How to Discipline a Bulldog

how to discipline a bulldog

Your Bulldog is your best friend. You love them deeply, and they even return your love in kind.

Despite this mutual affection between you, your Bulldog sometimes acts up and requires discipline, at least if you want them to behave in a manner conducive to a happy home life.

You’ve heard plenty of advice on dog training, and you may have even watched a few episodes of television devoted to the subject. But you also know that every dog is different, and some breeds respond best to certain types of discipline.

So, you’re wondering: how do you discipline a Bulldog?

There are several ways you can discipline a Bulldog, including withholding attention or ignoring them, distracting and redirecting their attention, using a time-out spot, and training for basic obedience commands like no. Bulldogs will respond well to positive reinforcement, so reward them for positive behaviors and avoid punishments that can make them feel defensive.

Certain ways of disciplining your Bulldog might be better suited for specific circumstances, so it’s good to understand the various types of discipline a Bulldog might respond favorably towards so you can implement them for best success.

Let’s discuss each of these disciplinary strategies in more detail. While we’re at it, we’ll go over a few good practices regarding disciplining your Bulldog, plus, a few behaviors you should avoid.

Is Establishing Dominance Necessary?

It has long been said that the best way to get your dog to obey is to establish dominance over them. In essence, you’re to become the alpha of the pack.

This is meant to mirror the hierarchy of wolf packs, but even our understanding of wolf behavior has changed over time.

We now know that wolves don’t follow an alpha as much as the natural leader, which tends to be a parental figure. In fact, the term alpha is no longer used by one of the leading wolf institutes in the world who even helped popularize the term years ago, the International Wolf Center.

Children naturally look up to their parents; they don’t have to be forced into following their parents by brute force and a display of intimidating strength. And as it turns out, this is how wolf packs are formed.

There’s no fighting to become the alpha, as was previously believed.

The same logic applies to your Bulldog. Domestic dogs might be far removed from their wolf cousins, but there are still some instincts that remain quite similar, such as pack behavior.

You could dominate your Bulldog and make them fear you, but this won’t make them more obedient than they would be otherwise; it will just make them more fearful and less trusting, diminishing the bond between you.

Your Bully will naturally look up to you as the leader of the pack, so there’s no need to establish dominance over them and become the “alpha” of the pack.

Rather, your role is one of the parent and natural leader. Your Bulldog will follow and obey you because of this role; not because you’ve coerced them into following you by a show of brute strength.

Why Is My Bulldog Misbehaving?

As we just discussed, current research shows that dogs just don’t act out to earn dominance or become the pack leader. Dogs don’t fight to determine the strongest for a leadership position, and your Bulldog naturally looks up to you as the pack leader; essentially, a parental figure.

So, why is your Bulldog acting up then?

There are quite a few different causes that could be behind your Bulldog’s behavior, and each one should be handled in its own unique way.

Acting Out Natural Instincts

Most of the time, when your dog is repeating some behavior that you don’t understand, it’s due to natural instinct.

At the end of the day, your dog is an animal, and instinct is a major facet of how animals act. While the behaviors may look silly or even a little dumb sometimes, they often make sense in the context of instinct.

When your dog is chewing something, digging, barking, or any other behavior that you might prefer they didn’t act out, it’s often a natural instinct rather than something they’re doing purposefully.

They Don’t Know Any Better

Not only are these behaviors natural for your dog, they often just don’t know any better!

Until you’ve disciplined your dog immediately following a particular act several times, they don’t understand that it’s something you’d rather they didn’t do.

Everything you want your dog to understand, you’ll have to personally teach them through training. Without that, they simply don’t know what you want from them, and they’ll just do what naturally seems to make sense.

What makes sense to them probably isn’t what makes sense to you though.

So, you can be certain that your Bulldog’s behaviors aren’t vindictive. They don’t want to upset you; they just don’t know any better!

Your Bulldog Wants Your Attention

Bulldogs are an extremely affectionate breed. The AKC even gives them a 4/5 rating for affection with family.

So, if your Bully doesn’t feel that they’re getting sufficient attention, they might act out just to get the attention they’re craving!

Obviously, this isn’t the type of attention that you want your dog to crave, but your dog doesn’t know any better, as we just established. To them, attention is attention, and all your Bulldog knows is that they want more of your attention. Whether it’s attention for licking your legs or doing what you actually want them to do, it can all be motivating for your Bulldog.

When your Bulldog acts up, you respond to them. As your Bulldog recognizes this pattern, they might even start to act up more often, which is the exact opposite of what you want!

Anxiety or Compulsive Disorders

Sometimes, your Bulldog’s misbehavior isn’t deliberate, but it’s out of their control. Disorders such as anxiety or canine compulsive disorder can cause your dog to act out in such ways.

Anxiety is somewhat common in dogs, with separation anxiety being a cause of many Bulldogs’ misbehavior. For dogs with anxiety, it might be impossible to stop certain behaviors, even if they know better and perhaps don’t even want to do it!

Canine compulsive disorder or CCD is very similar to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in humans. Bulldogs suffering from CCD could be performing compulsive behaviors against their own will.

Putting a stop to anxiety or CCD can be difficult. You’ll need to identify and remove triggers and help to make your dog feel comfortable.

Even, then, you may not put an end to such behaviors and professional help or medication might be necessary.

If you think your Bulldog’s unwanted behaviors are being caused by an underlying anxiety or compulsive disorder, then you don’t want to discipline them for their actions. You should instead try to determine what’s causing them to act that way.

Contact your vet for further help as they might be able to prescribe medications or offer further insight into the best ways to deal with your Bulldog’s anxiety or compulsive disorders.

5 Ways to Discipline a Bulldog

Now that we understand the underlying reasons that might be behind your Bulldog’s unwanted behaviors, it’s time to discuss the ways you can discipline them when you see such behaviors.

Discipline is a fine line to walk. You can’t be too gentle or too harsh. Moreover, there are various ways to discipline and different schools of thought as to how discipline should be administered.

The following five disciplinary methods can be used separately or in conjunction with each other. You’ll have to determine which methods fit best for you and your Bulldog.

Method 1: Being Firm with Basic Obedience Commands

If your Bulldog is well-trained to follow basic obedience commands, then disciplining them can be as simple as a firm “no.”

Your Bulldog will understand exactly what you mean by both the word no and your tone of voice.

Generally, in a Bulldog that’s been through obedience training, a simple “no” command will be sufficient to get them to cease the behavior.

Of course, “no” isn’t the only verbal command at your disposal. Depending on what behavior your dog is currently exhibiting, different commands might be more appropriate such as “drop it,” if your Bully is chewing something unwanted, for instance.

Method 2: Distract and Redirect

The distract and redirect method builds upon the basic obedience commands. Your Bulldog must first respond to your verbal command of “no” by stopping the behavior they were doing if you want this method to work.

Once the behavior stops from your verbal command, you need to then redirect your Bulldog’s attention to a preferred behavior, distracting them from the initial behavior that you didn’t like, and instead, training them to behave the way you’ve just shown.

Here’s a good example of how you can distract your Bulldog and redirect an unwanted behavior.

Let’s say that your Bully is chewing up something that you don’t want them to chew. Your first action should be to firmly tell them “no” and “drop it.”

If your Bulldog is well-trained and obedient, then they should drop the item they’re chewing when you command them.

Now you must act quickly to distract and redirect.

In this case, you can distract and redirect by offering your Bully a better chewing option, such as a chew toy that’s actually meant to be chewed! This will teach them that chewing the toy is ok, but chewing the other item is not.

Granted, doing this a single time won’t likely yield the results you’re hoping for.

Repetition is key.

You’ll have to distract and redirect several times before your Bulldog catches on, but soon, they’ll understand which behavior is acceptable and which is not, and they’ll start to stick to the acceptable behavior.

Method 3: Positive Reinforcement for Good Behaviors

To be fair, positive reinforcement isn’t really a form of discipline. It’s more like reverse discipline.

Rather than punishing your dog when they get something wrong, you’ll instead be offering loads of praise and positive attention when they get something right.

Like most dogs, your Bulldog wants to please you, and they want your love, affection, praise, and attention. So, they’ll do whatever they can to try and earn it. Even the biggest Great Dane still wants to be a good boy and positive reinforcement works for them too!

When you offer plenty of positive reinforcement for your Bulldog’s behaviors that you like, they start to associate those behaviors with positive outcomes. Then, they’ll continue to repeat those same behaviors since they’ve brought favorable outcomes in the past.

Essentially, you’re incentivizing your Bulldog to behave the way you want, rather than chastising them when they fail to do so.

Positive reinforcement works particularly well with Bulldogs since they’re such easy-to-train dogs that want to please their owners.

Method 4: Withholding Attention

As previously mentioned, Bulldogs are highly affectionate dogs that want lots of attention from their owners. If your Bully feels that they’re not getting enough of your attention, they might even be acting out to get it.

So, you must stop rewarding their bad behavior by giving them attention when they’re acting out.

Instead, you’ll need to simply ignore your Bulldog; especially when the behavior they’re exhibiting is designed to get your attention.

You see, giving your Bulldog attention when that’s what they want is a reward. In this case, withholding the attention is a form of light discipline since you’re not giving your Bully what they want.

Soon, they’ll start to understand that they can’t misbehave their way into getting your attention. This is especially effective not only for Bulldogs but other breeds that really want to please their humans like Rottweilers and Pitties.

On the flip side, this means you’ll have to make sure your attention is available for your Bulldog when they’re behaving the way you want. Make sure you don’t ignore them when they’re behaving well because then they’ll feel like they have no way to get the attention they’re craving from you.

Method 5: Use Time-Outs

Parents have long known that time-outs are an effective form of discipline for children with no lasting negative repercussions. Far fewer pooch parents realize that time-outs are equally effective for canine kids, but training your Bulldog to go to timeout is one of the best forms of discipline you’ll find.

Having said that, I must also admit that it requires a good deal of effort and training to accomplish.

Still, telling your dog to “go to timeout” and watching them skulk over to the established “timeout zone” not only works as an extremely effective form of discipline, but it’s also pretty impressive.

Plus, you never have to feel guilty about sending your dog to timeout. It’s not a punishment akin to hitting them, for instance.

Even so, your Bulldog definitely feels the sting of timeout, as evidenced by their downtrodden facial expressions while waiting for you to release them.

But that’s precisely what makes this such an effective form of discipline. It’s non-harmful, but succinctly gets your point across, making it clear to your Bully that the behavior they were displaying is not acceptable.

Just so you can see what I mean and how this works, here’s a short video clip showing a dog going into timeout after chewing up one a slipper.

Behaviors to Avoid When Disciplining Your Bulldog

There are many different schools of thought regarding how you should discipline your Bulldog.

At the end of the day, you have to decide what’s best for you and your Bully.

Regardless of what you decide to do, the following guidelines will help you establish the right tone of relationship with your Bulldog, making it easier to help them behave properly.

Encouraging Aggressive Play or Behavior

There are a lot of ways that we inadvertently encourage aggressive behaviors in our Bulldogs without meaning to. One of those ways is through aggressive play, or we might accidentally reward aggressive behaviors.

Wrestling your Bulldog, for example, can be fun, but it can also encourage aggressive behaviors.

Similarly, rewarding your Bully with a treat after a rough play session can encourage them to continue acting in such a fashion.

Today, Bulldogs are loving, affectionate, and friendly companion dogs, but that hasn’t always been the case for the breed.

Far back in the history of the Bulldog breed, these dogs were used for the extreme “sport” of bullbaiting as were many other dogs that are part of the bully breed group.

In this spectacle, groups of dogs would be pitted against a chained bull in a battle that often led to the death of either the bull or the dogs.

The Bulldogs used for this sport were trained and bred to be far more aggressive than the amiable companion dogs we have today. Even so, that natural aggression can be brought out of a Bully and emphasized, which is something you’ll want to avoid.

Rough, aggressive play can easily start to awaken this side of your Bulldog, so it’s often best to avoid playing in this manner with your Bulldog.

Thankfully, there are plenty of other ways you can play with your Bully and still have a great time. Don’t shy away from playing with your Bulldog, just avoid aggressive play like wrestling.

Physical Punishments

Much worse than aggressive play is using physical punishments to discipline your Bulldog.

Physical punishment doesn’t help your Bulldog to learn a lesson any better. In reality, you’re just scaring your Bully, reducing the trust between you, making it harder for them to listen to you in the future.

Plus, you’re teaching them that aggressive behavior is acceptable, and they might start resorting to such behavior in the future; especially when you make them feel scared and defensive.

Furthermore, when you resort to physical punishment, you lose the opportunity to teach your Bulldog something new using the methods outlined above.

Anytime your Bulldog behaves in a manner you don’t like, it’s a chance to correct the behavior. But when you physically punish them for it, they won’t take away the new lesson. They’ll only remember the fear you caused them, helping them learn to be afraid of you.

As discussed earlier, your Bulldog isn’t misbehaving as a display of dominance. They’re not even doing it on purpose or to bother you.

Truthfully, your Bully wants to please you! When you hit them, they don’t understand what’s happening or why.

Alternatively, when you use the opportunity to teach them a better way to behave by distracting and redirecting and then using positive reinforcement when they do the right thing, you’ll be instilling a lifelong positive behavior while retaining the ever-important trust between you and your Bulldog.

Aggressive Eye Contact

It’s often said that you shouldn’t hold eye contact with a dog you know as this could be perceived as a threat by the dog.

In fact, it’s even been shown that children are more likely to be the victims of dog attacks in large part because they maintain eye contact too long.

Of course, this rule doesn’t seem to apply to your own dogs. It’s a rule meant to keep you safe when interacting with dogs you don’t know and trust.

Maintaining eye contact with your dog can actually be a sign of affection. When your dog holds your gaze back, it’s not because they’re intimidated or feel threatened. Many breeds show affection in such a manner, including other bully breeds like Rottweilers or Pitbulls.

It’s important to note that there’s always a line though. Even with your dog, if your eye contact becomes too aggressive or you hold it too long, it could start to make your dog uncomfortable, and they might start to interpret it differently.

Once eye contact starts to feel threatening to your dog, they might become defensive. This will only make it harder to get them to behave the way you want. So, it’s better to avoid such intense eye contact when disciplining your dog.

Remember, you don’t want them to be afraid of you. You want your dog to behave properly and obey you out of love and respect, not out of fear or intimidation.

Making Your Bulldog Feel Defensive

If you scare your Bulldog and make them defensive, you might be causing more harm than good.

A scared Bulldog isn’t likely to understand the lesson you’re trying to teach. They’ll only come away with the feelings of fear and start associating those feelings with you.

When disciplining your Bulldog, you should remain calm and use only the minimum necessary level of force to avoid scaring them or making them feel defensive.

Being Too Soft or Passive

On the opposite end of the spectrum, being too soft or passive will also prevent you from getting the point across with your Bulldog.

Like Boxers, Bulldogs can be stubborn so when you’re disciplining your Bully, you should be firm, yet gentle at the same time. You don’t want to be aggressive or angry, but you also don’t want to be a pushover.

If you talk to your Bulldog in a nice, sweet voice while you’re attempting to correct their behavior, they’re simply not going to understand.

You must keep in mind that your Bulldog can’t understand your words. They’re reading your body language, tone of voice, and your movements. When you talk in the wrong tone of voice for the message you’re trying to convey, you’ll confuse your Bulldog, and they won’t understand.

Instead, you must use a firm and stable tone of voice that’s not angry but also not too soft. Your tone of voice must convey your overall message that the behavior you’re seeing is unacceptable, but you must maintain that undercurrent of love as well so that you don’t become harsh or aggressive.

Disciplining Out of Anger

It’s very common for a dog owner to punish their dog more out of anger about what happened than to correct the behavior.

This is understandable. After all, your Bully might have just ruined something that was important or valuable to you.

Even so, you must avoid disciplining your Bully out of anger. It only teaches them to fear you. When you become angry, your Bulldog doesn’t associate the punishment or the anger in your voice with the behavior they committed.

For discipline to be effective, your Bulldog must correlate your punishment with the behavior you want to stop.

Otherwise, they simply won’t understand what you’re asking of them.

Disciplining Too Late

Too often, you’ll find dog parents disciplining their dogs when they find something wrong, like after walking into a mess in the kitchen from your Bulldog ripping apart the trash.

The problem is, if you punish them now, they won’t understand why they’re being punished. You must instead catch them in the act so they can associate the discipline with the act.

If you find the mess in the kitchen, then go looking for your dog to punish them, it’s already far too late. For discipline to be effective, you’ll have to find your Bulldog while they’re still in the trash and making a mess. Disciplining them now will help them to understand that getting into the trash is bad.

They’ll understand that you’re unhappy with a specific behavior, rather than just thinking you’re angry for no reason.

Good Practices for Disciplining a Bulldog

At this point, you understand a few of the errors to avoid when disciplining your Bulldog.

Now, let’s discuss a few good practices that you should follow to help simplify the process of disciplining your Bulldog.

Begin Training Early

If you want to avoid disciplinary problems with your Bulldog, then it’s best to start training them as early as possible. Puppies can begin training as young as eight weeks with basic obedience commands, and I’d recommend you’d start with this training the first chance you get.

When you start training early, your Bulldog gets a great chance to internalize all of the commands you teach them so that they become second nature. This will make disciplining your Bulldog much easier in the long run.

Socialization Is Equally Important

Just as important as starting to train your Bulldog early is starting to socialize them.

Socialization is quite different from training. In training, you’re teaching your Bulldog to understand and obey commands. But with socialization, you’re just getting your Bulldog used to being around various people, pets, and environments.

Introducing your Bulldog to a lot of different situations early helps them to become more adaptable and more confident. A confident, adaptable Bulldog will be easier to control and will have far fewer behavioral problems than a Bulldog that’s fearful and timid.

Consistency Is Key

When training your Bulldog, everything needs repetition and consistency. You can’t simply show your dog the correct behavior one time and assume they’re going to properly internalize the lesson.

You’ll need to remain vigilant during training to ensure you’re catching the bad behaviors as often as you can.

If you’re inconsistent, then your Bulldog won’t be getting a clear message. They’ll feel confused instead, unsure of exactly what you want.

So, if you’re trying to prevent a particular behavior, you’ll need to watch closely and catch your Bulldog in the act, offering the same discipline each time you catch them.

This will allow your Bulldog to associate your disciplinary action with the bad behavior, and soon, they’ll get the message and stop behaving in that manner.

You should also be consistent with the amount of time you spend training and the frequency of your sessions. It’s best to establish a schedule and stick with it, rather than haphazardly throwing in random training sessions whenever you remember.

Train Quickly and Often

Bulldogs are easier to train than some breeds, but they don’t have the greatest attention spans.

For this reason, long training sessions tend to offer diminishing returns.

Your Bulldog will benefit much more from short training bouts performed often. You can even train several times each day, but limit training to just a few minutes at a time.

This allows you to increase the repetition and help cement the proper behavior into your Bully’s memory without starting to turn them off from the training.

You want your Bulldog to be excited about training. If training sessions are long and boring, your Bully will begin to see them as a chore, rather than a fun time with their favorite person.

Discipline Immediately Following Unwanted Behaviors

Discipline must be swift when your Bulldog acts up. You can’t allow there to be a gap between the behavior and the discipline because this will confuse your Bulldog and they won’t understand why they’re being disciplined.

For your Bully to associate the disciplinary measure with a particular act, the discipline must come directly on the tails of the unwanted act.

If your Bulldog tears up the trash and you go searching for them to discipline, it’s already too late.

On the other hand, if you walk into the kitchen and see your Bully with trash in their mouth, it’s the perfect time to discipline them because they’ll be able to associate the discipline with the behavior of tearing up the trash.

How to Discipline a Bulldog Puppy

For the most part, disciplining your Bulldog puppy is similar to disciplining your Bully as an adult.

However, when they’re young, it’s vital that you start laying the foundations of proper training and discipline, so they’ll be internalized by the time your Bulldog is grown.

Train Them to Understand “No”

Training your Bulldog to understand and respond to “no” is one of the most fundamental cornerstones of their training. If your Bulldog understands no, you can easily make it clear to them when certain behaviors are unacceptable.

You can start training your puppy at just eight weeks old, which means that you should begin training as soon as your puppy comes home with you. This is the perfect time to start teaching them the vital obedience commands like no, sit, drop it, and come.

Use Reward-Based Training

Especially when your Bulldog is a puppy, a lot of training is about building trust between you. When your Bulldog trusts you, they’ll be more likely to follow your lead and obey your commands.

As such, it’s important to never punish puppies, instead, sticking with reward-based training and positive reinforcement.

In this approach, you’ll use rewards to encourage positive behaviors, rather than disciplining your puppy for doing something wrong.

Rewards can be treats, a special toy, or just some excited affection and petting. These rewards show your Bulldog puppy that they’re behaving in a positive manner, and they’ll continue behaving that way since it’s been beneficial in the past.

Training your puppy in this way allows you to build trust and strengthen the bond between you while still teaching them how you want them to behave and laying the foundations for an obedient adult Bulldog.

Train in Various Environments

It’s great for your Bulldog puppy to listen to you when you’re at home and there’s nothing crazy going on around you. But what happens when you’re out in public and there are people, noises, and even other pets around?

Introducing your Bulldog to these environments when they’re still a puppy will help them get comfortable with such distractions early on. Training in different environments can help to make your Bulldog calm and confident, regardless of the situation.

Try training your Bulldog puppy at the park or at a friend’s house. This will help your Bulldog learn to obey you no matter where you are or what’s happening around you.

Training Sessions Should Be Short

Training sessions should be kept relatively short with adult Bulldogs, but when they’re puppies, it’s even more important to keep these sessions brief.

Your Bulldog’s attention span is quite short when they’re young. Training for more than a few minutes at a time could overload them and they won’t get as much out of it.

However, you’re free to train many times each day. Try working up to five or six daily sessions of about five to 10 minutes.

Start Teaching Timeout Early

Time-out is one of the most effective tools in your disciplinary arsenal. It’s non-threatening and won’t hurt your Bulldog, but it will make them understand when they’re behaving in a way that’s not ok.

When your Bulldog is timeout trained, all you have to do is tell them to go to timeout and they will head to the designated timeout spot.

Good timeout spots include a corner or under a bench. Anywhere your dog can go to sit for a while and “think about what they did.” Ok, that’s probably not happening, but your Bulldog will learn that timeout is bad and that they shouldn’t do behaviors that put them in timeout.

Final Thoughts

Bulldogs are affectionate, loving pooches that want to please their owners. They’re also easy to train and rather adaptable, so disciplining them is easy.

Timeouts, basic obedience commands, and withholding attention are all effective ways of disciplining your Bulldog.

Just remember to start training and socialization as early as you can, train in short but frequent bouts, be consistent, and don’t punish your Bulldog. Stick to positive reinforcement and the non-harmful disciplinary measures we’ve discussed, and your Bulldog will trust, love, and obey you.

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