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American Bulldogs: What's Good About 'Em, What's Bad About 'Em

American Bulldog temperament, personality, training, behavior, pros and cons, advice, and information, by Michele Welton, Dog Trainer, Behavioral Consultant, Author of 15 Dog Books

American Bulldog dog breed

In the 1980s, the movie Homeward Bound  introduced the American Bulldog to the public. Since then, his popularity has skyrocketed... which isn't good.

Trash-talking breeders are preying on uninformed buyers, running flashy ads, representing dogs of dubious lineage as purebred, not testing temperaments before breeding, and not certifying hips.

Thus, this is a tricky breed to acquire. Several different American Bulldog clubs are vying to control the future of the breed, and politics and conflict abound. Get references, double-check everything you're told, refuse to pay outrageous prices, and look for temperament titles (BST, ATT) and obedience titles in the pedigree.

The muscular American Bulldog possesses great strength, tenacity, determination, and confidence.

He is best owned by active people who are interested in developing his athletic abilities in weight pulling, obedience, agility, hunting, farm work, or Schutzhund. Though usually calm and self-possessed, he must have vigorous exercise to stay fit and happy.

His attitude toward strangers varies from friendly to standoffish, and even the friendly ones make vigilant guardians. Early socialization is an absolute requirement to promote a stable, discriminating temperament.

The American Bulldog lives for his family and may become destructive if left alone too much.

Dog aggression can be a problem; he should be thoroughly socialized with other dogs from an early age. Cats, too!

Though strong-willed, he learns quickly and will respect an owner who is equally confident and consistent.

Because of public/media prejudice toward any breed resembling a "pit bull," American Bulldogs should be kept on-leash outside their yard and trained through at least basic obedience.

If you want a dog who...

  • Is muscular and powerful, built rather like a Mack truck
  • Looks imposing, so makes an effective deterrent, but is usually good-natured with people
  • Thrives on vigorous athletic activities
  • Has a sleek, easy-to-groom coat

An American Bulldog may be right for you.

If you don't want to deal with...

  • Vigorous exercise requirements
  • Rowdiness and exuberant jumping, especially when young
  • Providing enough socialization so their protectiveness doesn't become aggression
  • Aggression toward other animals
  • Strong-willed mind of his own, requiring a confident owner who can take charge
  • Slobbering and drooling
  • Gassiness (flatulence)
  • Serious health problems
  • Legal liabilities (public perception, future breed bans, insurance problems, increased chance of lawsuits)

An American Bulldog may not be right for you.


Dog Breed Traits – Which Traits Are Right For You?

In this brand new series, I'll help you decide which dog breed traits would best suit you and your family, your home and yard, and your lifestyle, so you can choose the best dog breed for your family.

Keep in mind that the inheritance of temperament  is less predictable than the inheritance of physical  traits such as size or shedding. Temperament and behavior are also shaped by raising and training.

FREE eBooks by Michele Welton

dog icon"Respect Training for Puppies"  and "Teach Your Dog 100 English Words"  are free step by step guides to teaching your pup to be calm and well-behaved.

dog icon"11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy"  is a free guide to keeping your dog mentally, physically, and emotionally happy and healthy so you can enjoy a longer lifetime of companionship.

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More traits and characteristics of the American Bulldog

If I was considering an American Bulldog, I would be most concerned about...

  1. Providing enough exercise and mental stimulation. American Bulldogs MUST have regular opportunities to vent their energy and do interesting things. Otherwise they will become rambunctious and bored – which they usually express by barking and destructive chewing. Bored American Bulldogs can make a shambles of your house and yard.

    If you simply want a pet for your family, and don't have the time or inclination to take your dog running or hiking or swimming or biking, or to get involved in weight-pulling, or tracking, or agility (obstacle course), or schutzhund (protection), or a similar canine activity, I do not recommend this breed. American Bulldogs were never intended to be simply household pets.

  2. Bounciness Young American Bulldogs (up to three years old) can be bulls in a china shop. When they romp and jump, they do so with great vigor, and things go flying, including small children and infirm people.
  3. Providing enough socialization. Many American Bulldogs have protective instincts toward strangers. They need extensive exposure to friendly people so they learn to recognize the normal behaviors of "good guys." Then they can recognize the difference when someone acts abnormally. Without careful socialization, they may be suspicious of everyone.
  4. Potential animal aggression. Many American Bulldogs will not tolerate another dog of the same sex. Some American Bulldogs have strong instincts to chase and seize cats and other fleeing creatures. If anything goes wrong in the breeding, socializing, training, handling, or management of this breed, it is capable of seriously injuring or killing other animals.
  5. The strong temperament. The best American Bulldogs are versatile working dogs, capable of learning a great deal, but they have an independent mind of their own and are not pushovers to raise and train. Many are willful, obstinate, and dominant (they want to be the boss) and will make you prove that you can make them do things. You must show them that you mean what you say.

    To teach your Bulldog to listen to you, "Respect Training" is mandatory. Read my free online training programs.

  6. Shedding. For such a shorthaired dog, American Bulldogs shed more than you might think. Their short coarse hairs stick tenaciously to your clothing and furnishings.
  7. Slobbering. Some American Bulldogs, especially those with loose heavy cheeks and lips, slobber and drool after eating and drinking.
  8. Potential gassiness (flatulence) that can send you running for cover. However, commercial diets make flatulence worse by including fibrous or hard-to-digest ingredients. American Bulldogs who are fed a heavily meat-based diet have much less trouble with gassiness.
  9. Potential health problems. Hip and joint problems are dreadfully common in American Bulldogs today because irresponsible breeders don't bother to x-ray the hips and elbows of their breeding stock before breeding. To keep this breed healthy, I recommend following all of the advice on my American Bulldog Health Page.
  10. Legal liabilities. American Bulldogs may be targeted for "banning" in certain areas, or refusal of homeowner insurance policies. Your friends and neighbors may be uncomfortable around this breed. In this day and age, the legal liabilities of owning any breed that looks intimidating and has a history as a guard dog and big game hunter should be seriously considered. People are quicker to sue if such a dog does anything even remotely questionable.

    Frankly, most American Bulldogs are "too much dog" for the average household. Very few people really have the knowledge or skills necessary to manage this breed, or to provide the types of activities that keep him satisfied.

Michele Welton with BuffyAbout the author: Michele Welton has over 40 years of experience as a Dog Trainer, Dog Breed Consultant, and founder of three Dog Training Centers. An expert researcher and author of 15 books about dogs, she loves helping people choose, train, and care for their dogs.

My best-selling books – now available  FREE  on my website

book coverRespect Training For Puppies: 30 seconds to a calm, polite, well-behaved puppy is for puppies 2 to 18 months old. Your puppy will learn the 21 skills that all family dogs need to know. Click here to read for free.
book coverTeach Your Dog 100 English Words is a unique Vocabulary and Respect Training Program that will teach your adult dog to listen to you and do what you say. Click here to read for free.
book cover11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy helps your dog live a longer, healthier life. Get my honest advice about all 11 Things before you bring home your new puppy, because some mistakes with early health care cannot be undone. Click here to read for free.

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