American bulldogs are strong, powerful and courageous dogs with a strong guarding instinct. They are versatile working dogs too, capable of herding, droving and hunting. Today, they are most commonly kept as pets and their fondness of children make them great family dogs. Pet bulldogs can double as watchdogs, but the American bulldog’s guarding instincts may drive him to do more than simply warn of an intruder.
The difference between a guard dog and a watchdog is crucial to understand. The former must be capable of facing up to and, if necessary, physically confronting an intruder. For that reason, such dogs must posses both the confidence and physical strength to tackle an intruder. A watchdog simply must be alert and intelligent enough to warn his owner of an intruder. Good hearing also is essential. For owners who don’t feel comfortable leaving home security to their dog alone, a security system and a watchdog with no inherent guarding instinct, such as a poodle or dachshund, is a more suitable choice.
Dogs with strong guarding instincts may be driven to go beyond merely alerting to the danger. The American bulldog’s guarding instincts would make him inclined to confront an intruder, potentially tackling him, rather than just alert his owner. An American bulldog can be trained not to follow his guarding instincts, but it would be counterintuitive for him, somewhat like training a Labrador retriever to chase the ball, but not bring it back.
The American bulldog’s English ancestor, the bulldog, was originally a guardian breed. He also would drove cattle. Sadly, his tenacity and strength made him the ideal choice for bull baiting, which was outlawed in England in 1835. After his usefulness for baiting died out, the bulldog was brought to the United States by working class immigrants, where he was put to work as a guardian and kept as a pet.
If you want an American bulldog as a pet and are hoping he’ll be capable of being a watchdog too, you can achieve this with training and by ensuring he can’t physically get to a potential or perceived intruder. You can teach him to withhold his guarding urges by rewarding him when he barks to alert you to an intruder and by physically preventing him from approaching the person. However, if you need a watchdog more than want an American bulldog, you have other choices. Small terriers, shih tzus, miniature schnauzers and Chihuahuas all make great watchdogs.
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