How Dogfighting Works

Dogfighting Laws

Staffordshire bull terriers are commonly used as fighting dogs.
Photographer: Emmanuelle Bonzami

Dogfighting is illegal in every U.S. state and in many countries around the world, though enforcement in other countries is frequently lax or nonexistent. Dogfighting is a felony in all states, except Idaho and Wyoming, where it’s a misdemeanor. It’s illegal to possess dogs for fighting in all states but Georgia, Idaho and Nevada. Among the states where possession of fighting dogs is illegal, it’s a felony in all of them except for New York, Texas, West Virginia and Wyoming. It’s actually legal to be a spectator at a dogfighting event in two states, but it’s a felony in 22 others and a misdemeanor in the remaining 26.

Besides its connection to other criminal activities, running a dogfighting operation or breeding dogs for the purpose of fighting can bring other charges, such as animal cruelty, child endangerment or operating a kennel without a license.


Animal rights advocates like The Humane Society say that dogfighting is an underreported and poorly enforced crime. These organizations also claim that the penalties in place and the dangers of being caught don’t deter people from participating in dogfighting given the activity’s moneymaking potential. They also say that dogfighting has been mislabeled as an issue only of animal rights and abuse, not taking into account the the effects of dogfighting and the crimes associated with it.

Compounding the problem is the fact that, in some states, law enforcement officers can only make an arrest if they catch someone in the act of participating in dogfighting. This can be difficult: One animal control officer said that dogfighting rings are “harder to infiltrate than the Mafia” [Source: CBS 47 News]. Professional events are organized well in advance, but attendance is carefully controlled and the location of a fight is only revealed shortly before the fight takes place.

Some law enforcement agencies say that more effort is now going into uncovering and prosecuting dogfighting, while the Michael Vick controversy will likely spur more vigorous crackdowns. The Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act represented an effort to make stiffer penalties for dogfighters. Signed into law in May 2007, the Act made dogfighting a felony under federal law and instituted maximum penalties of a $250,000 fine and three-year imprisonment.

If you see signs of dogfighting, report it to the police. Keep in mind: dogfighting is dangerous and frequently accompanies other types of crime. If you’re unsure if dogfighting is taking place in your community, experts say to look for the following signs:

  • ­Equipment associated with dogfighting, like cages, pits, rings, heavy chains, weights, ­wooden ramps and treadmills
  • Presence of multiple pit bulls
  • Dogs with wounds, scars and untreated injuries
  • Blood spatters
  • Veterinarian supplies
  • An owner abusing dogs
  • Dogfighting magazines
  • Heavy traffic of people and dogs to and from a particular property

For more information about dogfighting, pit bulls and related topics, check out the links below.

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More Great Links
  • “Animal Cruelty and Family Violence: Making the Connection.” The Humane Society of the United States.
  • “Cockfighting Fact Sheet.” The Humane Society of the United States.
  • “Cockfighting: State Laws.” The Humane Society of the United States.
  • “Dogfighting.” Last Chance for Animals.
  • “Dogfighting a booming business, experts say.” CNN. July 19, 2007.
  • “Dogfighting Fact Sheet.” The Humane Society of the United States.
  • “Dogfighting Kingpin Toppled in Louisiana Raid.” The Humane Society of the United States.
  • “Dogfighting rules and terms.” The Virginian-Pilot. June 17, 2007.
  • “Dogfighting: State Laws.” The Humane Society of the United States.
  • “Fighting Dog Breeds.” The Bulldog Information Library.
  • “Pit Bull Cruelty.” The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty for Animals.
  • “Vick case latest stain on pit bull’s changing image.” Associated Press. CNN. July 25, 2007.
  • Bacon, Brittany. “Inside the Culture of Dogfighting.” ABC News. July 19, 2007.
  • Bank, Julie and Zawitowski, Stephen. “Dog Fighting.” ASPCA Animal Watch. 1997.
  • Burke, Bill. “Once limited to the rural South, dogfighting sees a cultural shift.” The Virginian-Pilot. June 17, 2007.
  • Gibson, Hannah. “Dog Fighting Detailed Discussion.” Animal Legal and Historical Center. 2005.
  • Malanga, Steve. “The sick hipness of dog fighting.” June 17, 2007. Chicago Sun-Times.,CST-CONT-dog17.article
  • Roberts, Ashley B. “Member of Orange County’s chained-dog study panel has ties to dog-fighting.” April 11, 2007. The Independent Weekly.
  • Simmons, Rebecca. “Dog Eat Dog: The Bloodthirsty Underworld of Dogfighting.” Nov. 1, 2006.
  • Tuttle, Steven. “Inside the Grisly World of Dogfighting.” Newsweek. June 4, 2007.
  • Weir, Tom. “Vick case sheds light on dark world of dogfighting.” USA Today. The Arizona Republic. July 18, 2007.