The Bulldog can be thought of as the dog world’s equivalent of a celebrity.
Just like a celebrity, this breed is instantly recognizable and most people can put a name to the face.
With their broad, round heads, wrinkled forehead, and droopy cheeks, mounted on a squat muscular body, everything about a Bulldog shouts bullishness, toughness, and stubbornness.
Although originally bred as fighting dogs (hence the name ‘Bull’, as in bull-baiting) in the modern day this bulldozer of a dog is actually a softie, and a well-socialized puppy will grow into a gentle, loving, fur-family member.
So let’s find out more about this much misunderstood dog; what they like and don’t like, and what lies in store if you decide to become a bulldog pet parent.
The distant ancestors of the Bulldog can be traced back to the Romans and their fighting mastiffs.
These mastiffs were used in battle, as guard dogs, and also to bring down dangerous game animals such as wild boar.
From a legitimate role hunting animals, the so-called sport of bull baiting arose (which has very little to do with sport and a lot to do with cruelty.)
For this, the most successful dogs were low to the ground, so they could nip in under the bull’s throat.
Then sheer strength and weight with a low center of gravity meant the dog could use a rolling, twisting motion to get the bull off balance and pull him to the ground.
Hence, as time went by bull-baiting dogs became short power-houses consisting of strong jaws and hugely strong shoulders so they could corkscrew around their own neck and bring down animals many times their own size.
They were a popular breed in England where they developed, until the mid-1800s.
Legislation in 1835 which made bull baiting illegal saw a decline in numbers.
It’s interesting to note that in the mid-1600s an early governor of New York, Richard Nicholls, used bulldogs for purpose for which they were bred, to rid the city of wild bulls roaming the streets.
The dogs were trained to grab the bulls by the nose for long enough for men to secure the animals and make them safe.
As tenacious, tough characters the Bulldog epitomizes the ethos of institutions such as the US Marines, which use their image as an emblem.
However, in the modern age, this testy character couldn’t be further from the truth as we will now discover.
The average Bulldog is something of a contradiction.
He looks (and is) tough, and yet when raised right he has a soft disposition that means he’s loyal and loving.
His muscular physique makes him look like the canine equivalent of a bulldozer, and yet he’s really rather happy asleep on the sofa rather than raking up trouble.
So if you want a good family dog, then yes, a Bulldog may be a good match.
However, if you want a family dog that you can run and play with, train to do tricks, and loves fetching a ball, then perhaps he isn’t the right dog for you.
The Bulldog has a reputation for taking life at his own pace, which is usually dead slow.
He’s more likely to want to watch the world go by, than to get out there and stir things up.
Indeed, he may not even be keen on going for a walk, which is a shame because he stills needs exercise to stay fit – like any dog.
Then there’s that stubborn streak for which the Bulldog is feted.
This guy knows his own mind and is sufficiently stocky and low to the ground to mean it’s difficult for a pet parent to impose their will by use of force alone.
Whilst a Bulldog isn’t impossible to train, they do have a certain reputation for being slow to catch on.
Of course we’re not saying the Bulldog is dim, more that there are other, more mentally sharp dogs in the world…
But the good news is this breed is so home-loving that he’s not liable to wander like some other breeds.
You aren’t going to need a 6-foot fence to keep this fellow in the back yard.
A soft bed and a regular meal are all it takes to keep him close to home.
Oh yes, and another hallmark of the breed is their love of food.
This is a food-motivated breed that will happily eat themselves into oblivion.
Unfortunately, their enthusiasm for consuming calories is not matched by their willingness to burn calories off, so they are prone to weight gain.
The Bulldog owner needs to be prepared to have a heart of stone in the face of beseeching brown eyes in order to exercise portion control.
Careful management of how much their dog eats is important to keep them trim and healthy, especially when eating is one of a Bulldog’s great pleasures in life.
OK, so we know Bulldogs are easy going, amiable, and not liable to wander.
For the right person this is a match made in heaven.
But sadly there is a downside.
Along with their distinctive flat-face and wrinkles, comes a whole raft of health problems which means the Bulldog struggles to cope with extremes of weather, and at times may even find it a battle just to breathe.
We’ll talk about this in more detail in the health section.
Another consideration is that a Bulldog is not for a person who dislikes drool.
A Bulldog is drool-central, especially as that love of food makes them salivate a lot.
Here are the bald facts about Bulldogs:
When you’ve set your heart on a Bulldog, you want to choose a healthy, well-adjusted puppy that is going to be a companion for life.
Unfortunately, the cute-factor of the Bulldog means there are a lot of unscrupulous breeders out there who will breed puppies in order to bolster their bank balance, without any thought for the welfare of the dogs.
Avoid buying a puppy from a puppy mill.
Typical signs you are dealing with a puppy farmer include:
To turn things on their head in order to find your perfect Bulldog pup, try the following:
A Bulldog may yearn to be a coach potato, but this isn’t good for their health.
They do have a healthy appetite which means all that lolling around gets converted to fat rather than muscle.
However, this isn’t a matter of forcing your Bulldog to run round the block, because they just aren’t made for sustained aerobic exercise.
Instead, go for a sustained potter.
A walk with a Bulldog means leaving plenty of time and going at their pace.
Also, be aware that they don’t cope with heat at all well.
The anatomy of that flat face means they have to pant to breath at the best of times.
In hot weather the Bulldog has not extra reserves left to pant to cool off and is prone to overheating.
But if you think swimming could be the answer to their exercise dilemma, think again.
Unfortunately their weight distribution and that flat face mean they are poor swimmers.
Even a relatively shallow body of water can be a hazard to a Bulldog so be sure to supervise them around water at all times.
In certain respects the Bulldog is considered a healthy breed, but in others (namely their respiratory anatomy) they are a bit of a train-crash.
Also, those furrowed brows and wrinkled skin can be problematic and predispose the dog to skin infections.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the health problems Bulldogs are predisposed to suffer from.
Poor hip anatomy means instead of the joint moving smoothly, it grates and grinds with each step.
In the first instance this is painful, and the dog is likely to limp, but over time secondary arthritis is likely to develop.
This can be extremely disabling for the dog.
Those broad shoulders carry a lot of weight, and the anatomy of the Bulldog shoulder lends itself to popping out of joint.
Osteochondrosis Dessicans is a developmental problem where the blood supply is insufficient to the cartilage lining of the joint.
As a result the cartilage flakes and peels, exposing the underlying bone.
This is occurs in young growing dogs, is very painful, and can have lifelong consequences.
This is another term for ‘wobbly kneecaps’.
The patella, or kneecap, is not securely seated and can pop out of alignment as the dog walks.
This changes the pull of the muscles acting on the back leg and cause the leg to lock up.
Mild causes may not be painful, but more serious examples do need corrective surgery so the dog can walk properly.
Although the Bulldog is a medium-sized dog, they are compact and stocky.
This means it can be difficult to cope with a dog that has mobility issues, as lifting or carrying them is often not practical.
This condition affects the third eyelid which sits in the inner corner of the eye.
A gland that produces tear fluid makes up part of this eyelid, and in the condition ‘cherry eye’ the gland prolapses (pop out of place) where it swells and becomes bright red like a ripe cherry.
Whilst not a painful condition it is unsightly, and corrective surgery is costly.
This refers to an in turning of the eyelid, which means the eyelashes rub against the cornea (the surface of the eye) each time the dog blinks.
This is equivalent to permanently having grit in the eye and is extremely irritating.
Surgical correction is recommended.
This is the opposite problem to entropion, is that the eyelids are too droopy, and expose the surface of the eye to excessive drying.
This causes hot, itchy eyes that are prone to infection.
It may be necessary to apply lubricating drops to the eye or to consider corrective surgery.
In this condition the eye does not produce enough tear fluid, which means the delicate cornea becomes overlying dry.
Not only is this extremely unpleasant but scar tissue can form which interferes with vision.
The treatment is long term eye drops (often for the duration of the dog’s life), and unfortunately the recommended drops are also extremely expensive.
Skin fold dermatitis:
Those distinctive wrinkles and folds come with a set of problems all their own.
A dog’s skin is not designed to rub against itself, and those deep furrows do just that, which causes inflammation and soreness.
Not only that but the folds create a moist warm environment which is perfect for bacteria and yeasts to thrive.
The Bulldog owner may face a lifelong battle against skin infections, which involves a daily routine of wiping out those folds and furrows in order to cleanse them of bacteria.
Tail fold dermatitis:
It’s not unusual for greasy secretions to become trapped in the folds, which then feeds bacterial infection.
Yep, once again the answer is regular cleaning which means wrapping a finger in a medicated wipe and ‘going deep’.
Bulldog skin is associated with certain disorders that mean it produces too much oil (giving the coat a greasy feel) or the skin cells travel to the surface too quickly (leading to a scurfy coat.)
Regular bathing, along with intermittent courses of antibiotics may be required to keep the skin healthy.
That famous Bulldog face comes at a cost.
Successive generations of breeding for a flat-face, selected for dogs with every short noses…but…and it’s a big but….the soft tissues structures did not shrink in proportion to the bone.
Structures such as the tongue and soft palate are way too big for the boney case of the skull.
If you want to know how this feels, think of having a gag stuffed in your mouth and you start to glimpse the problems involved.
But having a tongue too big to fit in the mouth is just part of the many problems linked to flat-nosed breeds such as the Bulldog.
‘Stenotic’ means narrow, and indeed Bulldogs can have incredibly narrow nostrils.
This however, is extremely bad news for breathing, (try pinching your nostrils together whilst breathing in!)
Long soft palate:
The soft palate is a shelf of flesh at the back of the mouth.
Its job is to divide the mouth from the nose, and help keep food and water out of the windpipe.
The problem is that although the bone case of the nose shrunk, the soft palate stayed the same size.
This means there’s extra flesh in the back of the throat, and when the dog takes a deep breath it gets sucked down the windpipe.
Unfortunately, it’s a similar story with the tongue as the soft palate, with it being oversized for the space it has to fit in.
Everted laryngeal saccules:
To add insult to injury, with all that effort to breathe, the canine equivalent of tonsils get sucked out of the crypt in which they sit, and also take up space at the back of the throat.
Sadly, one thing that did get smaller along with the skull was the diameter of the windpipe.
The worst affected dogs have a windpipe the equivalent width as a drinking straw, which makes it very hard indeed to suck in enough air.
Add all this and what do you get?
A dog that struggles to breath.
That’s why when you see a Bulldog they’re highly likely to be panting, even in cool weather.
Toss in extra factors such as a heatwave (when dogs normally pant to lose heat) and the bulldog has no spare capacity left in the tank and is likely to get heatstroke.
Which is another thing, Bulldog’s struggle to cope in the heat.
Having an air conditioned home is a good idea to help a Bulldog through the summer in comfort.
All in all, for those still in love with the idea of a Bulldog then it’s wise to take out pet insurance.
It is a sad fact that your pet is likely to need veterinary care at some point, if not for their wobbly kneecaps or sore eyes, it will be for breathing difficulties.
And last but not least, it’s best to keep your Bulldog as a pet, rather than use them as a breeding animal.
Pregnancy is difficult and giving birth almost impossible for the Bulldog.
The large head of the pups and the small size of the mother’s pelvis mean that the majority of Bulldog pregnancies end in a caesarian.
What’s more, many insurance companies refuse to pay out for whelping difficulties when the mother is a Bulldog, so you need to be prepared to foot a large vet’s bill if you do decide to go ahead.
And finally, know that the Bulldog is a delightful canine companion, but enter into ownership with your eyes open.
Just like some modern day celebrities, they’re not necessarily to everyone’s taste or suited to everyday lifestyles.
Dr Sarah Robinson attended veterinary school at Oklahoma State University receiving a D.V.M. in 2008. Sarah’s longtime interest is to help people to better communicate with their pet companions, and in doing so, to help them to strengthen their relationships with their dogs and cats. Sarah has published numerous articles on canine feeding in pet related magazines, veterinary journals and leading natural health web sites.