Skip to Content

How to Tell a Purebred English Bulldog

How to Tell a Purebred English Bulldog

Some people think bulldogs are ugly, but if you own one, you know better. Bulldogs are used a lot as the mascots for schools’ sports teams and as the faces of brands. They’re also a popular choice among celebrities, mostly because they’re definitely not a cheap breed to buy.

How do you distinguish a purebred bulldog? Usually, you can tell by the shape of their head, their ears, and their jaws. Most purebred bulldogs will also come with papers that certify their lineage. If all else fails, you can do a DNA test.

In this article, we’ll teach you what to look for when you’re trying to tell if your English bulldog is purebred at a glance. You’ll also learn some of the history behind the breed, and some of the different breeds of bulldogs.

Related: Choosing The Perfect English Bulldog Puppy: The Complete Guide

Tell-Tale Signs of a Purebred English Bulldog

Though telling a purebred dog from a mixed breed dog can be tough just at a glance, there are a few characteristics that are indisputable when it comes to identifying a purebred English bulldog vs. another breed or even a mix between two.

The Ears

English bulldogs are supposed to have floppy ears that fold over the front and frame their squishy little faces. Sometimes, they do stand up, especially when the dog senses a threat. When the dog is scared or feels like it needs to enter cute puppy mode, its ears can flop backward and stay inverted like that for a pretty long time.

Your purebred English bulldog’s ears should not stand up full time. Also, their ears shouldn’t be huge. For example, a French bulldog’s ears stand up all the time, and they are arguably bigger than their precious little heads. If you notice that your English bulldog’s ears stand up all the time and you haven’t cropped them to be that way, then odds are, you do not have a purebred English bulldog on your hands.

Floppy ears do raise a problem for your puppy, though. When their ears flop over, they are more prone to getting infected. As long as you keep a close watch on your puppy’s ears and clean them regularly, you should be fine.

Head Shape

English bulldogs are very widely known for that head shape. It’s round, with a squarer forehead, and wrinkly. An English bulldog will typically have an underbite, though that isn’t always the case. They also usually have flatter noses, similar to that of a pug in that it seems a little bit squished into their face.


The jaws of an English bulldog are also pretty distinct. As mentioned before, the English bulldog is known for having an underbite. However, if you don’t notice that your dog has an underbite, don’t worry, as that’s not always the case.

English bulldogs have massive jaws, regardless of whether or not they have an underbite, and they have very pronounced canines. The jaws should also be square, which is what gives them that, “I’ll fight you but only if you give me a belly rub first” kind of face.

Another thing that accompanies the jaws is the jowls, or the lower part of the dog’s cheek that is usually droopy. Besides being a delivery mechanism for a whole lot of drool, an English bulldog’s jowls should be exceptionally droopy. That is another thing that frames that signature ugly, floppy face we all know and love.

The Face of the Breed

English bulldogs are what you picture when someone says the word bulldog without adding another word in front of it. They’ve been featured in brand logos, like Mug root beer, as well as being countless school mascots. These logos are where a lot of the breed’s beauty standards come from.

To be considered AKC show standard, a bulldog needs to have those floppy, rounded ears, as well as big teeth, especially the canines, which are referred to in the standards guide as “tusks.” If you look at most logos that use a bulldog, that’s always what they look like.

Are Purebred Bulldogs Really That Purely Bred?

Bulldogs of all types all look almost identical, with the only real difference being the ear shape and the set of the jaw. For the most part, they all have short snouts, prominent jowls, and pronounced teeth. Their faces are always floppy and squishy. A bit of an issue among English bulldog enthusiasts, though, is trying to determine whether or not the breed is actually as purebred as they seem.

The History Behind the Breed

English bulldogs were used in bullbaiting. The dog’s purpose in this controversial sport was to aggravate the bull, and spectators would often take bets on whether or not the dogs would survive. That was back in the early 1600s, though, so as you can imagine, the breed has changed quite a bit.

They have always been heavy set. However, paintings from the seventeenth century indicate that, at one point, the bulldog had a slenderer build with pointier ears and a longer tail. In comparison to today’s dogs, the seventeenth-century English bulldog looked more like a pit bull than it did a modern-day English bulldog.

Breeding Controversies

If you look at a scan of an English bulldog’s skull, you can see that it looks remarkably like that of a pug. Pugs and English bulldogs were both around during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; pugs were the official breed of the House of Orange. William of Orange had a pug that he named Pompey, which is what inspired him to make pugs the official breed of the house. The breed wasn’t introduced to the United States until after the Civil War.

Pugs and English bulldogs did not live that far apart. Because of this, as well as their resemblance to each other, some people speculate that they mated. The cross between the pug and the English bulldog would have produced that squishy, round face that we all know and love.

So, if the English bulldog that the AKC considers the breed standard had actually been crossed with a pug way back then, are they really that purely bred?

How is their Temperament?

Overall, the English bulldog is pretty easygoing. They’re very people-oriented, meaning they love to cuddle and hang out wherever you and your family are. You’ll often find them bumming around underfoot; they’re very stubborn little puppies, so odds are you’ll trip over them and mutter a curse word at least once.

These dogs may seem chunky and lazy, and that may be true sometimes. However, be prepared: they are extremely rambunctious and playful when they want to be.  Bulldogs are very chunky little puppies with some pretty pronounced teeth, so don’t be surprised if you are the victim of some accidental nibbling.

That being said, they are fast learners. As long as you’re assertive and make sure they know that it’s not okay for them to play so rough, you should be able to nip it in the bud pretty early on. They’re stubborn, so it’ll take a little bit, but they’ll give in.

What are Some Problems with English Bulldogs?

Bulldogs and bully-type breeds are notorious for a myriad of health problems, some of which are more severe than others. If you have a purebred English bulldog, you will most likely be dealing with these, so it’s essential for you to know the signs.

With proper management, even bulldogs with these health problems can live full and happy lives. You simply need to be aware that, if you have a purebred English bulldog, your vet bills are going to be costly, more so than they might be with other, less problem-prone breeds.

Incredibly Sensitive Skin

English bulldogs have very sensitive skin. They’re wrinkly dogs, and while the wrinkles are undoubtedly precious to look at, they can cause a world of problems for the actual dog. Those wrinkles are folds in the skink, and where there are folds in the skin, there is chafing. However, unlike when your skin chafes, you may not be able to identify it right away.

The longer the chafing goes unnoticed, the rawer the skin is going to get. This can lead to infections, especially in dogs. Dogs are constantly rolling around on the floor or in the dirt, and they lick themselves afterward.  To combat this, you can check your dog regularly to make sure that there is not any irritation between their wrinkles, and if there is, you can apply Neosporin to the area to soothe it as well as prevent infections.

Major Respiratory Issues

Respiratory issues are common in all dogs with squishy and short faces like the English bulldog. One of the breeds that are most commonly associated with these problems is the pug, which may or may not have been crossed with the English bulldog a few centuries ago, as we know.

Regardless of the pug, English bulldogs are notorious for having the same respiratory problems. If you have one, then you know that they are very heavy breathers, they do a lot of snorting, and when they sleep, they snore louder than a human. That’s just bulldogs, people say. It’s just what they do.

Wrong. They do that because they have those shorter snouts. Bulldogs are what is known as a Brachycephalic breed, which means that they are incredibly susceptible to brachycephalic respiratory syndrome. Brachycephalic dogs have issues breathing because of their short faces, including narrower nostrils, which does not allow for sufficient air intake. That’s why bulldogs often pant to breathe, even if it’s not hot or they have not been exerting themselves.

However, because of their elongated soft palate, these dogs can’t really pant correctly, either. The flap of skin that separates the nostrils from the mouth flaps over the back of their throat, often meaning that they cannot take in a lot of air quickly.

Spina Bifida

Bulldogs and their sister breeds have a lot of spine and hip problems, usually. Bulldogs are especially prone to having spina bifida, which means that the vertebrae surrounding an English bulldog’s spinal cord did not form correctly during the mother’s pregnancy. This abnormality can be found in different places of the spine. Sometimes, fewer vertebrae are impacted, which may lead to lighter side effects. However, in other cases, the defect impacts most or all of the vertebrae.

If your bulldog has spina bifida, you won’t always be able to tell unless you go to the vet and have an x-ray done to check. Even if your dog doesn’t exhibit any symptoms, they’re still at risk for further problems down the line, like paralysis, as they grow up and gain weight, which puts pressure on the back and spine.

Now, there are classifications of spina bifida, and depending on your dog’s classification, they may not have any problems medically. If you breed English bulldogs, you can try to limit the environmental factors of spina bifida development by making sure the mother has proper nutrients and stays well-rested during the pregnancy.

Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is another serious problem when it comes to purebred English bulldogs. Hip dysplasia when the hip socket forms in an abnormal way during gestation, resulting in the inability to walk correctly as well as arthritis.

Hip dysplasia is most common in larger dogs and dogs with chunkier builds, which English bulldogs are.  Hip dysplasia is an inherited disorder. Even if your dog is a purebred English bulldog, that does not mean they’re immune to hip dysplasia.  If a female is bred to a male with bad genes, then your dog is just as susceptible as a mutt would be.

Heat Sensitivity

Heat sensitivity ties in with the respiratory issues piece. Because they have that elongated soft palate, we know that they can’t pant efficiently when they get hot. Unfortunately for dogs, they have no other way to cool down.

Not being able to pant is significantly limiting to what an English bulldog can do in terms of exercising, and it’s up to you to make that call. Overexertion, even in the dead of winter, can cause your bulldog to have a heat stroke, which can be fatal. Hot weather is also dangerous for them. If you notice your English bulldog starting to pant for any reason, make sure to get them to a cool place and give them some water, preferably with a couple of ice cubes, to help them chill out.

What is Their Life Expectancy?

With all of these health problems, you may be thinking, “these dogs must not live very long.” That isn’t exactly the case; they have a pretty average life expectancy of eight to ten years. It isn’t the longest. The dog breed with the longest lifespan is the chihuahua, which can live up to 17 years. They may be tiny, but they’re not susceptible to major illnesses, unlike bulldogs.

The oldest recorded English bulldog died in 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. His name was Oliver, and he lived until 20 years of age, despite the breed’s average life expectancy.

Different Breeds

If you are like me, you probably get the different bully-type breeds mixed up all the time. There seems like there’s a different bulldog for every country: you have your Frenchie’s, the Australian bulldogs, American bulldogs, and the Olde English bulldog. Then you get into the bull terriers, which are a completely different story. There are at least twenty different bully breeds.

With so many different breeds, it’s crucial to be able to tell them apart, because they do have different needs and temperaments. Buying a dog under the assumption that all bully breeds are basically the same is going to end in disaster.

American Bulldog

The American bulldog is a popular choice for puppies in America, of course. They are known to be good cattle dogs since they can jump pretty high and come with that muscular, stocky build that bulldogs are known for. An American bulldog has the same jowls as an English bulldog, as well as the short snout and the floppy ears. They’re around the same size, too.

These are very affectionate, family-oriented dogs that love to get pets and take naps at your feet. They’re also really intelligent and love to play with puzzling puppy toys. They enjoy kids and other humans, but they don’t like other dogs, so having them in a single pet home would be best. In addition, they are super easy to train and not prone to barking.

The lifespan of an American bulldog almost doubles the English bulldog’s. American bullies typically live anywhere from ten to sixteen years. They’re very active dogs that love to play and were bred for working.  So you will need to be able to devote a lot of time to play with these good boys and girls if you would like to get one.

Olde English Bulldogge

Though it’s a little bit unclear as to why in the world there are so many E’s in this name, it makes sense that the Olde English Bulldogge is an entirely separate breed from the standard English Bulldog. Though both of these are medium-sized dogs with stocky builds, upon first glance, the Olde English Bulldogge looks like more of a mastiff than a traditional English bulldog.

It gets more complicated.. There was an Old English Bulldog, which was used for bull baiting in the 16th and 17th centuries. Those dogs were typically very aggressive, and the breed eventually went extinct sometime in the 18th century. So, in 1971, a man by the name of David Leavitt decided he wanted to bring back that Old English Bulldog look, but with less aggression, and he started breeding dogs together.

It is said that he actually used modern English bulldogs as well as Pit Bull Terriers, American bulldogs, and Mastiffs to recreate the breed, which explains the extra squishy face and larger, squarer head which is the trademark of any Mastiff.

These puppies are not nearly as aggressive as their Old English predecessors. They’re squishy and family-friendly. They also don’t have the elongated soft palate problem, so they’re able to get more exercise without having to worry about breathing problems. They can also pant just fine, so heatstroke is not as much of a concern for these guys. They are pretty wrinkly, though, so you’ll still need to watch out for skin irritation.

Australian Bulldog

Ask me to tell the difference between an Australian bulldog and an English bulldog. I’ll probably laugh at you because they really do look just about the same. However, dog breeds aren’t always what they seem.

Australian bulldogs are not purebred. They have been bred with Bullmastiffs, Boxers, and English bulldogs. Australian bulldog were bred so that they would have qualities to make them superior herding.  They’re very loyal, affectionate, and confident dogs that crave human attention.  Unfortunately, they tend to be more assertive toward other dogs, so you might want to keep them single puppies or at least make sure to start socializing them at a young age.

Aussie bulldogs are considered a brachycephalic breed, which comes with everything discussed earlier: narrow nostrils and elongated soft palates. This doesn’t bode well for them; Australia is hot, and these are working dogs, which means they will overexert themselves if you let them. They’re also prone to the same sensitive skin issues.

Boston Terriers

First of all, French bulldogs and Boston Terriers are not the same. Stop it. They hardly even look similar. Boston Terriers and English bulldogs look absolutely nothing alike; Bostons are slenderer, and they do not have nearly as many wrinkles as an English bulldog. Your typical Boston is also black and white. There are some brindle boys and girls out there, but not a lot.

Most Boston Terriers do have the floppy ears, though, and they’re a triangle shape rather than being rounded. They also, for the most part, are pretty easygoing dogs once they mellow out. However, be warned now, these are some of the most rambunctious puppies on Earth. They usually mellow out a lot by around two years, and they have a life expectancy of 12-16 years.

Do not let your breeder lie to you. Bostons bark a lot. They’re very loving and desperately eager to please you. They don’t usually have tails, so instead they just kind of wiggle their whole butts and point them at you until you rub them. If you aren’t prepared for rubbing butts and getting a little bit aggravated, a Boston is not the best choice for you.

French Bulldogs

French bulldogs come in every color under the sun. They are adorable little dogs; they’re smaller than English bulldogs and even Boston Terriers by a lot. They have the same square heads that a Boston Terrier does. In most cases, unlike an English bulldog, the Frenchie’s ears point straight up and are rounded at the tips. Their ears look like they’re bigger than their heads.

Like most bully breeds, they are very family-friendly and cuddly, and they’re perfect for cuddling because they are very squishy. Unfortunately, their health problems almost mirror those of the English Bulldog.  They have elongated soft palates, narrow nostrils, and wrinkles that breed infections. Their life expectancy is about the same, too: eight to ten years.

How to Tell if Your Shelter Dog is Purebred

To be honest, there is no way to know whether your rescued English bulldog is completely purebred unless they have authenticated documents, or you get a doggie DNA test done. A lot of bully breeds look incredibly similar, and with a shelter dog, you never really know what you’re getting. You can look at some of the telltale signs, like head shape, jaw structure, and the way they’re built, but you absolutely will not be able to see what dormant genes they may carry from another breed.

You won’t find too many English bulldogs in shelters, though. They are costly dogs. About 90% of these pups are born through c-sections since the curvature of the spine and the way they’re built just doesn’t allow for a wide enough birthing canal for the mommy to push out a litter of puppies on her own. Since this is a costly procedure, they’re expensive puppies, usually ranging from $2,000 to $4,000, depending on the breeder. Because they’re such an investment, people are hesitant to get rid of them.

Does Purebred Really Matter?

Most people are not looking to parade their pups around at fancy dog shows. If you are, then yes, having a purebred dog that’s up to breed standards is essential. If you just want the companion, though, no, it doesn’t.

Truth be told, having a purebred dog doesn’t change a lot except for the price point of that dog. They have the same problems and the same lifespans regardless, so if you fall in love with a pup that’s not so purely bred, you don’t need to worry.

Learn More

If you want to learn more about English Bulldogs or other types of Bulldogs, then consider checking out this Bulldog Handbook on Amazon.