214 Pugs & Pugnaces

by   David Hancock

 The surest way I know of antagonising bulldog and pug breeders is to remind them of the pug-bulldog crosses once conducted in their two breeds. Bullmastiff owners too are usually far from pleased at any suggestion that the ancestors of their breed might well have had pug blood in them. Of course breed historians will usually believe what they want to believe. But I see much to admire in the character of the pug and the bulldog and see no stigma in admitting such cross-breeding. But did the pug-bulldog cross really happen? What is the evidence?

 In his "The Illustrated Book of the Dog" of 1879, Vero Shaw was in no doubt, as these quotes illustrate: "With reference to the Pug as it at present exists...It is in many of the inferior large-sized specimens that the Bull cross is so plainly evident...the results of the cross are frequently disfigured by being out at shoulders and by badly-carried tails...Nor are such experiments likely to benefit the Bulldog, for Pug blood is in its turn plainly visible in some of the breed, especially the fawn and fallow-smut ones, which one comes across. Another trace the Bulldog often leaves behind it in the Pug is in the carriage of the ears...modern breeders in some instances have availed themselves of a Bull cross in hopes of improving their strain in certain qualities."

 Sydenham Edwards, in his great work "Cynographia Britannica" of 1800, wrote in his chapter on bulldogs that the small "Dutch mastiff or pug-dog was much in fashion" during the time when bulldogs were most needed, and "that possibly by accident or design" it had been used to "improve the bulldog". As both 'Stonehenge' and Buffon record, the French referred to pugs  as small bulldogs. Thomas Bell, writing in 1837, described the pug-dog as a smaller variety of the bulldog. If you look at Hogarth's so-called pugs, you see signs of non-pug blood and the famous painting of a heavyweight 'pug' at the National Trust property Dunham Massey  depicts  a brindle dog, not a colour found in pugs in Britain. 'Stonehenge' in his "Dogs of the British Islands" of 1878, records: "...both strains (i.e. Willoughby and Morrison pugs) have been crossed with the bulldog, with a view to enlarge the skull and shorten the face."

 In his "Modern Dogs (non-sporting)" of 1894, Rawdon Lee writes: "...I should not be surprised to find that during the early part of this century some of the small-sized bull bitches were mated with a pug in order to produce that fawn or 'fallow smut' bulldog." You don't find such quotes in books on bulldogs! John Gordon wrote two books on bulldogs and two on pugs without mentioning such easily researched details. Selective or tedentious research contributes little to our knowledge of dogs.

 Following the banning of bull-baiting in 1835, the bull-baiting dogs not surprisingly suffered a decline. 'Idstone' in his "The Dog" of 1872 records: "About the year 1840 very few thoroughbred  examples existed, and the possession of such an animal would have been regarded as a sure sign of ruffianism." There was not exactly a market for such incredibly brave, very fierce, usually savage, powerful dogs. They had to be adapted to the requirements of the time.

 From 1840 the breed of bulldog changed from a mainly white, rat-tailed, thick-eared, broad-mouthed, strongly muzzled, hard muscled canine gladiator into a very different animal. In his "The Bulldog -- a Monograph" of 1899, Edgar Farman notes that: "From that time forward the breed began to deteriorate, and, with the era of modern dog shows, the appearance of an up-to-date specimen became a caricature of the active and plucky animal that baited the bull."

 In his authoritative "Dogs: Their History and Development" of 1927, Edward Ash wrote, on the bulldog: "When bull-baiting and dog-fighting ended, the dog was bred for 'fancy', and characteristics desired at earlier times for fighting and baiting purposes were exaggerated, so that the unfortunate dog became unhappily abnormal. In this translation stage huge, broad, ungainly heads were obtained, legs widely bowed were developed, and frequently the dog was a cripple. Then gradually the desired points were rounded off and the transition stage had passed. How these changes of type were obtained is difficult to say."

 These "changes of type" had been obtained by using the blood of a short-nosed, compact, close-knit, cobby, unaggressive, black-masked, smaller dog called a pug. In his "The New Book of the Dog" of 1907, Robert Leighton wrote on the pug: "...and it is known that it has been bred with the bulldog for the anticipated benefit of the latter." He expresses no doubt about this cross-breeding. He was the acknowledged authority of his day who took great pains to be accurate. In his "The Dog Book" of 1906, James Watson recalls visiting a dog show at Alexandra Palace at the end of the 1870s and being briefed by the famous Bulldog man Bill George's son, Alfred, with the words: "...there has been a great change since you went away. You will see some of the old sort at father's, but they don't do for showing." Memorable words!

 The pursuit of fad breed points is a curse in any pedigree breed and the bulldog has suffered more than most. In one decade a well out at shoulder front is desired, in another a grotesquely undershot jaw is all the rage and then the great essential is a mass of wrinkle. The degree of wrinkle on the contemporary bulldog is not historically correct. Wrinkle on a pug is a breed feature. Misguided breed fanciers used these words in the Bulldog standard of 1875: "The forehead should be flat...and the skin upon it and about the head very loose, hanging in large wrinkles." I know of no portrayal of a bull-baiting dog with large wrinkles on its forehead.

 At the turn of the century, the Kennel Club recognised toy bulldogs and authorised classes for them. These dogs had to weigh less than 20lbs and some weighed as little as 13lbs. If you look at photographs of specimens at that time such as Leda, Little Monarch, Bite, Little Jemima and, especially, Champion Harpton Floss, then the influence of the pug can be seen quite clearly. Unadmitted cross-breeding was not confined to bulldog and pug breeders, who should not be stigmatized for so doing. It is the denial of such activity that is tiresome; many many pure-bred dogs of today come directly from the skilful blending of the genes of more than one breed. 

 In Germany, the pug was bred with the pinscher in order to shorten the face of the latter. This may have been to broaden the mouth of the pinscher (a word linked to our word 'pinch' and literally meaning a dog that nipped). In her valuable book "The Pug Handbook" of 1959, Wilhelmine Swainston Goodger records: "It is therefore safe to assume that the 'traces' (i.e. the darker spinal marking) of Mastiffs, Bulldogs and even Terriers...are due to the use of the Pug, the only naturally short-faced dog known in Europe at that time, in cross-breeding to shorten the muzzles of other canine types."

 Mastiff fanciers should take note that early pictures of mastiffs (e.g. Buffon, Bewick, Reinagle and Howitt) show that the breed was only beginning to emerge as a distinct breed rather than a common type in the late eighteenth century. The dogs depicted are not fawn in colour, do not have black masks and are not facially wrinkled. Bulldogs did not feature the fawn or fallow-smut colouring until late in the last century. Pugs have been silver fawn or apricot fawn for at least three centuries. Pugs have long been expected to have large deep wrinkles, beauty-spots or black markings on their cheeks (three hairs on each spot was once considered to be highly desirable) and diamond-shaped folds on their foreheads.

 The mastiff today is expected to have a wrinkled head; in 1878 it was described as having a forehead with "two gentle swells with a furrow between." The bulldog today is expected to have a "loose and wrinkled forehead"; in 1878 it was required to be "well wrinkled". Bulldogs before 1800 were not well wrinkled; mastiffs before 1800 were not noticeably wrinkled. An examination of bulldog skulls in the British Museum (all from dogs born prior to 1936) showed they had longer jaws than modern bulldogs. Geneticists tell us that the short muzzle is dominant, that crosses involving the bulldog are liable to produce extreme variation in size and that crosses involving giant breeds are liable to produce excessive loose skin.  The mastiff, the bullmastiff and the bulldog share origins and genes; they have been interbred as breed-types for centuries. The pug has a wholly separate origin and, despite once being called the Dutch mastiff, has a different skull conformation from the mastiff group. The blending of pug and bulldog blood brings together entirely different ancestries, totally different historic functions and essentially different anatomies. The pug has maintained its distinct breed type over at least four centuries; the bulldog does not even resemble its own ancestors, especially in the muzzle. It is worth noting that the descendants of bulldogs taken to the colonies still display the classic head of the bull-baiting dogs, as the American bulldogs, the Alapaha Blue Blood bulldogs and the dogs of Lolly Wilkinson in Canada demonstrate.

 Of course, it would not be wise to look at every fawn bullmastiff or bulldog displaying a 'diamond' on its forehead, beauty spots on its cheeks, a very short black-masked face and muzzle and a 'trace' or darker spinal hair from occiput to tail and immediately link it with an alleged pug cross in the last century. But it would be equally foolish to pretend that the pug-bulldog cross did not happen. Respected writers with the standing of Vero Shaw, Sydenham Edwards, 'Stonehenge', Rawdon Lee and Robert Leighton have testified that it did and such a cross is genetically significant.

 It is not historically correct to breed bulldogs, and certainly not Mastiffs or Bullmastiffs, with the truncated muzzle which has long been a feature of the pug. Pug-faced pugs are not anomalous. Pug-faced Bullmastiffs are and do not fit the breed mould; such a feature is leading this admirable breed away from its own blueprint. Show ring judges have a role as the guardians of breed 'type' and must be watchful less misguided or ignorant breeders allow the physical characteristics of a different breed to develop insidiously into an acceptable feature in their own breed. I rather like pugs but I'd prefer the pug face to remain where it belongs, on pugs and not on bullmastiffs or bulldogs. Our precious breeds of pedigree dog must be perpetuated as identifiable individual breeds, each with its own typical characteristics; that surely is the whole point of pedigree dog breeding.