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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Breed Profile: "English" Bulldog

Disclaimer: This column addresses the GENERAL idiosyncracies of this breed. I've known a few bulldogs who were wonderful, but, sadly, they tend to be the exception to the rule. They're so homely they're cute, they're comical, and now they're in the AKC's Top Ten most popular breeds for 2007. They're bulldogs, formerly known as "English" Bulldogs.

My advice: Don't get one, unless you have LOTS of money to spend on vet bills and are a TRUE EXPERT on the physical and emotional makeup of this breed, and are committed to TAKE THIS DOG SERIOUSLY.

Okay, now that all the bulldog owners are mad at me, let me explain. This dog is a training challenge. It's a physical mess. It's outrageously expensive to buy and maintain, and its temperament is often less than pleasant. The bulldog is prone to lots of high-dollar problems with its eyes, ears, skin, heart, respiratory and skeletal system. Yet, because bulldogs are unique and a bit "edgy," people are paying big bucks to backyard breeders who are cranking out puppies as fast as they can, without regard to quality. It's a seller's market, and these "breeders" are commanding obscene prices for dogs that are often genetically inferior.

Buy a bulldog, and you'll pay enough in vet bills over the next 10 years to help retire your favorite vet to the golf courses in Scottsdale. And that's just the physical downside to Bulldogs.

The temperament is what most concerns us trainers. The general public's perception of this dog is that it's a laid-back, lazy, and easy going. In fact, the AKC standard for a bulldog temperament is: "equable and kind, resolute and courageous (not vicious or aggressive), and demeanor should be pacific and dignified." But this does NOT describe the majority of bulldogs I've seen and worked with in the past 15 years. Most of them START OUT that way..but something rather dreadful (and totally predictable) seems to happen when the dogs hit adolescence. They pick arguments with their owners or fellow pack members, and they frequently win (with a growl or bite).

The problem starts with a puppy so cute and comical that no one can stand to discipline or correct it for common attitude-related behavior problems. In short, no one takes the poor young dog seriously. As the dog gets away with more and more mischief, he gets BIGGER in size and status. By the time he's an adolescent, he's getting too big and strong to discipline. He growls at his owners when they try to make him do something, and they back down because they're intimidated. From there the problem just escalates until the dog is running the household. When he meets other dogs, he's ready to take them on too because, after all, he's the boss in every other situation.

Whereas most dogs can be quickly and appropriately disciplined when they get bratty, the physical build of a bulldog makes this very difficult. This dog is basically one big muscle with a face stuck on the front end. No neck! The normally effective chain-type training collar (which duplicates a nip from Mama Dog) barely works on a bulldog because the head is smaller than the "neck." With one flip of his head, he can fling off his collar. A Gentle Leader would be great...if it would fit him. But without a conventional nose and mouth (muzzle), he's difficult to fit. A regular buckle collar can spell disaster too, since the dog can easily back out of it if he really wants to. A mini-prong collar is probably the best option for training, although it must be placed up high, right behind the dog's ears, to have much effect.

It's also difficult to assist a bulldog into a "sit" or "down" position, or to teach a bulldog to heel. It's not impossible....these things just take a bit longer with a bulldog and call for innovative training techniques. His stout, sausage-like body makes "straight sits" a real challenge. So we're back to using innovative training techniques for very basic commands. That's fine if you're a professional trainer....but if you're a lay person trying to train this dog on your own, you're likely going to have troubles.

This dog is not the couch potato that many assume. While he's generally a dog that lacks stamina and must be babied through extremes in temperatures, he's still a strong, tenacious dog. I remember an episode of "The Dog Whisperer," Season 1, when Cesar had to help a bulldog obsessed with sprinklers and hoses. Cesar worked harder (physically) to wear down that dog than any dog I'd ever seen him work. It even had Cesar buffaloed for a while.

Because bulldogs are still rather novel, they seem to attract people without much real-life dog experience. These folks fail to do their breed research. They pick a dog based on what is in fashion, or based on their flawed perception of what the cute puppy will be like as an adult. They are often appalled and intimidated when the dog gets bigger and starts testing them.

The best owner of a bulldog is a professional dog trainer who's already familiar with the breed and is ready to start serious leadership training with the puppy on Day One in its new home. To everyone else: pass up this breed and pick another dog.


Unknown said...

i'm sorry but did you waste all this time on this article to smash on such an amazing breed to own. this is all the biggest load of shit I have ever read about this breed... and training them is a sinch if you apply positive reinforcement training verse your style of dominance training. I am sorry for anyone who reads this and is discouraged to now own such a brilliant animal.

CTBulldogOwner said...

I actually completely agree w this article. We had a lab for 11 yrs. Best dog ever. Passed away 2 yrs ago. We have 3 kids ages 8-12. Wanted a lazier family dog bc we're busy. Thought we should get a lazy English bulldog. A yr and a half later...this dog is not lazy. She is skittish, nervous and I have a trainer coming this week bc I fear she will bite someone soon. She is strong, strong minded and gets in the red zone at any foreign noise in the house (curtain opening on a rod, toys that make noise, dropping something by accident) or person knocking on the door. We would never give her up and we did train and socialize her after we got her (weekly training, and I work pt but have a dog walker 2x/wk for her) but we think she was not socialized enough in her 1st 8 weeks. She is not sweet. We love her and are invested in her bc she is part of our family but we could not have been more wrong w this breed. And we are experienced and dedicated dog owners. Not giving up on her but I feel it's something families should know. We would never get another Eng Bulldog.