Bull Terrier: Dog Breed Characteristics & Care

History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

brindle and white bull terrier looking to the side

Jaroslav Kocian / Getty Images

The bull terrier is a medium-large terrier dog breed from England that has a short, smooth coat and a unique “egg-shaped” head. Its ears are small and pointed, and its eyes also are small with a triangular shape. Overall, these dogs have a solid, muscular build. They tend to be quite entertaining and energetic companions—goofy and stubborn, at times. They’re often called a “kid in a dog suit.”

Breed Overview

GROUP: Terrier

HEIGHT: 21 to 22 inches

WEIGHT: 50 to 70 pounds

COAT: Short, smooth

COAT COLOR: Nearly any color, including white, red, fawn, black, blue, or brindle

LIFE SPAN: 12 to 13 years

TEMPERAMENT: Affectionate, lively, friendly

HYPOALLERGENIC: No

ORIGIN: England

Characteristics of the Bull Terrier

The bull terrier generally has a friendly and comical personality. It tends to get along with people well but doesn’t always like other dogs. A high energy level and love of playtime also shape the bull terrier’s temperament.

Affection Level High
Friendliness High
Kid-Friendly Medium
Pet-Friendly Low
Exercise Needs High
Playfulness High
Energy Level High
Trainability Medium
Intelligence Medium
Tendency to Bark Medium
Amount of Shedding Medium

History of the Bull Terrier

Inhumane bloodsports involving animals became popular in Britain around the 13th century. In particular, a sport known as bull-baiting involved a bulldog fighting a tethered bull as people bet on the results. 

Britain banned such bloodsports in the 1800s. But some people took them underground instead. Rather than bull-baiting, which was too conspicuous, they focused on dogfighting. And they wanted more fiery and nimble dogs, so they crossed their bulldogs with various terriers. Several breeds arose from this, including the bull terrier. 

As dogfighting diminished toward the mid-1800s, breeders worked to refine the bull terrier to make it more of a companion dog. They bred for a sweeter temperament and less rugged appearance. It would still take several more decades before the dog acquired its trademark curved head. 

The American Kennel Club first recognized the breed in 1885. And there have been several notable bull terriers throughout history. President Theodore Roosevelt owned a bull terrier. And bull terriers have helped to market both Bud Light beer (Spuds MacKenzie) and Target (Bullseye). 

General Patton's bull terrier, Willie, lying down
General Patton's dog, Willie

CORBIS / Getty Images 

Comedian Red Skelton teaches Pete, the famous bull terrier from "Our Gang," how to dunk his donut at tea time.
Pete, the famous bull terrier from "Our Gang" Bettmann / Getty Images 

Bull Terrier Care

Bull terriers should get a fair amount of exercise each day, and they require minimal grooming. It's also important to provide training and socialization starting at a young age.

Exercise

Provide at least one to two hours of exercise per day for your bull terrier to help burn its high levels of mental and physical energy. Multiple walks per day are ideal, along with jogs, hikes, games of fetch, and other play. Puzzle toys can help to challenge your dog mentally as well. Plus, dog sports, such as agility and tracking, can provide both mental and physical stimulation. 

Always keep your bull terrier on a leash or in a securely fenced area when outside, as not all bull terriers will be friendly if they encounter a strange dog. Likewise, the bull terrier's short coat doesn't offer much protection in cold weather. So limit outdoor exercise sessions in the cold, and consider providing your dog with a coat or sweater.

Grooming

The extremely short, smooth coat of the bull terrier requires little maintenance. Only basic grooming is necessary. Plan to brush weekly with a soft-bristle brush or grooming mitt to remove loose fur and distribute skin oils. Your dog might have higher periods of shedding, often in the spring and fall, during which you’ll have to brush more frequently to keep up with the loose fur. 

Give your dog a bath every month or so, depending on how dirty it gets. And check its nails monthly as well to see whether they need a trim. Also, look in its ears at least every week for wax buildup, debris, and irritation. And aim to brush its teeth every day.

Training

Proper obedience training and socialization are essential to manage your bull terrier. And it’s important to start them young to prevent bad habits from forming. Bull terriers can be stubborn when it comes to training. Always use positive reinforcement methods. They tend to respond best when training sessions feel like a game rather than work. 

Moreover, aim to socialize your dog with different people and other dogs from a young age to boost its comfort and confidence. Positive experiences can go a long way to ensuring that your bull terrier is well-mannered. But some bull terriers have a difficult time being comfortable around other dogs, especially unfamiliar dogs, largely due to the breed's fighting history. And consequently there is the potential for aggression.

Bull terrier puppy
KSnumber1​ / Getty Images  
American Eskimo dog and bull terrier running in grass
Michelle Kelley Photography / Getty Images  
Bull terrier playing fetch
tbradford / Getty Images

Common Health Problems

Bull terriers live generally healthy lives, but they are prone to some hereditary health issues, including: 

Diet and Nutrition

Make sure fresh water is always available to your dog. And feed a quality, nutritionally balanced canine diet. In particular, it’s important for bull terriers to receive adequate calcium to support their bone development, especially when they are puppies. It’s common to feed two measured meals per day to prevent overfeeding. But you should always run both the type of diet and the amount by your vet to make sure you’re meeting your dog’s individual needs. 

Where to Adopt or Buy a Bull Terrier

Bull terriers are a fairly popular dog breed. So be sure to check local animal shelters and rescue groups for a dog in need of a home if you’re looking to acquire a bull terrier. If you want a puppy from a reputable breeder, expect to pay around $500 to $3,500, though this can vary widely.

For further information to help you find a bull terrier, check out:

Bull Terrier Overview

Pros
  • Affectionate and playful

  • Basic grooming needs

  • Can be good for families with older children

Cons
  • Not always friendly with other dogs

  • Can be stubborn about training

  • Requires rigorous daily exercise

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

Before bringing home a bull terrier, do plenty of research to ensure that the breed is right for your lifestyle. Talk to bull terrier owners, rescue groups, reputable breeders, and veterinarians to learn more.

If you’re interested in similar breeds, check out:

There’s a whole world of potential dog breeds out there—with a little research, you can find the right one to bring home!

FAQ
  • What were bull terriers bred for?

    Bull terriers can trace their origin back to the 1800s when inhumane dogfighting was popular in Britain. People wanted a powerful dog with a spirited temperament, and crosses between bulldogs and terriers eventually resulted in the bull terrier.

  • Are bull terriers good family dogs?

    With proper training and socialization, bull terriers can be good for families with older children. They are generally playful and affectionate with their family. But they might be too energetic around young kids.

  • Are bull terriers aggressive?

    Bull terriers are typically friendly with people, as long as they have proper training and socialization. But many bull terriers don't tend to like other dogs, especially unfamiliar dogs, which can lead to aggression.

Article Sources
The Spruce Pets uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Health. The Bull Terrier Club.

  2. Bull Terriers. American Kennel Club.

  3. Bull Terrier Puppies and Dogs. Adopt a Pet.