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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."
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 American bulldogs 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, and 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 or have 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. 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 to help them grow into effective hunters or well-mannered family dogs. American bulldog puppies need early socialization and consistent training, and mental and physical stimulation for bullies of all ages is a must. They were bred to do good work, and some of their job titles include feral hog wrangler, hunting dog, livestock herder, personal protection canine, and ranch hand.
Establish a no-fear, positive reinforcement-based training program when your American bulldog is about 10 weeks old after all puppy vaccinations are complete, and talk with a behaviorist about future stages of development.
When a working dog is bored, their impish charm might toe the line, and they're more likely to engage in undesirable behaviors such as digging, chewing, and barking. Birt says new American bulldog owners need to be knowledgeable (and vigilant!) 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 neighborhood, bike ride, campout, backyard tumble fest, you name it.
They're steadfastly loyal to their family, and will often be your first alarm system to anyone they deem suspicious (including the mailman) approaching their home. 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. Early and consistent socialization will help your American bulldog be more comfortable around new people.
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. As long as they're not left alone for too long, they're adaptable. Because American bulldogs crave activity and stimulation, potential 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 can learn to work well with their owners and children, and this is true for an American bulldog, too. Though he lives happily with animals he's known since puppyhood, Birt says he might get a little grumpy if his four-legged sibling tries to play with his toys or eat all his food.
Make sure your pup has a securely fenced yard so he can run around safely. An American bulldog's temperament is so persistent, he'll probably dash through invisible fencing, especially if he's chasing a rabbit or squirrel. Tall plank fencing is a good option and hard for these dogs to jump over.
Creating a maze or a busy box to provide mental stimulation is a terrific problem-solving activity to eliminate boredom and avoid undesirable 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. When you're not around, he'll love interactive toys to keep him busy.
There's no need to spend a lot of time spiffing up an American bulldog—he's a naturally handsome breed. Weekly brushing controls moderate shedding and spreads essential oils through his coat to keep it healthy. But you might need to give him 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 and clean 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 cute 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, and they're generally healthy and robust. But 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," Birt says. "If they overheat, the tongue turns purple." Make sure to limit your American bulldog's time outside on hot summer days, and always make sure he has access to water, shade, and AC—but maybe skip the ice.
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According to the American Bulldog Association (ABA), this breed can also develop elbow or hip dysplasia, a condition where the joint doesn't properly form. This results in a loose joint and, if untreated, osteoarthritis.
The ABA also says American bulldogs can also develop two diseases:
- Ichthyosis: This is a skin disorder resulting from a genetic mutation. In less-severe cases, the dog has flaky skin and requires more frequent bathing and oiling to be comfortable. In severe cases, your pup will be itchy and need almost daily bathing and oiling. American bulldogs can also develop allergies, so talk to your veterinarian if you notice your dog excessively itching.
- Canine Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinosis (NCL): This is a deadly, incurable condition where a dog loses control of his hindquarters, eventually resulting in him not being able to move. According to the ABA, signs of the condition begin appearing when a pup is about 2 years old.
The good news: both of these conditions are detectable with genetic testing. Make sure your American bulldog breeder conducts all health screenings recommended by the OFA. If you're adopting through an American bulldog rescue, ask for all available health information.
American bulldogs' ancestry began in the English countryside, where they were often found in butcher shops. When laborers immigrated to the American colonies in the 17th century, they brought their stout working dogs with them. According to the ABA, this breed was originally known as the English white bulldog or the white English bulldog because of their mostly white coats, even though they didn't have the typical "sourmug" face of their English cousins.
The dogs' popularity rose in the 17th and 18th centuries throughout the southern U.S., and they were soon called "Southern bulldogs" or "Alabama bulldogs." It wasn't until the 1980s where "American bulldog," became their common name.
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 Scott's line.
This breed is sometimes confused with pit bulls, but there are some things prospective owners need to know about American bulldogs vs. pit bulls. For one, the term "pit bull" in the U.S. can refer to any type of dog descended from bulldogs and terriers, or those who have the characteristic wide head, short coat, and muscular frame. But pit bulls are recognized as their own breed by the United Kennel Club.
While both can be loving and rambunctious dogs, the American bulldog always has a white base for their coat, while pit bulls can be almost any color. They also 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 are registered with the American Kennel Club (AKC), but the AKC recognized the American bulldog into its Foundation Stock Service in 2019.
- American bulldogs can jump more than 3 feet in the air. Some have been known to bounce as high as 7 feet!
- American bulldogs have spent a lot of time on the big screen. Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993) and Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco (1996) both starred the scrappy bulldog, Chance, voiced by Michael J. Fox. Steve Martin's movies Cheaper by the Dozen (2003) and Cheaper by the Dozen 2 (2005) featured an American bulldog as the family companion.
- The Birts' dog Athena was the dam for Titan, the American bulldog in the 2008 film Beverly Hills Chihuahua. The couple also trained him for his movie debut.