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go to ground were measured for height in order to ensure that they could fit into the den, breeds active in pit ratting were sometimes handicapped according to weight—meaning the size of the dog could have an impact on its owners’ pocketbook. In addition to straight matches where dogs were matched against the clock or against a set num- ber of rats, proprietors often had matches where the skills of different sized competitors were com- pared proportionately. Weight handicaps were particularly popular in later years when finding enough rats became difficult.


The basic premise of a weight handicap is that the heavier the dog was, the more rats it had to kill. This makes sense, as a 5 pound dog killing 20 rats is a far greater feat than an 18 pound dog doing the same thing. Sometimes the handicap was a rat for every 3 pounds more a dog weighed; some- times it was a rat for every one pound. The fastest dog killing their allotment was the winner.


According to one description “it was frequent to arrange a handicap where each dog had to kill as many rats as there were pounds in his weight, the dog disposing of his quota the quickest being the winner. For instance, a ten pound dog would only have to kill ten rats while Billy [who weighed 27 pounds] killed 27. This put rather a premium on small dogs and breeds were developed specially for this sport. The little smooth black-and-tan ter- riers of Manchester and the rough Yorkshire ter- riers were particularly good for this sport and a friend of mine owns a picture of three famous ter- riers ranging in weight from 5.25 lbs to 7 lbs.” (Phil Drabble, The Book of the Dog, 1948)


Once established, the use of weight as a mea- surement would shape early dog shows as breed standards around the world initially based size for these breeds on weight only, with changes made to British standards following in the 20th century. In North America, however, the practice continued right through to modern day. Though the desired


size range has changed over the years by a few pounds one way or another, the method of deter- mining size has not.


As for the current weight limit, there is no clear rea- son why 22 pounds was selected. Historic breed standards have varied from a low of 18 pounds to a high of 25 pounds. Efficiency in the rat pit does not appear to be the issue as one of the most celebrated competitors in the history of the sport (not an MT, but a successful ratter nonetheless!) weighed in at 27 pounds. Documentation from this era in history is scattered at best, so we’ll keep looking and perhaps one day we’ll have an answer!


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BLACK & TAN | FALL 2010


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