Rare Breed Spotlight: American Bulldog
Modeled after the original English bull baiters, this robust breed savors work and play in equal measures.
It’s thought that the American Bulldog was born of the philosophy, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Some people believed the early Bulldog was practically perfect and saw no reason to change it. British Bulldogs of the 17th and 18th centuries were vigorous, robust, hard-working dogs that earned their keep on farms by catching and holding free-range livestock (catching an animal in a firm grip and holding it until the owner tied, penned or slaughtered it), as well as protecting their owners’ homes and property. The dogs’ handling of livestock also led to their employment as butchers’ dogs.
From there, it was only a short step to the blood sport of bull baiting, in which the dogs tried to grip a tethered bull, usually on its nose (butchers believed the struggle tenderized the bull’s flesh). The grisly pastime was regarded as both entertainment and a means for gambling in those days.
Settlers brought these rugged, useful and brawny early Bulldogs across the Atlantic to live in North America. Many of these dogs took residence in the Southern states where they acted as catch dogs for free-roaming cattle or feral hogs, drove cattle and hunted a wide variety of game, just like they did in England.
Depending on location, the dogs were known as Southern Whites, Hill Bulldogs, Old Country Bulldogs, White Bulldogs and sometimes just Bulldogs.
The British outlawed bull baiting in 1835, eliminating one of the Bulldog’s occupations and making its fate uncertain. Some breeders decided to transform the stalwart warrior into a smaller, stockier, shorter-legged, ambling and amiable pet – the Bulldog we know today.
However, other fanciers who saw the Bulldog become smaller and exaggerated in certain features thought this “new and improved” Bulldog would be incapable of work; they were determined to stick to the original type. This is the most popular explanation of the American Bulldog’s beginnings.
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