Full Title Name:  Overview of Dog Fighting

Share |
Hanna Gibson Place of Publication:  Michigan State University College of Law Publish Year:  2005 Primary Citation:  Animal Legal and Historical Center
Summary: This overview provides a description of outward signs that a dogfighting operation may be occurring. These include injuries to dogs, associated paraphernalia, and other signs. The paper also describe changes occurring in dogfighting laws to address challenges faced by communities.

 "What are the signs that someone might be running a dogfighting operation?"

Dog fighting, which is appropriately called a blood-sport, is the actual pitting of two dogs against each other in a pit or a ring to fight for the entertainment of the spectators. The dogs, usually pit bulls, literally bite and rip the flesh off of one another while the onlookers cheer, scream, and place bets on which dog will win the match. After the fight, both dogs are critically wounded, often with massive bleeding, ruptured lungs, broken bones, and other life threatening injuries. Generally, the loser of a match dies or is killed, unless he has any salvage value to his owner. When dogs are killed after a match, it is not done by humane euthanasia methods, rather the animals are shot, beaten, or tortured. The animals that survive generally never see a veterinarian, regardless of the gravity of injuries or the amount of suffering that the animals will have to endure.

Signs of a Dogfighting Operation 

While it takes a seasoned investigator to properly investigate a dogfighting operation, there are several warning signs that dogfighting may be occurring.  Of course, only local law enforcement officials and prosecuting attorneys may instigate criminal actions against any suspected dogfighters.  However, a concerned citizen who sees evidence of dogfighting enterprises may contact local law enforcement agents who may then launch an investigation.  Simply because the following signs are present does not indicate an individual is involved in a dogfighting operation.  Rather, these signs are based on data collected from years of dogfighting investigations and prosecutions.

Law enforcement agents may encounter suspicious activity as a result of a citizen complaint, an unrelated investigation, a deliberate investigation or completely by chance. Field agents must be trained to recognize the indicators of potential dog-fighting activity. It is extremely common for agents to come across any or all of the following, often in plain view, when there is a presence of dog-fighting: From an animal welfare standpoint, dog-fighting is one of the most serious forms of animal abuse, not only for the heinous acts of violence that the dogs endure during and after the fights, but because they literally suffer their entire lives. Dogs that are born, bought or stolen for fighting are often neglected and abused from the start. Most spend their entire lives alone on chains or in cages and only know the attention of a human when they are being trained to fight and they only know the company of other animals in the context of being trained to kill them. Most dogs spend their entire lives without adequate food, water, or shelter. They are not perceived as sentient beings capable of suffering, rather they are commodities that exist for the sole purpose of making the owner money and prestige. 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 be. The fighting dogs are not the only victims of heinous cruelty. Many of the training methods involve torturing and killing of other innocent animals. Often pets are stolen or otherwise obtained to be used as live bait in training exercises to improve the dogs’ endurance, strength, or fighting ability. If the bait animals are still alive after the training sessions, they are usually given to the dogs as a reward, and the dogs finish killing them.  

(1) Dogs: Certainly not all pit bulls are fought, but officers should be watchful of signs that pit bulls on the premises are being trained or bred for fighting or have been fought. Multiple dogs are generally housed in one location. More sophisticated operations may look more like a kennel; in fact many that breed and fight dogs do so under the auspices of a kennel to deflect suspicion. Less sophisticated dog-fighters, especially the urban street fighters generally have several dogs chained in back-yards, often behind privacy fences, or in basements or garages. Dogs that have been fought have fresh wounds or scars, in various stages of healing, on the head, chest and legs.  

(2) People: A dog-fighting data-base should be maintained to track suspicious and known dog-fighters. They will often lead you to other dog-fighters and to multiple locations where dogs are kept and fought. Dog-fighters move their dogs frequently, so it is important for law enforcement to pay close attention to whether a suspect has multiple residences, including out-of-state. Detailed records should be kept of the individuals that come and go from suspicious locations. Surveillance is especially important on nights and weekends, when large numbers of dog-fighters may come together.

(3) Signs of Training or Matches : The presence of a pit is a sure sign of fighting, but agents should pay close attention to blood spattered on any surface. Dogs may be fought or trained in basements, garages, barns, and vacant buildings, so spatters of blood on any interior walls or floors should be closely documented. Dogs are often trained outside, so agents should watch for blood spattered outside, especially near training equipment. When live animals are used as bait, there are generally remains of the animals on site. Agents should look for patches of fur, bones, or decomposed bodies.  

Agents should be able to identify the training devices and implements such as: treadmills, catmills (jennys), springpoles (jumppoles), flirtpoles, chains/weights, and any implements used to hang or harness bait animals. Pry bars, bite sticks, or breaking sticks are used to pry the dog’s jaws open when he has gripped onto another animal. Investigators should be trained to recognize these, as they would be quickly overlooked by the untrained eye.

(4) Signs of Transport: Large numbers of portable dog-kennels on site may indicate that the dogs are frequently transported to and from matches and between multiple locations. Adult pit bulls frequently appearing and disappearing from a certain location with no explanation may be involved in fighting.

(5) Vitamins, Drugs, Food Supplements and Veterinary Implements: Most dog-fighters do not take their animals to a veterinarian for treatment for fear of exposure; as a result, it is extremely common to encounter veterinary supplies and manuals during an investigation. (Link to list of veterinary supplies)

(6) Physical Evidence of Bookmaking/Contest: Agents should watch for trophies recognizing match winners, or conferring the titles ‘Champion’ or ‘Grand Champion.’ Other physical evidence to look for include: ledger slips, match results, stats of individual animal’s performance in matches, photos of dogs or matches

(7)  Technology: Matches are often filmed, and the tapes can be an excellent source of intelligence gathering. Dog-fighters are increasingly utilizing digital cameras, so when possible, computers should be checked for digital evidence. Many dog-fighters also utilize the internet to maintain contact with other ‘fanciers’, post match stats, to order and sell supplies and dogs, solicit veterinary advice, etc. So, a thorough search should probe both computer files and the internet history. The newspaper can also be utilized to identify potential breeding and selling of fighting dogs. Often classified advertisements for fighting dogs include a reference to ‘game bred’ dogs, or some will actually advertise that the bitch or sire is a ‘Champion’ or ‘Grand Champion’.

(8) Publications: Agents should be able to recognize pro-dog-fighting publications, such as:   

  • The Sporting Dog Journal
  • Your Friend and Mine
  • American Game Dog Times
  • The Scratch Line
  • Face Your Dogs
  • The Pit Bull Chronicle
  • The Pit Bull Reporter
  • The American Warrior


The collective American conscience has long been repulsed by the undeniable brutality within the culture of dogfighting, but the law enforcement community has been regrettably lax in appreciating the full scope and gravity of the problem. Historically, the crime of dog-fighting was considered an isolated animal welfare issue, and as such was ignored, denied, or disregarded by law enforcement.   Within the last decade, however a growing body of legal and empirical evidence has emerged exposing the clandestine culture of dog-fighting and its nexus with other crimes and community violence. Dog fighters are violent criminals that engage in a whole host of peripheral criminal activities. Many are heavily involved in organized crime, racketeering, drug distribution, or gangs, and they arrange and attend the fights as a forum for gambling and drug trafficking.   Many communities have been morally, socially and culturally scarred by the menacing pestilence of dogfighting for generations. From a very early age, children in those communities are routinely exposed to the unfathomable violence that is inherent within the blood sport. Even seasoned law enforcement agents are consistently appalled by the atrocities that they encounter before, during, and after dog fights, yet the children that grow up exposed to it are conditioned to believe that the violence is normal. Those children are systematically desensitized to the suffering, and ultimately become criminalized.

In recent years social, political, and legal forces have effectuated remarkable changes in their perception of and reaction to the blood sport. Social scientists, policy makers, and members of the law enforcement and legal communities now agree on the urgency of eradicating dog-fighting, and are equipped with stringent laws to do so. Dog fighting is outlawed in all fifty states, and is a felony in forty-seven states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. The laws, once ignored by both criminals and law enforcement agents alike, are finally beginning to be enforced. [Ed. note: since the writing of this paper, dogfighting is now a felony in all 50 states.]

Many communities are aggressively targeting dog fighting by coordinating local and regional dog fighting task forces, implementing public service campaigns and promoting community outreach and education. The task forces are cooperative policing efforts that utilize various government and non-government agencies and community based organizations. Many police departments are developing specially trained units to lead the task forces. Generally, public service campaigns are implemented to educate the community about the gravity and scope of dog fighting as well as to disseminate contact information for reporting the crimes and to encourage community participation in the eradication of dog fighting.

From an institutional perspective, the combined efforts to eradicate the culture of dogfighting are significant, and success is inevitable. However, society is merely beginning to confront the violent culture of dog fighting. Despite weekly reports of dog fighting raids and prosecutions from around the country, countless dog fights continue to occur every night and go unnoticed, unreported, uninvestigated or unprosecuted. It will take years, perhaps decades for the current efforts to eradicate dog-fighting to have any tangible impact in the communities that are most afflicted. In the mean time, the legal, political, and law enforcement communities have the formidable task of preventing another generation from being indoctrinated into the violent underworld of dog fighting.  

Dog fighting is an insidious underground organized crime that has reached epidemic proportions in America. Although is now completely outlawed in the United States and in many other countries, it was once completely legal and was sanctioned by aristocracy, embraced by medieval gentry and promoted by colonial and Victorian ruffians. By the twentieth century, the brutality inherent in dog-fighting was no longer tolerated by American society, and one-by-one, individual states began to pass laws banning it. Once outlawed, the culture of dogfighting was pushed underground, where it, like many other criminal sub-cultures and social diseases, continues to flourish.


Share |