Bulldogs originally were used to drive cattle to market and to compete in a bloody sport called bullbaiting. Today, they’re gentle companions who love kids. A brief walk and a nap on the sofa is just this dog breed‘s speed.
Dog Breed Group: Companion Dogs
Height: 1 foot to 1 foot, 3 inches tall at the shoulder
Weight: 40 to 50 pounds
Life Span: 8 to 12 years
What do England, the U.S. Marines, Yale University, University of Georgia, and dozens of other schools all have in common ? The dog they have all chosen to represent their tough, tenacious characters. That dog ? Why, it’s the Bulldog, of course !
Sometimes called the English Bulldog or the British Bulldog, the breed originated in England and has a bloody past. It descended from fighting mastiffs that were brought to the British Isles by the Romans and was used in a bloody sport called bullbaiting. Today, however, the Bulldog only slightly resembles his ancestors in appearance. And all of the ferociousness that he exhibited in the bullbaiting pens? Gone for good. Despite his still ferocious appearance, you’d be hard-pressed to find a dog with a sweeter, more loving disposition.
Bulldogs are never mistaken for other breeds of dogs. They are a medium-size dog with a thick-set, low-slung body. Their short-muzzled head is massive and square. They have broad shoulders and chests, with thick, sturdy limbs.
Although Bulldogs are low to the ground, they are wide and muscular. Their broad heads have cheeks that extend to the sides of their eyes, and the skin on their foreheads should have dense wrinkles. A Bulldog has a droopy upper lip and his lower jaw is undershot, meaning that his lower teeth stick out farther than his top teeth. The Bulldog’s jaws are massive and strong, intended for latching on to his opponent and holding on.
Bulldogs have round, dark eyes. Their ears are small and thin, folded back like a rose. Their short tails are carried low on their rumps.
The Bulldog’s muscular body leads him to have a distinctive gait. Because his stocky legs are set at each corner of his body, he moves with more of a waddle than a walk. It resembles sort of a loose-jointed, shuffling, sideways roll. Because their shoulders are much wider than their rear ends and they have such large heads, it’s difficult for the females to whelp puppies without assistance. Most have to have caesarean sections to deliver their puppies, so breeding a Bulldog is an expensive proposition.
Despite cartoon depictions of them as ferocious dogs, today’s Bulldogs are bred to be affectionate and kind. They are, indeed, resolute and courageous, but they aren’t out to pick a fight. They often have a calm dignity about them when they are mature, and while they are friendly and playful, they can be a bit stubborn and protective of their families. Bulldogs love people. They seek people out for attention and enjoy nothing more than languishing next to their masters, and perhaps snoring while sleeping with their heads in their laps.
Unfortunately, the Bulldog’s unique body and head structure makes him prone to health problems, especially respiratory and joint difficulties. They can quickly become overweight if they don’t get enough exercise. Too much weight stresses their bodies and may aggravate existing health problems.
The Bulldog is popular dog in the U.S., but he’s not for everyone. He’s surprisingly heavy for his size, and if you need to pick him up, say to take him to the vet, it can be a challenge. Inside the house, Bulldogs tend to be inactive, preferring to sleep until it’s time to eat again. They love children, but don’t expect them to spend hours chasing a ball or running with the kids in the backyard. Your Bulldog may engage in such play for a while, but then you’ll find him back at your side, content to watch the world go by and look up at you happily with that face that only a mother – or a devoted Bulldog fan – could love.
The Bulldog is a much different dog today than his ancestors. Descended from ancient mastiff-type dogs, the Bulldog breed was developed entirely in England. The first mention of the breed was in 1500, a description of a man “with two Bolddogges at his tayle…” The then-fierce dogs were used in a practice called bull baiting, which involved the dog grabbing onto the bull’s nose and roughly shaking it.
Bull baiting actually had a purpose; it was thought to tenderize the bull’s meat. For many years, this practice was said to “thin” the blood of the bull and make its flesh tender after it was butchered. This belief was so strong that many areas in England had laws requiring bulls to be baited before they were slaughtered.
More than that, it was a popular spectator sport in a time when there were no professional sports, TV shows, movies, or video games. The angry bull would toss the dog up in the air with its horns if it could, much to the delight of the watching crowd. The dog, on the other hand, would attempt to latch onto the bull, usually at its snout, and pin it to the ground through the force of its painful bite. Upcoming bullbaitings were advertised and crowds wagered on the outcome of the struggle. These early Bulldogs were taller and heavier than today’s Bulldog, and they were bred to be especially adept at this bloody sport. Typically, they crept on their bellies toward the enraged bull so he couldn’t get his horns under their bodies and toss them up in the air. And their wide mouths and powerful jaws were impossible for the bull to shake off once the Bulldog had a firm hold on its snout. His short, flat nose enabled the Bulldog to breathe while holding onto the bull’s snout. He needed to be tenacious to hang onto the bull no matter how much the bull tried to shake him off. The Bulldog’s high tolerance for pain was developed to enhance his ability to excel at this barbarous spot. Even the wrinkles on his head are said to have had a purpose: to direct the blood that resulted from his grip on the bull to flow away from his eyes so he wouldn’t be blinded. In 1835, after many years of controversy, bullbaiting was outlawed in England, and many thought the Bulldog would disappear since he no longer had a purpose. At the time, the Bulldog wasn’t an affectionate companion. The most aggressive and courageous dogs had been selectively bred for generations to be bull-baiters. They lived to fight with bulls, bears and anything else that was put before them. It was all they knew. Despite this, many people admired the Bulldog’s stamina, strength, and persistence. These few decided to save the appearance and breed them to have a sweet, gentle temperament instead of the aggression needed for the baiting arena. And so the Bulldog was re-engineered. Dedicated, patient breeders started selecting only those dogs that had a docile temperament for breeding. Aggressive and neurotic dogs weren’t allowed to reproduce. By focusing their attention upon the temperament of the Bulldog, these breeders transformed the Bulldog into the gentle, affectionate dog we see today. Breeders started showing Bulldogs in conformation shows in England in 1859. The first dog show that allowed Bulldogs to be shown was at Birmingham, England in 1860. In 1861, a Bulldog named King Dick won at the Birmingham show. One of his descendants, a dog named Crib, was later described as being “close to perfection.” In 1864, the first Bulldog breed club was formed by a man named R.S. Rockstro. The club had about 30 members and its motto was “Hold Fast.” A member of the club, Samuel Wickens, wrote the first breed standard, using the pseudonym Philo-Kuon. The Bulldog’s breed standard reportedly was the first one written in the world. The club unfortunately disbanded after only three years. In 1875, another Bulldog club was founded, and it developed a breed standard that was similar to the Philo-Kuon. This breed club is still in existence.