Since 1963, Clifford the Big Red Dog has become a beloved character among young readers across the globe. Norman Bridwell wrote over 80 children’s books about the adventures of Clifford and his young owner, Emily Elizabeth. Clifford of course, is not any old ordinary dog. Although both of his parents were normal-sized dogs, Clifford somehow grew to be more than 10 feet tall! Clifford’s abnormal size often gets him into trouble, but his loving heart and faithful perseverance make him an endearing character. Many children reading Clifford the Big Red Dog often dream of owning such an extraordinary dog — but what kind of dog is Clifford? Let’s take a closer look!
What Kind Of Dog Is Clifford?
The author of the famous Clifford the Big Red Dog children’s book series, Norman Bridwell, found himself needing to make some extra money to support his wife and new baby daughter, so he began doing freelance illustrations on the side. One of the editors he worked with suggested that he take one of the pictures he had drawn and write a story for it. Bridwell chose a picture of a big red bloodhound with a little girl. However, as seen in his children’s books, Bridwell eventually transformed that original dog into something a bit more magical.
Inspired by his previous drawing of the bloodhound and little girl, Bridwell began creating Clifford the Big Red Dog. He imagined Clifford as more of an average mutt of sorts, without any distinctive breed. Clifford’s behaviors and activities were all based on real-life dogs, but many different breeds and characteristics went into the process of creating this iconic canine.
In Bridwell’s books, Clifford was a normal-sized little puppy, born to normal-sized doggy parents. There was nothing really unusual about him in the beginning, but as he continued to grow he just never stopped! Although Clifford’s physical appearance was out-of-this-world, Bridwell wanted to show that in the end, Clifford wasn’t supernatural or all that out of the ordinary. He was just a dog like any other, albeit a giant-sized one.
The Clifford that we know and love today has many different dog breed characteristics, but in general, these boil down to three specific breeds:
Bridwell’s original drawing that inspired him to write Clifford the Big Red Dog depicted a little girl and a big red bloodhound that was about the size of a pony. Much of Clifford’s personality and traits come from this dog breed. By nature, bloodhounds are curious and friendly animals with large floppy ears, large bodies, and powerful legs that can carry them across miles of difficult terrain as they track a particular scent. They are friendly and can be very laid back. However, they were bred as scent dogs to track and find people, so they are also very active. At times their excellent sense of smell and tracking skills can lead them into trouble, much like Clifford and many of his accidental adventures.
Bloodhounds are usually 23 to 27 inches tall and weigh 90 to 110 pounds. Their coats are liver and tan, black and tan, or red in color. These impressive scent hounds were originally bred for hunting wild boar and deer, but later became highly valued for their unmatched ability to track humans — even if the scent was a few days old!
Clifford the Big Red Dog closely resembles an oversized vizsla. Vizslas are much smaller than our 10-foot-tall canine hero, and typically grow around 2 feet tall and weigh between 44 to 60 pounds. However, much like Clifford vizslas are known for their beautiful and smooth red-colored coats. Vizslas come in several shades of red; some are bright and bold like Clifford, while others are a dark rust color or even an almost golden hue. They are similar in appearance to hound dogs with big floppy ears and high-energy natures. Vizslas, however, are light-footed elegant athletes with much leaner bodies.
Like Clifford, vizslas are also sensitive and loving. They develop powerful bonds with their owners and do not like being alone. Vizslas are very loving dogs who are loyal to their families. They are very gentle and make excellent family companions. However, because they were bred as hunting dogs, they have a lot of energy and need plenty of physical and mental activity. Clifford also struggles with this trait, as Emily’s family quickly discovers that he needs more room to run around and play — especially with his massive size.
In addition to his traits from vizslas and bloodhounds, Clifford also resembles a Labrador retriever. Like the loving vizsla breed, Labradors are extremely affectionate companions and would do anything for their owners. These dogs are outgoing, active, and friendly to everyone they meet. Labradors are some of the most popular dogs because of their sweet faces and lovable personalities, and they socialize well with other dogs and humans. However, much like Clifford, Labradors are very energetic and enthusiastic, and these amiable athletes need lots of exercise and play.
Today, it is very rare to see a red Labrador retriever. Most Labs are either chocolate, black, or yellow. However, there actually is a red-colored Labrador retriever: the fox red Labrador — although technically it’s just a very dark variation of a yellow lab. Early on Labradors often had darker colors while light colored Labs were much rarer. However, due to this rarity, as well as their portrayal in commercials and media, the light-colored Labs became more popular, causing breeders to selectively breed for lighter colors. Ironically, since darker colors like the fox red Labrador are now rarer than light-colored dogs today, they are slowly becoming a popular choice once again — so you just might see these Clifford-looking dogs in the future.
Why is Clifford Red?
The three main breeds that fit the character of Clifford the Big Red Dog all can have red or reddish variations in color. However, that is not why Bridwell made Clifford a red dog. In an interview he confessed that the only paint he had on hand at the time was red, so he just went ahead and used it! Ultimately, however, Clifford’s brilliant and bright red coloring adds a feeling of energy and movement to the illustrations, which is important for stimulating young developing brains. In addition, the bright red color sets Clifford apart and gives him a cheery appearance.
The Other Dogs in Clifford’s Family
In the 1982 book, Clifford’s Family, Clifford decides to return to the city to visit his family. The illustrations in this book once again reiterate that neither Clifford nor his family is just one single, purebred dog breed. Each dog in the family looks similar to Clifford in profile, but with many variations in color and pattern.
For example, Clifford’s mother and his sister, Claudia, have yellow or sandy-colored fur. His brother Nero works at the fire station and has rusty red colored fur covered with large dark patches. Clifford’s next sister, Bonnie, is a white-colored dog who herds cattle on a farm. His father is a grey dog with scruffy hair that lives in a small town where he happily plays with all the neighborhood children. Each member of Clifford’s family, as you can see, has an overall physical structure like Clifford, and a personality that contains many of the traits of the three main Clifford dog breeds (friendly, energetic, hard-working, etc.). However, each dog also has their own unique look. This helps to reinforce that Clifford isn’t just one single dog breed, but a unique mix of many, which makes him a special, one-of-a-kind dog.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Lorenzooooo/Shutterstock.com
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