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What Were American Bulldogs Originally Bred For? History of the American Bulldog

Luxifa Le

By Luxifa Le

Brindle American Bulldog

There are 360 different dog breeds recognized worldwide by the World Canine Organization. Each one was bred for a different reason resulting in a variance in the breed standards we see amongst dog breeds. For example, American Bulldogs were bred as utility dogs or working dogs. They’re considered an offshoot breed of the Old English Bulldog preserved by settlers who came to the Americas in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Keep reading to learn a comprehensive history of one of America’s oldest dog breeds!

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What Is the History of the American Bulldog?

This history of the American Bulldog starts with the Old English Bulldog. This breed was introduced to America by working-class European settlers who brought their dogs with them when they emigrated to the Americas. When those settlers started moving into the American South, they brought their dogs with them, and there they would begin the breeding of what we now know as the American Bulldog.

At that time, kennel clubs did not exist, especially not in America, which was still a fledgling nation and a British colony. However, the conditions that the farmers of the American South were living in necessitated an informal breed standard of working dogs that could perform all the tasks on the farm, from herding to protection.

The Old English Bulldog had different bloodlines bred to a standard to perform various tasks. People would have different dogs for cattle-droving, bull-baiting, butcher work, and farming. However, the banning of bull-baiting in England in 1835 began the decline of the Old English Bulldog; those bloodlines who had migrated to America with their working-class owners were not affected by this decline and continued to thrive in the American South.

Olde English Bulldog resting
Image Credit: Shawna and Damien Richard, Shutterstock

The presence of feral pigs who had been introduced to the American ecosystem and were living in a land without natural predators is credited for the thriving populations of American Bulldogs in the South. Theories posit that the American Bulldog thrived as it was the only way for farmers to deal with these pest animals.

However, by the middle of the 20th century, the tide had turned on the American Bulldog. Following World War II, the breed was on the verge of extinction before a fancier, John D. Johnson, began to work to revitalize the breed and bring it back to the world stage.

Johnson scoured the backwoods of the South and captured several breeding specimens to develop a new breed standard for the American Bulldog. As he was doing this, Alan Scott took a vested interest in Johnson’s work and began to work alongside him in the reviving process.

Scott took breeding stock from Southern farmers and infused their genetics into Johnson’s dogs’ bloodlines. Thus, the Standard American Bulldog—or Scott-type Bulldog—was born! At the same time, Johnson began to cross his bloodlines with the English Bulldog from the American North.

The Northerners’ English Bulldogs had retained their potent athleticism and hereditary ties to the Old English Bulldog. Crossing the new American Bulldog stock with the English Bulldogs of the North created the Bully-type American Bulldog, often called the Johnson type or the Classic type.

Nowadays, the American Bulldog no longer faces extinction, and its populations are robust in and outside of its homeland. American Bulldogs are popular companion dogs, hunting dogs, and protection dogs in America. They also have jobs on farms as cattle drovers.

Worldwide, American Bulldogs live up to their heritage. They’re often known as “hog dogs” because they’re famously used to track and capture escaped pigs and hunt razorback boars. They’re also popular as sport dogs where they compete in obedience, Schutzhund, French Ring, Mondioring, Iron Dog competitions, and weight pulling.

American Bulldog running in the forest
Image Credit: Volchock, Shutterstock

What Is the Breed Standard of the American Bulldog?

The American Bulldog is a well-balanced, short-coated dog. Since the dog was initially bred for farm work and utility, it is classified as a “working dog.” Working dogs are bred to perform practical tasks for owners such as herding, hunting, and protection.

American Bulldogs should have phenomenal strength and endurance due to their farm and hunting work history. However, as they were bred as a “catch-all” dog breed for the working class, their traits are slightly more generic than dogs bred for particular tasks like the Greyhound.

Male American Bulldogs are characteristically larger than females on average. The ideal weight for a Standard Male American Bulldog is between 75–115 pounds, and they should be between 23 and 27 inches long at the withers. Females should weigh 60–85 pounds and be 22–26 inches long.

Bully-type dogs have a similar length but carry more weight and bulk in their muscles. Bully type males will typically weigh 85–125 pounds, and females will weigh 60–105 pounds.

american bulldogs
Image Credit: B Wills from Pixabay

American Bulldogs are bred for a temperament that would fit a protection dog. Competing dogs should be alert, confident, and outgoing. Aloofness with strangers is considered typical and does not represent a disqualification in shows. However, excessively aggressive or shy dogs may be disqualified from showing.

Well-bred dogs will have broad, deep chests, muscular necks, wide muzzles, and broad heads. The head should be flat on top and squared with a well-defined transition to the neck. Bully-type dogs will have a neck almost equal in size to the head.

Structural faults for this breed include a long, narrow, or swayed back, curled or kinked tail, long or fuzzy coats, excessively wide gait, and weak legs. The only recognized colors for the American Bulldog are solid white, black, red, brown, fawn, and shades of brindle. Only blue and pied colorings are accepted for Bully type dogs. All merle patterned American Bulldogs will be disqualified from shows based on color.

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Final Thoughts

American Bulldogs are a timeworn breed for Americans. In many ways, they are the dog representation of the American Dream, and it’s no wonder people want to preserve them as best as possible. Their distinct appearance and hardworking attitudes will win the hearts of anyone who has the fortune of meeting one of these beautiful dogs!


Featured Image Credit: Zanna Pesnina, Shutterstock

Luxifa Le

Authored by

Luxifa is a freelance writer with a passion for animal science and technology. She loves to share the world of animal science with people to help them make informed decisions for themselves and their pets. Luxifa has worked in professional pet care for over six years and realised she could help change the world of pet care by bringing the information people needed to them in terms they could understand. Knowledge is power...Read more

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