Meet the Bull Terrier

This is the text from a presentation I gave at the Detroit Kennel Club in 2008. The information presented is factual, some of the links and references may need to be updated, I will work on that as I have time. Feel free to point out things that you think need an update!

DKC Meet the Bull Terrier Presentation

Red Bull Terrier Rufus

Hi, I’m Cleo Parker, and I am delighted to have been asked to give this Meet the Breed presentation for Bull Terriers, also sometimes known as English Bull Terriers.

  • The things I’m going to cover today are
  • a little bit about my background
  • the history of the breed, how it was developed and its differs from some related breeds,
  • some famous Bull Terriers and Bull Terrier owners,
  • the positive and negative aspects of owning Bull Terriers
  • the work required for health and maintenance of this breed
  • resources for learning more about the breed and connecting with reputable breeders

Then we’ll bring out some dogs for you to meet and take questions, if we run over time you are welcome to come back to the Bull Terrier benching and continue our conversation there.


I have owned Bull Terriers for over 37 years, yes I did get my first one when I was a teenager!

I have been showing for 35 years and breeding for 23. In that time I’ve bred 7 litters with 36 puppies, and I have finished 13 AKC champions. Please note this is not unusual, most breeders have fairly small breeding programs.

In addition to the conformation or “beauty contest” part of dog shows I’ve also competed in Jr Showmanship, Obedience, and Rally. I am currently secretary of the Bull Terrier Club of Metro Detroit and the all breed Progressive Dog Club of Wayne County, and am a member of the Bull Terrier Club of America and Terrier Club of Michigan.


BOARD: Old Fashioned Bulldog & White English Terrier, 1900 BT Champion, Photos of contemporary Bull Terriers

The Bull Terrier was developed in the mid-1800s in England from for what was then considered a sport suitable for the middle class, dog fighting. The breeds used in this initial development were the Bulldog, which looked more like today’s Boxer than modern Bull Dogs, and the White English Terrier, which is now extinct. During this Victorian period, white animals of all types were very fashionable as pets, and an animal dealer, a man we would probably label a puppy miller today, James Hinks, was instrumental in developing the all-white version of the bull and terrier fighting dogs of his day. These dogs proved to very popular as pets and competitors in the relatively new sport of dog shows.

So the breed was developed and refined more on the basis of its looks and character than its working or performance abilities, a trend that has continued to this day. Bull Terriers have worked as search and rescue dogs, a number are certified therapy dogs, and they enjoy agility. But they’ve never been bred specifically to be anything other than a striking looking, affectionate and fun loving companion. Around 1900 the modern “downfaced” or egg shaped head became desirable for show dogs and that became the hallmark of the breed.

Not to be confused with

Related breeds that have been developed from similar bulldog and terrier crosses include the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier, the American Pit Bull Terrier, and the Boston Terrier. The Miniature Bull Terrier is considered a separate breed by the AKC, but is obviously derived from the same dogs as the Bull Terrier with further selection for small size. The Staffie probably looks the most similar to the original Bull and Terriers of the 1800s, but each breed is developed to follow its own breed standard. Each has its unique characteristics, but they are all very powerful dogs for their size with a strong craving for human attention, and they require an owner with a certain amount of determination to bring out their best qualities. (point to board)

When you’re trying to distinguish between the Bully breeds, the head is key to identifying the Bull Terrier. Even in Bullies that do not have the classic “egg head” the head is long with no more than a minimal stop or break in profile in front of the eye, rather than the pronounced drop in the other bully breeds; they have a flat rather than rounded cheeks, and they have a squinty, triangular shaped eye opening unique to this breed alone. They are the only one of the bull and terrier breeds with a naturally erect ear which does not require cosmetic surgery or cropping to stand up straight.

The unique appearance of the Bull Terrier can lead to some challenges for the lay person to correctly identify the breed. Not only are they sometimes confused with other short haired muscular breeds, but also with Bedlington Terriers who are groomed to give the appearance of a down face, sheep, pigs, and even aardvarks.

BOARD: Variety of BT photos, Bullyolympics, pet photos, variety of colors, head styles, ages and cute activities, including other animals & people

Although the breed was originally all white, colored dogs were re-introduced to the breed in the 1930s to address some health concerns, notably a very high rate of deafness in the breed, which is true of many animals with white coat color. Today there is no difference in the temperament, health or quality of the different colors of Bull Terriers, with the exception that the whites are still more prone to deafness and slightly more susceptible to skin problems. In the US colored and white Bull Terriers are shown as separate varieties, which each send a representative to compete in the Terrier Group in every other country they are shown together.

Although the looks may pull you in, it is really the personality of the Bull Terrier that keeps its true fans devoted to the breed. They have an enthusiasm for life that is infectious and a determination to do things their own way that can have you in stitches as you watch their antics. They do require a strong minded owner with a sense of humor who can channel their activities and laugh at their antics. They do best in active families where there lots of opportunities for walks and play. They love kids and can take a lot some accidental hits without getting upset, but please be aware that small kids will get knocked down and need to have the temperament to get right back up and dust themselves off. Although they look strong and tough, their great love of people of all kinds means they are not a very effective guard dog. They bark less than many other breeds and rarely meet a person they don’t like. Although I feel they would protect their people in an emergency, I find they have very little interest in protecting property. The males and females vary little in temperament; there are more differences between families of Bull Terriers than between the genders.

Any color is acceptable in the breed, although serious breeders do attempt to maintain the brindle factor and rarely do a breeding where one of the parents does not carry that color. The colors that are seen in the Bull Terrier are white, with or without colored markings, brindle, red, fawn, black Brindle and Tri-color. The black brindles and tri colors have a black overlay in the same pattern as the black on a Doberman or Rottweiler. Colored dogs usually have white markings, but there are some that are nearly solid colored.

In terms of size, the Bull Terrier standard is unusual in that it mentions nothing about height or weight. This has caused some controversy in recent years as the breed has clearly increased in size over the years and some fanciers (myself included) feel the dogs are getting too large; in some countries, notably Australia they are much larger than they are in the US. My estimate is that the average range for females is roughly 45 to 60 pounds and for males from 55 to 75, with shoulder heights of 17-19 inches on average. I have seen standards ranging from 35 to 90 pounds.


BOARD: Variety of famous dogs & owners, Patton, Patsy Ann, Don Cherry, Spuds, Target Bullseye, movie posters/video cases, Book jackets, etc.

Bull Terriers’ unique appearance makes them well suited to memorable ad campaigns, the most well known Bully spokesdogs are probably Bud Light’s Spuds McKenzie and Target’s Bullseye. A number of celebrities have owned Bull Terriers as well, including Hockey Night in Canada’s Don Cherry’s Blue, General Patton’s dog Willie, and Pappy Boyington’s Meatball shown on the TV series Baa Baa Black Sheep. Bullies have been featured in many literary works as well, I was introduced to the breed through Richard Harding Davis’s story The Bar Sinister which was made into the movie “It’s a Dog’s Life. ” Another well know book is The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford, later made into a Disney movie with the elderly Bull Terrier Bodger playing a starring role. Bill Sykes dog BullSeye in Dickens’ Oliver Twist is another role that brings Bull Terriers into the limelight. There are many others which I’m not going to take the time to cover here that highlight the unique character that endears this breed to its fans.

PROS AND CONS: Handwritten on Flip Chart

Personality, Funny, EnthusiasticStubborn, Independent
Love People, quickly adapt to new homeDo ANYTHING for Attention
“Big Dog” in a medium packageExtremely Strong for size
High Pain ToleranceHigh Energy, especially when young
Low Maintenance CoatTerrier “Issues
Easy to HousebreakBreed Specific Legislation


Bull Terriers have few special needs in terms of coat and health care. They do shed, they are NOT hypo allergenic. Some shed a little bit all year round, others will blow their coat once or twice a year. Regular brushing with a rubber brush, such as a curry comb or Zoom Groom works well on their short coat. Bathing every 4-6 weeks will help loosen dead coat and keep doggy odor to a minimum. They do need to have their nails trimmed regularly, the live part of their toenail, or quick tends to be quite long and regular nail trimming is needed to keep nails from getting overly long.


Bull Terriers do have some health problems that you should expect a breeder to screen for. There are tests for hearing, heart, kidney, and patella health that should be performed on all breeding stock. The hearing or BAER test can be done as young as six weeks and in this area this test is readily available; you should expect that puppies have been BAER tested prior to placement. There is also a lethal genetic disease that affects young puppies which are unable to absorb zinc and there are obsessive neurological problems, like spinning or obsessive tail chasing, which we unfortunately have no tests for at this time. Another health issue that is not genetic in nature, but I do believe is more common in Bull Terriers than many other breeds is intestinal obstruction. They have very strong jaws and can easily break off and swallow pieces of who knows what that are too large or tangled to get out the other end. If your Bull Terrier is throwing up a lot and has a very sad face, insist that your vet check for obstruction, as it can take a dog down very quickly if they are completely blocked.

Allergies, food and contact sensitivities are fairly common in Bull Terriers, and usually expressed as skin or digestive problems. Most of these can be managed with a combination of detective work and experimentation, but it may take a little time to get to the bottom of any problem. Your dogs’ breeder, Bull Terrier clubs as well as online groups can be a great help in diagnosis and recommendations in this area.



When looking for a Bull Terrier, I strongly recommend starting with the parent club web site, – you have to click through a few screens of information, but it’s all information you should consider when looking for a Bull Terrier. You can also contact me or someone else in the Bull Terrier Club of Metro Detroit to find out about litters in this area, but Bull Terriers are not a popular breed, so it’s not the case that club members have puppies every time someone is looking, so you may have to take some time or drive a few hours to find the right Bull Terrier for your family.

The club does occasionally have rescue dogs available, we ask that you go through the national club’s rescue referral site as they have a formal application that will lead you through all the relevant questions about your home and interests and then automatically forward the application to our club rescue coordinator. The national club site also lists dogs in need across the country; some areas unfortunately have more rescues coming in than good homes available, so please consider this option as well.

There is also an excellent online group for bull terriers at Yahoo! Groups, it is a great place to ask questions about Bull Terriers and get honest answers from people with lots of experience with the breed. You can help decide if the breed is right for you, get information on finding a reputable breeder, and ask advice after you get a dog.

I’’ve got some handouts available from our club that list some of the websites I’’ve mentioned and lists some of the best books about Bull Terriers as well as local people who have volunteered to answer questions about the breed.

Now it’s time to bring out the dogs (introduce everyone) and we’re all available to answer questions.

Contact Cleo

Updated November 22, 2008