Posts Tagged ‘Bullenbeisser’

Changing the Bullenbeisser


When Europe was a wilder place, there were lots of big game animals. Bison, brown bears, aurochs, and vast sounders of wild boar were all abundant. Before the Neolithic Revolution entered Europe, these animals were often hunted for their meat and hides, but after the Neolithic, man began to consider these animals pests.

Dogs were used to hunt them, but as the Neolithic gave way to the Ancient World, the dogs began to change. For big game, heavy-headed, big-framed dogs were used to hunt this often dangerous game. The first of these dogs appeared in Assyria, but they soon spread to Europe. Drop all that nonsense you may have heard about mastiffs being the ancient Molossus or have their origins in Tibet. Their origins are in Western Eurasia, and they began as big game hunters.

Supposedly the Alans brought their own form of hunting mastiff in Europe when they wandered west into the Roman Empire. This dog gave rise to the rootstock of the various bulldog breeds.

For centuries after, various European countries had their own rough bulldogs. Spain is pretty much the only one that has held onto its alano dog. Everyone else has greatly modified this creature.

The bulldogs evolved once the big game of Europe ceased to exist. Some of them were turned into a bull and bear-baiting dog. Others were kept at butcher shops to control half wild cattle and swine. Some were still utilized as catch dogs in Medieval hunts. They became symbolic creatures that reminders of a more savage past.

But by the nineteenth century, Europeans turned against bloodsports. The bulldogs were out of a job. The British began repurposing the bulldog into a pet. The original pet bulldog was 3/4 bulldog and 1/4 pug. This “Philo-Kuon” bulldog was heavily promoted as a pet, but other strains were being developed. One was the Sourmug, which eventually replaced the Philo-Kuon as the desired bulldog in England. There were also several smaller bulldogs, which had more pug and some terrier ancestry. These eventually gave rise to the French bulldog and the Boston terrier.

This repurposing of the bulldog in England did not go unnoticed in Germany. The Germans had two rough bulldog types the Danziger and Brabanter bullenbeissers. Brabant is, of course, in Belgium, but this lither bullenbeisser was fairly common in parts of Germany.  It was this breed that was crossed with the Philo-Kuon bulldog to form the modern boxer breed. The Brabanter dog was preferred in the later days of German hunting as a catch dog on wild boar and deer, and it was favored among Bavarian huntsman.

Crossing the Philo-Kuon bulldog with the Brabanter bullenbeisser was an attempt to create a uniquely German pet bulldog.

The modern boxer’s history began at roughly the same time as the modern German shepherd dog.  The SV for German shepherds began in 1899, but earlier attempts to create a standardized shepherd dog in Germany started with the Phylax Society in 1891. The first attempts to standardize the bullenbeisser/Philo-Kuon crosses began in 1894 in Munich, and the Boxer Club was founded in 1896.

So this dog went from being a big game hunter to a pet, but by the time the First World War started, it was then shifted into a dog of war. It was the only war in which it was widely used, though.

There has been a tension in boxers about whether to maintain them as pets or working dogs. Some of these dogs have been good at protection sports, but the vast majority of them are kept as pets.

I know of no one who uses them as catch dogs, but I have heard of a few people using boxer crosses in this way. The Dogo Argentino has a lot of boxer blood.

So here, we have dogs that were used for hunting, then for various sports, then for war, and now are mostly family dogs.


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bullenbeissers on the hunt

Image courtesy of Noel Reck.

A few days ago, this image was posted to my Facebook timeline, and I didn’t really look at it too closely.

This was clearly an image from a nineteenth century German boar hunt, and the dogs used in the hunt were bullenbeissers.

Bullenbeissers were the rough bulldogs of Germany that were used in much the same as their English counterparts were.  (Somewhat heretically, I don’t believe the bullenbeissers are extinct, but I will leave that to another post.)

England had to transform its native bulldogs into “civilized” creatures relatively early on. Bull-baiting and dog fighting were made illegal in the early nineteenth century, and there was no practical purpose for having the rough bulldog type around.

Of course, Germany held onto its big game for far longer than Great Britain did, and in the old days, many German nobles would go on boar hunts like this one. These rough bulldogs had a much longer life as working dogs than their British counterparts.

This particular kind of hunt is called Sauhatz.

I knew that Sau was a cognate that means female pig (sow).

Hatz, however, was a word that had me a bit confused, so I contacted my resident German language expert. She believed the word Hatz was derived from “hetzen,” a word that means to bait, hound, or tear into.

I thought Hatz was more appropriately translated as coursing, and my German language expert found that Hatz does mean coursing.

What we call hog hunting  with catch dogs is called “sow coursing” in German!

So now we know what the caption, but what about the creatures in it.

As I noted earlier, the vast majority of the dogs in the image are bullenbeissers, but there are two dogs that are shaggy.

The exact identity of these dogs is actually even more interesting than bullenbeissers.

These dogs are Saufinders, (“sow searchers”).

They are sort of a rough schnauzer or terrier type dog that may have played some role in the development of the giant schnauzer and the Airedale.

The saufinder was described in Charles Hamilton Smith’s The Natural History of Dogs (1839) as follows:

In Germany, the Saufinder, or Boarsearcher, is a large rough terrier dog, employed to rouse the fiercest beasts of the forest from their lair in the thickest underwood, and they never fail to effect the purpose by their active audacity and noisy clamour. They are usually of a wolfish grey-brown, with more or less white about the neck and breast, and a well fringed tail curled over the back; having in all probability in them a cross of the Pomeranian dog, which may have increased their stature and their caution (pg. 207).

It seems the saufinders would have flushed the boar from the undergrowth, where the bullenbessers would have run it down. Bullenbeissers, like all true bulldogs, were bred for their gameness, and they would have thought of nothing as they charged the boar.

I should also note that the “Pomeranian dog” that Hamilton Smith mention here is actually not the little spitz we call Pomeranians, but the relatively large spitz that is the ancestor of that dog. It used to be common in Baltic region of Germany, where Pomerania is located.

These sorts of hunts speak to a time when Europe was much wilder than it is now. Germany, which always lay between Eastern and Western Europe, is always exposed to wild creatures wandering in from Poland or the Czech Republic.

Great Britain and Ireland could massacre all their wolves, bears, and boar, but Germany is on the same landmass as Russia, one of the wildest places in the world.

So big game hunting remained a past time in Germany many, many years longer than it did in the British Isles.

The British did their big game hunting in the colonies. The Germans did theirs in their forests.

Breeds that became refined and the deformed by the dog fancy in England remained functional across the North Sea.

So while the British were doing bizarre walking races with their bulldogs, the Germans were killing boars with theirs.

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