The Silly Tweenager
Do you remember being in the seventh grade? You weren’t quite a teenager, but you weren’t a little kid anymore either, and every day was full of drama and excitement. Your body was changing, and you practiced acting like an adult, unsure about this new role.
Think of your Bulldog puppy going through this same experience. At 6 or 7 months old, he has the emotional maturity of a 12-year-old child, but his physical maturity is dawning. He’ll be reckless and uninhibited but also insecure and clingy. Most of all, he’ll be a whole lot of fun.
Although your puppy might not be fully sexually mature this month, his or her related hormones are developing. Soon you’ll recognize changes in your Bulldog’s appearance and behavior.
Understanding Female Sexual Maturity
Female Bulldogs can mature anywhere from 6 to 14 months of age, but most have their first heat between 7 and 12 months. The heat cycle is a clear signal of sexual maturity. (In males, the onset of puberty is much more uncertain.) Most female dogs go into heat twice a year, although some take longer to cycle. During this time, you must keep her away from intact males to prevent pregnancy. An unneutered male will travel several miles to get to a female in season.
Heat is the period when a female dog is receptive to breeding and capable of getting pregnant. Also referred to as “in season,” the cycle lasts 18 to 21 days. Intact refers to an unneutered male or unspayed female dog.
But before you start thinking you’ll breed your Bulldog puppy now, know that a teenage dog is too young to breed. She’s not yet physically or emotionally mature enough to deal with a litter, and she might harm or abandon her puppies if she has them this young. In addition, the health testing she should have before being bred doesn’t provide accurate results until she’s at least 2 years old.
Now, back to her heat cycle. The first stage is called proestrus and lasts about 9 days. During this time, she emits an odor that attracts males, but she rejects any who come near her. Her vulva swells, and there’s a slight bloody discharge. The first hint you might have that she’s in heat is the gang of male dogs hanging out in your front yard.
The second stage is estrus, when the discharge increases and is pink in color. This period lasts about 7 days, during which she’ll accept a male for breeding. This is when she can get pregnant, and keeping her confined is critical. A chain-link fence isn’t enough. A determined dog will breed through a fence. Keep her safely indoors.
Diestrus is the final stage of active heat, and it starts about day 14 but could be as late as day 20. The discharge is redder, the vulva returns to normal size, and she no longer accepts a male’s advances. Diestrus lasts 60 to 90 days or until the female gives birth, approximately 63 days after conception. When the discharge and swelling have ended, the heat cycle is complete.
A Bulldog’s heat cycle gets messy. Doggie diapers and pads are available to protect your house, but you also should wipe away the discharge regularly, and during the height of her heat, you might want to clean her twice a day. Besides keeping your house cleaner, this prevents skin irritation from excess moisture. She might get cranky, mount other dogs, or try to escape and breed during this time as well.
Understanding Male Sexual Maturity
Over the past several months, your male Bulldog’s testicles have developed and begun to produce sperm, and soon he’ll be capable of siring puppies. Male dogs have an increase in testosterone levels at 4 or 5 months, reaching a peak at 8 to 10 months. His testosterone levels taper off to normal adult levels at 18 to 24 months.
Males don’t have heat cycles like female dogs do. Once they reach maturity, they’re always fertile. However, like a 6-month-old female, he’s too young to be bred now. He doesn’t have to raise a litter, but he’s not old enough to have health clearances that ensure he won’t pass on genetic defects to his offspring.
A sure sign of puberty in the male dog is when he starts lifting his leg while urinating. He also might be more aggressive with other dogs and mount them during play.
An intact male develops distinctly male physical characteristics as he matures. He has heavier bones than a female; a bigger, blockier head; and more muscle.
TIPS AND TAILS
To calm down an intact male dog when an in-heat female is near, dab a bit of pure vanilla extract (natural, not synthetic) or Vicks VapoRub around his nose to interfere with his ability to smell. To help mask the smell of a female in heat, put some Vicks on the fur around her tail. You also can give her one chlorophyll tablet twice a day during her heat cycle. These actions decrease her attractive scent but won’t totally remove it.
Pet Bulldogs should be spayed (females) or neutered (males). Like any issue regarding your dog’s health, you should understand why and when it should be done so you can make an educated decision.
In this section, we also take a look at some more external parasites that might plague your pup, along with some genetically inherited Bulldog health issues.
Spaying and Neutering
The reasons to spay or neuter your dog are many, and the reasons to keep him or her intact are very few. The main reason to spay or neuter is to prevent adding to pet overpopulation. Even if you don’t purposely breed your Bulldog, mixed-breed puppies from an accidental breeding have a slim chance of successfully remaining in the same home throughout their lives.
As you learned in previous chapters, being a responsible breeder is expensive and time-consuming. A breeder must ensure both parents have health exams and genetic tests and then spend weeks caring for the mother and her puppies. If something goes wrong, the costs can be huge. The breeder also keeps in touch with the new owners, answers their questions, and takes back a puppy any time during his life if the owner can no longer keep him.
Your breeder probably sold you your puppy on a limited registration, which means any puppies your Bulldog produces cannot be registered. Bulldogs are one of the most popular breeds in the United States. A lot of study goes into breeding dogs, and only the best of the best should be bred. Talk to your puppy’s breeder if you are considering breeding your Bulldog. She can help you evaluate your dog’s potential as a breeding dog.
Besides the social issues, a spayed or neutered (altered) dog is simply much easier to live with. Your Bulldog will be more focused on you and less on other dogs. On the practical side, most doggie day cares and many kennels won’t accept unaltered dogs.
As sex hormones develop in your male Bulldog, they affect his behavior. He’ll be easily distracted, less focused on you, harder to handle out in public, and more likely to mark indiscriminately. He’ll try to escape, too, and he’ll roam when he senses a female in heat, even if she’s miles away. An unneutered male is also more susceptible to several kinds of canine cancer.
A mature dog marks, or deposits urine, so other dogs can identify him and determine his age or readiness to breed. Marking also establishes territorial boundaries.
Although a neutered male might still mark, he won’t do it as often or in as many inappropriate places as an intact dog. Neutered males are less of a threat to other male dogs and, therefore, aren’t challenged as often as they would be if they were intact.
Neutering a male dog consists of the surgical removal of both testicles. Unless the testicles have been retained in the abdomen, it’s a simple procedure and your Bulldog might go home the same day. The vet uses surgical glue or sutures to close the incision. The testicular pouch usually remains and shrinks up into the abdomen over time.
Most dogs are able to resume normal activity within a couple days, but don’t allow him to exercise too hard. Watch the incision for swelling, discharge, discoloration, or odors that might indicate an infection. It’ll take several weeks for the testosterone level in his system to decrease.
TIPS AND TAILS
Spaying/neutering affects your Bulldog’s sexual behavior but not his ability to learn. He can still compete in obedience, participate in scentwork, or join you in any other activities you choose. In fact, he’ll perform better because his raging hormones won’t distract him.
Female dogs also behave differently when they’re intact. They’re more likely to be aggressive toward other dogs, especially females. When in heat, a female is easily distracted, tries to escape, and marks more to advertise her availability, bringing intact male dogs from miles around to your house. As her heat ends, she’s aggressive to males, too. Her housetraining might lapse during this time as well.
When a female is in heat, she undergoes physical and emotional stress and a complete upset to her usual personality and health. She might not be able to participate in her regular activities like walks, agility, or therapy work.
Intact females are susceptible to more health problems than spayed females. They’re prone to mammary cancer, pyometra (uterine infection), and other maladies caused by excess amounts of estrogen (the primary female sex hormone) in their systems.
A spayed female’s personality doesn’t fluctuate wildly when she doesn’t have the seasonal upset of heat cycles. One health issue that does occur in a few spayed females is urinary incontinence, and she might leak a little urine while she sleeps. This condition is easily managed by inexpensive medication.
Spaying a female dog involves an abdominal incision to remove the ovaries and uterus, so it’s more invasive than neutering a male. She’ll probably have sutures, which need to be removed after 10 to 14 days. Her activity should be restricted for the first few days. Most Bulldogs don’t need to wear an Elizabethan collar (cone) because they aren’t laterally flexible and cannot reach the incision. But keep an eye on your dog, just in case.
The lack of estrogen after spaying increases some dogs’ appetites, so the old wives’ tale about altered dogs getting fat is partially true. Ensuring she gets regular exercise and monitoring her weight should keep her as trim as she needs to be with no problem.
When to Spay/Neuter?
For the past 20 years, animal shelter veterinarians have performed spay/neuter surgeries on dogs as young as 8 weeks old. Their motivation is clear: to prevent pet overpopulation. You shouldn’t alter your Bulldog at such a young age though. When considering when to alter your dog, long-term health effects of the surgery play an important role.
Veterinarians used to recommend that dogs be altered before puberty, meaning before a female has her first heat or before a male starts lifting his leg. Today it’s believed there are some benefits to waiting. Weigh these against your Bulldog’s behavior and the inconvenience of having an unaltered dog before you make your decision, and discuss the risks and benefits with your veterinarian.
TIPS AND TAILS
Spaying or neutering Bulldogs seldom makes dramatic changes in their behavior. They are an extremely pushy breed, and that characteristic doesn’t come from hormones.
In both sexes, an early spay/neuter surgery could cause a dog to grow taller than if he or she was allowed to mature. During puberty, the growth plates of your dog’s limb bones grow quickly, and he gets taller. After puberty, the cartilage in the growth plates turns to bone, no new cartilage forms, and your dog stops growing. After the bones reach their full adult length, they expand and become wider, denser, and better able to support the adult dog’s weight. A Bulldog is usually full height by 10 or 12 months old, but the growth plates don’t close until 12 to 14 months.
Growth plates are discs at the end of each limb composed of soft cartilage. Growth plates are located in the hips, knees, elbows, and wrist bones. Older cartilage is eventually replaced by bone as your pup grows.
Spay/neuter surgery removes the source of hormones that causes the growth plates in your dog’s long bones to stop growing. If these hormones are removed, his bones continue to grow. So a dog neutered early is taller and lankier than he would be if he was neutered later. In most dogs, this doesn’t matter. But the growth plates in a dog’s body close at different rates. If some close before your dog is altered and some afterward, he might develop odd proportions that impact the long-term functioning of his joints.
In males, early neutering prevents some of the male sex characteristics from developing. A mature, unneutered male Bulldog has heavier bones and shoulders and a blockier head than a neutered male. Females don’t develop these characteristics anyway, so it isn’t a consideration. Early spaying in females slightly increases the risk of genital problems like vaginitis due to the incomplete development of the external sex organs.
Recent studies have suggested there are some benefits to waiting to alter your Bulldog. Certain cancers and orthopedic injuries might be more common in spayed and neutered dogs. Other concerns include the risk of bone cancer, the effect on the development of hip dysplasia, and reduced bone mass in the spine. Discuss the timing of spaying and neutering, and whether it should be done, with your breeder. However, know that if you choose to leave your puppy intact, your responsibility as an owner greatly increases.
Dealing with Mites and Mange
During your puppy’s seventh month, he might have some pests you have to deal with. Although he can be affected by some of them at any time during his life, this is the age when you might encounter these parasites for the first time.
Demodectic mange (demodicosis): The Demodex canis mite is present on all dogs, but it doesn’t cause problems unless the dog has a weak or compromised immune system. Fairly common in Bulldogs, the mother passes the mites to her puppies during the first few days of life. An active case is caused by abnormally large numbers of mites or by stress, which weakens the immune system. It most often shows up in puppies, who go through a tremendous number of changes in their early months: teething, vaccines, moving to a new home, hormonal changes, neutering, spaying, worming, and more.
Localized demodex is concentrated on the face and forelegs and is characterized by scaly reddened skin, hair loss, pustules, and plugged hair follicles. If caught early and treated, symptoms often resolve and disappear by the time the dog is 6 or 7 months old. Many Bulldog owners recommend Goodwinol Ointment to treat mild cases.
Generalized demodex is much more rare in dogs, but it’s much more serious. It develops from localized demodex and usually appears between 8 and 18 months of age. Symptoms include patchy hair loss, inflamed skin, enlarged lymph nodes, and severe itching, especially on the feet. Infected dogs are at risk of developing secondary bacterial infections.
Your vet diagnoses demodex by taking a skin scraping and examining it under a microscope. Sometimes the mites are difficult to find, and a skin biopsy is necessary for diagnosis. Treatment of generalized demodicosis includes miticidal dips and oral medication. Your vet will prescribe antibiotics for secondary skin infections.
Canine scabies (Sarcoptes scabiei): Also called sarcoptic mange, these highly contagious mites burrow under your dog’s skin and cause intense itching, in young dogs more so than adults. Direct contact with an infected dog or infected wildlife transmits the mite to your puppy, where it immediately burrows into the outer layer of his skin and lays eggs.
In addition to constant, intense itching, your dog develops crusty pustules and hair loss, particularly on the elbows, tummy, edges of his ears, and front legs. Severe scratching and biting also cause infection.
Sarcoptic mites are much harder to see under a microscope, so diagnosis often is based on symptoms. Some oral flea and heartworm medications kill mites on your dog before an active infestation can occur. Treatment includes medicated shampoos, miticidal dips, and a course of ivermectin. Your vet might prescribe anti-inflammatories as well to make your pup more comfortable.
Sarcoptic mange is a zoonotic disease humans can get from their dogs. In people, the mites die out on their own and no treatment is necessary.
TIPS AND TAILS
Unlike other types of parasites, sarcoptic mange is highly contagious. An infected dog must be isolated from other dogs and even cats until he’s cleared of the mites.
Cheyletiellosis (Cheyletiella yasguri): These mites are most often seen on young and adolescent puppies. Infection is easy to prevent because the same insecticides that kill fleas work on these pests. The mites live on the skin’s surface, and the main symptom is dandruff (scaling and crusting) along the dog’s back. They also can cause itching and enlargement of the lymph nodes.
Cheyletiellosis mites are diagnosed by examining a skin scraping. Your vet will prescribe shampoos and miticidal dips. Other dogs and cats in the family should be treated as well.
Ear mites (Otodectes cynotis): Ear mites cause a buildup of a reddish, waxy-looking substance in the ear that can become so severe the ear is blocked with debris. Symptoms of ear mites are similar to those of an ear infection: head shaking, scratching, and tilting of the head. Even a small number of mites can set the stage for yeast or bacterial infections.
Once your veterinarian diagnoses ear mites, your dog needs a miticide to kill the mites and a prescription antibiotic or anti-inflammatory ointment to cure any resulting infections. The vet also might prescribe an ear wash. Your Bulldog’s ears might be painful, and he’ll resist letting you touch them. Some dogs are in so much pain, muzzling is necessary so you can administer the medication.
Dealing with Giardia and Coccidia
You’ll spend a lot of time out in nature with your Bulldog, tromping through the woods and participating in other fun activities. And during those times, your dog could be exposed to internal parasites that could make him ill—and could even infect you.
Giardia: A single-celled protozoa, giardia is most often found in contaminated water like streams, lakes, and rivers, but your dog can pick it up anywhere. Wild animals such as coyotes, rabbits, raccoons, and beavers carry giardia—in fact, it was originally called “beaver fever.” An infected animal carries the giardia cysts in its digestive tract and sheds them in its feces. If your dog ingests the stool, drinks infected water, or steps in it and then licks his paws, he can pick up the parasite. Once giardia is in your dog’s system, it attaches to the walls of his intestine and reproduces, forming cysts he then sheds in his stool.
The main symptom of giardia is loose stools or diarrhea. This often goes away in a few days, and it’s easy to assume your dog just ate something wrong, but he can carry the parasite for years with no symptoms. Long-term effects of giardia include weight loss, damage to the lining of the intestine, and malabsorption. Repetitive bouts of diarrhea are the most obvious sign of a problem. You won’t see any signs of giardia in your dog’s feces because it’s a microscopic organism.
Your veterinarian performs a fecal flotation test in the clinic to check for giardia. A fresh stool sample is required to look for this parasite. The giardia cysts are not shed in every sample, so it might take more than one test to diagnose. Also, before your veterinarian rules out giardia completely, she might send out a stool sample to a medical laboratory for more extensive testing. Treatment consists of a simple round of medication, but reinfection is a risk every time you take your dog out into nature.
Giardia is a zoonotic disease, meaning the disease can infect people as well as animals, so you need to protect yourself, too. Take care not to touch your face while you’re outside, and thoroughly wash your hands after outings. Also carry drinking water for you and your Bulldog so he doesn’t drink unsafe water.
Malabsorption is the inability to process and use nutrients in food. A zoonotic disease is transmissible from one species to another—for example, from dogs to humans.
Coccidia: Another single-celled parasite, coccidia most often affects young dogs. It’s sometimes found in raw meat, dirty kennel situations, or animal shelters. Livestock are often infected, and a dog can ingest coccidia from manure and grass in pastures. Cockroaches, mice, and flies also transport and spread coccidia.
As an adult, your dog might carry coccidia in his intestines and shed the cysts in his feces, but if he has a healthy immune system, he can fight off severe symptoms. Stress can trigger symptoms if a dog has coccidia present in his digestive tract. A major infestation can cause damage to the intestines.
The primary symptom of coccidiosis is diarrhea. It could be minor or severe, and it might contain blood or mucus. The symptoms for coccidia are similar to those of giardia and parvo infection. A fecal flotation test identifies the parasite, and medication stops reproduction of the organisms but does not kill them, so a complete cure takes several weeks. The biggest challenge is protecting your Bulldog from reinfection. To prevent this parasite from taking hold, clean his toys, bowls, bed, and crate regularly and pick up feces daily.
Coccidiosis is not a zoonotic disease, so you are not in danger of becoming infected.
TIPS AND TAILS
You can help prevent infestation by giardia and coccidia. Don’t allow your dog to eat or lick other animals’ feces, and don’t let your dog drink from unfiltered sources of water.
As you look at the myriad choices available in the pet food aisle, choosing the right food for your Bulldog can seem confusing and even overwhelming. How do you figure out the differences between brands or decipher the label information? With a little education, you can make an informed decision and choose what’s best for your pup.
All dogs have the same basic nutritional needs—protein, fiber, moisture, vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, and fats (see Months 1 and 2)—and most dog foods contain these essentials, but no one food on the market meets the nutritional needs of every dog. The following sections outline some basic facts to help guide you through your options.
Who’s in Charge of Pet Foods?
Pet food companies are required to list ingredients and meet manufacturing standards regulated by several federal organizations. Individual states get in on the act, too.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), through its Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM), regulates which ingredients are allowed in pet food, the manufacturing process, and what health claims a manufacturer can legally make. The FDA, working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), defines the exact requirements for terminology used on labels. (The USDA also is involved in establishing regulations for identification and approval of pet food ingredients.) The FDA, along with state and local agencies, inspects manufacturing plants as well to ensure compliance with labeling laws. The actual food itself does not have to be preapproved by the FDA.
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is comprised of officials from local, state, and federal agencies who enforce laws regarding production, labeling, distribution, and/or sale of pet foods. AAFCO specifies the minimum and maximum percentages of nutrients that must appear in a food to be considered “complete and balanced.” It also designates requirements regarding product names, flavor designations, and ingredient names that appear on the label. In addition, AAFCO publishes testing requirements manufacturers must follow to meet safety and nutritional standards.
The FDA, USDA, and AAFCO are the heavy hitters, but a few other groups are involved as well. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) works to prevent misleading advertising by requiring manufacturers to conform to truth-in-advertising standards. The Pet Food Institute (PFI) is a lobbying group that represents pet food manufacturers.
What’s on a Label?
With so many regulators involved, the information that appears on a pet food label can be hard to understand at first glance. Just remember that a pet food package is primarily a marketing tool, with the secondary function of accurately disclosing any information required by law. When you see pretty pictures of raw beef, colorful carrots, peas, and corn in an attractive arrangement on the bag, the graphics are designed to convince you to buy that brand. The wording, however, is strictly regulated.
The product name: Several rules exist regarding the name:
- A product can only be named chicken if it contains at least 95 percent chicken.
- A product labeled beef dinner for dogs must contain at least 25 percent beef (excluding water sufficient for processing).
- If the name is beef formula (or recipe, platter, or entrée), the product is only required to contain 3 percent of the named ingredient.
- If the label states with beef, it’s required to have at least 3 percent beef.
- A product labeled beef flavor must have enough beef to make it taste beefy. Manufacturers are allowed to use artificial flavoring or a small quantity of extract from beef tissues. It might not contain any actual beef.
Guaranteed analysis: This list states the minimum percentages of protein and fat and the maximum percentages of fiber and moisture in the food. These are not exact numbers, so you’re getting only a rough idea of the percentages. Companies are not required to list the percentage of carbohydrates, and the guarantee says nothing about the quality or digestibility of the ingredients that make up the food.
Complete and balanced: In addition to percentages, to declare a food complete and balanced, manufacturers must show that their food meets the nutrient requirements in one of three ways:
- Through actual feeding trials. This might sound like the best method, but there’s debate over how realistic this testing is. Dogs eat the tested food for a period of time, and their health is then measured.
- By formulating the food to meet AAFCO’s minimum and maximum standards, confirmed by laboratory testing.
- By stating the food is a “family member” of another of the company’s foods that has passed feeding trials or met formulation standards.
Life stages: A dog food is labeled either complete and balanced for all life stages, growth, or maintenance. There is no designation for senior foods.
TIPS AND TAILS
Some foods are not meant to be fed as a complete diet but instead are suggested for supplemental feeding. The label will state complete and balanced if the food is formulated for complete nutrition.
Miscellaneous: The company’s name and address are required. Many also include a phone number, email address, and website so consumers can contact them with questions. In addition, the bag is printed with the disclaimer that it contains dog food, not food meant for people, along with the net weight of the contents.
Expiration date: The “best by” date is a stamped or printed code that tells you the latest date the food should be used. Some companies also include the manufacture date so you can estimate the food’s shelf life. Naturally preserved foods don’t last as long as those that contain artificial preservatives, but most foods are safe if used within 1 year of manufacture. If a food is close to its “best by” date, you know it’s been sitting somewhere for a while.
Ingredients list: This is the most important part of a pet food label. Like human food, pet food ingredients are listed in order by volume, from the most to the least included in the food. It can be tricky to decipher what you’re actually reading here. The first six ingredients are by far the most meaningful, but you should look for some other key things, too.
The first ingredient listed on your dog’s food should be an animal protein source. Meat could mean cow, pig, goat, or sheep. You could find poultry, venison, bison, and fish listed, too. Ideally, you want to know what kind of animal the protein source is from.
The meat used in dog food has had much of the water cooked out. Meat meal (or chicken meal, etc.) is made of meat, bone, skin, fat, and connective tissue from which the water has been removed, so it contains more protein per pound than just meat. If meat meal isn’t listed first, look for it as a second or third ingredient. Meat makes the food taste good; meat meal boosts the animal protein content. Meat by-products are less desirable and can include things like heads, feet, hooves, hide trimmings, and more.
Another source of protein is plant proteins, which are less expensive. When you see corn or wheat gluten on a label, that’s a plant protein source and could be harder for your Bulldog to digest.
Gluten is a mixture of two proteins found in processed grains like wheat or barley. Derived from the Latin term for “glue,” gluten literally helps food stick together and gives it a chewy texture.
When you look at the first three or four ingredients on a dog food label, you might see chicken, corn gluten, wheat gluten, etc. Although chicken is listed first, the combination of the second and third ingredients might contribute a larger percentage of protein than the chicken.
A food might contain whole vegetables, fruits, and grains, which contain vitamins, enzymes, and antioxidants that haven’t been stripped by processing. Dogs are primarily carnivores, but they eat both plant and animal products. They’ve been eating grains for as long as commercial dog food has been around, and grains are a source of carbohydrates as well as protein. Wild canines also scavenge plant materials. Cereal grain-based carbohydrates are fine for many dogs, but others could have trouble digesting them. Whole grains are more digestible than processed grains like wheat flour or rice flour. Additional healthy carbohydrate sources include beans, sweet potatoes, and apples.
Farther down the ingredients list, you’ll find the preservatives. Preservatives extend the shelf life of food, preventing vitamin loss and rancidity from the fats. Natural preservatives like vitamin C and mixed tocopherols are more desirable than synthetic preservatives like BHA, BHT, and ethoxyquin.
When you see little green things that look like peas and orange bits of so-called carrots in your dog’s food, don’t be fooled. They’re not necessarily peas or carrots. Manufacturers add dyes and binders to dog food to make it look like vegetables to appeal to you, not your dog. If vegetables are included, they’re either part of the mixture that makes up the kibble or mixed into the food after the kibble is made.
You continue your Bulldog puppy’s education this month by teaching him to allow you to brush his teeth—a critical chore that has major health consequences if neglected.
In addition, in this section we look at an often-neglected grooming (and health-care) chore: caring for your dog’s paws.
Brushing Those Pearly Whites
Now that your puppy’s adult teeth are in, they need regular attention, just like your own teeth do. You want your puppy to enjoy—or at least tolerate—having his teeth brushed because you’re going to be doing it every week (or more often) for the rest of his life.
Many dogs have gum disease by the time they’re 3 years old, so early care is essential. Although some wear and tear is inevitable as your puppy ages, you can help ward off gum disease by establishing good brushing habits early.
Bulldogs like to chew, and that removes some dental plaque, but it’s not enough. Chewing on hard surfaces like bones only cleans the exposed areas of the teeth. Chewing also is the main cause of broken teeth, which can get infected. A Bulldog who chews throughout his life can completely wear down his teeth to the gum line and expose the nerves. Even chewing tennis balls is bad. They’re soft, but constant chewing of anything can wear down his teeth.
Dental plaque is a buildup of bacteria on your dog’s teeth that, if allowed to remain and harden, discolors and turns into tartar.
Gum disease causes severe pain and infection, which can spread through your dog’s system and even cause kidney or heart disease. If his gums aren’t healthy, they recede, causing pockets to form at the base of his teeth where bacteria collect and cause infection. If your dog has gum disease, you’ll notice that his gums are red, inflamed, and bleed easily. Bad breath also can be a sign of infection or gum disease. To keep his gums healthy, massage them with the toothbrush while you brush his teeth.
Besides cleaning his teeth and massaging his gums, regular brushing gives you the opportunity to inspect your pup’s mouth for broken teeth and tumors or look for bits of bone, slivers of sticks, or dog food stuck between his teeth. If your dog seems to have trouble eating, suspect a broken tooth or gum problems. (Dogs don’t usually get cavities like humans do because they don’t eat as many sugary treats.)
Although your dog will probably need a professional teeth cleaning at some point, it will take much less time and be less painful for him if you practice regular dental care at home. The doctor will anesthetize your dog, remove the tartar, and polish his teeth while cleaning thoroughly beneath the gum line. The doctor also will remove cracked or loose teeth and check for abnormalities.
Your Bulldog won’t automatically allow you to mess with his mouth, especially in this new, unfamiliar way. But you can get him used to it with some muzzle-touching lessons. If you’ve been practicing handling his face while cleaning his wrinkles and eyes since he was a baby, you’re ahead of the game. But still, he’ll probably try to turn it into a play session.
To begin, put your hand gently over his muzzle from the top. Just touch it for a moment and release so he won’t have a chance to struggle. Don’t clamp your hand on his muzzle at first. It’s normal for him to resist; this is a move his mother used to discipline him. Feed him a treat with your other hand while you’re lightly touching him.
As you work up to more pressure and longer time, he might flip his head around. Don’t let go. Just follow his head and reward him by releasing when he stops. Ultimately, you want to be able to put your fingers behind his upper canines and open his mouth. This lesson also makes it easier for your vet when he needs to examine your Bulldog’s mouth. You’ll use it later if he has a run-in with a porcupine or gets something stuck in his mouth, too.
To brush your pup’s teeth, you can use a toothbrush made for humans, a fingertip brush, or even a piece of gauze wrapped around your finger. Human toothpaste can cause a serious stomach upset if your Bulldog swallows it, so purchase meat-flavored doggie toothpaste. Or use a paste made of baking soda and water.
Begin by massaging your puppy’s mouth with your finger so he’ll get used to the sensation. Next, add some doggie toothpaste so he can learn to enjoy the taste. Gradually transition to using a toothbrush instead of your finger, brushing along his front gum line using small circles and covering both his teeth and gums. Hold the bristles at a slight angle so it isn’t abrasive on his gums.
Brush his back teeth, holding the brush at an angle while using back-and-forth strokes. Concentrate on the molars in the back, where food gets stuck between his teeth and cheek. The inside of his molars won’t have as much plaque buildup because his tongue washes away excess food.
Let your Bulldog hold a ball or big chew toy in his mouth while you brush his back teeth.
Do a portion of his mouth each day until he’s used to the routine and accepts it.
Caring for Your Pup’s Paws
Almost every day, your puppy’s feet are exposed to extreme heat, pesticides, fertilizers, and uneven surfaces that could bruise his paw pads. His feet also are constantly getting wet as he runs through grass, leaves, and streams, and mud can accumulate between his toes and dry into clumps. In the summer, dogs sweat through their paws, which creates the perfect environment for bacteria to grow. If he’s licking his paws constantly, something is irritating them. The best way to prevent problems is to keep his paws clean and dry.
Hot asphalt or newly blacktopped streets can burn your pup’s delicate paw pads. And he can get road burn—when the bottoms of his feet are rubbed raw—from running on hard surfaces. Treat raw feet with a foot soak (more on soaks later in this section) and antibiotic ointment or aloe vera gel and then bandage his feet to keep him from licking off the ointment. Place a gauze pad on the bottom of his foot, and tape it in place. Put an old cotton sock over the foot, and tape the top to his fur. A liquid bandage product is another way to help treat his feet.
Bulldogs can get dry, cracked skin and calluses on their paw pads. After a foot soak, apply a small amount of vitamin E oil to help heal his skin. To keep him from licking it off, put it on his feet just before mealtime, so he’ll be occupied long enough for it to soak in. Don’t apply too much, though, because it will stain your carpet if he walks on it. You also don’t want his feet getting too soft because that will make it easier for them to be reinjured.
TIPS AND TAILS
If you need to wash chemicals, antifreeze, road salt, or cleaners off your puppy’s feet, use liquid dish detergent or vegetable oil to completely remove it. Then rinse and dry thoroughly.
Do your puppy’s paws smell like corn chips? You read that right—corn chips. If so, that means he has yeast growing between his toes and you need to wash his feet in Betadine solution. Betadine is a 10 percent iodine-povidone antiseptic that kills bacteria and prevents skin infections. You can purchase it at a pharmacy or tack and feed store.
For general paw relief or for a Betadine treatment, teach your pup to love a foot soak. Soaking penetrates all the nooks and crannies of his feet better than washing with a cloth. To prepare a soak, add 1 or 2 inches of water to a kiddie pool or plastic tub and then add the solution. Have him stand in the tub for a minute or two and then rinse his paws and dry them with a towel.
Consider adding green tea, either bags or brewed tea, to a foot soak. The antioxidants in the tea soothe his skin. Chamomile tea has soothing properties as well. Apple cider vinegar is another topical disinfectant.
Between soaking sessions, rinse his feet with cool water to remove the irritants, and be sure to thoroughly dry them afterward.
Another foot problem that plagues some Bulldogs is interdigital cysts. A number of causes exist, but they’re most often due to allergies. Your pup absorbs grass and pollen allergens through his feet, so that’s where the most severe reaction occurs. Your puppy will have red, raw pustules between his toes, and he’ll lick them constantly. Do not lance the cyst because that could lead to infections. Instead, soak his feet in peroxide, Betadine, or Massengill’s douche powder solution to treat secondary yeast and bacterial infections.
Some veterinarians recommend surgery to remove the cysts, but they usually come back. The problem becomes chronic in some Bulldogs, and the paws will be red from saliva stains. In other dogs, the problem is seasonal.
Your vet will treat your dog with antibiotics, steroids, or antihistamines, while recommending that you clean and dry the area between his toes each day. The condition usually takes about 6 weeks to clear up, and it often recurs.
As your Bulldog speeds toward sexual maturity, he needs to continue meeting and interacting with other dogs. He’s changing as he grows, other dogs will sense that difference and treat him differently, and he’ll need to adjust his behavior accordingly. A dog who stays in the backyard for the next few months will be in for a rude awakening when he finally ventures out in public.
Enrolling in Doggie Day Care
Doggie day care is not the best idea for every Bulldog, but it can be an opportunity for your Bulldog to have supervised interaction with other friendly dogs. Be aware that other dogs sometimes don’t appreciate his rough play style, however, and he might learn to be dog-aggressive rather than have fun. Also, your pup may be fine now, but as he matures and becomes more assertive, you might discover that the facility doesn’t want him there anymore. Don’t take it personally. Few Bulldogs do well in day care.
If you select a facility staffed by conscientious professionals who have experience managing Bulldogs, he’ll have fun, burn off endless energy, and polish his dog manners. Regular attendance 2 or 3 days a week is easier on your dog and less disruptive for the facility because the dogs all know each other and don’t have to get reacquainted each time they visit.
There’s no legal requirement that dog day care facilities must be certified in any way or that employees demonstrate dog-handling skills. No national oversight organization exists either. Anyone can hang out a sign and offer day care. The local health department usually monitors cleanliness and hazardous materials compliance, and local animal control agencies usually require a kennel license, which specifies standards for the facility, not the staff.
When you contact a prospective dog day care, expect to fill out an application and attend a get-acquainted visit with your dog. The facility will require up-to-date shot records for DHPP, rabies, and bordetella (kennel cough). They also might require proof of a clear fecal test from your vet, showing your dog is free of internal parasites. Your dog also should be on a regular flea and tick preventative. Most day cares require your dog be spayed or neutered after a designated age as well.
While the manager is busy checking out you and your dog, ask some questions of your own. You might not be allowed to enter the playroom. Don’t take that as a red flag; a stranger walking into a room full of dogs can cause an uproar, and scuffles or fights could break out. You won’t be able to see the dogs at normal play firsthand. Instead, many day cares have a doggie webcam or a one-way mirror so you can see the playroom.
Here are some points to consider when checking out doggie day cares:
- How many dogs does the facility allow per day?
- Are high-energy and low-energy dogs separated into different groups?
- Are small dogs separated?
- What is the staff-to-dogs ratio?
- What training have employees had regarding dog handling and behavior? Do they have other Bulldogs attending regularly?
- What are the hours? Are there limited drop-off and pickup times? What about Saturdays?
- Are any special pricing packages available? Are ½-day rates offered?
- Do the dogs play all day, or is there a specified nap time?
If you can, watch the employees, too. Are they paying attention to the dogs, or are they in the corner, texting or chatting with other employees?
No facility, and no dog, is perfect. Accidents can happen, and occasionally a dog is injured by an inadvertent bite during play or a scuffle. Who is responsible for the vet bill when an accident happens? How does the day care decide if the offending dog will be allowed to come back? Be sure to ask these questions while you’re there.
If your Bulldog has the appropriate temperament and you choose carefully, dog day care can be a rewarding experience for you and your pup.
The “Wait” command helps your Bulldog puppy refine his manners. Ask him to wait before he goes through a doorway, before he eats dinner, and before he jumps out of the car. Wait means he’s not allowed to move forward until he gets an okay from you. He doesn’t have to sit, and he doesn’t have to lie down. Different from stay, with wait, he doesn’t have to remain in place until you touch him. This is a temporary pause, not a stay.
Teach wait with your dog on a leash, and start in a doorway. As the two of you start through, your pup will undoubtedly try to rush ahead. Say “Wait,” and give him the hand signal you use for stay—an open palm in front of his nose. Walk through the door, and if he doesn’t try to follow, tell him “Okay,” and let him walk through after you. If he does try to follow you, body block him with your hip and turn to face him. Continue to block his way through the door until he stops trying and is still, whether standing or sitting. He’ll probably look at you, which is what you want. Now tell him “Okay,” give him a treat while he’s still on the other side of the doorway, and let him walk through.
Practice this many times in many different doorways. Practice in the car, both getting in and getting out. He’ll soon begin to try to read your body language for a signal he can move. Practice moving around a little without letting him through so he learns he has to wait for your “Okay” release word.
It’s tempting to say “Wait … wait … no … stay … WAIT!” while you’re teaching this command, but don’t. That will just confuse him—is he staying or waiting? Dogs really do learn the difference. When you give the command multiple times, he anxiously watches you instead of relaxing and waiting for the release word.
The learning curve might be long and trying for this lesson. It’s an advanced concept, but he’s old enough to understand it now so be patient but persistent.
Introducing New Animals
When your Bulldog was just a pup, you introduced him to the cat, rabbit, pet snake, and any other animals in the house. He should continue to meet different species as he grows so he remembers and is able to deal with other new animals he encounters throughout his life.
If you have the opportunity, visit a place where he can meet some really big “dogs.” Donkeys, sheep, goats, cows, horses and ponies, peacocks, or geese are all critters he can get to know. (Be sure to have someone restrain the other animal so he can’t run away or attack.)
Use your jolly routine, treats, and patience while your puppy checks out the animal from a short distance. Don’t approach until your pup is calm. Barking, lunging, and raised hackles will only scare the other animal. Have the owner move the other animal around a little so your pup sees it walking and realizes it’s a living being.
When he’s ready to approach, keep the leash loose so he doesn’t feel trapped. If he lunges, turn away, start farther back, and keep trying until he can restrain himself. This might be all you can do on the first encounter. If so, practice with a number of animals so he learns this is the proper way to respond to a new animal.
A friendly horse will put her nose down and say hi to your pup. They’ll also sniff each other’s breath. Don’t let your puppy jump up against the fence or the horse, though.
When you’re done, praise your pup and walk away.
TIPS AND TAILS
If the horse or other animal is frightened, keep your distance. A scared horse will strike out with her front feet. It could be that the horse is learning, too.
Playing Too Rough
Your preteen Bulldog loves to play, and you love to play with him. But even though you’re just playing games, he’s learning which behaviors are allowed and which aren’t. Be careful what you teach him.
Between 6 and 7 months, your puppy is figuring out how strong he is, and he’ll naturally try to use his body in his dealings with others. Your Bulldog will charge other dogs, bowling over smaller or weaker pups, and body blocking his way across the playing field. He thinks this is great fun, but dogs of most other breeds won’t agree. His newly raging hormones also encourage him to try a new behavior, mounting. If he’s allowed to roughhouse, he’ll decide it’s okay.
Play that was fine in a 12-week-old puppy is now too much for many of his peers. They’ll tell him when he’s played too roughly by growling, snapping at him, and chasing him away. This helps him learn to mind his manners. Watch these interactions closely, and intervene if your puppy isn’t getting the message. You want other dogs to discipline him, but you don’t want an all-out fight.
It’s one thing to roughhouse with his buddies, but he needs limits when he plays with you and your family. At this age, he’ll jump on you, crash into you while he runs around the yard, slam into your legs, and grab your arms. You might enjoy the game, but when he crashes into someone else, it won’t be so cute. He could injure someone—or he could be injured—or he could land wrong and tear a ligament, crack immature bones, or tear muscles.
TIPS AND TAILS
Interrupt active games with some control exercises. Have him sit before you throw a toy, and practice off. When kids are playing, slow everyone down and introduce some structured games. Quit or call a time-out when things get overly rough.
Playing tug-of-war teaches your Bulldog all the wrong things: he learns to growl aggressively at you, and he’s rewarded for holding on and refusing to let go. Tug-of-war makes a pushy dog pushier and encourages grabbing, biting hard, and jumping—all things you’re trying to gain control over this month.
Bulldogs can easily become obsessive about games, and the next thing you know, he’ll be tugging on your purse, briefcase, newspaper, or anything else you’re carrying in an effort to get you to play tug-of-war. He just won’t quit.
With you, it’s not an ideal game. With a child, it’s downright dangerous.
Be patient. This month your puppy will have moments when he seems to have forgotten everything you’ve so diligently taught him. Just remember that this, too, will pass.
Dealing with Teenage Behavior Regression
What looks like a regression in behavior to you is more like a new awakening on your puppy’s part. Seemingly overnight, your previously well-behaved and adoring pup has transformed into a wild child. His interactions with other dogs also might have deteriorated as he has practiced new ways of dealing with others.
Problem aggression and anxieties might develop during this time, but they also recede as your puppy finds his way. Spaying or neutering makes a huge difference in his behavior, lessening fighting, marking, and bullying among dogs.
Because he’s distracted by his adolescence—which might last until your Bulldog is 2 or 3 years old—your puppy’s obedience skills might falter, and you’ll need to use a stronger hand to control and redirect his behavior.
Here are some of the behaviors you might see (we help you deal with all these issues later in this chapter and in upcoming ones):
- Shyness or fearfulness
- Destructive, acting-out behavior to satisfy his endless energy
- Housetraining relapse, marking
- Bossiness, rudeness, constant testing of the rules
- Ignoring commands, distracted
- No self-control or ability to resist temptation
It might be small comfort to know he’ll get over it, but if you continue to work with him, he’ll get through this period, and so will you.
Working Through a Second Fear Period
The fear-imprint period that was so important during your puppy’s first 2 or 3 months might come up again this month. If your Bulldog had a bad experience in a particular room when he was 8 weeks old, he might seem to suddenly, fearfully remember that event now, months later.
The adolescent fear period starts between 6 and 14 months and can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks. He’s going through major physiological and psychological changes now. The fear period seems to correspond to growth spurts, and his anxiety might vary from day to day. He might spook or bark aggressively at something he’s seen a thousand times, like the mailbox at the curb. If he does, don’t overreact. In most cases, you can ignore the behavior. As you did when he was a baby, let him approach scary things when he’s ready, and don’t force him into a situation where he feels overwhelmed.
A well-socialized dog will get through this period much quicker than a dog who has been kept at home and isolated. Just be sure to keep him on leash in public in case something frightens him.
By 6½ months, your Bulldog’s adult teeth are in, but they won’t completely set in his jawbones until he’s 8 or 9 months old. Until then, he’ll continue to be a chewing machine to help ease his teething pain. And because he’s bigger and stronger now, he’ll be more destructive.
Many dogs especially enjoy chewing on wood, quickly graduating from sticks in the yard to stair rails, 2×4s, fence posts, shingles, and other things you’d never imagine he’d eat. Invest in some chew-repellent products from your local pet-supply store, or make some of your own with red pepper sauce in a bottle of water. (Watch for potential staining with the latter.)
Freeze a wet washcloth for your puppy to chew on. Or stuff a tennis ball in an old sock, wet it, and freeze it. Carrots and watermelon rinds make fun and different chewies, too. Or provide a variety of sturdy chewables such as stuffed and frozen KONGs, heavy rubber tire toys, bully sticks, or heavy nylon Galileo bones (reminder: avoid rawhides). He might eventually lose interest in a certain toy. If that happens, put it away for a few days, and it will be exciting to him when you bring it out again.
Chew toys are as important now as they’ve ever been, and diligent supervision on your part will protect your more vulnerable household treasures. When you give your Bulldog something new to chew on, supervise him to be sure he isn’t going to immediately destroy it and swallow pieces. You can offer some softer toys, like stuffed animals, and then put them away when you can’t watch him.
You know your Bulldog has reached adolescence when he starts lifting his leg. Testosterone levels start to rise as young as 4 or 5 months old. But it isn’t just the boys—females mark, too, just not as often or as obviously.
A male Bulldog hikes up his rear leg so his hip is perpendicular to the ground, while a female usually lifts one rear leg forward while still squatting. When they’re done, both might kick the ground with their rear legs to spread the scent of their urine. By doing this, your dog is announcing his sexual maturity and laying claim to that territory, whether at home or away.
When your puppy starts marking, the scent of his or her urine has changed, and any other dog who smells it will know there’s a new sexually mature dog in town. No longer can he roll over and leak a little urine to get the big boys to back off. Other adult males will know he’s an adolescent, and his permission to misbehave is immediately revoked. Many male adults will put a teenage dog in his place before he gets too full of himself and tries to challenge the older dogs.
On your walks, your male dog will mark repeatedly—and often in unacceptable places, like on the neighbor’s car. You’ll catch him marking over where another dog has just urinated, too. His motives aren’t just territorial; dogs read each other’s urine like we read the daily newspaper—comedian Dave Barry called it “yellow journalism.” They learn who’s been to this spot, when, and the other dog’s age and sexual maturity. Then your dog leaves his own calling card, often releasing just a tiny bit of urine, like he’s saving up so he has enough for the entire trip.
There’s no reason to let him get away with impolite marking behavior. Don’t stop and wait while he has a good sniff and lines up to pee; correct him and move on. When excessive marking becomes a habit, it’s hard to break. Most dogs continue marking after they’re neutered, although not as often.
Sexual maturity also can mean a sudden lapse in housetraining. It’s not really a housetraining issue; it’s marking. Males will lift their leg indoors and out, on any vertical surface they can reach. Females will mark indoors, too.
Treat this like any other accident. Interrupt your dog with a loud “No!” or “Ack!” and go outside with him like you did when he was a baby. Praise and give him a treat when he goes in the proper spot. Go back to supervising him indoors and crating him when you can’t, and deal with the problem like he’s on his first day of housetraining as an 8-week-old puppy. You can’t stop a dog from lifting his leg or marking, but you can teach him where and when he’s allowed to go.
TIPS AND TAILS
Bulldogs usually aren’t a difficult breed to housetrain. If your pup is marking indoors often, he might have a bladder infection, or your spayed female might be suffering from urinary incontinence. Rule out health problems before you decide your dog just refuses to be housetrained.
Training is a lifelong process, but it doesn’t have to be misery. You’re investing time raising a well-behaved puppy so you can enjoy years of companionship and fun together. After you lay the foundation, he’ll only need an occasional brush-up to keep his skills sharp and his responses eager.
As he reaches adolescence, a Bulldog will put your patience to the test. Two or three months of diligent effort now are well worth the payoff later. Remember to keep it fun!
Practice Makes Perfect
Your dog might be an obedience champion when you’re in the backyard practicing, but does he really understand the commands? And can he perform out in public when you’re under stress and really need him to behave? What’s more, dogs depend on body language for much of their communication. What happens if your arms are full of groceries and you can’t give him a hand signal along with a command?
Test your dog to see if he really understands sit. Face your dog, ask him to sit, and use your hand signal. If he sits, good. Release him. Now look away, ask him to sit, and stand perfectly still with no body language, eye contact, or hand signal. Did he do it? If he did, great. If not, he still needs some guidance from you. When he can perform all the commands you’ve taught him without any visual cues, you know he understands.
When your dog is doing a solid sit-stay and down-stay, it’s time to add some distractions. He’ll make mistakes and get up when he’s not supposed to—that’s how he learns exactly what stay means.
Here’s a progression of increasing distractions to help your Bulldog understand stay:
1. Put him in a sit-stay. While you’re still holding the leash, start to walk around him. His head will follow you, and his natural response will be to stand up as you leave his field of vision. Touch his muzzle with your hand to remind him to stay in place as you move.
2. When he stays put with you circling him while he’s on leash, drop the leash and try it again.
3. Circle in the other direction.
4. Circle farther away.
5. Turn your back on him, and walk away several steps before turning to face him.
6. Crouch down without saying anything. Don’t look at him. You’re not trying to lure him out of place; you want to help him succeed.
Every time he stays in place, verbally praise him from a distance. You don’t want him to get excited and get up, but you do want him to know he’s done it correctly. He also has to learn that praise doesn’t mean you’re finished. Always end up at his side, touch him, and say “Okay” to release him. Then have a party! When he makes a mistake, just put him back and continue. No scolding. Take plenty of breaks between tries, and quit when he’s done something especially well.
The ultimate practice is to make obedience commands part of everyday life, at home and in public. Practice on walks, at the park, and wherever else you take him. At home, he should sit for his dinner, when you put a leash on him, and while you brush his teeth or clip his nails. He should do a down-stay while you do dishes, brush him, or eat dinner.
Your Bulldog should walk nicely on a leash wherever you take him. He should wait politely at doorways and look to you for permission to jump into and out of the car. These little things tell your Bulldog you are in charge, and he’ll accept your leadership and be less likely to try and take over the household.
Many behavioral problems evaporate after some basic obedience training. Issues like barking, digging, and chewing might cure themselves when your dog is comfortable with his position in the household, knows the daily routine, and understands what’s expected of him.
Teaching Cooperation, Not Confrontation
A teenage Bulldog will test you to see how much he can get away with. All-out mutiny is a game to him, and he will rule the roost if you let him. And what he learns now will stay with him for the rest of his life. The only way to respond is with consistent guidance and training. Your dog adores you, but he actually will behave better with discipline and structure. As he challenges you—and he will—look for opportunities to build your relationship.
Reward your dog throughout the day, not just during training sessions. You might not have noticed that perfect sit he offered while you were fixing his dinner, or the way he went to his crate at bedtime without being told. Make a deposit in the bank of goodwill, and praise him when you see he’s on his best behavior.
If you correct him or interrupt an unwanted behavior, always give him a chance to do something right and earn rewards. Say “Good boy!” when he stops whatever he was doing that you didn’t like. Then ask for sit or down, just so you can praise him. No one, even a dog, likes to be yelled at all the time.
Be fair to your dog, too. Be sure he understands what you want him to do before you get frustrated because he didn’t do it. Help and reward him, and always set him up for success. Don’t expect him to do something perfectly—like a down-stay—the first time company comes over. Put him in his crate, tether him, or hold on to the leash so he can’t make a mistake. He’ll try harder for you next time.
Using Equipment to Control Your Bulldog
Ideally, you should be able to control your dog with training, rewards, and discipline. But Bulldogs are strong, and if he’s out of control to the point you can’t handle him, you might decide to employ some equipment to help manage him.
Some items, like no-pull harnesses, might provide a much-needed breakthrough in dealing with your dog. Work with a professional trainer, and use these tools while you’re teaching your teenager to listen to you. Just remember these are tools, not solutions. You can’t stop training because you have a new collar. After all, you don’t want to have to use special devices throughout his life.
Harnesses: A dog who pulls on the leash will cough and gag from the pressure of the collar on his trachea. That leads some owners to try a harness, which relieves neck pressure because the straps lie across his chest and rib cage instead. But a traditional harness triggers an opposition reflex in a strong dog like a Bulldog, and he’ll instinctively resist the pressure. That’s why a sled dog wears a harness—it makes him pull. It actually triggers the same reflex in a small dog, but because the owner is stronger than the dog, it doesn’t matter as much.
No-pull harnesses are better, but they still won’t completely solve your problem. They were developed so an owner with less strength or with an untrained dog could still walk her dog. Several styles of no-pull harnesses are available. Some attach the leash to a ring on a chest band, while others have straps that go under the dog’s legs and fasten behind her shoulders, where the leash attaches. They tighten when the dog pulls and give the owner more control.
A dog who wants to pull is going to pull, and the only lasting solution is training him to walk nicely on a leash.
Head halters: These work on the same principle as a horse’s halter: by controlling your dog’s head, you control her movement. But because Bulldogs have a flat face and short muzzle, it’s almost impossible to keep a head halter in place, and your Bulldog can easily remove it by pawing at it. Although head halters work well for other breeds, they aren’t recommended for Bulldogs.
Equipment to Avoid
The following sections cover a few devices you should never use without a trainer or behaviorist’s guidance because they can damage your relationship and actually injure your dog: chain collars, prong collars, and shock collars.
TIPS AND TAILS
In the hands of an inexperienced person, any tool can hurt a dog. If you feel you need special equipment to control your Bulldog, first consider working with a trainer or behaviorist to evaluate the situation. Then learn how to use any equipment you both decide is necessary safely and without ruining your relationship with your dog.
Chain collars: Thankfully, chain collars have fallen out of favor over the past two decades. The training method of choice was what trainers now refer to as the “jerk-and-pull” method. Owners spent their time in obedience classes learning how to give their dogs a “proper” correction, which entailed a quick, hard jerk on the chain and an equally quick release. The method worked, but owners didn’t like hurting their dogs. As a result, more positive training approaches have taken its place. Unfortunately, many dog owners still use these collars.
Chain collars, also called choke collars for good reason, tighten when your dog pulls, which can choke him or injure his trachea. This collar should never be left on a dog for any reason. Your dog could get caught on a branch or fence and choke to death.
Prong collars: A prong collar is a correction device, not a training tool. The prongs go entirely around the dog’s neck, which evens out the pressure applied when the dog pulls or the handler makes a correction. Therefore, there isn’t as much risk of injuring the trachea as with a chain collar. But it’s hard to properly fit a prong collar on a Bulldog’s fleshy neck, and if the prong collar is too tight or if the owner uses too much force, the prongs can puncture the dog’s neck.
When a handler makes a correction, the effect is instant and extreme—and it really hurts the dog. A sensitive dog might react aggressively in self-defense or fear. Other dogs become increasingly stressed while wearing one. Never use a prong collar without expert help.
Shock collars: The manufacturer of the electronic or “shock” collar call it a “stimulation” collar to sidestep the negative image of shocking your dog. But that’s exactly what it does, and it has its place in certain types of training.
Hunters who train their dogs to take commands from a distance make use of these collars. When a person understands the scientific principles of negative reinforcement and uses the collar correctly, the dog can learn. But if you hit the button at the wrong time, all you’ve accomplished is confusing, hurting, and frightening your dog. For pet owners, there’s no practical purpose in using these collars. In addition, shock collars are hard to fit on a Bulldog’s neck and are likely to injure your dog or be completely ineffective.
You and Your Puppy
Don’t expect a lot of downtime this month. Your puppy is still very young, and he’ll play hard until he collapses and falls asleep. And for those times when he just isn’t ready to settle down, you can help wear him out by playing brain games.
Continuing to Play
The games you played with your Bulldog puppy—hide and seek, find it, and others—will still entertain you both, and you can make them tougher now to challenge him. Teach him to find a person by name, for example. Have the person hide, and while restraining him, tell your puppy to “Find Sue.” Have Sue then call your puppy and shake a container of treats. He’ll quickly learn to find multiple people, one after the other.
You may have laid out treat trails for your puppy to follow when he was a baby. Now you can make them more complicated and longer, challenging him to think and work out problems for himself.
Targeting is another fun game for your Bulldog. Put a treat on a small plastic lid or plate, and tell your dog to take it. Start at about 3 feet away. As he understands the game, you can work up to putting it in different rooms and telling him to “Find it.” This is a great way to tire out your pup.
Your pup also might enjoy chasing a soccer ball or an empty 2-liter plastic water bottle around the yard while you throw or kick it.
Bulldogs aren’t natural retrievers, but they can certainly learn to play fetch. Throw one toy, encourage him to bring it back, and then throw another one for him to chase. He’ll drop the one he’s got to go after the new one. Or use the “Give” command to take it from him. He can quickly learn to return the toy if you trade him for a treat.
Learning Easy Tricks
When training seems like a chore, switch to teaching him tricks and bring the fun back into your time with your puppy. The whole family can join in. Shake and play dead are two easy tricks you or anyone else in your family can teach your puppy.
For shake, get down on the floor with your pup and have him sit. Don’t say anything. Just reach out and tickle the back of his front foot just above the floor. He’ll lift his foot off the ground. When he does, say “Good,” and reward him with a treat. After a few tries, always reaching toward the same foot, he’ll lift his foot when he sees your hand coming. Fantastic!
Now give it a name; it doesn’t have to be “Shake.” You could say “High five” or “Gimme five” or anything you want. As he lifts his paw, say your word and take hold of his paw. Give him a treat from your other hand while you’re still touching him, and release. Work up to the point that he’ll let you shake his paw.
When he’s really good at shake, you can work on variations. You can teach him to put his paw in your open hand or lift his other paw to shake. Give these new behaviors a different name and hand signal. For instance, use a different hand when you want him to shake with the other foot, and use an open hand when you want a high five. Teach just one behavior at a time until he understands it completely. Later, you can alternate which behavior you ask for.
For play dead, have your puppy lie down and roll on one hip, like he’s going to do a down-stay. Put a treat in front of his nose, and move it back and toward his spine so he twists his head as he follows the treat. Pull the treat far enough back that he has to put his head on the ground to follow it. As he lies flat on the ground, give him the treat. (Bulldogs don’t like to lie on their backs, so having him lie flat on his side is probably the best position for this trick.) He’ll quickly get the idea after a few repetitions. Add the words “Bang bang” or whatever you choose for the command.
Both of these tricks are easy for your Bulldog to learn in just a few days. Alternate tricks with obedience commands to keep training time fun and interesting for both of you.