The British Bulldog and it's turn-up

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HJ van der Merwe

Where the idiom: "Two of a trade never agree" cannot be applied, it would be best, rather, to speak wisely or not at all. If one is true to the lesser things in life, the greater see to themselves - whatever the proverbial implication, this still remains a fundamental truth: the dog that excels as a whole, couldn't possibly do so if it didn't excel in its composite parts in the first place.

In the English Bulldog, some of the "lesser" qualities are complimentary mainly to beauty, e.g. dark eyes preferred above light ones. Others are prerequisites for a healthy, complete specimen, e.g. roach back, roll across the nose, well-rounded barrel and deep brisket, rose ears, etc. Although the last group vary regarding their degree of importance from a health point of view, they are all preconditions for a complete dog (re the Official Standard). Let's take a closer look at one of these, namely the so-called "turn-up" of the English Bulldog.

At the onset it is important to note that, although both being complementary to a correct Bulldog head, the terms "layback" and "turn-up", refer to two wholly different parts of the dog's face. The first describes the position of the nose, while the last refers to the upsweep of the lower jawbones, giving it its characteristic "banana shape" lower jaw.

The development of the concavely shaped lower jaw, a characteristic of the British Bulldog, must be directly attributed to the era when our noble breed was bred purely for that savage bloodsport, Bullbaiting (which practice subsequently gave birth to its breed name). In order to survive this rough and tumble, the dog needed a jaw configuration that could get hold of the bull in such a manner that it could not be loosened without either smashing the dog to death against the ground, or shaking it off - together with that part of the bull's flesh which the dog was hanging onto at that moment (and this mostly happened to be the soft tip of the bull's nose!). It might not be improbable that this very scenario was what inspired Shakespeare to make the moneylender, Shylock, claim HIS pound of flesh ...

Besides other prerequisites for survival (such as adequate muscle tone, shorter forelegs and roached back, ideal weight, etc.), only the specimens with the most efficient jaw formation survived - and they were the ones mostly used as studs (in order to breed dogs with this upturning, undershot jaw). If the lower jaw was wry, too straight, or too little or too far undershot, it would not have been able to get a tight enough hold onto the bull (or bear) and would have been killed within a matter of minutes, or, at any rate, been given a send-off and sold for less than a song. It is this very turn-up of lower jaw, giving the dog the so-called "lock jaw"-bite, which made it a formidable adversary in dogfighting as well. Once the dog's jaws had "locked" onto its opponent, no force whatsoever was able to pull the Bulldog from the other - safe Charon, the grim Ferryman, himself ... These blood-thirsty practices now (mostly) being part of history, we, as breeders of purebred dogs of high quality [i.e. they conform as closely as possible with the perfect specimen (as described in the official breed standard)], are compelled (if not called) to shoulder the responsibility to produce, among other things, this correct turn-up in our dogs.

Less we forget, to the same extent that it is impossible for a dog with no turn-up to display the proper layback, equally impossible is it to have an English Bulldog with a level bite, and then expect it to have a proper turn-up. The one cancels the other, and although some may want to differ, since two of a trade seldom agree, we are fortunate enough to be in a position where we can refer to a standard, which we all (ought to) adhere to and take as the final word in any case of difference of opinion: " Jaws broad, massive and square, lower jaw projecting considerably in front of upper and turning up." (HEAD and SKULL, Official BULLDOG Standard as adopted by the Kennel Union of Southern Africa).