Books on Animals: Dogs

Dog Breeds: Bull dogs and bull terriers

(Boxers, Bulldogs, English Bull Terriers, French Bulldogs and Staffordshire Bull Terriers).

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General overview

Bull Dogs and Bull Terriers, including Boxers and all breeds with bulldog-like ancestry in common. Old-style Bulldogs were bred for bull baiting, with a mix of mastiff and terrier, so they were courageous and tenacious dogs, with powerful jaws. Modern Bulldogs (also called English Bulldogs) are less aggressive than their ancestors, and also have more health problems. Modern Bull dogs have broad heads and squashed noses (they are 'brachycephalic') which means that they may suffer breathing problems because their nasal passages are relatively foreshortened. Bull dogs can also suffer from extremes of cold and heat, and especial care should be taken in summer to ensure they are not affected by heat stroke. Bulldogs may also have to give birth via caesarian operations because of their broad heads, so this breed is not well designed for survival! Boxers, too, are prone to a whole host of health problems, from incontinence to cancer, and anyone buying a boxer pup should ask searching questions of the breeder about the longevity and health of the pup's ancestors. White English Bull Terriers are also prone to inherited ailments, though Staffordshire bull terriers tend to be relatively healthy.

Staffordshire Bull Terriers are especially popular in the UK. They are similar to pit bulls, and regularly appear in news reports of serious dog bites, yet they are also nicknamed 'The Nanny Dog', because they can get on so well with children. Few breed types raise so much passion, both among their supporters and their detractors. So what is the truth about Bull Dogs and Bull Terriers?

Training and supervision are very important for all breeds, but this is especially true for Bull Dogs and Bull Terriers. They are muscly, powerful dogs, which tend to like rough play, and act with a puppyish exuberance all their lives. Owners and dogs benefit if bully breeds start training as soon as possible. These breeds can pull hard if not taught how to walk nicely. They also need to learn to drop objects on command, and to 'leave' other dogs and forbidden objects. Owners still need to watch interactions with other dogs, because 'leave' may not be enough if a bully breed dog has decided to fight, and once a fight has started, dogs tend not to hear their owners. Training recall is important, so that owners can prevent trouble by calling the dog to them. Any owner who neglects to train a bully breed is asking for trouble. Owners also sometimes think it fun to encourage their dogs to hang on to objects, while neglecting to teach them the 'drop' command. Bad move! You do not want a strong jawed dog who has been taught that not letting go is a good thing. Do teach them tug, by all means, but as a way of teaching 'drop', and as soon as you say 'drop', the dog should let go of the tug. Patience, firmness and consistency are important with bully breeds, as with all breeds. Being firm means setting rules from when the dogs are pups, and making sure the dog understands them. Bully breeds can be both sensitive and stubborn, so clumsy attempts to 'show them who's boss' can be counter-productive. Boxers can be especially sensitive, and stop listening if they are roughly treated or confused about what they are meant to be doing. It's more helpful to persuade bully breed dogs that your way is the best way. As they tend to be affectionate dogs, and love to be with people, very short time-outs can be very effective to show them you disapprove of some behaviour.

Good manners are best taught from puppyhood, because it's easier, but adult rescue dogs can still learn fast. The best time to teach good manners to a rescue dog is as soon as the dog arrives. That is when the dog is watching you to learn what the rules are. It's tempting to spoil the dog a bit, because you feel sorry for him or her. But it's kinder in the long run to let the dog know gently and firmly what you consider to be appropriate behaviour. Rescue centres usually have their own behaviourists and provide ongoing help for adopters. Gwen Bailey's 'The Rescue Dog' is also full of good advice. Pups of bully breeds chew, as all pups do, only bully breeds can cause more damage, so you do need to puppy proof your home extra carefully, and provide a lot of legitimate chewing objects.

Bully breeds can be dog-aggressive, if not socialised properly, and even well-socialised dogs may suddenly decide on adolescence that the best way to deal with other dogs is to fight them. Bully breeds are not quick to take offence, but if they do get into a fight, they tend not to give up, and their powerful jaws can do a lot of damage. They benefit from puppy socialisation classes, and being matched with dogs that can teach them appropriate play styles and good canine manners. Other dogs often have trouble in 'reading' the relatively impassive faces of bully breeds, and may provoke them beyond their trigger point without realising it. Owners of other dogs may also have trouble understanding your dog's body language, and be convinced that your dog really wants to be friendly with their dog, when you know that this is far from the case! A wagging tail does not always mean benevolent intentions, especially if the dog has stiffened, and the tail is wagging slowly.

Bully breeds can get on well with other dogs in the same household, so long as the dogs are well matched, and introductions are carried out carefully. This means allowing the dogs to meet first on neutral ground, and making sure that the two dogs can be given time out in separate rooms if necessary. Bringing in a pushy adult dog into a home with an unsocialized bully breed dog used to being an only dog is asking for trouble, especially if the two are forced to interact by being shut together in a small room, whatever their feelings for each other. It's easier to bring in a bully breed as a pup, and have the existing adult socialise the dog. They are best matched with the more robust and calmer breeds, which can handle rough play, while toning down the bully exuberance. More than one bully breed dog can be kept in the same household, though this does need skill on the part of the owner, and dog-bitch combinations tend to work better than two dogs of the same sex.

What about children? This depends a lot on the dog and the children. A well-trained bully breed can be marvellous with children, so long as the kids know how to behave with dogs, and don't let them get too excited. Small children and dogs should always be supervised, and neighbouring children who come to play in your house also need to know that dogs should be respected. It's important to 'proof' your bully breed pup against shouting, running children, and kids on bikes, so that they do not act as a trigger for overexuberance and even aggression when the pup becomes an adult. Untrained bully breeds together with untrained kids are a recipe for disaster, something that is true for any breed, but especially for energetic dogs that can knock kids over, and which have strong jaws. However, trained bully breed dogs and sensible children can get on wonderfully well, since bully breeds are generally very tolerant dogs, robust enough not to worry about children, and with enough energy to keep up with them.

Breed Profiles


The Boxer Handbook


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Boxers are lively dogs that never seem to grow up. They learn well, if trained with patience and consistency, and despite looking like well muscled 'toughies' to some people, they are sensitive and affectionate, so can switch off if they are shouted at in training. They need careful training and socialization as pups, because of their tendency to be a bit rough with other dogs and people. Humans can be knocked over by an unexpected friendly greeting from a Boxer, so they need to be taught not to jump up, and should only get cuddles as pups when all four paws are on the ground.

Not all dogs like their style of playing. Boxers will sometimes box with other dogs, and there are dogs who enjoy rough games with Boxers, especially individuals from other medium-sized breeds who, like Boxers, continue to be playful all their lives. It is, however, wise to socialize Boxer pups with dogs that have gentler styles of playing, so that the Boxers learn how to play gently as well as roughly, and so that they learn to differentiate between dogs that like rough play, and those that don't.

Boxers aren't especially barky, but they are good guard dogs, simply because they can look serious and imposing, though well-socialized Boxers usually like visitors who give them a friendly greeting, since they are generally outgoing dogs.

Are Boxers good with children? They can be excellent companions for children, so long as they have been well-trained as pups. They are a little strong and lively for many children to handle on walks, and can even be too strong for many adults, since they can pull hard if they see a canine or human friend or other attraction.

The biggest drawback with this breed is that they are susceptible to a range of health problems, especially cancer, which can cut short their lives, so anyone buying a puppy should ask about longevity in the parents' lines. Other conditions that can affect Boxers include hip dysplasia, heart trouble, epilepsy, spay-related incontinence, and allergies. They may also have breathing trouble due to their short muzzles, and may snore and drool. White Boxers are especially prone to health problems, including deafness. Boxers can feel the cold easily, because of their short coats, but don't need much grooming.

The Boxer Handbook is a very good introduction to the breed, dealing with general care as well as health issues. It is suitable for novice owners with their first Boxer.




 Click on the cover above to go to this book at

This is a very useful guide to Boxers, which can help would-be and existing owners avoid many problems. It is clear enough for novices, as well as providing enough information to be of use to experienced owners. It is also very well illustrated, with numerous photographs.


Bulldogs Today (Book of the Breed)


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Bulldogs, also called English Bulldogs, are often cited as a walking example of the harm done to dogs by people breeding for appearance. These dogs tend to have nice natures, but suffer from a range of health problems, including breathing trouble from their squashed noses, and an inability to give birth without a caesarian in many cases, due to their big heads. They also don't walk easily, but rather tend to waddle, and may suffer from hip and knee trouble. They both feel the cold and suffer when it's hot, and can suffer from skin problems. Their facial wrinkles need regular cleaning. Bulldogs also have a tendency towards flatulence, and soya-based foods can exacerbate this. Their health problems mean that Bulldogs tend not to live as long as the other bully breeds, such as Bull Terriers.


Bull Terrier


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Bull Terriers, also sometimes called English Bull Terriers, were bred for dog fighting, and were created from breeding terriers with ancestors of bulldogs. Bull Terriers are striking looking dogs. They are bigger than Staffordshire Bull Terriers, and have longer muzzles and no stop, rather the top of their heads slopes gently. This gives them a generally more dignified air than Staffies, though they also have a distinctly quirky appearance, and love to clown.

Bull Terriers have some similarities to Staffies in character, being courageous, active and playful, though they tend to be calmer. Like Staffies, they are active dogs, which need attention and something to do, or they tend to do things you would rather they didn't, like chewing the furniture, if they are left alone all day. Like Staffies, Bull Terriers also need to be socialized carefully, both with people and other dogs, and have house rules laid down from when they are pups.


French Bulldog (Pet Love: Special Rare Breed Edition)


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French Bulldogs are the smallest of the bully breeds on this page, usually just a little smaller than Staffies. They look endearing with their bat-ears, big eyes and round foreheads They are generally affectionate, sweet natured and playful. French Bulldogs are easier to train and handle than most bully breeds. Like many bully breeds, they do need attention, and aren't dogs to leave alone all day, and they can also be headstrong.

Dogs of this breed often become more attached to one person in the household, while getting on well with the rest of the family. They tend to do very well in training if owners are consistent in making house rules clear from when the dogs are pups. French Bulldogs tend to get on better with older children, and are a little small for households with younger children, who might try to take liberties with them. They get on better with other dogs than do most bully breeds, though they can take a dislike to some other dogs, and socialization with other dogs is, of course, important.

These dogs don't need a lot of grooming, as a short-haired breed. They don't bark a lot, just enough to be good watchdogs, giving sharp barks to alert their owners when strangers appear. They aren't good guard dogs, since they are so small, and tend to be friendly with most people they meet.

Common health problems include eye trouble from their prominent eyes, and breathing trouble from their short muzzles, which can also mean they snore. Flatulence can also be a problem, and they should not be allowed to become overweight. Like most bully breeds, they are sensitive to both cold and heat, so may need a coat in winter, and should not be exercised in the heat of the day in summer. Bitches can have trouble giving birth, as happens with English Bulldogs.

Muriel Lee has written a very good introduction to this endearing breed, drawing on her extensive experience of bully breeds. It's clearly written, and gives a very good idea of what it's like to live with a French Bulldog.


New Owner's Guide to Staffordshire Bull Terriers


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Staffordshire bull terriers are small, powerful dogs, which are deservedly popular for their amiable and lively natures. They can also be a handful, and need proper training and supervision. They are not a breed to take on without owners being prepared for a lot of commitment, as any rescue centre will tell you. They want someone to be devoted to, and if it's a family, even better.

Stafford owners know that these dogs love people, affection and comfort, and can be very placid and tolerant with children, yet they also appear a lot in press reports of dog bites. So why is it that a dog nicknamed the 'children's nanny' gets such a bad press? Stafford lovers point out that press reports aren't always accurate. Bites by Stafford and rottweilers are 'news', more so than bites by mongrels, so if a dog looks vaguely like a Stafford, it will tend to be reported as such. There is also the problem that any dog which isn't properly socialized, trained and supervised can be a menace, especially if it has powerful jaws. Staffords in fact are one of the most tolerant breeds where children are concerned. They aren't easily spooked by kids rushing around and screaming, and generally taking liberties with them. However, they can be 'mouthy' dogs, and need to be taught from puppyhood that mouthing people, especially children, is unacceptable. They are also fast-moving dogs, and aren't easily frightened, so can rush into trouble. It's not easy to call them back once they have started a headlong rush towards something that interests them. Your dog may simply be too interested in what he is doing to hear you.


Staffordshire Bull Terrier (Pet Love)

staffie copy

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A very good introductory guide to Staffordshire Bull Terriers.. There's help with showing and training Staffies, and understanding their behaviour, as well as with general care. It is perhaps not meaty enough for experienced owners, but certainly covers the basics well, and it has nice pictures.