Training an MBT

What’s the Miniature Bull Terrier like to train?

She’s comical; she’s unpredictable.
He’s persistent; he’s stubborn.
She’s intense; she’s crazy.
He’s independent; he doesn’t listen.
She’s bright and curious; she’s trouble.
He’s bold and confident; he’s foolish to the point of self-destruction.

The qualities of temperament one ascribes to a Miniature Bull Terrier are often two sides of the same coin. Whether a virtue or a vice is being described usually has a lot to do with how well the dog in question has been trained.

Those who have trained a mini bull will be the first to admit that it isn’t easy channeling that boldness, persistence, independence and drive, and yet minis respond to all the same training principles as other breeds, with a couple of caveats.

  1. Miniature bull terriers do not respond well to heavy-handed, “correction-based” teaching. Furthermore, praise means relatively little to them as a reward, so plan on making generous use of food treats, toys and games. This does not mean that permissiveness is the order of the day, or that a dog may not receive an informational correction when it has already learned a behavior. You can successfully use a water squirt bottle or a shaker can along with a verbal command to stop undesirable behaviors like bugging the cat, jumping up, or continuing to bark when told to hush. But more physical corrections are either likely to be ineffective or result in a resentful, uncooperative dog.
  2. Socialize your dog heavily during the 8–16 weeks of age developmental period (if you are lucky enough to have owned your dog in puppyhood) and continue this level of socialization throughout its life. Good puppy kindergarten classes are a great way to begin your dog’s formal education. The more novelty the dog experiences on a regular basis, the more even-tempered it will be in accepting new people, dogs and other animals, and experiences.
  3. If absolute reliability of performance is your goal, you’d probably be better off with a breed that has been genetically selected to work with direction from people, of which there are many. Both the bull breeds and the terrier ancestors of the modern mini bull terrier were selected to be largely self-motivated and the breed remains so to this day.

With this information in mind, the successful mini owner will forge ahead with greater persistence and drive than his or her dog. All mini bulls would, in the perfect world, be trained to at least the level of Canine Good Citizen, a very reasonable goal. This AKC-sponsored program of certification involves exercises requiring the dog to sit, down, stay, come, walk decently on a leash, and behave politely around human and canine strangers.

All dogs do best with a job in life. Organized dog sports can provide a terrific outlet for all that joie de vivre and bounce of your mini. Agility, earthdog, rally obedience, and therapy work are probably the fields best suited to mini bulls’ talents, but individuals have excelled in competitive obedience and tracking as well.

The MBTCA has developed an awards program to encourage the training of miniature bull terriers and to recognize club members and their dogs who have achieved honors. Every fall at the National Specialty show weekend, embossed club certificates are given to the year’s new Canine Good Citizens and certified Therapy Dogs. Minis who have earned titles in Performance are awarded club plaques. Individuals who have gained titles in three different areas of endeavor (which, for the purpose of this award, may include a breed championship) are awarded the club’s highest performance honor, the Susan B. Hall Memorial Versatility Award, or the Hildie, as it is known. The dog’s name is engraved on a large trophy cup made in England and owned by the club, and the dog’s owner receives a beautiful handmade ceramic plate as a souvenir trophy.

Trained miniature bull terriers are joys to their owners and sources of inspiration and welcome entertainment to others. It can be done! Contact the club’s performance committee chairperson for mini bull trainers in your area who might provide advice and encouragement as well as referral to good local trainers or training clubs. The Association of Pet Dog Trainers also lists member trainers throughout the world who ascribe to humane, effective dog training methods well-suited to mini bull terriers.