Before you begin training your English Bulldog, let’s look at some equipment you’ll want to have on hand:
- A buckle collar is fine for most dogs. If your dog pulls very hard, try a head collar, a device similar to a horse halter that helps reduce pulling by turning the dog’s head. Do not use a choke chain (sometimes called a training collar), because they cause physical harm even when used correctly.
- Six-foot training leash and twenty-six–foot retractable leash.
- A few empty plastic soda bottles with about twenty pennies in each one. This will be used to impersonally interrupt misbehaviors before redirecting dogs to more positive activities.
- A favorite squeaky toy, to motivate, attract attention, and reward your dog during training.
Allow your young English Bulldog to drag a short, lightweight leash attached to a buckle collar for a few supervised moments, several times each day. At first the leash may annoy him and he may jump around a bit trying to get away from it. Distract him with your squeaky toy or a bit of his kibble and he’ll quickly get used to his new “tail.”
Begin walking him on the leash by holding the end and following him. As he adapts, you can begin to assert gentle direct pressure to teach him to follow you. Don’t jerk or yank, or he will become afraid to walk when the leash is on. If he becomes hesitant, squat down facing him and let him figure out that by moving toward you he is safe and secure. If he remains confused or frightened and doesn’t come to you, go to him and help him understand that you provide safe harbor while he’s on the leash. Then back away a few steps and try again to lure him to you. As he learns that you are the “home base,” he’ll want to follow when you walk a few steps, waiting for you to stop, squat down, and make him feel great.
So Attached to You!
The next step in training your Bulldog – and this is a very important one – is to begin spending at least an hour or more each day with him on a four- to six-foot leash, held by or tethered to you. This training will increase his attachment to you- literally! – as you sit quietly or walk about, tending to your household business. When you are quiet, he’ll learn it is time to settle; when you are active, he’ll learn to move with you. Tethering also keeps him out of trouble when you are busy but still want his company. It is a great alternative to confining a dog, and can be used instead of crating any time you’re home and need to slow him down a bit.
Rotating your English Bulldog from supervised freedom to tethered time to some quiet time in the crate or his gated area gives him a diverse and balanced day while he is learning. Two confined or tethered hours is the most you should require of your dog in one stretch, before changing to some supervised freedom, play, or a walk.
The English Bulldog in training may, at times, be stressed by all of the changes he is dealing with. Provide a stress outlet, such as a toy to chew on, when he is confined or tethered. He will settle into his quiet time more quickly and completely. Always be sure to provide several rounds of daily play and free time (in a fenced area or on your retractable leash) in addition to plenty of chewing materials.
English Bulldogs don’t speak in words, but they do have a language – body language. They use postures, vocalizations, movements, facial gestures, odors, and touch – usually with their mouths – to communicate what they are feeling and thinking.
We also “speak” using body language. We have quite an array of postures, movements, and facial gestures that accompany our touch and language as we attempt to communicate with our pets. And our dogs can quickly figure us out!
Alone, without associations, words are just noises. But, because we pair them with meaningful body language, our dogs make the connection. Dogs can really learn to understand much of what we say, if what we do at the same time is consistent.
The Positive Marker
Start your dog’s education with one of the best tricks in dog training: Pair various positive reinforcers – food, a toy, touch – with a sound such as a click on a clicker (which you can get at the pet supply store) or a spoken word like “good!” or “yes!” This will enable you to later “mark” your dog’s desirable behaviors.
It seems too easy: Just say “yes!” and give the English Bulldog his toy. (Or use whatever sound and reward you have chosen.) Later, when you make your marking sound right at the instant your dog does the right thing, he will know you are going to be giving him something good for that particular action. And he’ll be eager to repeat the behavior to hear you mark it again!
Next, you must teach your Bulldog to understand the meaning of cues you’ll be using to ask him to perform specific behaviors. This is easy, too. Does he already do things you might like him to do on command? Of course! He lies down, he sits, he picks things up, he drops them again, he comes to you. All of the behaviors you’d like to control are already part of your dog’s natural repertoire. The trick is getting him to offer those behaviors when you ask for them. And that means you have to teach him to associate a particular behavior on his part with a particular behavior on your part.