Originally the Bulldog was bred to protect and bait bulls, the purpose of which was both practical (tenderising meat) and profitable (entertainment), both of which will be discussed later. We will begin with the series of events which saw the initiation of the development of this unique genre of breeds.
As far back as 50 AD in the Roman context, a fighting breed known as the Broad Mouthed Dog of Briton is documented. Furthermore, the Roman's are found to have taken a keen interest in these early Briton bulldogs, having selected and exported them from Briton to Rome, purely for entertainments sake, used in the great amphitheatres of this era (4).
In 1066 England began training dogs for baiting bulls, bears, horses and various other species. One can confidently assume that this was the beginning of the development of the British Bulldog, a breed who's anatomy and physiology are so perfectly suited for this arduous task (See Article Number 2). Bull baiting required the Bulldog to engage the bull by creeping upon it's belly toward the bull, while the bull anticipating the dogs advances lowers it's head ready to defend itself by tossing the dog with its horns, however before given the chance the Bulldog leaps and grabs the bull by the nostrils (1). It is believed that bull baiting came about by the realisation of the fact that the lactic acid build up created in exercise carried out by the animal before slaughter, has the effect of tenderising the meat and giving it a satisfying flavour. Therefore it became commonplace for butchers to provide this service, to the point, that fines were issued to those who did not comply. Hence, this started the basis for what was to be a successful breeding program in which over many years of selection for traits conducive toward the effective of this task, a breed was born. Breeding animals were selected upon their relative intuition and ease of training, that is, to grab the nose of the bull and no other part, along with the selection of complimentary physical attributes.
In 1406 Edmond de Langley, Duke of York described the features of an "Allen" dog "with a large thick head and short muzzle, which had remarkable coverage and when he attacked an animal he hung on", which was undoubtedly used for bull baiting. Conversely, in 1557 Dr. Caius described a bulldog with features being "vastly huge, stubborn, ugly and eager dog, of a heavy and burdensome body", presumably some form of mastiff (3). Thus we have the basis for the existence of two distinct lines, that of the Mastiff and the Bulldog, but it was during the period 1556-1649 that the physical distinction between the two became more obvious. Furthermore, it wasn't until 1631 that the word "Bulldog" was first mentioned in England and from original oil paintings it has been observed that in 1598 English Bulldogs were still relatively large (90lbs). Similarly, in 1625, Bulldogs were still described as "big dogs, underhung, big skill, well laid back nose". In 1686, a new system of bull baiting was introduced, requiring a dog capable of greater activity, moderately low stature, with a well laid back nose and protruding underjaw. (3) This may have been the driving force behind the creation of a smaller specimen, however other sources claim that, the reduction in size was the result of restrictions placed on public ownership of such huge dogs, both by law and financially. Therefore, members of the public sought to create a smaller, but in no way less tenacious animal, one that they could legally own and afford to maintain comfortably (2). It may have been a mixture of these two influences however at the time this article was written (2006) it appears unclear. Therefore over this 50 year period 1686-1735 a reduction in size from 90 lbs to 50-60 lbs was observed and an increase in tenacity, evidence of what an effective breeding program can achieve over a relatively short period of time (2). In comparison to today's British Bulldogs, the bull baiting animals of 1735 were smaller in skull, longer in face, higher in shoulder, narrower in front, lighter in bone and overall less exaggerated, but most importantly by this time Bulldogs were inheriting the inborn tendency to grab the bull by the nose, rather than the horns so to speak or any other part for that matter! Therefore, these dogs were incredibly powerful, retaining the musculature and compact structure of their predecessors (4). Thankfully, in 1835 the cruel sport of bull baiting was banned, and strangely enough if it weren't for dog fighting (1690) and the beginning of dog shows (1859), the British Bulldog, may very well have gone extinct (1).
Bulldogs were exported to other countries, seeing the development of different Bulldog types (French, American, Australian etc), which were selectively bred to function in their new climates and roles. The modern British Bulldog appears to be more exaggerated than the dog that existed back in 1735, being stockier, broader and more affectionate, hence less suitable as a fighting breed, and more suited to the family home and show ring.
© Balerow Aussie Bulldogs
References: 1. Brearley J.M. (1985) The Book of the Bulldog. TFH Publications. 2. Cooper H.J. (2005) Bulldogs and Bulldog Breeding. Vintage Dog Books. 3. Fleig D. (1996) The History Of Fighting Dogs. TFH Publications. 4. Homan M. (2000) A Complete History Of Fighting Dogs. Howell Books. 5. Thomas C. (2000) Bulldogs Today. Ringpress Books.
A Brief History of the Bulldog
by Balerow Aussie Bulldogs
Balerow Aussie Bulldogs are breeders of quality Australian Bulldogs located in Sydney, Australia. Our Aussie Bulldog litters are available at selected times throughout the year. Balerow maintains quality as its number one priority in breeding this loyal and affectionate family companion.