Bulldogs were the butcher's dog from medieval times through to the eighteenth century, and bull baiting – of any bull over two years old according to the court roll of Barnard Castle – was required before a bull could be slaughtered for consumption. The reason behind such cruelty, for cruel it is, seems to be that the meat is made tender.
But bull baiting is older than the middle ages. If you have thrilled to the adventures of Theseus and Ariadne in Ancient Greece, you will perhaps remember that bull leaping was the sport of the kings of Knossos in ancient Crete. Here, perhaps, is the origin of both the bull baiting by dogs in specially created rings in many English market towns, and the bull fighting, the corridas, of Spain and also southern France.
For the bull is sacred to Poseidon (Neptune) god of the sea, of the earthquake and the tsunami and his worship has been common to all peoples who go down to the sea in ships.
Bulldogs themselves were descended from mastiffs (as can be seen from their rounded skulls) but it is probably fanciful to guess that the war dogs of the ancient Celts, which drove off the Romans in 55 BC, were their ancestors.
Romance and legend aside, the British Bulldog is probably descended from a fierce, loyal and protective dog known throughout Europe as "the English dog" – strong defender of many a merchant's house. These dogs seem also to be the butcher's dog of the bull baiting ring, dogs whose courage won their owners such coveted items as gold laced hats and silver watches!
Bull baiting went out of fashion as a sport in the early eighteen hundreds and was outlawed in 1835. However, believe it or not, there is a legend that in the nineteenth century a new role was given to bulldogs, when the Victorians used them as sniffer dogs at railway stations and seaports to find drug traffickers and stowaways.
Since the nineteenth century the well-known and lovable British Bulldog has been produced, along with his relatives the bull terriers. Sadly, because of inbreeding and show requirements – and the addition of pugs to the line during the early twentieth century to reduce size – the British Bulldog has declined greatly from his athletic and healthy ancestors.
Which is where old time bulldogs come in. In the last quarter of the twentieth century there grew a desire for a bulldog, which, whilst retaining the lovable and zany nature of the British, lost his ill–health and lack of agility. Legend has it that a secret fraternity had guarded the old bulldog in its archaic and agile form, and that in these dogs lie the origins of the old time bulldogs. But such legends have never been authenticated.
What is well–known is that various strains of bulldog were produced using a variety of healthy bull types to improve the British. Thus were born Victorians, Dorsets, Suffolks, and Aylestones – all intended to be healthy and lovable. Of the strains that have emerged in the last thirty years, Aylestones in particular are athletic, friendly, excellent with children, long–lived and of good, sound temperament.
The Bulldog has become a symbol of tenacity, not only in the dogs themselves, but in the people who have bred them – the British, also known for their tenacity and their capacity for never giving up. The old time bulldog harks back to that bulldog who never gave up – not a couch potato hardly able to walk to his dinner, but an agile fellow, a companion and friend able to spend time with his master or mistress on more energetic pursuits than snoring on the sofa.
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