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Handling An Aggressive Bulldog

Bulldogs, despite their pugnacious appearance, are generally very sweet-natured and gentle dogs. Their reputation for ferocity stems from their history as pit-fighting dogs; however, that was a very long time ago and Bulldogs have since been altered a great deal (deformed would perhaps be a better word) in appearance and physical capability by breeders.

Despite their loving, permissive nature, aggression is sometimes possible: Bulldogs have a strong sense of resolve and can be INCREDIBLY stubborn. Once they've decided to do something, they'll do it no matter what, so a roused Bulldog can be a formidable force to reckon with.

What Should I Look Out For?

All dogs share the same basic aggressive warning signs: pre-aggressive behavior, or dominant behavior, is what you should be watch for. Look for behaviors like:

  • Passive aggression. If you've got a Bulldog who used to obey you and now suddenly doesn't, you may have a problem on your hands. This is a typical first sign that your dog is testing you and considering whether he might be able to raise himself above you in the social hierarchy of your household. You need to regain control - NOW.
  • Furniture and toy guarding. All Bulldogs can be ferocious about guarding their food (which is why you should never feed one when there are small children around), but if he complains or growls when you try to get him off the couch or come near him when he's got a toy, that's dominant behavior and is unacceptable. He would never behave in this way if he believed that you are 'superior' to him in the social pecking-order.
  • Prolonged staring, especially when accompanied with a motionless posture, is very threatening in dog language. Dogs do not stare unless they wish to actually initiate a fight: your Bulldog may be preparing to do you harm.

How Can I Handle It?

Counteract his over-inflated sense of self-importance immediately. You need to take him down a notch or two: the best way to start doing this is by a series of exchanges: he doesn't get anything he wants without doing something for you, first. Make him sit before he gets his food; don't let him outside until he waits for you to go through the door first; only pat him when you want to - don't reward him with attention when he pesters you for pats. Everything has to be on your terms.

Read up on the importance of the alpha-position and pack rankings. You and your dog are not meant to be equals; you are meant to be the leader. Proving that you're in charge isn't merely harmless, it's downright imperative for the both of you if you wish to coexist safely. You have to understand how dogs communicate with each other before you can start proving to him by your actions and posture that you're in charge, not him.

Enroll in formal obedience classes. This will strengthen the bond and degree of trust between the two of you (which can't be that good at the moment, if he's trying to boss you around) as well as ensuring an obedient, happy dog. Bulldogs - like all dogs - need defined social structure to be happy; once he understands what you want, he'll actually be much happier to obey you than to attempt calling the shots himself.

Don't be harsh with him, strike him, or yell at him for bad or aggressive behavior. It will quickly make matters deteriorate. You must adopt a calm, controlled manner: 'no' means 'no', but you don't have to yell to make yourself heard. Arm yourself with treats (to be doled out ONLY when he's earned them) and don't praise him unless he's done something worthy of praise. Be consistent at all times and make sure all members of the family understand how to act - dogs need consistency to be well-behaved and secure.

Bulldogs respond best to persistent, gentle, encouraging training, otherwise known as the positive-reinforcement method. This basically means that you reward (instantly and consistently) any behavior that you'd like to see perpetuated, and ignore the dog (for a short period of time) as soon as he does something inappropriate.


If you feel threatened at any time, or are afraid of your Bulldog, that's a sign to get professional help immediately. There is NO excuse for threatening behavior in dogs (other than to blame the owner for not laying down the law adequately); you need to talk to your vet about referrals to a professional behavioral consultant.

For further, in-depth information on handling aggressive behavior in Bulldogs and other breeds, check out Secrets to Dog Training. It's packed with effective procedures for handling dog aggression, and there's loads of information on training and handling as well.


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