Health & Training
Welcome to the ranks of Bull Terrier owners! You now have in your care a unique and wonderful breed of dog. May you share many years of love and companionship! It is hoped that this information will help you to keep your dog as healthy as possible. Included is a brief description of some traits and health problems which sometimes occur in Bull Terriers and are not always quickly recognized by veterinarians unfamiliar with the breed.
After you have bought a Morningside Kennels Puppy
- Letter from Dr. Stan Krawitz (Click here to email Dr. Krawitz)
You have now acquired a pup from Morningside Bull Terriers. Be aware that your pup comes from excellent breeding stock, and has been brought to weaning under optimum conditions, enabling it to thrive both physically and emotionally. He/she has received an initial vaccination at 6 weeks of age, administered by a registered veterinarian; It has also been adequately dewormed. A further two vaccines are necessary to ensure proper protection for your new friend.. The next inoculation will be at ten weeks of age, with the last puppy inoculation at 14 to 16 weeks old.. You are urged to take your pup to a registered veterinarian for these “shots” for several good reasons: A vet will use high quality vaccine that has been properly stored both in transit and whilst in his care. This cannot be said for all vaccines administered by lay persons. Remember that modern vaccines are highly specialized biologicals which can easily be damaged by heat, light and other incorrect storage procedures. In good condition they are capable of stimulating excellent immunity against fatal diseases such as Rabies, as well as those which whilst being potentially fatal, are very expensive to treat with no guaranteed outcome, such as Distemper or Parvo-virus. During your appointment your Vet will examine the pup carefully, looking for parasites and possible genetic or congenital problems, discuss feeding protocols, the pros and cons of various food brands, weight control (yes, obesity IS a problem!!), recommend puppy socialization classes/trainers and offer advice on matters of concern to yourselves which you will want to clarify, including an in depth discussion about skin care in our sunny climate. Do not forget to discuss a microchip, which could be a life-saver if ever the pup gets lost. Form a good relationship with your veterinarian. He/she is a highly trained professional that can be a font of knowledge, with access to further specialist information if needs be. Your pup, properly cared for, will be well balanced emotionally and physically, and undoubtedly afford you great pleasure for many years to come. Enjoy!
First, it makes good sense to set up a file folder just for your Bull Terrier’s records. This folder is primarily for health records, but if you keep his/her AKC registration and pedigree here also, then all the records will be in one place and easy to find when needed. If you ever breed your dog, you will also need to keep careful breeding records.
Each year, more than 10 million pets are lost, and, according to the American Humane Association, only about 17% of lost dogs and 2% of lost cats ever find their owners. Nearly 20 million pets are euthanized each year because their owners cannot be located. If your pet is microchipped, there is a much greater chance that they will return to you safely. Microchips will last for your pet’s lifetime as there are no moving parts and nothing to replace. A microchip is a small computer chip that has an identification number programmed into it. It is small enough to fit into a hypodermic needle. Once implanted, the I.D. number cannot be altered or removed, and a layer of connective tissue forms around the chip preventing it from moving about.
One of your dogs best friends: The veterinarian
Try to find a veterinarian who likes Bull Terriers! He or she may never have seen one in the flesh, but you can tell whether or not the vet likes your dog! A good veterinarian is treasured by all responsible dog owners. It is well worth asking other dog people where they take their animals and making an effort to find the best animal care in your part of the world.
Know where 24 hour emergency care is available and write the phone number on the front of your folder. You may never have a medical emergency at 2:00 a.m. or on Christmas day, but one never knows, and it’s best to be prepared. Whenever you take your Bull Terrier to the veterinarian, you’ll receive a computer printout which tells you exactly which vaccines your dog received or what tests and procedures were done. File all these receipts in the health folder for they form your dog’s medical history. If you move either out of state or within your own state and have to find another veterinarian, you will have a complete record for his new doctor.
There is a great deal of information available on dog nutrition. The simplest way to feed your dog well is to find a quality dry dog food which your dog seems to enjoy, and stick with that brand. Cheap dog food is no bargain! Without sufficient quantities of all required nutrients, your Bull Terrier may never grow to his/her full potential and may develop various ailments associated with poor nutrition. For example, the expense involved in trying to clear up skin and coat problems related to lack of certain fats and fatty acids in the diet quickly uses up the dollars saved by purchasing poor quality food.
Some Bull Terrier owners prefer to feed a natural diet which they concoct themselves. If this is carefully done, the results are excellent. But the owner has to have the time and dedication to do it right! As a rule, Bull Terriers are good eaters. In fact, some are gluttons! Try not to let your dog become too heavy. If you are unfortunate enough to have a picky eater, first make sure that there is no medical reason for his/her disinterest in food. For instance, tooth problems may make a dog reluctant to eat hard food such as kibble.
If there is no medical explanation, your Bully is probably holding out for whatever his human family is having for dinner! You simply have to be more stubborn than he is. Keep giving him his quality dog food, and hopefully, he’ll soon get the message. Keep plenty of fresh water available for your dog at all times.
There are few, if any, commercially made dog toys which are Bull Terrier proof. Hard rubber balls and similar toys are fine for you to toss for your dog to chase and retrieve. But when the game is over, take the toy away and put it where it’s out of reach. If allowed to chew on rubber or plastic toys, your Bull Terrier will eventually gnaw off chunks and swallow them with potentially serious results. NEVER GIVE A BULL TERRIER RAWHIDE! They chew the rawhide until it’s a slimy mess and then swallow it or try to swallow it. Bull Terriers have choked to death on chew toys made of rawhide. Large “Nylabones” are good for chewing.
Health Problems and Diseases
The following information is extremely important. Please download the information and ask your veterinarian to place them in your dog’s hospital file.
Download: PDF Format | MS Word 2003 | MS Word 2007
Bull Terriers, both as puppies and as adults, will swallow just about anything. Being rather stoic dogs, they may not appear very ill for a few days. But a depressed, lethargic, vomiting BT very likely has foreign objects in its gut. Sadly, many bull Terriers are lost because surgical intervention comes too late. Chunks of blanket, socks, underwear, various forms of plastic (particularly plastic toys), rubber, metal screening, and stones are a few of the items which have been removed from BT’s. Delay can be fatal, so get your dog to your vet fast!
For many years it has been recognized that the Bull Terrier breed has a tendency to develop kidney problems, sometimes at a very early age. In some lines, the kidneys are very small and undeveloped. In others, glomerular nephritis (malfunction of tiny filters in the kidney) causes kidney failure before age three. Sometimes affected dogs make it to age 6-8 before dying from renal failure. In an attempt to try to decrease the incidence of kidney disease in the breed or to get treatment for animals in early stages of disease, it is recommended that a simple urine test called the urine protein/urine creatinine ratio be done annually – particularly on all breeding stock – beginning at about 18 months to 2 years of age. Breeders are asked not to breed animals with an abnormal UP/UC ratio. An abnormal ratio indicates too much protein in the urine. Such dogs are more likely to develop kidney disease themselves or to produce puppies with kidney problems.
Acrodermatitis (an immune problem associated with Zinc deficiency)
This appears to be peculiar to the Bull Terrier breed. The disorder is recognizable in young puppies who are sometimes referred to as “Zinkies”. Some die shortly after birth because they are too lethargic to nurse. Others do fairly well until weaning. When they are no longer receiving antibodies from their mothers, they tend to develop skin lesions, particularly between the toes and on the muzzle. Some also have difficulty eating solid foods because the roof of the mouth is domed and has deeper than normal ridges. The food gets stuck, so puppies have to be hand fed a finely ground, gruel-type food.
Their growth rate slows so that they become runty looking compared to their litter mates. In some pups there may be what seem to be neurologic peculiarities such as abnormal gait (hindquarters particularly) or inability to wag the tail. Nasty, rage-like temperaments may been seen in these puppies. Changes in coat color occur, with black coat or black patches tending to turn brownish. If not put down, these puppies usually succumb to infection. Affected pups are thought to have inherited a pair of recessive genes for this trait. This means that both parents carry the gene.
Some Bull Terriers, particularly white Bull Terriers, may suffer from severe skin problems. Possibly there is a connection between faults with the immune system and this severe dermatitis. Some dogs respond well to dietary changes to more natural-type foods with few or no chemical additives. Others may require long-term treatment with antibiotics and/or steroids.
Some Bull Terriers chase their tails. In the mild form, this seems to be related to boredom or to stress of some kind. Some spin around in circles a few times when they are excited. Usually this is not a serious problem and can be remedied by removing the cause of the boredom and stress.
A much more serious form of tail chasing is called spinning. This usually begins at about 6 months of age. The dog is obsessed by its tail and may circle for hours. It loses interest in food and water. All attempts to get the dog to stop this behavior fail. Sometimes the dog yelps while spinning and may even attempt to bite its interfering owner. In the past, most of these spinners were eventually put down. Even amputating the tail does not help! Over the past few years, a research project at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine suggests that spinning is form of seizure. Most spinning dogs respond to treatment with phenobarbital either alone or in conjunction with other medications. Some of the less severe cases do well on anti-obsessive drugs such as Anafranil or Prozak. It is interesting that treatment of spinning Bull Terriers has been more successful in females than males.
Incidents of unexplained aggression toward human members of its own family by a dog which usually behaves normally may signify rage. A Bull Terrier with rage is an extremely frightening and dangerous dog. The episodes are usually unpredictable. Some owners claim that the dog gets a glazed look in its eyes before a “spell”. Rage is presently considered to be another seizure-type disorder. Some of the severe spinners develop rage-like symptoms as the spinning becomes worse. Prognosis is poor. It is important not to confuse dominance aggression with rage. Whereas dominance aggression is a behavioral problem which can often be overcome by correct training and proper handling, rage is apparently a neurological dysfunction which does not seem to respond to training.
A few Bull Terriers develop grand mal type epileptic seizures. If a dog has the form of epilepsy which seems to be inherited, seizures usually begin between the ages of 6 to 18 months. Although the seizures may be controlled somewhat by medication, the prognosis is not good. Affected Bull Terriers seem to survive only a year or two after onset of the disease. Also, prolonged dosage with the drug phenobarbital may cause severe liver damage which is fatal.
Some bull Terriers have heart problems which may be hereditary. There are various kinds of heart murmurs caused by different structural problems in the heart. Some are more serious than others and are roughly graded from grade 1 to grade 6. The veterinarian may detect a heart murmur in a puppy. Often, puppies outgrow minor murmurs such as a grade 1. However, if the murmur is more serious or if a minor murmur becomes worse, the veterinarian may recommend further diagnostic tests such as cardiac ultrasound. Defects in heart structure and function are potentially life threatening, although some BT’s live with their heart murmurs for many years. Needless to say, dogs with heart defects should not be bred.
Hereditary deafness in Bull Terriers may have entered the breed from crosses of the 19th century dogs with the now extinct White English Terrier. Or years ago there may have been crosses with Dalmatians which today seem to have the highest incidence of hereditary deafness. It is not yet clear exactly how deafness is inherited. It was once thought to be caused by a simple recessive gene, but more likely there are several pairs of genes involved, some of which may be dominant genes. All Bull Terrier puppies should be tested for deafness by the BAER test. A veterinarian or your Bull Terrier club should be able to help you find the nearest BAER testing facility (your closest veterinary school or clinics held by the BTCA or your regional club). Each ear is tested separately. Most BT’s have normal hearing in both ears. Some whites are deaf in both ears (bilaterally deaf) while some whites AND COLOREDS are deaf in one ear (unilaterally deaf). Until recently, it was not understood that colored BT’s could be unilaterally deaf. It is unlikely that a colored will be bilaterally deaf since there seems to be a linkage with genes for white color, whereas a colored BT has only one gene for white or, if a solid colored BT, no white gene. Even animals with normal hearing can produce puppies which are deaf in one ear if there are deaf BT’s among their ancestors. Bull Terriers which are deaf in one ear seem to lead fairly normal lives. The most obvious difference from a normal dog is their difficulty in determining the direction of sound. A unilaterally deaf pup may seem bewildered as he tries to figure out where a sound is coming from. No doubt such puppies have been in the breed for many years. The BAER test makes their identification possible. This is an electronic test which measures the electrical activity along the nerves connecting the ear with the brain. If there is no electrical activity, no sound is getting through. The letters BAER stand for “brainstem auditory evoked response.”
Training & Discipline
This section is dedicated to the training of your Bull Terrier and the best way to cultivate its personality.
The bull terrier has been bred to have an independent spirit that served him well as a fighting dog but that can be an impediment to obedience training. Keep training sessions short, interesting, and highly positive to get the best results with this breed.
The most effective type of training uses positive reinforcement to condition desired behaviors in a dog:
- You reward a desired behavior every time it occurs, but you ignore other behaviors.
- The dog soon understands that if he does something you want, he’ll get a treat, praise, or toy, but if he does something you don’t like, he won’t get anything.
Positive training is particularly effective with the bull terrier, who will be more eager to learn if motivated by rewards like praise, play, or treats. You can train your bull terrier yourself or can turn to a trainer or training classes for help. The best way to find a reputable trainer is to call your local shelter and ask for recommendations.
Training sessions should be kept short (2–5 minutes for a puppy, 5–10 minutes for an adult). You can hold several sessions a day. Sessions also should be specific, focused on a particular behavior. To train a particular behavior:
- Say “Yes!” as your bull terrier performs the behavior, then provide a reward. This marker word tells the dog that what he did was right. The treat gives positive reinforcement.
- Once your bull terrier starts offering the desired behavior on his own, add the verbal command, such as “Sit!”, to the action. Your bull terrier will associate the command with the action, and every time he performs it, you’ll mark it with a “Yes!” After you say the marker word, he’ll get a treat.
Make sure to say “Yes!” while the desired behavior is in process, not after the behavior occurs. And never skimp on the reward, or your bull terrier will have little reason to keep paying attention.
Crate Training Your Bull Terrier
Crate training is the process of training your dog to enjoy spending time in his crate. Crate training your bull terrier will:
Help with housetraining
Allow you to confine and control your dog when you have guests or when you have to go out
Make traveling with your dog easier
Always remember that a dog can stay in a crate only as long as he can “hold it.” Puppies can’t spend more than a couple hours in the crate, and an adult shouldn’t spend more than six hours. To crate train your bull terrier:
- Place the crate in a room where you and your family spend a lot of time. Put comfortable bedding inside if you know that your dog won’t chew it.
- Lure your bull terrier into the crate with a treat. Keep the door open.
- Once he’s inside, mark the behavior with “Yes!”
- Allow your bull terrier to come out, but be calm and don’t interact with him.
- Lure him back into the crate, then treat again.
- If your bull terrier is comfortable with the crate, close the door for a second, then open it and treat.
- Repeat until you can close it for a few seconds without upsetting him.
- Repeat, but get up and take a step away from the crate. If he’s calm, come right back, say “Yes!” and treat. Then let him out. Continue until you can walk across the room while he’s calm.
- Continue this training until you can leave the room and then the house, all while your bull terrier is content in his crate.
If at any time in the process your bull terrier becomes upset or is not doing well, quit the training session for the day. But don’t stop before you can get one calm second from him in the crate and treat him for it.
Housetraining Your Bull Terrier
Housetraining should start the minute you bring your new puppy or adult bull terrier home:
- Between potty breaks, keep your bull terrier in his crate or within 10 feet (3 m) of you. Tie his leash to your waist or use an exercise pen.
- Watch for signs that your bull terrier needs to go—sniffing the ground, circling, or scratching the floor. When you see these signs, take him outside to the potty area.
- Wait for him to pee or poop, then reward him. If he doesn’t go, put him in his crate for 10 minutes and then try again.
- If you catch your bull terrier eliminating inside, bring him outside to the potty area immediately. Let him finish outside, and reward him. Scoop up the mess inside after you return.
Never punish your bull terrier for eliminating in the house, because this will teach him that eliminating at all is wrong. If your puppy or adult bull terrier has a setback, just start the training over again.
Teaching Your Bull Terrier Basic Commands
Any well-behaved bull terrier should know and follow five basic commands: come, sit, down, stay, and walk nicely on a leash. Knowing these commands will make your bull terrier easier to manage and keep safe in any situation.
Teaching Your Bull Terrier to Come
- Begin indoors. Holding treats in one hand, call your bull terrier’s name to get his attention.
- When he looks over at you for a second, mark “Yes!” and treat.
- Continue until he comes over to you for a treat when you call his name.
- Put him on a long line and take him outside. Let him explore to the end of the line, then call him.
- When he looks at you, encourage him to come running by showing a treat. Mark “Yes!” as he runs toward you, and treat when he gets to you.
- Once it’s clear that he understands that coming to you results in a treat, say his name and the word “come” when you call.
Teaching Your Bull Terrier to Sit
- Begin with your dog standing and facing you.
- Hold a treat between your thumb and index finger over your dog’s nose, then move your hand slowly back toward his tail.
- His head should follow the treat, and his rear should move into a sit. Mark “Yes!” and treat.
- If he won’t sit entirely, “shape” the behavior by marking “Yes!” and treating approximations of the sit, such as the rear lowering a little, then a little more, and so on.
- Eventually your dog will offer a sit on his own. Mark “Yes!” and treat.
- Now you can add the verbal “Sit,” and he’ll come to associate the word with the action. Be very precise with the word, using it only once, then waiting for the action.
Teaching Your Bull Terrier to Down
- Start with your bull terrier in the sit position. Hold a treat in your hand and let him smell it.
- Move your hand toward the floor and slide it along the floor away from his nose. If he gets up to get the treat, put him back in the sit position and try again.
- Once your bull terrier’s elbows touch the floor as he lies down while following the treat, mark “Yes!” and treat.
- Repeat until he begins to offer the behavior on his own. Then add the verbal cue and continue to treat.
- Finally, train him to go into the down position from a standing position using the same method.
Teaching Your Bull Terrier to Stay
- Put your dog in a sit or down position, then step in front of him, holding a flattened palm to his face.
- Look him in the eye and say “Stay” in a firm voice.
- After a second of motionlessness, lean down and mark “Yes!” and treat him. Then say “Okay,” which will be the release command from “Stay.”
- Eventually work up to more time in the stay, then vary the time you ask for, so that your bull terrier doesn’t learn to stay only for a set amount of time.
The crucial thing is to treat while your bull terrier is in the stay, not after, or he’ll think that you’re rewarding the release.
Teaching Your Bull Terrier to Walk on a Leash
- Put your bull terrier on his leash using a flat buckle collar.
- When he pulls, stop and wait for him to relax and for slack to come into the leash. The second this happens, mark “Yes!” and treat, then keep walking.
- Repeat until your bull terrier realizes that if he pulls, he won’t get anywhere, but if he relaxes, he’ll receive a treat and get to keep walking.
- Add the verbal cue “Let’s go” when it’s clear that he understands.
- If your bull terrier pulls when he sees another dog or anything else he wants, turn him around, walk in the other direction, and say “Let’s go.” Then mark “Yes!” and treat him for coming along.
Playing Games with Your Bull Terrier
Regular play helps owners and their dogs develop understanding and communication skills that can’t be learned during formal training.
Retrieving Tossed Objects
- Toss a ball. Most bull terriers will run after it.
- When your dog picks it up, call him back to you.
- When he brings back the ball, offer him a treat and say “Drop it.”
- Continue until he drops the ball naturally on returning.
- Select a simple toy, such as a rope, that your dog will come to recognize as the cue for the game. Use the toy only for tug-of-war.
- Pick a command to start the game, such as “Let’s tug!”
- Your dog will naturally want to grab the tug rope. If he grabs it without permission, don’t play—he should release it on command.
- Interrupt the game with a few obedience commands from time to time. This will sharpen his skills and keep him listening to you.
- Don’t allow the dog to touch you with his teeth. If you receive a nip, stop the game immediately for at least five minutes. He’ll quickly learn to be more careful with his teeth.