English Bulldog Parenting 101 – What to Expect the first few Weeks and Months with your new Bulldog

English Bulldog Parenting 101 – What to Expect the first few Weeks and Months with your new Bulldog

The following is an excerpt from "The Complete Guide to English Bulldogs" by David Anderson. For more information visit the books Amazon Page.

Author Credit: David Anderson

The moment your Bulldog puppy comes through that door, everything changes. Years later, you will still remember just what happened, and it will be a story that you tell within the family. Your Bulldog is going to be the center of attention whenever he is in the room, and nearly everyone will love playing with or cuddling up to such a rough-and-tumble-looking couch potato. On the day your puppy arrives, you should know that you are committing to rearing your puppy – puppies are a lifetime commitment that is always worth the effort to raise them right.

The first week is going to be very difficult for your Bulldog puppy, and it is critical to the development of your puppy. During this time, your puppy will start to establish the dynamic in the home and you want your puppy to begin to feel safe in a new environment. These are the early days of seeing your Bulldog reach his full potential. With all of the puppy-proofing already done, it’s time to start teaching your puppy how to play. This is going to be important as your Bulldog puppy is going to want to put his mouth on everything. You will also need to show the puppy where to go to the bathroom and prove that the home is a great place to live. This is when you really get to learn about the joys of having such a personable, loving, loyal dog in your home.

Preparation and Planning

Set aside time before your puppy arrives to go through to make sure everything is prepared. This final check of your home is to make sure everything is still secured and everything set up for the puppy. From the puppy area to food and toys, you should have everything set and ready for your puppy. Anything that you can do before the Bulldog’s arrival will help you to better enjoy your time together when he gets there so that you don’t have to try to do stuff on the fly – you are going to have to do that enough without leaving too many things to do for later. Start inspecting your home to make sure you didn’t miss anything.

English bulldog grass
Photo Courtesy – Nick and Jenevieve D’Amico

You should do one more inspection from the ground level in every room of the house and the garage. This should be done a few hours before the puppy arrives to make sure that all of the risks have been removed (habits can be difficult to break, so make sure everything is in order). Make sure everything is properly puppy-proofed.

During the final week before the puppy arrives, create a list of everything that your puppy needs for the first day. The following should help you get started:

  • Food
  • Bed
  • Crate
  • Toys
  • Water and food dishes
  • Leash
  • Collar
  • Treats

Verify that you have everything on the list out and ready for use before your Bulldog walks through the door. You don’t want to have to run out and buy them after the puppy is home, partly because you want those things to be readily available, and partly because you don’t want to miss time with your newest family member and establishing a routine.

If you plan to have a fence to keep the puppy penned into a specific area of the home, have the gates set up and verify that it cannot be knocked over or circumvented. Your Bulldog puppy may try to make a break for it if there are any weaknesses or holes in the fencing around his designated area because your Bulldog is likely to try to get out to stay with you as much as possible.

Set up a schedule for the puppy’s care. Know that the plans are going to change, but you need to have a starting point. This will ensure that people complete their assigned tasks and help to make your puppy feel safe – dogs prefer structure, so schedules are a great source of security for them. Tweak the schedule as it becomes clear that changes are needed, but try to keep it as close to the original schedule as possible. Having a schedule in place before the puppy arrives will make it a lot easier than if you try to establish something after the arrival. The Bulldog is going to have more than enough energy to keep you busy, making it difficult to make a plan after his arrival.

The schedule should include a bathroom break after every meal. There is a good chance your puppy will need to go then, and this will help establish where the right places are to use the bathroom.

Have a final meeting with all of the family members to make sure all of the rules are remembered and understood before the puppy is a distraction. Children will need special training in how to handle the puppy, and you are going to need to be very strict in making sure they aren’t too rough with the pup. Verify that your children understand that they are not allowed to play with the puppy unless there is an adult supervising them. Determine who is going to be responsible for primary puppy care, including who will be the primary trainer. To help teach younger children about responsibility, a parent can pair with a child to manage the puppy’s care. The child will be responsible for things like keeping the water bowl filled and feeding the puppy, and a parent can oversee the tasks.

Bulldog training happens from the moment your puppy is given into your care. The rules and hierarchy should start to be established from that first car ride home.

As tempting as it is to cuddle and try to make your Bulldog feel comfortable, you will need to put the Bulldog in a crate for the ride – you cannot start by making an exception. Your puppy is learning from the very beginning. Remember, this is a breed that has been living alongside humans for a very long time, and they know how to take cues from you. Anything that they can do to make you drop your guard and let them get away with stuff, they are going to use later. As difficult as it will be, you will need to be firm and consistent with your Bulldog puppy.

The Ride Home

Two adults should be present on the first trip. Ask the breeder if the puppy has been in a car before, and, if not, it is especially important to have someone who can give the puppy attention while the other person drives. The puppy will be in the crate, but someone can still provide comfort. It will definitely be scary because the puppy no longer has mom, siblings, or known people around, so having someone present to talk to the puppy will make it a little less of an ordeal for the little guy. Bulldogs may not tend to lean toward being a fearful dog, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t get scared.

This is the time to start teaching your puppy that car trips are enjoyable. This means making sure that the crate is secure instead of being loose to be moved around during the drive. You don’t want to terrify the puppy by letting the crate slide around while the puppy is inside it, sitting helplessly. This kind of jostling will teach your Bulldog that cars are terrifying instead of making them feel safe.

Digestive Issues

The first day to first week is likely to be difficult for your puppy, and for Bulldogs that often manifests as digestive issues. Your puppy may have diarrhea or constipation, which will make them cry even more. This is normal for the first day, but consult the breeder if you have concerns. If it lasts for a couple of days, ask your vet during the first visit to make sure everything is all right.

First Night Frights

That first night is going to be incredibly scary to your little Bulldog puppy. Away from mommy and any siblings, as well as the humans the puppy has come to know at the old home, it is understandable if the puppy is terrified. As understandable as this may be, there is only so much comfort you can give your new family member. Just like with a baby, the more you respond to cries and whimpering, the more you are teaching a puppy that negative behaviors will provide the desired results. You will need to be prepared for a balancing act to provide reassurance that things will be all right and keeping your puppy from learning that crying gets your attention.

You should have a sleeping area established for the puppy prior to the arrival. It should include a bed, and probably a crate or pen. The entire area should be blocked off so that no one can get into it (and the puppy cannot get out) during the night. It should also be close to where people sleep so that the puppy does not feel abandoned.

Things like sounds may attract your puppy’s attention, and those unfamiliar sounds can be scary. If you can minimize the number of noises, this could help make the first night a little less terrifying. These noises may not be as noticeable to you, but dogs have a much better sense of hearing.

To make things a little more familiar, you could also request that something that smells like the mother be provided. The best way to get an item that smells familiar is for you to send a blanket along that the breeder can place with the mother for a few days before the puppy comes home. The blanket can then also travel with the puppy in the car on the way to your place.

English bulldog bed
Photo Courtesy – Nikki Crosnoe

Your puppy is certainly going to make noises over the course of the night, and you cannot think of them as an inconvenience (no matter how tired you are). The puppy is sad and scared, so you will just need to endure it. Do not move the puppy away from you, even if the whimpering keeps you awake. Being moved away from people will only scare the puppy more, reinforcing the anxiety and fear of your home. Doing this on the first night will make the wrong impression, starting things off on the wrong footing. Over time, simply being close to you at night will be enough to reassure your puppy that everything will be all right.

Not getting much sleep should be something you expect during that first week or so (just like with an infant), but especially that first night. Make sure you don’t have work or anything pressing to do the next day so that the lack of sleep isn’t too disruptive. Losing sleep is part of the deal of bringing a puppy into your home. Fortunately, it doesn’t take as long to get a puppy acclimated as it takes with a human infant, so your normal schedule can resume more quickly.

You will need to learn to ignore the whining, but that will get easier over time so that the puppy doesn’t learn to do this every night. If you give in, over time the whimpering, whining, and crying will get louder. Spare yourself the trouble later by teaching the puppy that it won’t work.

Do not let your puppy into your bed that first night – or any other night until they are fully housetrained. Once a Bulldog learns that the bed is accessible, you cannot train them not to hop up on it. If they are not housetrained, you are going to need a new mattress in the very near future.

The last thing that is going to cut into your sleep is the need for regular bathroom breaks. You can set up something in the puppy’s space, or you can plan for trips outside every few hours (depending on how you plan to train your puppy). Whatever housetraining path you use, you are going to need to keep to a schedule even during the night to train your puppy where to use the bathroom. Puppies will need to go to the bathroom every two to three hours, and you will need to get up during the night to make sure they understand that they are to always go to the bathroom either outside or on the wee pad. If you let it go at night, you are going to have a difficult time training them that they cannot go in the house later.

First Vet Visit

This is going to be a difficult task because you may feel a bit like you are betraying your puppy (especially with the looks your puppy will give you during shots and the following visits to the vet). However, it is necessary to do this within the first day or two of your puppy’s arrival. You need to establish a baseline for the puppy’s health so that the vet can track progress and monitor the puppy to ensure everything is going well as the Bulldog develops and ages. It also creates a rapport between the Bulldog and the vet, which can help too. The initial assessment gives you more information about your puppy, as well as giving you a chance to ask the vet questions and get advice.

It is certain to be an emotional trip for your Bulldog, although it could be exciting in the beginning. Wanting to explore and greet everyone and everything is going to be something that your puppy is very likely to want to do. Both people and other pets are likely to attract your puppy’s attention. This is a chance for you to work on socializing the puppy, though you will need to be careful. Always ask the person if it is all right for your puppy to meet any other pet, and wait for approval before letting your puppy move forward with meeting other animals. Pets at the vet’s office are very likely to not be feeling great, which means they may not be very affable. You don’t want a grumpy older dog or a sick animal to nip, hurt, or scare your puppy. Nor do you want your puppy to be exposed to anything potentially dangerous while still going through the shots. You want the other animal to be happy about the meeting (though not too excited) so that it is a positive experience for your puppy.

Having a positive first experience with other animals can make the visit to see the vet less of a scary experience, and something that your Bulldog can enjoy, at least a little. This can help your puppy feel more at ease during the visits.

The Start of Training

Your Bulldog’s training begins the moment your puppy enters your car or your home, and it will continue for most of your Bulldog’s life. The first few weeks will have some more intense training as you are teaching the basics, and this will serve as the foundation for all other training.

The focus during these first few weeks is to minimize undesirable behavior. Make sure to find out if the breeders started housetraining prior to the puppy leaving. Given how smart they are, your Bulldog may already be well on the way to being housetrained. If this is the case, you will need to follow the same routine that the breeder used. Consistency is important for your puppy to finish training.

The Leash

Leash training will probably be pretty easy since your Bulldog will be excited about anything that you want to do together. The training is actually just as much for you as for the puppy. You do not want to get used to dragging the puppy away from things that the Bulldog is sniffing. You will need to start finding ways to keep your puppy walking without being too forceful.

Given how excitable Bulldogs are, many breeders recommend that Bulldogs be trained to walk with harnesses. Your pup probably has not used one before, so there may be a learning period when they have to get accustomed using a harness instead of being able to move around freely like they do at home (their boundaries are marked by walls, doors, and gates, not something on their little bodies). Don’t drag your puppy because that will make your puppy dislike walks. Instead, you can let the little puppy explore parts of your house while being supervised and wearing the leash. You will need to keep an eye on your puppy the entire time that you let them drag the leash around so that they don’t get hurt or choked.

Teaching Respect

Respect is a part of training, even for a dog as affable as the Bulldog. Whatever behavior you teach now will be lessons that your Bulldog carries forward. You want to teach your puppy to respect you without fearing you. Consistency is the best way to do that. Do not make exceptions during the first week because you will be fighting that lesson essentially for the rest of your Bulldog’s life.

Consistency

With smart dogs, you have to be consistent in your approach to training. They will pick up on the times when you don’t enforce the rules, and they will start to try to make those exceptions the new rule.

Bulldogs can also be incredibly stubborn, so you don’t want to let them know that they can get away with anything. You have to make sure they don’t think that they are in charge. Letting them know in a firm and consistent manner right from their first day ensures they understand that you are setting the rules. Learning that the rules always applies will help them to learn faster.

Acclimation to the Home

Those first few days are going to be very scary for your puppy. Having a blanket or toy with the mother’s scent can help, but you are going to want to keep an eye on the puppy. Puppies may have diarrhea because of discomfort and anxiety.

Bulldog puppies may also experience some problems with allergies to grass. Donna Moreno of Saint Brides Bulldogs mentioned that during the first few weeks puppies may have “belly rash caused by irritation of the grass. Best to rub the belly with Desitin.”

The First Month

After making it through that first week, things should start to go more smoothly and you should have at least a beginning of your routine. Odds are you are pretty tired from the training and less sleep – puppies are a significant change in your life.

English bulldog sleeping
Photo Courtesy – Nora Kiss Burrows

But now you have an idea of how to work with the puppy and your schedule has started to emerge. The puppy’s personality is becoming more obvious and you will have an idea of what will work to help motivate the little puppy. Make sure that you don’t rely too heavily on food since your Bulldog won’t be getting much exercise. Toys can be a great motivation because they love to chew on things, and getting a little extra time to play will help convince your puppy that following instructions is good. This will make the rest of the month a little easier than that first week.

Your puppy is going to be adorable, making it easy to feel that you don’t have to be as firm or consistent. It isn’t true though. Staying consistent is important for the puppy to understand that the rules always apply – and to learn what the rules are. Don’t be fooled by that adorable face, because you must continue to be firm and consistent in your approach so that the training sticks. Bulldog can learn quickly, but none of them will do what you want them to do if you don’t take a firm and consistent approach to training. Make training a daily exercise, if only for short periods of time to get your pup used to the idea of training. You should see some results of the training by the end of the month, although the results may not seem very big. Small steps must be taken to get your puppy to be the perfect companion.

Not Up to Full Strength

English bulldog cage
Photo Courtesy – Sabrina Alcantara

As much fun as you want to have with your puppy, that adorable little jester still has a limited supply of energy. You won’t be able to go on long walks, let alone hikes with your puppy. The activities will need to be tailored to a puppy still learning about its abilities, mostly at home. There will be walks on leashes, but that is still largely a learning experience. If you have a yard, that can also be a great place to play. Still, most of your trips will be within a block or two of home.

Walks will need to be kept short and exercise to short periods of time, though you can have many exercise sessions over the course of the day. Typically, the exercise sessions will end with a nice puppy nap, meaning you won’t be overly tired but will have time to do things you need to do without feeling like your puppy misses you. The puppy will still need to sleep in the designated puppy area because when that little pup wakes, you may not be in the room.

By the time the month wraps up, your puppy will have a lot more stamina. Over the course of the month, and subsequent months, you will need to adjust your schedule to accommodate longer walks and playing sessions. Longer exercise sessions mean fewer sessions, which can actually free up more time in your schedule. Just make sure to monitor your Bulldog’s energy levels so that you aren’t pushing for too long a walk or play session.

Setting the Rules and Sticking to Them

Bulldogs love to be with you, but they do prefer to do things that they enjoy, with minimal work. Since they are so cute and affable, you are much more likely to give in, thinking that you can train them later. This is something that your Bulldog is going to notice and use to get his way. Although you may feel that your puppy is too young for a firm approach, this is something you will need to fight against. Puppies need a firm approach, perhaps even more so as you are establishing a baseline. Exceptions to the rules should never be made in the early days if you want the training to stick.

English bulldog park
Photo Courtesy – Chanda Barnes

By failing to keep your training consistent, you are setting yourself and your Bulldog up for a lot of contention since it will be difficult to convince your dog that you are serious. Inadvertently, you have already taught your Bulldog that listening to you is optional. With the right look or action, the Bulldog can get you to lose focus.

Remember, they are mischievous, so training is important to keep them from hurting themselves or destroying your items.

A firm consistent approach with your Bulldog is best for all parties. Enjoying your puppy means making sure all of the rules are followed – those rules are there for a reason.

If you can manage to be firm and consistent over that first month, things could get a bit easier in the subsequent months. Keeping a level head and applying the rules without any exceptions paves the way for easier training going forward. There will be a trust and respect that is built up from being a great trainer who keeps all of the lines clear, making the rest of your time with your Bulldog so much more enjoyable.

Early Socialization

Bulldogs love to be surrounded by others, whether it is by other dogs or people, but this natural inclination has to be encouraged through early socialization. It will be far easier to socialize with your Bulldog than it is with many other breeds because they tend to be very mellow, as long as you plan for it. A socialized Bulldog will be a fantastic companion that can enjoy nearly every situation and make people in the family feel better at the end of a long day.

Despite their history, Bulldogs aren’t not an aggressive breed; they love to sit around and enjoy doing nothing. However, there could be triggers that make them agitated. Failing to socialize a Bulldog could result in an aggressive Bulldog. Aggression in Bulldogs is often a result of fear or a desire to protect, which is why socialization is critical.

Some of them can also be territorial, which you can stop early by setting up play dates for your Bulldog with other dogs. If you have friends or other family members who have dogs, have them bring their dogs over to help train your Bulldog that other people and dogs are fun and exciting, and should be welcomed into the home if you are around when it happens.

Toward the end of the first month you can also start to socialize your Bulldog during the walks. This is best to do while having people with dogs visiting, or friends who want to join you. If you encounter a calm, friendly dog with people who are willing to let their dog say hello to your puppy, let the dogs meet. You will want to make sure that the dog is friendly, and that the people are all right with the encounter – do not just go up to the other dog without asking first.

English bulldog porch
Photo Courtesy – Crystal McDermott

Your Bulldog will also need to be socialized with people. This should be fairly easy because people are going to want to meet your puppy while you are out walking. Bulldog puppies are adorable and people are going to want to meet your little guy. Do be careful when you let people meet your Bulldog because you want it to be a positive experience for everyone. Anyone who wants to meet your puppy will need to follow the same rules. The puppy should not be picked up – all play should be with the Bulldog’s feet firmly on the ground. Children should be kept as calm as possible so that they do not get carried away and be too rough with the puppy. The point of socialization is to help the puppy feel happy and excited about meeting new people and dogs, instead of teaching them that there are reasons to be afraid of leaving home.

It is too early to take your puppy to a dog park. The first month is all about learning more about the home and immediate area, and meeting people and dogs they are likely to encounter regularly. Your puppy also needs to finish all of the vaccinations before having a lot of exposure to other dogs, especially off of the leash. All socialization should be in an environment that you can control. Dog parks are barely contained chaos with the excitement and enthusiasm of dogs enjoying the freedom of being with other dogs.

You will need to be extra kind to older dogs and pets that you have in your home at this time. The puppy is definitely a strain on them for so many reasons. Have time in the schedule just for you and your older dog so that your dog doesn’t feel that you don’t care about him anymore. It will probably be best to keep older dogs and puppies apart for most of the first month.

Treats and Rewards vs. Punishments

Training and treats are so closely thought of together that it can be difficult to consider anything else as an effective means of training your dog. Second to treats, people think of punishment as a way of dissuading dogs from undesirable behavior. Although these have been the typical methods used in training, there are serious problems with both, particularly with Bulldogs. Teaching a puppy proper behavior is a balancing act to make sure that you are firm, but not cruel, so you should provide rewards, but use something better than food.

English bulldog staring
Photo Courtesy – Heather Clark

As a mellow dog, positive reinforcement is the most effective way to train Bulldogs. Food is an obvious choice, but you have to be very careful not to overfeed your puppy. You don’t want the little pup to get accustomed to eating too much, especially as they become adults and no longer have a rapid metabolism. Bulldogs are prone to overeating, and you don’t want them to come to expect treats, because this could come to backfire later when you stop giving them treats for following commands. Starting with treats is best, but you should quickly begin using praise and extra petting as the primary form of positive reinforcement. You could even add some extra playtime after a training session if your puppy does very well. Since they love to chew on things, toys can be a great incentive.

Having your puppy’s respect is also essential for successful training. If your Bulldog respects you, it will be much easier for them to accept positive attention instead of treats because they know you are in charge.

You may occasionally need to resort to punishment with your Bulldog, particularly if they nip or chew on furniture. However, you have to be careful not to train them to believe in things or actions that will make your life more difficult. Never use the crate as a place to punish your Bulldog – it should be a safe haven when your puppy wants to be alone or sleep. It is not a jail and you should not treat it as one. You can use time out instead to get your point (and disappointment) across to the puppy. It should be somewhere that the puppy cannot interact with you, no matter how much the dear barks, whines, or whimpers, but you should still be visible to your pup. You don’t want to scare the puppy. The point is to let them know that you are still there but intentionally not interacting because of the puppy’s actions. By denying them access to you without you disappearing, you are reminding them just why they need to behave.

Exercise – They Don’t Need Much

Bulldogs don’t require much exercise, which makes them perfect if you don’t like to go out to exercise. Walking in the early morning and evening is great to get them out of the house.

Is also enough to spend time playing tug of war. Given their difficulty in breathing, indoor play is going to be safest for much of the year, particularly when it is really hot or really cold. Fetch is also great while giving them a way to practice many of their commands. This might be best to do in the yard when the weather is cool. If you play ball in the house, make sure that it is a safe area with carpeting so that the puppy doesn’t get hurt.

Best Activities

Tug of war and fetch can be great games to make sure your puppy gets enough exercise and is entertained. Since they are intelligent and love to chew, you will want to switch out the games to make sure they don’t get bored.

Bulldogs can also be incredibly entertained by laser pointers. They can bounce around and try to catch that laser, and you can stop when they start to pant heavily.

Other games like hide and seek and Simon says are great ways to help your puppy learn over time. With enough attention and games, you can have a very intelligent little Bulldog that gets all the necessary exercise and excitement from easy games.

Beware of Heat, Be Careful of the Cold

Bulldogs cannot handle the heat at all. They have enough trouble breathing, and overheating can result in the death of your Bulldog. Puppies and older Bulldogs also don’t manage well in the cold.

Never leave your Bulldog outside. Not only will the climate be a potential problem, but you also don’t want them to chew on anything in your yard.

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