Bulldogs and Terriers

Bulldogs and Terriers

Of course, I can always be counted upon to argue that a Bulldog is, well, a Bulldog. That there was no need to cross him with any terrier. In fact, I have written earlier that the burden of proof should now be upon the proponents of those who argue the cross with the terrier theory. The reason for such conviction on my part is that the artwork of the ages always, or nearly always, shows Bulldogs as looking very much like our modern-day American Pit Bull Terriers. There is a lot of other evidence, too, but that alone is sufficient.

Notice the different pure-bred dogs in this 400-year-old painting by Rubens. There is a Greyhound, a spaniel, and a Bulldog. They knew to keep breeds pure even then.

There are many places to find the reproduction of the old pictures but let me point out just a couple. In 1795, Charles White, a prominent physician and scholar, published a book on the chain of being. The “chain of being” was a means of classifying animals and all living things before the concept of evolution. It didn’t hold water, of course, and I don’t want to digress here. The point I am trying to make is that White includes a drawing of a Bulldog (captioned “Bull Dog” in his book), and it looks so much like modern day APBTs that fanciers would argue among themselves what modern bloodline he is! (There are always those folk who can tell you the breeding of a dog by looking at them–even if they are wrong most of the time!) While I don’t expect most people to have White’s book on the chain of being, the reader can find this very picture in a book that is still in print, The Flamingo’s Smile on page 287. The book is by Stephen Jay Gould, and it is a collection of his essays which appeared in Natural History. I would also refer the reader to Denlinger’s Pit Bull or Staffordshire Terrier, pages 26 and 35 for old time drawings of Bulldogs looking just like our dogs. And, of course, I have published drawings, too, that appeared elsewhere. The main point here is that the date of all the drawings is earlier than the middle of the last century when the bull and terrier cross was supposed to have been made.

People keep bringing up the fact that half and halfs and bull and terriers are mentioned in the writings of the last century. How do we reconcile such writings with the idea that the Bulldog has always been very much as he is? Well, isn’t it just possible that such writings referred only to the various Bull Terrier breeds? I suspect that some malformed Bulldogs were kept and bred as pets because of the novelty of the appearance of the pushed-in nose. It would take only a few generations to “fix” this trait. Thus, the confusion in the minds of the people of the times. There was the Bulldog which earned its living as a hunter, as a catch dog for the butcher, and in the fighting pits. That would be the dog that is identical to our modern American Pit Bull Terriers. And there was the Bulldog which was kept primarily as a pet, and that would be the brachycephalic (pushed-in nose) type. Probably the pushed-in nose types were used for work on occasion, too, but they couldn’t have been very good at it, as they lacked gripping space in the mouth because of the short upper jaw. Such dogs were said to have “no mouth,” and the desirability of the “long punishing jaw” is emphasized in writings of the last century. It is my opinion that these malformed “Bulldogs,” the ancestors to our modern show Bulldogs, were bred to some terrier, any number of times, to produce the modern show Bull Terrier. As evidence of this, the original Bull Terriers were long legged white dogs, with the pushed-in nose, as depicted in drawings in magazines of 1890. The “long punishing jaw” was undoubtedly developed by selective breeding in the intervening years.

The fact is that there are various myths that only serve to confuse the issue. One is that dogs were all bred for performance until the advent of dog shows. That is not true. We have only to consult the artwork once again to see for ourselves that various “fancy dogs” were bred primarily for size and appearance, rather than function, long before the advent of dog shows.
What is more, the term “terrier” itself is a vague and arbitrary concept. Oh, yes, I know that it has been defined any number of times as referring to those dogs which “go to ground,” but the fact is that the term is mainly used in old writings to refer to small dogs that were used for vermin, as opposed to desirable game. There is important historical significance here. Only the landed gentry and nobles were allowed to hunt game up until just before the 20th century. Therefore, the “lesser folk” were not allowed to have true hunting dogs, such as hounds and bird dogs. But they were allowed to keep terriers and lurchers, dogs that were used for killing vermin, and if the peasants wanted to eat rats or badgers, the nobles and gentry didn’t care. However, they were not to “poach” the desirable game, such as deer, boar, and edible bird life. The theory was that the land belonged to the nobles and the landed gentry, a lesser class but still far above the masses. Therefore all the animals that lived on the land belonged to the owners of the land.

As a point of interest, the Bulldog was a working dog, but it was also categorized as a hound at times, and is so referenced in many writings. Perhaps it was no accident that the Irish (nearly all of them poor and without land at the time) referred to their Bulldogs as “pit terriers.”

When dog shows came into being toward the end of the 18th century, the impetus was to display hunting dogs for competition in appearance. The hunters formed an association called the Kennel Club, and it is still so known today in England. Here, of course, our show organization is called the American Kennel Club. Fanciers of other breeds wanted to show their dogs, too. So the first grouping began with the “Sporting Dogs” and the “NonSporting Dogs,” meaning “all the rest.” Later as more and more breeds were brought into this competition, more categories were opened up, including “Working” and “Terriers.” So you see the term has very little authentic standing, although it is a handy way to group several breeds of dogs.

The truth is that there are a lot of misnomers in dog breeds. The Boston Terrier is not in the Terrier Group, and the German Shepherd is not a herding dog, so it can get confusing. The arguments against the Bulldog being the original Bulldog are always arguments from authority, quoting old writings about “bull and terriers” and “half and halfs.” Arguments from authority scientifically don’t hold water and are to be discarded if there is no other support. Those who insist that the Bulldog is a descendant of a cross with a terrier need to answer the following questions: Why are there drawings and paintings in existence that are labeled a “Bulldogs” that show the dogs doing everything that our dogs are used for now, from fighting each other to hunting wild boar to doing catch work on bulls or hogs? Why are our dogs still referred to as “Bulldogs” today among the fanciers? And, finally, why was the cross ever needed?
I am in favor of retaining the formal name of American Pit Bull Terrier, but in a perfect world, the real Bulldog would take his rightful place in the stead of the show monstrosity that bears that name officially now. Surely the English never really wanted that dog as their symbol!