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.
The front of a bulldog was made wide and the brisket deep to provide a buffer zone for the heavy blows the dog received when the bull whirled it around and brought it crashing to the ground. Instead of landing on its feet, which would have broken its legs, the dog hit the ground with its heavy boned chest. A roached back and hind legs longer than the front were needed to aid it in springing at the bull, and the underjaw had to be longer than the upper jaw and curved up in front of the upper lip to provide an adequate grip. This strange jaw formation is the bulldog's most distinctive feature, and no other animal has it.
Bullbaiting lost its fashionable court following in 1685 but was enthusiastically carried on by the lower classes. Blackguards of every calling started breeding bulldogs, and they soon fell into the worst repute, being dubbed the mascot and companion of thieves and gamblers. Breeding along fighting lines continued for 150 years, during which time the bulldog reigned as the idol and main attraction at the infamous Bear-Garden, in Hockley-in-the-Hole, Clerkenwell Green, London.
Ironically, the bulldog's liberation from this savage life almost brought it extinction. The breeders lost interest when baiting, which was outlawed in 1773, finally died out in 1835; and so great was the stigma attached to bulldogs that persons of education would have nothing to do with them. The breed survived only because a few dog dealers of the day saw a chance to reintroduce (and rehabilitate) the bulldog as a novelty for exhibition.
The extreme ferocity and savage inclination were gradually bred out, and with the advent of open dog shows in 1860 bulldogs came back into public acceptance.
CRUEL METHODS USED
But while some of the bad points were bred out of the dog, some even worse ones were bred in. In trying to meet the standard, unqualified breeders produced grotesque caricatures of the breed. Massive, disproportionate heads were barely held on weak, bowed legs and if desired results were not forthcoming the natural way, inhumane mechanical methods were used. Sometimes noses were literally smashed back. Puppies were often reared in low hutches in which they could never stand upright and others were made to wear leather harnesses weighted down with metal. In spite of these enormities the bulldog flourished and with the formation of the Bulldog Club in England in 1875 was at last controlled and protected.
The first truly representative bulldog to be imported into the U.S. was a lightweight called Donald, which was sent over for the 1880 New York show by the Irish fancier, Sir William Verner. The interest in bulldogs in the U.S. was such that 10 years later the Bulldog Club of America was formed, and by the turn of the century bulldogs were enjoying a boom period of fashionable acceptance. Richard Croker Jr., son of the boss of Tammany Hall, had a large kennel which he frequently exhibited and Thomas W. Lawson, the financier, was his chief competitor for ribbons.
However, these rich fanciers were not interested in American-bred dogs and simply vied with each other as to who could obtain the best import. Fortunately for bulldogs collies soon replaced them as the pet of fashion and sincere breeders took over development of the breed in the U.S.
Today some 30 bulldog clubs are spread across the nation and membership runs into thousands. There are 3,769 bulldogs now registered with the American Kennel Club but this is only a fraction of the total number owned. Boston Terriers are often mistakenly called toy bulldogs but are really a separate breed, as are Bull-Mastiffs and Bull Terriers. All of them descend from the bulldog, which has also been used repeatedly to crossbreed courage into timid animals. For many years the breed remained more or less steady in its 10th place of popularity, and at present stands 17th. Now, with Ch. Kippax Fearnought, it seems due to improve its position.
NATURAL WHELPING RISKY
No one is likely to get rich out of bulldog breeding, however. The bull is the most difficult of all dogs to breed and in no other species are excellent specimens so scarce. Because the standard calls for a head measuring in circumference the height of the dog at the shoulders, but also a short back and narrow waist, natural whelping is often risky, if not impossible, and delivery by Caesarean section is necessary. The life span of a healthy bulldog is between seven or eight years—shorter than most other breeds—and they are subject to many ills. Heat, excitement and overweight all may contribute to shortening a bulldog's life. Bulldog experts insist that, given proper care, the bulldog has a constitution equal to any dog. This probably is true, but it is the necessity for such care that has made the bulldog the experts' breed.
The bottom price for a good bull puppy is $100, and for that a breeder clears little more than expenses, as the following statistics indicate. Investment in a bitch amounts to about $200; food costs 50 cents a day; shots, vitamins and veterinary bills average $400 a litter; and the stud fee is between $50 and $75, bringing the total investment up to $700. To raise four out of an average litter of six is good, and if these sold for $200 each, the breeder would have a return of only $100, without consideration of his own time and trouble.
Why, then, do people bother with bulldogs?
There are many reasons. Pretty or not, the bulldog is associated in many minds with courage and determination—neither Winston Churchill nor the Yale football team has ever resented the bulldog comparison. In the case of Yale, pro-bulldog feeling goes considerably beyond symbolism. Since 1889, when Andrew Graves endowed the Yale footballers with a bulldog mascot named Handsome Dan, the team has never been without one. The original Handsome Dan is now stuffed and occupies an honored position in the trophy room of the Payne Whitney gymnasium. Handsome Dan VIII is alive and barking.
For the noninstitutional bulldog owner, few pets have greater qualities of fidelity, dependability and—if necessary—bravery. While the bulldog may require greater care than some other breeds (exercise is essential), its amiability under stress, particularly the tail-tugging stress of children, makes its needs seem modest.
KIPPAX IS MOST PERFECT
Finally, for the breeder, the bulldog represents the world's greatest genetic challenge. The best-ever American-bred sire was Ch. Morovian Stormer's Draftsman, owned by F. M. Carmack of New Castle, Ind., which sired 23 champions. Ch. Kippax Fearnought—"Jock" to his owner, Dr. J. Saylor of Long Beach, Calif.—is the most nearly perfect specimen seen in America in years, but he is not American-bred. Brought to the U.S. from England in 1953, Ch. Kippax was shown 13 times before he won best-in-show at Westminster in New York last February. Now retired to stud, Jock is expected to contribute to the improvement of American bulldog stock. No value has been placed on him, for to the breed he is priceless. Priceless in the same sense as the bulldog the young Franklin Roosevelt called General Grant, or the bulldog Lord Byron named Nelson, or the bulldog that belongs to the little boy down the street.
THE STANDARD BY WHICH BULLDOGS ARE JUDGED
The perfect bulldog is of medium size, weighs between 40 and 50 pounds, and has an appearance suggesting great stability, vigor and strength. Its disposition should be equable and kind, but resolute and courageous. Other points looked for in judging (numbered in diagram above) are: massive undershot jaws with good turnup (1); short lay-back between cushion and stop (2, 3, & 4); high-set ears, neither erect nor cropped (5); short, thick neck, arched at back (6); roached back, broad at the shoulders and narrow at the waist (7); tail straight or screwed, but short and hung low (8); strong and muscular thighs (9); hocks slightly bent and well let down (10); stifles turned slightly outward (11); well-tucked-up belly (12); short pasterns (13); straight forelegs presenting a bowed outline (14 & 15); capacious brisket and body (16); low elbows standing well out (17); head and face covered with heavy wrinkles, and two loose, pendulous folds forming dewlap (18); thick, broad, pendant chops, overhanging lower jaws (19); and a deep, furrowed groove running up the forehead between the eyes (20).