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For reasons of pride and national unity, many countries around the world associate themselves with animals.

Russia has the bear, Australia, the kangaroo and China, the sleepy panda. Many are chosen as emblems of strength and persistence, or, in the case of New Zealand’s kiwi, utter peculiarity.

One of the animals often associated with the United Kingdom is the bulldog, a frumpy, awkward little anvil of a dog with a massive head and stubby body.

While not quite as heroic a figure as the lion, another British mascot, the dog’s crumpled face and undershot jaw make it instantly recognizable.

But how did a bow-legged canine with labored breathing and fondness for napping get to be associated with England?

The answer lies in the history of blood sports in England. Centuries ago, a popular spectator sport in the U.K. was bull-baiting, where dogs were pitted against bulls in a violent fight to the death.

To win, the dogs generally had to do one thing: grab the bull by the nose or throat and hang on until the bull succumbed to blood loss or suffocation.

To make the dogs better competitors, breeders mated them for specific qualities: a huge head to support viselike jaws, pushed-back nose to allow it to breath while biting down, and a tiny back end to keep its back from being broken while it was whipped around by the bull.

After the practice was outlawed in the 1830s, owners began mixing breeds to make them smaller, softer and friendlier, said Newcastle bulldog breeder Sharon Johnson.

The result, after many decades, is the heavy, waddling family pet now known as the bulldog.

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