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  Spartan Dogs - Origins of Bulldog and Mastiff Breeds 1 

Category: Origins, Bull and Terriers, Mastiffs, Articles

Names Origins
Group Bull and Terriers, Mastiffs

Myths, introduction and vision on Bulldog and Mastiff breeds

Folk law and old wives tales envelop many cultures. In fact as I have stated prior to this article, historical and sensation media-originated inaccuracies (see for example our article on Media VS the real APBT) have lead to many common believes and misconceptions being firmly embedded in culture as actual facts.

The Bull and Mastiff breeds have possibly the worst folk tales surrounding them. They certainly to my knowledge and experience have the most BULL(shit) ensnarled in their history. (As an example I give you the bull-dog's "lock jaw" myth that has also been told for the American Pitbull Terrier, it's show cousin the American Staffordshire Terrier, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier and the English Bull Terrier).

For it is common in human nature, that the more romantic views to hold water rather than the realistic ones, as reality is often very boring, hence the popularity of soap series. That interestingly, in turn when watched enough often actually alter family life.

Before continuing on my theories about this subject, please let me begin with a little disclaimer in order to explain now that my theories are still just theories no matter how well versed, intelligent or qualified you might think I am. It is the sin of pride that causes such arrogance, and I will be more than interested if anybody disagrees with me, or has other valuable thoughts or opinions on the matter. As you can see this page allows grading as well as the possibility to leave comments. My theories are what I believe are the most realistic circumstances. I am not saying these findings are definite or facts.

The way I see it is, starting with the Mastiffs and Alaunts/Pugnaces, is that there has been, in most places in the world throughout history strong dogs capable of taking on big quarry, including large predators and their own kind, up to human adversairies in battle. These generic Mastiff types were selectively categorised through natural size and shape variation, or by cross breeding to other types for different jobs as time went by. The first of this types were probably the Middle East strong dogs or Assyrian Mastiffs, that have been depicted on numerous hyroglyphs.

Pugnaces or Alaunt type dogs would have probably evolved to keep up with cavalry and for hunting men on the back of horses as hard-hitting back ups, alongside even faster breeds for bringing down large deer and boar and were probably the ancestor to the Brabanter Bullenbeiser and the Great Dane. Other large and super strong dogs of this origin were used for other duties such as guarding and for use in a variety of wars and battles, also explaining their other description dogs of war/ war dogs.

As wars, immigration and trade traffic from around the world introduced these types into Europe and other parts of the world, little islands of line breeding must have occurred. Spain, France, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark and Britain all steadily developed there particular strain of strong dogs each going in slightly different directions owing to variations in environment, quarry, and possibly even different cultural preferences and breeding methods.

Britain's Bulldogs

Leaving aside everywhere in Europe apart from Britain, I will now elaborate on my theory of how our Bulldog or Bandogge or Mastiff came about. As Britain was for some reason famous for producing or refining the best dogs in the world! To quote William Shakespeare: "That island of England breeds very valliant creatures".

These large and powerful dogs from the Middle East made their way into England, Ireland Scotland and Wales, and were utilised into other breeds for hunting and also line bred on their own to produce useful livestock restraining dogs.

Evidence suggests that domesticated animals reduce in size. As time went by I think that a very distinct Bull dog type evolved from these Mastiffs that would have probably been in the region of 100lbs in weight for doing work with butchers (a holding dog, and NOT a baiting dog!) and most likely to do guard work as well. You have to consider that in these times, the 12th to the 16th century, England was like a third world country, and although there were extremes of wealth and poverty but generally on people were relatively poor.

Only the wealthy could afford to feed such a dog, as most people would have struggled with their own survival, let alone be able to keep a large demanding powerful dog!

Peasants would have also had no use for a guard dog, as most would have not had anything to guard, hence nobility and the wealthy alone would have kept them. Combine this with a law that the Gentleman oppressed the humble men with laws that did not allow to keep big dogs or when allowed in theory to make it unfeasible by claiming taxes or to oblige to mutulate (removing multitple toes per paw to destroy their working capability) such dogs. The humble man needed dogs that were small, easy to keep and with a drive to destroy rodent and help to hunt and chase game predators (threat to lifestock and additional food for them). In short the humble man's dog was a humble dog with a fierce and determined heart: the terrier.

As time elapsed further, and these dogs got more in-bred, shorter, stronger, broader muzzles were expected for strength and holding ability and, as a by product a limited undershot jaw or on whole breed level average a reverse scissor bite. Please note that even the undershot jaws were not massively exaggerated as many breeds have evolved (or should I say degenerated) into today, keep in mind that it should be functional and proven to work optimally.

As we only have drawings and paintings to refer to, (and Victorian artistic licence holders especially were quite prone to exaggerating features) and there is no photographic evidence before 1839, we can only really guess as to how exactly these dogs looked, and we can only ever imagine what their temperaments could have been truly like. What we do have remaining without artist's impressions are some skulls. For example the Rothschild's Museum of Natural History in Tring, Hertforshire in Enggland. They have a set of three Bulldog skulls and their evolution in time. In time you see them evolving from large and functional skulls (starting with the true old English Bulldog; 1860 (an old fashioned bulldog with a large skull size resembling the pugnace/mastiff/alaunt traits of strong dogs) to a more compact but still working bulldog skull (very large, square and of true working bulldog form) 1867)) into a show ring abnormality (Neotsfield a multiple show dog price winner and valued dog (100 pounds sterling in that day and age!); 1906; died at the age of 11 months). The latter skull resembles a show example, clearly showing Pug Genetics in it's exagerated traits.

One note about the American Bulldog of today: one often says romantically that the American Bulldog was the result of harvasting the last real original Bulldogs (originated from Britain). However three versions of Bulldogs (Scott, Johnson and Painter) and hybrid versions of the aforementioned, show that the American Bulldog has developed form a performance version (who even now is sometimes found as throwback) into a more and more exagerated Bulldog, same as happened to the English version. The rosen nose and the overtypical underjaw are the heritage of the show breed named Pug (seen in both the English show bulldog and also clearly in the American Johnson type bulldog), not that of the original performance bred Bulldog. Furthermore, the throwbacks and the three very differing types indicate that multiple breeds of dogs were used, the real heritage of the American Bulldog would be best described as the result of a mix of: Bull & Terrier (especially the American Pitbull Terrier), mastiff types (especially BullMastiff), and Show English Bulldog (including heavy Pug infusion), in varying consistency.

To read part two of this series, click here.

Click here for more dog articles.

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