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The Working American Bulldogs by David Putnam Q. What special problems do ABs present in protection training?

A. Most of the problems or challenges that ABs present in protection training revolve around the fact that they have been bred for many generations to catch wild boar, not do sport protection work. The most persistent complaint from the typical German Shepherd protection trainer concerning ABs is that Bulldogs usually don’t bark in guarding exercises or while being agitated. This is because barking will scare wild boar away during a hunt. Over the years, barky bulldogs have been eliminated from the gene pool. Most ABs are dead silent when in prey drive for this reason. When WABA designed their protection titles they were aware of this problem and decided that barking was not mandatory for the BST or BST II. If you have a mute Bulldog and seek a WABA title, don’t worry about your AB’s silence. If your AB wants to be silent, let him be silent. If you are seeking a Schutzhund title, you should train your Bulldog to bark off the protection field using OB techniques. Once the dog has mastered the speak command you can use it on the protection field and reward the dog with a grip once he barks. Some ABs have a GSD temperament as far as barking is concerned. Bulldogs like these should be encouraged to bark because it builds drive.

The next most common complaint involves targeting on the sleeve. When a German Shepherd goes to the wrist on a sleeve bite, it is commonly thought that he is avoiding the man and may lack hardness. While this can be true also with Bulldogs, it is just as likely that an AB will not hit the center of a sleeve because his ancestors have been bred to hit the ear of a boar or the nose of a bull, i.e. the extremity of a prey object, not the center. I have tied a thin rope to a small plastic tricycle and pulled it in front of AB puppies as an experiment. They invariably bite the front of the tricycle’s tire, the outermost extremity that they can get at. If you fool around with different prey objects, the same pattern will emerge, bulldogs like to hit what they perceive to be the “head” of the object. Often you will see ABs hitting the wrist of a sleeve when they are worked in prey. But when the decoy works them in civil or defense, the bulldog will hit the center of the sleeve. This is the opposite of what we would expect if the dog were avoiding the center because he lacked hardness. The solution to bad sleeve targeting is not necessarily to use more civil (though this does work with some ABs). The best solution is simply to be aware of targeting from the very beginning, right from the first tug toy bite on a green dog, the decoy must be alert to targeting problems and not allow them to escalate. This might mean that the dog is not rewarded with a carry if he targets poorly. Or the dog might not be allowed a tug battle with the decoy but an immediate slip, an out and a proper set up for the next bite. Decoys should pay special attention to where a dog’s eyes are pointed right before a bite because this will indicate where the dog will target. If the eyes are on the wrist or elbow, then the dog should not be given a bite.

When hunting wild boar, a Bulldog operates independently of its handler. In a traditional setting, old time Bulldogs, like all farm dogs, often learned more from other dogs then they do from their handlers. This inborn trait can be utilized when training an AB in protection. It is an accepted protection technique to tie a green dog to a post and let him watch experienced dogs being agitated or worked. This technique is moderately successful with GSDs. But with Bulldogs it can have phenomenal success. A Bulldog will naturally learn more by watching another dog then a GSD will.

The typical man oriented Bulldog is handler sensitive but decoy hard. Handler sensitivity is linked to a Bulldog’s propensity to operate independently of his handler. In other words, in times past he was out doing his thing, catching a boar or guarding a yard and did not receive a lot of corrections or help from his handler. When the owner/handler did give that rare correction, a good Bulldog would take it to heart and be deeply affected. In today’s world this can impact how we should train in sport protection work. For instance, a typical German Shepherd is more confident if his owner keeps tension on his protection harness or collar through the leash while the dog is being agitated or given a bite. When the leash is released the GSD can feel disconnected from its handler and become less confident. But some ABs have greater confidence if they are freed from the leash and allowed to operate independently. Some ABs actually treat leash pressure during protection work almost as a correction and feel inhibited by it. Send them on a long bite without the handler and they may hit harder and grip more powerfully. Once again, there are other ABs that have more of a GSD temperament and should not be rushed into off leash bites too early. The secret here is for the training decoy to be aware of this tendency and to carefully experiment with leash verse off leash bites once the very beginning training period is over.

Handler sensitivity can be a funny thing in ABs. It can disappear or be overridden by decoy hardness. This is most evident when the dog is being trained to out. Some Bulldogs that under normal circumstances are very handler sensitive ignore the handler utterly while being trained to out. These dogs can be stubborn and hard to out. Some will withstand shock collars or two men pulling on pinch collars at the same time and other hardcore outing techniques. This is because the stubborn Bulldog is reacting to the decoy and not the handler. Take this same type of Bulldog and teach him to out off the protection field using a tennis ball or other toy then utilize this training on the protection field with the decoy not putting a great deal of pressure on the dog and you will probably get easy outs. Then the decoy can gradually build pressure, the dog will learn to concentrate on his handler and will eventually have no problem outing under any circumstance.

For an in depth treatise on training Bulldogs for sport protection check out the video Irondog and Beyond by Dave Deleissegues.

©2000, Dave Putnam

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