American Bulldog History & the Types of American Bulldog

 

American Bulldog History:

The only certain truth regarding the history of the American Bulldog breed is that no one knows the certain truth. The breed's origins are steeped in tall-tales, dishonesty and rumour. Records are pretty scant before 1968 when the first  National Kennel Club registration occurred. Breed registrations expanded in the 1970s using the NKC and also the slightly curiously named Animal Research Foundation, then a little while later the American Bulldog Association  was formed as a dedicated registry for American Bulldogs with the goal of furthering the progress of the breed. Conformation shows, working trials and other competitions are organised under the rules of the various registries and over the years these events have increased in size and number, providing a great way for enthusiasts to get together and check out each others dogs. The American Bulldog has aroused the interest of bull-breed enthusiasts around the globe, and the dogs have found themselves being exported throughout the world. Whichever country they may be in, most owners still register their dogs in the United States using one or more of the three main registries above.

    

Above: Alan Scott's "Apache" and "Shamgar"

The first men to make serious efforts to register these dogs as a breed were John D Johnson and Alan Scott, who were quite good friends in those days. At the time, the southern American states such as Alabama, Georgia, Florida, North and South Carolina etc were among the main places you might find a dog resembling what is now called an American Bulldog. It was here that Alan Scott and John D Johnson found the sort of dogs that took their fancy. They bought-up some dogs that they liked (and whose owners could be persuaded to part with them!) and they began their own breeding programs. Initially Scott and Johnson had similar dogs and they bred and traded dogs with each other, it was only later that JDJ really began to develop and refine his trademark heavier-built "bullier" style of bulldog.

     

Above: Tate's Dutchess Lady and Blatcher's Shadrach

The name "American Bulldog" was apparently first coined by Mr Johnson and ultimately became the title that was taken up by all the breed registries; prior to that, this type of bulldog was apparently known by a variety of different names. Some examples of names included: Southern White Bulldog, Country Bulldog, White Bulldog, White English Bulldog, or most commonly just plain "Bulldog". These American Bulldog foundation dogs showed quite a range in physical appearance due to the diverse influences in their breeding and this is probably part of the reason why the breed conformation standards laid down by the registries allow for quite a wide variation in type compared with some other breeds of dog. The main registries have even subdivided the breed standard into two distinct phenotypes: Standard and Bully/Classic classes, the followers of Mr Scottís style of bulldog being in the former category and Johnson aficionados in the latter as a rule. It is unusual for a breed to have such profound subdivisions.

    

Above: DK's Drummer Boy and Hines' Juno

So where did those bulldogs that Alan Scott, John D Johnson and others started with come from in the first place? Well, here are two theories about the "history" of the American Bulldog:

(1): The American Bulldog is the "original" English Bulldog which has survived unchanged in remote rural communities, just as it was when it was still a working breed rather than the exaggerated and often quite deformed fancy breed we know as the English Bulldog today.

(2): The American Bulldog is a breed that has evolved from a mixture of other breeds.

Above: Scott's Mac the Masher, Hines' Rugby, Joshua's George Junior

The "Original English Bulldog" legend suggests that the American Bulldog is the pure embodiment of the original English Bulldog just as it looked when settlers from the British Isles and Europe came to America in the 17th and 18th centuries. This idea was popularized by a few breeders, probably as a marketing ploy to help sell dogs at higher prices to well-off city people and gullible northern Yankees. Others have eagerly swallowed this story, enabling its passage from myth to so-called "truth". Records do exist which show that many bulldogs and bull terriers were exported to America and some contemporary British paintings and sculptures show bulldogs which look similar to American Bulldogs and some people point to these as evidence to support this notion.  The white colouring that is often predominant in many of todayís American Bulldogs was sometimes also the predominant colour of the fighting English bulldogs of times long gone by, which could perhaps suggest a link. But it is highly unlikely that the original English bulldog could possibly have remained unchanged for hundreds of years without outcrossing and refinement; through the generations he would certainly have been interbred and shaped by his environment and the needs and tastes of his masters. However, this story does have a certain romantic attraction to it, so it is easy to understand its continuing popularity. In reality, the truth is that rather than being the "original" English Bulldog, the American Bulldog is in fact more like a modern recreation of the original-type English Bulldog, a breed lost to history a long time ago.

Above: Screaming Eagle bulldogs: Oathout's Jack Frost , Dick the Bulldog, Willie

The other (and more plausible) view is that the American Bulldog has evolved from a blend of various breeds and types of dog. Since every breed of dog was originally created by selective breeding in this way, let's consider what sort of  foundation dogs the American Bulldog is likely to have had.

    

Above: Fujimo Bandit and Leclerc's Bama Boy

 

Let's go back in time a bit.... Immigrants from the British Isles and other European countries brought their prized game bulldogs and bull terriers with them on their voyages to the New World, where these dogs would certainly have proved their worth in many ways and as time passed the centuries of selective breeding which had enabled these type of dogs to excel in combat and at animal baitings and other barbarous so-called "sporting" events could now also be turned to more constructive uses. These old fighting dogs are at the core of all of today's modern bullbreeds in Europe and the New World.

These old bulldog-type dogs would probably have provided welcome protection in a sometimes hostile land and also may have been valuable to the livestock farmer whose cattle and pigs roamed free over wide areas making the livestock hard for the farmer to catch when required, and so the earliest stock-control or "catch dogs" may have come in to being in this way.

The selective breeding that had created a dog with the strength, tenacity and courage to seize a bull at a baiting or engage in some other form of animal combat could instead be turned to more constructive purposes and in his new role a bulldog could be used to seize a cow or wild pig and and hold it firm until his handlers joined him to capture or slaughter the animal. A bulldog would also have been invaluable for deterring predators and intruders. The bulldog's abilities have in made him a formidable tool for hunting large game such as wild boar, a scenario some American Bulldogs still continue to excel in throughout the southern United States to this day.

A bulldog's major role through the years was often as a loyal companion dog more than anything else and this continues to be one the breed's main fortes.

To some extent, natural selection would have governed the development of some of the American Bulldog's foundation breeds in America in times gone by. Breedings would often have been decided based on a dogís abilities: For example, if you had a good bitch and wanted a litter and you knew someone who had a good proven dog then a tie might be arranged to create another generation of bulldogs and some of the litter would no doubt have been sold to provide a little extra cash for the owner's family.

    

Above: Joshua's Maxi-Lou aka "Possum" and Triple Threat's Drama

During the evolution of the American Bulldog, many breeding experiments have undoubtedly been tried over the years. For example, hound blood was certainly crossed in to help enhance the breed's hunting/tracking/baying abilities. Higher proportions of sporting bull terrier blood add tenacity and quickness to some strains too. Other likely inputs include bullmastiff and boxer blood to add size and substance. An extra dose of modern "sour-mug" English Bulldog blood has been added by at least one well known breeder in fairly recent history to increase the "bulliness" of his lines and even the addition of some St Bernard blood was allegedly tried by a well-known breeder in Georgia.

Above: White Knight's Hog Hammer, JJ and Oliver's Outlaw

My belief is that if one could roll back the years and look into the past to observe the evolution of the American Bulldog, one would find that the breed's main origins included game bull terrier-type dogs selectively bred for size, temperament and colour interbred with various other types of bulldog and mastiff breeds, with some hound blood added along the way.  Undoubtedly a couple of other mystery ingredients have also been added at different points in the past. I believe this recipe probably holds true for all lines/types of American Bulldog, with only the proportions of ingredients varying. However the American Bulldog of today is now certainly far enough away from any of its "root-breeds" to unquestionably be regarded a true breed in its own right.

Above: Bluegrass Napoleon, True-Grit Brimstone, Mazzaro's Daisy Duke

As far as the question of how old the American Bulldog is as a true breed goes, well I think that will always be subject to debate and discussion. My belief is that there have been dogs of this "type" around for a long time, but before the advent of the registration of pedigrees with the ABA, NKC etc in the 1970s they were probably quite diverse both in terms of bloodlines and in terms of the constituent breeds of dog used. Once the American Bulldog had registered pedigrees behind it and people started conducting serious breeding programs using registered and pedigreed dogs, then it finally could start to become a true breed in it's own right.

Above: Bosshog and Kenneth

 

Types of American Bulldog:

For a definitive explanation of the standards relevant to the differing types of American Bulldog please refer to the breed conformation standards of the National Kennel Club and American Bulldog Association.

STANDARD / SCOTT type and "PERFORMANCE" type:

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Above: Sanderís Kombat, Boyd's Hines' Moleque, JEL's Thong, JEL's Romeo, Rode Hawg's Austin, Scott's Sambo of SV.

(Click on thumbnails to view full-sized images).

Generally speaking a bulldog with a lighter-weight and more athletic appearance when compared with the more bully looking Johnson type, dentition may range from a tight scissor bite to mild undershot with a longer muzzle than a Johnson type dog. Weight preferably should be below 95 lbs for males (NKC), or below 110 lbs (ABA) although higher weights are today regarded as being acceptable. My personal preference is for a standard male to be below 85 pounds and a standard female to be below 75 pounds. Well-known lines/breeders of dogs that fit into the Standard category include Hines, Kerschner, Koura, Leclerc, Painter, Scott, Stover, and Williamson among others. The appearance of a Standard-type dog should supposedly reflect that of a working/hunting/catching bulldog.

The term "Performance" bulldog was originally used to describe lines of bulldogs that were bred down from Leclerc's Bama Boy and which had little or no Johnson blood (apart from the early pre-Machine line JDJ dogs) and often had a so-called "game-tested" background to some extent. Game-testing refers to testing a dog's aptitude at fighting another dog. The American Bulldog has never been a true fighting dog and practices such as this will tell you little about a bulldog's real world temperament. It is cruel and pointless and has no relevance to today's world. Today the origins of the term "Performance" seem to not be widely acknowledged and the term has now become much used/abused as a generic term for an American Bulldog of a Standard type appearance, regardless of the dog's bloodlines. There are no so-called "Performance" bulldogs in the United Kingdom, in this original sense of the term.

To clarify things, "Standard" refers to a dog's physical type or appearance whereas "Performance" refers to the way the dog is bred. For example, a hybrid dog can be a "Standard" bulldog in terms of conformation, but it can't be a "Performance" bulldog in the original true sense.

BULLY / CLASSIC / JOHNSON type:

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Above: Johnsonís Incredible Mean Machine and Johnson's King Kong.

(Click on thumbnails to view full-sized images).

Generally speaking a bulldog with a heavier, more "bully" appearance. Normally more undershot, with a shorter muzzle and a looser more jowly look. Weight for males can be over 120 lbs plus (ABA). The appearance of this type of bulldog supposedly reflects that of the old "plantation bulldogs" used to provide security on the plantations of the old South, where a dog with greater bulk was thought to be useful in his role of dealing with two-legged problems!

SOUTHERN WHITES, WHITE ENGLISH BULLDOGS etc:

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Above: Alan Scottís Crusher, Joshua's Shunammite, Joshua's Ol' Southern White, Oliver's Outlaw

(Click on thumbnails to view full-sized images).

"Southern White" is a term often used for bulldogs that are not descended from any of the modern lines. The reverse is in fact claimed to be the truth; that is to say the Southern Whites are said to be the raw material that Alan Scott, JDJ and others started out with when they got their foundation dogs. The term "American Bulldog" had not yet been conceived in those days and the probable history of the development of the Southern White is described above. As I mentioned above, these dogs were apparently known by many diverse names such as Southern Whites, White English Bulldogs etc. These so-called Southern Whites are still kept and used by country people in the American deep south, many of whom have probably never heard of Mr Scott or Mr Johnson or maybe even the term "American Bulldog". A few breeders still use "Southern White" lines in their breeding programs and they can sometimes be a very useful source of fresh genetic material for established bloodlines. However they should be used with care because any pedigrees they have may be somewhat sketchy. Their appearance can be quite diverse too, with type ranging from slightly houndy to very bulldoggy.

While I don't believe Southern Whites/White English Bulldogs etc to be some sort of pure bulldog holy grail, I do think they are a "type" that has been around for some time, although probably not as a true pure-bred "breed". My belief is that they were created in the way described further up this page. Also there was a fashion for crossing English/British Bulldogs, Bullmastiffs, Boxers etc with game dogs in the American south during the mid twentieth century to create big mean-looking bulldogs and I'm quite sure that many Southern Whites/WEBs have their origins here. I don't buy in to the various "my great great great grandpappy was breeding these dogs pure, just like his great great great grandpappy before him" stories that are told. You may as well believe these dogs came over to America on the Mayflower and have remained purebred and unchanged ever since....

"HYBRID" AMERICAN BULLDOGS:

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Above: Sure-Grip's Freddie Kruegger, MGK Gator Red, Blueblood's Axel.

These are basically bulldogs whose blood-lines are a mixture of standard and bully types, with the goal being to distill the best features of both. This goal has sometimes been successfully accomplished. Today most bulldogs are probably in this category. Some notable successful breeders of hybrid lines include Kyle Symmes (Sure-Grip), Matt Boyd, Greg Souza and Mark Landers (MGK) among others. Many hybrid dogs have excelled in competition in the States, including Schutzhund and other similar protection-sport type disciplines.

I'm not really a big fan of the term "hybrid" as it implies a cross-breeding between two different species, which is not really the case here. However it is a popular and widely-used term, the meaning of which is well-understood by most American Bulldoggers.

In truth, it really could be said that all American Bulldogs are actually "hybrids" since the breed of today originated from a variety of breeds and types of dog (as outlined in the breed history section above).