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What Are Bulldogs Bred For? – Jobs, Roles & Origins of the English Bulldog

Bulldogs were originally bred for bull-baiting and other various blood sports.
Written by Richard Jeng

In this post, we’ll discuss some aspects of Bulldogs such as: what Bulldogs were bred for, where do they originate from and their transition to modern society. So, what were Bulldogs originally bred for?

“Bulldogs” were, as their name implies, simply dogs that were bred for bull-baiting. It was a gory blood sport which took place in towns and villages across England during the Middle Ages. Bulls were variously pitted against Bulldogs and other animals in this sport.

The spectacle of a bull fighting was entertainment for people from all British classes. The result of these fights was one victor and one dead loser because these fights often went until one participant died.

Eventually, bull-baiting and other cruel blood sports were banned in England by the Act of Parliament in 1835.

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Why Are There Different Dog Breeds?

Dogs as pets are a relatively recent phenomenon. We humans live in an age of plenty, when we have the luxury of time and resources to have pets and pamper them.

For much of human history, life was hard and it was a hardscrabble existence for most humans. Dogs were domesticated over thousands of years as pre-historic humans found that dogs could be of help with hunting, herding, pulling things and other activities.

But a single dog breed could not excel at doing all the things humans wanted them to do. However, humans discovered that you could selectively breed dogs with particular characteristics and over many generations.

Those traits would get accentuated and thus a dog “breed” would come into being. Various dog breeds were good at doing a particular thing whether it be guarding, pointing, herding, pulling a cart or a sled.

Why Were Bulldogs Originally Bred

As humans acquired the skills of growing food through agriculture and of storing food, they had ‘leisure time’ on their hands for the first time in their existence.

And in those pre-Internet and pre-social media days, humans turned to various types of fighting activities to entertain themselves.

Bull-baiting was one such blood sport in which bulls would fight with bears or dogs. For the purpose of bull-baiting, they needed a dog that would be crazy and aggressive enough to be willing to taunt a 1,000-pound bull.

This is where the Bulldog came in with its short stature, muscular structure, aggressive attitude and specific facial characteristics.

A Bulldog could take a lot of beating and survive. They could even kill the bull whereas other dog breeds would have met a gory end pretty swiftly if tasked with fighting a fearsome, angry bull.

This is why Bulldogs were bred — to take on and even kill the bull. You could say the job of the Bulldogs was to try and latch on to the bull’s nose and not let go till the bull died from bleeding.

The Modern Bulldog

Historians consider the Old English Bulldog to be a descendant of ancient war dogs, such as the “Alaunt” or the old Mastiff. Additionally, the word “Bulldog” can be found on print of a 1598 description of a bull-baiting contest.

But Bulldogs were there in England centuries before. They were just known by other names.

However, this breed came to grief when bull-baiting was banned. The banning led these dogs to the verge of extinction.

Eventually, the remaining Bulldogs which had been bred for bull-baiting were resurrected to become the modern English Bulldog we are familiar with today.

Bulldogs in Bull-Baiting

English people through the centuries were fond of dog-fighting and bull-baiting among other bloody sports. Bulldogs were used in bull-baiting to pin and hold the bull by its nose.

As the bull tried to free its muzzle by lowering its head to use its horns, the Bulldog too would “play low” or keep close to the ground.

The bull was also anchored to an iron ring attached to a heavy stone or a stake driven into the ground. They were secured with a rope of about fifteen feet in length. Hence, the bulls had a freedom of movement of about 30 feet.

As the bull-baiting proceeded, the bull would keep his nose close to the ground and the Bulldog would keep its head close to the ground. It’s a most extreme game of attrition – survival of the fittest.

The Popularity of Bull-Baiting

Queen Elizabeth was among the connoisseurs of bull-baiting who often had parties around bull-baiting — sort of like summer BBQ parties but for the Elizabethan Era. It was a national sport in England from the thirteenth to the eighteenth century.

Bull-baiting was so popular that there arose a demand for dogs suited for this sport. These dogs were naturally bred to be ferocious, powerful, and courageous.

Dogs could be found at early English bull-baiting events with their organs hanging out, still urged to fight the bull. It was truly a horrific sight to see.

Butchers could be liable to a penalty in many English towns if they sold the flesh of a bull in the market without that bull having participated in bull-baiting the previous day.

Why? It was universally believed that the flesh of a baited bull was more tender and nutritious than that of bulls slaughtered without first participating in bull-baiting.

Bull-baiting was ultimately abolished but only after heated debates in the House of Commons. An 1802 bill was defeated and bull-baiting continued till the mid/late 1800’s, when blood sports were finally banned through the Cruelty to Animals Act.

Why Bulldogs Excel at Bull-Baiting

Bulldogs were bred to be excellent at fighting bulls. Here’s why and how Bulldogs fit the bill.

Bulldogs were aggressive in nature which made them want and dare to fight an animal several times their own size. Combined with their particular physical characteristics, this ambition was not completely “fool-hardy.”

Bulldogs did manage to subdue bulls occasionally when the bulls failed to gore the Bulldogs to death.

Physical Characteristics of Bulldogs

A short stature meant a low center of gravity for the Bulldogs. Those short legs also helped prevent spinal injuries when bulls would plough their horns into them and throw them into the air.

It also helped when bulls would shake them in the air or when bulls would try to gore them on the ground.

With their strong jaws, Bulldogs could hold on to a bull’s nose and not let go till the bull bled to death. Those loose folds of skin of the Bulldog served as a kind of protection for the Bulldog’s vital organs.

The face wrinkles which are a distinctive feature of Bulldogs helps move blood down their faces and keep the blood out of their eyes. This was very useful during their bull-baiting days.

Bulldog’s Transition Into Pets

There are two epochs (periods of time) in which we can divide the story of Bulldogs: one was the time before bull-baiting was banned and the other epoch being the time after bull-baiting was banned.

Clearly, once Bulldogs could no longer indulge in bull-baiting or could not be forced to fight gory battles with bulls, they needed another reason to justify their existence.

The different modern breeds of Bulldogs all found patrons because of qualities other than sheer and terrifying aggressiveness.

Bulldogs remain one of the most popular breeds in America today. And while Taco Bell may not have taken a liking to Bulldogs, lots of colleges, universities and the US Marines use the Bulldog as their mascot.

The Bulldog’s Nature and Fitness

Bulldogs aren’t the smartest dogs (though smarter than you think) nor as famous as the breeds loved by Elvis. However, Bulldogs possess plenty of other characteristics that endear them to humans.

Their pure aggression has been bred out of them, which make them friendly and docile. Bulldogs are neither the most active nor the laziest couch potatoes. In addition, they also are unfit for extremely hot or extremely cold environments.

They are not the healthiest breed around as they are usually conceived by artificial insemination and delivered by C-section and suffer from other ailments as well.

Despite all the flaws of these dogs, they are great companions that will thrive in a loving environment. Given the proper socialization and obedience training, they make excellent playmates for kids.

They’re dependable dogs with a personality that’s undeniably hard to resist. Though these dogs are long from their aggressive days, you still need to be wary around them.

Common Bulldog Varieties

Some common Bulldog varieties are English Bulldogs, American Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, and Olde English Bulldogs.

These are all perfectly happy to live in small apartments as long as the temperatures are moderate.

They won’t tolerate extreme temperatures and they need moderate exercises on a daily basis. This can be as simple as 10-minute walks daily with obedience training in between.

Are Bulldogs For Me?

Bulldogs have lasted centuries and shown themselves to be quite adaptable to changing circumstances. The human-Bulldog bond seems destined to endure.

Bulldogs have not been Olympic mascots nor have they been a center of political controversy or been ascribed with possessing skills such as speaking a human language. However, they continue to thrive just by being who they are.

Bring home a Bulldog and you won’t regret it. There’s a reason why they’re ranked as one of the most popular dog breeds in America (and the world!).

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About the author

Richard Jeng

Richard has been raising dogs his whole life, including a Poodle, Pomeranian, Corgi and Australian Shepherd. He's always working with animal shelters and dog rescues because of his passion for all dogs. Fun fact: his all time favorite breed is the German Shepherd.

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