Dog Fighting Through History

Dog Fighting Through History

Author WDF Staff


Dog fighting is a brutal blood sport that has luckily been banned in most countries around the globe. It is mostly connected to criminal underground and illegal activities. Rescue organizations and activists have done a lot to help solve this problem, but it still exists.

We are entirely against such barbaric traditions, and dogs shouldn’t suffer because of someone’s bloodlust. However, the problem still survives because there is a lot of money involved in these illegal activities, and criminals tend to earn a lot if they have a winning dog.

We have gone so far as society, and we believe it is only a matter of time when dog fighting will stop. However, it has played an enormous role in history. Some breeds were specifically developed to become the best and strongest possible fighters. This goal defined them and the characteristics breeders wanted to promote.

Where it all started?

The first organized dog fights can be traced back to 43AD and the Roman conquest of Britain. Romans used war dogs to fight alongside them, and the British used large, Mastiff-type dogs. They were very impressed, and when they conquered them, they took their dogs and brought them to Rome.

If you want to know more about Roman war dogs, check out this article - War dogs through history.

They started fighting dogs against different animals like lions, bears, elephants, other dogs, and gladiators. They have started crossbreeding the English Mastiffs with their local Molossian dogs. Some of the most famous Italian dog breeds were created like that. Romans wanted to make powerful, fearless dogs that would be capable of taking on any enemy in the arena as well as the field of war.

dogs fighting

Pretty soon, Romans started using dogs in most of their conquests. They started exporting them to different parts of Europe. Dog fighting started becoming very popular, and pretty soon, people began introducing dangerous wild animals into the fighting rings. The three most famous dog opponents were bears, bulls, and rats. All of these brutal fights had different goals and would be held in different arenas or pits.

One of the most famous Roman dogs of war is the Cane Corso. Check out their bloody history here - Cane Corso history of the Roman dog of war.


Bear-baiting is a blood sport that was developed in England. It was popular from the 12th to 19th century, and many royals were fans of bear-baiting. The aim of this sport is to set a few dogs against a bear in a bear garden. Bear garden was the name of a “pit” that was dug into the ground and had places for the audience around it. People used to gamble on the outcome, and the most popular dog breed used for this bloody sport was the Old English Bulldog.


Bull-baiting is very similar to bear-baiting. It is a blood sport invented in England whose goal is to pin dogs against an enraged bull. The dogs had to immobilize the bull by grabbing ahold of their snout or ears. They also needed to avoid the bull’s horns. It was a popular sport in towns as well as rural areas. Again, the most used breed was the Old English Bulldog.


Ratting is another version of blood sports that used makeshift ratting pits. The pits were filled with rats, and a dog was placed inside. The dog’s aim was to kill as many rats as possible in 30 seconds or one minute. Smaller Terrier breeds were used for this blood sport and mostly Manchester Toy Terrier or Manchester Terrier. It is believed that this is the “poor man’s” version of bull and bear-baiting. 

US dog fighting history

Luckily, US dog fighting history is a lot shorter than the European. Still, it is very bloody and unpleasant. The widespread of dog fighting rings began in the early 1800s. These organized dog fights were promoted and endorsed as safe entertainment for the masses. It wasn’t until the organization of the ASPCA by Henry Bergh in 1866 when all animal blood sports were outlawed.

Nevertheless, organized illegal dog fights are still flourishing. Criminal enterprises are earning a fortune on dogs involved in illegal fights. They were selling dogs, gambling, and hosting these bloody events.

In 2009, ASPCA was a part of the biggest raid aimed at illegal dog fighting. They broke several dog fighting rings and rescued over 400 animals. Most of the rescued dogs were Pit Bulls bred specifically for fighting. The raid was held over 8 different states. It resulted in 29 arrests where the accused were sentenced to more than 10 years in federal prisons.

Dog breeds used for fighting

Different countries have different dog breeds that were developed for fighting. No matter what place we looked at, it seemed that humans always pinned dogs against each other. From Japan, Australia, Europe, South, and North America, dog fights seem to have found their way. Some owners even imported dogs they wanted to include in these bloody sports.

All dog breeds used for illegal or legal dog fights seem to have specific characteristics in common. These are large, Mastiff-type dogs with powerful bones, muscles, and jaws. They had to be agile and athletic because failure in a dog ring would often mean death. The most famous fighting dog breeds in the world are;

Tosa Inu

The Tosa is a Japanese breed specifically bred for fighting. Even today, dog fights are legal in Japan, and the Tosa holds a special position in the canine community. They are celebrated and praised for their abilities. Because of their fighting nature, these dogs are banned in many countries across the globe. Read more about this breed here - Tosa Inu profile.

tosa inu in nature

American Pit Bull Terrier

The creation of the American Pit Bull Terrier is closely tied to dog fighting. These dogs were bred from the Staffordshire Terriers from England. They were selectively bred to promote the best possible fighting characteristics. These dogs are muscular and extremely energetic. These days, several rescue groups are trying to change their image and reintegrate this breed into society. Read more about this breed here - Pit Bull dilemma.

two pit bulls

Presa Canario

Formerly known as Perro de Presa Canario, this powerful dog is the Spanish breed of choice for all dog fighting enthusiasts. At one point in history, in the Canary Islands, these dogs were commonly owned, and their owners used to create fighting rings in the sand and mud on the streets. Most of their disputes and disagreements were settled by dog fighting. The ownership of these dogs is also restricted in many places. Read more about this breed here - Presa Canario - Spanish fighting dog.

male and female presa canario

Dogo Argentino

The Dogo Argentino is one of the newest members of the American Kennel Club. This breed was used for hunting big game, but they were often used for fighting. They are large, powerful dogs that are naturally dominant. Read more about this breed here - Dogo Argentino profile.

dogo argentino laying

Fila Brasileiro

The Fila is a large Brasilian dog breed that has a very bloody history. It has been used for hunting and the slave trade. They are incredibly aggressive dogs that are, luckily, not that common. The ownership of these dogs is heavily restricted, but they still remain one of the most popular fighting dog breeds. Read more about this breed here - Fila Brasileiro profile.

adult fila brasilieiro

What to do if you suspect dog fighting in your area?

There are a few tell-tell signs that something illegal is going on. Keep an eye on signs that could lead to dog fighting. Some of the signs are;

  • Many Pit Bull-type dogs are kept in one area, especially if they look injured and unsocialized. They are often chained and can look malnourished.
  • Special equipment is involved in training a fighting dog, so keep an eye on breaking sticks used to pry open the dog’s jaws after they lock it in a fight, and training springs like tires swinging from a tree.
  • People coming and going in weird hours of the day. Dog fighting is a spectator sport. It usually involves a lot of money, so it is bound to have plenty of spectators and other owners participating in this illegal activity.

If you notice anything suspicious going on, call your local or federal authorities and tell them about it. Don’t try to do anything on your own because not only are the dogs dangerous, but dog fighting is usually associated with brutal criminals.

If you are interested in learning the most dangerous dog breeds in the world, check out this article - Most dangerous dog breeds in the world.

World Dog Finder team

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