American bulldogs are sensitive and caring, but also determined and full of purpose. They know how to finish a task, and they hope you’ll appreciate it. They’re brawny and well-built, they have incredible stamina, and they’ll be at your side if you’re out in the fields, in the woods, or hiking a rocky trail. They also enjoy cuddling.
“American bulldogs thrive in environments that provide both human companionship and jobs,” says Arlene Birt, owner of Birt’s American Bulldogs in Placerville, Calif., along with her husband, Chuck Birt. “These dogs appreciate their humans and opt to be with them as opposed to being solitary. With a family, they’re naturally loyal and protective.”
American bulldogs are proud, muscular, and poised to run. Their hindquarters are narrow and lifted with sculpted haunches. They have a high, thin tail like a rudder and a long back. Standing about 2 feet at the shoulder, their broad, square head is positioned on a solid neck. With a quick glance, it’s almost as though most of their 60–100 pounds is in the front of the body, but that’s just because their burly chest ripples with strength and their forelegs are set wide apart.
While they don’t have the wrinkled bulldog jowls most people think of, they’re still slightly loose compared to their flattened but defined snout and jawline. They have a prominent forehead, but their dainty upside-down, V-shaped ears drape on either side of their cap. They have soft, round brown eyes. Most American bulldogs are white with a white base coat, usually marked with black, brown, brindle, or tan. Their fur is short and neat.
The American bulldog temperament is quite silly when excited or happy, and these dogs will clown around to make their human companions laugh and reward them with praise. Your lap is often their favorite spot, regardless of how much oomph they have. They love to frolic and play, especially fetching and tug-of-war, and they’ll spring many feet into the air after a Frisbee or another flying toy!
They’re so intelligent, it’s easy to be enthusiastic about training, not only to increase their skills through puppy socialization and training, but also to help them grow into effective hunters or “catch and hold” dogs with scent coaching. Mental and physical stimulation for American bulldogs is a must, as they were bred to do good work. Some of their job titles include feral hog wrangler, hunting dog, livestock herder, personal protection canine, ranch hand, and even gentle, conscientious therapy dog.
“An American bulldog is a great service animal, performing jobs such as retrieving items for people with disabilities, helping with mobility issues, and detecting low potassium and blood sugar before a condition becomes critical, then alerting their human by licking or pawing,” Birt says. “Some bulldogs are even trained to call emergency personnel in those situations.”
When a working dog is bored, their impish charm turns devilish, and they’re more likely to engage in destructive behaviors such as digging and chewing. Birt says new American bulldog owners need to be knowledgeable regarding what these pooches shouldn’t chew on. “Rawhides, fluffy bedding, rope toys, shoes, and other items can be eaten and cause the intestinal tract to develop an impasse,” she adds.
Include your American bulldog in any exercise you do. This helps them see you as the leader, and they’ll jump for joy—literally!—at the chance to join you and other family members for a run, hike, walk through the woods, bike ride, campout, backyard tumble fest, you name it.
They’re fierce protectors of their family, so you can count on their bark to mean something in the middle of the night. They’re naturally wary of strangers and may need some extra association with your children’s friends so they recognize their play together as non-threatening.
As long as American bulldogs are kept active and engaged, they’ll do well on a farm, in a house with a big yard, or in an apartment with a large-animal dog park nearby. If they’re not left alone for too long, they’re adaptable. People who are retired and experienced dog owners should first talk with a veterinarian to determine if this bulldog’s exercise needs match their lifestyles.
All dogs benefit from early, positive socialization so they learn to work well with their owners and children, but Birt says American bulldogs especially need training in a multiple-dog home. “Often there’s food or toy aggression with multiple dogs, so perhaps the best answer is that the dogs should be fed separately and given their own toys,” she says. “Separate crates are good in maintaining a dog’s own territory.”
Because their protective instincts are so acute, a bulldog has a high prey drive, which means cats, small dogs, and other pets and wildlife might be at risk. They usually do well with animals they’ve known since puppyhood.
To allow for a more free-range pooch on your property, build yard fencing as secure as possible. An American bulldog’s temperament is so persistent, they’ll probably dash through invisible fencing, especially if they’re chasing a rabbit or squirrel. Tall plank fencing is a good option so they don’t jump over it just because they can. Creating a maze or a busy box to provide mental stimulation is a terrific problem-solving activity to eliminate boredom and avoid destructive behavior. Something simple, like tossing wads of crumpled newspaper across the floor with little treats hidden underneath, helps keep your American bulldog happy and engaged.
There’s no need to spend a lot of time spiffing up an American bulldog. Weekly brushing controls moderate shedding and spreads essential oils through their coat to keep it healthy, and maybe an extra comb-through when spring and fall seasonal shedding picks up.
They only need baths when they’re dirty, and that’s a good time to trim their nails and check their ears, too. Regular home dental care is important, not only for healthy teeth and fresh breath but also because they have a tendency to slobber a lot, especially after eating and drinking. Their facial folds need cleaning throughout the day.
Most types of bulldogs, including the American, are a bit gassy. A veterinarian can explain how their particular anatomy affects digestion and what diets minimize flatulence.
An American bulldog’s lifespan is 10–12 years because they’re generally healthy and robust. But Birt points out that as a Brachycephalic or flat-faced breed, they’re prone to overheating, and you have to take action quickly. “These aren’t dogs that can play Frisbee on the beach in the sun for an extended period, she says. “If they overheat, the tongue turns purple,” she says. “Immediately submerge them in a bath of ice water and put lemon juice down the throat to open up the airway.”
Some American Bulldogs also contract hip dysplasia. As the Merck Veterinary Manual defines it, “Hip dysplasia is an abnormal development of the hip joint in large dogs. It is characterized by a loose joint and subsequent degenerative joint disease. Excessive growth, exercise, nutrition, and hereditary factors affect the occurrence of hip dysplasia.”
“Not everyone does all of the hip testing and medical testing, and not all results from the parents are passed on to the litters, such as good hip scores on the parents are not necessarily a given that good hip scores will be passed to the offspring,” Birt says. “It’s merely an indicator. However, if you can see the parents, you can see their legs and their gait.”
While some people seek out an American bulldog rescue, others want a puppy. Birt advises you look for specific characteristics before choosing a pup. “There are points that first-time American bulldog owners should be aware of, such as the parents’ age, what the sire and dam look like, and what their temperament is. If possible, check for a straight spine, large and open nares for good breathing, their feet for splayed toes, the mouth for any wryness, and potential for crossed eyes.”
American bulldogs’ ancestry began in the English countryside, where they were often found in butcher shops. When laborers immigrated to the colonial new country, they brought their stout working dogs with them. This breed was originally known as the English white bulldog or the white English bulldog because of mostly white coats, even though they didn’t have the typical “sourmug” face of their English cousins.
The names evolved again to Southern bulldog or Alabamabulldog as their popularity rose in the southeastern U.S. in the 17th and 18th centuries because of their catch and hold abilities.
American bulldogs almost faded away after World War II, but breeders John Johnson and Alan Scott each worked to improve the animals’ family sociability and guarding skills. Now, there are two primary strains of American bulldogs, and those with Johnson’s traits are a little larger and more athletic than canines of the Scott line.
Prospective owners often ask, “American bulldogs vs. pit bulls: which is better?” It’s not as much about which animal is better or worse, but more about what type of canine companion fits your lifestyle. The term “pit bull” can refer to many types of dogs. Both can be loving, rambunctious, and protective dogs and respond well to positive, no-fear training, but they have different lineages. American bulldogs descend from mastiffs, and pit bulls from various terriers, including American Staffordshire terriers and Staffordshire bull terriers—although some breed historians believe there’s a little bulldog mixed in.
Neither the American bulldog nor the pit bull type as named is registered with the American Kennel Club (AKC), but the AKC recognized the American bulldog into its Foundation Stock Service in 2019, and the organization also includes American Staffordshire terriers and Staffordshire bull terriers.