As one of the most unique looking breeds in the world, you can probably easily picture a bull terrier when you hear the name. The Target dog, Spudz Mckenzie–the bull terrier’s funny looks and equally funny disposition make them perfect for show business and advertising.
Despite their charismatic, clownish personalities, these dogs aren’t perfect for everyone. Keep reading to learn what makes these dogs so unique (besides that fabulous head) and if they might be the right dog for your household.
General Characteristics of the Bull Terrier
- Other names: English Bull Terrier
- Height: Up to 22 inches
- Weight: Between 50 and 70 pounds
- Lifespan: 10 to 13 years
- Origin: England
- Colors: White, brindle, fawn, red, black, tricolor
- Activity level: Moderate to high
- Grooming needs: Minimal
- Best suited for: Experienced owners
BTs are born clowns and they love nothing more than making their people laugh and snuggling in for a good cuddle.
The History of the Bull Terrier
As the name suggests, the bull terrier owes its unique look to a mix of bulldog and terrier traits.
In England in the early 1800s, blood sports such as bull baiting and dog fighting were very popular. The go-to breed for the sport was the bulldog. While not as short and compact as today’s English bulldog, these bullies were relatively stout and some owners saw the potential to increase their agility by crossing them with old English terriers. These mixed dogs had the tenacity of the bulldog with a heightened prey drive and more athleticism thanks to the terrier blood.
Eventually, a man named James Hinks took an interest in the growing breed. He started crossing his bulldog terriers with English white terriers to help solidify the white coat seen in so many BTs today. These dogs were further crossed with pointers, Dalmatians, and even whippets to make them even more agile. But the famous bull terrier head didn’t make an appearance until collies and borzois were introduced into the bloodline.
Once dog fighting was outlawed in England, many of these dogs, who had been bred for a very specific purpose, found themselves unemployed. Luckily, middle-class gentlemen took an interest in these more refined-looking bulldogs and started keeping them as companions.
While the original BTs were predominantly white in color, the breed can come in any shade today including solid colors with white markings, brindle, and pure white.
Breeders re-tuned their focus and started breeding for a more friendly, relaxed companion animal. The egg-shaped head and compact look of this dog also became more refined during this time.
While Hinks had dreams of a monochrome breed of white wedge-headed dogs, this proved troublesome. As more and more dogs were born deaf, breeders introduced Staffordshire bull terriers into the line to bring in more color and reduce the number of dogs born without pigment around their ears.
Today, many BTs are still predominantly white with some or no colored markings on the head. But brindle, red, black, and other coat colors can still be seen, often with large white markings.
The Temperament of the Bull Terrier
If all bully breeds are clowns then the bull terrier is the most celebrated teacher at clown college. These dogs live to entertain, and, with an oblong head, stubby legs, and a thick round body, they were made for the job.
BTs love nothing more than to be around their people. Just watch out for their rock-hard heads which are just the right height to blow out your knee during a fit of zoomies. They are loyal, affectionate, and total hams.
If you want a dog that will be at your side when you need them and off resting when you don’t, this isn’t the dog for you. BTs love attention and want to be busy entertaining you with their antics or by your side waiting for the next adventure.
You might be wondering why, if these dogs are so fun and silly, aren’t they recommended for everyone?
Despite their loveable looks and antics, these dogs have a few traits that can also make them difficult to live with, depending on the situation.
First of all, all that love and admiration for their owners comes at a cost. If you are around most of the time or have the ability to pack your BT around with you, these dogs are likely to happy and well behaved. But if you are like most people and work a nine to five job, your bully isn’t going to be happy. And they tend to make sure their feelings are known.
A bored BT is likely to destroy furniture, carpet, and anything else they can get their paws on. They can also start acting out behaviorally by not listening or forgetting that they have been potty trained.
Unfortunately, training is another aspect where these dogs can be a little difficult. While they are plenty smart, they can also be very stubborn and prefer to do things that benefit themselves. Many owners misinterpret this as a need for dominant leadership and coercive training techniques. But this is likely to be exactly the opposite of what your BT desires.
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Want to learn more about this clowny canine? Check out the video above.
Because they love to play so much, you will need to find a way to incorporate that into their training. If you can get creative and think about ways to turn training into an upbeat game where your pup gets to solve the puzzles they want to solve, then training will be much smoother.
In addition to being a bit clingy and a little stubborn, these dogs still retain some of their fighting dog blood. Although overwhelming friendly, they aren’t apt to run from a fight and can easily be aroused into aggression in the wrong situation.
Health Issues Common to the Bull Terrier Breed
Bull terriers share many health issues with other bully breeds such as joint issues, heart problems, and kidney diseases. The white varieties especially come with their own special concerns including deafness, sensitive skin, and allergies.
Here are some of the most common issues seen in BTs:
- Dry eye
- Luxating patellas
- Idiopathic aggression
- Compulsive behaviors
- Heart disease
- Topical and food allergies
While well-bred bull terriers are relatively healthy, some BTs can suffer from some unique behavioral abnormalities. One of the most worrisome to be aware of is idiopathic aggression. Like “cocker rage” seen in cocker spaniels, BTs with idiopathic aggression may suddenly turn aggressive in situations that don’t warrant such reactions. While cocker spaniels with this disorder often target their owners or other humans, most BTs with idiopathic aggression, or “rage,” will target other dogs.
BTs may be small in stature, but they hold a lot of weight and age more like larger dogs. So be prepared for sore joints and arthritis as your bully gets into their golden years.
This condition usually appears around maturity (at about two years old) and can be impossible to predict. Given their strength, it is best to exercise caution and keep your BT away from other dogs if they show any questionable behavior such as obsessive tendencies toward certain dogs or if they react to injured or smaller dogs with over interest.
BTs are also more prone to OCD type behaviors, especially if they lack mental stimulation. Don’t ever use a laser pointer or flashlight to entertain your BT as this can easily develop into a full-time obsession that may affect their ability to rest or even eat.
Your best bet for avoiding these types of behavior problems as well as physical issues like deafness is to only purchase a dog from a reputable, transparent breeder.
Since bully breeds are the most frequently euthanized dogs in shelters across America, you may consider contacting your local bully rescue. Many bull terriers and BT mixes are looking for a new home as we speak.
Do Bull Terriers Do Well With Children and Other Pets?
The vast majority of bull terriers make excellent family dogs and actually do quite well with children. Since they love to play so much, having an older child or teen in the house can actually be helpful in getting your BT the attention and exercise they need.
BTs tend to like to play with other dogs, but their dominant personalities mean they may not necessarily want their playmates to come home with them. Early socialization can help your bully be more accepting of canine friends both in the home and away.
BTs that were exposed to young children during puppyhood typically do well with infants and toddlers. They are especially good at putting up with the rough handling toddlers are famous for. But, be aware, they do enjoy playing rough themselves, so supervision is a must.
While BTs love their human family, they aren’t always as friendly with other pets.
Male BTs especially can be territorial and may not appreciate another male dog in their home. On neutral turf, well-socialized BTs love to play with other dogs. Despite their history, these dogs don’t often pick fights. They will, however, end one if another dog picks one with them. So always be aware of this and choose your dog’s companions wisely.
Like all terriers, BTs can have a heightened prey drive that might not make them the best choices for houses with cats and other small pets. However, there are plenty of BTs out there who absolutely adore their cat sister or ferret brother, especially when they are introduced at a young age. Just don’t expect this love to transfer to the neighbor’s hamster or your aunt’s cat.
What to Consider Before Bringing Home a Bull Terrier
Think you have the right personality, lifestyle, and experience to bring home one of these stocky clowns? Before pulling the trigger, here are a few more things to consider.
BT pups are adorable and pack a lot of personality into a tiny package. But these dogs will grow up into compact tanks that demand a lot of stimulation. Make sure you can commit to these needy hounds before taking one home.
While BTs can become overweight couch potatoes under the right circumstances, they are at their best with a moderate amount of activity, plenty of mental stimulation, and lots of owner contact. Plan on at least one long walk every day. These dogs also enjoy hiking, car trips, and getting out in nature.
Dog sports like agility provide another great outlet for all that mental energy and a fun way for you to spend more time together. Even with exercise, BTs don’t do well left alone for long periods of time. If you work long hours you may need to consider a dog walker, doggy daycare, or other means of enrichment.
Training these dogs is all about turning training time into fun time. Some BTs are highly treat motivated, but many prefer solving puzzles or a game of chase. To overcome that stubborn nature, you will need to figure out what motivates your dog and how to incorporate that into your training routine. One thing is for sure, you will need to bring a lot of energy to the table and stay consistent.
Given their history and terrier genes, it is very important to socialize your BT as a puppy. Expose them to as many people, pets, and situations as possible. Make sure every encounter is positive and continue the work well into adulthood.
While their short coat may be super easy to manage, it also means these dogs are not cut out for extremely cold climates. They need extra layers in the winter and boots if it is especially cold out.
These dogs have very short coats and don’t need a lot of grooming. The occasional bath and brush should suffice. You’ll also need to clip their toenails frequently. Dogs with white snouts may require sunscreen during the summer. White dogs, in general, are more likely to have sensitive skin, so special considerations may be needed to rid your home of allergens.
BTs will do well with any high-quality dog food meant for medium breeds. Some will need a limited ingredient diet to avoid possible food allergies. This is a thick breed with a rounded body. To support all that muscle growth and avoid them becoming too round, make sure to monitor their food intake and choose a diet that is high in protein but not overloaded with fat.
Purebred bull terrier puppies carry a hefty price tag with the average pup costing just over a grand and pups from top lines costing $10,000 or more. In addition to the initial payment, you should also expect to spend a fair amount on food, toys for stimulation, vet checks, and any additional pet care needed when you can’t be there.
>>>Find out how much a dog really costs year to year.
10 Fun Facts About the Bull Terrier
Now that you know a little more about owning a bull terrier, here are some lesser-known facts on the breed.
- BTs are the only dogs with triangle-shaped eyes.
- These bullies rarely bark unless they have a good reason to.
While they may have a colorful past that included bull baiting, dog fighting, and rat killing, the BTs of today are generally loving, kind natured dogs, who will usually choose play over a fight.
- BTs also come in miniature, with the separate miniature bull terrier breed maxing out at 35 pounds.
- Most dogs have a “stop” between their forehead and muzzle, but this has been bred away in the BT’s skull.
- BTs are called “Varkhond” in Afrikaans, which means “pig-dog.”
- The pigment in skin called melanin is also important for hearing and the reason so many pure white BTs are deaf.
- BTs like to paw while they play and won’t hesitate to use their hard skull as a battering ram.
- Despite their short stature, these dogs are heavy and very strong.
- Because of their compact build and stiff, confident gait, these dogs are often called gladiator dogs.
- King Edward Vlll asked that the English Kennel Club stop cropping dogs’ ears, this led to the appearance of the BTs naturally erect, “tulip” ears, which do not require any altering.
Before You Go
Not sure you have what it takes to be a bull terrier owner? Check out these Ultimate Breed Guides to learn more about some other great breeds.
Sara Seitz has spent most of her life in the pet industry and has a bachelors in animal behavior from Colorado State University. Sara started working with dogs and cats as a high schooler at a rural boarding kennel. There she learned a lot about the bad and the ugly of the pet service industry. But not even the toughest day at that job would dissuade Sara from following her dream of working with animals.
In college, Sara got a job at a dog daycare and boarding facility in Fort Collins, Colorado. Her new career provided even more opportunities for learning about dog behavior than her classes did. As general manager of the daycare, Sara helped the company launch a new in-home pet sitting branch and trained to become a certified dog trainer. Between shifts taking care of peoples pets in-home and supervising dogs during playtime at the daycare, Sara organized and taught obedience classes.
Sara has always been passionate about bettering the lives of our canine companions. She soon found that advocating for and educating owners in the power of positive reinforcement training was one of the best ways to help dogs and their owners live happier lives.