Last Updated on November 26, 2021 by Ana P.
Answering the question of how did bulldogs get their name comes from understanding some of their history and origin which ultimately shaped their name. The wrinkly-faced modern-day bulldog owes its appearance to very deliberate breeding done by humans over many years.
Even though all dogs belong to the same species, human interference is what makes them so different now. Nowhere is this more evident than in bulldog characteristics and physical features. Even among bulldogs, differing traits make for different types of bulldogs, like English or French bulldogs.
Ancient Roots – How Did Bulldogs Get Their Name
All dogs have the wolf as their ancestor and the bulldog is no exception to this. Evolution dictates what and how different species change and adapt but for dogs, the story is not so straightforward. At a certain point in their history human involvement directed bulldog evolution into how they look now.
There are ancient Roman writings that show records of “pugnances” or war dogs that rode into battle in Roman Britain. Greek records also show evidence of “Briton dogs with broad mouths” and their fighting attributes. These historical references are what point to the bulldog origin in the British isles, as well as their aggressive reputation.
The Romans were so impressed with these dogs that they took a substantial number of them and organized amphitheater competitions. The Italian peninsula is most likely the place from which the bulldog spread across the entire European continent.
Lost Is Terminology – Where Do Bulldogs Come From
Modern names of dog breeds are highly regulated and recorded, making it that much easier to recognize each breed. When it comes to tracing bulldog ancestors many sources have different names and similar characteristics across archaic languages.
When looking to uncover where bulldogs come from, there is one ancient breed that attracts attention. Behavioral aspects, common with what is known about bulldog history, have the alaunt dog as an ancestor to both bulldog and mastiff.
Bulldog history is a matter of much debate, as there is no exact genealogy to pinpoint the precise origin. Identifying bulldog ancestors relies on brutish dog breeds from the past like the “pugnances” and the alaunt.
The alaunt was a breed of dog brought from Asia that could have, in time, become a more recognizable breed. The term mastiff refers to larger dogs in general, thus antiquated naming conventions permeate into the present debate.
Looking at a bulldog and mastiff, there is no doubt they have similar features in different bodies. A common ancestor might be the simplest explanation, later branching into the two breeds we know today.
Bull – Baiting
Domestication of dogs developed as a symbiotic relationship between humans and dogs. Dogs and humans have a long history of collaboration to survive. The instincts and heightened senses of the dog are only increased by the logistical planning of humans. Humans have used dogs for work ever since their domestication.
Hunting was easier with a pack of dogs by their side, and in the absence of hunting came amusement. Bulldogs might not seem like the most elite hunters today but they were actually bred to take down big animals. In the search to answer the questions of how did bulldogs get their name, the answer is in their name.
From the twelfth century on, bear and bull-baiting with dogs was a very popular form of entertainment in Europe. Letters describing these dogs and their bravery in the face of bulls are valuable records in the historic context of bulldog history. There are even paintings and drawings depicting the powerful dog.
French Bulldog – Dogue De Bordeaux
Many iterations of bulldog exist now, but maybe the most famous are the English and French bulldog. The two look slightly different and their origin still has a link to ancient English war dogs. As it happens, the Roman Empire spread over much of Europe and people moved around taking their dogs with them.
Later on, in history, England had many parts of French territories under their rule, Bordeaux included. It’s no wonder then, that bulldog ancestors were exported to France. From these exports stemmed the French bulldog, which has differing physical characteristics but shares much of the genetic material with the English bulldog.
It was in Bordeaux, under English occupation, that the precursor to the French bulldog saw intensive breeding for arena fights. The reputation of the bullfighting dogs was still a looming shadow on the breed which was actively sought out.
Read more about Muzzles For French Bulldogs.
Bulldog – Modern – Day Name And Physique
The actual “bulldog” word appeared for the first time in a letter dated 1632, from an Englishman, named Pretswich Eaton. In the letter, he requests the delivery of two bulldogs and a mastiff. An invaluable record in dating, the origin of the bulldog name, at least partially. The name could be older but there are no historical records to back it.
Bull Baiting switched over the years from the rich noble elite to the lower common people. This meant another chance for the bulldog physique, as poorer common folk could not afford to keep huge bulldogs. This favored smaller bulldog breeds, with smaller heads and lighter bodies. The name finally started to match the bulldog we recognize today.
1802 saw bull baiting outlawed in England and that posed a danger to the bulldog as interest in the breed fell. Fortunately, the breed’s survival was due to exportation to Germany where the boxer rose in popularity, and the US become a farming dog.
Original breeding for the bulldog had aggression as an intent, specifically for war in ancient times, and bull-baiting later. Finding the answer to the question of how did bulldogs get their name also implies a dive into their history. What they were bred for heavily influenced the name they had been given.
While the history and origins of this breed are a dramatic one full of strife it does have a happy ending. Bulldog history is a complicated one much like our human history, as the two intertwine closely in the fabric of history. It did give us the loveable squishy-faced bulldog we know now.