Bull Terrier

Introduction to the Bull Terrier

Known for their egg-shaped head, the Bull Terrier dates back to the early 19th century in England. They were developed from bull-and-terrier dogs of the time and often used for animal blood sports. Later the dogs were bred to improve their appearance and to make them more agile. They were also bred to be companion dogs instead of fighting dogs. These early Bull Terriers were white. Staffordshire Bull Terriers were included in the breeding in the early 20th century to add more colors. Colored Bull Terriers became a separate variety of the breed for the AKC in 1936. Today the Bull Terrier makes a wonderful family pet. They are very friendly dogs and have been called a “child in a dog suit.” They are very good with children and other dogs. At home they are often clownish, affectionate, and fun-loving. They can be independent and a little stubborn at times so early socialization and training are recommended.

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History of the Bull Terrier

In the late 18th and early 19th century, bull-and-terrier dogs were very popular, both for hunting vermin and for animal fighting. These dogs were crosses between Old English Bulldogs and various kinds of terriers. The Bulldogs were well-known for their prowess in bull-baiting – a brutal sport in which the dog would creep low then go in and attack the bull, biting it on the nose or head. However, these dogs were not good for dogfighting. People involved with the sport sought to produce better dogs for dogfighting by crossing the Old English Bulldog with long-legged terriers. This made the resulting dogs faster and they had longer legs. They also had plenty of terrier courage and fire. All of this made for entertaining dog fights. (Note that we are not advocating dogfighting. We are simply explaining what happened in the early 18th century to produce bull-and-terrier dogs.)

However, in 1835 the British government ended bullbaiting. Dogfighting continued but some fanciers wanted to do more with the dogs. The bull-and-terrier dogs were essentially a new breed. They had many excellent qualities but there would have to be changes to make them more than fighting dogs. Around 1860 the bull-and-terrier dogs split into two types. The pure white dogs became known as the Bull Terrier. The colored dogs continued as fighting dogs for another 70 years until they were finally recognized as the Staffordshire Bull Terrier.

(Other bull-and-terrier dogs would continue, some of them finding their way to the U.S. Taller and more muscular, they would be working dogs on farms and be useful in hunting vermin. Some of these dogs would eventually become the American Pit Bull Terrier and the American Staffordshire Terrier.)

As for the Bull Terrier, in the mid 1800s, a man named James Hinks began breeding bull-and-terrier dogs with English White Terriers – a breed that is now extinct. He wanted to produce dogs that had a nicer head, better legs, and a cleaner overall appearance. By 1862 Hinks entered a female dog named Puss into a Bull Terrier class at a dog show in Chelsea (London). Mr. Hinks’s dogs were different enough that they were originally known as the “Hinks breed” or the “White Cavalier” rather than typical Bull Terriers. However, they did not have the egg-shaped profile that we now expect from Bull Terriers. His dogs were popular right away and he continued breeding them. He added more crosses with Whippets, Dalmatians, and even some Spanish Pointer to make the dogs more elegant and agile. He used Borzoi and Rough Collies to reduce the stop on his dogs. (The “stop” is the place on a dog’s profile where the nose plane joins the head plane.) Mr. Hinks specifically bred to produce white dogs. The first modern Bull Terrier is said to be a dog named Lord Gladiator, dating from 1917. This dog had no stop, meaning there was a smooth line from his nose to the back of his head. This gives the breed the characteristic egg-shaped head that we know today.

All-white dogs can have some health issues, such as deafness and sensitive skin, so other breeders began re-introducing colored-dogs into the breed in the early 20th century. They used the closely-related Staffordshire Bull Terrier breed to do this. Colored Bull Terriers were recognized by the AKC as a separate variety by the AKC in 1936. They are still the same breed as the Bull Terrier.

The Miniature Bull Terrier is a separate breed recognized by the AKC in 1991.

Along with these changes in the physical appearance of the breed, breeders were making changes to the Bull Terriers behavior. The breed was no longer a fighter, though dogs were able to finish a fight if they were attacked. They enjoyed socializing with their family, including children and other dogs at home. Today the Bull Terrier has an even temperament and they are good with people. They are fun-loving and spirited, but courageous when necessary. They can be independent and stubborn at times so good early socialization and training are recommended.

The American Kennel Club recognized the Bull Terrier as a breed in 1885. Today the Bull Terrier is the 57th most popular breed in the U.S., according to the AKC.

Bull Terrier Health-Related Issues

For the most part, Bull Terriers are a very healthy breed. However, they can be subject to a few possible health problems.

The Bull Terrier Club of America recommends that all Bull Terrier puppies be checked for deafness. This is the BAER test (brainstem auditory evoked response) and it’s quite painless for puppies. It can be done on puppies from the time they are about five weeks old and older. (Tests can be repeated if a puppy does not pass the first time. There is some belief that later testing can catch puppies that may test unilaterally or even bi-laterally deaf the first time.) At the current time, about 20.4 percent of white Bull Terriers and 1.3 percent of Colored Bull Terriers have some degree of deafness. If you have a Bull Terrier puppy that has not been tested, we recommend having him tested. Many veterinary teaching hospitals can perform the BAER test. You can ask your vet for a referral. It’s often very hard to tell if a puppy is deaf, especially if he is only deaf in one ear, but it’s good to know. If your puppy or dog has some degree of deafness, they can have some difficulty with training. However, you can teach your dog hand signals very easily to compensate. Deaf dogs should not be used for breeding.

Bull Terriers, especially white dogs, can be prone to skin allergies. Flea bites and other insect bites can produce rashes, hives, and extreme itching.

Kidney disease can also be a problem in Bull Terriers. Heart disease affecting the valves can also affect some dogs. Patellar luxation can also affect some Bull Terriers. The patella is the kneecap. With this condition the patella can slip out of place. This can be very painful for the dog but it varies in severity. In some cases it happens rarely. In other cases it can become worse and worse until surgery is required. This condition affects many breeds.

You can view health data for the Bull Terrier on the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) web site here.

A health survey in the UK found the median lifespan for the Bull Terrier was 10. Many dogs lived to be  between 10 and 15 years. In the U.S., the lifespan is estimated to be 12 to 13 years.

Bull Terrier Temperament

Things have changed drastically since their days as pit fighting dogs. Bull Terriers today are clowns at home. They are known as fun-loving dogs who love children and who get along well with their “pack” – their family and other dogs in their home. They are sweet, friendly, loyal, playful dogs. They can also be very mischievous.

Just because they’re fun dogs, don’t be fooled into thinking they’re pushovers. They’re not. They are still more than capable of finishing a fight if another dog starts one. They just don’t go looking for trouble.

Bull Terriers are still the descendants of the Old English Bulldog and all of those old terriers. They have a tendency to be independent and more than a little stubborn at times. They are still terriers, after all. They need obedience lessons and socialization from a young age are important. Your Bull Terrier should learn good manners and social skills. These lessons will also help bond your Bull Terrier more closely to you. You can ask your local kennel club or breeder where to find classes.

Bull Terriers usually respond well to food and toys during training. Positive reinforcement training will work wonders. But it’s important that you are firm and patient.

Expect young puppies to be a little wild and exuberant. You will need to teach them not to nip, grab, or jump on you when they play. They just feel good and want to show it so don’t get angry with them.

Bull Terriers usually love games that involve balls and other toys. They love playing outdoors. The more time you can spend playing with them, the better.

This breed doesn’t usually bark unless there is a good reason so if your Bull Terrier is barking, pay attention.

Bull Terriers can be very good at obedience, rally, agility, and they do well in the conformation show ring. They can also make good therapy dogs.

Bull Terrier Grooming

Bull Terriers are muscular and they can look a little intimidating to many people, but they are usually very friendly. They stand 21 to 22 inches tall and weigh 50 to 70 pounds. The coat is short and glossy. White dogs can have some color on their heads. Colored Bull Terriers come in lots of different colors but brindle is preferred.

Bull Terrier grooming is not difficult. They shed seasonally (spring and fall). Otherwise, there is little shedding. Brush regularly, bathe as necessary. Clipping is not necessary.

DO check ears regularly for mites, excess earwax, and other problems. Keep the ears dry and clean as needed to avoid ear infections.

Clip your Bull Terrier’s nails regularly.

This breed does tend to have sensitive skin, especially white dogs. Flea bites, mites, and other parasites can cause extreme itching. If you live in areas where fleas or other parasites are a problem, consult with your veterinarian on the best products to protect your Bull Terrier’s skin. Skin allergies can also be a concern which can include contact allergies. If your dog shows signs of rashes or other allergic reactions, consider that he may be having a reaction to things like washing detergent or other household chemicals.

Bull Terrier Fun Facts

  • One of the most famous Bull Terriers in recent times was Spuds MacKenzie, featured in Budweiser beer commercials from 1987 to 1989.
  • The Target mascot dog, named Bullseye, is a Bull Terrier.
  • General George Patton owned a Bull Terrier named Willie.
  • In 2006 Ch. Rocky Top’s Sundance Kid, aka Rufus, won Best In Show at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show. He was the first Colored Bull Terrier to win BIS at Westminster and became an ambassador for the breed.

Common Bull Terrier Mixes

We did not find many Bull Terrier mixes online. Here are a few we did find: Bull Terrier x Pit Bull; Bull Terrier x Boxer; Bull Terrier x American Pit Bull Terrier; and Bull Terrier x Labrador Retriever.

Bull Terrier FAQ’s

What is a Bull Terrier Life Expectancy?

According to the information we found, in the United States Bull Terriers are estimated to live between 12 and 13 years.

Are Bull Terriers easy to train?

Like many terriers, Bull Terriers tend to be independent in nature and stubborn at times. They are not necessarily easy to train but it’s important they they have obedience training, learn good manners, and be socialized from a young age. Training should include patience and firmness. They will respond to positive reinforcement. They can usually be motivated by food and by playing with toys.

Do Bull Terriers shed a lot of hair?

No, they don’t have a lot of hair to shed. They have a short coat and they shed a lot in the spring and autumn. Otherwise, they just need some basic brushing.

Do Bull Terriers make good apartment pets?

Yes, a Bull Terrier could make a good apartment pet but only if you are committed to providing your dog with plenty of outdoor exercise and play time. This breed does require plenty of exercise. Your Bull Terrier will become bored – and destructive – unless he is allowed to exercise both his mind and his body.

Are Bull Terriers good with Children?

Yes, Bull Terriers are known for being good with children. They are fun-loving, playful dogs and they love to have fun with kids. That being said, it’s still a good idea to supervise interaction between any dog and children, just to be safe.

Carlotta Cooper

Carlotta is a long-time contributing editor for the weekly dog show magazine Dog News. She's also the author of The Dog Adoption Bible, the Dog Writers Association of America Adoptashelter.com Award winner for 2013. In addition, she's written Canine Cuisine: 101 Natural Dog Food & Treat Recipes to Make Your Dog Healthy and Happy.

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