What is Bull-baiting?

What is Bull-baiting?

Author WDF Staff


It might be a bit sad to think about it, but dogs have a bloody history. Since the earliest days of domestication, dog owners have used dogs for blood sports. They have pitted dogs against each other as well as against other animals. One of these blood sports that became very popular in the Middle Ages in Europe is bull-baiting. If you want to know more about this bloody barbaric tradition, stick with us a bit longer.

What is bull-baiting?

Bull-baiting is a “sport,” where dogs were placed in a pit and had to immobilize or kill a bull. This sport didn’t necessarily have to involve dogs, but bulls were the essential part of bull-baiting. Bulls were placed in a pit and had to fight against other animals. However, their most common opponents were dogs.

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Bull-baiting history

This blood sport had its peak in the 17th and 18th centuries in England. However, it wasn’t invented there. Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans organized dog fights and even fought dogs against different animals and gladiators. However, it wasn’t until the sport arrived in England where they took it to the next level.

Bull-baiting became extremely popular during the time of Queen Anne (1665 - 1714), and bull-baiting was held twice a week in London. The most famous fighting ring was the Bull Ring in Birmingham, where bull-baiting was announced in their local newspaper. Unfortunately, this blood sport wasn’t popular only in England.

Bull-baiting took off in Scotland, Ireland, and even all across North America. During the Spanish rule in California, bulls were often pitted against bears, but since capturing bears was not easy, the Spaniards used dogs as well. Luckily, these blood sports were banned.

Ban on bull-baiting

As the animal rights movements were getting stronger and people’s consciousness started to shift, most blood sports were banned across the US and Europe. Unfortunately, they are not forbidden everywhere in the world. Even to this day, some countries allow dog fighting to continue. You can read more about it here - Dog fighting through history.


Luckily, in 1835, the British Parliament passed the “Cruelty to Animals Act,” and all blood sports became illegal. Things like dog fighting pits, ratting, bear-baiting, and bull-baiting were outlawed, and most major cities stopped these bloody practices. However, blood sports were very popular, and there was quite a bit of money involved in betting. Cunning criminals moved their activities and hid them from the public’s face. Since it was nearly impossible to take bulls to fighting pits unnoticed, they mostly switched to dog fights.

Dog breeds involved in bull-baiting

As you can imagine, it took a special kind of dog breed to fight a bull. Your average Golden Retriever doesn’t have the power or aggressiveness needed for the sport. Only a few dog breeds were used for this bloody sport. Some of those breeds outgrew their purpose with the ban of blood sports in the UK and the rest of Europe, so they are now extinct. However, some dog breeds we know today are direct descendants of the bull-baiting breeds used in those fighting pits. The English Bulldog is a direct descendant of the Old English Bulldog that was the main dog breed used for bull-baiting. The most common breeds used for this bloody sport were;

Thanks to these blood sports, we now have some amazing dog breeds that were repurposed and selectively bred to become pets. We now have Staffordshire Terriers, Boxers, English Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, and many other breeds that come from strong, bull-baiting dogs of the old.

In conclusion

Bull-baiting is a primitive, barbaric sport where dogs were pitted against bulls. It became very popular in England in the 17th and 18th centuries, and it was outlawed in 1835. The last bull-baiting fight was held in 1842, and after that, there were no rings left for these barbaric traditions. Dogs used for this sport are now extinct. Still, they are the ancestors of many modern dog breeds that were repurposed and selectively bred to become family pets and protectors.

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World Dog Finder team

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