THE RISE IN THE POPULARITY OF THE NON STANDARD BULLDOG
During the late 20th Century, bulldogs that more closely resembled the pre-breed dogs became popular. Although never officially recognised as a breed by the Kennel Club, they were sold as a "Healthy Alternative" to the Bulldog that at the time was going through some health problems.
Some bulldog breeders had lost their way, and we began to see a rise in skeletal problems and breathing issues. A handful of dedicated breeders were working hard on fixing the problem and the Bulldog Breed Council played a pivotal role in the formation of a health scheme to try and steer breeders away from exacerbating the problem. It was a problem that would take time to fix so meanwhile, there were others that began to cross the bulldog with other Bull Breed types and Mastiff types to "outcross" away from the perceived issues plaguing the bulldog at that time. The initial intention was good, an effort to create a bulldog without BOAS (Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome) or Hemi Vertebrae (a spinal condition that was creeping in). They were being sold under an aray of breed names including the Victorian Bulldog, the Old English Bulldog, the Olde Tyme Bulldog and others but of course were still considered Brachycephalic (flat faced) so didn't really fix any of the problems. They quickly became Fashionable Status Dogs and because the Kennel Club never officially recognised the breeds, there were a handful of "Alternative" Registers appearing in an attempt to give the dogs some credibility.
As time went by it became clear that not only did these dogs resemble the pre-breed bulldog, but that it also had the temperament of the dogs that had pre-dated the first breed standard. Some of the serious initial creators of these dogs realised they had opened a pandoras box of behaviour issues and ceased their breeding programmes, there is a well-known tale of a such a breeder who had to feed his dogs via a pole because he was unable to get near them. However - sadly others continued to experiment with further crosses which resulted in horrendous deformities or dogs that required so much stimuli they were border line dangerous.
By the turn of the 21st Century, there were very few serious Alternative Bulldog Breeders still operating. The Standard Bulldog was working its way towards becoming healthier but this in turn caused the bulldog to become so popular that the number of dogs registered at the Kennel Club increased from around a 1,000 to over 10,000 according to the Breed Record Supplement (a publication issued quarterly by the Kennel Club detailing litters registered during that quarter period). Indiscriminate breeding began again and the breed made it to the Kennel Club's "Most Popular Breeds" list (number 2 at one point). However, this time it wasn't to cross them with other breeds but to play on the coat colours that the breed standard considered "undesirable". bulldogs that did not meet the standard by way of coat colour became popular and all in the name of profit.
Initially it was just the Black coated dogs that became popular but as breeding programmes moved forward the law of genetics kicked in and Lilac (or what was previously described as blue) began to appear. The first recorded litter of Lilac pups sold for an estimated £16,000 each! And the flood gates were open.
Put simply, Red coats can create Black coats - in the 20th century any black coated pup born in error was either sold cheaply, given away, "taken to the pail" or culled. But as they became more popular, they were being sold under the tag line of "rare". As the colours were doubled up, Tri colours (three colours including tan points within the usual two colours of the breed), Lilac, Chocolate and Black were common and at one point over 75% of the bulldogs registered with the kennel club were of non-standard colour.
Over time, the theory that had always been played out regarding temperament and coat colour began to ring true. Data collected by Breed Rescues indicate that the lilac coats in particular were beginning to present with serious spinal deformities (most commonly Spina Bifida) and temperament problems. The bottom was falling out of the fad colour market, but the damage was already done, as dogs moved through each generation until they began to present again as standard red or fawn dogs (albeit in some cases of Dudley pigmentation) making it harder to tell if the Stud dog you had selected was in fact carrying non-standard genes.
One of the reasonings behind the "rare" dogs and the price tag they commanded was picked up by criminal gangs. It became easier to launder money through dog breeding than drug dealing as the sentencing was much less severe. Fertility clincs began to appear and the breeding of non-standard bulldogs was big business. But the bubble was bursting so there became a need to move on to something else just as lucrative.
Once again, cross breeding became a thing. Further crossing created "Toad" bulldogs, "Pocket" Bulldogs, amongst others but in many cases these dogs were so awfully deformed the craze quickly died out. However, as they began to realise that crossing other breeds with the bulldog meant the gentle temperament was changed a more Pit Bull type was appearing.
The bulldog as the true bulldog continues to survive and as in the 19th Century, there are still a number of careful breeders whose sole intent is to maintain the bulldog as it should be. Working closely with Cambridge University to ensure the dogs are as healthy as they can be an official BOAS scoring system was established allowing breeders to responsibly breed their dogs and the Breed Council's Health scheme was stepped up a gear.
The moral of this story is to do your research, not just put bulldog in google because you will be faced with an array of crossed and non-standard litters, but really really do your homework.