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English (British) Bulldog
English (British) Bulldog

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Origin England

Classification / standards
  • FCI Group 2, Section 2 #149 standard

  • AKC Non-sporting standard

  • ANKC Group 7 (Non Sporting) standard

  • CKC Group 6 – (Non-Sporting) standard

  • KC (UK) Utility standard

  • NZKC Non Sporting standard

  • UKC Companion standard

The Bulldog is a medium-sized breed of dog commonly referred to as the English Bulldog or British Bulldog. Other Bulldog breeds include the American Bulldog, Old English Bulldog (now extinct), Leavitt Bulldog, Olde English Bulldogge, and the French Bulldog. The Bulldog is a muscular, hefty dog with a wrinkled face and a distinctive pushed-in nose. The American Kennel Club (AKC), The Kennel Club (UK), and the United Kennel Club (UKC) oversee breeding records. Bulldogs were the fourth most popular purebreed in the United States in 2015 according to the American Kennel Club.

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The Bulldog is a breed with characteristically wide head and shoulders along with a pronounced mandibular prognathism. There are generally thick folds of skin on a Bulldog's brow; round, black, wide-set eyes; a short muzzle with characteristic folds called a rope or nose roll above the nose; hanging skin under the neck; drooping lips and pointed teeth, and an underbite with an upturned jaw. The coat is short, flat, and sleek, with colours of red, fawn, white, brindle, and piebald.

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In the United Kingdom, the breed standards are 50 lb (23 kg) for a male and 40 lb (18 kg) for a female. In the United States, a typical mature male weighs 45–55 lb (20–25 kg), while mature females weigh about 45 lb (20 kg). The BCA recommends the average weight of a bulldog to be 40–50 lb (18–23 kg).

Bulldogs are one of the few breeds whose tail is naturally short and either straight or screwed and thus is not cut or docked as with some other breeds. A straight tail is a more desirable tail according to the breed standard set forth by the BCA if it is facing downward, not upwards.

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According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), a Bulldog's disposition should be "equable and kind, resolute, and courageous (not vicious or aggressive), and demeanor should be pacific and dignified. These attributes should be countenanced by the expression and behavior".

Breeders have worked to reduce/remove aggression from these dogs. Most have a friendly, patient nature. Bulldogs are recognized as excellent family pets because of their tendency to form strong bonds with children.

Generally, Bulldogs are known for getting along well with children, other dogs, and pets. They can become so attached to home and family, that they will not venture out of the yard without a human companion. They are also more likely to sleep on someone's lap than chase a ball around the yard.

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The term "Bulldog" was first mentioned in literature around 1500, the oldest spelling of the word being Bondogge and Bolddogge. The first reference to the word with the modern spelling is dated 1631 or 1632 in a letter by a man named Preswick Eaton where he writes: "procuer mee two good Bulldogs, and let them be sent by ye first shipp". In 1666, English scientist Christopher Merret applied: "Canis pugnax, a Butchers Bull or Bear Dog", as an entry in his Pinax Rerum Naturalium Britannicarum.

The designation "bull" was applied because of the dog's use in the sport of bull baiting. This entailed the setting of dogs (after placing wagers on each dog) onto a tethered bull. The dog that grabbed the bull by the nose and pinned it to the ground would be the victor. It was common for a bull to maim or kill several dogs at such an event, either by goring, tossing, or trampling. Over the centuries, dogs used for bull-baiting developed the stocky bodies and massive heads and jaws that typify the breed as well as a ferocious and savage temperament. Bull-baiting, along with bear-baiting, reached the peak of its popularity in England in the early 1800s until they were both made illegal by the Cruelty to Animals Act 1835. This amended the existing legislation to protect animals from mistreatment and included (as "cattle") bulls, dogs, bears, and sheep, so that bull and bear-baiting as well as cockfighting became prohibited. Therefore, the Old English Bulldog had outlived its usefulness in England as a sporting animal and its active or "working" days were numbered. However, emigrants did have a use for such dogs in the New World. In mid-17th century New York, Bulldogs were used as a part of a citywide roundup effort led by Governor Richard Nicolls. Because cornering and leading wild bulls were dangerous, Bulldogs were trained to seize a bull by its nose long enough for a rope to be secured around its neck. Bulldogs as pets were continually promoted by dog dealer Bill George.

Despite slow maturation so that growing up is rarely achieved by two and a half years, Bulldogs' lives are relatively short. At five to six years of age they start to show signs of aging.

In time, the original old English Bulldog was crossed with the pug. The outcome was a shorter, wider dog with a brachycephalic skull. Though today's Bulldog looks tough, he cannot perform the job he was originally created for as he cannot withstand the rigors of running and being thrown by a bull, and also cannot grip with such a short muzzle. Although not as physically capable as their ancestors, decreased levels of aggression associated with modern bulldogs have resulted in far calmer temperament while remaining physically capable guards and companions.

The oldest single breed specialty club is The Bulldog Club (England), which was formed in 1878. Members of this club met frequently at the Blue Post pub on Oxford Street in London. There they wrote the first standard of perfection for the breed. In 1894 the two top Bulldogs, King Orry and Dockleaf, competed in a contest to see which dog could walk 20 miles (32 km). King Orry was reminiscent of the original Bulldogs, lighter boned and very athletic. Dockleaf was smaller and heavier set, more like modern Bulldogs. King Orry was declared the winner that year, finishing the 20-mile (32 km) walk while Dockleaf collapsed. The Bulldog was officially recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1886.

At the turn of the 20th century, Ch. Rodney Stone became the first Bulldog to command a price of $5,000 when he was bought by controversial Irish American political figure Richard Croker.

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A 2004 UK survey of 180 Bulldog deaths puts the median age at death at 6 years 3 months. The leading cause of death of Bulldogs in the survey was cardiac related (20%), cancer (18%), and old age (9%). Those that died of old age had an average lifespan of 10 to 11 years. A 2013 UK vet clinic survey of 26 Bulldogs puts the median lifespan at 8.4 years with an interquartile range of 3.2–11.3 years. The UK Bulldog Breed Council website lists the average life span of the breed as 8–10 years.

Statistics from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals indicate that of the 467 Bulldogs tested between 1979 and 2009 (30 years), 73.9% were affected by hip dysplasia, the highest amongst all breeds. Similarly, the breed has the worst score in the British Veterinary Association/Kennel Club Hip Dysplasia scoring scheme, although only 22 Bulldogs were tested in the scheme. Patellar luxation affects 6.2% of Bulldogs.

Some individuals of this breed are prone to interdigital cysts—cysts that form between the toes. These cause the dog some discomfort, but are treatable either by vet or an experienced owner. They may also suffer from respiratory problems. Other problems can include cherry eye, a protrusion of the inner eyelid (which can be corrected by a veterinarian), allergies, and hip issues in older Bulldogs.

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Over 80% of Bulldog litters are delivered by Caesarean section because their characteristically large heads can become lodged in the mother's birth canal. The folds, or "rope", on a Bulldog's face should be cleaned daily to avoid infections caused by moisture accumulation. Some Bulldogs' naturally curling tails can be so tight to the body as to require regular cleaning and ointment.

Like all dogs, Bulldogs require daily exercise. If not properly exercised it is possible for a Bulldog to become overweight, which could lead to heart and lung problems, as well as stress on the joints.

Bulldogs have very small nasal cavities and thus have great difficulty keeping their bodies cool. Bulldogs are very sensitive to heat. Extra caution should be practiced in warmer climates and during summer months. Bulldogs must be given plenty of shade and water, and must be kept out of standing heat. Air conditioning and good ventilation are required to keep them healthy and safe. Bulldogs actually do most of their sweating through the pads on their feet and accordingly enjoy cool floors. Like all brachycephalic, or "short faced", breeds, Bulldogs can easily become overheated and even die from hyperthermia. Bulldog owners can keep these issues under control by staying aware and protecting their Bulldog(s) from these unsafe conditions. They can be heavy breathers, and they tend to be loud snorers. In 2014 the Dutch Kennel Club implemented some breeding rules to improve the health of the Bulldog. Among these is a fitness test where the dog has to walk 1 km (0.62 miles) in 12 minutes. Its temperature and heart rate has to recover after 15 minutes. In January 2009, after the BBC documentary Pedigree Dogs Exposed, The Kennel Club introduced revised breed standards for the British Bulldog, along with 209 other breeds, to address health concerns. Opposed by the British Bulldog Breed Council, it was speculated by the press that the changes would lead to a smaller head, fewer skin folds, a longer muzzle, and a taller thinner posture, in order to combat problems with respiration and breeding due to head size and width of shoulders.

Demand for 'Cute' Bulldogs Is Destroying the Breed
A new genetic analysis finds a worrying lack of diversity among the popular dog breed.

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English bulldogs are one of the most popular breeds in the world, but the features people love—short faces, squat bodies, and wrinkly skin—lead to numerous health problems for the breed. 

By Aaron Sidder

The bulldog may be a symbol of strength and tenacity, but more than a century of selective breeding has weakened the once-tough canine.

The dogs have breathing, skeletal, and skin problems, and, even worse, many can't naturally mate or give birth. If they develop breathing difficulties early, it's unlikely they will make it past the age of five.

Now, the first complete analysis of bulldog genetics, published July 28 in Canine Genetics and Epidemiology, reveals that the breed has very low genetic diversity.

That lack of genes poses a huge challenge for breeders hoping to naturally reintroduce healthier traits into the population, a practice called reverse breeding, says study leader Niels Pedersen, a veterinary researcher at the University of California, Davis. 

“In our estimation, it will be difficult, and possibly impossible, to back off and reverse breed the dogs,” says Pedersen.

According to the American Kennel Club, bulldogs—also called English bulldogs—are currently the fourth most popular breed in the world.

More of the Same

Researchers collected and analyzed DNA from 139 bulldogs—including a control group of healthy pups that live in North America, Europe, and Argentina—and another group of dogs admitted to the UC Davis veterinary hospital for a variety of ailments.

The results were striking.

Unfortunately for the bulldog, many of the physical features that make them desirable also make them unhealthy.
In a healthy, diverse population, each individual would be expected to have a largely dissimilar genomic structure, but in the case of the bulldogs, large regions of the genome were the same in every individual sampled.

Furthermore, the researchers found a worrying lack of diversity in the region of the genome that regulates the dogs' immune system. The scientists observed no differences between the healthy dogs and the ailing pets at the hospital.

Part of the reason for the low genetic diversity is that modern bulldogs likely stem from a founder population of only 68 individuals. From this shallow gene pool, bulldogs lost even more diversity as they were selectively bred for short faces, squat bodies, and wrinkly skin.

Loving Them to Death

Unfortunately for the bulldog, many of the physical features that make them desirable also make them unhealthy.

Take that cute, flattened face. Breeding for flat faces has resulted in an extreme form of brachycephaly—a shortening of the skull—that is now the leading cause of death for bulldogs. The condition leads to a variety of breathing troubles and overheating.

The misshapen heads also affect reproduction, because bulldog puppies cannot fit through their mother's birth canal and must be delivered via cesarean. Pedersen estimates that 80 percent of bulldog births result from artificial insemination and cesarean.

The Start of the Domestic Dog When early man began leaving food scraps beside a dwindling campfire, dogs followed their noses, and domestication began.
To Adam Boyko, a geneticist at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, the new research shows a "classic dog-breeding story."

"Look at how they looked a hundred to 150 years ago,” says Boyko, who wasn't involved in the new study. Photographs from the mid-19th century show bulldogs with longer faces, straight tails, and minimal wrinkling.

“There has been a lot of intensive selection on bulldogs, and you had a bottleneck at the beginning as well; it reduces genetic diversity. Add in inbreeding and it can create a whole bunch of problems.”

Grotesque, But Cute?

With bulldog puppies rising in popularity—some puppies sell for up to $30,000, says Pederson—it's obvious breeders are responding to market demand for "cuter" animals.

But the public and breeders need to make a concerted effort to save the bulldog.

Registries, like the American Kennel Club, could help by loosening their breed standards. Broader standards would allow for new traits introduced by bloodlines from closely related breeds.

“Breeders have to realize they have a problem,” says Pedersen. 

Otherwise, we may "end up with what some people would call a grotesque creature, and what others would call the most beautiful thing ever bred.”

Journal Reference:
Niels C. Pedersen, Ashley S. Pooch and Hongwei Liu A genetic assessment of the English bulldog Canine Genetics and Epidemiology 20163:6 DOI: 10.1186/s40575-016-0036-y 2016


This study examines genetic diversity among 102 registered English Bulldogs used for breeding based on maternal and paternal haplotypes, allele frequencies in 33 highly polymorphic short tandem repeat (STR) loci on 25 chromosomes, STR-linked dog leukocyte antigen (DLA) class I and II haplotypes, and the number and size of genome-wide runs of homozygosity (ROH) determined from high density SNP arrays. The objective was to assess whether the breed retains enough genetic diversity to correct the genotypic and phenotypic abnormalities associated with poor health, to allow for the elimination of deleterious recessive mutations, or to make further phenotypic changes in body structure or coat. An additional 37 English bulldogs presented to the UC Davis Veterinary Clinical Services for health problems were also genetically compared with the 102 registered dogs based on the perception that sickly English bulldogs are products of commercial breeders or puppy-mills and genetically different and inferior.
Four paternal haplotypes, with one occurring in 93 % of dogs, were identified using six Y-short tandem repeat (STR) markers. Three major and two minor matrilines were identified by mitochondrial D-loop sequencing. Heterozygosity was determined from allele frequencies at genomic loci; the average number of alleles per locus was 6.45, with only 2.7 accounting for a majority of the diversity. However, observed and expected heterozygosity values were nearly identical, indicating that the population as a whole was in Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium (HWE). However, internal relatedness (IR) and adjusted IR (IRVD) values demonstrated that a number of individuals were the offspring of parents that were either more inbred or outbred than the population as a whole. The diversity of DLA class I and II haplotypes was low, with only 11 identified DLA class I and nine class II haplotypes. Forty one percent of the breed shared a single DLA class I and 62 % a single class II haplotype. Nineteen percent of the dogs were homozygous for the dominant DLA class I haplotype and 42 % for the dominant DLA class II haplotype. The extensive loss of genetic diversity is most likely the result of a small founder population and artificial genetic bottlenecks occurring in the past. The prominent phenotypic changes characteristic of the breed have also resulted in numerous large runs of homozygosity (ROH) throughout the genome compared to Standard Poodles, which were phenotypically more similar to indigenous-type dogs.
English bulldogs have very low genetic diversity resulting from a small founder population and artificial genetic bottlenecks. Although some phenotypic and genotypic diversity still exists within the breed, whether it is sufficient to use reverse selection to improve health, select against simple recessive deleterious traits, and/or to accommodate further genotypic/phenotypic manipulations without further decreasing existing genetic diversity is questionable.

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