Harmonious, playful and people-loving? This description from the breed standard doesn't quite seem to match the image held by many people of the Bull Terrier as a dangerous fighting machine. It's time to do away with some of the prejudices surrounding this breed.
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A bad reputation still sticks to Bull Terriers. They are considered combative and aggressive with a tendency to bite. It's no wonder then that they are on the list of dangerous dog breeds in many countries around the world, where ownership is subject to approval or even forbidden.
However, a completely different picture emerges when you take a closer look at the nature of this breed. Bull Terriers are extremely people-loving and affectionate; they forge very close contact with their owner and thoroughly enjoy physical contact. The FCI standard no. 11 describes Bull Terriers as “very good with people”, although a certain stubbornness is acknowledged. As with many other dog breeds, Bull Terriers have dominant tendencies. Due to their intelligence and self-confidence, they are at times somewhat critical of their owner's commands and are happy to act stubborn when it comes to tasks they consider pointless. This makes it all the more important to start training Bull Terriers as early as possible and to get them used to their owner's rules when they are still puppies. With consistent training and comprehensive socialisation, Bull Terriers can be trained to be highly disciplined and harmonious family dogs. Their playful and lively nature comes to the fore especially in contact with children, but toddlers should not play with these dogs unsupervised. Children too must initially learn how to handle the Bull Terrier's fiery temper and rowdiness when playing.
As friendly as the Bull Terrier is to its family, it is suspicious of strangers. Thanks to its stable character, it doesn't attack humans for no reason. Pacific at heart, the Bull Terrier doesn't see aggression as a solution, although it would certainly not hesitate to valiantly and bravely defend its humans in truly dangerous situations. The Bull Terrier does show aggression to other dogs, especially those that have received little training or socialisation. In such cases, intolerance can soon turn into dangerous territorial behaviour. Early socialisation and stringent training are essential for peaceful coexistence between both dogs and humans and fellow canines too.
With its egg-shaped head, crooked nose and slit-eyes, the Bull Terrier doesn't exactly live up to the aesthetic ideal for dogs. However, this unusual appearance is probably just what Bull Terrier fans love about their dogs. Its down face is quite simply part of the present-day image of the breed. The so-called “Roman nose” can be attributed to the breeding endeavours of Raymond Oppenheimer and his kennel Ormandy. The small, fine ears stand stiff upright and are close together.
Overall, the Bull Terrier's appearance has evolved significantly over the course of its breeding history. Not just the head, but the size and colour have undergone changes in the breed standard. Whilst in the early phases a wide variety of sizes were still bred, nowadays Bull Terriers less than 35.5cm in height belong to the independent Miniature Bull Terrier breed (FCI standard no. 359). The “big hitter” is generally between 40 and 55cm in height. However, a peculiarity of this breed if that no height or weight limits are outlined in the breed standard, as is the case with other dog breeds. The only stipulation is that the height and weight must be in harmony to one another. These powerfully built, muscular dogs should have a balanced physique with maximal substance, which of course doesn't mean maximal weight. Mobility and speed have defined Bull Terriers since the onset of the breed.
Whilst the British breed was originally only bred with pure white fur, the British Kennel Club has recognised coloured Bull Terriers too since 1933. These came about through crossing Staffordshire Bull Terriers at the start of the 20th century. At first they were bred separately from one another, but crossing white and coloured breed animals has been permitted since 1950. Nowadays, Bull Terriers come with black, blotched, red, fawn and tricolour fur. The colour in question should be the main one, but spots on the head are accepted. Blue fur is not allowed.
The Bull Terrier's slightly shiny fur is short, flat and hard to the touch. Some Terriers acquire a soft undercoat in winter for added warmth.
The Bull Terrier breed emerged from crossing old-style English Bulldogs, the Dalmatian and the White English Terrier, which became extinct around 1880. So-called “all-rounders” that perfectly combined all three dog types became the preferred option. Nevertheless, there are still some dogs belonging to the breed in the present day that have a particular physical resemblance to one of the three ancestors. These Bull Terriers can be divided into the Dalmatian group (long-legged, somewhat lighter and more elegant), the Bulldog group (short-legged, heavier and somewhat plumper) or the Terrier group.
Systematic breeding of Bull Terriers started around 1850 with James Hinks, a British animal trader from Birmingham. Since there are no stud books or other records from the initial years, the precise endeavours of Hinks, the creator of the breed, remain unknown. It is assumed that he saw the Bull Terrier as a companion rather than a fight dog, a kind of “fashionable accessory” for well-to-do gentlemen from the emerging middle classes. These brave and fast dogs would certainly have taken part in badger-baiting and rat-killing. In 1865, a blotched Bull Terrier called Pinscher is said to have killed 500 rats in just 36 minutes and 26.5 seconds. However, the Bull Terrier mainly made a name for itself as a fight dog in the notorious animal combats of the 18th and 19th centuries. Both the nobility and the British masses loved the thrill of dog fights and to some extent hoped to make big betting wins out of the spectacles. Quick and muscular Bull Terriers proved themselves to be incredibly fearless, aggressive and vicious, and gave spectators an often brutal show. Whilst this cruel form of public entertainment was banned in Britain in 1835, the image of the Bull Terrier as a merciless fight dog stuck and still persists to this day. The breed was already considered essentially peaceful and obedient. Reports on famous fight dogs from that period describe how Bull Terriers were anything but aggressive outside of the battle arena and actually tried to avoid conflict. Although various statistics show there is the same likelihood of being bitten by a Bull Terrier as by a Dachshund, Bull Terriers are now on the list of dangerous dog breeds. There are many reasons for this, but it has less to do with the Bull Terrier's nature than with the irresponsibility of untrustworthy breeders and owners who wish to make up for their lack of self-confidence by keeping a fierce fight dog close by their side.
Health and Breeding
In order to better the reputation of this former fight dog, friendliness to humans is now a key criterium when it comes to assessing suitable animals for breeding. The breed standard also explicitly stresses that despite their stubbornness, Bull Terriers treat their people very well. Dogs that fail to pass such a character test due to aggression or instability have to be excluded from the breed.
When it comes to you choosing a Bull Terrier puppy, you should without a doubt go to a responsible breeder. This is the only guarantee that the puppy in question really is a pedigree Bull Terrier that meets the breed standard requirements and won't offer any “nasty surprises” in terms of social behaviour. Give yourself time to choose both a puppy and a breeder. Don't be shy about “pestering” the breeder with questions in order to gain thorough information regarding the breeding conditions and health of their dogs. The breeder should definitely have long-term experience in keeping Bull Terriers and will ideally be a member of an association. A conscientious breeder who cares about the wellbeing of the breed will be happy to give you information and will voluntarily show you the breeding site, the mother of the litter and their certification.
Since Bull Terriers as a breed have a tendency towards umbilical hernia, deafness (with white dogs), tumours, cardiovascular, renal and joint diseases, the breeder should certainly have carried out comprehensive health tests for said ailments. These health assessment tests should be for parents and siblings as well as puppies. Healthy puppies with no genetic disposition for illness are generally highly robust and tend to reach around 10 years in age. Apart from the required injections and check-ups, visits to the vet are rare in such cases.
Along with hereditary predisposition, a common illness trigger is often an inadequate diet. For instance, food that is too high in protein content can have a negative impact on the skin. White Bull Terriers in particular are more often prone to skin problems and require a well-balanced, low-protein diet. Lower protein content protects the Bull Terrier's organism and especially the kidneys. An incorrect diet can have serious consequences for Bull Terriers from families that have suffered from kidney diseases.
Portions shouldn't be too big, because Bull Terriers are quick to gain weight. Furthermore, the diet should be low-fat and easy to digest. In order to meet the Bull Terrier's nutritional requirements, daily meals should consist of around 60% meat (ideally fresh meat) and 40% vegetables, fruit and grains (rice). You're best off contacting your breeder or vet in order to obtain more accurate information about your Bull Terrier's needs, as they can vary depending on sex, weight, age and activity level.
Care and Housing
Grooming Bull Terriers is easy and takes up little time, since the short, flat fur only needs thoroughly brushing once a week. Regularly cutting the claws and cleaning the eyes and ears too is more the sufficient for grooming your Bull Terrier.
Training and housing this pedigree breed requires much more effort and experience.
To start off with, Bull Terrier owners need lots of self-confidence, because the stigma attached to this dangerous dog breed frequently brings a number of difficulties. Apart from limitations on keeping, breeding and importing Bull Terriers, owners often have to contend with the prejudice and hostility of other people. Bull Terrier owners probably still need to get used to derogatory looks, hysterical reactions or problems looking for accommodation for a while yet. Before purchasing a Bull Terrier, you should consider whether you can handle such reactions. A Bull Terrier is definitely not for uncertain or inexperienced dog owners. Not just other people but your Bull Terrier itself will mercilessly take advantage of any uncertainty. The breed's strong character compels it to quickly take on a dominant role if the owner doesn't take charge on a consistent basis. Even puppies are already incredibly strong and can develop highly dangerous behaviour patterns in the wrong hands. Bull Terriers innately possess a pronounced protective instinct and sufficient courage and severity to act upon it in urgent situations. They therefore absolutely require early and consistent training in order to trust and obey their owner's commands in a harmonious and disciplined manner. Well-trained Bull Terriers that are socialised early on are extremely pleasant family dogs. Though assertive, they are highly sensitive, loyal and friendly to their loved ones. Dog sports such as agility are very suitable in order to steer your pet's pent-up energy in the right direction. After all, these athletic Brits need sufficient activity – and attention too.
If you manage to affront all the difficulties that keeping a Bull Terrier entails and to train and keep it occupied, perhaps you can contribute to gradually improving the image of this particular dog breed.