The best way to irritate the owner of an American Bulldog is to say their breed is a type of Pit Bull, and suggesting it makes as much sense as saying that a Bulldog is also a type of Pit Bull. In reality, American Bulldogs are direct descendants of the now-extinct Old English Bulldog.
While theories abound as to how the Old English Bulldog arrived in America, it’s probable they were brought to the New World by British settlers. Releasing cattle and hogs in Florida and Texas to provide food and leather for future colonists must have seemed like a good idea at the time to 16th century settlers, but over the years, the creatures grew tusks, returned to a wild state, and not only became highly aggressive, but an agricultural nightmare to farmers who would see a year’s worth of crops destroyed in a night. It was the Old English Bulldogs who were given the job of hunting and catching the destructive animals until they could be dispatched by a farmer or rancher. The canines became known as the only dogs living in the country able to hunt feral hogs and cattle without a high probability of dying in the process.
That the American Bulldog is related to the Old English Bulldog is supported by British paintings that illustrated how very similar the two breeds are to each other, and this point, we condense a lot of history to come to a period in time where the Old English Bulldog began to die out in England, while in America, the older type Bulldogs continued to work as farm and hunting dogs in the rural South and Midwest. In England, the show and companion Bulldog became known as the English Bulldog, while in an ironic twist, the Old English Bulldog was now found only in rural areas of American where it became known as the Old Southern White, Country Bulldog, Hill Bulldog, White Bulldog, White English Bulldog, English White, or American Bulldog.
World War II saw the breed on the verge of complete extinction in the United States. Were it not for native Georgian, John D. Johnson, it might have died out altogether, but Johnson had fond memories of his first American “Pit” Bulldog, “Prince,” and started breeding at the age of 14. He continued breeding Bulldogs until he entered the service during the war, and entrusted his dogs with his family until he returned. When that day came, Johnson saw that the breed he so loved was in dire straights. Determined to save the American Pit Bulldog, he gathered the finest surviving representatives of the breed that he could find, and eventually, with the help of Allan Scott, reconstructed the American Bulldog. A fall out between the two resulted in two distinct breed types that exist today: The “Johnson type,” a heavier dog with a shorter muzzle and more traditional Bulldog look, and the type Scott preferred, a more athletic, longer-snouted dog now known as the “Bully/Classic” or “Standard.”
Whatever the type, the American Bulldog is one of the most popular breeds in the country because of its “big lapdog,” or “gentle giant” personality. As an aside, “Chance,” from the movies, Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993) and the sequel, Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco (1996), is an American Bulldog. The breed is recognized by the United Kennel Club. You can read the breed standard and see illustrations of the two different types here.
“Luke” by Alicia VanNoy Call
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