There are actually a number of breeds that go by the name Bulldog, and all of them are sturdily built, wrinkly-faced canines, mostly living out their lives as family pets. This blog concerns itself with the English and American bulldogs, but there are also the Leavitt Bulldog, Old English Bulldogge, and French Bulldog. The English breed’s nose has a more noticeably “pushed-in” appearance than that of his American cousin.
The English Bulldog remains the better known of the two. The AKC has yet to formally recognize the American Bulldog. Both breeds are described as affable, hardworking dogs that can do almost anything, from hunting large and small game to guarding and enjoying time with their families.
Literature of old describes the appearance of the first Bulldog around 1500. The first occurrence with the present spelling was seen in 1631 or 1632.
Sadly, these early Bulldogs have “bull” in their names because some of them were used for dogfighting. The name of the sport as it applied to Bulldogs was “bull-baiting.” In a match, crowds would pick a dog on which to wager. Then, one by one, dogs would be set atop a tethered bull. By throwing, goring or trampling the helpless dog, bulls killed many a Bulldog for human entertainment. Fortunately, the sport’s popularity peaked around 1800, and by 1835 it had been banned outright under Britain’s Cruelty to Animals Act.
The American Bulldog’s history has a different trajectory. He generally joined his immigrant owners in coming to the U.S. in the 1800s. He was a working dog and became highly prized in the southern states for his ability to track and hold feral hogs.
As happened to too many dogs, the American breed neared extinction after World War II, with most live specimens dwelling in the southeastern U.S. John D. Johnson, of Summerville, GA, made it his mission to restore the breed and did so by rounding up and breeding the best specimens he could find.
The AKC rated the Bulldog as the fourth most popular dog in the U.S. in 2015.
Male American bulldogs are more muscular and slightly larger than their female counterparts. Males stand between 22 and 28 inches and weigh between 75 and 125 pounds, whereas the numbers for females are 20 to 25 inches and 60 to 100 pounds.
Among the English variety, males weigh about 50 pounds and females, about 40. Both can be expected to reach a height of 12 to 16 inches.
Breeders on both sides of the Atlantic have worked hard to eliminate the aggressive traits that remained from the dogs’ fighting days. What is left is a dog who is patient, loving and content; who loves to cuddle up to a favorite loved one for a nap or go out for a round of play with the children; and who is loyal and mellow around everyone in the family. Bulldog puppies are highly energetic, but they seem to calm down markedly in adulthood. They require only a brisk daily walk to stay in shape. Because their exercise requirements are so modest, Bulldogs make great apartment dogs. They are said to be one of the gentlest dogs available today.
The Bulldog’s life expectancy is eight to 12 years. One of the gravest health concerns for a Bulldog is that, because of the structure of his face, particularly his nose, he is extremely heat-sensitive; his small nostrils make breathing more difficult than for other dogs. During the summer months Bulldogs must be kept out of direct light and heat, and given plenty of water and a shady spot for sleeping (better yet, let him sleep indoors; Bulldogs enjoy cool floors). It is crucial that you expose your Bulldog to as little heat as possible, as excessive heat causes him difficulty in breathing.
In a 30-year study (1979 to 2009), Bulldogs were found to have the highest occurrence of hip dysplasia among all dog breeds. Approximately 73.9 percent have the condition.
Most female Bulldogs cannot deliver their puppies naturally; about 80 percent are born by C-section, simply because their mother’s outsized head gets in the way during natural birth.
Other health concerns include patellar luxation (dislocation of the kneecap), eye problems, deafness, cancer, cryptorchidism (sometimes called retained or undescended testes), and others. Work with your vet to develop a strategy for monitoring your pet’s health and catching any problems early.
The folds on a Bulldog’s face are sometimes called “rope.” These folds are susceptible to infection caused by the accumulation of excess water. The rope should be cleaned and dried daily to prevent infections.
Bulldogs have naturally curling tails. Sometimes their tails are so tight they become irritated and require regular cleaning and ointment.
Because the breed is so popular, Bulldog rescue groups exist all over the United States. If you’re not sure where to start, head over to the Bulldog Club of America (www.bulldogclubofamerica.org), which has a Rescue link on its website.