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What Kind of Dog Is Clifford the Big Red Dog? The World’s Largest Dog

Kathryn Copeland

By Kathryn Copeland

Clifford The Big Red Dog

Most of us grew up knowing Clifford the Big Red Dog. He’s been in books, on several different TV shows, and even in movies. So what makes this fictional dog so enduring? And have you ever wondered what kind of dog Clifford is?

Clifford is a giant Vizsla. Though back when he was first drawn, Clifford was imagined to be a large bloodhound. After all, The Big Red Dog’s size and design has changed a lot through the years. Originally, Clifford was only meant to be a large dog, the size of a small horse. Nowadays, Clifford is thought to be the size of a house, so obviously, it’s not possible for a dog to grow as large as Clifford!

Let’s take a closer look into the phenomenon that is Clifford, including information on the breeds that he was fashioned after, how Clifford came into existence, and how he has changed through the years!

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What Are the Origins of Clifford?

Norman Bridwell was the author of “Clifford the Big Red Dog,” which was published in 1963. That means Clifford is almost 60 years old!

For most of his adult life, Bridwell was a commercial artist who eventually decided that he wanted to try his hand at illustrating children’s books. However, he was often told that his dog illustrations were ordinary and boring.

Luckily, Bridwell was given sage advice by an editor who told him to try using one of his drawings of a young girl riding a red dog the size of a horse. The rest is history!

bloodhound on the porch
Image Credit: Anna Tronova, Shutterstock

But Why Such a Big Red Dog?

The same editor who pointed out Bridwell’s drawing of a girl and a red dog advised him to write a story to go with it.

Bridwell went home and drew the dog to be the size of a house and decided to call him, “Tiny.” But his wife dissuaded him of the name and suggested the name of her childhood imaginary friend, “Clifford.”

Bridwell made Clifford a red dog primarily because he just happened to have red paint on his drawing table.

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What Kind of Dog Is Clifford?

No one truly knows. Bridwell never actually stated what kind of dog Clifford was based on. In the earlier books, he has somewhat of a Bloodhound appearance, while others believe that he’s based on the Vizsla.

The Breeds That Inspired Clifford

The Vizsla

The Vizsla originated in Hungary and are large dogs that were bred for hunting as far back as the 10th century.

These dogs are athletic and red with floppy ears. They are also affectionate dogs and have plenty of energy, so they tend to be somewhat goofy, boisterous, and clumsy. It’s easy to see why most people think that Clifford is a Vizsla!

vizsla dog in the beach
Image Credit: martine552, Pixabay

The Bloodhound

Bloodhounds are known for their tracking abilities. In fact, they have the most scent receptors in their noses of any dog breed, so they are truly the best scent hounds out there!

How does the Bloodhound relate to Clifford, though? First, while most Bloodhounds have red coats and black saddle markings, some Bloodhounds are all red, like Clifford.

Second, in the earliest books about Clifford, he has droopier jowls, similar to those of a Bloodhound. These are also sweet and clumsy dogs. While they are large, none of them come close to Clifford, but you can see the similarities.

Image Credit: Edoma, Shutterstock

What Does Norman Bridwell Say?

While Bridwell never mentioned what kind of dog Clifford is, he did say that his inspiration came from the behavior of all types of dogs.

Bridwell was also clear that he wanted Clifford to always behave like a normal dog. He didn’t believe in coming up with any unrealistic stories. This is why there were never any books about Clifford time-traveling or frolicking with dragons.

So, since Bridwell himself never discussed Clifford’s breed, we can probably assume that Clifford is a mixed breed.

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What Makes Clifford So Popular?

Other than the fact that Clifford is an enormous, bright red dog, he has a great personality. He’s a loving, gentle dog who always attempts to be helpful.

He’s well-meaning but clumsy, partly because of his size. This appeals to children because they can identify with “trying to help but things go wrong.”

The overarching message in the Clifford books is even when things go wrong, you should always go back and try again. Clifford makes mistakes and makes a mess of things, but he always tries to fix them.

Also, Clifford is always forgiven, which most of us want when we make mistakes.

Image Credit: Degtyaryov Andrey, Shutterstock

A Little More Information About Clifford

Clifford started off as a regular-sized red puppy, but “love made Clifford grow so big that [his owners] the Howards had to leave their home.” Luckily, that is a fictional concept — imagine how many gigantic dogs and cats we’d have running around if love made them grow that much!

Clifford’s owner and friend, Emily Elizabeth Howard, was actually named after Bridwell’s own daughter, Emily Elizabeth Bridwell.

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We’ll never really know what kind of dog Clifford is. All sorts of people have their opinions, including ones beyond the Bloodhound and the Vizsla.

Some believe that Clifford might be a Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever, Great Pyrenees (although they’re not red), and even a Great Dane. But it doesn’t really matter: Clifford is just Clifford!

Unfortunately, Norman Bridwell died in 2014, but he left us with a fantastic legacy! Clifford the Big Red Dog has entertained generations of children, and it has everything to do with the fact that he’s a lovable dog with a fantastic message: Never give up and always keep trying!

Featured Image Credit: Characters by  Scholastic Inc.  All rights reserved to the copyright owners.

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