Nipping, jumping and rough play in adult Bull Terriers

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Dog owners frequently contact me with questions. An all-time hit are undesired behaviors in dogs of all ages. I have taken one of the recent request for advice as the basis of this essay, because the problem situation seems to apply to a lot of situations owners experience in one way or the other.

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Dog owners often find themselves confronted with are undesired habits of their dogs, which can show in a variety of behaviors. Bull Terriers are little bull dozers even when they are happy and just want to make fun or show affection. And when young they come with a bunch of quirks in addition, such as nipping and roughhousing, which are all too typical. But that does not mean we have to accept them as the owners.
We all know that the best time to work on those undesired behaviors is as early as possible while the dog is still young and has not settled into routines and behaviors yet, in order to avoid bad habits from developing and establishing and our dogs from taking them as “normal behavior”.

Of course, we also know that this is the ideal situation and that reality is often different.
Dogs can come into our home being adopted at a certain age with their background and history unknown.
Dogs go through different stages in life and some bad habits can flare up surprisingly at some point when we thought we had already left that behind us.
Or, sometimes owners do not really understand the possible range of consequences bad habits can cause if remaining uncorrected and wait to intervene until they can no longer bear the behavior or the risks that come with it.
My biggest focus is always on the dog because I know the dog is the one who will ultimately pay the price when things go wrong. I will, however, spare those owners the educational monolog about the thousand chances that have been passing by unused during those first few years of their dog’s life. Instead, I will move on straight to the point.

Bull Terriers and their “Certain” way Of play

Bull Terriers are a very special breed. Rough play is not unusual for them, especially going for the neck of other dogs, biting upwards when on the ground, jumping over and ON other dogs etc.
Many other breeds, especially smaller and more delicate ones react alienated to this behavior and often even entirely avoid to play with Bull Terriers. With other, bigger dogs the Bull Terrier behavior can result in fights. One reason is that Bull Terriers are known for being pretty patient before they snap, but once that happens they are not famous for leaving a fight without making their point. Most of them are courageous and once they have reached “the point” they are not afraid of confrontation.
This is something owners should always be very aware of.

This is also why it usually is a good idea to make selective choices in terms of play pals for a Bull Terrier. The best choice, obviously, would be another Bull Terrier. Because they are “crazy equals”. 🙂
Other robust breeds, such as Pit Bull Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers etc. share that foolish attitude and usually get along with the actions of a Bull Terrier during play.
So, when owning a Bull Terrier it can actually make a lot of sense for the owner to selectively choose the dogs he will be allowed play with and to not leave this choice to the dog alone.
Or at least, once the owners notice that their dog is pestering another one and that other dog obviously feels uncomfortable with it to interrupt the situation right away and take the pestering dog out of the equation. Sometimes leaving the play pit may be the best decision for that day. This way the dog can learn that such behavior is not “standard” and may cost the dog its playtime, once it gets too rough.
Also, owners who actively watch theirs dogs’ actions and intervene do not only have the better chances to avoid incidents. They also present themselves as very responsible owners in the dog park or other public places by not leaving things to chance and actively trying to establish rules.

Dogs, such as Bull Terriers, are often publicly perceived as “dangerous dogs” and their reputation can benefit a lot from such responsible owners. Because being alert and taking action shows that the situation is under control and not unpredictable. Very often in dog parks, I watch owners releasing their dogs and then joining other dog owners for a chat, completely oblivious of their own dog’s doings in the park.
Even in a fenced area, such as the dog park, owners should never leave their dogs unsupervised. And when they notice play getting a little more intense between another and their own dog, they should make sure that the owner of the other dog is also aware of the developing situation and ready to intervene in case things threaten to escalate.
Besides: It is just considerate to intervene when your dog is pestering others in the dog park.

What if the dog is used to playing rough and the owner finally wants to do something about it?

The solution even with an older dog is training. Of course, it can be harder to work on already established undesired behaviors. But in most cases, it is still possible.
If the dog has a play pal it frequently meets in the neighborhood and the other owner agrees to participate in training sessions, that could be a start for the training. In this case, the two owners could meet for periodic training sessions and work on better control of the problem behavior and better impulse control of the dog in a remote and controlled environment where other dogs and lots of distractions are absent.
This way owners could move forward from only being able to avoid harm by managing the behavior to actually changing the dog’s behavior through training.

But again, until the training really shows results, the part of MANAGING and not leaving things to chance or decisions to the dog is vital to avoid harm.

Nipping when greeting people or in other situations of excitement

Bull Terriers love to use their mouths – not only for eating. As it also functions as their “hand” and they are very grabby they like to use it to grab things or people – or ear lobes. 🙂
They often get carried away in the process and grabbing can turn into nipping and bloody results.
When a dog is very young, that is completely normal. But even then it does not mean that it is also acceptable.
When young, dogs are often not aware of the difference between their own and human skin. They do not know that our skin breaks or bruises much more easily. All the dog usually knows is how it was able to play with its siblings in the litter, which at times can actually get quite rough, but does not cause real harm in the puppies.
In adult dogs, this is an unacceptable behavior, at least when it comes to strangers.
If the owner does not mind his dog chewing his ear lobe off, that is between owner and dog. But when it comes to strangers, especially kids, nipping is a NO-GO. Period.
Just as jumping up on people, it is disaster waiting to happen.
Kids can tip over or the nip could end up in a bleeding bite wound.
And people tend to look at such behavior as an act of aggression, no matter what the original intention of the dog may have been. In the worst case, the dog will pay with its life for such a mistake.
All of that possibly just because it did not know better.

Sadly, Bull Terriers don’t have an off-switch and often the first thing we can and MUST do, is – I know I have said it before – MANAGE.
But there’s even more we can do, even if we have missed the chance in a long time and have just NOW decided to do something to correct the behavior after our dog has grown up.
Training can take much longer with Bull Terriers than with other breeds because they are such independent thinkers. It requires a lot of patience and at the same time consistency and stamina to achieve the desired results, but it is still absolutely worth the effort.

We have been able to stop Mila’s puppy nipping already when she was little. But she had that bad habit of going up on people for the longest time as a puppy. We have been working on that to no end.
My first step was managing: I just did not LET her greet strangers or made sure I had a safe grip on her to prevent her from jumping up until I was sure that she at least understood and was able to follow my command to stay off of people.
Over the entire time and even today – although she is hardly ever going up any longer unless she is really, really super excited –  I always have and still do warn people, who want to pet her:
“She’s friendly, BUT, please don’t bend over her, she’s a jumper!” in order to avoid people losing their teeth and to save a lot of money myself for other people’s lawyers and dentists. 🙂

So, first step: Managing and warning people!

TIPP: A very simple and effective trick if you just can’t avoid meeting people with your dog and need to keep it from going up in that particular moment is to step on the leash close to the dog’s body. That limits the dog’s movements and physically keeps it from going up. This is most effective if the dog is wearing a collar but also works with a harness. 
However, this does not have much of a learning or training effect on the dog, which is why I would suggest such measures only to bridge critical situations until the real TRAINING takes effect.
Also, I would not suggest to do it unless your stand is firm enough to withstand the dog’s strength because otherwise an attempt to go up could, of course, shake your own balance and take you off your feet.

Kids

Most importantly, when it comes to nipping and jumping: As long as the dog practices this habit, I would just not take the chance and let the dog be around little kids. If the dog loves kids a lot – which by the way is also very typical for Bull Terriers – maybe that could be an additional incentive for the owner to start with a real training strategy really quick. 🙂
IF it is for some reasons just not possible to avoid kids greeting the dog, I would ask them – and also EVERYONE, who wants to greet the dog – to immediately react to nipping or even the attempt in a way that makes it VERY clear to the dog that this behavior is undesired by everyone, not only the owner.
Yelp, scold, shout “NO!”.
Also, the face should show that the person is unhappy with the displayed behavior.
Bull Terriers are jokers and love to spread fun – in their own way. And sometimes they get carried away during the action and overdo it. If everyone involved makes it crystal clear that this overly excited behavior does not make him or her happy, sooner or later the dog will understand that overdoing it will only result in the exact opposite of what the dog originally intended: the fun ending instead of happy laughter.
Bull Terriers are very susceptive to our human moods. They just need to understand and sometimes we need to make it a little more clear by voice, facial expressions or gestures.
To really work on such a behavior by training, one way could be set up a controlled training situation with people the owner knows – and who agree to potentially get nipped once or twice. 🙂
The training should be given enough time and space for repetition. If nobody is around wanting to be the training partner, maybe seeking the help of a competent trainer could help.

BUT, I would make sure that the trainer is familiar with the Bull Terrier breed. Because believe it or not, even many so-called professionals are overwhelmed by the temperament of a Bull Terrier when not familiar with it. And such a trainer would be as helpful as a bag of beans for owners in this situation.

Until the training takes effect and the dog does stop nipping or jumping up as a result, warning adults who could then greet the dog at their own risk could be a solution. But I will tell you: Be careful with this strategy. In everyday life, we often do not have the time to explain that our dog is in training and on its way to learn good manners and that it would be very helpful if the strangers cooperated in this or that certain way. At that point, those people probably have already moved on.
But if the dog still experiences those situations in everyday life, not being sanctioned for nipping or with no obvious negative emotional reaction on the side of the nipped person, that implies that the nipping is accepted. You probably see the very mixed message for the dog behind that.
This would likely prolong the way to success in training. Because in training the dog will receive the message that nipping is not beneficial for it, while in everyday life it will still experience opposite: people who let nipping “slide”.
Therefore, for the sake of my training, I would try to drastically limit such situations in the first place in order to support my training success even in everyday life situations.

Conclusion

Yes, dogs do have bad habits, and Bull Terriers have plenty of them. But that does not mean that we have to accept this situation. It also does not mean that the dog needs to suffer.
Training can be a fun situation for everyone involved with lots of positive experiences and enough time for the dog to comprehend and learn what is desired and what is not. It also strengthens the bond and enhances communication between dog and owner.
Being assertive and consistent will sooner or later lead to success. In the meantime, owners should make sure that nobody – animal or human – gets hurt. If that means to completely avoid or take the dog out of certain everyday situations as a precaution – do it.

Here you will find a lot more related information:

I am afraid that my Bull Terrier will become an aggressive dog

Roughhousing in dogs – How to control my Bull Terrier

Dog bite inhibition training – How do I stop my Bull Terrier puppy from nipping

The “stop command” – remotely control your Bull Terrier

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Dominika
6 years ago

I need an advice from someone who is rooted deeply in bullies nature . From what I understand , you would be the right person. I am still working with our bullie on leash walking and destruction aspects, she is lovely and mastered all basic commands, but hates to be left alone even for 2 hours, she is a chewer, giving her toys does not necessarily work as she bites through them in seconds. Majority of the time someone is always home with her, but I feel like she has become so attached to us that even a grocery trip is a race with time for us….will we make it home quick enough to make sure she has not destroyed anything? She pulls when we walk and I have tried any possible harness and collar that is out there on the market. I believe that the trainer we had gave up on her as she was so stubborn. Little by little I implemented my own training (being consistent) and I see some results. Maybe it is separation anxiety in her? Would this possibly go away if we get her another bullie to keep her company?

She has been showing some ( I would say very little) aggression and becoming very territorial) when I pet other dogs in the park too, her jealous side shows at times. What is the best way to approach it and train her not to do that?

I feel like the training we invested in was a waste of time as the trainer had hard time working with her or maybe was not persistent enough, I mastered all commands with her on my own at home without his help . She is a sweet lovely lady and I want to make sure she is well behaved and controlled. She obeys the commands but outside she gets so excited that she just seems not want to listen.

Alex
5 years ago

I have a 1.5 year male bull terrier who is in consistent training. We are having issues with him trying to play with humans and it starting as licking and then he gets too excited and it can turn into nipping. If we yell no or try to pull/push him away, he becomes hyper focused on his target rather than leaving it alone which can turn into biting or lunging.

Jaymi
5 years ago

Hi,
I have a 7 month old male Bull terrier, we got him when he was 9weeks old. He has been neutered. We sent him to a 2 week board and train with a e collar when he was 6 month old because he won’t stop biting and has a mind of his own. . When he came back home he still had a lot of his (crazy behavior) and we have to keep the e collar on him except when he sleeps at night in the crate. He will not stop biting and chewing items, when he is out of the crate he roams the house and looks for any object to bite or chew. He has recently developed resource guarding when he eats his food and he will growl if you get near his bowl or try and pet him. We don’t know what to do, and are not sure if we can keep him. Please reply with any assitance

Sacha Moore
Reply to  Dorothea Cornelius
2 years ago

Hi we have a 7 month female our 2nd bull terrier but couldn’t be more different .She is a constant barker and is very territorial at home and on walks if anyone walks in front of us she will bark and has been known to chase people over the park..
She especially doesn’t like small children have no idea why not as we have had her since she was 8 weeks…
I dont know if its because they are small and move quickly she may have a high preying drive but she will particularly lunge and growl at children …which is obviously worrying

Kate Radziminska
Reply to  Jaymi
5 years ago

We have this same problem…….but our boy nipped and bruised our 7 year old daughters ankle today. I was in the room, she was sat quietly drawing at the table and he just went up and nipped her for no reason. We never leave our children alone with him – we have only had him for 5 months as a resue and i was thankful of this this today. We are trying to train him but with younger children its hard work. It feels horrible to have to remove him from the room every time the children are around but I’m not sure what else to do. He is so lovely the rest of the time. Any advice welcome

Rachael McGranahan
4 years ago

Hi Dorothea,
We have a 2 year old Bull terrier since he was a puppy, he is absolutely beautiful, around us he is just a really big sook and goof ball when he wants to play. Our boy hasn’t had a whole heap of socialisation ( we did attempt to introduce him to my parents Rottweilers although the male was very territorial) and other dog owners just walk away in disgust / in terror due to his breed which breaks our heart, George has always been extremely excited when he sees other Dogs, Cats and Birds he loves EVERYTHING. We have 3 cats which he absolutely adores and soaks up all their attention even to the point they will eat his food out of his bowl at the same time and he does not care, he allows them to.

We recently go a new female bull terrier puppy for his company, we saw some slight signs of depression from no dog interaction (i note, we have not ever had 2 bull terriers at once before so this part is new to us, i have grown up owning multiple rottweilers at once), which we thought it was important to get a puppy so then she will be able to grow and learn to adapt to our how boy, as well as out cats ( they are the true rulers in the house). Our boy was absolutely STOKED that he got a play friend and meanwhile i know and understand bullies play rough although my partner and i are concerned about how rough they do play. Our boy puts his mouth around her neck and bites ( some times pulls) her ears, tumbles on her, and she bites his facts / legs and feet and ears which some times leads to yelping from both ends but they always come back to playing again. I would “assume” that this would be something she is used to given her parents although we get concerned because everything we have taught our older boy goes out the windows ( basic commands) until we speak with authority.

Can you PLEASE give me some advice in the best way to train both of our Bull Terriers and when is the best time to in-convene. Is it best to leave them both in the back yard for a couple of hours to get all of their energy out? We really want our older boy to become calm around her but given his age there is still signs of immaturity.

Additionally – I’ve tried researching MANY bull terrier forums, do you have any pointers to stop bull terriers from biting their tails?

Appreciate your help in advance

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