Showsight Presents The Bulldog

THE HISTORY OF THE BULLDOG

by ELIZABETH HUGO-MILAM

B ulldogs undoubtedly have one of the most interesting histo- ries of all dog breeds, a his- tory 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. Th eories abound about the origin of the breed, from being unique to Britain itself, to a cross-bred descendent of Masti ff s or Masti ff types brought to the Island by Romans or other early invaders. Victorian scholars had spirited debates about which breed came first, Masti ff or Bulldog, and, which breed was the found- er of the other. Th e more likely scenario is they share a common ancestor. Th e leading theory is that the breed is unique to Britain and is a descendent of a naturally 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 ancestors 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. Th e bull was tethered, and the dogs set upon him. Meat from a baited bull was desirable and in some villages was required by law. Th e unique conformation of the breed evolved purely from this “sport.” Th e dog

appears to have had no other purpose. Th e dogs best-suited and most successful at bullbaiting were ones selected for breed- ing, 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. Purity of blood was of utmost importance 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 Com- mons. After heated debate, it was voted down. Finally, in 1835, the “sport” was outlawed. Th e Bulldog was left with no real job. Th ey were good ratters, and this was likely the last job of the breed. Th e 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. Th e breed earned the nickname “pot house dog,” as that was where the dog was generally found. Th e Bulldog was considered savage and its owners of highly dubious character. But these fanciers were devoted to their breed and cautiously guarded its purity. Th e introduction of formal dog shows in 1859 saved the pure breed from certain extinction. Th ere were literally a hand- ful of pure bred Bulldogs at the time, and it was from these last survivors that our breed ultimately evolved. Th e early dog shows saw the Bulldog and bulldog types of varying sizes. Classes were often o ff ered 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 Bull- dog from Spain, with the intent of mak- ing 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 bullbaiting. Th ese fanci- ers saw cross breeding 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 Bulldog club was created on November 3, 1864. Objectives of “ Th e Philo Kuon Society” included, “ Th e perpetuation and the improvement of the old English Bulldog.” Th e club’s motto was “hold fast.” Th is club only lasted three years, but it is cred- ited with the first attempt at a standard,

210 • S HOW S IGHT M AGAZINE , S EPTEMBER 2014

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