This time I’ve taken this desperate cry for help from Ruby to write a few more articles about the “wild puppy days” of a Bull Terrier in order to help other owners who are experiencing exactly the same problems as well.
“Hello, I am having a hard time trying to train my 4 month old bull terrier, Pluto is his name. He is full of energy and I have a few questions to figure out how to make him stop acting up. He is always ripping the carpet in my house, He starts to get crazy (happy and excited) when he sees people, or other dogs, he doesn’t stop barking even if I speak to him in a calm voice, and in the car he will continue to bark at me or try to get on my lap. I really want to get some help on how to train him because I don’t want him to get out of control when he gets old or become aggressive. Please help me.”
First of all, I can’t stress it enough: nipping, ripping things, chewing and chasing at the age of 4 months for a puppy – and especially a Bull Terrier puppy- are all perfectly normal.
Especially Bull Terriers go through a very long maturing phase. Most Bull Terriers begin to settle around the age of three years. In addition they are very active and strong dogs with tons of energy and a high demand for attention. And of course this energy is at its peak when they are young.
It is important to provide enough exercise, but also play calming games and mental games in order to drain and channel that huge amount of energy and teach the dogs how to calm down after excitement.
Some games even challenge the mind and provide exercise, for example games involving searching and sniffing.
Just as human teens, many Bull Terriers go through a “I’m invincible” phase and a time – challenging to many owners – when they love to TEST, IF the rules really apply.
If the individual is mentally intact aggression in dogs most of the time happens over misunderstandings between human and dog or it is well-founded – from the dog’s point of view – for example by fear, insecurity or pain.
Looking at behaviors such as nipping and chasing – especially in Bull Terrier puppies, who are prone to extremes – is often a misinterpretation.
Actually there is no reason to be afraid, that a dog is aggressive by nature, just because it is nipping as a puppy or likes to play rough.
Yet, it is important to address these behaviors early and show the dog our human boundaries and our ways. If the behavior is not being addressed that would passively promote bad habits.
Some people feel offended or ignored by their dogs or think that their Bull Terrier is resisting their efforts to educate it, or is trying to force its will on them or is misbehaving on purpose.
The poster child of situations is the puppy sitting down right in front of the owner and peeing IN the house – often right after potty time outside.
Many people find this offensive and ill-mannered, even feel like the puppy is expressing defiance by the action. The cause of this action can also be some behavioral issues such as seeking attention. But let’s just stick to 90% of all cases with puppies that are not completely housebroken yet and realize that the fact that the puppy is sitting down right in front of us only demonstrates this:
The puppy has no idea that peeing inside is unwanted and that the behavior is upsetting us.
If it knew, it would probably wait until we are out of sight or sneak into hidden places to do its business, like dogs tend to do after having been yelled at or punished several times for peeing inside. Once they have acquired a sense for “right and wrong”, they will start to hide those “critical” actions, if they are not able to fight the urge. Because now after they have learned and experienced they are expecting consequences.
Basically, in my life I have never experienced any dog that was just bad for NO reason. I think that dogs range among the most peaceful and adaptable creatures walking the face of earth. They actually WANT to learn, to behave and to adapt.
Wildlife packs do the same with their offspring – they teach each other.
For a puppy we humans are the pack/ family.
When the new family member enters our home, it has no idea of “good or bad” or “human values”. These are things every individual needs to learn. For our dogs we are the ones to set the rules.
We and our dogs obviously do not share language as a means of communication. This is something we need to work on by training. In addition, in our human world more, other and sometimes more complex rules apply than in wildlife in terms of living together as a social group.
This is something to internalize when acquiring a Bull Terrier puppy – or if you will a dog in general.
Not only does it mean that it requires training and consistency to transition these wonderful dogs into polite canine citizens. It also requires a lot of patience and TIME – and in the meantime MANAGING.
Young Bull Terriers can be a real nuisance when they think they are the kings of the world and act like it. But the real problem is not their own perception of themselves – it’s often US not showing them otherwise at all or in a way they can understand.
Awareness, patience and managing are key when owning a Bull Terrier puppy. The things that stand in our way most of the time, are not the behaviors of our dogs.
The major problem are often false and too high expectations on our side.
This can completely prevent us from being successful it can ruin former success of our efforts and in the worse cases damage the relationship with our dogs.
We can neither expect dogs to “just know” any of our human ways “by nature”, for example the difference between it being ok to chew on bones, but not ok to chew on belongings of the owner.
Nor can we expect our training to work within the smallest time frames. It may work for one or the other very simple exercise. But all in all living together is a very complex sequence of actions for our dogs. And our Bull Terriers need a fair chance to understand, which actions in the sequence we humans do want, accept or tolerate, and which not.
As we can’t explain things to our dogs, training replaces the explaining.
If we could explain to our dog that it is not allowed to chew our shoes, it would probably only take one, maybe two, times to make that clear.
But the only chance we have to make our dogs understand is through experience. Always bearing in mind that living together is a sequence of actions and that understanding and learning take time. A process that is not replaceable by anything else.
In order to make it unmistakably clear what it is we want, we need a well defined training environment, our timing during training needs to be perfect and we need to provide enough repetition.
As everything in life, humans are not perfect. And that’s ok. But we need to understand that, if we think our training does not work = the dog is not doing what we want, in 99.99% of all cases that is not the dog’s fault.
The true reason is probably that we have expected too much too soon or switched methods so quickly and often that our dog is now completely confused. Or our timing was off. Or we did misinterpret the intentions of our dog. Or our training steps were too big. Or we have unintentionally enforced or rewarded the wrong behavior. Or the environment we have chosen for our training is just too full of distractions – the list of possible mistakes goes on.
With training there is a lot of room for misunderstandings. Because what our dogs understand and the conclusions they draw are not necessarily what we intended to teach. By the way we set up our training and the repetitions we allow, we make sure that eventually everyone is on the same page.
When we take time for our training process and to watch our dog, many “disobedient” behaviors quickly reveal themselves as misunderstandings. These are the moments when we should take moment, think about how we can break things down into even tinier steps to help our dogs understand. We have to be very precise with our timing and consistent in our actions.
Only experiencing the very same situation over and over again will eventually let the penny drop.
As a specialty Bull Terriers also have a tendency to “negotiate” options or try sideways, especially when young. Making ourselves really clear when we don’t accept options or sideways usually takes some additional time.
Ok, we got it: training and learning takes time
But what about the meantime? HOW do we survive the phase until our dog knows its manners?
How do we deal with things until our Bull Terriers has learned what – in our world – right and wrong means?
That means, until we do not have established a reliable way to make it clear to our dog that it is not supposed to chew our shoes, we just put the shoes away in a place the dog can’t reach. We do just not leave them out there exposed to the dog as an enticement and “hope for the best”.
As long as our recall is not reliable, we do not rely on hope or trust in our dog to return to us on command. We keep our dog on leash (at least a long training leash) and let it only run free in fenced areas ….
Basically every behavior we can not reliably predict or control, needs to be managed until our dogs are ready to follow commands. That, by the way, does not only count through a puppy’s life, but it also concerns a handful of behaviors and situations during the dog’s entire adult life.
It is part of our responsibility as owners to always try and stay one step ahead of their actions and instincts.
We are dealing with the mental state of a little child when training and handling a dog. In order to understand motivation and causes, we sometimes need to watch really closely and try to not anthropomorphize our dogs too much.
As soon as we start to realize that and we begin to manage and make our training a controlled and thought-out, strategic process, things start to become a lot easier and to fall into place.
If you are feeling that your obedience training is not successful or your dog seems to be aggressive or very destructive, here’s a list of questions you should ask yourself to analyze the situation:
Do I ever expect my dog to “just know” instead of training and teaching it?
Did I miss to train and establish fixed commands for certain positive behaviors?
Did I miss to train alternative behaviors?
Did I expect too much from my dog too soon during training?
Did I miss to establish a “stop command”?
Did I ever feel personally ignored or offended by my dog’s behavior?
If you can answer any one of these questions with “YES”, there are probably still some things left for you to learn about your dog and other things left to work on with and to teach your dog.
Good luck guys! You can DO IT!
Learn more about aggressive puppy behavior in this essay