American Bulldog

The American Bulldog is a breed of working dog that was developed in the United States. There are generally considered to be three types of American bulldog: the Bully or Classic type (sometimes called the Johnson type ), the Standard or Performance type (also called the Scott type), and the Hybrid type. The names associated with the Bully and Standard types are those of the breeders who were influential in developing them, John D. Johnson (Bully) and Alan Scott (Standard). American Bulldogs are thought to be descended from working type bulldogs found commonly on ranches and farms in the Southern and Midwestern parts of the United States. These dogs are commonly mistaken for "Pit Bull
Pit bull
A Pit bull is any of several breeds of dog in the molosser breed group.Many jurisdictions that restrict pit bulls, including Ontario, Canada,, Miami, Florida, U.S...

s", but are, in fact, a distinctly different breed.


The American bulldog is a stocky, well built, strong-looking dog with powerful jaws, a large head, and a muscular build. Its coat
Coat (dog)
The coat of the domestic dog refers to the hair that covers its body. A dog's coat may be a double coat, made up of a soft undercoat and a coarser topcoat, or a single coat, which lacks an undercoat...

 is short and generally smooth. The breed is a light to moderate shedder. Colors, while historically predominantly white with patches of red or brindle, have grown in recent years to include many color patterns including black, red, brown, fawn, and all shades of brindle. The color conformation is quite varied, but solid black or any degree of merle is considered a cosmetic fault, and a blue color is a disqualification by the NKC Breed Standard. Black pigmentation on the nose and eye rims is preferred, with only some pink allowed. Eye color is usually brown, but heterochromia also occurs, although considered a cosmetic fault. American Bulldogs can be droolers; this varies and is more prevalent in the Bully type, which is generally a larger, heavier dog with a shorter muzzle. Standard or Performance types are generally more athletic with longer muzzles and a more square head. It is important to note that many modern American Bulldogs are a combination of the two types usually termed "hybrid." In general, American Bulldogs weigh between 27 to 54 kg (60 to 120 lb) and are 52 to 70 cm (20 to 28 in) at the withers
The withers is the ridge between the shoulder blades of a four-legged animal. In many species it is the tallest point of the body, and in horses and dogs it is the standard place to measure the animal's height .-Horses:The withers in horses are formed by the dorsal spinal processes of roughly the...

, but have been known to greatly exceed these dimensions, especially in the "out of standard," nonworking stock.


American Bulldogs are typically confident, social, and active dogs that are at ease with their families. They bond strongly with their owners. Young American Bulldogs may be slightly aloof with strangers, but as they mature the breed's normal confidence should assert itself. This breed tolerates children and can do very well with them, provided they are socialized
Socialization is a term used by sociologists, social psychologists, anthropologists, political scientists and educationalists to refer to the process of inheriting and disseminating norms, customs and ideologies...

 early and understand their limits. The more exposure to good training practices, other dogs, and people, the more likely the success at being controlled both inside and outside of their environment. Early training and socialization both in the home and outside of the home is essential for this breed. One way to help accomplish this goal can be done in the simplest of ways: walking them regularly at local parks. While the goal of the breed was originally to produce a working farm utility dog that could catch and hold wild boar and cattle, kill vermin, and guard an owner's property, when properly trained, exercised and socialized, this breed can become a great family pet. The tendency towards dog aggression is not uncommon in this breed, especially as they reach social maturity at around 2 years of age.

Purebred American Bulldogs are excellent tracking, obedience, working, guard, and family dogs; however, some American Bulldogs can be quite territorial. Assertiveness (charging, rushing) towards other dogs even when outside of their territory is not uncommon. American Bulldogs are known to be a very dominant breed, but should not be hostile on neutral territory. They generally are not aggressive unless seriously provoked. The breed is also noted for having an extremely high pain tolerance.

Puppies have been noted for being friendly and carefree (1–8 months), such as no cares around strangers at home, and friendliness towards all animals (except ones fleeing from danger). Young adult American Bulldogs may display some aloofness towards strangers but they likely will not be cowardly or shy. Generally by 18 months or so the breed's natural confidence will likely assert itself - then maturing and developing into an alert, protective, smart and all-around companion.

This breed's high prey drive can sometimes make them unsuitable for homes that have cats and smaller pets, but the correct socialization at an early age (see above, temperament) will greatly increase the chances of them accepting these animals.

History in Spain and England

The history of Mastiff
English Mastiff
The English Mastiff, referred to by virtually all Kennel Clubs simply as the Mastiff, is a breed of large dog perhaps descended from the ancient Alaunt through the Pugnaces Britanniae. Distinguishable by enormous size, massive head, and a limited range of colors, but always displaying a black mask,...

-type dogs in the British Isles predates the arrival of Caesar. With the arrival of the Normans in 1066 came Spanish Alaunts from the continent. The breeding of the indigenous mastiffs to the newly arrived ones produced the Mastiff and bulldog of England. An interesting side note is that all descriptions of the Spanish Alaunts (there were three types) mention an all white, or mostly white coat.

In Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

 and England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 during the 17th and 18th centuries, bulldogs were used on farms to catch and hold
Catch dog
A Catch dog is a specially trained dog that is used to catch large animals in hunting, working livestock, and baiting.As hunters, catch dogs are contrasted with bay dogs...

 livestock, as butchers' dogs, as guardians, as well as for other tasks. Many settlers brought these dogs with them to help around the farm, hunt in the woods, guard property, and for gambling and sport.

In 1835, the sport of bull-baiting
Bull-baiting is a blood sport involving the baiting of bulls.-History:In the time of Queen Anne of Great Britain, bull-baiting was practiced in London at Hockley-in-the-Hole, twice a week – and was reasonably common in the provincial towns...

 was outlawed in Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

 and the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 and, over time, the bulldog
Bulldog is the name for a breed of dog commonly referred to as the English Bulldog. Other Bulldog breeds include the American Bulldog, Olde English Bulldogge and the French Bulldog. The Bulldog is a muscular heavy dog with a wrinkled face and a distinctive pushed-in nose...

 became a common pet, being bred into today's more compact and complacent version. The product was as much from the efforts of selectively bred bulldogs as it was the introduction of the pug
The pug is a "toy" breed of dog with a wrinkly, short-muzzled face, and curled tail. The breed has a fine, glossy coat that comes in a variety of colors, and a compact square body with well-developed muscle. They have been described as multum in parvo , referring to the pug's personality and...

. However, some strains of bulldog type dogs maintained their utilitarian purpose, and thus underwent fewer modifications, even as their popularity declined in favor of other breeds. Even the slight modifications the bulldog underwent in Spain and England up to the Industrial Revolution (before 1835), were absent in the working strains. Most settlers of the American South came from the West Midlands of England and emigrated as a result of the Civil War between Royalists
Cavalier was the name used by Parliamentarians for a Royalist supporter of King Charles I and son Charles II during the English Civil War, the Interregnum, and the Restoration...

 and Parliamentarians
"Roundhead" was the nickname given to the supporters of the Parliament during the English Civil War. Also known as Parliamentarians, they fought against King Charles I and his supporters, the Cavaliers , who claimed absolute power and the divine right of kings...

, well before the Industrial Revolution). Bulldogs in Spain and England were originally working dogs who drove and caught cattle and guarded their masters' property.

History in the United States

The original bulldog was preserved by working class immigrants who brought their working dogs with them to the American South. Small farmers and ranchers used this all-around working dog for many tasks including farm guardians, stock dogs and catch dog
Catch dog
A Catch dog is a specially trained dog that is used to catch large animals in hunting, working livestock, and baiting.As hunters, catch dogs are contrasted with bay dogs...

. These dogs were not an actual breed as considered by today's standards but were a generic bulldog type. There were no recorded pedigrees or records and breeding decisions were dependent on the best working farm dogs despite breed or background. Several separate strains of the "bulldog" type dogs were kept by ranchers as utilitarian working dogs.

By the end of World War II, however, these bulldog type strains were becoming extinct. Mr. John D. Johnson, a returning war veteran, decided to resurrect this breed. He found many of the best specimens of these working type dogs and started recording pedigrees and family trees. His aim was to produce a large farm guardian-type bulldog, reminiscent of the bulldogs of old. Later Alan Scott and several other breeders joined Johnson's efforts to resurrect and recreate the old time bulldogs. Johnson and Scott began to carefully breed American bulldogs, keeping careful records and always with an eye for maintaining the breed's health and working abilities. Initially Johnson and Scott had a similar vision and even traded dogs with each other. However in time there was a split between their visions and resulted in the two distinct types of American Bulldog. Alan Scott preferred a smaller more athletic dog with a longer muzzle that could be used for cattle catching as well as wild boar hunting. John Johnson preferred a larger more massive dog with a shorter muzzle that was more of a guardian type dog. Over time the two founding breeders as well as important breeders crossed in other breeds to help meet their goal of the ideal working bulldog. Originally the breed was called the American Pit Bulldog and in the 1970s registered with the National Kennel Club (NKC) as such. Later the name was changed to American Bulldog to avoid confusion with the American Pit Bull Terrier
American Pit Bull Terrier
The American Pit Bull Terrier is a medium-sized, solidly built, short haired dog whose early ancestors came from England and Ireland...

. The American bulldog was recognized by the United Kennel Club
United Kennel Club
The United Kennel Club is the second oldest all-breed registry of purebred dog pedigrees in the United States and the second largest in the world. According to the website, the club records 250,000 registrations annually. The UKC is not part of the International Canine Organisation, Fédération...

 on January 1, 1999. Currently the breed is recognized by the NKC, UKC
United Kennel Club
The United Kennel Club is the second oldest all-breed registry of purebred dog pedigrees in the United States and the second largest in the world. According to the website, the club records 250,000 registrations annually. The UKC is not part of the International Canine Organisation, Fédération...

, ABRA and the American Bulldog Association (ABA) And the SACBR South Africa.

Perhaps the most important role of the bulldog and the reason for its survival, and in fact why it thrived throughout the South, was because of the presence of feral
A feral organism is one that has changed from being domesticated to being wild or untamed. In the case of plants it is a movement from cultivated to uncultivated or controlled to volunteer. The introduction of feral animals or plants to their non-native regions, like any introduced species, may...

 pigs, introduced to the New World and without predators. The bulldogs were the settlers' only means of sufficiently dealing with the vermin
Vermin is a term applied to various animal species regarded by some as pests or nuisances and especially to those associated with the carrying of disease. Since the term is defined in relation to human activities, which species are included will vary from area to area and even person to person...

. By World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, the breed was near extinction until John D. Johnson and his father scoured the backroads of the South looking for the best specimens to revive the breed. During this time a young Alan Scott grew an interest in Mr. Johnson's dogs and began to work with him on the revitalization process. At some point, Alan Scott began infusing non-Johnson catch bulldogs from working southern farms with John D. Johnson's line creating the now Standard American Bulldog. At another point, Mr. Johnson began crossing his line with an atavistic English bulldog from the North that had maintained its genetic athletic vigor. This created a falling out between Johnson and Scott causing them to go their separate ways and breed the two significantly different versions of the American bulldog.

Recent history

American bulldogs are now safe from extinction and are enjoying a healthy increase in popularity, either as a working/protector dog or as a family pet. All over the world, they are used variously as "hog dogs" (catching escaped pigs or hunting razorback
Razorback is an Americanism, loosely applied to any type of feral pig or wild boar in North America. The term has also appeared in Australia, to describe said animals in that country.-Introduction to the Americas:...

s), as cattle drovers and as working or sport K-9s. American Bulldogs also successfully compete in several dog sports such as dog obedience, Schutzhund
Schutzhund is a dog sport that was developed in Germany in the early 1900s as a breed suitability test for the German Shepherd Dog. The test would determine if the dog displayed the appropriate traits and characteristics of a proper working German Shepherd Dog...

, French Ring, Mondio Ring
Mondio Ring
Mondio Ring is a type of dog sport. It is a protection sport that tests the ability of the dog to protect both themselves and their handlers, even through extreme distractions. The sport trials are similar to the work performed by police dogs...

, Iron Dog competition and weight pulling
Weight pulling
Weight pulling is a dog sport involving a dog pulling a cart or sled loaded with weight a short distance across dirt/gravel, grass, carpet, or snow. It is a modern adaptation of freighting, in which dogs were used as freight animals to move cargo. Many breeds participate in this sport, with dogs...

. They are also exhibited in conformation shows in the UKC, NKC, ABA, ABRA and the SACBR (South Africa).


American Bulldogs generally live from 10–16 years, and tend to be strong, physically active, and often healthy. Some health problems in American bulldogs are often found within certain genetic lines, and are not common to the entire breed, while others, such as neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis
Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinosis
Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinoses is the general name for a family of at least eight genetically separate neurodegenerative disorders that result from excessive accumulation of lipopigments in the body's tissues. These lipopigments are made up of fats and proteins...

 (NCL), Ichthyosis
Ichthyosis is a heterogeneous family of at least 28, generalized, mostly genetic skin disorders. All types of ichthyosis have dry, thickened, scaly or flaky skin...

, disorders of the kidney and thyroid, ACL tears, hip dysplasia, cherry eye
Cherry eye
Cherry eye is the term used to refer to canine nictitans gland prolapse, a common congenital eye defect in various dog breeds where the gland of the third eyelid known as the nictitating membrane prolapses and becomes visible. Commonly affected breeds include the Bulldog, Chihuahua, Cocker...

, elbow dysplasia
Elbow dysplasia
Elbow dysplasia is a condition involving multiple developmental abnormalities of the elbow-joint in the dog, specifically the growth of cartilage or the structures surrounding it. These abnormalities, known as 'primary lesions', give rise to osteoarthritic processes...

, entropion
Entropion is a medical condition in which the eyelid folds inward. It is very uncomfortable, as the eyelashes constantly rub against the cornea. Entropion is usually caused by genetic factors and may be congenital...

, ectropion
Ectropion is a medical condition in which the lower eyelid turns outwards. It is one of the notable aspects of newborns exhibiting congenital Harlequin type ichthyosis, but ectropion can occur due to any weakening of tissue of the lower eyelid. The condition can be repaired surgically...

, and bone cancer are more common to the general population of American Bulldogs. There are DNA tests available to help breeders screen breeding animals for NCL (neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis) and Ichthyosis. It is highly recommended to spend time to research your breeder information, including your American Bulldog's family history. A Penn Hip (Pennsylvania Hip Improvement project) or OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) screening is recommended for all potential breeding animals. Some breeds of American Bulldog are prone to allergies. Sypmtoms like a runny nose or a rash are examples of signs of allergies. Some vets recommend dog owners to give 25mg of Benadryl per day; in most cases it helps.

American Bulldogs in popular culture

  • Chance from the two feature films, Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey
    Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey
    Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey is a 1993 American remake of the 1963 film The Incredible Journey, which was based on the best-selling novel The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford. Directed by Duwayne Dunham, it was released on February 3, 1993...

    and Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco
    Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco
    Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco is the 1996 sequel to the 1993 film Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey. Directed by David R. Ellis, the film features the three animals from the first film, Shadow the Golden Retriever , Sassy the Himalayan cat , and Chance the American Bulldog Homeward...

  • The Deftones
    Deftones are an American alternative metal band from Sacramento, California, founded in 1988. The band consists of Chino Moreno , Stephen Carpenter , Chi Cheng , Frank Delgado , and Abe Cunningham . Currently Sergio Vega is standing in on bass while Cheng recovers from a car accident...

    ' video "Bloody Cape" featured a model walking an American Bulldog down the street. The American Bulldog was actually played by two separate dogs from the Norcal's American Bulldog Kennel. The names of the dogs were Big Trouble and Tory Hesta.
  • In the 2001 film Kevin of the North
    Kevin of the North
    Kevin of the North is a 2001 film about an Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. The film, set in Alaska, stars Skeet Ulrich as Kevin Manley, a man whose grandfather has passed on and now must participate in the state's Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in order to prove he's worthy enough for his...

    one of Kevin Manley's sled dogs is an American Bulldog named Snowflake.
  • Cheaper by the Dozen
  • Ned in The Number 23
    The Number 23
    The Number 23 is a 2007 American psychological thriller film written by Fernley Phillips and directed by Joel Schumacher. The film starred Jim Carrey, Virginia Madsen, Danny Huston, and Logan Lerman. It was subsequently released on DVD on July 24, 2007 , and premiered on HBO on Saturday April 19,...

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