Aggressive Behavior in English Bulldogs: Fact or Fiction?

Written by Dr. Marcelle Landestoy, DVM

Angry english bulldog

Despite being one of the most popular pets, English Bulldogs, also known as British Bulldogs, are notorious for their facial features.

Their mean-looking flattened face, which includes a strong jaw, is perceived by many as a sign of aggressive behavior.

Now the question is, are these perceptions justified?

English Bulldogs are not aggressive but obedient, affectionate, and kind-hearted. This medium-sized breed has a considerate disposition and calm temperament, making them a lovely family pet. Despite their laid-back attitude, English bulldogs are courageous and thus, make an excellent guard dog. 

They might seem ferocious and frightening at first, but they’re quite the opposite.

Keep reading to learn more about how English Bulldogs interact with other people and animals. Using my background as a veterinary doctor, we’ll also explore aggressive behavior in these bulldogs and their causes and how to deal with such situations.

Are English Bulldogs Aggressive to Humans?

English Bulldogs are not aggressive to humans. These bulldogs are people-friendly and love human attention. If trained and socialized early, they’re less likely to get confrontational. However, English Bulldogs may act ferociously if they feel threatened or act distant towards strangers. 

Family Members

English Bulldogs are people-friendly, so they make a great family pet.

Kid with an english bulldog

These dogs are affectionate and can get along well with most people, be it small children, adults, and older adults.

Read on as we look at how English Bulldogs behave around people of different age categories.

Babies

English Bulldogs are very compassionate and patient with babies.

These dogs are known to be quite protective of babies, and they’ll usually lie next to them to accompany and play with them.

Toddlers

English Bulldogs are equally playful with toddlers and young children.

They can be a great and vigilant companion to your little kid.

However, if your bulldog is young and in the teething phase, you should keep a close eye on them if they start chewing toys or your child’s fingers.

Older Kids

Older kids can bond with English Bulldogs by taking them on regular walks and spending time together.

Typically, this breed gets along with older kids better than some other breeds do.

Adults

These warm-hearted pooches hardly ever show a sign of aggressiveness with adults.

However, if your bulldog ever shows attacking behavior, you should not let this go unchecked.

Strangers

How English Bulldogs react when they see a stranger has to do with their upbringing.

If you teach them to interact with people from a young age, they’ll be calm in front of strangers; otherwise, they may act weary.

In Your Home

Whether your English Bulldog acts aggressively towards strangers inside your home will depend on who the stranger is and the circumstances, as well as how well they’ve been trained.

Angry english bulldog
Guests

A well-socialized bulldog might act shy or reserved if they see a guest.

However, it’ll show love to them after getting a little familiarised.

Intruders

These bulldogs are incredibly loyal pets and will defend their family if they sense a threat from an outsider.

Their tenacious attitude and protective nature will help them deal with any danger.

Outside Your Home

If you have instructed your dog on interacting with other people, it’ll act friendly with them.

That will change if your dog feels a threat to them or your family.

Are English Bulldogs Aggressive to Other Animals?

English Bulldogs tend to be more aggressive to other animals than to strangers. Part of the reason is their history as bull-baiting dogs. However, selective breeding over the years has reduced their attacking tendencies.

Other Animals in Your Household

A bulldog brought up in a caring environment with decent adequate will not endanger other pets in your household.

However, even a trained dog may seldomly show hostility to other dogs in the house, especially the males.

They’ll exhibit this kind of reaction if the other dogs trigger their territorial instincts. 

However, the level of aggression is toned down if the two dogs have a history of positive encounters. 

English Bulldogs generally get along well with cats as well. Their gentle demeanor doesn’t mind a fluffy friend in the house.

ANGRY CAT WITH ANGRY ENGLISH BULLDOG

Some canines may occasionally get less friendly if provoked by the other pets.

Overall, their accepting nature helps them make good bonds with the other animals in the house.

Animals They Encounter Outside

English Bulldogs display a more aggressive behavior if they encounter an unfamiliar male dog outside their house.

Depending on their upbringing, they may bark a few times or attack the other dog.

They’ll also go defensive if they notice the other dog may pose a risk to them or their pet parent.

However, if you notice your bulldog getting agitated without any provocation from other dogs, you should spend some time helping them navigate through such situations.

Are Female or Male English Bulldogs More Aggressive?

Male English bulldogs are more aggressive than females, provided they both received the same environment growing up. However, female English Bulldogs tend to be more territorial. Both males and females are relentlessly stubborn, yet males are more challenging to train. 

retrospective study in Spain by the Barcelona School of Veterinary Medicine in 2007 analyzed 1,024 dog aggression cases.

According to their analysis, 69% of the aggressive dogs were males, and 39% were females.

In terms of temperament, both males and females are not much different.

Males are more playful and energetic and are more welcoming towards others.

Woman kissing an english bulldog

Females are comparatively less jolly and are not eager to socialize.

As mentioned earlier, even though male English Bulldogs have aggressive tendencies, female bulldogs tend to be more territorial.

Due to their stronger territorial instincts, female English Bulldogs can attack more viciously if someone evokes these impulses. 

It’s vital to note that all these differences are marginal.

Give them the care and love they require, along with the necessary training.

They’ll be an excellent part of your family, irrespective of their gender.

What Can Cause Aggressive Behavior in English Bulldogs?

According to the American Kennel Club, English Bulldogs are the 5th most popular pure breeds in the US.

Their approval rate would not be high if they were naturally aggressive to others. 

Moreover, an opinion ranking from veterinarians was published in the New Zealand Veterinary Journal about aggressive behavior in different breeds of dogs.

The vets ranked bulldogs with an average Aggression Ratio score of 0.02 on a scale of 0 to 1.

This further suggests that English dogs aren’t an inherently dangerous breed.

However, that doesn’t mean English Bulldogs cannot act aggressively.

Most causes of aggressive behavior in English Bulldogs are due to their dominance and territorial instincts. Possessive English Bulldogs may display aggression, especially regarding food or toys.

English bulldog with a toy

Here are some common reasons an English Bulldog may act aggressively:

  • English Bulldogs want to assert their dominance over their pet parent. If you’ve recently welcomed a dog, and they start pushing you around and growling for no reason, this means they’re trying to be more dominant. However, dominance-related aggression is not as concerning as other causes.
  • English Bulldogs may get furious if their territorial senses are triggered. If the dog thinks that you’re intruding in their space, they may feel the need to retaliate by lunging towards you.
  • English Bulldogs can act angrily due to their possessive tendencies, especially regarding their food or toys. Possessive bulldogs will not be happy if they see someone approaching their food bowl while eating or picking their favorite toys.
  • English Bulldogs can get violent in stressful circumstances. If English Bulldogs are in danger and need to protect themselves, they may take a defensive position.
  • English Bulldogs can act aggressively out of frustration. The frustration mainly occurs if the dog wants to chase something but can’t due to the leash around their neck. They may use that energy to attack the person holding the leash. 

Is Your English Bulldog Being Aggressive or Protective?

A pet parent needs to know when their dog’s behavior is aggressive and harmful or protective and safe.

Your English Bulldog is being aggressive if they try to attack when you or a stranger gets near it. Conversely, your English Bulldog is being protective when they guard their space and belongings without showing attacking behaviors. 

I’ll explain this further.

Suppose your dog is always on their perfect behavior but starts showing some extra energy when they see a stranger approaching them or a family member.

In that case, it’s possibly due to their preventive nature.

You should be worried when your pet displays rough reactions without any provocations.

Moreover, female bulldogs have their maternal instinct triggered if a stranger comes near their puppies.

English bulldog with her puppies

In addition, they may get ticked off if the other pets in the house try to eat their food.

These instances are cases of a dog being overprotective and not angry. 

However, being overly protective is also not favorable.

Your dog may inflict an injury in a situation that did not demand it.

So, it’s vital to instruct your dogs to navigate such scenarios without being extra protective.

Learn To Recognize the Signs That Your Dog Is About To Get Aggressive

Some warning signs that tell you that your bulldog is about to get aggressive include:

  • Body posture becomes stiff.
  • Long and consistent staring
  • Snarling
  • Loud growling
  • Snapping
  • Ready to lunge

If you observe similar signs, you should directly intercede before the circumstances get out of hand.

However, the signals mentioned above are common indications, and your dog may not show any hint before acting violently.

That’s why it’s crucial to notice what your dog does before they attempt to attack others.  

Learning these indications is significant because if you detect these signs at an early age, you’ll train your dog better and help them diminish these inclinations.

What To Do During an Aggressive Episode

The essential thing for a pet parent is to remain calm but firm during an aggressive episode.

Dogs tend to feed off from their pet parent’s reaction during these episodes, and if they see you calm and in command, they’ll follow your lead.

english bulldog looking at the camera

In these situations, slowly create a distance between the dog and the thing agitating them.

While you’re at it, try to distract the dog using verbal commands and let them know that you disapprove of this behavior.

Try to keep your distance from your dog to avoid getting hurt, and don’t make eye contact as this may further upset them.

If you see a continuation of these episodes, consult your veterinarian immediately.

When To Get Professional Help

Seek professional help if your pet gets consistently aggressive during routine situations and without any incitement.

Consistent rogue behavior is proof that the dog is ignoring your commands and teachings.

In that case, the best option is to see an expert like a veterinarian or dog behaviorist.

Moreover, the ferocious conduct of your pet might have something to do with their underlying medical condition.

If your dog starts to act forcibly to the things they were OK with previously, it’s likely a medical issue. 

In that case, no training will improve the situation since you aren’t treating the root cause.

The veterinarian can examine the dog and tell you the problem, which will help you to resolve the issue.

If the veterinarian clears the dog and the problem persists, you can consult an animal behaviorist or dog trainer to help you build a plan to solve the matter.

What the Rehabilitation Process Looks Like

conjunctivitis english bulldogs

The Rehabilitation process for aggressive bulldogs involves identifying the causes of hostility and following a customized training plan to improve their behavior.

The first step is to find whether the aggression was out of fear, frustration, territorial, or sex-related.

If the aggression is a learned behavior, the experts follow a protocol that teaches the dog to obey under a stressful situation.

The obedience training uses impulse control to teach the dog to behave calmly in the conditions that distressed them before.

The dog learns to remain patient and listen to the pet parent.

The other phase of the process involves teaching the pet parents to continue the training in their home to avoid aggressive incidents in the future.

Final Thoughts

Generally, English Bulldogs are not aggressive. Instead, they are known for their loving, laid-back, and passionate attitude.

Several reasons can cause these bulldogs to become aggressive.

For example, some dogs have traumatic histories and require more attention and care.

If you think your dog is not behaving adequately, you can help them improve their conduct, but consult an expert if you believe you’ll worsen the matter.

English Bulldogs make an adorable family pet. Show them love and tenderness along with the required training.

They’ll become a source of unconditional love to you and your family.

English bulldog sleeping

References

  • Embora Pets: Are English Bulldogs Dangerous?
  • Bulldog Papa: Previous Article My English Bulldog Keeps Attacking Me
  • American Kennel Club: Bulldog Dog Breed Information
  • American Kennel Club: Most Popular Dog Breeds – Dog Breed Popularity 2018
  • ScienceDirect: Analysis of 1040 cases of canine aggression in a referral practice in Spain
  • Taylor And Francis Online: Opinions of veterinarians regarding aggression in different breeds of dogs
  • ASPCA: Behavioral Help for Your Pet

Learn more about this breed on my one-page English Bulldog guide


Veterinary Hospital Director at UCE
Dr. Marcelle is a general veterinarian with a Small Animal Medicine Specialty | Director of the UCE School of Veterinary Medicine | Certified by the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society

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