The English Bulldog’s appearance is rooted in the history of the breed. While historians and naturalists argue about the heritage of the Bulldog, their history as a working dog is far easier to understand. This is a breed that had a very difficult job in the early days, and their appearance reflects that rough and tumble work. Over time though, the Bulldog came to be much more than just a capable worker – the breed learned how to simply enjoy living.
They are fiercely loyal, but often are very gentle about their loyalty. If you want a loving dog that will greet you at the door and be ready for some hugs and play, you would be hard-pressed to find a more affectionate pup. Bulldogs are every bit as loving as Labs and Golden Retrievers, just with a much shorter, stockier frame.
A Contentious History
If you want to start a heated debate among people interested in Bulldog genetics, simply ask about the heritage of the Bulldog. You will quickly find that the origins of the species are far less well-known than its history as an active part of the workforce.
Once you learn about what Bulldogs used to do, you will wonder how they managed to survive. That incredibly stocky frame and distinctive gait make a lot of sense when you know why it would evolve to look so rough and solid.
Three Theories of Their Heritage
The first theory is that the Bulldog preceded the Mastiff. Given how big Mastiffs can be, this can be hard to envision.
The second theory is that Bulldogs are the result of breeding Pugs and Mastiffs. This idea does seem more likely at first glance as the Bulldog shares some qualities of both of these breeds. Their faces also resemble that of the Pug, though their noses do protrude more than the average Pug’s face.
The third theory is that the Bulldog descended, along with the Mastiff, from the Alaunt (now extinct). This was a large dog that was typically used by butchers to manage oxen. The Alaunt would intimidate the oxen into staying in their stalls. This seems fairly plausible as it shows how Bulldogs and Mastiffs had the same heritage, evolving differently based on the work they would do. Considering that the term “Mastiff” was used more generically until the last century or so to indicate any bulky or large dog, this theory seems to be the most likely.
Whatever the origins of the Bulldog, they ended up being quite an interesting breed.
There is possibly a reference to them as early as 1576 AD in one of the earliest versions of books about dogs. This book did not mention Bulldogs by name but did reference a unique-looking (the term “ugly” was used) dog that when paired with another of its kind could manage an untamed bull. Before that, the term “Bandog” was used for many different types of dogs, but the mention of a particular broadmouth British dog used to fight appeared in Roman texts. The Romans were so intrigued that they sent some back to Rome. While this certainly was not the Bulldog of today, it is very likely an ancestor.
The genealogical roots of this legendary breed lead to huge dogs that have lived since time immemorial on the territory of modern Greece, where they were used for protection and hunting of large animals.
It is known that such dogs were found in the territories of other states. For example, there were rumors about dogs of frightening size, with which lions were hunted in India. It is noteworthy that the first English bulldog included in the register was a male named Adam (Adamo) born in 1864, although after him several dogs much older than him, born in the 1850s, were included in the book. Adam was owned by Mr. R. Heathfield, and his breeder was Jacob Lamphier, the owner of King Dick.
A Tough Job
One of the reasons Bulldogs tend to be intelligent is that they were working dogs. And they had one of the hardest jobs you can ask a dog to do.
Prior to becoming a pet, Bulldogs worked to manage bulls, a creature far larger than they were. The short, stocky frame made it much easier for the dog to deal with something so much larger. Sometimes they served as guard dogs for bulls; other times their role was to bait or control the bull. During this time, people believed that a bull that was baited before being killed would taste better and would provide more nutrition. If a bull was not baited first, the meat was considered unfit to be eaten. It was also a sport that the nobles and those of means enjoyed watching.
The first time the Bulldog was referred to specifically was in this context. In a letter from one English noble to another in 1631, the Mastiff and Bulldog are mentioned separately, showing that they were no longer considered to be the same breed.
Given the work they had to do, the singular appearance of the Bulldog makes sense. Looks were not the point of the dog in the early days; as long as the dog could hold its own against a bull it was accepted. As people realized that bull-baiting was not only pointless but wrong, Bulldogs transitioned into other work. Some were bred with Terriers (particularly Bull Terriers) to make other breeds because Bulldogs actually did not make great fighters. They may be able to take on a bull, but they aren’t adept at fighting other canines.
When bull-baiting was banned (1802) and the law finally enforced (1835), Bulldogs became less popular. They enjoyed some renewed interest during the Victorian era when people took an interest in strange-looking dogs, and they have never really dropped out of the public consciousness since then.
Despite their incredibly intimidating appearance, people found that the Bulldog was actually an amazing companion. And if there is any breed that uses its looks to its advantage, it is the Bulldog.
Personification of Love and Loyalty
Bulldogs definitely look fierce, and anyone who sees them without having met one before is understandably scared at the sight of such a distinctive-looking canine. However, Melissa Riley of Stone Quarry Bulldogs put it best when summing up their appearance compared to their personality: “Bulldogs have an impressively strong appearance and sour mug that could easily intimidate any man, however, they are quite loving and affectionate and will be quite content with simply relaxing on the couch with you.”
Bulldogs love their families more than nearly anything else, and they will become like a noisy, bulky shadow that follows you around the house. They don’t complain, though they will sometimes give you a disapproving look if you are doing something to annoy them. They may be intelligent enough not to be anybody’s fool, but for you and their family, they are more than happy to be a fool if it makes you happy.