The Bulldog

Bulldogs look gruff but are really sweet and gentle


What do the US Marines, Yale University, University of Georgia and England have in common? They are tied together by the choice of a symbol to represent a tough and tenacious character the mug-ugly Bulldog.

The Bulldog is a study in contrasts. Born in Britain but descended from fighting mastiffs brought to the island nation by Roman conquerors, the Bulldog now bears only slight resemblance to his ancestors in appearance and character and no similarity in behavior. The bloodthirsty nature that equipped the dog for bullbaiting is gone with nary a trace; in spite of his frowning countenance, there is no sweeter dog today.


Bulldog ancestors were used as butcher's dogs to bring cattle to slaughter. In 1209, bullbaiting was launched as an annual pre-Christmas festival by the Earl of Warren. Two hundred years later the dogs were referred to as Alaunts, and by 1500 they were called bulldogs. Through the next few centuries, animal baiting with dogs became a popular spectator sport for gamblers. Bulls, bears, and other animals were confined in pits, so tall, longer-legged dogs were at a disadvantage. Bul-ldogs evolved from mastiff-size to today's shorter-legged, pushed-nose version, a dog that could grab a bull by the nose and hang on until the animal tired and collapsed. The flattened nose and enlarged nostrils atop an undershot jaw combined to produced a grip that wouldn't quit on a dog that could still breathe while biting his quarry.

The baiting of bulls and bears was outlawed in England in 1835, but surprisingly, the Bulldog did not disappear along with the blood sport. Enough people admired the breed's stamina, strength, and persistence to save the appearance and good qualities of the dogs while developing a sweet and gentle temperament to replace the aggression preferred in the baiting arena.

In turn, the Bulldog has lent his good qualities to a number of breeds, including the Bullmastiff, the Bull Terrier, the Boston Terrier, the French Bulldog, and the Boxer.

The Bulldog was granted recognition by the American Kennel Club in 1890, and during the 1940s and 1950s, was close to the top 10 breeds in popularity.

The standard

This is a medium-sized dog with a thick-set, low-swung body, massive short-muzzled head, broad shoulders and chest, and thick, sturdy limbs. Height is about 14-15 inches, weight 40-55 pounds with bitches slightly smaller than males.

The skull is the breed's most prominent feature. It is very large and square with a circumference at least equal to the height of the dog at the shoulders. The forehead is flat, the cheeks rounded, the face and muzzle extremely short. The jaws are massive; the lower jaw protrudes considerably in front of the upper jaw and turns up in front. The Bulldog does not lead with his nose as other breeds do; correct configuration of the jaw pushes the broad nose back on the face.

Bulldog ears are set high on the corners of the skull, as far from the eyes as possible. They are small, thin, and folded, never erect or drooping.

Bulldogs have body-builder shoulders much wider then their rear ends, a feature that combines with the broad head to make whelping puppies difficult. Cesarean sections are common in the breed. The tail is short and hung low, either straight or in a spiral held flat against the body.

The Bulldog gait is another breed peculiarity. His muscular structure causes a sidewise, shuffling motion that must be freewheeling and vigorous.

The Bulldog coat is short and glossy and comes in white, red, fallow (pale cream to light fawn), or fawn colors and in brindle and piebald (patched) patterns. Red brindle is the preferred color and pattern in the standard, followed by solid white, then solid red, fawn or fallow, then piebald. Solid black is undesirable, but black patches are acceptable in piebald patterns.

The Bulldog temperament is kind, resolute, and courageous, never aggressive or vicious. The breed demeanor is calm and dignified.

The Bulldog was 27th in popularity among the AKC's 143 breeds in 1996 with 13,468 individual registrations and 29th in litter with 4887 litter registrations. The breed has a moderate life span of 10 years in spite of its medical problems.

Health and care

The Bulldog structure causes some health problems such as the aforementioned difficulty in whelping puppies, respiratory troubles, and skin irritations in the creases around the face and tail. He is also susceptible to eyelid abnormalities, hip dysplasia, congenital heart disease, heart attacks, and skin conditions, and he snores, snorts, dribbles water after drinking, and passes gas.

Because of the shortened muzzle, Bulldogs often have difficulty breathing in hot humid weather, after exertion, and in stuffy rooms. Good ventilation and air conditioning are almost essential with this breed. Wire crates are best for air circulation. Crate the dog in the car as well so you can leave the windows open to avoid stuffiness when parked.

Bulldogs should not romp with the kids during the heat of a warm spring or summer day. When temperatures reach the upper 80s, the dogs should have an air-conditioned area or at least a basement with a cool concrete floor. In addition, if the dog pants too violently or for a prolonged period, the membranes in the throat can dry out and swell, leading to escalating breathing difficulties.

The keys to Bulldog health are moderate exercise, good ventilation, and cool temperatures. Grooming is minimal, but the skin wrinkles on the head and around the tail must be kept clean to avoid bacterial or fungus infections.

The Bulldog is a quiet pet, loyal to his family and protective when necessary, but happy to curl up on the sofa, eat two or three square meals a day, and have his belly rubbed occasionally. He can be a clown and can be stubborn to train, but he is good-natured and willing to be guided to good behavior if he thinks it's his own idea.

A nice site for bulldog owners is Bulldog World.

[More on finding the right dog]

Norma Bennett Woolf

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