Showsight Presents The Bulldog

THE HISTORY OF THE BULLDOG

by ELIZABETH HUGO-MILAM

B ulldogs undoubtedly have one of the most interesting histories of all dog breeds, a history that continues to evolve. An indigenous British breed, it is thought that the breed (or its direct ancestor) has been a part of Britain’s canine population for well over 1,500 years. References to a unique fighting dog in Britain date to Roman times. Theories abound about the origin of the breed, from being unique to Brit- ain itself, to a cross-bred descendent of Mastiffs or Mastiff types brought to the Island by Romans or other early invad- ers. Victorian scholars had spirited debates about which breed came first, Mastiff or Bulldog, and, which breed was the founder of the other. The more likely scenario is they share a common ancestor. The leading theory is that the breed is unique to Britain and is a descendent of a natu- rally occurring brachycephalic type of dog. Other native breeds, particularly terrier varieties, likely were added to the mix. What is certain is that this specific breed was developed from its ances- tors as a bullbaiting dog. Bullbaiting likely developed because this type of dog tended to chase down loose bulls and hold them until they were caught. Eventually this evolved into a “formal sport.” References to this activity date to at least the 11th century. The bull was tethered, and the dogs set upon him. Meat from a baited bull was desir- able and in some villages was required by law. The unique conformation of the breed evolved purely from this “sport.” The dog appears to have had no other purpose. The dogs best-suited and most successful at bullbaiting were ones selected for breeding and a definitive type evolved. Period writings describe the dogs in a bullfight as crouching, crawling and then leaping at the bull’s face. In fact, any dog that did not go for the face was immediately destroyed.

“THE INTRODUCTION OF FORMAL DOG SHOWS IN 1859 SAVED THE PURE BREED FROM CERTAIN EXTINCTION.”

Purity of blood was of utmost impor- tance as “no dog other than an out and out Bulldog can be relied upon to go straight for the bull’s head.” At various times in history, Bulldogs were also used to bait monkeys, bears and even lions. While bullbaiting held prominence as a “national sport,” eventually, its cruelty led to discussion of abolishing the “sport.” In 1802, the first bill to ban bullbaiting was introduced in the House of Commons. After heated debate, it was voted down. Finally, in 1835, the “sport” was outlawed. The Bulldog was left with no real job. They were good ratters and this was likely the last job of the breed. The Bulldog was universally despised by most citizens, who wanted to see it eliminated. Bulldog-terrier crosses were creating a dog suited for dog fighting, a “sport” that was more easily carried out indoors, away from the eyes of the law. The breed earned the nickname “pot house dog,” as that was where the dog was generally found. The Bulldog was considered savage and its owners of highly dubious character. But these fanciers were devoted to their breed and cautiously guarded its purity. The introduction of formal dog shows in 1859 saved the pure breed from certain extinction. There were literally a handful of pure bred Bull- dogs at the time, and it was from these last survivors that our breed ultimately evolved. The early dog shows saw the Bulldog and Bulldog types of vary- ing sizes. Classes were often offered

for less than 20 pounds and over 45 pounds. Some breeders suggested that their large version of over 80 pounds was the “true” Bulldog. One breeder, Frank Adcock, imported a large variety of Bulldog from Spain, with the intent of making the breed larger. It was well-known among fanciers that the mid-sized dogs of 40-50 pounds were best-suited to the original job of bull- baiting. These fanciers saw cross breed- ing with other types, particularly with Mr. Adcock’s new breed from Spain, as a real danger that the pure type would become extinct. To guard against this, the first Bull- dog club was created on November 3, 1864. Objectives of “The Philo Kuon Society” included, “The perpetuation and the improvement of the old Eng- lish Bulldog.” The club’s motto was “hold fast.” This club only lasted three years, but it is credited with the first

S HOW S IGHT M AGAZINE , J UNE 2017 • 273

Powered by