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Bull terrier

Breed overview

  • Breed group – Terrier group (American Kennel Club)
  • Height – 23.5 to 29 inches
  • Weight – 45 to 65 pounds
  • Coat length & texture – Short, glossy coat
  • Coat color – White, tan, black, brindle, fawn, or red. Colors may be solid or with white markings
  • Exercise need – A high-energy breed requiring daily exercise and mental stimulation
  • Intelligence – Medium intelligence
  • Barking – Only when necessary
  • Life span – 11 to 13 years
  • Temperament – Affectionate, loyal, charming, and playful
  • Hypoallergenic – No
  • Origin – 19th century England

Bull terrier fun facts 

  • Originally bred for archaic “blood sports” like bull-baiting, the bull terrier eventually became a beloved companion dog in Britain.
  • General George Patton had a bull terrier named Willie who once got into a fight with General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Scottish terrier Telek.
  • Spuds MacKenzie, the bull terrier made famous in 1980s advertising, was a female named Honey Tree Evil Eye, or Evie for short.
Bull terriers

Bull terrier temperament and characteristics 

The bull terrier has long been known as a breed packed with personality. They’re entertaining, incredibly loyal, and affectionate dogs that enjoy spending time with their owners and will protect their families if necessary. Just about everyone is a bull terrier’s best friend, and when introduced early, they can be great with children. But, supervision is encouraged when they’re interacting with cats or other animals, as their prey drive can be strong.

Common bull terrier health problems 

Bull terriers are considered to be a healthy breed overall, but genetic problems affecting the heart, knees, hearing, and kidneys can occur. The breed is also prone to allergies and dry eye conditions. The Bull Terrier Club of America helps to control these diseases with its CHIC certification for breeders. Dams and sires must be evaluated for the following conditions:

  • Deafness. White is a dominant color for this breed, and that makes them prone to hearing deficiencies. Up to 11% or more of all white bull terriers are deaf. The BAER (brainstem auditory evoked response) test can reliably evaluate for loss of hearing and to what extent.
  • Luxating patella. Bull terriers with a luxating patella , or dislocated knee cap, may experience intermittent leg lameness. Many can tolerate the cycles of luxation, but the condition can lead to other knee injuries, especially torn ligaments.
  • Heart disease. Bull terriers are prone to several congenital heart conditions that can cause heart murmurs. Sometimes this is due to structural heart problems that cause leaky, thickened, or narrowed valves. In other cases, a bacterial infection or even anemia can be to blame. A veterinarian will be able to detect these with a stethoscope and provide a grade for the severity of the murmur.
  • Kidney. Polycystic kidney disease (PKD) is fairly uncommon in dogs, but this breed is predisposed to the illness. Physical exams, blood tests, and urinalysis can be used to diagnose PKD.

Costs of caring for a bull terrier

Unfortunately, treatment for some of the breed’s common conditions doesn’t come cheap. Knee and heart issues may need correction via surgery, and kidney disease can be a lifelong fight full of tests and vet visits.

If you suspect your bull terrier may be prone to any of these issues, it’s a good idea to look into health insurance or a pet savings account to reduce out-of-pocket expenses. Both may help with unexpected injuries or conditions, like a bad bout of allergies or a case of dry eye.

History of the bull terrier

When it comes to family trees, few modern breeds have as many branches as the bull terrier. The “bull” in the name is reminiscent of early crosses with bulldogs,when breeders attempted to combine their tenacity and strength with the intensity and agility of terriers.

The modern bull terrier, first bred in the 1860s by well-known breeder James Hinks, was a cross of Hinks’ white bulldog Madman and the now-extinct white English terrier. Originally, bull terriers were only available in white, which led to the nickname “White Cavaliers.” It wasn’t until the early 20th century, when bull terriers were bred with Staffordshire bull terriers, that other colors were added to the coat.

Bull terriers were initially bred for fighting, but when this was outlawed, Hinks’ more refined version became a desirable companion, especially for fashionable young gentlemen in 19th century England. An old two-line rhyme sums the breed up well, claiming Hinks “found a bull terrier, a tattered old bum,” and “made him a dog for a gentleman’s chum.”

Bull terrier at home

Caring for your bull terrier

Caring for a new puppy of any breed can be overwhelming. You’ll need to make your first trip to the vet and schedule your dog’s vaccinations. You should also make sure to puppy-proof your home and prepare yourself for puppy teething.

Exercise

Bull terriers are muscular, big-boned, and energetic. When it comes to what’s important to them, people and playtime top the list. They do well in large homes and small apartments alike, as long as they’re near their people and receiving lots of attention. Due in part to their bulldog heritage, these goofy “eggheads” can be stubborn, so mental stimulation through play or by giving them a job will keep them happy.

Keep in mind that the bulldog side is only part of the package. Their terrier line means they have oodles of energy that need to be burned off. So, grab a leash and prepare your walking shoes for a long trek. Bull terriers move with confidence and agility and are great walking companions, but beware of the prey drive. If they see a small animal, they will likely give chase.

Bull terrier exercise

Grooming

Grooming a bull terrier is an easy task. Their coats are short, flat, and harsh with a glossy sheen and minimal shedding. Regular bathing every three months is best, followed by brushing with a soft-bristle brush or rubber mitt. If you want to make your bull terrier sparkle, use a coat conditioner to brighten their sheen.

Their pointed ears can catch a lot of dirt and debris, so check them weekly and clean them if needed. As with all breeds, regular nail trims and teeth cleanings are recommended. It’s best to introduce your bull terrier to these grooming routines when they’re young.

Diet and nutrition

Bull terriers, like other muscular breeds, do well on a whole diet rich in protein, carbs, and fat. They’re not known for being picky eaters, but keep in mind their predisposition to heart disease. Food labeled as “grain-free,” for instance, has been linked to increased reports of heart problems even in breeds that do not have a predisposition. If you’d rather not chance it, stick to commercially available brands that have undergone feed trials like Royal Canin, Science Diet, and Purina ProPlan.

Allergies can be a problem for the breed, so be on the lookout for a reaction any time you add a new food to their diet. Typical problem foods are proteins like meat, soy, eggs, and sometimes dairy, which may become more of an issue as your pup ages. But every dog is different. Consult your vet for proper food portions, but in general, bull terriers should eat two meals a day to keep their weight in check.

Training your bull terrier

These mischievous pups do well with firm and consistent training from an early age. Bull terriers are also stubborn, so training should be more about fun and less about work. Be patient and offer lots of positive reinforcement in the form of toys and treats. They were bred for sport, so with the right training, there isn’t much a bull terrier can’t do. Some great outlets for the breed’s high energy are dog sports like agility and obedience, or in working roles as therapy dogs.

Bull terrier training

Breeds similar to the bull terrier

Not quite sure that a bull terrier is right for you? Even if you are, it’s worth taking the time to research and consider other similar breeds. Here are a few to get you started:

  • Miniature bull terrier. Essentially a smaller version of the original, miniature bull terriers were recognized as a distinct breed by the AKC in 1991.
  • Golden retriever. If you’re looking for loyalty in a larger package, look no further than the golden retriever. Everyone’s big, goofy friend, retrievers are great with other household pets and children.
  • Border collie. A border collie might be the right choice if you want to kick up your pet’s intelligence, trainability, and agility. Time is your biggest investment with this breed, but you’ll be rewarded by the border collie’s athleticism and obedience.

Frequently asked questions

Is a bull terrier a good family dog?

Families with older children who have some experience around stubborn dogs can safely welcome a bull terrier puppy into their home. If socialized from puppyhood, bull terriers can also learn to get along with any other dogs in the home. However, cats and other small pets trigger the breed’s prey drive, so it’s best to keep them apart.

What health problems do bull terriers have?

The most common ailments for this breed are deafness, knee dislocation, heart disease, kidney failure, allergies, and dry eye. But a reputable breeder will test their dams and sires for these issues before breeding and be upfront about any known issues. With good care and guidance from your veterinarian, bull terriers with any of these issues can live long, happy lives.

What are the challenges of raising a bull terrier?

Goofy, mischievous, and stubborn, bull terriers are sometimes called “a kid in the dog suit.” But this playfulness and laissez-faire attitude can get them into trouble. Firm, loving, and consistent training from puppyhood is recommended to help your bull terrier be on their best behavior.