The bulldog is a breed with characteristically thick shoulders and a matching head. There are generally thick folds of skin on a bulldog's brow, followed by round, black, wide-set eyes, a short muzzle with characteristic folds called "rope" above the nose, with hanging skin under the neck, drooping lips, and pointed teeth. The coat is short, flat and sleek, with colors of red, fawn, white, brindle (mixed colors, often in waves or irregular stripes), and piebalds of these.
In the US, the size of a typical mature male is about 45 pounds and that for mature females is about 45 pounds for a Standard English Bulldog. In the United Kingdom, the breed standard is 55 pounds for a male and 50 pounds for a female.
While some canine breeds have their tails cut or docked soon after birth, bulldogs are one of very few breeds whose tail is naturally short and curled.
Despite their famous "sourpuss" expression, bulldogs are generally docile and easy to please. They can move quickly over short distances. Bulldogs do not need a lot of physical exercise, so they are well-suited for living in apartments and other urban environments. They are friendly and gregarious but occasionally willful. The phrase "stubborn as a bulldog" is loosely rooted in fact. They rank 78th out of 80 in Stanley Coren's The Intelligence of Dogs, being of lowest degree working/obedience intelligence.
Breeders have worked to breed aggression out of the breed, and as such, the dog is known to be of generally good temperament. Due to their friendly, patient nature, bulldogs are known for getting along well with children, other dogs, and pets. Bulldogs can be so attached to home and family that they will not venture out of the yard without a human companion.
The term "bulldog" was first mentioned in literature around 1500, the oldest spelling of the word being Bondogge and Bolddogge. The first reference to the word with the modern spelling is dated 1631 or 1632 in a letter by a man named Preswick Eaton where he writes: "procuer mee two good Bulldoggs, and let them be sent by ye first shipp". The name "bull" was applied because of the dog's use in the sport of bull baiting. The original Bulldog had to be very ferocious and so savage and courageous as to be almost insensitive to pain. In 1835 dog fighting as a sport became illegal in England. Therefore, the Old English Bulldog had outlived his usefulness in England and his days were numbered in England. However, emigrants did have a use for such dogs in the New World, resulting in the original Bulldog's closest descendant, the American Bulldog. Back in England, they proceeded to eliminate the undesirable 'fierce' characteristics and to preserve and accentuate the finer qualities. Within a few generations, the English Bulldog became one of the finest physical specimens, minus its original viciousness, stamina, strength, speed, and intelligence.
In the 17th century, bulldogs were used for bullbaiting (as well as bearbaiting)—a gambling sport popular in the 17th century with wagers laid while trained bulldogs leapt at a bull lashed to a post. The bulldog's typical means of attack included latching onto the animal's snout and attempting to suffocate it
However, the bulldog's early role was not limited to sport. In mid-17th century New York, bulldogs were used as a part of a city-wide round-up effort led by governor Richard Nicolls. Because cornering and leading wild bulls was dangerous, bulldogs were trained to seize a bull by its nose long enough for a rope to be secured around its neck. The use of dogs for fighting with other dogs or other animals was banned in the United Kingdom by the Cruelty to Animals Act 1835, but Bulldogs as pets were continually promoted by dog dealer Bill George.
In time, the original old English bulldog was crossed with the pug. The outcome was a shorter, wider dog with a brachycephalic skull. Though today's bulldog looks tough, he cannot perform the job he was originally created for, as he cannot withstand the rigors of running and being thrown from a bull, and cannot grip with such a short muzzle.
The oldest single breed specialty club is The Bulldog Club (England), which was formed in 1878. Members of this club met frequently at the Blue Post pub on Oxford Street in London. There they wrote the first standard of perfection for the breed. In 1891 the two top bulldogs, Orry and Dockleaf, competed in a contest to see which dog could walk the farthest. Orry was reminiscent of the original bulldogs, lighter boned and very athletic. Dockleaf was smaller and heavier set, more like modern bulldogs. Dockleaf was declared the winner that year. Although some argued that the older version of the bulldog was more fit to perform, the modern version’s looks won over the fans of the breed because they proved they were equally as fit and athletic in the walking competition.
At the turn of the 20th century, Ch. Rodney Stone became the first Bulldog to command a price of $5000 when he was bought by controversial Irish-American political figure Richard Croker.