Your Guide to Bull Terrier Socialization
When the Reputation of a Breed Is at Stake
As a member of the so-called “fighting breeds,” Bull Terriers (and Pit Bulls) constantly have the public's eye on them. These breeds are often incorrectly grouped together due to isolated attacks, both provoked and otherwise. There is a story behind every dog attack, and the entire breed should not be condemned. Unfortunately, the collective public mind doesn't see it that way. Faced with this prejudice and media hype, every Bull Terrier, Pit Bull and Staffordshire Terrier is an ambassador of its group. More importantly, the owner needs to show that there is no such thing as a rotten breed. This calls for a balanced bullie outside of the home.
What Socialization Is Not
True socialization doesn't remove your dog's free will or dignity. For example, what if your annoying neighbor's toddler repeatedly hits dogs on the head with a squeaky toy hammer? Usually, the situation reaches the point where the dog walks off or disciplines the youngster in dog language. It growls, nips or shoves the kid. Most parents who allow teasing will then blame the animal's behavior rather than the child's behavior. However, there is a big difference between a socialized and downtrodden canine. Socialization never includes blame or beatings. As the owner, one must recognize when “being social” is not kind to your dog. Guests may teach their kids it's OK to ride dogs like horses or bother them while they eat when visiting your home (it's decidedly not). Once deliberate provocation is involved, your bullie needs to be removed from the situation for its own safety and dignity.
There Is a Drawback to Friendly Breeds
By nature, Bull Terriers adore their human family. Some love anything on two legs, even the dog catcher. A major problem with too-friendly dogs is theft. An angry Bull Terrier is a hairy monster to steal. The foot-kissing version can be carried off by anyone. The fate of stolen fighting breeds is heartbreaking. They become breeding machines for mills or utilized in fighting rings. Bull Terriers remain a favorite of syndicates and sadly, such dogs have short, brutal lives.
Just imagining one's bullie being stolen is enough to horrify an owner. Bull Terriers are called a “three-year-old in a dog suit” with reason. They are joyful, live in the moment and have a sense of humor that leave their family in stitches every day. Cherished, they grow up thinking all humans stand ready with praise and a biscuit. Should they walk up to the wrong stranger, there could be dire consequences (and not for the person).
Bull Terriers and Other Pets
The Benefits of Having a Well-Socialized Dog
If socialization presents such a risk, how can there be benefits? Think of an emergency. Every dog will need to go to the vet at least a few times in its life. At least once, it will be rushed to the doctor with severe pain. Hurting and frightened, any animal is prone to unpredictability. A socialized dog might fare better during the examination and treatment, which in bad cases, initially cause more pain and confusion. A level of trust can keep your dog out of the panic zone. The latter is when injured animals freak out and hurt themselves even more.
Socialization is critical if you plan on entering the show circuit. In addition to physical merits, dogs are also judged on how they carry themselves. If a contestant is clearly a bit fruity in the mental department, things will head south real fast. Growling at the judge during its physical exam won't score extra points. If Fido snaps at other dogs in the ring, you won't be the favourite person either. Bullies bred and sold for showing are immensely costly. Should your dog physically damage another, you won't just have an angry owner on your hands . . . a bad incident might end the other dog's show career. Goodbye, first place. Hello, lawsuit.
Chances are that you keep more than one pet. Bull Terriers are excellent with people but have a high prey drive. They are terriers after all! It's not uncommon to see re-homing ads for adult dogs with these lines, “Great with kids! Uhm, no cats,” or, “Very friendly with other dogs! Uhm, no birds.” Such bullies grew up with children and dogs, but not in households where there were cats, tiny dinosaurs or loose-walking parrots. Sometimes, one cannot safely adjust such a bullie. At one point, that macaw swinging on the chair will trigger one hunting nerve too many. If there are cats or other kinds of pets, then it's best to get a puppy and not an adult. Your other animals need to be safe as well. A puppy will naturally acclimatize to different species.
Bull Terriers Love Outings
Ways to Socialize Your Dog
Puppy classes remain a good way to introduce your bullie to other people and dogs. Before you enroll, however, make sure your pet's vaccinations are up to date. Good instructors insist on this. Wherever dogs get together, there's always a risk of disease. These include parvo, which can be deadly for puppies, and distemper, for which there is no present cure.
The same holds true for the local dog park or beach. Unvaccinated dogs can leave behind infectious traces that stay “alive” for quite some time just waiting for a host to walk by. The dog park offers an excellent opportunity for play dates, training, walking or just relaxing with your Bull Terrier. Not to be negative, but stay on the alert for danger such as kids disrespecting a dog's boundaries, aggressive and loose-running packs or broken glass. The best solution, apart from vigilance, is to keep your dog on a lead. Make it a long one if it suits your hucklebutting wonder. Discover and return to the places your pet enjoys. Bullies taken on regular outings view a visit to the park, beach or a sidewalk stroll as an immense treat, so go for it.
Assess your Bull Terrier's schedule and needs. If you decide not to socialize your bullie because it gets exercise at home and you only want it to trust your family and the vet, then those are good reasons not to expose it to other situations. Training will look different if your puppy is being groomed as a show champion. Whatever you decide, always make safety the main concern and then design everything else around that.
© 2018 Jana Louise Smit