by   David Hancock

The Corsican and Spanish bulldogs closely resemble the English breed, but are larger. A Spanish bulldog, which we had very recently an opportunity of examining, was certainly the most powerfully formed dog we have ever seen. In stature it was between the English bulldog and mastiff, but of massive build, with thick muscular limbs, tremendous breadth of chest, and an awful (then meaning awesome, DH) head. It was very gentle, excepting when urged to make an attack, when its ferocity knew no bounds."
 'The History of the Dog' by WCL Martin, 1845

When Bulldog fanciers from such widely-separated locations as Britain and America, Holland and Australia, Switzerland and Canada show their dissatisfaction with the Kennel Club show ring Bulldog, it surely demonstrates quite vividly universal discontent with this breed. Such a spread of interest shows too how much the breed is valued and the true breed-type mourned. Modern fanciers however often misunderstand the basic purpose of such a breed and that alone leads to excesses of form in the purebred dogs. Bull-dogs in the functional sense had their origins in two types of cattle dog: those that drove the cattle and those that 'pinned' the cattle for butchers and drovers. The former were longer-legged - rather like the American Bulldogs, Filas de Sao Miguel and Florida Cowdogs of today. The latter were broader-mouthed and stockier. This is the type that found itself mis-used in the bull baiting contests, although the baiting dogs were more like Staffordshire Bull Terriers than the contemporary breed of Bulldog. But just to survive they had to be extremely agile, amazingly quick on their feet and recklessly brave. To honour their heritage the breed has to be far more athletic and well-balanced in build than the show ring specimens. It is thoroughly understandable for disgruntled fanciers to attempt to remodel the breed in its rightful mould.

   A number of worthy people have attempted to re-create the genuine Bulldog. Just after the Second World War Clifford Derwent, himself a successful dog breeder of other breeds, exhibitor and highly rated judge, developed what he called Regency Bulldogs. But he couldn't get the temperament right and abandoned his admirable quest. Then half a century later, the late Ken Mollett of Pinner took up the challenge, with some success. Using a blend of Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Bullmastiff and oversized pure-bred Bulldog, he stabilised his own distinct Victorian Bulldog type: active, agile, unexaggerated and yet unaggressive. He deserved greater support. The physical condition of our pedigree Bulldog is a matter screaming out, on humane grounds alone, for action by the Kennel Club. Yet despite their ownership of the harmfully worded breed standard, they see it as a matter for the breed clubs. But why should the latter change when their members can sell their pups for £600-£800 each?

Shamed by a hard-hitting well-researched BBC documentary on harmful breeding practices in pedigree dogs, the Kennel Club is insisting quite rightly on a number of changes to the written standards, the 'breed design', of many pedigree breeds, including the Bulldog. Altered by 19th century show breeders and reshaped by exaggeration, the Bulldog has since degenerated into an inactive squashed-faced over-wrinkled caricature of its former self. But already the entrenched Bulldog breeders are opposing the proposed changes. The question many vets have been asking for years is this: why should this breed struggle with breathing and whelping difficulties created by the wording of the standard for the breed? Before the excesses of the show ring took effect, the Bulldog had a muzzle!

I understand that a group of continental Bulldog fanciers have approached the international kennel club, the FCI, with a request for a 'Continental Bulldog' to be recognised by them. This 'new breed' will apparently be a reversion to the old-style more athletic one, depicted in old prints and paintings, lacking the muzzle-less head, wide forefront and narrow hips of the KC-recognised breed, favoured in the show-ring here. In Switzerland, Holland, Australia, the United States and Canada, other talented and well-intentioned breeders have produced less exaggerated specimens, with mixed success. It would be shameful surely if overseas breeders managed to produce a Bulldog, and get it registered, which more faithfully portrayed our much-loved native breed. The British have over the years created more breeds of dog than any other nation. But of these breeds, one above all has been singled out, especially in times of international crisis, to symbolise our national characteristics: the British Bulldog. Long misused by man in such barbaric activities as bear and bull-baiting, the Bulldog has come to be seen as epitomising the tenacity, stoicism and pugnacity desired in British stock.

But in this breed, as with some other pedigree breeds of dog, the wish to perpetuate strong breed show-points has led to harmful exaggeration. This has not happened however with the French Bulldog. The desire for a smaller more passive dog, with the pugnacious look which so typifies the Bulldog, led misguided fanciers in the past to outcross with Pugs, mainly to shorten the muzzle. The seeking of an indomitable, 'no surrender' stance in the breed has led to poor front quarters, with specimens in Victorian times displaying all kinds of quite dreadful structural faults. The KC show Bulldog is now a caricature of itself. I have judged both the American Bulldog and the Victorian Bulldog and been impressed by their soundness, both in physique and temperament. The 'Aussie Bulldogs' of the Greens look like real Bulldogs. Some American and Swiss breeders are producing healthier sounder dogs. I have also seen 'Sussex Bulldogs' and  'Dorset Old Tyme Bulldogges', currently being bred by well-intentioned fanciers, that looked healthy and unexaggerated, active and agile, breathing and moving freely.

These Dorset Bulldogge fanciers are producing active athletic dogs which live long healthy lives and look real characters. Their club is over 20 years old, their breeding programme is now 30 years old, and their first stud-book entered dog lived to over 16. I do not know of a Kennel Club-registered Bulldog living to such an age. Their club has well over 350 members and conducts three well-attended shows a year, featuring quite admirable dogs. The Dorset Bulldogge breeders are seeking a dog standing around 20 inches at the shoulder, ranging from 60 to 90 lbs, stocky, well-muscled, with a muzzle long enough to permit good respiration and a torso which allows natural whelping. This is in contrast with the KC-registered Bulldogs, which give birth by caesarean and all too often have breathing difficulties. The KC has now had to amend the breed standard for the breed they recognise, to include the phrase 'Dogs showing respiratory distress highly undesirable.'

The Dorset Bulldogge Club now has representatives in America, Canada, Spain, Norway and Taiwan, with interest coming from kennels in Australia, Germany, Holland, France, Portugal, Greece and Malta too. The club members are maintaining two lines in the emergent breed: a straightforward 'bully' type and a lighter more agile 'performance' type. The terrier blood used in early breeding plans has restored activity to this style of dog, as well as removing health problems which affect Bulldogs with virtually no muzzle, hips too narrow to allow natural whelping, disproportionately large heads and an anatomy which only permits laboured movement. These healthier Dorset Bulldogges are a timely introduction. The UK may well sign up soon to European legislation banning the breeding of muzzle-less dogs and perpetuating type irrespective of health issues. Our KC is anticipating this by rewording a number of breed standards; I do hope that both breeders and judges will react.

For a group of well-intentioned fanciers to come together as the Dorset Bulldogge ones have, and produce not only a healthier dog, able to live a long and active life, but one resembling the real bulldog of past centuries, is heart-warming. The show ring specimens at Crufts are miles away from the agile, athletic dogs once renowned all over the world as gutsy, determined, never-say-die exemplars of our national character. These Dorset Bulldogges really do look and act like bulldogs and are a major step forward in restoring the national breed to us, in the form we once prized. All power to them. May they and their dogs go from strength to strength. They certainly deserve the support and interest of every patriotic dog-lover.

The Sussex Club’s breeding programme is over 30 years old, and any randomly chosen Sussex Bulldog has a minimum of 11 generations behind it. They are now breeding for 19th generation dogs. Their club has a quarterly breeders' meeting and plans to hold its first annual show in  2008. They have a representative in Scandinavia, M Bernal of Orebro in Sweden. The Sussex Bulldog breeders are seeking an unexaggerated dog standing around 22-24 inches at the shoulder, ranging from 105 to 120 lbs, sturdy, powerfully-developed, with a muzzle between a third and a fifth of the skull length, which should allow natural whelping. This is in contrast to the KC-registered Bulldogs, which give birth by caesarean and all too often have breathing difficulties. The KC has now had to amend the breed standard for the breed they recognise, quite substantially, to repair the damage their show rings have inflicted on this great breed.

I have some concerns over the breed standard being worked to by the Sussex enthusiasts; it lacks detail and advises some features that need greater thought. Yellow eyes are desired and splay feet are not a fault; I would question the sense of both. A Bulldog of 120lbs is more the size of a Bullmastiff or American Bulldog; is that really what they are seeking? When I wrote a breed standard for the Victorian Bulldog Society some years ago, and contributed words for the Dorset Olde Tyme Buldogge design, it sought different criteria. I favour a weight of 65 to 80 lbs for males, with a height at withers of 17 to 19 inches. I stressed the word 'balance'; advised against heavy bone and sought the classic anatomy of the holding dogs, like the early-19th century dogs and their predecessors. In his 'British Dogs' of 1903, WD Drury wrote:  
"Anyhow, the Bulldog of today is an entirely different animal, both physically and mentally, from the Bulldog of fifty years ago. Then he was a leggy, terrier-like, active brute...As to whether the fancier has improved the breed constitutionally is a moot point. Type has certainly been made more uniform; but this in many cases has been at the expense of other qualities." It has been at the expense of the dogs in many ways.

The cruelty, both direct and indirect to this breed, has long been appalling. In his 'British Dogs' Vol III, of 1897, Hugh Dalziel wrote:

"Of the cruel forms of 'faking', perhaps that once in vogue to give the Bulldog the correct facial expression was one of the most dastardly. It was brought about by the aid of an appliance so contrived that it could be fitted to the head of the dog, and after being securely fastened by straps, so as to prevent any possibility of its shifting, the pad which pressed tightly against the nose, could be screwed up until sufficient pressure was obtained to force the nasal organ into the required position. The leaders, or strings, that attach the upper lip to the gums, were also severed, in order to still further accentuate the characteristic appearance so much admired by Bulldog fanciers. During the time the nose machine was in position, the dog's legs were strapped together, to prevent him from displacing the apparatus, and he had to remain motionless for hours at a time, except when fed or when slight exercise was given, until the nose had 'set' into the required shape." So much for 'breed-lovers'!

The Bulldog of bygone days was a sporting dog too. In his "Wild Sports and Natural History of the Highlands" of 1919, Charles St. John wrote:

"I at one time had an English bulldog, who accompanied me constantly in deer-stalking; he learnt to crouch and creep up to the deer with me, never showing himself...If a deer was wounded, he could follow the track with untiring perseverance, distinguishing the scent of the wounded animal...he would also follow the stag till he brought him to bay, when, with great address in avoiding the horns, he would rush in and seize him, either by the throat or the ear..."

(Despite this inherited skill, the Bulldog is placed in the Non-Sporting Division, in the Utility Group, by the Kennel Club of Britain; in the Non-Sporting Group by the American Kennel Club and in Group 2, Pinscher and Schnauzer Type, Molossian and Swiss Mountain and Cattle Dogs by the FCI. Not one kennel club in the world recognises the modified brachycephalic type of dog as a hound or as a sporting dog.)        

The Spanish Bulldog is perpetuated today in the breed of Perro de Presa Mallorquin (at one time called the 'matin of Terceira') has a similar appearance but a different origin. Sometimes called the Mallorquin Bulldog, but known to the Catalans as Ca de Bou, it was traditional to crop its ears in a rounded form to achieve an almost feline look. These dogs were widely used in dog-fighting, as the Fighting Dog of Cordoba illustrated, even being exported to the Spanish islands of the Caribbean for this purpose. I understand that in the 1960s there were no pure specimens left and the breed had to be reconstituted, with around 500 now existing worldwide. The specimens that I have seen at World Dog Shows have been calm, friendly, equable and stable in temperament. Sergio Gual Fournier, president of the Club Espanol del Ca de Bou, specialist judge of the breed and owner of the 'Almallutx' kennel, assures me that the breed is in safe hands and thriving.

The new interest in this once-neglected breed is paralleled in South Africa. The emergence of a bulldog breed like the Boerboel (literally 'farmers' bulldog) of South Africa is immensely pleasing; after years of misuse, overuse and neglect by man, this remarkable group of dogs is now receiving the recognition it deserves. The Boerboel appears to feature all the best attributes of the bulldog breeds: immense power combined with great faithfulness, physical stature combined with admirable tolerance and a temperament capable of placidity or ferocity, if its family is threatened. The Boerboel looks to be a magnificent breed, developed in a hard school by tough farmers who were threatened by every kind of dangerous predator, in testing terrain and a challenging climate. Hard-pressed pioneer farmers, however resourceful, didn't have the circumstances that exactly encouraged the conservation of rare breeds of dog. They had a need for brave powerful virile dogs and bred good dog to good dog until they obtained the desired result. The way in which the Rhodesian Ridgeback was bred by hunter-farmers is probably a model for all such dogs. Performance directed every breeding programme. Pure-breeding, handsomeness and a respect for heritage doesn't usually feature highly in a pioneer hunter-farmer's priorities. It should be a matter of pride that the Boerboel was developed from the best mastiff-type dogs available in South Africa and brought there by soldiers, colonists and settlers from Europe. It is a breed to be proud of for that reason alone.

As a registered, purebred, recognised breed of dog, the Boerboel will need a well-worded breed standard if it is to be bred true to type and function in future years. It is disappointing, therefore, to read the first issue of this standard and assess the impact of its wording on breeders who have simply no concept of what a dog like this was expected to do on a lonely farm in the early days of South Africa. Under 'General Appearance', the Boerboel is expected to be bigger than the Boxer but shorter in the leg than the Great Dane; no mention of any Bulldog type. Under the head description, it stipulates that the nose bone must be straight, with very little or no tilting up like the Boxer and no longer nose like a Great Dane. I know of no other breed standard which tells you which features of another breed are not to be copied, without stating what the comparable features in the subject are expected to be. At a breed club show a few years ago, I was disturbed to see some giant, heavily-boned, quite gross exhibits; this is worrying. Big never means better; in breeds of dogs it sometimes indicates psychologically-needy owners!

The Boerboel is expected to be between 61 and 66 cms at the withers when full grown and weigh between 55 and 65 kgs; the breed is expected also to be active and assertive. Temperament is rightly stressed; there should be no sign of sullenness, sulkiness, surliness after reprimand or ill-temper. The dilute black colours of the mastiff group manifest themselves in this breed, with brindle, yellow (lion), grey, red-brown and brown, with or (to me sadly) without black muzzles. The intention is to develop a solid-coloured breed with no or little white. The nose must be black, unlike the Dogue de Bordeaux. The phenotype of this breed is typical of this group of dogs everywhere in the world. There would be merit however in an international Bulldog body that could rationalise the different breed standards, especially over the words used to describe acceptable colours.

The emergence of this fine breed, after a century of neglect and indifference in its native land, and its subsequent stabilisation into a distinct canine race, is not only a tribute to its loyal fanciers but also to the dogs themselves. How virile they must be to survive the climate; how robust to survive the terrain and fearsome wild opponents; how dependable in remote locations to inspire their owners to continue with them and how strong the genotype to triumph after a century of anything but pure-breeding. Perhaps the biggest threat to them in the long term is misuse once imported into Europe, misguidedness in their future design by show breeders and a closed gene pool, which they have managed well enough without in their whole history. But these pressures face all pure breeds once recognised; the closed gene pool receives undeserved worship and sickly, unathletic dogs, quite unlike their ancestors, are perpetuated in so many purebred dogs in far too many developed allegedly civilised countries. The admirable Boerboel devotees need to be alert and open-minded if their breed is to survive in the 21st century.

American breeders of American Bulldogs have been prone to rate gigantic specimens in this breed, as if size itself had virtue. Closer acquaintance with the Mastiff breed in England would soon convince them of the folly of this approach; even Mastiff breeders in America are now resorting to an Anatolian Shepherd Dog outcross to replicate the real breed. The breed of American Bulldog comes in a variety of colours, but white or mostly white is the most common. Brindle and fawn dogs are not uncommon but usually feature plenty of white. Dogs can range in weight from 85 to 135lbs, bitches from 70 to around 100lbs. The smaller specimens have a distinct American Pit Bull Terrier look to them, which is hardly surprising for their blood was used in the creation of the latter breed. Bill Hines of Harlingen, Texas, used his American Bulldogs as hog-dogs, in the classic medieval catch-dog manner, with all his stock being from old working lines.

The Alapaha Blue Blood Bulldogs are allegedly from plantation dogs of the river region of that name in South Georgia, where there are other types known as Georgia and Old English White Bulldogs. Around two feet at the withers and weighing just under 90lbs, they are commendably prized for their athleticism and agility. The image used here is of an outstanding dog from an impressive kennel. Another American keen on 'real Bulldogs' is David Leavitt, with his Olde Englishe Bulldogges. Having failed to produce what he desired from a blend of Bullmastiff, American Pit Bull Terrier and English Bulldog, he tried a different combination. He found an AKC-registered purebred English Bulldog, Westchamp's High Hopes (which also played a significant role in the production of some outstanding American Bulldogs), weighing 95lbs, in Massachusetts, and mated this dog with one of Johnson's American Bullbitches to produce the type he was seeking. Since then he has certainly bred some healthy handsome Bulldogs.

 In Canada, Lolly Wilkinson of Victoria, British Columbia, has her Original English Bulldogges, fit, healthy dogs which live a lot longer than the KC-recognised type, weigh between 50 and 75lbs and stand between 17 and 19 inches at the shoulder. Unlike the show ring dogs they have muzzles! They are remarkable in their resemblance to early 19th century bulldogs in England, but because they lack the exaggeration of the type favoured in today's show rings, they are rather strangely scorned by fanciers claiming to love Bulldogs yet breeding less healthy and less traditional animals. Breeding any subject creature to a harmful design merely to conform to some ill-advised and misguided breed standard as approved by an unthinking kennel club is surely bizarre in any civilised country as we enter a new millennium. In Switzerland and Holland too, with the Gimmecke dogs earning praise, enthusiasts are striving to produce a heathier, more typy Bulldog. I admire the work of Noel and Tina Green in Australia, where their 'Aussie Bulldogs' exemplify the better type of dog: active, anatomically sound and yet resembling the real Bulldog.

The English Bulldog should be: a powerful canine athlete, able to move like lightning over a short distance, with great neck and shoulder strength and a substantial jaw, able to display considerable agility - a healthy animal with a symmetrical, well-balanced physique free of exaggeration. It has never needed a massive head, a short body, with elbows and shoulders looking as though they are a late addition; it should be able to run just as its own ancestors could. It doesn't have to suffer from distressing eye conditions such as ectropian and entropian, incapacitating respiratory conditions such as trachial hypoplasia, overlong soft palate and laryngeal paralysis, congenital heart conditions like pulmonic stenosis, ventricular septal defect and mitral insufficiency, a host of dental and skin problems and vertebrae deformities. In England, we should be ashamed of what we have done to the world-famous, rightly-renowned, breed of Bulldog; breeders of the other bulldog breeds around the world should take note and vow that their breed will never be distorted in such a way. The world's Bulldogs are an important feature of the dog world and thoroughly merit protection from the those deranged souls intent on exaggerating their breed points to a harmful degree. The Kennel Club of Britain must now lead the way in the breeding of a sounder, historically-correct, healthier and longer-lived Bulldog.