English Bulldog

By Arthur

This breed was developed exclusively for the sport of bull-baiting. When this activity became illegal in Britain in 1835, the Bulldog found a new role as a companion animal and later as a show dog. Earlier names included the Bull-baiting Dog, the Old English Bulldog and the British Bulldog.

The public entertainment called bull-baiting was introduced into England by the Normans in the 12th century. When they conquered the country, their street entertainers accompanied them. The Norman jugglers brought with them their bulls and bears and a primitive kind of mastiff. The dogs were allowed to torment the tethered bulls and bears as a crude sideshow. These pastimes became more and more popular, and by the time of Henry II’s accession, in 1154, they were widespread.

These early travelling entertainments were not as brutal as later displays. The bears and bulls were too valuable to be killed and had to perform time and again. . As the years passed, however, the baiting of bulls grew more savage, and torturing them to death became routine. It was discovered that the flesh of tortured bulls tasted better than that of swiftly killed ones, and butchers were sometimes castigated for not improving their meat in this way.

By the 16th century, bull-baiting had risen from a peasant pastime to a royal entertainment, and Elizabeth I frequently offered it as a spectacle for visiting ambassadors. It was at this point that serious attempts were made to improve the quality of the dogs that were used. Their mode of attack was to leap at the bull’s head and ding on to its nose, ears or tongue with their powerful jaws. Once they were clamped on tightly, they had to keep hold firmly as the enraged bull tried to shake them loose. To achieve this feat, the dogs had to have massive jaws and had to be able to continue breathing freely. This required a change in the anatomy of the dog’s skull. A broader, heavier head was needed. Also, the mastiff’s body had to be reduced in size to enable the dogs to approach the bull without falling easy prey to its horns. So the development of the specialized bull-baiting dog, which was eventually to become the pure-bred English Bulldog, involved the primeval mastiff becoming smaller, wider-mouthed, heavier- jawed and with its nose pulled back from its jawline.

This refined Bulldog (if one can use such a term in this brutal context) was perfected by the 1600s and continued its bloody sport for the next two centuries until, in 1835, all cruel animal sports were banned in England. At this point the Bulldog was out of work and looked set to vanish. However, enough were kept on as companion dogs to prevent its extinction. As the 19th century wore on, competitive dog shows began in earnest, providing a major new role for this highly distinctive breed. The Kennel Club officially recognized the Bulldog in 1873.

Over the next hundred years, the pet Bulldog changed its shape dramatically, with its specially exaggerated features becoming more and more extreme, its short legs growing shorter, and its broad, flattened face becoming wider and even flatter. Those who enjoy the dramatic appearance of this modern Bulldog, and continue to support the breed, insist that, as a companion dog, it has a most delightful personality, being gentle, loyal and good-natured. It also retains its tenacity and its courage, even though its physical shape means that it would now stand little chance against a lively bull. The veterinary world, however, is highly critical of it, claiming that the breed now suffers from ‘distressing eye problems, incapacitating respiratory conditions, congenital heart conditions, dental and skin problems and vertebrae deformities: Inevitably, Bulldog enthusiasts insist that these criticisms are unjustified and that they are doing their utmost to improve the breed and eliminate any weaknesses that may have developed. The proof of this will lie in the future success of the breed.

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