What Exactly Is Bear-baiting?

What Exactly Is Bear-baiting?

Author WDF Staff | Last updated: Jun 30 2023


It is sad to learn there were many different blood sports involving dogs, but the tragic truth still remains - Dogs were used for many different blood sports.

One of these disgusting sports is bear-baiting. If you heard the term before but you are not entirely sure what bear-baiting is, stick with us a bit, and we will tell you what you need to know about this barbaric sport.

What is bear-baiting?

Bear-baiting is a blood sport where bears were pitted against dogs or any other animal. It is a barbaric tradition that was sadly very popular around the world. Luckily, this barbaric tradition was outlawed, and many countries do not allow such cruel practices.

How did it work?

This blood sport had a very simple premise; a bear was placed inside the bear pit, and dogs or other animals were set against it. The goal was to torment or even kill the bear. The bear was usually pitted against a pack of specially bred dogs for blood sports, and they were primarily Old English Bulldogs or Mastiffs.

bear baiting historyImage Source

The bear pit had walls around it, and spectator stands where people could see the whole thing and bet on the outcome. The neck or leg chained the best, and dogs could move freely. The bear was sometimes set loose, and they charged after other animals.

Bear-baiting history

Bear-baiting was the most popular blood sport involving dogs, especially in the Middle Ages. This sport was popular from the 12th to 19th century, and even some British Kings and Queens were fans.

In 1575, the first attempt was made to ban bear-baiting on Sundays. The Parliament agreed, but Queen Elizabeth I. overruled them and allowed this blood sport to continue flourishing.

Bear-baiting started in Great Britain, where it was most popular until it died out because of the high costs of importing bears for blood sports. However, bear-baiting was made popular across former British colonies. People organized bear-baiting pits and battles in Pakistan, India, North America, Mexico, and even Sweden.

Ban on bear-baiting

The good news is that most bear-baiting pits were impossible to maintain, so bear-baiting died out by the late 17th century. However, Brits weren’t done with blood sports involving dogs, so they simply repurposed bear pits to bull pits.

Bull-baiting took over as the most popular blood sport from the 17th to the 19th century.

grizzli bears

In 1835, a member of the British Parliament, Joseph Pease, introduced the “Cruelty to Animals Act,” and all blood sports were made illegal.

Unfortunately, many organizers didn’t like that, so they kept their practices hidden from the public. They switched to dog fights since it is nearly impossible to take bears or bulls into pits unnoticed. Dogs became prime targets and victims. However, most of these practices were discontinued, and all blood sports were ignored.

Want to know more about dog fighting and its bloody history? Check out this article - Dog fighting through history.

The sad news is that in recent history, illegal bear-baiting pits were reported and caught in Pakistan and the United States of America. In Pakistan, local gangsters involved with dog fighting organized bear-baiting events. Asian Black and Brown bears are poached and sold for bear-baiting. The last known event was held in 2004.

In South Carolina, bear-baiting events were held until 2013. The events were held illegally, and luckily, police caught them, and perpetrators were arrested. It is sad to hear these barbaric traditions are still held in this modern world.

In conclusion

Blood sports involving dogs were very popular in the Middle Ages. Luckily, most of them are illegal in most countries. Bear-baiting was one of these sports, and in this sport, bears were pitted against dogs or other animals. The most used dog breeds were Old English Bulldogs and Mastiffs.

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