Dog fighting

Dog fighting

Dog fighting is a form of blood sport in which game dogs are made to fight, sometimes to the death. It is illegal in most developed countries. Dog fighting is used for entertainment and may also generate revenue from stud fees, admission fees and gambling.



Dog fighting is a blood sport that has been practised for centuries around the world.[1] Blood sports involving the baiting of animals has occurred since antiquity, most famously at the Colosseum in Rome during the reign of the Roman Empire. For over six hundred years the pastime flourished, reaching the peak of its popularity during the 16th century. The various animal types involved in the bait allowed for the breed specialization and basic anatomical forms of fighting dogs, which we see today.

Accounts of dog fighting in China date back to 240 A.D.[citation needed]. Dog fighting has been documented in the recorded history of many different cultures, and is presumed to have existed since the initial domestication of the species.[citation needed] Many breeds have been bred specifically for the strength, attitude, and physical features that would make them better fighting dogs.

Scholars[which?] speculate that large-scale human migration, development of trade, and gifts between royal courts of valuable fighting dogs facilitated the spread of fighting dog breeds. There are many accounts of military campaigns which used fighting dogs, as well as royal gifts in the form of large dogs.[citation needed]

History in Europe and North America

Before the 19th century, bloodsports such as bull baiting, bear baiting and cock fighting were common. Bulls brought to market were set upon by dogs as a way of tenderizing the meat and providing entertainment for the spectators; and dog fights with bears, bulls and other animals were often organized as entertainment for both royalty and commoners.

Early dogs of the bull terrier type were bred for the working characteristic known as gameness, with the pitting of dogs against bear or bull testing this attribute along with the strength and skill of the dog. These early "proto-staffords" provided the ancestral foundation stock for the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, the Bull Terrier, the American Pit Bull Terrier and American Staffordshire Terrier. This common ancestor was known as the "Bull and Terrier".

These bloodsports were officially eliminated in 1835 as Britain began to introduce animal welfare laws. Since dogfights were cheaper to organize and far easier to conceal from the law than bull or bear baits, bloodsport proponents turned to pitting their dogs against each other instead. Dog fighting was used as both a bloodsport (often involving gambling) and a way to continue to test the quality of their stock. For decades afterward, dog fighting clandestinely took place in pockets of working-class Britain and America. Dogs were released into a pit, and the last dog still fighting (or occasionally, the last dog surviving) was recognized as the winner.

Breed origins

The foundation breed of the fighting dog was, in its outward appearance, a large, low, heavy breed with a powerful build and strongly developed head.

Dog breeding in its earliest stages was carried out systematically, with the desire for specialization. It is believed that the development of individual breeds took place in narrow geographic areas, corresponding to the performance required in these regions. Selection for performance, complemented by the breeding for suitable body forms, led to the formation of breeds. The task of the fighting dog demands specific anatomical traits and temperamental features. The goal is to breed a dog that will attack animals but is docile and affectionate toward humans. All breeds with a character suitable for protecting humans and fighting wild animals may be considered for dogfighting. Special attention is often given to the American Pit Bull Terrier or Staffordshire Bull Terrier.

Societal aspects

Dog fighting and society

Fighting dog training

Bait animals

"Bait" animals are animals used to test a dog's fighting instinct; they are often mauled or killed in the process. Trainers obtain bait animals from several sources: wild or feral animals, animals obtained from a shelter, or in some cases, stolen pets.[2] Sometimes the animals are also obtained through "free to a good home" ads.[3] According to news reports compiled by the Humane Society of the United States, the snouts of bait dogs are wrapped with duct tape to prevent them from injuring dogs being trained for fighting. Their teeth are filed and their nails are cut until nothing is left. Other animals, such as cats and rabbits are also reported to be used as bait animals. Experts have said small dogs, kittens and rabbits are more at risk of being stolen for bait than larger animals.[4]

Gang and criminal activities

Gang members dog fighting in a vacant office building

In places where dog fighting is outlawed, its clandestine culture is believed to be directly related to other crimes and to community violence. Peripheral criminal activities that sometimes occur at a dog fight include illegal gambling, racketeering, drug trafficking, Prostitution and gang violence. As with other criminal enterprises, communities often suffer from the unlawful activities occurring in their neighborhoods.[5] Animal advocates also cite desensitization to violence and animal cruelty as an unwelcome corollary of dog fighting, particularly among child spectators.[5]

Animal welfare and rights

Animal advocates consider dog fighting to be one of the most serious forms of animal abuse, not only for the violence that the dogs endure during and after the fights, but because of the suffering they often endure in training. At least one major study alleges that the prevailing mind set among dog fighters is that, the more the dog suffers, the tougher he will become, and the better fighter he will therefore be.[citation needed] In addition to the treatment a dog receives when he has potential as a fighter, according to a filing in U.S. District Court in Richmond by federal investigators in Virginia, which was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and published by the Baltimore Sun on July 6, 2007, a losing dog or one whose potential is considered unacceptable faces "being put to death by drowning, strangulation, hanging, gun shot, electrocution or some other method".[6]

Status by Region

Dog fighting has been popular in many countries throughout history and continues to be practised both legally and illegally around the world.

Due to the actions of groups such as the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, dog fighting is now illegal in all first world countries except Japan.[citation needed]. Dog fighting is legal in most third world countries.[citation needed] In the 20th and 21st centuries, dog fighting has increasingly become an unlawful activity in most of the world.


Dog fighting is illegal in Australia. It is also illegal to possess any fighting equipment designed for dog fighting. Despite this, there are many dog fighting rings in Australia which are often associated with gambling activities and other illegal practices such as drug dealing and firearms.[7] The RSPCA is concerned that dog fighting involves the suffering or even the death of dogs for the purpose of entertainment. The illegal nature of dogfighting in Australia means that injured dogs rarely get veterinary treatment placing the dog' s health and welfare at even greater risk.[7] "Restricted Breed Dogs" cannot be imported into Australia. These include the Dogo Argentino, the Japanese Tosa, the Fila Brasileiro, the Perro de Presa Canario and the American Pit Bull Terrier. Of these, the Pit Bull Terrier and the Perro de Presa Canario are the only breeds currently known to exist in Australia and there are strict regulations on keeping these breeds, including a prohibition on transferring ownership.[8]


Dog fighting is not common barring some rural areas, and is illegal as defined by the Indian law. It is also illegal to possess dogfighting materials such as videos, or to attend an event.[citation needed]


According to historical documents, Hōjō Takatoki, the 14th shikken (shogun's regent) of the Kamakura shogunate was known to be obsessed with dog fighting, to the point where he allowed his samurai to pay taxes with dogs. During this period dog fighting was known as inuawase (犬合わせ?).

Dog fighting was considered a way for the Samurai to retain their aggressive edge during peaceful times. Several daimyō, such as Chosokabe Motochika and Yamauchi Yodo, both from Tosa Province (present-day Kōchi Prefecture), were known to encourage dog fighting. Dog fighting was also popular in Akita Prefecture, which is the origin of the Akita breed.

Dog fighting evolved in Kōchi to a form that is called tōken (闘犬?). Under modern rules, dogs fight in a fenced ring until one of the dogs barks, yelps, or loses the will to fight. Owners are allowed to throw in the towel, and matches are stopped if a doctor judges it is too dangerous. Draws usually occur when both dogs will not fight or both dogs fight until the time limit. There are various other rules, including one that specifies that a dog will lose if it attempts to copulate. Champion dogs are called yokozuna, as in sumo. Dog fighting is not banned at a nationwide level, but the prefectures of Tokyo, Kanagawa, Fukui, Ishikawa, Toyama and Hokkaidō all ban the practice.[9] Currently, most fighting dogs in Japan are of the Tosa breed which is native to Kōchi.[10] Dog fighting does not have strong links to gambling in Japan.[citation needed]

South America

Dog fighting is illegal in much of South America. The American Pit Bull Terrier is by far the most common breed involved in the bloodsport. The Fila Brasileiro and Dogo Argentino are also used as fighting dogs. The Dogo Cubano and Dogo Cordoba were used for fighting a century ago, but have become extinct.

North America

Dog fighting is illegal in the United States. It has been illegal in Canada since 1892; however, the current law requires police to catch individuals during the unlawful act, which is often difficult.[11]

According to a study by the College of Law of Michigan State University published in 2005, in the United States, dog fighting was once completely legal and was sanctioned and promoted during the colonial period (17th century through 1776) and continuing through the Victorian era in the late 19th century. However, by the early 20th century, the brutality inherent in dog fighting was no longer tolerated by American society. It has become increasingly outlawed, a trend which has continued into the 21st century.

As of 2008, dog fighting is a felony in all states. It is against the law even to attend a dog fighting event, regardless of direct participation. According to authorities, dog fighting is increasingly practiced by gangs in low income areas of the United States, and is linked to other unlawful activities, such as illegal gambling and prostitution.[citation needed]

Despite legality issues, dogs are still commonly used for fighting purposes all across the continent. The American Pit Bull Terrier is the most popular breed used for fighting, but foreign breeds, such as the Dogo Argentino (used widely in South America) and Presa Canario (used in Spain) are also gaining popularity.


Although animal cruelty laws exist in Russia, dog fighting is widely practiced. Laws prohibiting dogfights have been passed in certain places, and in others dogfights are legally held generally using volkodav or wolfhounds. Temperament tests, which are a common and relatively mild form of dog fighting used for breeding purposes, are fairly commonplace. Dog fighting is prohibited in Moscow by order of that city's mayor.[12]

South Africa

Dog fighting is reportedly widespread in South Africa, particularly in the Western Cape region of Stellenbosch. The Stellenbosch Animal Welfare Society (AWS) frequently responds to complaints of night time dog fighting in the town of Cloetesville in which hundreds of dogs fight. Young children may be used to transport fighting dogs to avoid arrest of the owners.[13][14]

United Kingdom

The Cruelty to Animals Act 1835 of England and Wales was the first legislation in the world that made dogfighting illegal[citation needed].

Despite periodic dog-fight prosecutions, the illegal canine pit battles continued. Sporting journals of the 18th and 19th centuries depict the Black Country and London as the primary English dog fight centres of the period.

In recent years the inner cities, particularly London, have seen a steady rise in the number of convictions for dog fighting.[which?][citation needed]

Significant cases

On August 27, 2007 professional American football player Michael Vick pleaded guilty to felony charges of running a dogfighting ring.[15] Vick joined three others who had pleaded guilty earlier to federal offense charges for running a competitive dogfighting ring called "Bad Newz Kennels" over a period of 6 years. The case drew widespread publicity in the United States owing to Vick's fame, his image as a role model, and certain gruesome details of the operation, including how underperforming dogs were executed via means such as electrocution and hanging. The related unlawful gambling he funded was especially objectionable to his professional football league's Player Code of Conduct. The four co-defendants face up to five years in prison and fines of up to $250,000 plus restitution. It is also likely that Vick will forfeit ownership of the $700,000 15 acre estate in Surry County, Virginia which was developed for the enterprise. A Virginia state grand jury met to consider additional state charges on Vick on September 25, 2007.

In the wake of the Michael Vick case the Animal Legal Defense Fund drafted a recommended amendment to state laws that would enable prosecutors to charge dogfighters under the respective state’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (commonly referred to as "RICO") statute.[16] Applied to animal fighting, RICO,which was originally designed to be a weapon against a wide variety of organized criminal efforts, including drug dealing and gambling,would give prosecutors increased muscle in seeking justice for the animals abused and—as in the highly-publicized Michael Vick dogfighting case—executed by their owners. Thirty-two states currently have RICO statutes to which this amendment could be applied. The amendment was enacted in Virginia in July 2008, making it the third state, along with Oregon and Utah, whose law lists dogfighting as a RICO predicate offense.

See also


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