Bulldogs: Victims of Cruelty

Warning: Details of animal cruelty in this post may be disturbing for some readers.

Four bulldogs from the mutilation era, sketched in the book:
Ash, E. C. (1927). Dogs: their history and development, volume II. Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Company

Bulldogs have been subjected to more cruelty than perhaps any other breed in history. These atrocities include:

Bull baiting was popular in England in the 17th and 18th centuries and various dogs were used, including dogs who would later be known as bulldogs. Prior to slaughter, a bull was tethered to a stake in the street and then heinously tortured by a crowd of men in order to work him into a frenzy. Dogs were then set loose to repeatedly attack the animal. The dogs were sometimes dismembered or otherwise gravely injured during the so-called sport.

Source: Megargee, E. (1954). The dog dictionary. [1st ed.]. Cleveland, Ohio: World Pub. Co.

Bulldogs are not, and never have been, “insensible to pain.” That their “courage and persistence” was exploited by degenerates does not make them “plucky.” In fact, their loyal and loving essence of being has always been remarkable:

A Bull-dog saved a shipwrecked crew, by towing a rope from the vessel to the shore, after two fine Newfoundland dogs had perished in the attempt. I should attribute his success to his indomitable courage, which prevented him from giving up his exertions while life remained.

Richardson, H. D. (1874). Dogs: their origin and varieties; directions as to their general management, and simple instructions as to their treatment under disease. New York, NY: O. Judd & Company

Pit fighting was also popular at this time and continued well past bull baiting (both were outlawed in England in 1835) as it was much easier to carry out dogfights, even if in secret. The fights lasted from minutes to hours and sometimes ended with one dog being carried off dead or close to it. Prize money from the numerous fights was enough to sustain the bulldog owners.

Ear cropping, ostensibly to remove an easy target during a fight, was a painful procedure resulting in the loss of one of the dog’s most important means of communication with other dogs and people. Position of the ears conveys a dog’s emotional state and, conveniently for dogfighters, cropped ears permanently communicate that the dog is ready to fight.

Social deprivation, for a pack animal like the dog, is one of the worst forms of emotional cruelty. Bulldogs were, as Vero Shaw noted in his book, “chained up for weeks and months in damp cellars or dark confined hutches in miserable alleys,” being released only when required for use in bloodsport.

Mutilation of the jaw and face was practiced in order to achieve an appearance which nature would not allow. Writing about a period of time circa the 1870s, author Edward Ash describes how bulldog puppies’ faces were slashed and smashed, then crudely set, causing the desired disfigurement:

Source: Ash, E. C. (1927). Dogs: their history and development, volume II. Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Company

I take issue with the author’s choice of words in the above passage. It was not “necessary to cause malformations.” It was a choice.

Lest anyone think this cutting and breaking of puppy faces could not possibly have been real, this description of the practice from Vero Shaw’s 1879 book that includes a specific dog show report should alleviate any doubt:

Source: Shaw, V. K. (1879). The illustrated book of the dog. London, England: Cassell, Petter, Galpin & Co.
In the B section of this dog dictionary, the term “broken-up face” is defined and now you know.
Source: Megargee, E. (1954). The dog dictionary. [1st ed.]. Cleveland, Ohio: World Pub. Co.

Over time, as dogfighting and DIY mutilation fell out of favor and veterinary medicine advanced, breeders found they were able to obtain traits such as the deformed head without the use of “appliances” by relying on C-sections. They selected bulldogs for traits relating to what was winning in the show ring and what buyers wanted to see in the breed. Unfortunately, all those traits, such as wrinkled skin and the severely elongated lower jaw, make bulldogs miserable.

Deformity by design from Dogdom, November 1908
A champion in England.
Source: Smith, A. C. (1920, December 4). A canine John Bull. Country Life, pp. 737-739

Skin and ear infections, breathing difficulties, eye disorders, hip dysplasia, autoimmune diseases, allergic reactions and malformed jaws plague the breed, which has an average lifespan of just eight years. In addition, the breed’s unnatural head and body shapes render most bulldogs incapable of mating or, as previously referenced, whelping litters. And to top it all off, there may not be enough genetic diversity remaining in the breed to allow for improvement. Bulldogs bred from health screened parents owned by home based breeders are genetically similar to those coming from puppy mills because of this lack of genetic diversity. In summary, the past, present and future of the bulldog are all rather grim.

If it was a table, you’d return it, right?
From Dogdom, January 1909

Additional Sources: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/bulldogs-are-dangerously-unhealthy-there-may-not-be-enough-diversity-their-genes-save-them-180959963/



The Bulldog Club of America has a statement on its website rejecting the 2016 study linked above. Their dogs can not breathe, blink or be born but hey, let’s not be judgy. Again, it’s a choice.

Additional reading: This 2020 article on ESPN looks at bulldog popularity from the perspective of American college football mascots and does a good job addressing the declining health of the breed.

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