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As of the first three chapters of The Prisoner of Azkaban, we know the following:

  • Aunt Marge breeds Bulldogs. As she's in England and they're described as fairly big, they're probably English Bulldogs. Furthermore, as she's a professional breeder, they're probably fairly normal dogs. In other words, they're probably not mutants with massive tails.
  • This year, she brought a specific Bulldog with her. She lets it drink tea, further suggesting that they're English Bulldogs.
  • Last year, she brought an unspecified dog with her, and Harry accidentally stood on its tail.

If the unspecified dog wasn't a Bulldog, or was a strange breed of one, then I have no problems with this. However, the context strongly suggests that it's a Bulldog and out of all of the Bulldogs that I've known, modern English or modern French, I can't believe that it's possible to step on their tails. Wizards do have some funny things happen around them, but I can't devise any way to step on a Bulldog's tail without having to step on the entire backside of the dog. In other words, if you were going to accidentally step on it, you'd trip over the dog.

This gives me my question - what do we know about the dog that Harry stepped on the tail of? If it's a typical English Bulldog, then I don't see how it's possible.

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    Some breeds of bulldog have long tails; i.pinimg.com/originals/4b/5b/20/… – Valorum May 26 at 12:59
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    "Furthermore, as she's a professional breeder, they're probably fairly normal dogs. In other words, they're probably not mutants with massive tails." No, not quite. You mean "because she's a professional breeder, they're probably bady mutated purebreds" - compare a modern Bulldog with one from the 18th or19th century. Like German Shepards, or other "show dogs" subjected to selective breeding, they are no longer exactly "normal"... – Chronocidal May 27 at 11:16
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    Many bulldogs do have tails, until their owners kindly hack them off. Check, eg, google.com/… – Robbie Goodwin May 27 at 22:03
  • So many years, and there's still something new to discover. Love this question. – MaxD May 27 at 22:16
44

The dog in question, Ripper, is indeed a (presumably English) Bulldog:

Ripper had chased Harry out into the garden and up a tree, and Aunt Marge had refused to call him off until past midnight. ~~ Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, pg. 18

In one hand [Aunt Marge] held an enormous suitcase, and tucked under the other was an old and evil-tempered bulldog. ~~ Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, pg. 22

"Tea, Marge?" [Uncle Vernon] said. "And what will Ripper take?" ~~ Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, pg. 23

However, your confusion here is because there are in fact two versions of the text. The American version you were probably reading, which is the same one I'm quoting from, says Harry trod on Ripper's tail. The original British edition of the novel, on the other hand, specifies that Harry stepped on Ripper's paw, which makes considerable more sense. The Harry Potter Wiki refers to Ripper's paw, not tail, as being the stepped-on part of the dog's anatomy and makes mention of the disparity between the British and American editions of the book.

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    After digging out my old print UK copy, it's clear that you're correct. Is there a list of changes between the English and American version anywhere? – J. Mini May 26 at 17:56
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    I'm sure there might be one somewhere. I'll have a look. I do know that the American editions changed Mrs. Weasley from "mum" to "mom" for at least Philosopher's Stone and Chamber of Secrets, but I'm pretty sure that after Goblet of Fire the texts were the same. Edit: Here you go. Apparently they kept making minor changes to all the books. hp-lexicon.org/differences-changes-text – SpaceWolf1701 May 26 at 18:01
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    There is also a quote in HP5 (Ch24) where Snape is teaching occlumency He was five, watching Dudley riding a new red bicycle, and his heart was bursting with jealousy. . . . He was nine, and *Ripper the bulldog* was chasing him up a tree and the Dursleys were laughing below on the lawn – RedBaron May 27 at 8:03
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    That's a bizarre thing to change in the localisation. – Hearth May 27 at 15:55
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Out of universe, there is a comment here (attributed to Pottermore):

"I regret making Aunt Marge a breeder of bulldogs, as I now know them to be a non-aggressive breed," she wrote on Pottermore. "My sister owns one and he's the most loveable [sic], affectionate dog you could hope to meet. On the other hand, they do look grumpy, and on appearance alone seemed to suit Aunt Marge."

This suggests that Rowling has never owned a bulldog, and made the choice of breed based on them 'looking grumpy'. It is likely that she didn't specifically consider tail length when writing the chapter.

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    While bullldogs often have their tails docked (where that's still legal), or in other cases have very little tail to begin with, this is not always the case. Some bulldogs do indeed have longer tails (just based on a quick Google image search for "English bulldog tail"), so this is not necessarily an error. – Darrel Hoffman May 27 at 16:21
  • @DarrelHoffman - Wikipedia claims bulldog tails are naturally short, not docked. – T.J. Crowder May 27 at 17:59
  • See above answer - he actually stepped on the paw, not tail ... – Fattie May 27 at 19:38
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    I guess Rowling knows her dogs as well as she knows her math – Wayne Werner May 28 at 3:37
  • @WayneWerner Not Rowling's fault this time - blame the American edition's editor! – Showsni May 29 at 10:43

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