American Bulldog

Pippa Elliott
Dr Pippa Elliott (BVMS MRCVS, University of Glasgow)
 
Photo of adult American Bulldog

The American Bulldog is a breed that may seem familiar to us (perhaps because of the word ‘bulldog’) but isn’t. Whilst this breed has some similarities to its better known cousin, the English Bulldog, in other ways it’s very different.

Think of the American Bulldog as a ‘bull’ breed, rather than a bulldog. Their looks have more in common with the American Staffordshire Terrier and the American Pitbull, than their distant English relative. However, unlike the former bull breeds, the American Bulldog has a reputation for being a big softie.

His independent character and sheer physical strength mean he’s not ideal for first time owners. However, the American Bulldog is a kind dog that is gentle-natured and makes for a good family pet for those people experienced with dogs.

About & History

Today’s American Bulldogs can be traced back to dogs found in pockets around the south-eastern states of America in the 17th century. At that time, the American Bulldog wasn’t considered a breed, but rather, a type of dog. This referred to their physical characteristics as tall, strong, brave dogs, with powerful jaws. These dogs needed all of these traits as they had a job of work to do, including hunting, guarding, and protecting property.

Back in the 17th and 18th centuries, one reason for the American Bulldog’s popularity was their ability to keep down the number of feral pigs. The latter were deceptively dangerous animals that made life for the New World settlers especially dangerous. A dog that could keep the wild hogs down and protect livestock quickly became an invaluable asset.

The product of necessity, there were a number of different strains of these early American Bulldog types, going by names, such as English White, Alabama Bulldog, and Southern Bulldog. The reference to bulls reflects their original job which was to round up and guard cattle.

As with many niche breeds, the early 20th century proved something of a watershed moment. With the numbers of American Bulldogs having fallen dangerously low, if it wasn’t to die out altogether then the breed needed rescuing. Happily, the efforts of people, such as John D. Johnson and then Alan Scott, did indeed save the breed.

They went back to the originating Southern states to source four strains of dogs that were true to type. These dogs were then crossed with English Bulldogs. A hugely popular breed was created, which flourishes in the modern day.

Appearance

American Bulldog Large Photo

The American Bulldog is undoubtedly a handsome dog. To the uninitiated, he has something of the look of a hefty Boxer dog about him with a deep chest and nipped in waist.

There are actually two types of American Bulldogs, which vary slightly in their appearance. First, there is the ‘Bully’ type, which is slightly smaller than the ‘standard’ variety. Both dogs have heavily-boned, strong heads with impressively powerful jaws. Their eyes, set well apart, can seem proportionately small in a large head.

The American Bulldog has a thick neck that slopes into a wide, powerful chest. Think bulldozer in canine form and you’re not far wrong. But where this breed is a surprise is the length of their legs, which make this breed a canine athlete capable of covering short distances at speed, and also endurance work.

The coat is short and dense and acceptable coat colours include white or 85% pied brindle, black, or fawn.

Character & Temperament

In truth, the American Bulldog’s character has more in common with a Labrador than an American Pit Bull Terrier (to which they bear a resemblance). American Bulldogs are considered confident, happy, and gentle dogs – although they are physically strong. When not raised right, they can be prone to anxiety, so it’s essential these dogs are socialised and sympathetically trained.

In the right hands, the American Bulldog forms a strong bond to his family and enjoys play with adults and children alike. They are an intelligent breed and training by someone who understands the breed is essential, so the dog develops to his full happy potential.

Some American Bulldogs have a bad reputation, usually because they were poorly socialised as pups and never learned how to control their tremendous strength. Another potential source of problems is boredom. A bored American Bulldog will happily find his own amusements, such as chewing, digging or barking.

Trainability

Photo of American Bulldog puppy

The American Bulldog is nobody’s fool. He responds well to reward-based training methods but requires a firm guiding hand to keep him on track. However, if the dog is abused or physical strength is used against him, the dog’s natural urge to protect (both others and himself) could end in a display of aggression.

Again, the importance of early socialisation of American Bulldog puppies cannot be stressed enough. He must learn bite inhibition and appropriate behaviour, so that he doesn’t accidentally harm people during play. The American Bulldog does best when owned by someone experienced with dogs that they can respect and look to for guidance.

Health

Outwardly a tough character, the American Bulldog is not without a number of known health issues. Those most likely to occur in the breed include:

Hip and / or Elbow Dysplasia

The word ‘dysplasia’ refers to hip or elbow joint developing poorly so they are a bad shape. Both joints rely on the bones fitting together smoothly to promote ease of movement. A dysplastic joint is poorly shaped which causes the bones to knock or rub against each other. In turn, this creates inflammation and pain. In the long term, constant inflammation leads to premature arthritis, which can be disabling for the dog.

Prevention is better than cure. This is best achieved by sourcing puppies from a litter where the parent dogs were screened for dysplasia and found to be healthy. If not, you risk acquiring a puppy that could be lame for most of their life and require constant medication or major corrective surgery.

Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinosis (NCL)

This condition results in the accumulation of naturally occurring toxins building up within nerve cells. The symptoms include bizarre behaviour, poor co-ordination, hallucinations, seizures and early death.

There is no treatment for NCL. Screening of parent dogs is strongly advised. Only those dogs screened as being clear of NCL being used to produce the next generation.

Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism affects relatively young dogs and refers to a lack of the thyroid hormone, thyroxine. The latter governs how quickly the body burns calories. When there’s insufficient thyroxine then the dog’s metabolism runs slowly, resulting in weight gain and a lack of energy.

Other signs of hypothyroidism include a dull, sparse coat. Happily, once diagnosed the condition should respond to a daily thyroid hormone supplement.

Allergies

The American Bulldog is one of many dog breeds that suffer from allergies to substances (such as pollen or dust mites) in the environment. This most commonly manifests as itchy, sore skin, which can cause the dog a great deal of discomfort.

In the majority of cases, the best that can be expected from treatment is to control, rather than cure, the allergies. There are now available with a number of highly effective treatments that have minimal side effects. However, the drugs are expensive, especially for a large dog.

Cherry Eye

Dogs have an extra eyelid compared to people. This third eyelid sits in the inner corner of the eye and only flips across when the eye is sore or painful. However, behind this lid is a gland that produces tear fluid, which keeps the cornea moist and conditioned.

Cherry eye is a descriptive term for the eye’s appearance when this tear gland flips out of position. It becomes red and swollen, resembling a cherry sitting on the inner corner of the eye – hence the name.

Cherry eye is unsightly. The gland should be replaced and sutured in place. This corrects the cherry eye and preserves the gland so that it continues to moisturise the eye.

Ichthyosis

This hereditary condition results in scaly, thickened, and greasy skin. It can affect any part of the body, including the foot pads. This can cause extreme discomfort for the dog, and requires constant treatment with medicated shampoos and treatments.

Ichthyosis can be screened for, so again, seek out a puppy bred from parents that have been tested and found to be clear of this condition.

Exercise and Activity Levels

The American Bulldog originates from working stock and is a canine athlete. Both of these factors mean that he needs an active lifestyle, with a minimum of two physically demanding walks per day.

He loves to run and chase, so teaching the dog to play fetch or encouraging a love of ball play goes a long way to keeping him happy. However, the American Bulldog can be afflicted by joint disease, so it’s important not to over stress his joints during his first 12 to 18 months when those bones are actively growing.

Don’t forget, the American Bulldog is also an intelligent dog so he needs plenty of mental stimulation in addition to exercise. Consider daily training sessions in order to keep his mind active, along with tricks, such as using puzzle feeders to challenge him mentally.

Grooming

The American Bulldog’s short coat is easy to care for and low maintenance. Along with any short-coated breed, regular burnishing with a grooming glove or slicker is a good idea, as this traps shed hair and keeps it off the soft furnishings.

Bathing an American Bulldog once a month is ideal. More often than this and it risks stripping away the natural oils that condition the skin. Less frequent and bacteria can build up on the skin’s surface, which makes infections more likely.

Famous American Bulldogs

Lap up the love for the American Bulldog on Pinterest or check out #AmericanBulldog on Instagram. We particularly love following the adventures of Pigeon, the 'handicapable' pup who already has nearly 30k followers!

Cross-Breeds

Created by breeding two traditional American Bulldog lines bred with English Bulldogs, the modern day dog is considered a hybrid in its own right.

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