566 Sussex Bulldog

by   David Hancock

 Those of us who value dogs for what they can do rather than what they look like have long mourned the loss of the genuine Bulldog. From time to time Bulldog devotees have tried to reproduce the traditional type as opposed to the show ring specimen. Clifford Derwent, with his 'Regency Bulldog', produced some impressive specimens but couldn't get the temperament right. The late Ken Mollett, with his 'Victorian Bulldogs' did succeed and the society he formed lives on. The Dorset Bulldogge club is producing admirable dogs and have an annual show. In Australia, the improved 'Aussie Bulldog' is gaining ground; in Canada, John and Lolly Wilkinson have been breeding top-class Olde Englishe Bulldogges for many years. But now the Sussex Bulldog Association is succeeding too, producing active athletic dogs which live long healthy lives and look real characters.

 Their club is well established, there are 7 registered breeders and roughly 1,700 registered owners. Their breeding programme is over 20 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 which 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 the famous 'Philo-kuon' description of a Bulldog of 1865, two Bulldogs, Crib and Rosa were named as perfect examples of the breed; 'a fine dog' was put at 50lbs. The Sussex dogs are far more like Rosa and Crib than any KC Bulldog that I see at shows. Who is seeking the typical Bulldog? In his Cynographia Britannia of 1800, Sydenham Edwards was speculating on the use of Pug blood 'by accident or design' to vary the bull-baiting dogs and produce the 'intermediate variety'. He put the weight at around 36 pounds, with a height of about eighteen inches. The KC seeks a 55lbs dog and considers a black coat to be 'highly undesirable', which conflicts with many depictions of the breed in previous centuries. Black is in the Bulldog gene-pool and it is absurd to omit it in this way.

 In his book on the Bulldog of 1899, Edgar Farman mourned the removal of Rosa and Crib as exemplars of Bulldog perfection from the new standard (1876) and expressed a view on the then scene with: '...to pause a moment before a pampered champion nowadays...will produce a feeling of sadness in the observer at the painful results of inbreeding for points.' And he was a Bulldog man! In his book on the breed of 1925, Barrett Fowler wrote: 'With greater and greater frequency distorted, crippled, and short-lived dogs were exhibited at the Shows and all too frequently were awarded prizes. It meant the utter degeneration of the Bulldog.'  And he was the secretary of the London Bulldog Society! He would not have approved of the Crufts entry. Both these Bulldog men would have favoured the Sussex version. Real Bulldog men respect the legitimate article.    

  Bulldogs with virtually no muzzle, hips too narrow to allow natural whelping, disproportionately large heads and an anatomy which only permits laboured movement are a travesty. These healthier Sussex Bulldogs are a timely production. The UK may well sign up soon to European legislation banning the breeding of muzzleless dogs and perpetuating a show type irrespective of health issues. This legislation names our Bulldog as an exaggerated breed.

 For a group of well-intentioned fanciers to come together as the Sussex Bulldog 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 Sussex Bulldogs 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.