Roughhousing in dogs – How to control my Bull Terrier

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Many owners have dogs that love to play. That is especially true for Bull Terriers. But these rugged little power packs can be rough players and pretty destructive.
Especially when they initiate their very special way of “letting it out” in the so-called “Bully run”. That’s when they start throwing their butts around, circling around you or the room, bouncing themselves against and off walls, furniture or shinbones and often also start nipping like a snapper turtle. Even older Bull Terriers tend towards such sudden and often unexpected outbursts of energy that sometimes seem to be hard to get under control.


When such an outburst starts we have two possibilities:

1. Use the chance to show our dog that we do NOT appreciate this kind of play
2. Allow our dog to let the energy out, but in a controlled way

Although your dog seems to be completely busy with the run, she still always has an eye on us. Because she is very interested in our reaction. Bull Terriers love HAVING fun, but they are also very interested in involving the pack in it.

Puppies seem and are a little more careless in this regard. But as soon as our dog knows that there are rules in the house, even during that very excited phase our dog IS susceptible to correction or on the other hand encouragement.

If we start to laugh, that will probably encourage our dog even more and will likely NOT lead to a stop.

Don’t get me wrong. Laughing about this really crazy behavior is not a bad thing or a mistake per se. But we have to be aware of the impression we are giving our dog: To the Bull Terrier this looks like she is providing us with lots of fun, because we are – laughing. At the same time she is having fun herself – why on earth should she stop?!

If we do not appreciate this kind of play, we should try NOT to laugh and to stay as neutral as possible OR if our dog already knows our “angry face and voice” use it – but always in a controlled way.

If no real intervention is necessary in order to save furniture, grandma’s knees, the Christmas tree or the cat, one option is to just ignore the behavior, even leave the room and wait it out.

Once our dog notices that her behavior does not achieve the desired effect of spreading fun and engaging everyone, chances are high that her own interest in this activity will cease rapidly.

If that does not work, we can try to work on establishing an alternative behavior, ideally some calm activity, such as doing a calm trick or a sit for a treat.

Please don’t expect this to work over night. Calming down from this very excited state of mind can be a hard task for a young dog.
The dog needs to be very familiar with the requested behavior in order to be able to follow the command reliably even in this excited state of mind.

TIP: If a command does not work (yet), don’t say it

If ordering any activity by using a command is not working, trying to enforce it by shouting the command twenty times will not work either. This goes for ANY training situation: If we are not able to enforce a command, it is always advisable to just NOT use it until we are sure it will be followed reliably. Alternatively we can always just manage by grabbing and holding our dog instead or choose to ignore its actions, put it into another room or otherwise just remove it from the respective situation – whatever seems appropriate and helpful under the given circumstances.

In many training situations it is actually not the dog that is too ignorant to follow orders.
Often it is the owner, who is misinterpreting the situation, who is not using suitable means for correction in the given situation, who is using means for correction that do not fit his personality (and therefore he can’t be successful with and/ or who is inconsistent and not really enforcing the given commands.

If we repeatedly provide our dog with commands it cannot follow, because it is too excited or does not (yet) know their meaning, we undermine the effectiveness of these commands. This is not because our dog is such an ignorant little brat, but because enforcing commands sometimes and at other times not, does not deliver a clear and consistent message to our dog about the nature of commands.
The result is that our dog simply does not know, when we are serious and when we actually do not really care, if a command is being followed.
This little margin of uncertainty is the gap that can lead our dog to drawing her own conclusions and probably sometimes make the wrong decisions.

Therefore when giving commands, be serious with it all the time OR just don’t use a command in the given situation.

The same goes for an alternative behavior: This is just a suggestion that works with some dogs/ in some dog-owner-relationships and sometimes it doesn’t. If that does not seem to be your way to go, don’t set yourself and your dog up for failure by trying too hard. Instead try to find another way that works for both of you.

If our dog has a quiet room she is usually sleeping in or staying in when we are not at home, we can also try to give her a time out in that room or her crate (if she has one) to help her calm down.


Just please do not make this look like a punishment. Remember, our dog does not have any bad intentions. The crash into our shinbone was not intended to hurt us, although it did. So in order to keep her loving her crate or the silent room, we just shove her in as neutral as we can and cease ANY interaction for a little while.

So, what if we want to allow our dog to “let it out”?

In that case some precautions are a good idea, especially if we are actively engaging in that activity. I can practically SEE some people frowning now: HOW can she suggest to promote such a behavior?

Well, I own a Bull Terrier. That creature is the personification of “love of life” – and I personally do not see anything wrong with letting them live that love. They are full of energy. And the Bully run is ONE way to drain it.

Bull Terriers having a Bully run are neither sick nor crazy. They are just enjoying life to the fullest.

And whether or not they want to tolerate this behavior is just up to every individual owner.

However, if we engage in play with our dog in such an excited mental state, here are the rules of thumb I use to follow:

– Always keep your own chin and nose in the “save zone” and your teeth closed – meaning be prepared to protect them and do never bend over your Bull Terrier while in this excited state.

That does even count for the moments she seems to calm down. Don’t trust that too soon, because Bull Terriers love to “burst”: They will be very still, even seem to want to cuddle, and then suddenly go off with another outburst.

– NEVER offer your face (for hugs or kisses) during that phase!!! Chances are high that you may even get bit in the nose, just because your Bull Terrier became a little boisterous out of the moment without really intending to hurt you. Although it will probably make for a good laugh in the ER, it’s not worth it.


– Have something ready in your hands that your dog can grab and OFFER it when your dog starts nipping, going after your hands, legs or feet. These are popular choices for an overexcited dog. But you can likely redirect the attack by offering something soft (pillow, soft toy …) to your dog to clinch its teeth in.

Nipping often happens for several reasons: The intention to provoke a reaction, tugging, grabbing and holding someone or it is just a displacement activity.

During wild play displacement activities are a very common, yet often underestimated, behavior that does not involve any kind of aggression and can easily be redirected. The dog does not know where to direct the outburst and decides to snap. Providing a pillow for her to sink her teeth in does the trick and does not hurt your hands.

– Use your previously established stop command to end the activity, whenever you like it

Even if you allow your dog to “let it out”, at some point using this situation to enforce a stop command or procedure is a good idea. You just want to be able to stop your dog in case the play gets too rough or the phone suddenly rings.

A word about Bully runs outside:

If we watch our dog and know it well, sooner or later we will know when the chances are high that our dog will have a Bully run. Mila, for example loves to run when she is wet. The potty round after a bath is her most likely situation for a Bully run. In order for her to not strangle herself on the short leash, for this potty round I usually use a long retractable leash that gives her a lot more space to run it off.

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