With dogs, there are many, many questionable breeding practices.
But among the ones that should be obvious anyone with a halfway decent set of eyes and a few functioning brain cells are the ones associated with the bulldog.
To make it clear, I’m referring the “English bulldog,” a creature that has been in the Kennel Club system since the beginning, and is now generally regarded as useless for anything except being a pet.
I’m not referring to other bulldogs or bulldog and terrier types, which are of this same family.
I’m talking about the freakazoids, the monstrosities on four legs that we call bulldogs.
Yes, this is a real dog.
Dog DNA has some peculiarities that make the phenotype of the species somewhat malleable.
Thus, it is comparatively very easy to “sculpt” any sort of unusual morphological features with them.
That’s one reason why dogs within the same breed change so much over time, and it’s also a major health and welfare issue.
I remember watching a documentary from several years ago in which a papillon breeder, who was heavily involved in the show culture and show breeding, said that her dogs were her artwork. That was actually the most profound statement I’ve ever heard one of these breeders produce.
Most of these fancy features don’t exist in the wild. They don’t even exist in freely breeding street dog populations. Nature would select very strongly against them.
But we have decided in dog shows that these features are to be celebrated and lauded.
The bulldog monstrosities that we now see are the creation of the show ring.
They were not created in butcher shops or in baiting rings.
They were created because of human caprice and vanity.
You see, the bulldog has been going sideways for a very long time.
If you don’t believe me, check out the words of Rawdon Lee. Rawdon Lee was a British dog expert who wrote several volumes of treatises on purebred dogs of the late nineteenth century in his native country. Entitled A history and description of the modern dogs of Great Britain and Ireland, these well-written tomes are among the best historical records of dogs of that time period. Lee was very much in favor of dog shows and the dog fancy. Every one of his entries includes some analysis of the breed standard at the time.
For those reasons, his entry on the bulldog is of particular interest. He doesn’t sugarcoat anything. He attacks the nineenth century dog fancy for ruining this breed, which he considered a “national monument.” His entry can be found on the volume that covers the “Nonsporting Division,” and nearly every word of this text could be to describe the state of the bulldog today.
Time is known to play grim jokes with historical monuments, but it probably has never burlesqued anything more than it has our national emblem, the British bulldog.
Evolved for a specific purpose—a purpose long since stamped out both by law and by sentiment— the present day examples can only be looked upon as the result of breeding for certain points not desired or found in any other kind of dog. That the bulldog can claim as great pretensions to antiquity as any other now so-called breeds is not to be denied; but to say that bulldogs are bred to-day on the same lines as they were even sixty years ago would be an assertion that could not by any evidence be defended.
Evidence which is far more reliable is at our disposal in the pictures published towards the end of the last and the beginning of this century—the epoch when bull-baiting was in vogue—and, judging from these pictures, the bulldog of that time was but a phantom-like shadow of the animal the fin de sifale bulldog enthusiast has by patience succeeded in breeding.
Thus to him who, nowadays, wishes either to breed or to own an up-to-date specimen, it will be so much useless and embarrassing learning if he hampers himself with any considerations as to the outline and general appearance of what has been handed down to him regarding the animals his ancestors looked up to as bulldogs. Should he decide upon breeding bulldogs he will find, in order to produce a specimen at all approaching the modern ideal, that, instead of wasting time in pondering over the old type, he will have to employ that particular style of dog which may at the moment be in fashion.
He need have no misapprehension that the type in general will in the future change much, if at all; nor need he fear that the goal he is striving for will be advanced. For it must be remembered that the standard laid down for this breed has not materially altered during the last twenty years, though judges’ decisions may have sometimes been at variance with, if not diametrically opposed to, the standard type. The very fact of there being now two bulldog clubs is a guarantee that no radical change in the standard will ever be permitted, as one or other of the clubs is certain to hover round so safe an anchorage as an established type. If either club sanctions what sensible men must know is a departure from what is correct, it is only reasonable to suppose that in the fulness of time that club will sink in public estimation.
The miasma of the breed is that the bulldog in popular opinion has for so long been regarded as the butcher’s able assistant and the ruffian’s faithful companion; but, owing to the interest its peculiar conformation affords to the science of breeding, it yearly gains more ground in civilised society by attracting the attention of men of better education.
The picture of a bulldog in Youatt’s book (1845) is peculiar, to say the least. It represents a white dog as big as a mastiff, with bowed legs, a ” roach” back, short whip tail, and cow-shaped hocks. Still, he looks strong enough to pin a bull. However, about that time considerable attention was being given to the production of the British bulldog; but there was little material to work on, though there were enthusiasts in the cause even then, who mostly lived in London and in other large manufacturing centres. When dog shows began to exist, an impetus was given to all varieties of the canine race, the bulldog amongst the rest. Jemmy Shaw had kept some of the best blood in London; and old Ben White, who preceded the celebrated Bill George in his kennels at Kensal Town; Jacob Lamphier, of Birmingham; Charlie Stockdale, William M’Donald, London; James Hinks, Reeves, and Mr. Percivall, of Birmingham; Mr. Ashburne, Mr. Turton, all gave them attention, and to such men as these enthusiasts—if most of them were dealers—we owe what good bulldogs there are at the present time (pg. 205-215).
Lee writes that the original bulldog was quite a large animal, but the dog shows changed them.
The final paragraph is full of a rogue’s gallery of dog dealers and half-assed “dog improvers” : Bill George is often credited with creating the modern bulldog at his Canine Castle at Kensal New Town in London. He produced all sorts of different types of bulldogs from tiny toy bulldogs to massive bulldogs that derived from crosses with the Spanish alano. James Hinks may be better known as the creator of the “white cavalier,” the improved English bull terrier. This dog still exists today, but Hinks bred his dog to be the perfect pet of the gentleman. It was supposedly never to start a fight, but if riled, it would gladly finish it.
The bulldog became a dog of conspicuous consumption, a dog to be sold because of what it looked like and what it symbolized.
And Lee points out that not all the esoteric fancy points of bulldogs were the result of breeding. Lee describes cruel procedures that were used to alter the dog’s conformation and make them more likely to win prizes:
In the ” good old days,” about Sheffield and Birmingham, dishonest practices were in force, which were said to improve the face and muzzle of the bulldog. Cruel contrivances called ” jacks” were fixed on to the muzzle in such a manner as to drive the nose back. Sometimes, too, the ears were cut, and the more recent case of the disqualification of Monarch when shown by Mr. D. S. Oliver at Birmingham, in 1880, is not yet forgotten. Monarch had been shown successfully the year before, and was again awarded similar honours. After the judging, attention was called to the dog’s ears, upon which were found certain marks which led to the animal’s disqualification. Subsequent inquiry took place, and at a meeting held on December 16 several experts were examined, who were unanimous in their opinion that the marks had been wilfully made whilst the dog was in the show, and Mr. Oliver was exonerated from all blame in the matter. He, however, took the dastardly action so much to heart as to completely sever his connection with the bulldog “fancy.” Another dog of note known to be “faked” was F. Lamphier’s Tiger, for which Mr. George Raper [ironic name] gave £45, well aware of the defects of his purchase, but he considered him cheap at the money for breeding purposes (pg. 216-217).
Of course, it wasn’t long before they figured out how to breed for extreme brachycephaly in bulldogs, and by then, it was too late.
The difficulty in breeding bulldogs was evident even in those days. Lee writes:
One thing there always will be against the actual popularity of the bulldog, and that is the great difficulty there is in breeding first-rate specimens, and, with very few exceptions, our best bitches are wretched mothers, in some cases refusing to breed at all, in others failing to suckle the puppies, and in others the puppies often enough are born dead. Inbreeding, huge heads, and malformation of chest and forelegs are no doubt responsible for this state of things, nor is it likely matters will improve in this particular at any early date (pg. 228).
He doesn’t mention “water puppies,” which are at epidemic levels in the breed, or the fact that virtually all bitches require a Cesarean section to produce puppies. This procedure was not commonly performed on dogs in those days, so there may have been that control to prevent the most extreme exaggerations in the breed. Lee’s description of the problems of bulldog bitches sounds more like the result of an inbreeding depression that set in among the bulldogs.
Of course, now we have all these scientific methods for producing puppies. If bitches won’t mate, you can always do AI. In fact, almost all bulldogs must be produce through AI or through very carefully assisted matings. Cesareans mean that there is almost no limit on how big the head can get or how narrow the pelvis can become.
The bulldog wouldn’t exist without modern veterinary medicine to keep it reproducing.
But the dog was well on its way into ruination nearly 120 years ago.
However, Lee was very wrong about this breed’s popularity.
For a variety of reasons, this breed has recently become very popular in the United States. The AKC lists the bulldog as the sixth most popular breed in terms of its own registrations for 2011.
This is really quite sad.
The bulldog is caricature of what it once was. Heavily interbred with pugs and terriers, the bulldog is no longer the large mastiff-type dog it once was.
Bred for such extreme brachcephaly, it has issues both in breathing and cooling itself.
These dogs are were used to fight bulls in contests– which were banned because they were cruel.
But then the dog became a show dog, and it became a monstrosity with so many health problems that are related both to inbreeding and breeding for an exaggerated conformation that it would be hard for me to list them all here.
Breeding a dog that is not being able to breathe or cool itself properly is every bit as cruel as breeding a dog for fighting purposes.
In a sad way, it is even more so, for now all rational and humane people denounce dog fighting. But virtually no one says the same thing about breeding for a body type that has very real health and welfare consequences.
It’s cruelty. No matter how you look at it.
I’ve discovered in comments that are too stupid to publish that I’m not well-regarded among the bulldog fancy.
I welcome their hatred.
The vast majority of what I’ve seen among these people are the rantings of lower class, poorly educated people whose idea of a good argument tactic is to write “your an idiot.” From what I’ve seen of the Team Jenny (“We was robbed”) Facebook group, the typical demographic of the British bulldog fancier is a working class Tory with very poor grammar and reasoning skills. (Which is probably why they are working class Tories in the first place!)
There are some sane bulldog breeders out there, but very few of them are working within the system and with this particular breed.
But these people are few and far between, and I doubt that they can make much of a different to a breed that is already so common.
The bulldog is most common in the United States, a country that generally scoffs at or has ignored the problems of purebred dogs.
So the bulldog is screwed.
120 years or more of “improving,,” and it’s still effed up– and getting worse.