The play area is usually a large hall or large area of a playing field. There are no limits to the size of the pitch nor the number of players as long as there is enough space for the players to manoeuvre and enough players to have fun.
One or two players are selected as the Bulldogs, and they stand in the middle of the play area. All remaining players stand at one end of the area (home). The aim of the game is to run from one end of the field of play to the other, without being caught by the bulldogs. When a player is caught, they become a bulldog themselves. The winner is the last player to become a bulldog.
Each game of bulldogs consists of a sequence of rounds, and it is usual to play a number of games back-to-back with different bulldogs each time. The game is initiated with a single player (or sometimes two players) selection is determined by all players standing in a circle with their legs apart, a tennis ball is bounced in the center whoevers legs the ball goes through is "it". The objective for the non-bulldog players is to run from one home area to the other whilst avoiding the bulldogs in the middle. The round is usually initiated by the bulldogs chanting and goading. Usually, one of the bulldogs names a player to be the first to attempt the run from one end to another. The bulldogs then attempt to 'catch' the player. As players are caught and turned into Bulldogs if they are clung to for the duration of the Bulldog exclaiming, "British Bulldog; one, two, three!" — having not reached the other side. If the player successfully enters the opposing home area without being caught, they are considered 'safe' and may not be caught by the bulldogs. Players are also safe while they remain in their original home area, although there are sometimes rules for how long they may remain there, and they may not re-enter it once they have left. If they are caught, they become a bulldog themselves. Once the player has reached home or been caught, all the other non-bulldog players must immediately attempt to cross the playing area themselves, with the same rules applying (this period of the game sometimes being called a 'rush' or 'bullrush'). The bulldogs may catch any number of players in a single rush, all of whom become bulldogs. The round is then repeated in the opposite direction until all players have become bulldogs.
The aim of the game for the bulldogs is to catch all the players as quickly as possible, whilst the aim for the other players is to stay uncaught for as long as possible. The last player to be caught is usually considered the winner.
In some variations, non-bulldogs become bulldogs if they go off a boundary, such as a line and they can be pushed off by bulldogs.
As is usual with children's games, the particular rules applied vary from location to location. In general, the most recent loser chooses which player must cross the field on their own. In other variations, there is no choosing of players and all players must attempt to cross simultaneously. The choosing of the first bulldog[s] is also subject to variation. Usually, either the first or the last players caught become the bulldogs for the next game. In some versions, only the first player caught in each round becomes a bulldog. Catching other players is simply for fun and has no strategic advantage.
The method by which a runner is caught varies according to local custom, but can involve physically tackling the runner to the ground. This form is sometimes known as "Take Down Bulldog". Another variation is lifting the runner off the ground. Due to the violent nature of such tackles, games with adult supervision usually use simple tagging (touching) to catch players. The physicality of the game caused it to gain some notoriety and to be banned in a number of school playgrounds.
As a game of physical contact that results in a mêlée of people attempting to drag others down to the ground, Bullrush bears some similarity to a rugby scrum which may explain the presence of the game amongst children in a nation beloved of the sport of rugby.
|"His neck was flexed forcibly while his head was against the floor, and immediately after the injury he had severe pain of the cervical spine ... [which] shows that games such as British bulldog can be as dangerous as rugby football."|
|British Medical Journal, June 1985|
Recently, there has been a change of attitudes towards the game. Many schools now see it as a traditional sport that should not be lost, an attitude which has prospered as concerns about how much exercise children do become more prevalent. In September 2008, the Local Government Association decided that, in an attempt to reduce child obesity, it would advise councils and authorities in England and Wales to encourage the game, along with other such playground activities. Nevertheless, some organizations fear the traditional game will still be lost as schools will introduce certain rules restricting the boisterousness of the game.
Bullrush is an energetic game whereby a group of individuals endeavour to rush from one line to another across an open space without being tackled to the ground by participants who have previously been so tackled. The rush from one line to the other continues with the direction being reversed on each rush. The winner of the game is the single individual who manages to be the last person not so tackled. Even so the winner is required to repeat the rush in the hope that he/she too will be brought to the ground. Each time a person loses the rush, they have to join all the other losers in the middle of the open space and join in the tackling activity.
A variation of the standard Bullrush game is Tag Bullrush, sometimes known as "French Bulldog". This plays the same as the regular version, but you only need to be tagged by someone to lose, as opposed to tackled. This is a much safer version and is less likely to result in injury.
Lions and Deers is also a variation with the lions catching the deers. The same rules apply as with British Bulldog - the game was re-created/re-named due to the banning of British Bulldog in schools. The originating place for Lions and Deers was Church Farm School, Elmsthope, Leicestershire.
Sharks and Minnows is a common name for a version played in swimming pools and other bodies of water.
Octopus is a common name for the tag variation where all but the original "non-loser" must chose a pivot foot which cannot be moved for the remainder of the game. They may pivot around their chosen foot so as to attempt to tag others attempting to pass by. This variant is generally ineffective in wide, open areas and so is more commonly played in gyms.
Pirates variant 'field' is indoors, usually a gym, but includes ropes, bars, benches etc, has no 'safe' area. Usually starts with one or two person(s) dedicated as a pirate(s). Those caught sit out of game until all are tagged.
Dragout is another variation, in which the bulldog must drag players out of the playing area for them to be considered caught.
Irish In this game the non-bulldogs are not only taken down but then picked up and thrown. This is probably the most dangerous and should not be attempted by small children. It is also traditional in some variants for the previous Bulldog who has been caught to be allowed to re-enter the fray if in the subsequent round,there is no runners caught.
Pump The game of British Bulldog is played in South Eastern Utah with the name of pump.
American Eagle is another variation, using the same rules as British Bulldog and is played in the United States. The game starts with the "Eagles" calling out "American Eagle, 1,2,3!" For a player to become an "Eagle," they must be dragged or thrown to the ground. The last player caught is the lone "Eagle" at the beginning of the next game.
Runacross where a basketball/netball course consisting of two large semi-circles at each end of the pitch noted as "bases", and a central circle being a "safe zone". Almost exactly like British Bulldog, except much less violent.
Chainy is a variation where the bulldogs must join hands, forming a chain, and chase the remaining players as a single unit. It is usually played in a slightly smaller area than the standard form.
DogTag Exactly the same area rules as standard Bullrush, but the players are split evenly into two teams (If there is an odd number, one person stays as a bulldog) one team are bulldogs, the other are runners, and it stays this way until all runners are caught, in which case, the teams swap over. To catch a runner, the bulldog has to physically pin the runner to the ground, while shouting "DogTagged, Get down!". When this happens, they stay pinned until the rest of the runners are either pinned or safe, then they leave the field till play switches. It's customary for the last runner left to be ganged up on by all the bulldogs of the opposing team, usually the runner is pinned by one bulldog, who then shouts "Pile On!!" This is arguably the most dangerous part of DogTag, as one person can have unlimited amounts of people laying on top of them. This version was founded in Brinsworth Manor Junior School in Rotherham, sometime in the mid to late 90s.