The Dominion of Size
by Richard F. Stratton
The bigger they are, the harder they fall.—Bob Fitzsimmons
But they always fall on me!—Howard Heinzl
Pit dogs are matched to a specific weight, and if one comes in only an ounce over, the opponent can claim the forfeit. That very fact should show the importance of size. And yet, most pit dogs are on the small size. Newcomers to the breed are often put off by the generally small size of the game-bred dogs, as they want big, impressive dogs. And, of course, the sure sign of a neophyte is that they also want a large head. The fact is that Bulldogs generally do have a larger head than most breeds, but the game-bred ones don’t have a large enough head for those newcomers that haven’t learned much about the breed.
Size is certainly important in physical combat. The idea that there are types of martial arts where size doesn’t matter is mostly a fantasy, in my experience. As for animals, we always think of the King of Beasts as the lion, but the truth is lions will give way to elephants, the true kings of Africa. Still, the large cats aren’t in competition with elephants, and they are quite impressive. I am particularly impressed by leopards in Africa, as they hunt alone, and they will kill an animal much larger than themselves and then take its carcass up high in a tree to keep it safe from other predators. Also, the jaguars in Central and South America are quite remarkable, as they are even more impressive than leopards, as they will prey upon large crocodiles, among other things, not easy prey. But I digress.
If size is so important, why are pit dogs generally on the small size? And why do Bulldogs have the reputation of being able to whip all other breeds of dogs? Well, let me take the last question first.
That reputation rests on firm foundations. Before everyone found out about Pit Bulls (about the mid-seventies, and I am at least partly to blame for that), con men could use Bulldogs to make a decent living. I’ve described it before, but a man who knew these dogs would pick out one that was fairly small and innocuous in appearance, usually red or yellow in coloration and definitely untrimmed ears. As he toured small towns back in the days when dogs ran loose, he could always take his little dog into a local bar and eventually ascertain which dog was generally top dog that the folk would be willing to bet on. Even though the local bully dog was nearly always nearly twice the size of the Bulldog, the Bulldog always won.
Why would that be the case? Well, first Bulldogs have been bred for their craft for hundreds of years. They are particularly good at it. Most dogs of different breeds will immediately begin to holler and quit when the Bulldog gets a hold.
Some of the better ones will tolerate the pain until they get tired. I remember one time that a dog I was walking on leash was jumped by a large cur dog twice his size. My poor dog had heart worm damage, so his tongue turned black with any heavy exertion, such as fighting, and it was difficult for him to stay in holds. Even if he didn’t have that problem, his teeth were worn down to where they could do little damage. But what could I do? It was early in the morning, and there was no one to help me. One lady did come out and ask if my dog was being hurt. I told her I was just waiting for them to get tired, and that I thought he would be all right. It took about five or ten minutes, but finally the big bully dog had had enough, even though he had been administering all the punishment. He turned away and assumed a submissive pose, while I used my breaking stick to break my dog off of the little tiny hold he had that was mainly hair, and even that was slowly slipping away from his precarious hold, with his short, dull teeth. This was a demonstration that gameness alone will whip most other breeds. Our tramp dog fighter could probably have offered to put a muzzle on his dog to increase the odds and still win.
Does this violate our contention that size matters? Not at all! It is simply that there are confounding factors that change the nature of things. In general, size is going to prevail, but there are exceptions because of the characteristics of dog breeds. It makes a difference when a particular breed has been selected for countless generations for his supremacy in combat.
Without question a Bulldog is the finest canine gladiator in the world. Pound for pound, he may be the greatest gladiator of all animals in unarmed combat. After all, they’ve been successfully used in hunting wild boar and as catch dogs for bulls. One of the reasons for the Bulldog’s ability with large animals is that they also have a hunting history. In fact, they are still used today in some parts of our country and in other countries for hunting large, rough game, but mostly wild boars. There are some Bulldogs that are of no threat to animals other than dogs, but those are rare because of the hunting history.
Quite simply, the reason Bulldogs can whip all other breeds of dog is basically because most of them are descended from the best fighting dogs of their time. No one bred for appearance; they simply bred to the winners. Form followed function. That’s why game-bred Bulldogs look the way they do. However, since gameness is such an important component, there is not complete uniformity in the appearance of Bulldogs. Another reason for the variation is that there is a variation in styles. After all these centuries, we can’t say which style is the best, as there have been times that each style has conquered over another. It depends on how good the dog is. Nevertheless, the true aces are nearly always versatile dogs that can do it all.
One question is does our claim of the Bulldog as the ultimate canine gladiator mean that one of our smaller pit dogs could whip all of the others, that is, all the other breeds? After all, there is tremendous variation of size within the breed, from pit weight in the twenties to the fifties. I would never make that claim; however, I wouldn’t bet against even the really small ones. People that don’t contest their dogs are impressed by size—in all breeds! But most of them aren’t game enough to stand up to our dogs. In fact, I’ve seen more than one pitiful video where one of the newer large fighting breeds was hollering and trying to get away as a much smaller Bulldog just hung on to him. It was truly a sad sight. The Bulldog may have seemed merciless, but he was simply dancing to the tune of his DNA, as all animals in fact do.
An important point is that another advantage that pit dogs enjoy is that they actually like fighting contact. That may be true of a lot of other animals, too, but it is nothing like the same delight a Bulldog enjoys. The pleasure center of his brain is apparently stimulated by fighting contact. This is where he really differs from other animals. He still enjoys the contact when he is seemingly losing or has grown tired. We’ve all seen dogs getting the worst of things, lying on the bottom, their tails wagging vigorously because they are just happy to be there! With all his other advantages, that trait may be the Bulldog’s biggest advantage over all other breeds. Dog men have always been aware of its importance, and they have called it gameness. It has always been such an important factor that pit dog men want to know about that—irrespective of any other talents, such as a “magic mouth.” “But is he game?” That’s the universal question that is asked of all great dogs.
Other advantages are anticlimactic perhaps, but they include stamina, a hard-to-hurt factor, as well resistance to shock. It is hard to completely list all the components that make the Bulldog the ultimate canine warrior. Perhaps a little story would help solidify the point. Jack Kelly, the original editor of Sporting Dog News, used to own a large plumbing business, with several trucks and several shops. That was in one of the boroughs of New York, and it was in a time when he could keep a pit in the basement of his main office. Throughout the years, there were many people who thought they had the superior fighting breed. Jack always invited them to demonstrate it, and the challengers always lost. Perhaps the most impressive was the Swinford Bandog. That was a breed that was started by a veterinarian. He wanted a bigger, better Bulldog. He crossed a good dog with a Mastiff of a putative fighting strain. Then, for ten years he and his cohorts did selective breeding with their dogs, rolling them against each other, and finally they were ready to challenge the Bulldog fanciers. That was after ten years of intensive selective breeding.
The Swinford Bandog simply looked like a giant Pit Bull, and most pit dog owners were not about to give away fifty pounds or more. But Jack Kelly was experienced, and he decided to teach the lads a lesson. He answered the challenge with a fifty-pound quality dog, but no ace. For the first ten minutes, Jack was afraid he had made a terrible mistake, as his dog couldn’t even get a hold, and it looked like he was going to be swallowed whole. But then, his dog managed to get a hold, not a good one, but he began to work his way in, getting better and better holds, and he stopped their best dog in a little over fifteen minutes. Obviously, ten years of selective breeding can’t compete with centuries of it! We shouldn’t forget that not all pit dogs are in the 39-pound range—even though that seems to be the toughest competition! There have been some pretty good dogs that were catchweights (over 52 pounds pit weight). Nevertheless, most of the pit dogs are a little on the small side as compared with the larger breeds of dogs. So now we get to the point of why that is the case, and the answer is that I’m not sure—and I I think I’ve studied the history of the breed as much as anyone!
Even before dogfighting was outlawed nearly everywhere, it was a clandestine activity, even back in the 19th century and probably earlier. So small dogs were easier to contest, with smaller pits, and they were easier to hide. And you could afford to keep more of them, as they were easier to keep and feed. But there is also the fact that smaller dogs, as a rule, tended to put on livelier contests. Bert Sorrells had a theory that by the time a good dog man mastered the art of proper breeding, he was in his later years and couldn’t handle the bigger dogs. The idea merits consideration, but I doubt it is the complete answer. It does seem, though, that the more experience a dog man gets, the more he is inclined to prefer smaller dogs. It has even happened to me, but I am inclined to love a good dog—regardless of his size. That’s good because it has been my lot to get a lot of big ones, even when I was breeding to small ones!
Anyway, I hope that I have made two points: size does matter. That’s the first point. The second is that the Bulldog is such a perfect fighting machine that even giant other breeds can’t stand up to him. I remember Ralph Greenwood at a particularly good match exclaiming in his naturally booming voice, “Right there is the greatest animal that has ever walked the Earth.” There is probably room to question that statement, but I’m certainly in agreement with the spirit of it. For I too can’t help finding the dogs fascinating even after all of this time.
And I’m still learning about them. They are generally smart and of an amiable nature, and they are such great gladiators that they could almost be a different species. And nearly the entire human species loves the gladiator. Why that is true is a subject for another time. For now, I hope I’ve made the point that even though size is tremendously important, our breed is so proficient that other breeds can’t stand against it. In this case, quality trumps the dominion of size. breeds can’t stand against it. In this case, quality trumps the dominion of size.