The history of the Bulldog "Dog World" magazine, March, 1984

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The history of the Bulldog "Dog World" magazine, March, 1984

Dog World" magazine, March, 1984.

Although the history of the development of the various recognized categories of purebred dogs is rarely a subject upon which there is no disagreement, some breed histories are widely, if not universally, accepted by historians involved in the dog fancy.

Of these, probably no purebred history is as widely accepted as that which presumably accounts for development of the Bulldog.

The history of the Bulldog - or if the reader should prefer, the "English" Bulldog - bears importance to many dog enthusiasts due to the fact that this breed, once it had become firmly established, was used extensively in the development of so many of our later breeds, such as the Bullmastiff, Boxer, French Bulldog, Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Terrier, and Boston Terrier -to name the more obvious members of the Bull cross group currently registered with the A.K.C. Discrepancies in our understanding of the basic components used in the development of these, and many other purebreds, would certainly give rise to a lack of understanding of many of today's purebreds.

In this light it is most certainly to our advantage as interested breeders, judges, owners and fanciers of purebred dogs to be certain that the history of the Bulldog which is so widely accepted is a more or less accurate one.

Among the most widely held and firmly established beliefs in all the world of Dogdom are the beliefs that (A) The Bulldog is purely of British origin and (B) the Bulldog was developed from purely British stock which generation after generation, was carefully selected for Bulldog-like characteristics.

The dog literature from the earliest to the most recent absolutely abounds with the regurgitation of these beliefs.

For purposes of presenting a case which will be concise, only a tiny fraction of the available secondary sources on these subjects can be offered to assure the reader that these beliefs are firmly established.

It is interesting that primary sources, ie no early breeding records of any sort, exist which even superficially account for the development of the Bulldog.

As early as the year 1803, Volume 1 of "The Sportsman's Cabinett" says of the Bulldog that "This particular race is admitted by every naturalist to have stood in equal degree of originality with the shepherd's dog and the Irish greyhound; as well as to have been the native production of Britain".

Some years later, in his "Anecdotes of Dogs" of 1829, Captain Thomas Brown was to re-express this opinion.

Brown said that "The Bull-dog is admitted by naturalists to be one of the original and peculiar races of Britain, and may be ranked, in point, with the shepherd's dog and the Irish greyhound". In the second edition of his work entitled "The Bulldog.

A Monograph" of 1901, Edgar Farman was also to comment of the British origin of the Bulldog.

Farman said that ".....there can be no difference of opinion on two points.

First as to the extreme antiquity of the Bulldog, and secondly as to the indisputable right to the honor of being considered the national dog, par excellence.

It belongs purely to this country; when expatriated in the remote past it has deteriorated surely and rapidly, although this remark no longer applies; and it is looked upon by foreigners as emblematic of an Englishman."

In 1977, the Englishman Harry Glover in his book entitled "A Standard Guide to Purebred Dogs" was to say that "..... throughout the world the Bulldog is recognized as something peculiarly British."

Finally, in a seemingly somewhat less convinced manner, the most recent publication of "The Complete Dog Book" of the merican Kennel Club says that to the best of their knowledge the Bulldog had it's origin in the British Isles.

Despite the attitude of certainty which traditionally proclaims the Bulldog to be of unquestionably British origin, serious questions begin to Adminse when breed historians begin to search for component breeds originally used in the development of the Bulldog.

There are essentially two schools of thought which attempt to account for Bulldog development.

The first suggests that the Bulldog as we know it is a specialized form of Mastiff, and was produced as a result of selective breeding for Bulldog-like characteristics.

The second school of thought suggests that both the Mastiff and the Bulldog have a common ancestor in the now extinct, large, short mouthed, British breed known to dog history as the Alaunt.

Concerning the theory that both the Mastiff and the Bulldog had a common ancestor, Edgar Farman stated that in 1901 it was "generally admitted that both breeds had a common origin in the Alaunt..."

In 1973 Col. Bailey C. Haynes, in his book entitled "The New Complete Bulldog", was to once again publish the position that "it is now generally agreed that both the Mastiff and the Bulldog probably had a common ancestor in the Alaunt.

At least one early British source entitled the "Encyclopedia of Rural Sports "was apparently uncomfortable with the position that the squat, brachycephalic, much smaller Bulldog was descended solely from either the Mastiff or the Alaunt alone.

This source states that "The bull-dog, without a doubt, is an artificial animal and of spurious origin; such a dog might be immediately derived from a stunted specimen of the mastiff; and the contortion of the limbs , with the extension of the underjaw of the bull-dog, would favor a specimen of a rickety origin."

This source, then, would have us believe that the selective breeding program which accounted for the development of the Bulldog from purely Mastiff stock employed the use of Mastiffs deformed by rickets!

With all that has been said thus far concerning the origin of the Bulldog, we would like to suggest that it is high time for a complete reassessment of our beliefs in this area and to offer some new ideas which we feel will more precisely explain the early development of the Bulldog and it's offshoot breeds.

We believe that it is totally unnecessary to view the Bulldog as being from either purely Mastiff or purely Alaunt stock when there were other breeds available in the area at the time of the development of the breed which much more clearly suggest phenotypical similarities to the early Bulldog.

We also feel hat the traditional belief that the Bulldog is of British origin is based upon nothing substantial.

In fact, if Bulldog enthusiasts will insist upon attributing political boundaries to an area in which the Bulldog as we know it first arose, data suggest that this area would probably be Portugal.

Having made these statements, let's see if we can support them to the reader's satisfaction.

The term "Bulldog" is a term which has both functional and descriptive applications.

Functionally the term can be applied to any breed employed in the dubious sport of bull baiting in the manner in which such labels as "bird dog", "gun dog", "coon hound", etc., are used today.

Descriptively we cannot say that the term "bulldog" is to be applied only to dogs which look like modern Bulldogs, as (a) the breed has undergone an incredible series of changes in appearance over the years, and (b) theoretically, a breed which might look exactly like a modern Bulldog could be developed using components other than those used in the original construction of the breed.

The descriptive application of the term Bulldog must then refer to those dogs which are of the same lines as those which, upon having been originally constructed, were accepted as having constituted the breed.

Any particular example composed of other components would not constitute a need to modify the descriptive label as long as the mixing (possibly with terrier) would, in the long run, not have affected the breed on the whole.

The overall perception of the Bulldog breed was never seriously modified by any such mixing as far as we have been able to determine.

It is important that we clearly understand the difference between a dog given the functional title "bulldog" and a breed given the descriptive title "bulldog" if we are to make a serious attempt to reconstruct Bulldog history.

Col. Haines mentions that the earliest known reference to the Bulldog in literature appears in French literature.

Unfortunately Haines does not tell us just where in French literature this source appears, and we have been unable to locate this source to date.

It is our belief, however that the early French reference would have been employing functional terminology, and so this "bulldog" would have been irrelevant to a discussion of Bulldog breed history.

Another reference to a breed which may also have been referred to as "bulldog" for purely functional purposes, although the terminology is not used in surviving literature, appears in the "Master of Game" by Edward 2nd Duke of York, written between 1406 - 1413.

Edward refers to a fierce form of alaunt known at the time as "alaunt veutreres", which was "shaped as a greyhound of full shape, they have a great head, great lips and great ears, and with such men help themselves at the baiting of the bull...."

We must bear in mind that in his description of the Alaunt Veutrerer Edward is not describing a Mastiff.

Edward devotes a separate chapter to the Mastiff and also mentions the fact that a good wild boar dog was bred when a Mastiff was crossed to an Alaunt.

The reader should keep the fact that this cross was a common one in mind for future reference.

Many Bulldog historians in their struggle to find the earliest reference to Bulldogs in the literature site the writing of Johannes Caius in his book "Of Englishe Dogges" written in 1576; the earliest of all dog books.

Caius writes of a dog which "exceedeth all other in cruell conditions.. .wheresoever he setteth his tenterhooke teeth, he taketh such sure and fast holde, that a man may sooner teare and render him in sunder, then lose him and separate his chappes."

This description does not, despite the beliefs of many Bulldog historians, refer to the Bulldog, in our opinion, but instead refers to the alaunt of which, in addition to describing as a bullbaiter, Edward says " have seen Alaunts slay their masters.

In all manner of ways Alauntes are treacherous and evil....." Furthermore, Edward tells us of the Alaunt that " is the best hound to hold and to nyme (seize) all manner of beasts and hold them fast."

In this light it is the obvious absence of the mention of the Bulldog in the Englishman Caius' work of 1576 that is relevant.

Caius' work suggests that in 1576 the Bulldog, as we would recognize it's lineage, did not exist in England, if anywhere.

The earliest known reference to the Bulldog in English literature comes to us in the form of a letter from Prestwich Eaton to George Willingham of London, sent from St. Sebastian in 1631.

In this letter Eaton asks that he be forwarded "a good Mastive dogge", and that his case of bottles be "replenished with the best lickour" and he adds "pray procuer mee two good Bulldogges and let them be sent by ye first shipp."

This mention by Eaton of Bulldogs is interesting not only because he calls the dogs by breed name, but also because they are clearly distinguished from the Mastiff at a time when the Alaunt also went by it's own descriptive name.

It is then between the years 1576 and 1631 that the Bulldog was probably developed, and though we know that the breed was in London during 1631, we have absolutely no reason to believe that they were developed there.

Closing our minds to both Mastiffs and Alaunts for a moment we now need to consider another very interesting development which was taking place during the time period we are discussing.

This development, in our opinion, was to have a profound effect upon the world of purebred dogs and to give rise to the development of the Bulldog.

In the year 1557, the seafaring nation of Portugal first established trade relations with China.

In China, small, squat, brachycephalic dogs known as Pai dogs had been bred as early as the first century A.D.

Short faced dogs of various types and sizes were also common during this time in China, though no such development had taken place elsewhere in the world and certainly not in western Europe.

However, western European dog enthusiasts made a feeble attempt to claim the Pub dog as their own, even in the face of the knowledge that these dogs were abundant in China.

In 1909 James Watson said "While we have credited Holland with the original possession of the Pug, we are not prepared to advance any proof of this statement.

Indeed there is more reason, so far as the proofs we have seen, to suppose that it is every bit as much English as Dutch.

" It is now (today) clearly understood that the squat , brachycephalic dogs are entirely of Chinese origin.

As the brachycephalic dogs were a completely new discovery for the western Europeans first coming upon them in China, it would not be the least bit unexpected for early Portuguese traders to secure examples of these dogs from the Chinese to introduce them to their countrymen upon returning home.

This was apparently the case, as while Portugal was trading with China in 1557, and the Dutch and the English had not established contact with China until 1624 and 1637 respectively, a Pug-like dog is first mentioned in the literature of western Europe in 1618.

In 1618, Sir Roger Williams writes in "His actions of the low countries" that "the Prince of Orange kept a breed of dog which was small and white with crooked, flat noses called Camuses - camuses meaning flat nosed."

With this in mind, the authors feel that it was very likely a cross between the squat, brachycephalic, oriental breeds (described by Sir Roger Williams as being white in color) which were imported by Portuguese seafarers in Portugal from China before either the Dutch or the English had established trade relations with China, and the fierce bullbaiter known as the Alaunt (a white dog by description) which produced the original dogs of the line we know as Bulldogs (which were also often white dogs).

A cross between the early eastern brachycephalic dogs and the produce of the common Alaunt/Mastiff cross is another likely possibility, and would account for early variation in Bulldog coat color.

Why this cross was first considered we cannot say. Perhaps it was not at first intentional; perhaps it was a smaller Alaunt bitch crossed to a larger Pug-like dog which produced the first crossbred "bull-dogs".

Perhaps the similarly white coats, the short face of the eastern dogs and the relatively short face of the Alaunt that first suggested this cross.

It was likely an eastern dog/Alaunt cross, with the offspring being crossed back to eastern dog and then perhaps again, which gave the new cross-bred dog its surly disposition and Bulldog appearance.

But if this was the case, would we not expect the early Bulldog to be very Pug-like in appearance - but larger and with an aggressive temperament? As it happens, this is exactly the case.

Even as late as 1825, Captain Thomas Brown describes the Pug as follows:

"This variety is so nearly allied to the bull-dog in form and general appearance that a detailed description is quite unnecessary. The chief difference is its size, being much smaller and its tail curled upon its back. It differs extremely in another particular, which is courage, this animal being as timid as the other is valient."

An earlier reference which comes from "A General History of Quadrupeds" by Bewick, the second edition of which was produced in 1791, describes the Pug Dog as being "in every way formed like the bull-dog; but much smaller and its tail curled upon its back."

It is interesting to note that early line drawings of Bulldogs show that the breed's tail is also curled upward, but not as tightly.

As bullbaiting was a widespread activity throughout the area of western Europe - which included Spain, Portugal, France, and England at the time - it is not surprising that the Bulldog, very possibly having been produced in Portugal sometime between roughly 1560 and 1618, would be well established in England by 1631.

But we see that, despite tradition, there is absolutely no reason to insist upon a British origin of this breed.

Hopefully, this article will stimulate fresh thinking in this area and lead to the eventual uncovering of even more revealing information.


Prior to 55 BC - Asian Mastiffs are established in western Europe, having been brought to the area by eastern peoples migrating westward. These dogs are so well established in western Europe as to constitute a distinct form by 55 B.C.

In 411 A.D., large, short faced hounds of Chinese origin are brought to Europe by the westward migration of the Alans. (See other articles by Semencic).

1406 - 1413: By this time, a large, ferocious, short faced, hound-like, dog has evolved in western Europe from the original Chinese stock. These dogs, known as Alaunts, are being used as catch dogs in the hunting of big game, and as baiters of bulls, bears, and lions.

1557: Portugal establishes trade with China and shortly there after brings the Pug Dog to western Europe.

1624: The Dutch East India Company takes control of Coastal Taiwan and begins developing trade contacts in nearby Fukien and Chekiang provinces.

1637: English ships shoot their way into Kvang-chov and dispose of cargo there.

1835: Bull and Bear baiting are declared illegal in England by an act of Parliament.

Dr. Carl Semencic's website...

http://www.dogresou bulldogs_ semencic_ 2.html

MyToyBulldogs's picture

Re: The history of the Bulldog "Dog World" magazine, March, 1984

There are a lot of new people out there looking for answers and really who is best at our Bulldog history than you are...

hugobull's picture

Re: The history of the Bulldog "Dog World" magazine, March, 1984

This is a good article, but I still have a few questions and disagreements. I also agree that Mastiff was not used to create bulldog. But I have been through this ad nauseum.. I don't think it's necessary to go through it all again.

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