Kind but courageous, friendly but dignified, the Bulldog is a thick-set, low-slung, well-muscled bruiser whose “sourmug” face is the universal symbol of courage and tenacity. These docile, loyal companions adapt well to town or country.
- AKC Breed Popularity: Ranks 4 of 192
- Height: 14-15 inches
- Weight: 50 pounds (male), 40 pounds (female)
- Life Expectancy: 8-10 years
- Group: Non-Sporting Group
About the Bulldog
You can’t mistake a Bulldog for any other breed. The loose skin of the head, furrowed brow, pushed-in nose, small ears, undershot jaw with hanging chops on either side, and the distinctive rolling gait all practically scream “I’m a Bulldog!” The coat, seen in a variety of colors and patterns, is short, smooth, and glossy. Bulldogs can weigh up to 50 pounds, but that won’t stop them from curling up in your lap, or at least trying to. But don’t mistake their easygoing ways for laziness—Bulldogs enjoy brisk walks and need regular moderate exercise, along with a careful diet, to stay trim. Summer afternoons are best spent in an air-conditioned room as a Bulldog’s short snout can cause labored breathing in hot and humid weather.
Historical evidence suggests that Bulldogs were created in 13th-century England, during the reign of King John, for the “sport” of bullbaiting, in which a staked bull fought a pack of dogs while spectators bet on the outcome. The dogs used in this grisly pastime, the ancestors of today’s Bulldog, were ferocious brutes with huge jaws, unbelievably brave and seemingly impervious to pain.
A turning point in Bulldog history came in 1835, when England banned blood sports with animals. Blood sports went underground, literally, as bullbaiting gave way to pit-dog fighting in cellars. This illicit activity required quicker, more animated dogs than the plodding Bulldog of the early 19th century. Gamblers created their fiery, four-legged gladiators by crossing various terriers with Bulldogs, and in so doing put forth early prototypes of the Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and other bull-type terrier breeds still popular today.
With bullbaiting obsolete, the Bulldog faced extinction. In response, Bulldog admirers began the long process of transforming the breed from brawler to companion. They refined the physical contours to make the dog more attractive, and they also tamped down the Bulldog’s ferociousness and reconceived the breed as a sweet and mellow pet who is especially fond of children. By 1886, Bulldog fanciers on both sides of the Atlantic had done their work well enough to see the breed recognized by the AKC.
The Bulldog has long since been the national symbol of England. During World War II much was made of the similarities between the jowly, tenacious Bulldog and the jowly, tenacious Prime Minister Winston Churchill. In America, the breed is the mascot of myriad sports team, including those representing Yale University. Yale’s Bulldog mascot, Handsome Dan, was said to be the first animal mascot in all of sports. Another famous Bulldog football mascot is Uga, who enjoys the exploits of the University of Georgia Bulldogs from the comfort of an air-conditioned doghouse on the sidelines. The Bulldog also serves as the wrinkly face of the Mack Truck company and the U.S. Marine Corps.
The Bulldog should do well on a high-quality dog food, whether commercially manufactured or home-prepared with your veterinarian’s supervision and approval. Any diet should be appropriate to the dog’s age (puppy, adult, or senior). Some dogs are prone to getting overweight, so watch your dog’s calorie consumption and weight level. Treats can be an important aid in training, but giving too many can cause obesity. Learn about which human foods are safe for dogs, and which are not. Check with your vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s weight or diet. Clean, fresh water should be available at all times.
An all-over brushing with a soft brush for 10 minutes two or three times a week will keep the Bulldog looking his best. During periods of heavier shedding, it can help to first use a rubber curry brush. The wrinkles on the Bulldog’s face need to be regularly checked to make sure the skin is clean and dry, as food or moisture can get trapped and cause irritation or infection. A cotton ball dipped in peroxide can be used to clean the wrinkles, and cornstarch can be applied afterward to aid in drying—although neither should be used near the eyes. The ears and the area under the tail should be kept clean, and the dog’s nails trimmed every two weeks or so.
Bulldogs are mellow and are happy to relax next to their owner’s feet, but they also enjoy an occasional romp and going on walks. Moderate exercisewill help the dog to stay trim. Very warm days are best spent in front of an air-conditioner, however, as the Bulldog’s short muzzle can make breathing difficult in heat and humidity. Stairs and pools also present major safety hazards. Bulldogs enjoy wading in very shallow water, but they should never be allowed in water that’s more than elbow deep unless supervised closely.
Bulldogs are sweet, devoted, and easygoing, and they want to please their owner. As with all breeds, early socialization is vital to help give the dog a good start in life. Puppy training classes are highly recommended as well and allow the owner to learn how to curb any undesirable behaviors. Bulldogs love to chew—most will enjoy chew toys their entire life. They also love to play tug-of-war, but it is important to teach the dog when he is young to release what’s in his mouth on command. From the start the young Bulldog should also be taught to accept having people take food from his bowl while he is eating, so that he does not develop a habit of being protective of his food.
Bulldog owners should be vigilant to ensure their dog does not become overheated. A Bulldog should not be left out in the hot sun unsupervised or without access to shade and water, and of course no dog should be left in an enclosed car in even mildly warm weather. If a Bulldog is overexcited or breathing too hard, his tongue will hang out unusually far and have a bluish cast instead of the normal pink. Immediate soaking with cool water and giving ice can help to cool the dog. The Bulldog Club of America provides additional detailed advice on Bulldog health and care.