Bullenbeisser

He is not recognized by the F.C.I.

Origin
Germany and the Netherlands
Translation
Francis Vandersteen
The Bullenbeisser was a Molosser-type dog native to Germany and the Netherlands. Bred for a variety of purposes, the Bullenbeisser specialized in bull-baiting and wild boar hunting. Also known as the Barenbeiszer, Bullenbijter, German Mastiff and German Bulldog, the Bullenbeisser was relatively widespread in the lands of the Holy Roman Empire for a number of centuries, but became extinct in the early 1900s. At one time, there were many distinct varieties of Bullenbeisser, of which the smallest, known as Brabanter, was the best known. The Bullenbeisser is best known for its key role in the development of the Boxer, one of the world's most popular dog breeds.

Not much is known about the Bullenbeisser's beginnings, but the breed had a very long history in the lands of the Holy Roman German Empire, a conglomerate of thousands of different political bodies that once covered all or part of modern Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Germany, France, Italy, Slovenia, Poland, Austria, Switzerland and the Czech Republic. The breed was mainly kept by Germans, Dutch, Flemish and Frisians, speakers of closely related languages who, until recent centuries, were considered a single people. The Bullenbeisser was originally a type of Dogue, introduced into the German-speaking lands of France, Italy, England or perhaps the Roman Empire that preceded them. Although each member of the family is different, most Mastiffs are characterized by a large or massive size, a brachycephalic head and a strong protective instinct. It's not known exactly when Mastiffs were first introduced to Germany, but it was certainly in late Roman times or during the Dark Ages.

Initially, German Mastiffs were identical to other dogs of their type. Over the centuries, they became differentiated due to different local breeding preferences. In most of Western Europe, with the notable exception of Gascony and Naples, Mastiffs were primarily used as war animals and/or property guards. These dogs were usually tied to a chain for the rest of their lives, or at least during the day. These beasts became monstrous in size and immensely powerful, but also became lazy and unathletic. The Germans, on the other hand, much preferred to use their Mastiffs for hunting. They were the only dogs with the power, ferocity and intelligence to hunt the largest and most dangerous prey found in Europe, such as wild boar, bears and wolves. German farmers also discovered that these dogs were fast enough to catch a recalcitrant bull or pig, and powerful enough to hold it in place until they could capture or kill it. Due to their use for more physically demanding purposes, German Mastiffs became less bulky than similar breeds, but more athletic, energetic, physically capable and motivated.

At some point, German hunters crossed their Mastiffs with Greyhounds, perhaps Irish Greyhounds imported from the British Isles. The resulting dog was perfectly suited to hunting wild boar, earning it the name Boar Hound. Better known as the Doggen, Deutsch Dogge or Great Dane, the Boar Hound gradually became Germany's leading big-game hunting breed. While the older, more traditional-looking Mastiff continued to be used for hunting, it became more specialized as a working farm dog. The dog was also usually pitted against bulls or bears for sport, competitions called "bull-baiting" and "bear-baiting" respectively. Eventually, the Mastiff's original form became even smaller and sportier than it was before. The breed became known as the Barenbeiszer or Bullenbeisser (Bullenbijter in Dutch), meaning "Bear Biter" and "Bull Biter".

During most of Bullenbeisser's lifetime, the Holy Roman Empire was made up of hundreds of independent states, ranging from small towns to the nation of Austria. Each of these states was governed differently, some were democratic, others were duchies, and some were even controlled directly by the Roman Catholic Church. Whatever the type, the ruling classes of many of these political bodies kept Bullenbeissers kennels for hunting and fighting, as did farmers and butchers throughout the Empire, albeit usually for the capture of cattle. As a result of this political and geographical division, many localized versions of the Bullenbeisser were developed. One such variety was the Brabanter, named after its country of origin, the Duchy of Brabant, divided between modern Belgium and the Netherlands. The Brabanter closely resembled other Bullenbeissers, but was considerably smaller than most. From the late 1500s onwards, the Dutch provinces became a major maritime power. Bullenbeissers accompanied Dutch sailors and settlers around the world. In 1652, Jan Van Riebeeck brought a Bullenbijter to the founding of Kaapstad (Cape Town), the first permanent European settlement in present-day South Africa. A number of other Bullenbeissers were subsequently imported to the Cape Colony, where the breed had a major impact on the development of the Rhodesian Ridgeback and the Boerboel. It is widely believed that Bullenbeissers and English Bulldogs have sometimes crossed in the course of history and influenced each other's development. However, there seems to be no evidence to support this.

From the early 15th century onwards, major technological and cultural changes began to take place in Europe. The number of states in the Holy Roman Empire shrank considerably, while the major political institutions began to consume less. The size of the German nobility shrank, meaning that fewer and fewer people could afford to keep a kennel of Bullenbeissers. At the same time, the German population multiplied many times over. This led to greater urbanization and considerably less land capable of supporting big game. The combination of these factors would have led to the disappearance of many hunting breeds. However, the Bullenbeisser was so useful for so many activities that it continued to be bred. Mainly kept by working farmers and butchers who couldn't afford to feed a large dog, the breed continued to lose size. The biggest benefit for the Bullenbeisser in terms of increased urbanization was that it also led to an increase in crime rates, which in turn led to an increased demand for guard dogs. The end result was that an ever-increasing number of German urbanites began to keep Bullenbeisser for the protection of their property and belongings. The demand for smaller, more affordable guard dogs meant that the Brabanter became increasingly popular and gradually began to replace other Bullenbeisser varieties.

Thanks to low shipping costs, Germany was able to import dogs from all over the world. The English Bulldog, then a very different animal, was much more like today's American Bulldog than the modern English breed. Light, energetic and indomitable in battle, the English Bulldog performs functions very similar to those of the Bullenbeisser, but is smaller, bulkier and comes in a wider variety of colors. To improve their dogs, many Bullenbeisser breeders began crossing them with English Bulldogs. Previously an exclusively pedigree or brindle breed with or without black markings, the English Bulldog presented a white coat to the Bullenbeisser. Other breeds were probably also crossed with the Bullenbeisser, such as the Bull Terrier, English White Terrier and Staffordshire Bull Terrier. At the same time, technology began to take over the Bullenbeissers' traditional functions, and new breeds such as the German Shepherd assumed their roles as protection and police dogs. By the end of the 19th century, the traditional Bullenbeisser was becoming increasingly rare and was probably slowly dying out.

By the late 1800s, dog shows were becoming increasingly popular with Europe's upper classes. This boom in popularity coincided with a tidal wave of German nationalism inspired by the unification of Germany led by Prussian strongmen Otto Von Bismarck and Kaiser Wilhelm I. All of Germany wanted to normalize the indigenous breeds. A number of enthusiasts decided to standardize the Bullenbeisser and, ideally, restore it to its ancestral form before the introduction of English Bulldog blood. These efforts were concentrated in Munich and resulted in the creation of a standardized breed known as the Boxer. The first Boxers were probably around 50% Bullenbeisser and 50% English Bulldog. For a number of reasons, breeders favored the introduction of increasing quantities of Bullenbeisser blood. Many of the remaining Bullenbeissers were added to the Boxer lines, which eventually became around 70% Bullenbeisser and 30% English Bulldog. However, the use of Bullenbeissers in the creation of the Boxer meant that there were fewer Bullenbeissers left for breeding. The Boxer itself soon became so popular throughout Germany that it completely replaced the old Bullenbeisser. By the end of the Second World War, Bullenbeissers were completely extinct as an independent breed, but they may have been almost extinct before the end of the First World War.

Today, some have postulated that the only authentic descendant of the now extinct Bullenbeisser is the American Pitbull Terrier (APT), a theory that is at best uneducated and at most refuted by the known history of the APT. While there may be a link between the APT and the ancient Barenbeiszer or Bullenbeisser, meaning "Bear Biter" and "Bull Biter" respectively, this link rests solely on the theory that Bullenbeisser and the English Bulldog were occasionally crossed throughout history in order to influence the development of the other. However, there is no evidence to support this, and even if there were, the link between the modern APT and Bullenbeisser would have been diluted to the point of non-existence by crosses between the English Bulldog and fighting Terriers during the 1840s in their quest to create the ultimate fighting dog, a cross that would result in the birth of Bull and Terrier, today's first ancestor of the now extinct modern APT.

Popular fighting dogs of the 19th century, the Bull and Terrier breeds began to split in 1860, just two decades after their creation, into two branches: the pure white Bull Terrier and the colored forms that would eventually be recognized as legitimate, and the breed of dog known as the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. The modern Staffordshire Bull Terrier is one of three breeds, along with the American Staffordshire Terrier and the American Pit Bull Terrier to be classified as a Bully breed, a group that is often collectively referred to as Pit Bulls. There is much debate about the relationship between the three breeds, with some claiming that they are completely separate breeds and others claiming that they are simply varieties of the same breed. Whatever their relationship, and whether or not they resemble the ancient Bullenbeisser, they constitute a distinct genetic group of their own, not the modern reincarnation of the Bullenbeisser.

Other modern breeds considered to be closely related to or a good representation of the Bullenbeisser include the aforementioned Boxer, a 70% Bullenbeisser and 30% English Bulldog mix; the Great Dane, which can trace around half of its ancestry back to this breed; and the Boerboel and Rhodesian Ridgeback, partially descended from Bullenbeisers brought to South Africa by Dutch settlers. The Banter Bulldogge, created in the 1990s by Todd Tripp of southeast Ohio, is also commonly cited as a good modern recreation of the Bullenbeisser. In addition, many authorities on the subject believe that the current Spanish Bulldog, the Alano Espagnol, and the very similar Dogo Argentino provide a modern, almost identical representation of the Bullenbeisser, not only in appearance, but also in use.

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