The Antebellum Bulldog is a recently developed breed which was developed to be a recreation of working bulldogs found on rice plantations along Georgia’s Altamaha River prior to the American Civil War. The Antebellum Bulldog has been bred to be equal parts working dog and family companion and gladly accepts either role. This breed is known primarily for its primarily white appearance, large head, and loyal nature. The Antebellum Bulldog is also known as the Altamaha Plantation Dog and the Altamaha Plantation Bulldog.
Although the Antebellum Bulldog was only recently developed, it is a recreation of a much older breed. The history of the Antebellum Bulldog can trace back to that of the Old English Bulldog, a very different breed from the modern day English Bulldog. The Old English Bulldog was first developed to participate in the sport of bull-baiting, a brutal combat between a dog and a chained bull. The Old English Bulldog would bite the nose of the bull and hold on until the bull gave in, a process which could take over an hour and often resulted in the deaths of one or both participant. This sport evolved from the agricultural necessities of bull and pig catching, where Mastiffs were used to catch and hold semi-feral bulls and pigs. The Old English Bulldog became a fearless and ferocious combatant, and was well-known throughout England, where bull-baiting was one of the most popular pastimes for several centuries. The Old English Bulldog eventually became the ultimate bull-catching dog. The short, wide muzzle of the Old English Bulldog gave the dog the greatest possible area to bite and hold on with. The comparatively short body meant that the dog had a low center of gravity that was useful in counteracting the force of an enraged bull. The immense musculature provided the power necessary. The breed also became extremely aggressive, tenacious to the death, incredibly pain tolerant, and very determined. These qualities also served the Old English Bulldog well in other jobs and the protective nature and immense courage of the Bulldog also made it popular as a guard and personal protection animal. This is only that part of the Old English and English Bulldog’s history that most directly relates to that of the Antebellum Bulldog, for more information on those breeds please see the articles dedicated to those breeds.
Old English Bulldogs were imported to the New World from the very earliest days of British settlement in North America. These dogs proved to be extremely valuable farm workers in the British colonies, primarily the southernmost ones. When the Spanish discovered and subsequently settled Florida and Texas, the released pigs and cattle to provide future settlers with food and leather. Unfortunately, these creatures reverted to a wild state and their populations exploded. They also did not limit themselves to Spanish territory, but instead began moving north and east into British controlled land. Meanwhile, British colonists were developing a heavily agricultural economy. For a multitude of economic, environmental, and social reasons, the plantation system came to dominate the economy of Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia. Under this system, massive estates worked by slaves or indentured servants produced a single crop. Wild and feral pigs and cattle would feed on these crops, causing massive losses that would probably be worth millions today. Plantation owners and workers who tried to drive these marauding beasts away risked serious and injury or even death as these aggressive and powerful animals possessed sharp horns and tusks, as well as hard hooves. Bulldogs were the obvious solution to this problem and were being employed in what is now the American South by the end of the 1600’s.
One place where Bulldogs were especially common was along the Altamaha River, which flows through the center of Georgia. Although cotton is typically thought of as the primary plantation crop, dozens of crops were grown using the plantation system and in some areas other plan species were considerably more important than cotton. Such was the case along the Altamaha, which specialized in rice production. The Altamaha River became one of the primary rice producing areas in the colonies, and later the United States. Located very close to Spanish Florida, the area around the Altamaha had a major hog (feral pig) problem basically since the British first settled the region. An average-sized group of these animals could devastate an entire year’s rice crop in a few hours. As was the case elsewhere in the South, Old English Bulldogs were employed to catch hogs and hold them in place until hunters could slay the creature. Decades of localized breeding meant that the Bulldogs found on the Altamaha plantations developed a distinct physical appearance. They became somewhat larger and taller than those found elsewhere, as well as having slightly larger and more powerful heads. These dogs also became primarily white in coloration.
The Altamaha Plantation Bulldogs served their masters loyally for over a century, and were well-known in the region for the entire Antebellum Period (the period that lasted from the American Revolution until the American Civil War). The Civil War permanently altered the economy of the Altamaha region. After the war, slavery and indentured servitude were outlawed and the plantation economy fell apart. Additionally, many farms and plantations in the region had been burned to the ground by General Sherman on his march to the sea. Perhaps most importantly, rice, which had been important mainly because it was often used to feed slaves, lost much of its value. Logging and the timber industry largely replaced rice plantations along the Altamaha. Because hogs are considerably less damaging to timber as they are to rice, there was less of a need to keep Bulldogs, and breed numbers began to fall. These dogs continued to be kept by local residents, for recreational hog hunting, farm work, protection, and companionship but they became increasingly rare. Beginning in the 1840’s, the breed also faced stiff competition from the American Pit Bull Terrier. The American Pit Bull Terrier is the descendant of British Bull and Terriers, crosses of the Old English Bulldog and various breeds of Terrier. Although these dogs were originally bred for dog fighting, American farmers and hunters discovered that they also made excellent hog hunting dogs (many around the world claim that they are the world’s best hog hunters). As the decades wore on, the older-style Bulldogs became increasingly rare and American Pit Bull Terriers became increasingly common.
By the beginning of the 20th Century, most distinctive localized varieties of working Southern Bulldogs, such as that found along the Altamaha River, had either disappeared entirely or become extremely rare. By the end of World War II, the situation was very dire indeed. Two breeders, Dr. John D. Johnson and Alan Scott, worked to save these dogs and are now regarded as the fathers of the American Bulldog Breed. American Bulldog numbers increased dramatically, especially in the 1990’s and the first decade of the 20th Century. This interest coincided with a massive increase in the popularity of Molosser-type dogs in general, especially that of the English Bulldog, English Mastiff, and American Pit Bull Terrier. With the notable exceptions of the American Bulldog and American Pit Bull Terrier, most modern Molossers are no longer capable of performing the jobs for which they were developed, and often differ dramatically in form and appearance from the original breed. The last three decades have seen numerous attempts to recreate an older type of working Molosser.
One such attempt began in the late 20th Century with Cole Maxwell. Maxwell’s great-grandfather had been a timber rafter on the Altamaha, transporting logs from where they were felled upstream to port. His constant companion was a large, white Bulldog of the Altamaha Plantation type, probably one of the last purebred examples. Maxwell’s grandmother regaled him with many stories of the dog when he was growing up. When he was an adult, Maxwell became interested in recreating that breed, and making sure that it was highly capable of being both a hog hunting dog and family companion. Maxwell wanted a dog that was significantly larger than the American Bulldog, able to scent track a hog if necessary, physically capable of working for long hours, and heat tolerant enough to do so in the sweltering heat of Georgia. Maxwell initially selected a stud dog that he thought was excellent, as well as eight unrelated dams. He began to work with the Animal Research Foundation (ARF), an all-breed registry that was the first to work with Dr. Johnson when he was reviving the American Bulldog.
For the past several decades, Cole Maxwell and his sons have continued to breed their line of Bulldogs. They call their dogs either Antebellum Bulldogs or Altamaha Plantation Dogs, although Antebellum Bulldog seems to be the preferred term. The Maxwell family has combined a number of distinct breeds together in their attempt to recreate the original Altamaha Plantation Bulldog that went extinct in the early decades of the 20th Century. American Bulldogs of both the Scott and Johnson lines have figured most prominently in their efforts, as those breeds are widely considered to be the closest in form, function, and genetics to both the Old English Bulldog and the Altamaha Plantation Bulldog. Other breeds which have gone into their lines include the Alapaha Blue Blood Bulldog, another relict population of Southern working Bulldogs which is regarded as closely related to but distinct from the American Bulldog, the American Staffordshire Terrier, Catahoula Bulldog (a mix of Catahoula Leopard Dog and American Bulldog), Dogo Argentino, and the Perro de Presa Canario. The result of these crosses and careful breeding in a very large, but not massive, working Bulldog breed that is predominantly white in color and significantly less brachycephalic (pushed in and shortened muzzle and face) than most modern Bulldog breeds. The Maxwells have put a premium on both working ability and family companionship from the start of their breeding efforts, and only those dogs that have the temperaments to be suitable for both have been selected.
Because the Antebellum Bulldog has only recently been developed, it remains a very rare breed. Cole Maxwell and his sons remain the primary breeders of the Antebellum Bulldog, and its population is increasingly slowly. Current estimates place the estimated living population of Antebellum Bulldogs at around 100 animals. The Antebellum Bulldog is currently recognized by the ARF, which also is the primary keeper of the Antebellum Bulldog registry. It does not appear that there are any immediate plans to have the Antebellum Bulldog recognized by any major canine organizations, and breed numbers are probably too low to do so in any case. Unlike most modern breeds, a high percentage of Antebellum Bulldogs remain working dogs, although many others are kept primarily for companionship. The long term future of the Antebellum Bulldog remains insecure, and it remains to be seen what will become of the breed if and when the Maxwell family is no longer involved in their breeding.
The Antebellum Bulldog is very similar in appearance to both major lines of American Bulldog but tends to be significantly larger on average and with a proportionally larger head. This breed ranges in size from large to very large. Females usually weigh between 70 and 110 pounds, and males usually weigh between 80 and 150 pounds. This breed is very powerfully built and incredibly muscular, but should never look stocky. In general, the legs of this breed tend to be relatively longer in relation to body size than most other Bulldogs. The tail of the Antebellum Bulldog is long and whip-like, and should never be docked.
The head of the Antebellum is quite large in proportion to the dog’s body. The head is generally square, but not to the extent of most other Bulldogs. The muzzle of this breed is shorter than the head and somewhat short for the size of the dog, but is considerably longer than those of most modern Bulldogs. The muzzle also tends to be quite wide. Although most breed members have a few facial wrinkles and slight jowls, these features are not greatly exaggerated. The ears of the Antebellum Bulldog either fold down close to the sides of the head or fold backwards. They should never be artificially cropped. The eyes of this breed tend to be quite small for the size of the dog, and are usually brown in color. As a result of American Bulldog and Catahoula Bulldog ancestry, many Antebellum Bulldogs also have either one or two blue eyes, usually called glass eyes.
The Antebellum Bulldog has a virtually identical coat to the American Bulldog: short, thin, and not especially soft. This breed is found in two color options, white and white with colored patches. These patches may be of any size, shape, and location, although it is ideal if they cover only a small percentage of the dog. These spots may be of any color, but are usually brown, grey, or black.
The Antebellum Bulldog was bred to be both a working hog catching dog and a family companion and shares temperament features of dogs used for both purposes. In general, the temperament of the Antebellum Bulldog is very similar to that of the American Bulldog but the Maxwell family has worked to reduce the dog aggression issues found in that breed.
An incredibly devoted family companion, it is said that these dogs would lay down their lives for their masters without hesitation. This dog loves its family absolutely and completely, and wants nothing more to be in their constant company. This can be a problem as separation anxiety may result. This breed has a very strong tendency to become a one-person dog and usually forms an especially close attachment to a single family member, although it will still form strong bonds with every member of a family. Many of these dogs become snugglers and cuddlers, which can be a problem if someone doesn’t like 100 plus pounds of pure muscle leaning against them. Most breed members get along very well with children that it has been socialized with and often becomes very protective over them. An Antebellum Bulldog puppy may not be the best housemate for a very young child as the dog will probably accidentally bowl over a toddler in its exuberance.
As is the case with most Molossers, the Antebellum Bulldog has a very strong protective instinct. This breed is often initially suspicious of strangers, thinking that they may pose a threat. Antebellum Bulldogs do tend to be somewhat less suspicious of strangers than many related breeds, and with proper socialization most will tolerate and sometimes even welcome a stranger which has been accepted by the family. Socialization is necessary for an Antebellum Bulldog to become a discriminating protector, and without it human aggression issues may very well develop. Although it usually takes an Antebellum Bulldog awhile to warm up to a new person, most will eventually be quite accepting. This breed is not only protective but also alert and incredibly intimidating, making it a very effective watch dog. Antebellum Bulldogs also make good guard dogs who will challenge intruders, although the willingness to use force varies considerably from dog to dog. Breed members would be better suited to personal protection work as under no circumstances would one of these dogs every let physical harm come to a family member.
Antebellum Bulldogs are known to have aggression issues with other animals. Reducing dog aggression has been a major goal of the Maxwell family, and this breed does tend to get along with other dogs better than most related breeds. However, dog aggression issues, such as territoriality, possessiveness, dominance, and same-sex aggression, are definitely not unknown in these dogs making training and socialization of the utmost importance. This breed was bred to hunt, specifically to grab a hold of hogs and cattle and never to let go unless commanded to. As a result, these dogs have a very high level of aggression towards non-canine animals. This is a breed that will not only chase other animals, but attack and kill them. Training and socialization can greatly reduce issues, but some of these dogs are never entirely trustworthy around other species such as cats, even those that they have known and lived with for years.
Antebellum Bulldogs are a highly energetic breed that is capable of performing vigorous physical activity for hours. As a result, this breed has a very high exercise requirement, at least an hour of intense physical activity every day, and preferably more. These dogs need to be taken on long walks, but greatly prefer time to run around off-leash in a safely enclosed area. Antebellum Bulldogs are highly driven workers and do best when provided with an activity such as hunting, schutzhund, or competitive obedience. Owners need to be aware that if one of these dogs is not provided the proper outlet for its energy, it will develop behavioral problems such as extreme destructiveness, hyper activity, over excitability, excessive barking, and aggression. This breed has such needs that it does best with a large yard, ideally with acreage, and most breed members would adjust very poorly to an apartment setting.
This breed tends to be very dominant and challenging of authority. As a result, they can prove difficult to train. Many of these dogs have a serious stubborn streak as well, which will lead to numerous show downs of will. Antebellum Bulldogs would probably be best served by an experienced dog owner who can maintain a constant position of authority. For owners who can maintain the breed’s respect, Antebellum Bulldogs prove to be highly intelligent dogs that can be taught many tasks.
Antebellum Bulldogs are very low maintenance dogs. They never require professional grooming, only a regular brushing. Other than that, only those routine maintenance procedures that every dog requires, such as nail clipping and teeth brushing are necessary. It is highly advisable that owners begin doing so from as young and as carefully as possible. It is considerably easier to give a twenty-pound, eager puppy a bath than a 130-pound, scared adult. Antebellum Bulldogs do shed, and many of them shed very, very heavily. This shedding is year-round, but may increase seasonally. The hair of this breed will stick to everything and can be extremely difficult to remove.
No health studies have been conducted on the Antebellum Bulldog, and since there are only around 100 living breed members any such study would probably have too small of a sample size to be statistically meaningful. As a result, it is virtually impossible to say anything definitive about the breed’s health. It does appear that this dog is in considerably better health than both other Molossers and other dogs of the same size. This does not mean that the Antebellum Bulldog is immune from genetically inherited disorders, but it does mean that the breed suffers from fewer such conditions and generally at lower rates than other pure bred dogs. The life expectancy for the breed is usually given as being between 12 and 15 years, but it is unclear what this estimate is based on.
As a primarily white dog, Antebellum Bulldogs are at a high risk of deafness. There is a strong correlation between coat color and hearing in animals, with lack of pigmentation often accompanying lack of hearing. This correlation is strongest in white dogs with blue eyes, which is why the standards of many white-colored dogs have been altered to prohibit blue eyes. Deafness may either be bilateral or unilateral, meaning that the dog may be deaf in either one or both ears respectively. Unilaterally deaf dogs generally make just as good pets and working dogs as dogs with normal hearing, although they should not be bred. Bilaterally deaf dogs are often extremely difficult, if not nearly impossible to train. Additionally, they tend to be unpredictable such as when they are unexpectedly woken from sleep. Unfortunately, the size and power of the Antebellum Bulldog means that a deaf breed member poses such a risk that such animals should be euthanized. There are tests available that can definitely diagnose deafness at a very young age, and it is highly advisable that they be performed on all Antebellum Bulldog puppies.
Because skeletal and visual problems have been known to occur in closely-related breeds (hip dysplasia is quite commonly seen) it is highly advisable for owners to have their pets tested by both the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). The OFA and CERF perform genetic and other tests to identify potential health defects before they show up. This is especially valuable in the detection of conditions that do not show up until the dog has reached an advanced age, making it especially important for anyone considering breeding their dog to have them tested to prevent the spread of potential genetic conditions to its offspring.
Although no health surveys have been conducted on the Antebellum Bulldog, they have been for a number of closely related breeds. Based on these studies, the Antebellum Bulldog may be at risk for the following conditions: