Bellingham’s own bulldog whisperer

Cheryl Knapp plays with her bulldogs Duck, Libby and Solo after they finish practicing for competitions in Bow, Wash. on Friday, Nov 15. // Photo by Alix Condit

By Alix Condit

Cheryl Knapp’s bulldogs know how to do a lot, from playing the piano to riding a skateboard, and they can even open the fridge. 

Over the years, 61-year-old Cheryl has trained and welcomed numerous bulldogs into her family. Many have been featured in contests, dog shows, TV shows and movies. 

Cheryl first started training animals at a very young age. She grew up around horses and was gifted her first dog at 5 years old –– a reward for being the flower girl in her aunt and uncle’s wedding.

The first animal she taught tricks was a horse, who she taught to bow, and she was able to ride him standing. Cheryl said she enjoyed finding unique tricks she saw on TV or learned from other people.

Around 30 years ago Cheryl got her first bulldog, Rosie. At the time, Cheryl’s four sons were very young. The bulldog quickly started to copy everything the young boys did. With a little nudge from Cheryl, Rosie would skateboard with them and even learned to ride a rocking horse. 

Micah Knapp, her son, remembers growing up with the dogs and inviting friends over to ride skateboards with the dogs.

“It was basically like having another member of the family,” he said.

Cheryl Knapp with her bulldog Ducky on Friday, Nov. 15. // Photo by Alix Condit

A video of Rosie riding the rocking horse ended up on America’s Funniest Home Videos and from that day forward, Cheryl’s bulldogs became wildly successful. 

“I’ve never met anyone like her,” said Bonnie Bird, a dog trainer and Cheryl’s friend. “I just really admire her. She gets dogs to do things like they do in Hollywood.”

Now, Cheryl’s four bulldogs can ride kick scooters, flush toilets and even bring Cheryl tissues when she sneezes. She said the dogs often learn from seeing another dog performing a trick. 

Chubbs, one of her dogs, was trained to open the fridge and grab a little jug of milk off a shelf. Chubbs would perform this trick every so often and the other puppies took notice. One afternoon, Cheryl heard the fridge and when she ran to the kitchen, she saw her younger dog, Gabe, had opened the fridge on his own. She hadn’t taught the younger puppy how to open the fridge, but believes he learned this trick just to get her attention so she would feed him dinner. 

Cheryl’s dogs are quite intelligent, and they easily communicate what they want with her, she said. One evening, in particular, she was woken up in the night by the jingle of the dogs’ bell. The dogs usually use the bell to signal when they need to go outside, but when Cheryl found Gabe, he lead her away from the doorbell and over to his bed. She realized from her pup’s disgruntled face that he was tattling on Chubbs for taking his bed.

“It’s fun to see their little wheels turn,” Cheryl said.

Since America’s Funniest Home Videos, Cheryl’s bulldogs have been on America’s Funniest People, America’s Got Talent, the Late Show with David Letterman, Good Morning America and many more. Gabe even starred in a movie called The Dogfather.

“It was a pretty amazing experience,” Cheryl said of her time as Gabe’s trainer on the Dogfather. “It’s a lot of hard work, a lot of long days and pretty intense.” 

Solo the bulldog waits to be given a command on Friday, Nov. 15. // Photo by Alix Condit

Cheryl doesn’t seek out contests and shows as much as they come to her. Her dogs are popular so she said people often come to her and tell her about contests and many shows that have sought her out. 

Her dogs have been so successful in contests that she was able to take the prize money and buy herself a new car. Cheryl said she puts a large part of the prize money back into the dogs. Even the car was an investment so she could more easily transport her dogs. 

Although the bulldogs have won various contests for their unique skills, most of their training focuses on obedience and show skills. Cheryl shows her dogs quite often –– her next show is right around Thanksgiving. 

Bulldogs are likely not the first dog people imagine when they think of show dogs. 

“People think that they’re independent, that they’re not smart, that they’re hard to train and that has not been the case at all,” Cheryl said. “A lot of times they are super smart, and they outsmart their owner.” 

Cheryl said the key to training such smart dogs is to know how to motivate them. She wants their training to be fun and positive. She said she won’t train her dogs if they are sick, tired or even just off that day. 

“I think it’s her burning passion, she’s sort of like an animal whisperer,” Micah said. 

Dog training is a passion project for Cheryl. She spends a large portion of her free time working with her dogs in some way or another. When she’s not training her dogs, she works as a dental assistant. 

She is also a dog breeder who breeds her show dogs and then sells the puppies. She has a long waitlist to buy her puppies, so she can be selective. 

Cheryl has an eye for which puppies will be good show dogs and which ones are going to be better at tricks. She takes all this, along with the buyer’s desires, into consideration when pairing puppies up with the right home. 

In some litters, she will keep one puppy that she sees the most potential in. She looks for teachability and confidence. 

“You can kinda tell the smart puppies if they cock their head at you and they listen to you,” Cheryl said.

Many of Cheryl’s puppies, even the ones she sells, have become very successful in the same way Cheryl’s dogs are successful.

“I think it’s her burning passion, she’s sort of like an animal whisperer,” Micah said.

5 comments

  • I so loved the story, and having bulldogs for about 15 years just as pets I know they are very smart, sometimes have a mind of their own, but the best cuddlers and snorer. She is an amazing lady and bulldogs are amazing to go along with her. THANKS Cheryl for letting me be your Facebook friend and enjoy your posts. I can watch them over and over.

  • Cheryl is so talented. And her Bully crew is very in tune with her. Great teamwork!

  • I have never seen anyone who is as successful as Cheryl Knapp in training bulldogs! I don’t know how she does it with a fulltime job and working with such a stubborn breed! Her dogs are the most fantastic dogs both in health and beauty. I would love one of her puppies, but I am too old for a puppy, but I love all her posts and I love hearing about all the wonderful wins she has with these dogs. I have met her dogs at various events and am in awe of what she has accomplished.

  • I am one fortunate person. Cheryl set a little boy puppy aside for me. I traveled from Cleveland, Ohio to Seattle WASHINGTON and I picked up my puppy. He was a wonderful dog.

  • Having followed Cheryl and her dogs on social media for several years, I thoroughly enjoyed this article !

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