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The Working American Bulldogs by David Putnam Q: Are American Bulldogs quirky?

A: Our breed is extremely quirky or idiosyncratic. Bulldogs are therefore hard to pigeonhole or make generalized statements about. Some of the quirky behavior seems to come from a high level of intelligence and a suspicious nature. I often see very young Bulldogs that when worked with a puppy tug or a rag, will refuse to bite the toy until they have thoroughly smelled it and sometimes even licked it. The dog will sniff the tug toy, stop and look at the decoy with an appraising stare. Its as if the dog needs to convince himself that the tug toy is not soaked in poison. If satisfied that nothing untoward has been done to the toy, the suspicious young dog will bite it and play tug of war.

Sometimes quirky behavior can result from strange dominance games that Bulldogs play. One dog in our club will raise his leg and pee on his handler’s pant leg when the handler is looking the other way. The dog will hunker down and take the harsh corrections that his intolerable behavior has earned him, but a few weeks or months later, the two will be out on the practice field, the dog will watch if his handler is paying attention and when the moment is right, he will cock his leg and soak the handler’s pant leg again. Sometimes behavior like this seems to be motivated out of a sense of vengeance on the dog’s part for real or imagined slights. Bulldogs have long memories and can carry grudges. Combine this with a high intelligence and unfortunate incidences can result, such as the dog chewing up his owner’s favorite shoes after being punished or left alone for a long time.

We often think of Bulldogs as being dog aggressive, but often they are just dog dominant. They may try to dominate other dogs in strange ways. Smaller dogs are often held down by Bulldogs with the front paws and not allowed to move for great lengths of time. I once saw a long legged Bulldog stand over a Lab, imprisoning the other dog inside her legs like a living jailhouse. The Lab was held immobile that way for several minutes, until the AB felt she had established herself as pack leader over the unfortunate retriever. But she didn’t bite the Lab, she only wrestled him into place and held him still with her body.

Bulldog bitches can go through false pregnancies and strange behavior may result. These false pregnancies seem more potent in ABs than in other breeds. I have a female that will gather white socks (stuffed together into balls in the typical fashion) and assemble them around her nipples as if she were nursing real puppies. She will carry the socks in her mouth as though they were puppies and move her “litter” to a secure spot.

Very strong maternal or paternal instincts are often applied to human children. In fact, ABs make little differentiation between humans and dogs. ABs owners often report that they can’t spank their children in front of their Bulldogs. One owner tells me that his dog will grab him by the seat of the pants and drag him away from a child that he is trying to discipline with a belt.

Strange Bulldog behavior can be dangerous to the dog in question. Besides having extra strong maternal drives, ABs can have insanely high food drive. They can eat dishtowels, ropes, small tarps and other objects that will block their intestines and kill the dog, unless the object is surgically removed.

The quirkiest behavior that I’ve yet seen from a Bulldog occurred when a promising year old male was being worked on the bungee line. Bungee line bites are like drag bites, the dog goes after the decoy (who is wearing a sleeve) after an elastic cord has been attached to his collar on one end and secured to a stationary post on the other end. As the dog runs toward the decoy, the elastic bungee line provides progressive resistance and the dog has to dig in hard to even reach the decoy. After the bite is made, the sleeve may be slipped and the dog is pulled backwards because the elastic line contracts. The young male in question weighs 118 pounds and has enough power to stretch the bungee extremely taut before getting his bite. Once the sleeve is slipped he has invented a game where he rolls onto his back, sticks his legs up in the air and lets the bungee line drag him backwards several yards. Once he has stopped moving, he lays on his back, feet in the ear, sleeve in his mouth, tail wagging and waits for the handler to give the out command and throw the sleeve back at the decoy. The dog will then roll to his feet, go after the sleeve to get his bite, after he’s bitten the sleeve and it has been slipped, the dog roll on his back and let the bungee drag him along the ground. When his body is being dragged by the bungee line, the dog resembles a body surfer sliding through water.

Quirky behavior like this defies the conventional wisdom that dog trainers have acquired working with other, more predictable, breeds. If you ask a protection trainer who is experienced with setting up bungee line resistance bites if it is a good idea to allow the dog to body surf backwards after the bite, he will scratch his head in puzzlement, unsure of what to say or do. Training ABs means that we have to think on our feet and adjust for the odd quirks that Bulldogs throw at us.

©2001, Dave Putnam

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