Bull Terrier

Gemma Gaitskell
Dr Gemma Gaitskell (BVetMed MSc MRCVS, Royal Veterinary College, London)
Photo of adult Bull Terrier

Bull Terriers and Miniature Bull Terriers are fun-loving, playful dogs with a charming character who are very loyal to their owners. The difference between the two varieties is solely their size. The Bull Terrier was originally bred as a fighting dog, but does not look for trouble and despite this the modern breed has a good nature. They have a strong and muscular appearance and are powerful dogs with a distinctive ‘egg-shaped’ skull. They have a short, flat lying coat, which is dense and requires little attention.

The Bull Terrier is a friendly breed but can have a stubborn and mischievous streak. This means that consistent training and socialisation from a young age is especially important. Despite their independent mindedness they are reasonably intelligent and quick to learn when it suits them. They usually get on well with other dogs and pets and enjoy playing with children. The breed can suffer from some health problems, so selecting a healthy family line is important.

About & History

Bull Terriers are medium-sized dogs, which originate from England. The breed was formed by crossing Bulldogs with White English Terriers in the 1800’s. It is thought that later on some other breeds such as the Border Collie and Dalmatian may have been used to elongate the head and muzzle. The early Bull Terrier was originally used for dog fighting and other blood sports, as well as catching vermin. As working ability was much more important than looks for these purposes there was little control over the breed standard and initially any bull breed crossed with a terrier could be classed as a Bull Terrier.

In the mid 1800’s, a breeder, called James Hinks, started working to create a more uniform look for the breed, although the distinctive head shape of todays Bull Terrier came later on. These more standardized Bull Terriers were predominantly bred selecting a white colouring. However, in the early 1900’s other coloured breeds, such as the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, were introduced, as colour associated deafness had become a widespread problem, and coloured Bull Terriers became more common from this point onwards. Although Bull Terriers are more than able to fight if they need to, they have been bred to be sociable and do not look for trouble.

Around the middle of the 20th century, breeders started to cross smaller Bull Terriers together and the Miniature Bull Terrier began to be recognized as a breed of its own. Today both types of Bull Terrier are principally kept as companion dogs.


Bull Terrier Large Photo

The same colours and markings are accepted for registration by the UK Kennel Club for both the Bull Terrier and Miniature Bull Terrier. These include:

  • Black Brindle
  • Black Brindle & White
  • Brindle
  • Brindle & White
  • Fawn
  • Fawn & White
  • Red
  • Red & White
  • Tricolour
  • White

There are different markings which are acceptable with white colouring:

  • Black head markings
  • Black markings
  • Brindle head markings
  • Brindle markings
  • Fawn head markings
  • Fawn markings
  • Red head markings
  • Red markings
  • Tricolour head markings
  • Tricolour markings

The Bull Terrier and the Miniature Bull Terrier both have a strong, muscular appearance. The difference between the two is purely based on their size. For the Bull Terrier, there are no maximum height or weight limits, but they should give appear to have substance for their size. The depth of the chest should be roughly the same as the length of the front legs. The Miniature Bull Terrier should not measure more than 35.5 cm at the wither and, as for the Bull Terrier, there is no weight limit, although dogs should still appear to have considerable substance in proportion to their size.

Both types of Bull Terrier should have a muscular, arched neck, which is fairly long leading to equally strong, wide, sloping shoulders. Elbows should be powerful and held straight above the forelegs, which are solid with a good amount of bone. The Bull Terrier should have a round body and short top line, with a slight arch over the loins. The chest should be wide and there should be a clear curve up from the ribs to the abdomen. The back legs should be straight and parallel with plenty of muscle and strong feet. The tail should be low-set and carried horizontally.

The Bull Terrier and the Miniature Bull Terrier have a distinctive head shape with a long, deep muzzle, described as ‘egg-shaped’ when viewed from in front. This means there should be no stop or indentations while the skull curves gradually from the base to the tip of the nose. The jaw should be deep and powerful with a mouth full of strong, clean teeth and a scissor bite. Eyes are relatively small and narrow, positioned diagonally. They should be dark in colour. The ears are held upright and are small and thin.

Bull Terriers should move freely, whilst easily covering ground, giving the impression of a ‘jaunty’ air. The head should be carried high and the top line should stay level whilst the back legs should provide the gait with power and drive.

Character & Temperament

Bull Terriers are brave and fun loving but generally peaceful, and despite their origins, are usually charming and do not normally look for trouble. They also show some more typical terrier characteristics and are loyal and can be independent minded and stubborn so need firm and consistent handling. This means they are not ideal for first time dog owners.

Despite their sometimes stubborn nature they are very friendly and good natured and trustworthy with children and people in general. They usually get along well with other dogs and pets, especially if socialized from a young age and do not typically suffer from separation anxiety. Their friendly nature means they are not often used as guard dogs, but their physical appearance can be imposing.


Photo of Bull Terrier puppy

The Bull Terrier is intelligent but their independent and sometimes stubborn and mischievous nature can mean they are not the easiest to train. A consistent training regime with plenty of patience from a young age along with socialization from puppyhood is important to ensure good behaviour.

Despite their potential for an obstinate streak, house-training is not normally an issue and they are usually quick to train good recall, especially when positive reinforcement is used for good behaviour. Bull Terriers are usually sociable dogs, but as with all puppies, early socialisation is important to avoid behavioural problems later on.


The Bull Terrier and the Miniature Bull Terrier have an expected lifespan of around 10 – 12 years but it is not unusual for them to live longer. Both the Bull Terrier and the Miniature Bull Terrier are classed as Category 2 breeds by the UK Kennel Club where a specific point of concern is for misplaced lower canine teeth. The Bull Terrier Breed Club recommends testing of both breeds for two groups of conditions:

UK Kennel Club Recommended Testing

Heart Conditions

Both types of Bull Terriers seem to be susceptible to conditions which affect the heart valves. These include Mitral Valve Disease and Aortic Stenosis, which affect blood flow in the heart. The presence of these conditions can usually be detected by a vet auscultating the heart with a stethoscope, but an Electro Cardio Gram (ECG) and ultrasound can also be performed for more accurate results.

Dogs should be tested when they are a year old and then every two years to ensure they are free from murmurs. If murmurs are present, dogs should not be used for breeding.

Kidney Conditions

The two kidney diseases which Bull Terriers can be affected by are:

  1. Bull Terrier Hereditary Nephritis: This disease affects the kidneys ability to effectively function and filter the blood. As kidney function deteriorates, kidney failure begins to occur. Dogs should be tested from the age of one on a yearly basis using a urine test. Affected dogs should not be bred from.
  2. Polycystic Kidney Disease: This condition results in the formation of cysts in the kidneys. These usually occur in both kidneys and there are limited options for treatment. Overtime they become larger and cause a reduction in kidney function, and this can eventually result in kidney failure. An ultrasound examination should be performed on dogs over one year old to ensure they are free from the disease. It is a transmitted genetically so dogs which are affected should not be used for breeding.

Eye Scheme

Participation in the British Veterinary Association (BVA) Eye Scheme is recommended for Miniature Bull Terrier breeders and the breed can suffer from:

Primary Lens Luxation (PLL)

This is a problem where the lens in either one or both eyes moves and can become displaced relative to its correct position. If left undetected, this can lead to secondary glaucoma and subsequent blindness. If an early diagnosis is made, the condition can be treated and the side effects prevented. A DNA test is available for this condition and testing is mandatory for UK Kennel Club Assured Breeders.

Other Health Problems

In addition, the breeds can suffer from the following health problems:

Deafness (BAER testing)

Deafness is most commonly associated with white dogs, although some dogs with colour can also be affected. BAER (Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response) testing is a reliable way to establish if a dog is deaf, as it is not always apparent in a normal environment. The testing can be performed on puppies over 5 weeks old and only needs to be done once.

Skin Problems & Allergies

Bull Terriers seem to have a high occurrence of skin problems and allergies, which can cause discomfort and irritation, hair loss and thickened skin. This is caused by an over the top reaction from the immune system to specific allergens in their environment.

If left untreated these irritated areas can become infected. There are currently no tests available to identify dogs which carry this disease, but if a dog is obviously affected it should not be used for breeding.

Patellar Luxation

This is a condition which affects the equivalent to the kneecap in dogs. The kneecap is found in a joint in the hind leg called the stifle and can become dislocated, which causes pain and discomfort. Severity of patellar luxation can vary and either one or both legs may be affected. In more severe cases, surgery may be needed to correct the problem.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Bull Terriers are a medium-energy breed and require an hour to an hour and a half of walking a day. Ideally, some of this time should be spent off the lead, although this is not essential and a longer walk on the lead will do. Miniature Bull Terriers may be happy with a little less exercise due to their smaller size. Although, ideally, some time should be spent off the lead, Bull Terriers can adapt well to an urban environment, especially as they are a friendly and sociable breed that gets on well with people.


The Bull Terrier breeds have a short, shiny, dense coat which is flat and sits close to the body with a harsh feel when touched. It is very easy to care for, and does not require any specialist grooming. Minimal brushing, mainly to prevent shedding around the house is more than enough to keep it in good condition.

Famous Bull Terriers

There are many famous Bull Terriers in popular culture, some of the most well-known examples include:

  • Spuds Mackenzie, the dog from the Budweiser beer commercials in the 1980s
  • Bullseye from the book and film, Oliver Twist
  • Fritz, the Bull Terrier found in books written by Chris Van Allsburg
  • Scud from the film, Toy Story
  • Togo, the dog in the Nancy Drew books
  • P.B. from the film, Babe: Pig in the City
  • Chico from the film,
  • Grimm from the comic, Mother Goose and Grimm
  • Bodger from the book and film, The Incredible Journey
  • Sparky from both versions of the Frankenweenie films
  • Willie from the film, Patton
  • Jimmy from the Instagram account of @rafaelmantesso


Some popular Bull Terrier cross-breeds include:

  • Bulldog Terrier – Cross between a Bull Terrier and an American Bulldog
  • Rottbull – Cross between a Bull Terrier and a Rottweiler
  • Aussietare – Cross between a Bull Terrier and an Australian Shepherd
  • Bull Chow Terrier – Cross between a Bull Terrier and a Chow Chow
  • Bullhuahua Terrier – Cross between a Bull Terrier and a Chihuahua
  • Bully Jack Terrier – Cross between a Bull Terrier and a Jack Russell Terrier
  • Dogue Brasileiro – Cross between a Bull Terrier and a Boxer
  • English Bulldog Terrier – Cross between a Bull Terrier and an English Bulldog
  • Miniature French Bull Terrier – Cross between a Bull Terrier and a French Bulldog

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