Monday, October 12, 2015

How Fashion Destroyed My Best Friend (A Guest Post)

By Sarah Johanson

“Bulldog Portrait Frank”. Image by Pharaoh Hound at Wikimedia.

Man’s Best Friend is a title that has been passed onto our four-legged, drooling counterpart. Dogs have been at man’s side for a number of years showing us his dedication and protection. In the 19th Century, humans started breeding dogs as a hobby. Today, humans have created more than 400 breeds, with less than 200 being recognized by the American Kennel Club, and all can be traced back to the same canid ancestors similar to the gray wolf. As humans selectively bred dogs based on their physical appearances to make a fashion statement, beneath the skin genetic and physiological changes where happening that would have a far harsher consequence to dogs’ health. One such breed is the English Bulldog.

All dog breeds have what are known as breed standards that are set by the Kennel Club or the American Kennel Club. These standards dictate what the breed should look like physically. At first, dogs were bred on a guideline of form follows function. Bulldogs were bred to help butchers control bulls in the slaughter yard. They had long snouts with strong jaws, necks and shoulder muscles while also being tall, allowing them to be quick and agile. However, during the fashion era of dog breeding in the 19th century, breeding became more of a hobby for physical appeal rather than for the dog to have a purpose… which brought us the bulldog we see today.

Head Comparison of a Bulldog (bottom)
and that of a Labrador Retriever (above).
Bulldog image “Camilla, the english bulldog,”
by Trevomeisel at Wikimedia. Labrador
image and edits done by Sarah Johanson.
Over time, the bulldogs’ upper jaws and snouts have been shortened by a significant amount, giving them those mushed short faces. They were bred this way because people thought they looked cute. This shortening is caused by a genetic mutation which causes a developmental defect during bone formation. It’s thought the defect became prevalent due to severe inbreeding. This shortening of the upper jaw has led to there not being enough space in bulldogs’ mouths. Their tongues and palates are often compressed, with the teeth on their lower jaws protruding out in odd directions as their teeth don’t fit, leading to problems with eating and chewing food.

Bulldog nostrils have also been compressed to the point that they can barely breathe. If a human were to breathe like the bulldog, it would be like breathing through a straw. Having a small airway has led the bulldog to become easily overheated and exercise intolerant. To cool down most dogs pant, using water as a tool to take heat away with it as it evaporates. Due to the soft palates not being able to fit in the dogs’ mouths and the narrowing of their throats, panting interferes with breathing. This leads to the production of foam, which blocks the airways even more, sometimes causing suffocation.

Bulldogs are also unable to mate on their own or give birth successfully. Due to their short, stocky bodies, very wide shoulders and narrow pelvises, most males cannot breed with the female on their own. The female either needs to be attached to a breeding stand which gives her body support in order to bear the male’s weight or she needs to be artificially inseminated. Furthermore, a natural birth is almost impossible as the puppies’ heads are too large to fit through the breed’s narrow pelvis to leave the body. This condition, known as dystocia, causes over 80% of bulldog births to be performed via caesarian section. Almost all bulldog births need some kind of human assistance; otherwise they would risk the life of the mother and her unborn puppies.

Diagram of bulldog body shape demonstrating how the “box head” of the breed cannot fit through
the pelvic bone (triangle) during birth due to size and shape. Image created by Sarah Johanson.

These are only some of the physical challenges bulldogs face, not to mention all of the medical problems that could follow. It has been the selective breeding done by breeders and the breed standards set that have turned this dog from the power it once was to the mess that it is today. The bulldog became a fashion statement and although he continues to want to please his human counterpart, his body cannot keep up with his desire.

Work Cited:

Baldwin Bulldog. “Bulldogs Overheat.” Baldwin Bulldogs, 10 Dec. 2014. Web. 23 Feb. 2015.

Denizet-Lewis, Benoit. “Can the Bulldog Be Saved?” The New York Times, 22 Nov. 2011. Web. 5 Feb. 2015.

Dog Breed Health. “Bulldog (English Bulldog).” Dog Breed Health, n.d. Web. 6 Feb. 2015.

Dogtime. “A Brief History of Breeding.” Dogtime, 30 May. 2009. Web. 5 Feb. 2015.

Kalmanash, Angela. “The Physiology and Morphology of a Breed StandardDogChannel. DogChannel, 9 June. 2014. Web. 5 Feb. 2015.

Thomson, Keith Stewart. “Marginalia: The Fall and Rise of the English BulldogAmerican Scientist. 84(1996): 220-223. Web. 7 Feb. 2015.


  1. HI! Nice article. I also write about animals. you can checkout my post about dogs at

  2. A very informative and accurate article. It's surprising how many people are unaware of how horribly unhealthy these dogs have become.

  3. I read that Post and got it fine and informative.