Introduction

This is written for those considering enriching their lives by adding a Bulldog to their family, owners of their first Bulldog who want to learn more about the breed, those who haven't had a puppy for a while and want to be reminded what it's like and for those Bulldoggers everywhere who will see in these experiences reflections of their own lives.

This is not intended to be the definitive statement on Bulldogs - that probably will never be written. This is intended to contain information, useful advice and practical solutions to the everyday problems run into in raising our breed and keeping them healthy. The experiences of breeders who have shared their comments and ideas should make this a helpful, informative, realistic and enjoyable introduction to the world of Bulldogs.

Background

Bulldogs are high maintenance animals. There are no economy models. They are difficult to breed; they frequently can't deliver their own puppies; they usually need lots of help raising puppies; and they need more frequent and knowledgeable medical attention throughout their lives than many other breeds. It's cheaper to buy a beagle. That aside, they're funny, intelligent, eccentric companions who will fill your home with lots of love and laughter.

The Bulldog is an old and highly specialized breed, with unique physical characteristics developed to be used in bull baiting through hundreds of years of selective breeding. The result was a man-made dog perfectly suited for a sport that has now been banned for more than 150 years. These dogs, and the traits we find so appealing, exist because breeders decided to save the breed at that time, rather than let it die out. They took the aggressive bull fighter and bred it into the friendly Bulldog that we find today.

People made the Bulldog what it is and the dogs need people to ensure their continued survival. However, in looking at the standard for the ideal Bulldog many characteristics are those needed for success in the bull ring. The deep stop, wide nostrils, undershot jaw, and low slung body were all desirable for approaching the bull, holding onto it and helping breathe while blood is flowing from the bull. Similarly, the general appearance and attitude suggesting great stability, vigor and strength were desirable in a fighter. Some characteristics, like kindness and courage without viciousness or aggressiveness reflect the changes caused by breeding dogs after bull baiting stopped.

Each breed has structural peculiarities that predispose it to develop different strengths and weaknesses form other breeds. Bulldogs' structural differences from other breeds may lead to more frequent visits to the vet for a number of problems. These and other health issues in dogs are discussed in the section on Health and Medical Care.
Bulldogs are among the brachycephalic breeds - those whose heads are comparatively short and wide, with noses that do not extend far in front of the face. These breeds, and Bulldogs in particular, have a higher incidence of problems breathing.

These traits are congenital; they may be inherited or may crop up in a line of dogs with no known carriers. Although the problems involve breathing, it consists of at least four separate traits that are independent. Each trait exists on a continuum, resulting in a wide range of possible combinations. The four areas that combine to affect breathing are the soft palate, the tracheae (windpipe), the adenoids and tonsils, and the nostrils and nasal passages.

Similarly, Bulldogs have shallow hip sockets, leading to some slight degree of hip dysplasia in most dogs - this contributes to the characteristic "roll" required in the standard. It is not usually a problem for them, nor does it usually require surgical correction, but it will show up in x-rays in a way that would be abnormal for other breeds and may confuse a veterinarian who is not familiar with the characteristics of the breed.

Other breed characteristics may result in the possibility of some dogs developing "Cherry Eye," extra eyelashes, entropion, ectropion, cruciate ligament weakness or tearing, hot spots, interdigital cysts, impacted anal sacs, osteochondritis, or panosteitis. While no dog is likely to exhibit all or most of these faults, they do crop up with varying degrees of frequency in some lines.

All of this makes it important that you not only have a veterinarian who is knowledgeable, but who is knowledgeable and has experience with Bulldogs. Your veterinarian's understanding of the breed and their unique characteristics will make the successful treatment of your dog more likely and reduce the dangers should he or she need to undergo anesthesia for surgery at some point.

Learning about Bulldogs

There are both local and national Bulldog clubs that have meetings and shows where you can ask questions and learn more about the breed.

The major clubs in the Northeast (Bulldog Club of America [BCA] Division I) are the Bulldog Club (BC) of Philadelphia, the Lower Susquehanna BC, the BC of New Jersey, the Long Island BC, the BC of Connecticut, the BC of New England, the BC of Maine and the BC of Pittsburgh. Each club meets monthly, publishes a newsletter, and has at least one specialty (just Bulldogs) point show and two specialty match shows (informal competition, primarily for puppies) each year.

The Bulldog Club of America (BCA), the parent club for the breed in the United States and in the American Kennel Club (AKC), has a quarterly publication, The Bulldogger, which contains useful and informative articles and is free to members. Membership in BCA or local specialty clubs is inexpensive. It's a great way to learn about the breed and meet people with a common interest in the breed.

If you want to know more about the breed, several other good books on the history and breeding of Bulldogs are available. They include The Book of the Bulldog by Joan McDonald Brearley (T.F.H. Publications, Inc., 1985) and The New Complete Bulldog by Col. Bailey C. Hanes (Howell Book House, 1973.). An excellent book on Bulldogs and breeding kennels in England is The 20th Century Bulldog by Marjorie Barnard [Life president of the Bulldog Club, Inc.] (Nimrod Press Ltd, 1988). Incidentally, Howell Book House also publishes excellent books on a range of dog topics: nutrition, breeding, genetics, etc.

Choosing an Adult

Adults can make wonderful pets. They usually are housebroken and socialized, although you may have to retrain them to the specific rules of your house. Adults are available from rescue groups, shelters, and individual breeders. BCNJ has a rescue affiliation with HeavenSent Bulldog Rescue.

Breeders may want to place an older puppy or an adult that they were evaluating for show who didn't quite make it as a show dog. Some breeders place their bitches at age four or five when they will not breed them any further. Owners will sometimes find it necessary to part with an adult dog. This can be a good source for a dog that will fit into your family easily. Some people think that the dogs will miss their lives with their former owners. Our experience is that dogs love their new homes. Rescue usually tries to match the personality of the dog with the family situation it moves into. The dog will frequently get more attention in its new home and will quickly adjust to its new environment. It is unusual to have a dog go to a new home where the rescue, the dog and the new owners weren't happy with the situation.

Rescue groups started as a response to irresponsible ownership on the part of some people. Some owners would tire of a dog and abandon it or would give up a dog because it became an inconvenience. Each breed developed groups which specialized in placing dogs of that breed in good homes. These dogs can range from easy adoptions to those which, for a variety of reasons, are harder to place. Dogs which have been subject to animal abuse or have been poorly socialized as pups are always harder to work with and, therefore, harder to find suitable homes. On the other hand, some dogs are placed because their owners are too old to take care of them adequately. Either type can make a great pet for the right home. The Bulldog Club of America has a Rescue Network, with each group handling a specific part of the country. More information can be found on the BCA Web Site under Rescue

Choosing a Pet Puppy

So you have decided to own a Bulldog and are wondering what you're supposed to do next. Several things are important before you can take your dog home with you. First, you have to choose your dog. Second, prepare yourself for the trip home. Third, make sure your dog has a safe new home. Finally, reassure yourself you dog is healthy and you know what to do to make sure he stays healthy.

Bulldogs cost more to buy than many other breeds. The cost is higher because they cost more to take care of throughout their lives, the costs of breeding are higher, it is harder to raise a litter, and the litters are generally smaller than in other breeds. About 1/3 of the Bulldog puppies born die between birth and weaning. Some puppies never come home from the Vet because of birth defects; others die in the first few days because they do not have the strength to survive. By the time you have weaned the puppies, you can be reasonably sure that the puppy will not have major, undetectable health problems that are imminently life threatening.

All Bulldog puppies are adorable. You need to make sure that you find the right one for your household. The first consideration is why you chose a Bulldog. All make wonderful pets, but some can become show dogs as well.

If you want a pet to liven up your household and bring love to everyone, a Bulldog is a good choice. According to the Standard for the Breed, a properly bred Bulldog will have an equable and kind disposition, be resolute and courageous (not vicious or aggressive) and exhibit a pacific and dignified demeanor, all of which the expression and behavior reinforce.
In choosing a pet, your most important considerations are the health of the puppy and its attitude. Generally, breeders will offer puppies for sale between eight and twelve weeks of age.

Much before eight weeks, it is too early to separate the puppy from its mother; by 12 weeks, the breeders have good guesses about which puppies may be showable (although they may hold onto a potential show prospect for up to a year to see if it turns out). Sometimes older dogs held onto for their show potential are available as older puppies. Depending on your situation, considering them may be advantageous since you can better see how they will look and they will probably be housebroken already.

Others sell puppies between 12 and 16 weeks, after it has had its full course of puppy shots. This reduces the chance it will pick up some illness soon after it leaves the breeder.
The decision on whether a dog is a potential show puppy is based the breeder's judgment of the degree to which the puppy will match the Bulldog Standard as it matures and the breeder's knowledge about the maturation of the lines he or she breeds. Changes to the puppy occur throughout maturation and affect the degree to which he meets the Bulldog Standard in any one area.

The breeder's decision that a puppy does not have show potential only means that the breeder believes the puppy will not closely match the Bulldog Standard when it matures. It does not mean the puppy is unhealthy or otherwise unsuited to bringing you many years of friendship and happiness. Although it may mean a great deal to a breeder whether ears are too large or the top line is perfect, it will probably not make much difference to you or your puppy.

Since no one's judgment is perfect, a dog that the breeder thinks is a show prospect may not turn out to be one when it matures. Similarly, every breeder has a story about the pet he or she sold that they would die to get back because the puppy turned out to match the Bulldog Standard better than other dogs that breeder kept.
When you look at any potential puppy for purchase, you should make sure that the dog has clear, bright eyes and a cool, moist nose. The coat should be bright and shiny. All these are signs of good health.

The dog should smell sweetly. Of course, if other puppies are present, there will be a smell of feces in the area where they are kept. However, unless the puppy has just stepped out of its food dish (which is very possible at the ages you will be looking at), a clean coat not only reflects health, but the quality of care the puppy has been given.

Above all you want a dog who acts healthy. A dog who is listless may have worms or an infection. A dog who is active and playful, with a good disposition, is what you want . Of course, puppies still sleep a lot. Just because a puppy is sleepy doesn't mean it's not healthy, but you do want to see it awake and alert.

It is not unusual for a puppy to struggle when picked up. Most young puppies will still playfully nip or chew on anything they can reach. However, if the puppy tries to bite you aggressively, it may not be a good prospect for a family pet. A too shy puppy, one who shrinks away from you or hides after time to get acquainted with you, may be hard to socialize into family life. Either may be fine, but be aware of the potential difficulties.

Please don't be discouraged if you don't get the pick of the litter. No one except the owner of the bitch usually does. The first puppy or two go to the owner (and the breeder of the bitch if it's the first litter on breeders’ terms). Second or third is about the best you can do if you are not involved in the breeding of the litter, even if you are already an otherwise experienced breeder. Of course, third can be exceptional. One local breeder's foundation bitch was third pick in her litter and she produced three champions in her first litter. You can see her traits carried down through the generations in their dogs. Similarly, the breeder did not keep their first stud, but he has sired many exceptional Champions and he is in the Bulldog Hall of Fame as a Top producer as a result.

If you are looking for a pet, consider an older dog or getting a rescue dog. An older dog may become available for many reasons. The owner may be moving and may not be able to take the dog along, the family's life style may have changed (a new baby, for example) and they can no longer spend the time with the dog that it needs, or the dog may have a problem (either health or temperament) that the family can't cope with. Many of these older dogs make wonderful pets for the appropriate owners. Find out why the dog is available and get to know it and see how it interacts with you. If it is a good match, both you and the dog may have lucked out.

Picking a Show Prospect

In choosing a dog as a pet that you would like to show, you need to take additional steps. First, read the Standard for Excellence of type of Breed and understand what the ideal Bulldog is supposed to look like. Each breed has its own Standard against which dogs are judged. 

Breeders try to improve their breeding to get dogs as close to the Bulldog Standard as possible. As you can see from looking at it, each part of the dog's anatomy and appearance is weighted in importance. About 40 percent of the score is based on the conformation of the head, about 40 percent on the rest of the dog's structure and about 20 percent on general properties of the dog. As you read the Bulldog Standard, you will realize how difficult judging the show potential of a puppy can be: weighing each of the written descriptions against a point scale for each imperfect dog present.

The only disqualification for a Bulldog in the Standard is a Dudley (Brown or Liver-colored) nose. You will almost never see this since it has been pretty well bred out of the Bulldogs over the years. Don't confuse this with the lack of pigmentation in puppy noses. It can take some time for pigmentation to develop fully in puppies and some pink on the nose can be expected in young puppies. However, all other things being equal, the younger it's pigmented, the better.

Second, take this knowledge to dog shows in your area to look at the dogs in the ring and see how they compare to the Bulldog Standard. Specialties or Supported Entries, where entries are large, are especially good for this. There you can get a feel for what show dogs look like at different ages and can talk to breeders about their dogs. Most of us are very approachable, especially if you want to know about our dogs and are interested in owning a show puppy.

You should learn at least a little about the breeding lines in the area and what characteristics are predominant in each. Since no Bulldog matches the Standard, you will find that different breeders produce slightly different looks in their dogs. They each approach the Bulldog Standard, but in different ways. You may find one type more appealing to you than another. Finally, you should learn to read a pedigree, understanding the use of line breeding and out-crosses.

Don't assume a dog in the pedigree that is not a Champion is not a quality dog. Breeders have miscounted points and thought a dog was finished when it wasn't; a dog imported into the U.S. may be too old to become a Champion here; English Championships are harder to obtain for lines that go back to English forbearers; an otherwise sound dog may become injured, preventing his finishing his Championship or a beautiful specimen may be in a pet home and never get shown. These are some of the reasons you must get to know your potential show dog's pedigree.

When choosing a dog or bitch, you should also find out which dogs and bitches in the pedigree are "top producers," that is, those dogs which have sired at least 10 champions and bitches which have produced at least four champions. It would also be good to know if any have won the Beckett Award (the dog and bitch producing the most Champions in a five-year period). Few dogs win these awards and the more the pedigree contains, the more likely (other things being equal) that your dog will be a good stud or brood bitch.

Once you have zeroed in on a line or lines you are interested in, contact the breeders. Most breeders keep lists of people interested in their future breedings and will contact you when they have a puppy available.

You also need to think about whether you want a dog or a bitch. While most breeders sell dogs outright, many will only sell a bitch on "breeders’ terms," meaning a cash price plus the choice of the stud and the return of one or more puppies from the first litter bred. Some breeders have variable cash prices for bitches depending on the number of puppies they get back.

Probably the characteristic new buyers most focus on is the color of the dog. As you read the Bulldog Standard, you will see that this is not a significant factor judging a dog. You should be careful not to let your preference for a particular color lead you to reject a dog which is superior in all other ways.

As you look for a 2-4 month old show prospect, you should look for some specific traits. Of course, you won't find them all in any one dog, but the better the dog is in these areas, the more likely he or she can be a Champion. Besides the factors considered in choosing a pet, you should see:

a relatively square, large head (some dome exists in most young puppies, with more in some lines than in others)
the start of a good layback (not too nosey)
good width of jaw
a turn-up of jaw and a slightly undershot jaw (depending on the age, the jaw may be slightly overshot, but not too much, since the jaw will continue to come forward as the puppy matures)
dark eyes set far apart
a short nose and wide nostrils
small, thin, well-set ears
a short, cobby body (a short dog can get long, but a long one won't shorten)
good bone compared with size (bone generally will not get heavier, but can get lighter)
good width between the front legs and not leggy (not too much space under the chest and brisket when looking from the front)
a low tail set (the carriage may change, but not the set), with the end not going below the hock
good rear legs (not bowed or too cowhocked)

In addition, a dog's testicles should be descended so they can both be felt upon examination. While some in and out slippage may be apparent in some lines until a later age, especially when under stress, you should be able to find both of them. Since, under AKC rules, you can't show (and should not breed) a dog who does not have both testicles, be sure they are there before purchasing a show prospect.

Finally, consider a slightly older dog. If you really want to show, you will have a better idea of the dog's conformation. While you can luck into a really good puppy, you can't be absolutely sure of the ultimate quality of a young puppy. With one that is six months to a year old, you can be fairly certain of the show quality of your purchase. These are generally puppies the breeder held onto because they couldn't find a show home or because they wanted more time to evaluate their show potential. Sometimes, a breeder has a younger puppy which they think is exceptional and decide to place an older dog with show potential they had been holding on to. If you develop a good relationship with your breeder, you can learn why the puppy is available as an older puppy and decide if it is suitable for you.