For several decades now, the concept of a bait dog has been a heated topic of conversation. Many rescue organizations dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating “pit bull type dogs” have spoken about dogs that have been used as bait to help train fighting dogs for future matches. Public sympathy is high for these dogs with many people coming on board to provide financial aid, foster homes, and even adoptions for these apparent canine victims of dog fighting rings. But is there such a thing as a bait dog, or this just a matter of urban legend? What is a bait dog?
What is the Definition of a “Bait Dog?”
In its truest definition, a bait dog is a dog that has been selected to help train potential fighting dogs. The ideal canines for use in this capacity are dogs that are the least likely to fight. It has become common belief that more gentle natured dogs were selected for use as bait dogs to allow the potential fighting dog to gain practice tearing another dog apart. In many cases, the bait dog has its mouth duct taped closed or may even have its teeth broken off to prevent the dog from fighting back and potentially causing injury to the fighting dog.
Once the bait dog has been rendered unable to defend itself, the trainers of the fighting dog either place the bait dog in a pit or tie the dog to a tree or pole, thus making it impossible for the dog to escape its attacker. Sometimes more than one attacking dog is allowed to fight the “bait dog” to help increase their natural aggressive tendencies and sense of competition.
What Happens to Dogs Used as Bait Dogs?
When dogs are used for bait, they suffer terrible injuries both physically and emotionally. Many of these dogs pass away; the extent of the abuses they endure are far too great for even the best veterinary treatment to overcome. Those who do survive their injuries often bear scars on their bodies for the remainder of their lives. But worst of all, these dogs also suffer with emotional trauma throughout their days. Some of these dogs can be rehabilitated if adopted to an owner that is extremely dedicated. But in some cases, too much damage has been done, and the dog is unable to learn to trust again.
What Types of Dogs are Selected for Bait Dogs?
When it comes to bait dogs, dog fighters aren’t that particular. Bait dogs come from a wide variety of sources and represent a large selection of different breeds or mixed breeds. Some dog fighters prefer to try to find dogs that are more gentle and submissive by nature. However, many believe that these trainers will use any dog that is available to them for no cost. While some of these dogs are obtained from online marketplaces such as Craiglist, urban legend indicates that some dog fighters will patrol neighborhoods on the lookout for dogs left unattended that they can snatch and use for bait dogs.
In some cases, dogs that were chosen for fighting that seem to lack the “killer instinct” are then used by these dog fighters as bait to train new up and comers. Sometimes, other animals such as cats and kittens are used instead of dogs.
Are Bait Dogs a Myth?
The truth is all dogs will fight if given the opportunity and correct circumstances. Even the most docile dog will fight another dog if its life is in jeopardy. Urban legend has led the public to believe that dogs selected for use as bait dogs are always young, physically weak, or lacking in experience. Dog fighters capitalize on these traits to help train their dogs to win in future pit fights. The theory is that if a fighting dog has the opportunity to attack, injure, or kill a dog that has been rendered defenseless that the fighting dog will gain the killer instinct needed to win and will acquire a taste for blood.
Though dog fighting was once an actual sport; today, this practice is not only cruel; it is also illegal. There are many different myths that exist regarding not only bait dogs but also fighting dogs in general. Among the most popular myths are:
- Permitting a fighting dog to fight a weaker dog will make him a better fighter
All dogs will fight if placed in the right circumstances. Some dog breeds are bred with this inherent trait to be stronger in them. If dogs born with this natural tendency are permitted to indulge in this behavior, then, yes, they will become more predisposed to displaying it again in the future. However, a willingness to fight doesn’t improve the dog’s ability to do it. Even in theory, this concept of bait dogs does not make sense. Fighting a dog that cannot defend itself is no challenge for the attacking dog. The true “training” of a fighting dog occurs when the dog fights against an opponent that is equal in its body size, strength, and game nature to fight. Dogs that were “trained” on dogs that are weak or unable to fight back are ill prepared for going toe to toe with fighting dogs that can and will defend themselves at all costs.
Another vital consideration is that a dog that displays the willingness to fight a dog may not possess the gameness required to be a good dog fighter. Gameness is defined as a dog that will continue to fight even when its life and health are in jeopardy. This characteristic is not something that a dog can learn. The dog is either born with it, or it isn’t. It is this one trait that is what helps a fighting dog to succeed.
- Throughout history, dog fighters trained their dogs using bait dogs
Since the earliest days of dog fighting as a sport, trainers never used any training techniques to help a dog learn to fight. Instead, the dogs underwent vigorous physical training to prepare their bodies. This physical exercise included a strict regimen of running and walking to help the dog build up strong reserves of endurance, ensuring the dog would not tire easily when fighting an opponent in a pit. Once the dog was physically in peak fighting condition, the dog was then exposed to environmental stimuli to help promote a more aggressive nature. Among the things these dogs were exposed to were situations where the dog felt a threat from another dog was imminent, causing the dog’s natural instinct to defend itself to kick in. In this way, the dog’s innate desire to fight was strengthened, resulting in even stronger dog aggression in the dog.
It is important to remember that all dogs can and will fight. This natural tendency to engage in this behavior can be encouraged through environmental stimuli. Among the conditioning tools used for innately dog aggressive breeds such as American Pit Bull Terriers are chaining game dogs within close proximity of one another, failing to socialize or train the dogs, and practice matches with other likeminded fighting dogs.
- Fighting dogs get a taste of blood that makes them permanently vicious.
Some people believe that once a dog has a taste of the blood of another dog that they will then be driven to continue to kill to satisfy this new urge. This is completely untrue.
All dogs will fight under the right circumstances. It is not a taste of blood that causes these dogs to continue to act aggressively; it is the fact that these dogs have been conditioned to this behavior by their owners and trainers continually reinforcing it through staged dog fights. When dog aggression is encouraged, it will gain in its intensity.
However, even dogs that are naturally dog aggressive can under the right circumstances and with proper supervision and management learn to live peaceably with other dogs. This includes dogs that were previously used as pit fighting dogs. By changing a dog’s environment, it is often possible to help condition the dog to a new way of life. However, this is not always the case and should never be undertaken by a novice.
- Fighting dogs are human aggressive.
It is unfair to equate dog aggression to human aggression. Since owners and trainers were in the pit with their dogs and would often have to intervene in fights, human aggression was a trait that was not tolerated in fighting dogs. In fact, dogs that displayed human aggression in any form were culled (put to death). Only dogs that exhibited the correct game nature and that had no aggression towards humans were utilized in the breeding programs of dog fighters.
Dog aggression was a desired trait of early dog fighters. However, it is important to note that dogs that are dog aggressive may not have even an ounce of human aggression in them. Nor should they. American Pit Bull Terriers, in particular, are well known for their stable temperaments that include intense loyalty, love, and affection towards not only their families but all people in general.
Where Did the Concept of Bait Dogs Originate?
While we don’t know precisely where the idea of bait dogs came from, it is believed it may be traced to some of the historical dog fighting magazines and books. In these printed materials, there was information about cat mills and treadmills. These pieces of equipment were sometimes used to help strengthen the endurance of fighting dogs. Sometimes, dogs were motivated to keep running through the use of a cage at the front of the treadmill which contained a small animal. This technique capitalized on the dog’s natural desire to chase and kill prey.
Another plausible theory that may have shaped the idea of the “bait dog” is the concept that sometimes dog fighters of old would place a young, game dog in need of learning the ropes of pit fighting in a ring with a more experienced dog. This practice was called “rolling” and was essentially a practice fight to help the younger dog to learn from the veteran fighter. It is important to note that in these circumstances, the dog was younger but not weaker, and the dog was trained by being pitted against a dog with far greater experience. From this practice alone, it is easy to see why the concept of bait dogs would not be desirable for true dog fight trainers as it would not help their dogs to advance at all in their sport.
Rolling dogs was a means to help train new dogs to continue in the tradition of dog fighting. The fights were always interrupted when there was potential for either dog to become gravely hurt.
An old Times Union publication included an article called “Pit Bull is More Victim Than Criminal.” In this published piece, the author united the idea of a “bait dog” with a several hundred years old practice of using “baiting dogs” tethered to or allowed to attack other tethered animals as a means of torture for the entertainment of an audience. These baiting dogs could be utilized in several different ways but were most commonly allowed to attack another animal that was tied to a tether. Baiting dogs were most often pitted against bulls. It is possible that this outdated, now illegal, and very cruel “sport” gave rise to the term “bait dog,” but with a different meaning, in use today.
Is There No Such Thing as a Bait Dog?
Many rescue organizations today apply the label “bait dog” to some of the abused, scarred, or injured dogs that are brought into their care. While this practice may occur on occasion, the truth is that most rescues have no knowledge of the history of the dog they are taking responsibility for. The presence of injuries, scars, wounds, neglect, or abuse is not sufficient to make a blanket statement that the dog must have been used as a bait dog or in pit fighting. For those considering fostering or adopting a dog that has been labelled as a bait dog or a fighting dog by a rescue, it is best to ask very pointed questions about the dog’s history. Many rescues cannot provide these details. If this is the case, it is highly likely the dog was not used in dog fighting in any capacity and has been given a label that likely does not apply.
Can “Bait Dogs” or Fighting Dogs Be Placed in a Home with Other Pets?
Each dog is an individual and must be properly evaluated before it is placed in a new home environment. The dog’s history may leave lasting scars that make the dog unsuited to living in a home with other pets. However, some dogs can be rehabilitated and can live quite successfully with other animals if sufficient training and supervision is provided. These assessments should be done by a qualified professional to ensure the safety of each family member, the dog in question, and its other canine or feline household members.
What is a bait dog, and do they even exist? Consider the information in this article and decide for yourself!