Bull Terriers

Gladiators of the Canine Race

Retail giant Target may have inadvertently re-launched the bull terrier into our pop cultural stratosphere when they introduced “Bullseye,” the white bull terrier with the company’s trademark red bullseye logo painted around the left eye, in a 1999 TV commercial.

Bullseye became an instant hit, and the bull terrier breed saw a surge in popularity. In 2006, Bullseye became the second dog ever to have his likeness displayed in the famed Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. The breed, meanwhile, remains a popular choice for pet owners nationwide.

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The ancestral roots of the bull terrier begin with the bull and terrier breeds developed during the mid-19th century, when dogs were bred to hunt rats and participate in bull and bear fighting.

The now-extinct old English bulldog and old English black and tan terrier were bred together to create a fast, quick-on-its feet dog well suited for a fighting ring. Thought wasn’t given to the appearance of the dog—only its performance, so over the years, due to a lack of breeding standards, this new lineage began to split into two new breeds: the bull terriers and the Staffordshire bull terriers.

James Hinks, an Irishman living in England during the mid 1800s, began breeding the bull terrier with breeding standards in mind, first mating the bull terrier with an English white terrier to develop a more streamlined appearance. He was also determined to breed a “gentleman’s companion” and put an end to the line of blood sport fighters for which the breed had originally been created.

In the 1860s, as the bred gained popularity at dog shows, Hinks continued to develop the bull terrier, breeding it with a variety of other breeds such as the Dalmatian, greyhound, foxhound and whippet to refine its appearance and agility. He wanted the breed to be specifically white in color and spent a great deal of time trying to achieve this effect.

However, breeding a pure white dog with such an ancestral lineup created medical complications, so breeders during the early 1900s sought to introduce a variety of color to the bull terrier breed. By 1936, brindled and other colored bull terriers were recognized by the American Kennel Club.

In 1987, Bud Light beer featured a fictional bull terrier in an ad that ran during Super Bowl XXI. The popular "Spuds MacKenzie" campaign — which launched merchandise such as plush toys and t-shirts — came under attack by temperance-oriented groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving and politians alike, who accused Bud Light of targeting children with its cute ads — one of which featured Spuds dressed as Santa Claus. The media frenzy led Bud Light to retire Spuds in 1989 and put an end to the ads.

Ten years later, Target began featuring a bull terrier in its ads. To this day, the Target dog is still featured in some TV commercials and, due to the largely positive response, Target dog collectibles are still being sold by the retail giant.

Over the years, bull terriers have been tested by the American Temperament Test Society (ATTS) to determine whether or not they pose a threat to people. The breed has consistently rated around 90%, thus determining that they are no more aggressive toward people than any other dog.

Due to its stocky build, however, it should be noted that the breed may not always be aware of its own strength, especially when around smaller dogs and small children. Its playful and sometimes clownish exuberance can overwhelm those smaller than the dog itself.

The bull terrier is known to be mischievous, playful, intelligent and a tad stubborn at times. The breed usually gets along well with children and thrives on being with its family as much as possible.

The breed may consider other household pets, like cats, to be prey, if not raised together since they were puppies and kittens. Bull terriers are also known to get along poorly with other bull terriers of the same sex, particularly males and especially non-neutered males.

Described as fiercely protective, the breed can be loyal to a fault; routine socialization and obedience training is strongly recommended to show the dog who’s in charge and to abate any stubborn behavior.

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The bull terrier’s most recognizable feature is its egg-shaped head. The breed has small, deep-set triangular-shaped eyes and a nearly flat skull between its ears.

The bull terrier has a muscular build, with a deep chest and broad shoulders.

While commonly white in color, modern day bull terriers can also be fawn, black and tan and brindled. Some are often born with unique markings, such as a black patch of fur surrounding one eye or around the ears. Their fur is short and dense.

Bull terriers on average weigh between 50 to 85 pounds.

While these may be common medical conditions, your bull terrier will not necessarily develop any of those listed below.

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  • Deafness: It has been determined that dogs and cats with white hair coats are prone to congenital hereditary deafness. Deafness is the result of an abnormality identified within the hearing organ (cochlea) of the inner ear. Specifically, there is an absence of cilia (hairs) and mature melanocytes in the cochlear canal. The cause of these abnormalities within the cochlear canal is unknown but the condition is hereditary. Bull terriers can be deaf in one or both ears. Detection at a young age is difficult to notice, so routine checkups with your family veterinarian are recommended.
  • Skin allergies have a tendency to develop in bull terriers. Flea bites and other insect bites can lead to rash, hives or persistent itching.
As with any pet, be sure to regularly consult a veterinarian for routine care and medical advice for your four-legged friend.