By Elaine Hurford – in loving memory of Gloria

The most common misconception about bulldogs is that they cannot be trained. They are exceptionally intelligent, and are capable of strategic thinking, i.e. plotting and planning moves with a specific result in mind, unlike the terrier breeds which are almost wholly reactive. Bulldogs are very, very sensitive. They will never, never forget it if they are ill-treated or hurt in any way. Bulldogs are extremely loving and gentle towards children...
Children however are sometimes frightened of bulldogs’ "ugly" faces and will scream and frighten the dog. Encourage lots of contact between your bulldog and young children from an early age. Bulldogs can be aggressive towards other dogs, as well as cats, if they are not socialised early. Make sure your bulldog gets out to meet other dogs in open places such as parks and playgrounds, streets and beaches, from an early age.

Bulldogs are very sensitive to heat. They do not have efficient thermostats. You must at all costs avoid taking them out in cars, on walks, to beaches or other hot places, or exercising them, during the summer. They get heatstroke and die more easily than any other breed. They also feel the cold easily.

When I travel with my bulldog in summer, I take shade netting to keep the car cool in case I have a breakdown in the middle of nowhere. Always travel with a lead, a water bowl and plenty of water for the same reason. When I travel with my bulldog, I take a 25-litre water container and a large plastic basin that she can sit in to cool off. I always leave a tub of cold water in a shady spot in summer, and make sure that she has access to the inside of the house so that she can get out of the sun and cool off if I'm not here. She will always go and lie under my bed on a wet towel that I leave there for her in summer, because this is the coolest spot, and there are usually breezes under the bed. Be very, very careful always.

FIRST AID: If your dog overheats, get him/her into the shade immediately, or better still get the dog into a pool of cold water. Otherwise get to a tap fast. Wet the neck and stomach first, wrap a dripping cold towel round the neck, and keep him/her quiet until their breathing stabilises and they are absolutely comfortable again. The very best precaution is having a tub of cold water accessible to the dog in summer - they'll get in themselves, and cool off quickly.

Bulldogs are very courageous, sometimes stupidly so and will endanger themselves by jumping off high places and into pools that they can't get out of. It is up to you as the owner to know and understand your dog, and to anticipate their actions and reactions wherever possible.

Bulldogs and swimming pools are a lethal combination, as a lot of bulldogs can't swim. NONE of them can get themselves out of a pool and they ALL love water. A pool or pond with broad shallow steps where they can sit in summer is ideal. But supervision is necessary at all times.

Bulldogs must never be given bones or small balls to chew or play with. Even hooves (the kind of chewy hooves you get from the vet) are dangerous. Because of their bite, they do not chew efficiently and can choke to death on balls and bones.

Keep teeth clean by including a small quantity of hard dog food (dog biscuits and crunchy pellets) in the diet daily. An ideal diet would be dry food as a light snack once a day (breakfast or before bedtime) and the mixed diet for the main meal of the day.

Too much exercise in the early days is dangerous as in all heavy breeds of dog. They must be exercised - walked - steadily but no jumping games until they are more than a year old. This gives the bones and ligaments time to strengthen. They need a good calcium-building diet (cottage cheese, bones cooked up into jelly and added to their food - remember to remove the bones and just use the jelly!) in the first year as well. Guard at all times against overweight, but don't keep them lean, as this is not good for temperament. My bulldog tore a cruciate ligament in the knee at one year old, chasing hangliders in soft spongy sand on Clifton beach. But, please don't leave your bully lying around at home - they adore going out, being walked, meeting people, playing games, and getting moderate exercise every day. It can extend their lifespan too.

Skin care is important. As some bulldogs are prone to skin ailments, try to feed a very well mixed diet, not just dry food, which is often over-proteinised. If skin problems do arise, give him / her a cupful of raw, dirty tripe mixed with the other food 2-3 times a week.

Vegetables, pasta, wholewheat brown bread, brown (unrefined) rice, cooked meat and raw grated carrot are all good items in a bulldog’s - any dog’s - diet.

Eye care is important as some bulldogs are also prone to entropian (inward-rolling) eyelids. Keep a lookout for excessive blinking and discharge. The lashes can scrape and damage the cornea and cause extreme discomfort and blindness. This needs veterinary attention, surgery and careful aftercare. Also be sure to clean the folds under the eyes and chin regularly. These can be washed with warm water, dried, and then patted with milk of magnesia to keep them dry. Noses can be lubricated with Vaseline. Tail crevices and folds should be cleaned out with a cotton tip dipped in surgical spirits.

Other than these basic health and comfort tips, all I can say is that bulldogs are the dearest and most adorable dogs in the world. Like all dogs they enjoy ritual and routine - play time and meals are the highlights of their day. They need a soft, warm place to sleep, being heavy animals. Their feet don't toughen up as other dogs' do, so they prefer soft smooth surfaces to stony ground. They have endless memories, and will remember toys and games years later. They love affection and attention, and are generous in giving theirs. They love cuddling and will snuggle up beside you all day if allowed to. They will reward you
with infinite adoration for all their lives.