A Brief American Bulldog History
A Brief American Bulldog History
Until the 1600s the name "Bulldog" was actually a term describing the job a dog did rather than its breed. Early in written history there were dogs described as "Pugnances", large brown and brindle dogs that had the ability to grasp large bovine animals by the snout and bring them to the ground. Many of these large mastiff-like dogs were imported to the British Isles from the East and used as bulldogs.
During the reign of the Roman Empire, some of these mastiffs had been trained to pull down horse and horseman during a battle. Some of these large British Mastiffs were brought back to Rome to fight in the arena. In Germany, the imported mastiffs from the East were referred to as Bullenbeissers or Bull biters. These Bullenbeissers were the predecessors of today's Boxer. The larger mastiffs became what is now the Great Dane or as it is known in Germany today, the German Mastiff.
The Bulldog was used for many different purposes besides catching bulls and boar. Baiting contests were not uncommon between dog and bear, or dog and lion. Stories have been told of as few as 2 or 3 Bulldogs in the 40-60 pound range taking on a lion or bear in the arena.
Depending on the type of work or sport which the Bulldog did his size varied anywhere between 40 and 100 pounds. This explains why throughout history different people have described the Bulldog so differently. It did not matter what breed the dog was or what he looked like as long as he could get the job done. The livestock of that time looked much different than they do today. The cattle were slightly smaller and quicker with large horns for defense. Any dog that could take one of these down had to be very brave and strong with great endurance in order to chase down the bull first and then bring it to the ground.
These Bulldogs were usually white with some brindle or fawn coloring, were very athletic and muscular with a short muzzle, almost exactly like the American Bulldog of today. Pictures of Bulldogs throughout history have shown this to be true.
In 1835, all forms of baiting contests with dogs were made illegal. Also at that time quality of life had improved dramatically. Fewer people needed their dogs for work and dog shows were becoming increasingly popular. At this time the old English working bulldogs became extinct in their native land and went one of five directions. Few bulldogs were exported to be crossbred with the German Bullenbeisser to create the Boxer. Today the Boxer is approximately 33% old English working bulldog, or American Bulldog. Other old English working bulldogs were crossbred with the large English Mastiffs to create the ultimate estate guard dog, the Bullmastiff. The Bullmastiffs of today are about 40% old English working Bulldog, but are much friendlier than they once were.
The only baiting sport to survive the humane laws of 1835 was pitting dog against dog in pit fights. Some of the old English working bulldogs were crossed with the extinct white fighting English terrier, which created the ultimate dog-fighting machine, the bull-terrier mix. Coal miners in the Staffordshire region of England created the Staffordshire Bull Terrier for these pit fights between dogs. Later the Staffordshire Bull Terriers were imported to American to create the American StaffordshireTerrier and the American Pit Bull Terrier by crossing back to American Bulldog. It is said that these American made pit bulls are up to 85% old English working bulldog, or American Bulldog.
A majority of the old English working bulldogs were brought to the new world with the colonists. Typically these colonists and their Bulldogs came through the seaports of Savannah and Charleston and settled in the southern colonies. Here the old English working Bulldog thrived and helped build the old south. These Bulldogs were used as utility farm dogs, catching livestock, protecting the farm from the ever present wolves and many other intruders. These Bulldogs still had to be fast enough to catch and hold cattle and wild boar and big and strong enough to defeat wolves, bears, coyotes, and mountain lions. They were required to do all of these jobs without question and without fear. It is no wonder that the American Bulldog is so loyal, and courageous.
The last of the old English working bulldogs, which remained in England, were crossed with newly imported pugs from China to create smaller friendlier, show dogs. These dogs are today what are known as the English Bulldog. The old working English bulldogs were too common and aggressive to be show dogs, so this new Pug/Bulldog crosses was to be England's new mascot.
Since the 1600s, the newly imported Bulldog was used as a working Bulldog in the rural areas of Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, and the Carolinas. The working bulldog, which had arrived from England, was typically smaller than the American Bulldogs of today. Back then, they were between 60-100 pounds (27-45 kg.) with some variation, muzzles were also slightly longer (3"-4") which allowed them to breathe easier and also enabled better endurance while working in the deep south as well as giving them a stronger bite. Smaller Bulldogs were more athletic, with greater endurance and agility.
Back then American Bulldogs were known by several names including White English, Old English Whites, Old Country Bulldogs, Old Southern Whites, Alabama Bulldogs, Georgia Giants and American Pit Bulldogs.
During the past few hundred years, these Bulldogs have retained the same characteristics but steadily declined in numbers until the 1960s when a collaborative effort was made to secure the last few Bulldogs and increase their numbers via an intensive breeding program. The men who accomplished this were John D. Johnson, Alan Scott, JM Ashley, Louis Hegewood, George Lee Williamson, WC Bailey, and Calvin Tuck.
In 1970, John D. Johnson and Alan Scott first registered the American Pit Bulldog with the NKC, and later renamed it to the American Bulldog to avoid confusion with the American Pit Bull Terrier. In 1970, most American Bulldogs looked alike, very much like the standard type American Bulldog of today. Johnson's Dick the Bruiser and Scott's Mac the Masher were the foundation dogs of the Johnson and Scott modern American Bulldog breeding lines. These two dogs were Old Southern Whites (aka White English, Old English Whites, Old Country Bulldogs and Alabama Bulldogs), which came from Alabama. It has been said that Mr. Johnson actually found Dick the Bruiser on a porch in Alabama. Mr. Scott actually bought Mac the Masher from JM Ashley who also lived in Alabama.
In the 70s, Mr. Johnson and Mr. Scott had a falling out and discontinued breeding with each other's dogs. These eventually created two very distinct breeding lines of American Bulldog, the Johnson type (aka Bully type) and the Scott type (aka Standard type). During this same time other American Bulldog breeders continued to breed the Old Southern Whites, oblivious to the popularity of Mr. Johnson and Mr. Scott and their American Bulldogs. Old Southern Whites happen to be similar to Mr. Scott's breeding lines because like Scott dogs, they have been bred to maintain the working ability whereas Mr. Johnson has been breeding larger bulldogs for personal protection work.
Many German breeds such as Boxers, Dobermans, Rottweilers, and German Shepherds display the same type of disparity between American and German breeding lines. For example the American bred Rottweiler is much larger and more mastiff looking, while the German breeding lines are smaller, leaner, and more athletic. The American bred Boxer is much leaner with a lighter more athletic build, whereas the German Bred Boxer is has more muscle and bone density. Another example this kind of disparity is seen in pit bulls. The first registry for the American Pit Bull Terrier was the UKC. However, in 1935 the popularity of "The Little Rascals" dog "Petey" (an American Pit Bull Terrier) prompted the AKC to recognize the Pit Bull as the American Staffordshire Terrier, a "new" breed. Prior to 1936 the American Pit Bull Terrier and the American Staffordshire Terrier were the same breed of dog and there was no distinction between the two. Often pit bulls have been registered with both the UKC and the AKC as both American Pit Bull Terrier and American Staffordshire Terrier. In 1936, the AKC accepted the American Staffordshire Terrier for registry with a new and different breed standard from the UKC's American Pit Bull Terrier and since that time, they have gradually diverged.
Due to the fact that the American Staffordshire Terrier has been bred for form not function. It has a wider body, larger head, and shorter legs and is relatively less athletic than the American Pit Bull Terrier. The American Pit Bull Terrier has continually been bred for function as a fighting dog, with little consideration given to form. They are more athletic with better endurance because often only winners of dogfights are bred.
In this way, the American Staffordshire Terrier is like the Johnson type American Bulldog, bred for form and the American Pit Bull Terrier is like the standard type American Bulldog, bred for function. It is also important to note that in 1972 the AKC first recognized the Staffordshire Bull Terrier as a separate breed from the American Staffordshire Terrier. A new breed standard was accepted for the smaller pit bulls bred in Great Britain which incidentally, were the original bull and terrier cross.
It is a widely known fact among American Bulldog owners, that in the 70s John D. Johnson bred two of his American Bulldog females (King's Lady Grace and Johnson's Sugar Doll) to English Bulldog West Champ's High Hopes. This created Johnson's Sugar Doll 3 and Bullmead's Queen who were both half English Bulldog. Famous Johnson American Bulldog Johnson's Incredible Mean Machine was 31.25% English Bulldog and foundation stock for most Johnson American Bulldogs today. This has made the Johnson type American Bulldog somewhat less athletic and more bully in appearance.
These American Bulldogs are excellent guard dogs and very attractive companions. Because they have become so large over the past ten years (some are reported to weigh almost 150 lbs) they have lost some of their working ability, but I feel make up for it with an impressive appearance. It seems to me that these American Bulldogs have been bred for the form of an ideal Bulldog, not for the function of a Bulldog.
The standard type American Bulldogs of today usually catch hogs and cattle for sport, not necessity. Many American Bulldog breeders are purists and still only breed the American Bulldogs that show the best working ability. These standard type American Bulldogs have remained unchanged for a hundred years. They average 80-100 lbs (36-45 kg.) for males and 60-80 lbs (27-36 kg.) for females. They have a very muscular athletic look and their front legs are under their body, not thrown out to the sides. This makes the standard type American Bulldog very agile and structurally sound. The standard type American Bulldog also tends to have a closer underbite, which allows for a stronger bite. They have a very strong prey drive and can be dog aggressive, which is exactly what American Bulldogs needed 300 years ago to protect the farm from wolves and coyotes, and to do catch work. They also make excellent guard dogs, always keeping watch over the homestead, especially after dark.