History of the english bulldog

History of the english bulldog

Taken from "The Great Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds" by Umberto Cuomo, Edizioni-Cinque Publishing House.

General historical details

Vero mascalzone della sua specie, così era considerato fino al XIX secolo il bulldog; così un cronista della rivista British Field Sports lo descrive nel 1818 augurandosi la sua scomparsa.

Già verso la fine del 1800 però, dopo che i combattimenti tra animali erano stati vietati per legge nel 1835 (eccetto quelli tra cani e topi che furono proibiti nel 1912) il bulldog era divenuto un affidabile cane da famiglia ed esposizione.

Gli allevatori, infatti, erano riusciti ad eliminare dalla razza l’atavica indomabile ferocia che era stata esasperata in millenni di dura vita di lotte. Non è esagerato parlare di millenni di lotte poiché questa meravigliosa razza discende direttamente dagli antichi molossi fenici.

Gli abili navigatori e commercianti di origine semitica insediatisi nel corso del IV millennio a.C. in Asia Minore introdussero un po’ in tutta Europa.

The molossus breeding of the Phoenicians

Phenicia was divided from the beginning into city-states, the most important were Byblos, Sidon and Tire, and the Phoenicians founded numerous colonies as far as the coasts of Spain, including Cadiz, 

using them as a base for the exploration of new territories, including the British Isles.

Phoenicia get in touch with other peoples living in  Mesopotamia, a region between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers: the Assyrians and the Babylonians who respectively occupied Sidon in 675 BC. and Tire in 573 BC

It is well known that Assyrians and Babylonians bred a mighty as well-known Molossian: according to some descendants of the great dog of Tibet, according to others even his ancestor.

Even before the invasions reported, it seems that  the Phoenicians had commercial relations with Assyrians and Babylonians and had the possibility to know the great Assyrian mastiffs that they probably used as exchange goods (at that time the dogs were considered precious and of great value).

Then the Molossian Assyrians arrived in Britain, and then they were probably mixed with other mastiffs (probably Celt’s Dogs, an ancient population of Indo-European origin which occupied England in ancient times).

And, then A breed of ferocious and powerful molosses  was selected in the lands of Albion, used for the war, hunting and guarding.

The Molossians and the Roman Empire

The Molossians gave a lot of trouble to the Roman soldiers who, led by Cesare, in 55 and 54 BC.  invaded England to the borders of Scotland.

The Romans christened these dogs as "pugnaces Britanniae" and were so impressed that they imported a great number into the capital using them in fights and in the circus. 

The pugnaces proved that they great fighters and  the Romans established a special officer called "Procurator Cynologie" stationed in Winchester who had the task of ensuring continuous supplies of combat subjects in Rome.

With the End  of Western Roman Empire, since the 5th century, Anglo-Saxons, Danes and then Normans, occupied the territory left without defense by the Romans and certainly brought their war and fighting dogs there.


These, by cross-breeding with the already existing English dogs, have given birth to a molossoid very similar to the Mastiff. 

These specimens were also used as auxiliaries during the  war, in hunting and as guardians and custodians of the estates of the local squires (the Normans having given feudal order to England).

1209: Stamford fights

In the year 1209, a feudal lord, Lord of Stamford, saw the dogs of a local butcher, certainly two mastiffs, fighting against a bull until they killed it.

Lord Stamford had a lot of fun during the show and offered the area of the fight to the butchers' congregation, with the agreement to organize a similar fight every year on the same date, the day before six weeks to Christmas Day.

This kind of combats was already known before the year 1209 but between animals of different species.

After that event, fighting dogs against bulls was called bull-baiting and became very popular in Britain. Every city and every village had its own area for this kind of combat.

In some British cities,  it is still possible to see the pole or rings, where the rope that held the bull was secured.

Regularization of the fighting sessions: the bulldog

Over the centuries the rules of bull-baiting were changed and also the type of dogs used. 

The dog had to face the bull and kill it. Therefore, only very large and powerful dogs were used. 

Basically, the bets were focused on which animal was the first to make a firm hold and keep it as long as possible: therefore, smaller dogs were used to fight but they were very strong, fierce and resistant.

Over time, this dog became more reckless ferocious and quite insensitive to the pain, capable of keeping a grip with anger and determination even if it was seriously injured.

 You can still find reports, paintings, and gruesome prints. Bull-baiting dogs were called in various ways: bondogge, alaunt, boldogge, etc.

During the 1631 or 1632 the term bulldog, or bulldog, appeared in correspondence between San Sebastian in Spain and London, it seems that the name was used commonly and familiarly (probably in use for several years before).

It came to light that, the Bulldogs were very different to each other and that they were also used in fights with other animals such as bears, badgers, donkeys, and even lions, and even to capture rats.

It must be said, that between England, Bordeaux and Spain, there has been an intense exchange of fighting dogs in the last three centuries. In Britain "bulldogs" were bred in Aquitaine and especially in Bordeaux, France.

The end of the fighting, the risk for the race

The fighting between animals lasted until 1835 when gathering the sense of disgust and intolerance more and more widespread among the people, a law was issued that finally banned cruel practice (except for the capture of mices, allowed until 1912.

The law didn’t succeed in ending the fighting, they went on clandestinely. 

However, it became difficult to organize a fight between dogs and a bull. 

The people involved in these outlawed practices preferred to turn to the fighting between two dogs that were much safer and easier to manage underground.

The bulldog wasn’t really suitable for this kind of clashes that required a certain agility that he didn’t have, it was less employed after the law was approved. 

They tried to use it as a guardian, but its ferocity that was part of its genetic patrimony became the cause of fatal accidents and became out of law.

 It became almost extinct; his fame became increasingly compromised and the breed was saved from total extinction only thanks to passionate breeders who continued the selection.

The current selection and standardization of the breed

The bulldog, which was a living part of English history, was selected only for the extraordinary skills that had made it famous over the centuries. 

Its Exaggerated aggressiveness erased and its endurance and intelligence were enhanced. In a short time, a new breed was introduced to public opinion.

It wasn’t an easy job but the fans of this dog succeeded and on  the 3rd and 4th  December 1860 in Birmingham, at the annual exhibition, the renewed bulldog was exhibited for the first time. The first champion of the breed was King Dick, born in 1858 and owned by J. Lamphier, who published the first standard of the breed in 1861.

In 1864 a new standard was drawn up by Samuel Wickens who published it in 1865 under the pseudonym of Philo-Kûon. 

The first Bulldog Club was founded in 1864 but was short-lived, the second one  was born in 1874.

 On 13th  April 1875 the Bulldog Club Incorporated was born, it still exists is an efficient and well-organized association. It revised the Philo-Kûon standard which was officially accepted and published in the same year of the foundation.

In 1909 the standard had some changes, the most important concerned the tail since that date was also known as "corkscrew".

The domestic bulldog

Converted into a family and show dog, the Bulldog ran again the risk of extinction,as some breeders, in order to produce increasingly showy subjects came to breed dogs with huge heads, too low on the limbs or with non-existent nasal canes: "hyper typical".

And so those bulldogs could barely walk and had very serious health and reproductive issues. 

Once again, the wisdom of some people prevailed and many of them opposed such exaggerations and this saved the race from extinction for the second time.

The pink female of the famous painting "Crib and Rosa" that Abram Cooper created in 1817 was taken as the ideal model of bulldog. 

This type of bulldog of the late 1800s   even it didn’t have the physical characteristics of his fighting ancestors, keeping a physicality that allowed it to live a normal and healthy life with his master.

 This characteristic has yet to be present in a good subject of the breed.

The spread of the bulldog in the world

The bulldog is now widespread and known all over the world.

It is well-bred in the United States (there is a slightly different standard from the English one).

 In Europe, it is present in all countries where it is well-bred with high-quality subjects.

 In Italy, the first known import was made by Mr. Gabbio  From Turin who imported some specimens in 1910. 

In 1930, Dr. Ernesto Tron followed with his breeding in Val San Martino, imported excellent subjects from England and produced some beautiful samples such as Lolota and Giulàn.

The spread of the bulldog in Italy

After the war, around 1950 the cynophilist and writer Piero Scanziani raised the breed with its affix "di Villanova". Also in the 1950s, Mr. Landi Niccolino of Florence began to breed the breed and imported Hefty Kings Jester of Jame, a handsome male who won the title of champion.

The bulldog was still very rare in our country until the early 70s when a group of enthusiasts people  began to breed and import prestigious subjects, introducing  them to exhibitions and popularizing the breed.

Among them: Mrs. Xenia Berio of Rome who, since the end of the 1960s, produced "excellent dogs" with the "Dioscuri" affix; mr. Mario Trombetta who raised with the affix "Matro's" in Brianza; the great and late Alfredo Clavenzani, who for years honored the writer with his friendship and raised with the affix "of the Alamandini"; Doctor Novaresio of Turin, "delle Prese"; the late Dr. Giuseppe Casavola: "from Casmir"; G. Silipeandi, "Deigi"; Moreno Maltagliati, "from Isella"; Cristiano Riva, "Telemac"; other known breeders.

Today, this race sees more and more dogs enrolled (583 in 1997, 672 in 1998). The quality level is excellent so that it is possible to foresee a future of even greater success for the ancient and indomitable fighter.

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