Posts Tagged ‘bull terrier’

Breed branding

1901 bull terrier.

1901 bull terrier.  

One of the hardest aspects of doing any research on dog breed history is trying to figure out the nomenclature.

On this blog, I’ve pointed out the words “Newfoundland” and “retriever” were often interchangeable with the words “Labrador” and “St. John’s water dog.”

The fact that the names are not hard-defined breeds as we know them today often leads people astray in their thinking.  For example, I often come across accounts of Chesapeake Bay retriever history that claim that the breed was derived from the Newfoundland dog, and one will often see a photograph of the large Newfoundland breed accompanying the text. Of course, the two dogs that established the retriever culture in Maryland were “Newfoundland” dogs, but they were much more likely dogs of the St. John’s water dog type than the giant Newfoundland variety.

But there is actually an even more difficult breed to figure out from the historical record.

When I say the words “bull terrier,” I’m sure that one’s concept of that breed is the Spuds MacKenzie dog. It’s a dog that is famously white or predominantly white in color with erect ears and an egg-shaped head.

When one reads historical accounts of dogs, one will also run across the term “bull terrier” to describe a dog, but as with the retrievers, the name “bull terrier” was once more general term.

It initially referred to any bulldog and terrier cross, and not all bulldog/terrier crosses were bred for fighting. It also could refer to ratting and go-to-ground terriers that had some bulldog blood. Fox and Jack Russell terriers were all famously derived from a mix that included a bit of bulldog, and the addition of this blood makes some sense. Bulldogs were used for dog fighting, but this ability was much more strongly selected for in bulldog and terrier crosses. If a bulldog was a good fighting dog, then it might make the terrier a bit harder on a fox or rat if bulldog blood was added.

In the nineteenth century, dog fighting was a big deal in English industrial cities. The Black Country region of the West Midlands was an area where lots of men, both working class and gentry, bred fighting dogs from bulldog and terrier crosses.  This area is called the “Black Country” because it was a major coal and steel producing area. The burned coal often left a nasty deposit of black film on the buildings. Industrialization, unionization, and democratization created an industrial class with a bit of disposable income and some leisure time to engage in dog fighting.

This area is just west of Birmingham and includes part of the county of Staffordshire. To any historian of bull and terrier types, these areas should ring a bell. The show variant of the bull terrier we know today, as well as its miniature bull terrier descendant, was developed in Birmingham, and the rougher fighting-bred stock was still common in the English county of Staffordshire, even when the rest of the country had adopted the “white cavalier” as the official bull terrier. The dogs that were derived from that Staffordshire type were called “Staffordshire bull terriers.”

Both of these breeds are derived from essentially the same stock, but one was bred to be a gentleman’s dog that allegedly never started a fight but would gladly finish one when challenged. The other was the nasty pit dog.

The bull terrier that we know today was a creation of an Irish-born dog dealer from Birmingham named James Hinks, who crossed the refined ratting terrier known as the English white terrier with a bulldog. Hinks sold dogs to middle class people, as well as the gentry, and he made a comfortable living doing so.

He is said to have added Dalmatian blood to his crosses to “refine” their bone, but he always slected for a predominantly white bull terrier.

In the United States, there were fighting dogs of this bulldog and terrier cross blood. Pit fighting was popular, not just in the South, where most people associate the custom, but also in New England. Both Massachusetts and Rhode Island were well-known centers for breeding fighting bull terriers. These dogs were almost never pure white in color, and because they were derived from the same crosses as the dogs bred in the Black Country they looked very much like them.  Some may have been exactly this same stock, but it is really hard to determine the exact ancestry of them.

Now, in America, the white bull terrier bred by Hinks became a popular show dog, and the British spread them throughout their empire, but the other kind of bulldog and terrier was still used for fighting.

The white dog became celebrated as the ideal family dog.  It was also promoted as a noble creature that rarely fought and many experts even claimed that it was never a fighting dog. Of course, Hinks himself did match one of his dogs against a traditional Black Country dog. Rawdon Lee wrote about the match between one of Hinks’s dogs, a bitch named Puss, in which she actually killed her opponent:

It was early in the fifties that James Hinks began to cross the patched, heavy-headed bull terrier, used for fighting, with the English white terrier, and in due time he produced dogs handsome enough to make a name for themselves, and able to revolutionise the variety. Some of the old “doggy men ” said this new breed were soft and could not fight. “Can’t they?” said Hinks, when talking to a lot of his London friends at the Holborn Horse Repository dog show in May, 1862. “I think they can.” “Well,” said one of the London school, “let’s make a match.” Hinks, nothing loth, did make a match, and backed his bitch Puss—that day she had won first prize in her class—for £5 and a case of champagne, against one of the short-faced patched dogs similar in weight. The fight came off the same evening at Bill Tupper’s well-known rendezvous in Long Acre. It took Puss half-an-hour to kill her opponent, and so little the worse was she for her encounter that she appeared on the bench next morning, a few marks on her cheeks and muzzle being the only signs of the determined combat in which she had been the principal over night. When accounts of this became bruited abroad, although it was not generally believed, the popularity of the “long faced” dog was established (pg 30-31.)

But that didn’t matter. The bull terrier had already been branded as a refined show dog and family pet. It was seen as being very different from the “pit dogs.”

However, when it was determined that breeding the dogs for white only was doing nothing but encouraging deafness in the strain. In the early twentieth century, a man name Ted Lyon tried to solve this problem through cross-breeding with the Staffordshire-type bull terriers.

American fanciers went nuts over the suggestion. For decades, they promoted the myth that their white dogs were totally distinct from the pit dogs, and because of some political wrangling, were only brought into the bull terrier registry as a separate variety from the white ones.

It was the long-headed and white bull terrier that was the good dog. The evil fighting dog was the shorter-faced dog of many colors.

It is only through branding that the white bull terrier was given high status while its pit dog cousin was given short shrift.

Of course, later on, the indigenous American strains of pit dogs became better established as family pets through much of the earlier part of the twentieth century.

But earlier branding created an entirely arbitrary breed split, which only could have happened through Hinks’s careful branding in the middle part of the nineteenth century.

Bull terriers of the Hinks type are now rarely the target of breed specific legislation, and other descendants of bulldog and terriers, such as Boston terriers and Jack Russells, never have been banned.

Breeding bulldogs to terriers created a type that could be used for a lot of different things, and the term “bull terrier” did not always mean only the dogs of the Hinks type. The Hinks type is just the kind of dog that got established as the fancy Kennel Club dog first, and dog shows and the fancy had a way of promoting this dog as the refined type.

In the histories of the dog fancy, we have tended to ignore the role of dog dealers in defining types. If anything, the dog fancy empowered the dog dealer, and if the dog dealer couldn’t produce the dog that one wanted for the ring, he would make up his own.

The white bull terrier as the white cavalier was a branded type in much the same way that the black wavy-coated retriever was.  These were dogs that no up-and-coming man of means could be without. Never mind that the fighting dogs were of many colors,and that the retrievers of decades before were of a very diverse ancestry.

These dogs were sold as status symbols in much the same way we sell golden and Labrador retrievers as the ideal family dogs and German shepherds as the world’s best guard dogs.

Branding can drive the evolution of dogs in ways we really haven’t explored.  The creation of this egg-headed bull terrier, which was originally just a longer-headed white bull terrier with cropped ears, is really nothing more than lots of selections for a particular “brand” of bull terrier.

In the past 150 years, Westerners have stopped breeding dogs solely for function. We then began a long period of isolating gene pools and heavily selecting within those gene pools. We did this because Western societies became more affluent through industrialization. And industrialization made many dogs obsolete as true working animals. With all these dogs running around and this time and money, we decided to begin playing around with their bloodlines, creating and refining many esoteric types with just as esoteric conformation standards.

Their utility largely came in the brand they came to represent.

This is why most of the “breeds” we have today exist as they do, and this also why we can’t have rational discussions about outcrossing and doing away with closed registries.

To break that boundary is to defy the brand. It was that way when Ted Lyon began crossing Black Country fighting dogs with white cavaliers, and it’s that way now.

We’ve allowed ourselves to get so worked up in breed brands that we’ve lost all sight of what the science of population genetics says about closed registries. It’s as if that science doesn’t exist at all.

The dogs have become prisoners to the symbolism they represent for their owners.

Their only hope is that we can rise above our symbolism and our cultures to breed for something else.

But humans have a hard time rising above their symbols and their culture.

And change will be an uphill battle.

The brands are difficult to overcome.





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dog of note

The answer to the question I asked nearly a month ago is that there are three correct answers.

This dog is Jock of the Bushveldt, not to be confused with Jock of the Bushveld, which is a novel by Sir Percy Fitzpatrick that details the life of a bull terrier type dog in the South African bush.

This dog was born in England in 1910.  The dog in the novel lived in the 1880’s.

And this, of course, leads to a lot of stupid debates on the internet. Many people actually believe the South African Jock was a Staffordshire bull terrier, because his father was purebred from England. However, in the 1880’s, the only bull terriers that were being registered and show with the Kennel Club were the Hinks-strain of bull terrier.  These were the white dogs that eventually became very popular throughout the world.  Jock’s mother was just a bull terrier, which means that she may have been derived from just generic bulldog and terrier crosses– which are also the source for the “pit bull” and “staffie” type dogs.

However, the dog in the photo is of more consequence than Jock.

This dog was actually a first cross between a brindle bulldog and a Manchester  (“black and tan”) terrier.

So the first correct answer is that he was a bulldog/Manchester terrier cross.

The second correct answer is that he was a Staffordshire bull terrier, for dogs derived from him became part of the Staffordshire bull terrier breed.

The third correct answer is “colored bull terrier,” for he was also an ancestor of the colored variety of bull terrier.

Black and tan and tricolor– often with brindling in the tan– are pretty common colors in bull and miniature bull terriers.

One of the Hinks-type bull terrier’s ancestors, the English white terrier, which was basically a white Manchester terrier, became extinct because deafness was so common in the breed.

And although the original color for all of these bull terriers was white, it was well-known  that breeding for the white color alone was clearly linked to increased deafness.

So it was decided to allow in blood from rougher strains of bull and terrier.

This was almost without controversy in the United Kingdom, but when it happened, many members of the Bull Terrier Club of America lost their minds.

For decades, American bull terrier fanciers refused to allow in any color but white. However, they eventually relented, but only if the “colored” dogs were show as a separate variety.

“Colored” is also a word that has a clear racial meaning, so I have often wondered if the distinction for “colored” bull terrier is actually meant to be some sort racial slur.

The white dogs bred by Hinks were meant for gentlemen.  All gentlemen in those days were white, so they should have a white dog to back them up. The dog’s nickname from that era even reflects a member of the white gentry– “the white cavalier.”

Cavaliers, of course, were the landed gentry who supported the king during the English Civil War. The Virginia planters, who themselves were actually rabble that rose to the status of gentlemen through their tobacco enterprises, backed the king in that war, which is one reason why the University of Virginia’s mascot is the cavalier.

The Staffordshire bull terrier type was pretty common long before James Hinks came along. They are really what you’d get if you crossed an old type bulldog with some sort of terrier. They are the basis for the pit bulls– which were usually called “bull terriers”– that have been in America for hundreds of years.

But they were the dogs of unrefined peasants and colonials.

They weren’t white cavaliers.

This same sort of bias exists in many parts of the country with BSL.  Pit bulls and staffies get the legislation; the egg-headed pig dogs usually don’t.

It is really amazing how class and race get mixed up in our discussions about dogs.

They are really reflections of what people were thinking about each other than the actually dogs themselves.


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Poachers in nineteenth century England were rural thieves.  They were more than violators of game laws; they were stealing actual property from these estates. Game was owned. Wildlife was not viewed as state property in the way that it is in the United States.

Poaching was a very common offence. At one time, it was estimated that about a fourth of all people in the United Kingdom had been convicted of violating various game statutes.

Poachers often came by at night to take game that had already been shot and left to lie in the field.  This was one reason why the estates needed the best retrievers available. If game was left to lie in the field, the poachers would sneak in and collect it.  They would also come by in the wee hours of the morning and take game with their dogs.

This particular poacher was likely taking game that was already shot. His retriever was a bull and terrier type– which served another purpose.

To apprehend poachers, it was not uncommon for a gamekeeper to have what was called a “night dog.”  A night dog was type of mastiff, though it was usually a bit smaller and more agile than the big war and estate guardian mastiff that became what we call the “English mastiff” of today.  The night dog was often brindle so that it could  more easily hide in the shadows. The night dogs were trained to leave all game alone and to seek only people. They were also trained never to use their jaws on people. Instead, they were trained to pounce upon the poacher and hold him down until the keeper could catch him.

The night dogs would eventually become the modern bullmastiff breed, but at the time they were solely a purpose-bred mastiff, often crossed with bulldogs or bloodhound to add agility or nose.

This particular poacher’s luck has run out. The night dog has found him and has him down.  His loyal bull and terrier-type retriever has rushed to save him, but it may all be for nought. However, the bull and terrier might be enough of a distraction for the night dog to allow the poacher to escape.

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I remember having an argument (as school children often do) about whether Spuds was dog or a pig!

I love the name for this breed in Afrikaans: “varkhond.”

Yes. They call them “pig dogs.”

When I was in my late teens, this was one breed I was really into.

I read everything I could find about them.

I still have a very dog-eared book on bull terriers, which has all the breed lore and history in it.

Too bad the process of turning James Hinks’s bull and terrier strain into a dog that looks like a pig required a lot of inbreeding.

All dog breed are the result of breeding “in and in” as Robert Bakewell called his process.

NB:  I am not saying that modern breeders are inbreeding these dogs. I’m saying that the process that created them over the past century and half or so has left them with a depauperate gene pool.

I’m not making this stuff up. There is a well-known study of COI’s in purebred dogs, and this breed was most inbred.

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This film was based upon a book of the same name by Sir Percy Fitzpatrick. (I’ll warn you that this book is not politically correct, as could be expected from the time period. This lack of sensitivity particularly makes sense when one considers that Rudyard Kipling talked Fitzpatrick into writing, and we all know that Kipling was a bit of a racialist defender of imperialism.)

Although the video says that Jock was a Staffie. I’m not so sure. Staffordshire bull terriers were not recognized as distinct breed in the UK until 1935.

In the book, Jock is always referred to as a bull terrier, although his color is very different from the Hinks-strain of bull terrier that existed at the time. That breed came in only white in the 1880’s when Jock was alive.

I’m going to call Jock a bull and terrier. Staffies and pit bulls are derived from  bull and terrier types that were of the wrong color and head shape to be considered Hinks’s strain of bull terrier, which the South African call a Varkhond (pig dog) in Afrikaans.

From looks of his most common depiction, he looks like a meld of bulldog and terrier features, which is exactly what you’d expect to find in dogs that were hybrids of both bulldog and terrier.

The dog in the film doesn’t look like a pure staffie either. I think there is a touch of Boerboel in that particular animal. It is every bit as much a mixture of Boerboel features and staffie features as the depiction of Jock is a mixture of bulldog and terrier features.

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