Anyone considering the laidback English bulldog for their next family pet needs to know: Are English bulldogs aggressive?
It’s a question that’s plagued not only English bulldogs, but many other dog breeds, including German shepherds, rottweilers, and pit bulls. And it’s a question that isn’t easy to answer — ultimately, any breed of dog can be aggressive without careful breeding and early socialization.
But there are a few factors we can consider to determine the likelihood of aggression in purebred dogs. The job the breed was originally bred to do, its inherited health issues, and the statistics surrounding breed-related aggression can all help us determine the risk of aggression in a specific breed.
In this article, we’ll look at the risk of aggressive behavior in the English bulldog breed. The American Kennel Club, (AKC), refers to this breed simply as “the bulldog,” but it’s important to note that it is different from other bulldog breeds, including French bulldogs, American bulldogs, and bullmastiffs. Today, we’ll only be looking at the English bulldog breed as we determine: Are English bulldogs aggressive?
Are English Bulldogs Aggressive? Breeding, Health Risks, and Data
The best way to determine whether a purebred dog is predisposed to aggression is to look at its breeding and health problems. If a dog was bred for a job that requires aggression, like fighting or guarding, then you may see more signs of aggression. And if a breed inherits health issues like rage syndrome, cognitive dysfunction, or hypothyroidism, they may be at higher risk for aggressive behavior.
We’ll also look at the statistics surrounding dog bites to determine whether English bulldogs are commonly involved in bite incidents.
Bulldog Breeding and Aggression
The AKC describes the bulldog’s temperament as friendly, courageous, and calm, which sounds far from aggressive to us. But as most sources will tell you, a dog’s breed is a much better predictor of its looks than its personality. Dog breeders will often point out the different personalities of puppies from the same litter. So, to a great extent, personalities will vary from one bulldog to the next.
However, you can get a sense of bulldogs' most hard-wired personality traits based on what they were bred for. And that’s changed quite a lot since English bulldogs were first bred for bull baiting — a violent sport where a pack of dogs attacked a bull while spectators bet on which animal would win the fight.
In order to succeed in this sport, dogs needed to be strong, fearless, and willing to lead an attack. (Now you're starting to see where concerns about bulldog aggression are coming from.) But over 200 years ago, bull baiting was banned, and breeders worked hard to save bulldogs from near extinction — transitioning them from fighters to family pets by selectively breeding the friendliest and most devoted dogs.
While new human generations only come about once every 25 years (because that’s how long it takes for humans to mature), bulldogs reach maturity in just two years. So, 200 years of breeding adds up to about 100 generations of bulldogs bred specifically as cuddle companions. This length of time is longer than the entire history of the golden retriever. And like goldens, the bulldog breed are reliable family members that are gentle with children.
Bulldog Health Issues That Can Lead to Aggression
English bulldogs are considered one of the least physically healthy dog breeds in existence — to the extent that some have questioned the ethics of breeding bulldogs and Norway has banned their breeding entirely. But being unhealthy doesn’t necessarily make a bulldog aggressive.
The majority of their health problems — from bulldog skin bumps to hip dysplasia — do not cause aggression. However, bulldogs are prone to hypothyroidism, a condition where their thyroid doesn't produce enough of the thyroid hormone. This condition has been linked with aggressive behavior when it’s left untreated.
If your previously well-behaved bulldog starts showing signs of aggression, take them to your vet. It could be a sign of hypothyroidism. Aggression could also be a sign that your dog is in pain and needs an examination, treatment, and pain relief for dogs.
Bulldog Aggression Data
English bulldogs are rarely mentioned in studies on aggressive dogs or reports on dog bites, which is surprising when you consider that bulldogs are the fifth most popular dog breed in America. A study by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) found a strong link between the popularity of a dog breed and the number of bite incidents.
In the AVMA study, as a breed got more popular, more bites were reported by that breed. This is a logical correlation: More Labrador retrievers in the population means there’s more chance of getting bitten by a Lab than a rare breed, like an English foxhound, for example. Since English bulldogs are the fifth most popular breed, you’d expect them to rank number five on any list of dog bites.
However, the only reputable report we could find that mentioned English bulldogs was a local report from Denver, Colorado, where bulldogs ranked 13th in dog bites — much lower than you would expect given their popularity. So, based on the data, English bulldogs appear to be at a lower-than-expected risk for aggression.
How Can English Bulldog Owners Prevent Aggression?
Dog owners have a bigger impact on aggression than dog breed. According to the National Canine Research Council, controllable factors — including the owner’s mismanagement of the dog, failure to spay or neuter, and the victim being a stranger — played a more important role in dog bite cases than breed.
Here are the most important steps English bulldog owners can take to prevent aggression:
1. Select Your Breeder Carefully
Ensure you’re working with a responsible breeder by asking questions about the health screenings they perform on their adult dogs and the socialization they offer their young puppies. Raising well-socialized pets starts at a young age, and any socialization the breeder provides will set you up for success when you take your English bulldog puppy home.
To get the healthiest possible bulldog, you may also want to consider a hybrid bulldog, like the Olde English Bulldogge. While not considered purebred dogs by the AKC, Olde English Bulldogges have been mixed with other bully breeds to preserve the health of the breed. Seeking out an Olde English breeder is one way for concerned bulldog lovers to champion this friendly breed.
2. Start Socialization Early
As soon as your puppy is fully vaccinated, sign them up for a puppy socialization class. In your spare time, head to parks or outdoor cafes, and make it your mission to introduce your English Bulldog puppy to as many different types of people as possible, including children, the elderly, the handicapped, and people of different sizes and skin tones.
3. Use Positivity-Based Dog Training
Train your puppy using positive reinforcement training, rather than dominance-based training, which has been shown to increase aggressive behavior in some dogs. Using a positive reinforcement technique, you’ll reward good behavior with treats, attention, and playtime. You’ll correct behavior by ignoring it or taking away rewards, like stopping playtime or removing your attention.
Nipping is common when puppies are young and teething. Make sure to teach bite inhibition early, and prevent food aggression by hand feeding your puppy or placing your hand in their food bowl while they eat. Bulldogs are known for their stubbornness, so if you’re struggling to prevent bad behavior, enlist the help of a professional dog trainer.
4. Spay or Neuter
If you’re not planning on showing or breeding your bulldog, work with your vet to have your pet spayed or neutered. Not only does this prevent unwanted litters (which can cost bulldog owners a lot of money since this breed can’t give birth naturally), but spaying and neutering also prevents aggression.
5. Remove Your Dog From Stressful Situations
If your dog shows signs of stress, like tucking their ears and tail, whining, pacing, panting, or hiding, you should remove them from the stressful situation, give them a time out in a quiet room, and offer a calming dog chew to help decrease their stress levels.
A stressed or scared dog is more likely to act aggressively against a perceived threat. By removing them from the situation early and helping them regain their sense of calm, you can keep their behavior from escalating to lunging or biting.
A Bulldog Could Be Your Best Friend
English bulldogs are loving family animals. Despite their early history as fighting dogs, they have been bred as companion animals since before some of today’s most popular family pets — like the golden retriever — even existed.
Bulldogs are involved in fewer bite incidents than you would expect, given their popularity, so the breed appears to be at low risk for aggressive behavior. But any dog can show signs of aggression if they aren’t socialized from an early age.
As a bulldog owner, you can raise a well-adjusted dog by getting your puppy from a responsible breeder and providing consistent, positivity-based training.For more information on your pets’ health and wellness, check out the Native Pet blog.