English Bulldog

Gemma Gaitskell
Dr Gemma Gaitskell (BVetMed MSc MRCVS, Royal Veterinary College, London)
Photo of adult English Bulldog

The Bulldog is often thought of as a symbol of Britain and is one of its oldest native breeds. Originally developed for the brutal sport of bull-baiting the Bulldog saw a change in character being selected for when this was banned in the 1800s. The Bulldog of today is an affectionate, bold, kind natured dog which is good with children and often protective of them. The breed is sociable and generally good with other pets and enjoys having company.

The Bulldog is a medium sized dog, which is relatively heavy for its size. It is not particularly active, although, as with all dogs, it should be regularly exercised to avoid it becoming overweight. Due to its shortened face, care should be taken when it is hot to keep dogs calm and cool as they can have breathing difficulties. The breed also suffers from some other health problems and can be prone to skin problems although it has a short, easy-to-care for coat which does not require specialist grooming.

About & History

The Bulldog is one of Britain’s oldest native breeds, first known by this name in the 1630s, however, there are earlier references to dogs of a similar type. The breed was originally used for bull-holding and bull-baiting, but was also used in dog fights. This is why they initially developed into a breed with a strong, stocky body with large heads and powerful jaws. After this was banned in 1835 under the Animal Cruelty Act, the Bulldog no longer had a use and began to evolve into the type of dog we associate with the breed today. People first began to show the Bulldog in 1860 and this also saw a change in the type of character, which was selected for. Dogs with loving and affectionate natures were selected for over the fierce, aggressive dogs that were typical of the early breed.

The original Bulldog was a lot more athletically able than those of today, which are heavy set and squat with a much shorter face. At the end of the 1800s, two of the top Bulldogs were entered into a test to see which could walk 20-miles. This is a stark contrast with the fitness test implemented recently by the Dutch Kennel Club where dogs have to walk 0.62 miles (1 km) in an attempt to improve the health of the breed. Today the Bulldog is a companion dog and popular mascot.


English Bulldog Large Photo

The Bulldog has can come in numerous colours and colour combinations which are accepted for registration by the UK Kennel Club:

  • Brindle
  • Brindle & White
  • Fawn
  • Fawn & White
  • Fawn Brindle
  • Fawn Brindle & White
  • Red
  • Red & White
  • Red Brindle
  • Red Brindle & White
  • Red Fawn
  • White
  • White & Brindle
  • White & Fawn
  • White & Red

Some colours, such as merle, have health problems linked with them, for this reason they are not recognised by the Kennel Club. The Bulldog has a short, smooth, dense coat, which should be glossy and fine, lying flat and close to the body. There is no specified ideal height for the breed but their ideal weight ranges from 23 to 25 kg, and females are slightly smaller than males, often with less well-developed characteristics.

The breed should have a powerful and compact appearance with a relatively short body and stout legs. The Bulldog should have a thick, strong neck with some lose skin around its throat leading to broad shoulders and a wide, deep and muscular chest with straight front legs, which are set wide apart. The front legs should be slightly shorter than the hind legs. The Bulldog should have tight toes, flat feet and splayed toes are considered to be a serious fault. The back should be wide and broad with a slight rise towards the back end. The tail should be low set and of a medium length, starting wider and tapering. Inverted, tightly curled or lacking tails are considered undesirable.

The Bulldog has a broad muzzle and relatively short face which faces slightly upwards. The head should have a large circumference and has some skin which is slightly loose, but not excessively so. Nostrils should be wide and there should be no signs of difficulty breathing. Teeth should not be visible and jaws are strong and square and the tongue should not protrude from the mouth. The bottom jaw should be directly under the upper jaw and parallel to it. The eyes are set fairly low down and wide apart and are medium sized, round and dark in colour. There should be no evidence of eye problems. Ears are described as being ‘rose’ ears, folding down and inwards on themselves.

The Bulldog should move with short, fast steps, which give an effortless feeling. Hind feet should not be lifted too far off the ground, giving an efficient air to the movement.

Character & Temperament

The Bulldog is a kind, affectionate, courageous dog with a tendency to be stubborn at times. They have a loyal and dependable nature and are bold. Most Bulldogs are friendly and patient, which means they are well known as good family pets, often showing a protective nature around children.

Their sociable and friendly nature can mean that they can suffer from separation anxiety, but this is not especially common and training from puppyhood can help avoid it. They are generally good with other pets and despite their early origins are not renowned nowadays for being good guard dogs.


Photo of English Bulldog puppy

Bulldogs can be stubborn and this can make training difficult, however, most of the time they are keen to please and like to be with their owners meaning most basic training and good recall is not normally a problem.

They are fairly fast learners and are highly motivated by food. House-training is not usually an issue. They have a bold character so are reasonably adaptable to different situations and not phased by busy city environments.


The average lifespan of the Bulldog is around 8 – 10 years old. Bulldogs can suffer from several health problems, some of which are due to breeding for exaggerated physical characteristics, such as an excessively shortened nose. This has become a major welfare concern for the breed and measures are now being taken to try and improve its health. Bulldog breeders are advised to have a Breed Council health certificate for breeding stock under a scheme intended to improve the Bulldogs health status.

Characteristic Watch List

It is classed as a Category 3 breed by the UK Kennel Club and there is a watch list of characteristics which should not be encouraged due to their effects on dogs welfare. Judges should penalise any of these characteristics if they are present and if you are thinking of getting a puppy it is important to look out for them and avoid them in the parents. These include:

  • Large amounts of loose facial skin causing conformational abnormalities of the upper and/or lower eyelids so that the eyelid margins are not in normal contact with the eye when the dog is in its natural pose (e.g. they turn in, or out, or both) and sore eyes caused by poor eyelid conformation
  • Hair loss or scarring from previous dermatitis
  • Heavy overnose wrinkle (roll) and pinched nostrils
  • Tight, inverted or lack of tail
  • Obesity
  • Unsound movement

As well as problems caused by these physical characteristics the Bulldog is also predisposed to the following health problems:

Brachycephalic Syndrome

Caused by the shortened conformation of the face this can lead to a condition called BOAS (Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome), as a result of the limited space available for internal structures involved in breathing. This lack of space leads to difficulty breathing and can also cause the larynx to collapse. In addition, dogs may have an excessively long soft palate which exacerbates problems.

This condition is particularly significant in hot or stressful conditions where the dog may not be able to breath sufficient oxygen or lose enough heat through panting. If a dog does have difficulty breathing special care should be taken not to exercise it when it is hot and to keep it as cool as possible.


A condition where uric acid does not dissolve in the urine as it should and therefore accumulates, leading to the formation of crystals and bladder stones, which can cause blockages which are dangerous and be extremely painful. The condition usually develops from around 3 to 6 years old and surgery may necessary to remove them. A DNA test is available.

Hip Dysplasia (HD)

A condition where abnormal development or other abnormalities of the hips can lead to joint problems, such as osteoarthritis later in life. X-rays of the hips are evaluated by experts, using several specific criteria in dogs older than a year.

The maximum score is 106, and a low score correlates with the presence of fewer signs of dysplasia. HD is transmitted genetically but can also be influenced by environment. The Bulldog is the breed with the highest score for hip dysplasia.

Patellar Luxation

A condition where the kneecap in the stifle of the back leg can become dislocated, causing pain and discomfort. This is tested for under the breed council health scheme.

Interdigital Furuncles

Often known as interdigital cysts, these are painful growths which appear between the toes in the webbing of the feet. They are most commonly caused by deep bacterial infections where hairs have been forced back into the hair shaft causing inflammation and secondary bacterial and fungal infections. Treatment is a long process and should be performed under advice from a veterinarian, as it will vary depending on cause.

Cherry Eye

A condition where the third eyelid protrudes from the eye, giving it a cherry like appearance. This is caused by large eyes with insufficient space for all the structures.

Skin Problems

Bulldogs seem to have a higher prevalence of skin problems than some other breeds. This may be largely due to the fact they have lots of excess skin and wrinkles, which fold over on itself meaning that air cannot get to all areas. A tightly curled tail can also result in skin problems.

The inner parts of these folds and wrinkles are prone to becoming irritated and infected. This can be a lifelong problem and treatment revolves around being persistent with hygiene and cleanliness.


Bulldogs are prone to becoming overweight. They are not especially active and enjoy their food, which means they can easily start to gain weight. This can cause other health problems or make existing ones such as breathing problems and hip dysplasia worse with a faster progression. Appropriate feeding and exercise are key to maintaining a Bulldog in shape and at a healthy weight.

Birthing Problems

The Bulldog often has problems with natural birth and a large majority of female dogs have to undergo caesarean sections as the large head size of puppies means they are prone to getting stuck in the pelvis.

Exercise and Activity Levels

The Bulldog needs around an hour of exercise a day to stay healthy and happy. They enjoy it if some of this time to be off the lead as they like to play but this is not essential. They are not overly energetic, but should be taken out for walks to stay healthy and maintain a normal weight. As Bulldogs are a brachycephalic breed (with a shortened face) and can have problems breathing care should be taken not to over-exercise them when it is hot and sunny.


The Bulldog has a short coat, which can shed but does not require any specialist grooming. Weekly brushing at home should be enough to stop shedding around the house. Many Bulldogs have lots of excess skin and this can mean that they suffer from skin irritation and infection, which may require more regular bathing or skin care either with shampoos or other treatments, however, this should be under instruction of your vet to ensure correct treatment.

Famous English Bulldogs

The Bulldog is well recognised and the dog often associated with Britain, which is why it is often known as the British Bulldog. It is a popular mascot for sports teams, universities, and also for the United States Marine Corps. Some other examples of famous Bulldogs include:

  • The Bulldog associated with Winston Churchill during World War II
  • Large, Michael Jackson’s Bulldog
  • Angus from the film, Mr. Magoo
  • Barky Marky from the animated TV series, Tiny Toons
  • Francis from the film, Oliver and Company
  • Hector from the cartoon, The Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries
  • Max from the series, Jack and the Fatman
  • Meatball, Adam Sandler's dog, also in the film, Little Nicky
  • Spike in the cartoon, Tom and Jerry


Popular Bulldog crossbreeds around today include:

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