Picture yourself as a little kid. You love animals and adventure, and you’ve just watched the most amazing movie, Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey. Three pets believe their family has accidentally left them behind. They resolve to find their family and set off on a journey that would have bested Odysseus. The animals in the movie are Shadow, an elderly Golden Retriever, a long-haired cat named Sassy, and an enthusiastic young dog named Chance – an American Bulldog! The American Bulldog, always up for an adventure, could be the perfect dog for you.
The American Bulldog is known for his friendly personality and work ethic. Squarely built and powerful, American Bulldogs are agile athletes. This personable but hard-working breed was created as an all-purpose farm dog. He is family-friendly but needs proper socialization. If he is going to be around other family pets, he should be socialized with them as early as possible. He tends to be territorial and protective of his family but is not much of a barker. He’s a perfect fit as a family protector.
The American Bulldog Association describes the breed as “all the dog anyone could ever want, and too much dog for some.” Because of the breed’s size and power, they must have consistent training to be good canine citizens. The American Bulldog thrives on action, and won’t fare well left outdoors alone without human interaction. They are trainable and intelligent athletes with boundless energy.
The original “bull dog” came from England to America with early settlers in the late 1600s. In colonial America, bulldogs were working farm dogs. The modern American Bulldog traces its roots to the progeny of these early bulldogs brought to the U.S. by colonists. The dogs remained in parts of the Southeastern United States and survived by catching feral pigs. These early bulldogs eventually protected family and property and assisted with large animals on the farm. They were most commonly referred to simply as “bulldogs” because of the nature of the work they did.
The American Bulldog aims to please. Highly trainable with an outgoing personality, he is protective of his loved ones. He is typically gentle with children and other pets if raised around them, but his size and energy level make it possible to knock over small children with his exuberance. Although all dogs should be supervised around children, it is especially important with a dog of this size and weight.
American Bulldogs have a solid work ethic and want to be with their people. He’ll want to accompany you if you work outdoors in the yard, and if you don’t have a farm or large acreage, you’ll need to find other forms of exercise. In addition to his physical energy, this Bulldog needs variety to keep from getting bored. Dogs who get too little exercise and mental stimulation tend to find all the wrong outlets to alleviate their boredom.
American Bulldogs have a stubborn streak, but they do like to learn. They require a firm but gentle trainer. They are food motivated, so the judicious use of treats can be a positive reward. Although they are eager to please and trainable, they are challenging. They are best paired with an owner experienced with Bully breeds. The American Bulldog is not a great fit for a first-time dog owner.
Size & Appearance
The American Bulldog varies in appearance, reflecting the goals of the breeders who developed and refined the breed in the past hundred years. They trace back to four Southern U.S. breeders and each breeder created a distinct type of dog. The Scott and Johnson American Bulldogs are two well-known types with notable differences in appearance.
The differences between lineages appear in the head and muzzle’s shape and the relative length of leg to body. The Johnson American Bulldog is the larger of the two types, standing between 23 and 27 inches at the shoulder and weighing ninety to one hundred and twenty pounds. He more closely resembles an English Bulldog in the shape of his head and jaw due to the influx of English Bulldog blood when Johnson was building his line. The Scott American Bulldog, bred for performance, is a smaller, agile dog with more energy than the Johnson. He is still a sizeable dog, weighing in at eighty to one hundred pounds.
The American Bulldog is gender dimorphic. Males are usually larger and more muscular in appearance than females. The breeds’ working origins are evident in the UKC breed standard which states, “Honorable scars resulting from field work are not to be penalized.” The muscular neck and forequarters of the American Bulldog reflect his background as a catch dog and give him the strength to wrestle an unruly bull to the ground. His deep girth provides the capacity for his heart and lungs, giving him the stamina to work all day.
Coat & Colors
The main coat color of the American Bulldog is white, although it is acceptable for him to have other colors mixed with white. He may be all white or white with black, brindle, brown, or tan. His short coat may be soft or somewhat stiff, but it is low maintenance and just needs to be brushed weekly to remove loose hair and keep his skin and coat healthy.
American Bulldogs don’t have as much wrinkled skin as their English cousins, but they do need special attention to keep their skin clean and healthy. Saliva and food particles may build up in the wrinkles in your dog’s face. To gently clean these folds, use baby wipes, Wrinkle Wipes, or a soft cloth moistened with water and a bit of fragrance-free shampoo. If your dog has already developed dermatitis in his folds, ask your veterinarian to recommend a product with antiseptic properties. Wrinkle Balm can also be applied to prevent infection, rashes, and more after cleaning.
Exercise & Living Conditions
The American Bulldog lives life to the fullest. Although different bloodlines may have higher or lower energy levels, this dog is a go-getter and needs daily exercise to keep from developing bad habits. He is best suited to country living where he can get exercise and work alongside his family. A quieter individual may manage in a suburban or urban setting, but his human best friend must spend the time and energy to give him enough exercise. American Bulldogs become bored easily, and their boredom may take a destructive turn inside your home.
Aim for at least two periods of twenty to thirty minutes of moderate exercise each day with your American Bulldog. If you spend the first exercise period jogging a familiar path, consider a game of tug or throwing a ball for him later in the day. On a comfortable day, take him for an easy hike. Variety is not only the spice of life but the key to keeping this breed content. Consider his type as you exercise with him. Johnson American Bulldogs have a more brachycephalic profile and may require a less strenuous exercise due to breathing problems.
American Bulldogs have a strong instinct to please their people, but they are not without opinions. Multiple online and print resources are dedicated to helping people retrain this particular breed. As with any strong-willed breed, consistent early training is important. From the moment your pup enters your family, rules and routines should be established. Consistency is key. They require firm but loving correction and plenty of positive reinforcement. With patience and early socialization with other animals and people, they will be solid canine citizens.
Although the American Bulldog is an athletic dog, he has some heritable conditions within the breed. Some of these conditions are only a consideration in breeding dogs, but others can have devastating effects. A reputable breeder will test breeding dogs for these conditions and should be able to show you the results for both parents upon request.
Like many large dog breeds, American Bulldogs risk developing hip and elbow dysplasia. Choosing either an adult or pup from parents tested by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA-tested) helps mitigate the risk, but dysplasia also occurs from rapid growth as a puppy. Nutrition designed for large breed puppies is a must. Joint dysplasia in the hips and elbows typically presents as lethargy, general stiffness, and signs of pain.
American Bulldogs are one of the breeds at risk for Canine Multifocal Retinopathy (CMR1). Although dogs with this disorder have areas of retinal detachment, the disease does not generally lead to blindness. Any dogs being considered as breeding stock should be tested to ensure they are not carriers.
Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) has more serious repercussions for both dog and owner. Dogs with DM usually begin to show clinical signs of the disease as older adults. They lose coordination in the hind limbs and the disease progresses until the dog is unable to walk. Degenerative Myelopathy tends to progress more rapidly in large breed dogs, and they may lose the ability to walk six months to two years after the initial onset of symptoms.
Ichthyosis is a heritable skin condition affecting American Bulldogs that can be severe enough to warrant euthanasia. The name ichthyosis comes from the Greek word for fish, and the affected thickened skin resembles fish scales. Your vet will biopsy the skin in question, which may have a distinctive odor and be prone to secondary infection. Symptoms of ichthyosis may be temporarily controllable with medicated shampoos and rinses, but ultimately ichthyosis is incurable. Genetic testing is available. You should verify any puppy you purchase is from breeding stock that tests clear of this disease.
Because of their color pattern, American Bulldogs have a higher incidence of deafness than many other breeds. The most common cause of hereditary deafness is cochleosaccular and associated with coat color patterns. It is usually seen in dogs with a white spotted pattern. It can cause deafness in one or both ears and can be noticed in pups as young as one to three weeks of age. Deafness doesn’t mean a dog can’t make a wonderful pet, but you’ll have to accommodate his condition.
Free-choice feeding may not be a good idea. Growing pups eat more than mature dogs. Follow the feeding chart on the brand of feed, but be sure to choose a puppy food designed specifically for Bulldogs. These formulas help mitigate the risk of musculoskeletal problems like joint dysplasia that are related to rapid growth.
As an adult, your dog may eat between three and four cups per day. Feeding only a single meal per day increases the risk of bloat, a life-threatening condition that can occur in any breed, but is most often seen in deep-chested dogs. Exercising immediately after eating a large meal or drinking a lot of water is a predisposing factor. Splitting his ration into two or more feedings daily may mitigate risk, and feeding a calcium-rich kibble with protein sources such as meat/lamb meal, fish meal, chicken by-product meal, meat meal, or bone meal topping the list of ingredients may help him avoid this potentially fatal condition.
Feeding the best quality nutrition that you can afford may be more cost-effective in the long run than skimping with a bargain brand kibble. In order to keep this big guy healthy and reduce risks associated with his size and body type, look specifically for a large breed formula that matches his age. A high-quality kibble including meat protein, fiber, healthy carbs, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals will meet his nutritional needs. You’ll be less likely to have to add costly supplements.
Be sure to keep any facial wrinkles your American Bulldog has clean and dry. The Johnson American Bulldog typically has a more wrinkled face and will need more grooming in that respect. Their coat is short and ranges from soft to stiff. If not properly groomed, your pup may tend to develop a doggy odor just because of the folds of his skin.
As weather allows, bathe your American Bulldog once every four to six weeks with a shampoo and conditioner made specifically for dogs. This breed sheds seasonally, but brushing him a few times per week with a bristle brush will help remove the dead hair and keep his coat healthy. Although American Bulldogs are low maintenance as far as grooming goes, they need the same nail and dental care as other dog breeds.
Breeders & Puppy Costs
Pups will cost from $800 on the lower end of the scale to between $1,200 and $3,000.
One of the first things you’ll need to do when looking for a reputable breeder is to decide what type of American Bulldog you want to join your family. If you’re looking for a calmer sort of American Bulldog, look for a Johnson breeder. Even though they have a lower energy level than the Scott line, they do tend to be a bit more territorial and may be less suitable for families with small children or other pets.
Speak to the breeder about your human and pet family and listen to what they recommend. A reputable breeder will tell you if the breed is a fit for your family, and they’ll also be able to show proof of genetic testing for heritable conditions that affect the breed. If you already own your dog and are curious about its breed makeup, you can do a test at home with one of these dog DNA kits.
Rescues & Shelters
American Bulldogs are not the right dog for every family and may wind up in rescue centers and shelters. American Bulldog-specific rescue organizations are familiar with the needs of the breed and are a great place to find your new best friend. These dogs have often been with foster families that have training and rehab experience, and they will be able to tell you how well an individual does with children or other pets.
There are rescue centers located all around the country, and an excellent place to start your search is AmericanBulldogRescue. They have chapters in many states and can assist you in your search for the perfect addition to your family. You can also search online through Petfinder.com for American Bulldogs in your area.
As Family Pets
In general, this breed is:
- A friendly, hardworking dog.
- Better suited to an experienced dog owner.
- Protective of his family and home.
- Aloof with strangers until they are eighteen months to two years old.
- High-energy, but this varies by bloodline.
- Healthiest with about an hour total of daily exercise.
- Happy to be a lapdog from time to time.
- Destructive when bored and left alone for extended periods of time.
- Best in a home with a large yard unless his exercise needs can be otherwise met.
- Good with children and other family pets (Scott more than Johnson).
If you have experience with strong-willed breeds and are interested in a family protector who still has a sense of whimsy, the American Bulldog may be the breed for you. This athletic and outgoing breed is a symbol of the rugged optimism of our early farmers. If you are looking for a buddy as high-energy and adventurous as you are, the American Bulldog may be the companion of a lifetime.