Acquired: Breeder (professional)
4051, South Africa
Posted November 30, 2014
I was looking for a Staffordshire Bull Terrier – in the mid 80’s these dogs were extremely popular in South Africa, due to the release of the movie Jock of The Bushveld – a truly South African story featuring a Staffy.
Due to their popularity, it was hard to find a puppy, and in my search, I saw an ad for English Bull Terriers. To this day I do not know why I went to look at the litter because it wasn’t even in my neighbourhood, and I had always thought of them as ugly and vicious (they get a lot of bad press) but it was love at first sight.
The bull terrier puppy is one of the cutest puppies you will ever see. That little cone shaped face with the triangular eyes and the floppy ears melts the heart, and the thing that struck me immediately was how confident these puppies were at the age of only 6 weeks. A little black brindle attached herself to me, and made it very clear that she was choosing me as her owner – I realised then that you do not get to choose your bully – they choose you.
We took Jess (the name of Jocks mother in the book) home and suddenly life as we knew it had changed dramatically. My kids were 18 months and 3 years old at the time, and naturally, no match for the strength of a boisterous bully pup. The bull terrier is easily the strongest breed in the size category, and have no idea of their own strength, or the impact they make when tackling someone – particularly a small child. Having said that, there was never any maliciousness involved, she just wanted to play.
Toys were stolen from beds and strewn around the garden, bits of lego disappeared only to reappear when picking up the dog poo. Once we had a mouse in the house – due to their habitat being destroyed to make way for a road, and Jess caught sight of it. She went totally berserk – the mouse fled up the inside of the curtain, Jess grabbed the curtain in her mouth and started shaking her head – if I hadn’t been so worried about her ripping up my curtain (which she did) it would have been funny.
One particularly boisterous game ended with Jess nipping my 3 year old on the ear which led to lots of blood and tears, and that is when I consulted with my vet as to how to discipline this little four legged bulldozer. The advice given was do not be afraid to discipline them – they do not feel pain, so a smack on the backside with a newspaper means nothing to them. They have to be smacked with force at the time of the event and they have to be restrained so that they know they have been naughty.
Training was interesting. I took Jess at the age of 6 months to a very well-known trainer. He used the Bill Koehler training method, and we started off with our dogs on a 3 meter lead rein – much as you would use for a horse. Jess was all over the place, she bounced, jumped, twisted and turned in an attempt to escape this lead, and to get to the other dogs – and it was clear she was not looking to play. After 30 minutes or so she settled down and the class progressed well. Most embarrassing!
Once class ended, she lunged for another dog, intent on a fight. The trainer took her, and he lifted her by her lead, so that her back legs were off the ground – she was wearing a choke chain. As she struggled to get loose, it became harder for her to breathe and she calmed down but then he released her, and she immediately lunged for the other dog. This process was repeated 3 times, I was almost hysterical thinking he was going to kill my beloved bully, but after that, we never had an issue with her going for other dogs – training progressed to off the lead training, retrieval and general obedience, and once she caught onto something, it stayed with her – she took a little longer to grasp the commands, but then she remembered them .
When Jess was 18 months old I mated her with a top show dog (Jess was Kennel Union registered and had a really good lineage) and she produced 6 pups. That was the scariest thing ever, as I had been warned that bullies do not make good moms, and when I knew she was near to whelping, I started sleeping on the couch so that I was near to her whelping box. She went into labour early in the evening, and by midnight had delivered 6 puppies. The last one born was still born, and I tried so hard to resuscitate her without success. She was the only white one in the litter and I was so sad to have to bury the tiny little body.
Although I continued to sleep nearby, on the 4th morning I looked in the whelping box and found there were only 4 puppies, not 5. We searched the house thinking that maybe Jess had moved him for some reason, but he was gone – we could only assume she had killed and eaten him, which the vet said is not uncommon on the first day but not on day 3. 2 days later another tragedy struck when she accidentally smothered a pup, leaving her with only 3 out of the original six. Mothering 101 #failed.
Feeding them was a struggle - she didn’t seem to have enough milk, so the vet suggested I hand rear them. I was a single mom, working full time, with 2 kids under the age of 5 – I did not have time to hand rear puppies, so thinking back to my own experiences with feeding babies, I went to the health shop and purchased supplements (one being Schlehn Elixir) that would encourage her milk to come in. This was 100% successful and she went on to feed them until they left our care at 10 weeks.
Jess was a loyal companion for over 7 years, and she instilled such a love of Bull Terriers in me that I now want to get a miniature bully – expensive and rare in South Africa, but who knows, maybe one day.