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The Working American Bulldogs by David Putnam Q.What are the origins of the American Bulldog?

A. The first writer to publish information on American Bulldogs was Carl Semencic. The American Bulldog breeders that Carl talked to told him that the AB was a direct descendant of working English Bulldogs brought into the Southeast in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Carl found that hard to believe. He had no information or research to back up his disbelief, just gut instinct. His gut told him that the AB was a recently created composite breed that was formed in the 60's or 70's by combining AKC Bullmastiff, Pit Bull and English Bulldog. Never mind that such a combination would produce solid colored dogs and that none of them would resemble standard type ABs. This is the theory he put forth, it was quickly accepted by most dog people outside of the rural South who shared his gut instinct and were reluctant to believe anything told to them by "hillbillies."

As further evidence to bolster the AKC composite theory, non-southern urban dog experts pointed out that American Bulldog pedigrees only go back as far the 1960's. The only way the Northern urban dog experts could ever be convinced that the AB is mostly descended from Bulldogs brought to America by English colonists is if they could see written pedigrees stretching back 300-years.

What Carl should have done is talk to 80 or 90-year old southern country folks and ask them how long Old English White Bulldogs have been around in that part of the country and to what end have people been breeding them. He should have then asked the old timers if the modern American Bulldog resembles the Old English Whites of their youth. He would have learned that White Bulldogs have been used as guard dogs and hog/cattle catchers for centuries and that the standard AB is identical in looks and temperament to the Old English White. Armed with this knowledge he would have been better equipped to study the historical record. He would have then understood the 1870's letters from US cavalrymen fighting in the Indian wars in Texas that refer to a White English Bulldog that defeated a buffalo bull in combat. He would have recognized the half white/half colored Bulldog that a young pioneer girl referred to in her diary in 1879. This late 19th century Bulldog attempted to halt a stampede of 1000 Texas longhorns. Dozens of historical references would have become clear if he'd talked to the right people in the South and kept an open mind.

As far as pedigrees only going back to the 60's, consider this: The oldest breed of dog on Earth is the Tibetan Mastiff. We know this from oral traditions of the Tibetan people, ancient art that shows the modern Tibetan Mastiff is identical to its ancient forebear, a Babylonian stone marker with carved inscriptions and the fact that the Tibetan Mastiff only goes into heat once a year, like the Northern Indian wolf that is its most direct ancestor. Yet Tibetan Mastiff pedigrees only go back to the 60's. Does anyone seriously think that the Tibetan Mastiff is 40-years old?

If AKC oriented dog experts could travel in a time machine to Elizabethan England and witness a bull-bait, the dogs they would see hanging onto bulls would not meet their definition of purebred English Bulldogs. The Elizabethan Bulldogs had very sketchy pedigrees, breed type varied tremendously and breed history was almost entirely oral. Upper class English historians did not bother to study dogs and create extensive written records. Bulldogs have always been creatures of the lower classes. And of course these were the people that settled America.

There is no question that the American Bulldog is the closest modern breed to the original English Bulldog. That is not to say that other breeds have not been introduced. For one thing the Spanish brought Bulldogs to the Americas even before the English and 19th century plantation owners bought Bulldogs from Brazil and South America as they did slaves. Blackmouth Cur and related breeds have been used as bay dogs and run with Bulldogs in the South from time immemorial, probably any bay dog that would catch hard was considered a Bulldog and its blood could be used without harming gameness or other qualities. Pit Bulls were introduced into the South after the Civil War. Many of these so-called Pit Bulls were actually pure Bulldog and could be crossed to the Old English White with impunity.

Mr. Johnson's use of the AKC English Bulldog, West Champ's High Hopes, has been discussed to death. I asked David Leavitt what High Hopes was like and learned that he looked nothing like a typical English Bulldog sour mug. He had long straight legs, a long tail and ran every day with a high school track team. This is how Elizabethan English Bulldogs were bred, with a broad genetic base. In Medieval England there were three types of Alaunt (primitive Bulldogs) and more than one type of Mastiff. Actual research, as opposed to gut instinct, will reveal that the American Bulldog is the closest breed on Earth to the original Bulldog. Our job is to keep him that way.


Dave Putnam, ®2000
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