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It’s been a while since we’ve done a breed spotlight, and I’m here with a fan favorite. He’s goofy and sweet and adaptable, great with kids, and lots of fun. He’s often seen as the quintessential bachelor’s dog, hanging out and stealing a slice of pizza, chasing a football, and just being the life of the party – without being so energetic that he needs a lot of maintenance. But to be honest, American Bulldogs are really not the best choice for everyone, or even for most dog owners, and there’s a very good reason for that.
Before you start getting bothered by that statement, let’s take a look at this dog’s many traits – both the good and the bad – and you may be able to see what I mean. I’ve met a few Bulldogs in my life. My uncle on my mother’s side had one named Roosevelt when I was a kid, who would often follow us kids out to the old trampoline and lay under it while we jumped. Any time we’d bounce back down from the air, he’d make a funny snorting noise at the shape of our feet or rear ends disturbing his nap. We thought it was fun, and he seemed to think it was a big game, and that pretty much sums up the nature of the Bulldog – fun and sweet. So why then would I tell you that I don’t think this is a great breed to own?
Simply put, their health is incredibly poor in most cases. You can read more about how breeding practices have changed the Bulldog’s skull and health over time right here, but let’s take a look at the breed:
Bulldogs are a very old breed, going back to at least the 1500s that we know of. Originally, these dogs were quite different than what we know today. The “Old English Bulldog”, or the ancestor of the American Bulldog was tall and muscular, built for holding bulls in place for castration, breeding, or other activities. These dogs would actually grab a bull by the sensitive nose and hold it in place – an animal easily four times the dog’s weight – while a farmer handled whatever business needed to be done. However, this soon became more of an entertainment opportunity than a job, so Old English Bulldogs were often pitted against especially ornery bulls for crowds.
It wasn’t until the outlawing of dog fighting in the 19th century that the Bulldog started to change in appearance. Those who showed the breed preferred the shorter legs and bigger heads of the breed we see today, and that became the popular look for the breed until the older, taller version died out. The same breeding process that took the dog from tall and powerful, to short and thick-set, also changed the dog’s temperament, from aggressive to very kind. The first Bulldog showed up in America in the late 1880s, and the breed was introduced to the AKC in 1886. One of the most famous Bulldogs in the breed’s history is Handsome Dan, the Yale mascot from around that time. Bulldogs are also associated with the Marines and quite a few other universities around the country. Today, the breed is the fourth most popular in the AKC’s registry.
There is no mistaking the Bulldog’s appearance. They are short and heavy-set, with massive barrel chests and squat bow-legged stances. Their height is usually around 15 inches tall,and they usually weigh around 50 pounds. They have short, smooth coats and huge heads that sit on wide shoulders. Their droopy faces are very expressive, and they often have multiple “jowls” or chins that hang below their mouths, which does cause them to be prone to drooling. They also tend to have very flat faces and snouts, which is a result of breeding practices more than the breed’s tendency in and of itself. Bulldogs tend to be brindled, white, red, fawn, or some combination of those colors.
Bulldogs are often funny combinations of dignity and humor. They can often be very relaxed, laid-back dogs that are happy to just chill out with their owners; but they can also have fun and be a bit silly. They don’t need a ton of exercise, but regular walks keep them healthy, and they’ll probably get into “moods” where they want to wrestle or play around a bit from time to time.
Bulldogs are very trainable, and they don’t tend to bark a lot. That being said, Bulldogs do make other noises. They tend to be loud breathers, they snore, and they fart – a lot. The Bulldog digestive system is not the healthiest, and their breathing tends to be a problem, which is why they are so noisy from both ends.
Bulldogs are not going to be great guard dogs, just because they tend to be very amiable and friendly. They are courageous and loyal, but you’re more likely to see a Bulldog welcoming the sight of the mailman rather than chasing him off. They love spending time with people, and they are really great for “party houses” where guests come and go a lot. They’re tolerant towards all sorts of lifestyles, from relaxed to adventurous.
All that being said, Bulldogs can have just a little bit of a stubborn streak in them at times. While they are easy to train for living with people, such as housebreaking, you likely won’t see too many Bulldogs mastering obedience shows, for example. Most Bulldogs aren’t really interested in learning a lot of tricks.
There’s no easy way to say this: Bulldogs have really terrible reputations in the health department. The fact is that decades of selective breeding for certain features have really ruined this poor breed. Unless you find a breeder that is committed to very healthy dogs, you can bet that you’ll be visiting your vet a lot when you have a Bulldog. Some of the conditions they are known for developing include:
Asthma and any other kind of breathing problem you can name
Skin infections and skin allergies
Malformed hips and spines
Weak knees that are prone to injury
Prone to overheating
Difficulty giving birth
Bloat and other digestive issues
And that’s just some of the issues that you’ll find in a Bulldog. To be honest, I’ve never heard of a completely healthy Bulldog. The best you can hope for with this breed is to get one with a few mild skin allergies that can be easily treated with some anti-itch shampoo. But it’s more likely that as your Bulldog ages, he will develop more health issues. Bulldogs have very short lifespans compared to other medium-sized dogs, with most Bulldogs living only eight to 10 years.
Naturally, with so many health problems facing this breed, Bulldogs can be a bit more work than you originally thought they might be.
It’s true that they don’t need a ton of exercise. Bulldogs have medium energy levels and can adapt to your lifestyle with ease. A short daily walk to allow them some fresh air and they’ll be happy to laze about with you otherwise – of course, they can also hang with you if you have a more active lifestyle. However, keep in mind that a Bulldog that is overweight will have even more health problems than a trim Bulldog. So if yours isn’t very active, he’ll need to eat less food.
Be very aware of your Bulldog’s temperature at all times when walking or exercising. Because of their short snouts, Bulldogs can’t pant effectively the way other dogs can, and that puts them at risk for overheating. If your Bulldog is alone in a hot car or house during summer months, be sure they have air conditioning and cold water at all times. Bulldogs absolutely cannot live outdoors for this reason. They aren’t tolerant of extreme cold either, so be sure to arrange for your Bulldog to stay inside as much as possible. Training him to stay in a kennel during the day, or using doggie gates to create a safe area in the house, is the best course of action during your work hours.
But when it comes to other types of care, you may need to be committed to giving your Bulldog both your attention and a larger portion of your budget. When it comes to feeding, Bulldogs may or may not need a special diet for their digestive system. Your vet can explain to you what would be best for your Bulldog. However, it is a very good idea to feed a Bulldog from a bloat prevention bowl, which slows them down while they eat to prevent this dangerous injury from occurring.
Bulldogs need the wrinkles and folds of their skin cleaned regularly to prevent rashes and allergic reactions. Having a quality dog shampoo is a must, and it would also be a good idea to have some cleaning wipes handy to get rid of crud in the wrinkles between baths. Any wax build-up in the ears should be cleaned out immediately to avoid rashes as well. Bulldog coats don’t really need much – they only shed seasonally, and you’ll wash away the loose hairs with your regular baths for their skin.
Like all dogs, Bulldogs need their teeth brushed weekly to prevent dental decay and gum disease, both of which can lead to other, more serious health problems.
Given their laid-back natures, it’s no wonder that Bulldogs are great with both kids and other pets. They would probably be most happy in a pack (whether human or canine) that didn’t require them to be terribly active – so pairing them up with an overly hyper breed may not be the best idea – but for the most part, Bulldogs are usually happy to go along with the flow. These are extroverted dogs that don’t mind spreading the love around so long as they are part of the big picture.
Keep in mind that getting a Bulldog as a pet for a younger child may cause some sadness just a few years down the line since the Bulldog is a bit shorter lived than most medium-sized dogs. Be prepared to face the death of the family dog together with your child if you choose a Bulldog.
So, I said this post was likely to be controversial. Bulldogs are extremely popular, and they have a lot of very devoted fans. And with literally hundreds of thousands of these dogs making great pets all across the continent, of course everyone knows or has a Bulldog that is in perfect health, thank you very much.
But the fact is that the statistics show that this breed has serious medical conditions that it regularly faces, and that is something that potential owners should know. Other than the tendency to need a vet so frequently, I would suggest that these dogs would make great pets for first-time dog owners. They offer the right combination of fun and friendliness, along with adaptability and train ability. However, it’s so important that you ensure that these dogs don’t overheat, and don’t eat too fast – and it’s also vital to keep their wrinkles clean.
If your heart is set on a Bulldog, don’t let this post stop you. They do make fantastic family pets. Just be prepared to form a close relationship with your vet, and don’t travel with your Bulldog without knowing where the nearest veterinary services are at all times. If you are willing to commit to the extra care that Bulldog takes to stay healthy, then just about any type of person with any type of lifestyle would make a great owner for this cute breed. Loveable, gentle, and not your typical lap dog, the Bulldog is a great way to get a little of all the best dog traits in one pet.