressive gameness and they are usually as willing
to fight each other as to watch their dogs.