The most misunderstood and maligned member of the canine world is, unquestionably, the bulldog. His critics—most of them people who have never owned or lived with a bulldog—denounce him as ugly, sluggish and vicious and sneer at his upturned nose and his rolling gait. Bulldog fanciers, a growing army of dedicated perfectionists, retort that all these charges are base libel. This year they have more than indignation on their side, with the selection of Kippax Fearnought (see cover) as the nation's top dog. They also have the facts.
Despite their rather menacing appearance, bulldogs are among the most amiable and even-tempered breeds. They make excellent pets and house dogs and are particularly good with children, thanks to an inherited stoicism that makes them almost impervious to abuse. They serve their masters without question, but with the understanding that maximum effort will be expended only when it is worth it. When it is (as in chasing a cat), a bulldog can fly over a fence with the fleetness of a hound.
As for beauty—well, the bulldog has a perfect defense of his present-day appearance in this line from an old ballad: "You made me what I am today, I hope you're satisfied." For the bulldog look is almost entirely the work of man. It has been achieved through some 700 years of effort by breeders to produce the perfect bulldog. Perfect, that is, for the purpose for which he originally was bred: bullbaiting.
All the points in the breed's standard of perfection today were at one time useful and essential for the bulldog to perform its man-assigned chores of fighting other dogs, bears and bulls. Not until it began to specialize in the latter—about 1200—did the bulldog get its permanent name.
The origin of this breed, like many others, is speculative, but it is generally thought that the bulldog descended from the broad-mouthed war dogs of the early Britons, through the Alaunt, mastiff and Dogue de Bordeaux. The Alaunt, a large dog with a natural gift for hanging on to anything it attacked, was in the 13th century the favorite assistant of butchers, who used it to bring in fierce oxen.
THE SPORT OF ROYALTY
It was among butchers that bullbaiting first sprang up, but the sport was quickly taken up by royalty and commoner alike as a great public entertainment. With the development of this infamous pastime the evolution of "the dog to fight the bull" began.
In one of these savage contests a bull would be brought to the market place and tethered to a stake by a rope or chain around its neck. The bull was then irritated to a point of rage sufficient for "good sport." The dogs were set at it, and the contest was to see which dog could first pin the bull by the nose (its most tender part) and hang on until the beast dropped from exhaustion and pain. Sometimes the dogs were required to pull the bull backward round the ring.
Regardless of local ground rules the dogs had to be strong, ferocious, fearless and stoical. Even when tossed 30 feet in the air by the bull's horns, they were expected to return to the fray. The incredible obstinacy and tenacity of such early "bull-dogs" is attested in this extract from an 18th century description of a bullbait: "When once he has seiz'd him with his Eyeteeth, he sticks to him like a Leech and would sooner die than leave his Hold.... To call him away would be in vain; to give him a hundred Blows would be as much so; you might cut him to Pieces Joint by Joint before he would let him loose."
In breeding to get the best fighting dogs, butchers worked to produce a smaller, quicker animal physically equipped to pin and throw a bull 40 times its weight. Such a dog had to have a nose that was well laid back, with nostrils horizontal and facing upward, rather than normal perpendicular nostrils. This was necessary to enable the dog to breathe while retaining its grip on the bull's nose. Similarly, the shifting of the shoulders to the outside of the body, with the trunk swinging between them, a phenomenon not duplicated in any other breed, made it possible for the dog to crouch low to the ground away from the bull's horns.