Bull Terriers (Bullies): Dog Breed Profile

Characteristics, History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Bull terrier

Jaroslav Kocian / Getty Images

Bull terriers, sometimes called "bullies," are dogs of medium to large size with muscular, athletic bodies. One of the bull terrier's most memorable physical features is the rounded front of its head. Some may feel that bullies are tough-looking, but this breed is highly affectionate, playful, and even goofy. The bull terrier is often called a "kid in a dog suit."

Breed Overview

Group: Terrier

Height: 21 to 22 inches at the shoulder

Weight: 50 to 70 pounds

Coat and Color: Short coat in nearly any color including white, red, fawn, black, blue, or brindle (or a combination of these). All colors may be with or without white markings. Predominantly white dogs may or may not have colored markings on the head.

Life Expectancy: 12 to 13 years

Characteristics of the Bull Terrier

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

History of the Bull Terrier

Bulldog/terrier crosses were popular sporting dogs used in dog-fighting during the 19th century. These "bull-and-terrier dogs" varied in appearance.

Englishman James Hinks is credited with the development of the bull terrier. By crossing the bulldog with the English white terrier (now an extinct breed), he created a solid white dog that was referred to as the white cavalier. Over time, colored markings were permitted in the breed. Later, crossing with Staffordshire bull terriers created bull terriers with predominant colors other than white.

The bull terrier was brought to the U.S. toward the end of the 19th century and was officially recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1885. In 1992, the miniature bull terrier became a separate breed.

This breed was made famous back in the 1980s when a bull terrier named Spuds Mackenzie starred in Budweiser commercials. The Target retail chain also has a bull terrier mascot named Bullseye. Other famous bull terriers include General George S. Patton's dog Willie and the fictional Nancy Drew's pet bull terrier Togo.

General Patton's Dog, Willie.
Millions mourned the American hero General George S. Patton, after his death in a car accident. Patton's dog Willie lies here among his master's things. Bad Nauheim, Germany. January 1946. CORBIS/ Getty Images 
Comedian Red Skelton teaches Pete, the famous bull terrier from Our Gang, how to dunk his donut at tea time.
Comedian Red Skelton teaches Pete, the famous bull terrier from Our Gang, how to dunk his donut at tea time. Bettmann / Getty Images 

Bull Terrier Care

The extremely short, smooth coat of the bull terrier requires very little maintenance. Only basic routine grooming is necessary. This breed tends to shed at a low to moderate rate, though shedding does increase seasonally. This dog may need bathing every three months.

Trim your dog's toenails regularly, especially when you start to hear clicking when it walks on hard surfaces. It's good to help your dog with dental hygiene by brushing its teeth regularly. 

The bull terrier is an active dog that needs a suitable outlet for its high level of energy. Though the breed does not have a lot of endurance, it's a strong and athletic dog breed that needs plenty of exercise each day. Frequent short runs, moderate walks, and occasional games will help keep your bull terrier happy and healthy. They're known to pull when on a leash or chase after other animals, so you will need to provide consistent leash training to make your bull terrier a good walking companion.

If you provide an outdoor yard to play in, it should be fenced. These dogs can get cold in the winter and may need to wear a sweater or have outdoor time limited.

Proper obedience training is essential to manage your bull terrier. This dog breed can be stubborn, mischievous, and sometimes even destructive. Your bull terrier needs structure, routines, and boundaries to keep him focused. They're known as being more difficult to train and may not be best for first-time dog owners.

Socialization is important with bull terriers. They need to be trained from a young age not to be aggressive towards other, other dogs and around new people. They may not do well off-leash or at the dog park.

Overall, the bull terrier has a friendly, playful disposition. This breed can be a loving companion for many types of households. Bullies tend to get along remarkably well with older children when properly trained and socialized. Bull terriers can be too energetic around small children. They also can be overly-protective in defending the family's children when they're rough-housing with other kids.

However, it may take time for this breed to get along with other pets. If raised together, well-trained and closely supervised, they can learn to get along beautifully. But be aware that unneutered males can be aggressive toward other male dogs, and it's better to have opposite genders. Many sources say they can't be trusted around cats and other small pets.

Bullies are very affectionate and tend to bond closely with their owners. If you're active, patient, and able to provide plenty of one-on-one affection to your dog, the bull terrier could be the dog breed for you.

Bull terrier puppy
KSnumber1​ / Getty Images  
Two dogs An American Eskimo breed and Bull Terrier puppy playing in the grass
Michelle Kelley Photography / Getty Images  
Bull terrier playing fetch
tbradford / Getty Images

Common Health Problems

Responsible breeders take careful measures to uphold the breed standards as established by kennel clubs like the AKC. Dogs bred by these standards are less likely to develop hereditary conditions. In general, the bull terrier is a healthy dog breed. However, a few hereditary health issues can occur in the breed.

Diet and Nutrition

Your bull terrier will need two meals a day of up to 2 cups of dog food. Individual requirements will vary by size, activity level, age, and health conditions. It's better to provide specific meals rather than allowing free-feeding, or you may see your dog gaining excess weight. Obesity can shorten a dog's lifespan. Discuss your dog's nutritional requirements with your veterinarian to get recommendations for feeding schedules, amounts, and types of food. Be sure to provide access to clean, fresh water.

Pros

  • Effective guard dog

  • Minimal shedding

  • Wonderful for families with older children

Cons

  • Can become aggressive if not properly trained

  • Long puppy stage

  • Requires rigorous exercise and training

Where to Adopt or Buy a Bull Terrier

If you're thinking seriously about adopting a bull terrier, start by contacting the following organizations:

These groups will be able to connect you with a local breeder or rescue in your area. There may even be fostering opportunities for you to test your compatibility with the breed on a temporary basis.

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

To learn more about the bull terrier and decide if this breed is right for you, talk to bull terrier owners, your veterinarian, breeders, rescue workers, and other pet professionals.

If you're interested in similar breeds, look into these to compare the pros and cons:

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