What to Know About Bull Terriers

Medically Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on May 25, 2024
7 min read

The bull terrier is a robust and comical dog. It has a characteristic egg-shaped head with small, erect, pointed ears, and triangular eyes. They come in either white or brindle, black brindle and white, brindle and white, red and white, black tan and white, white and brindle, white and red, white black and tan, black brindle, and white and black brindle.

Bull terrier size and lifespan. The bull terrier grows to a height of about 21 to 22 inches tall. A full-grown adult may weigh between 50 and 70 pounds. They have a lifespan of about 12 to 13 years.

Bull terrier temperament. bull terriers are playful and mischievous dogs. They can sometimes get a bit stubborn but they love affection and physical activities. They are loyal and devoted to their humans. But they can become aggressive if not properly trained and socialized.

A bull terrier dog is always active. They show courage, agility, and love being around people. Sometimes, they can be quite strong-willed. You need to be assertive to live with a bull terrier in your house. Because of this, this breed may not be the best choice if you have toddlers and are a first-time owner.

However, that should not discourage you from getting a bull terrier. They are fun-loving dogs and will generally do well with children if they are socialized properly. Since they are very active, consider getting one when your kids get older. Always keep an eye on your dog when playing with kids or unfamiliar adults. That way you can come to the rescue if the games start getting rough. Make sure you know how your bull terrier behaves when they get anxious or angry to prevent any aggression outbursts.

Grooming. The bull terrier has a short, harsh, and glossy coat. Because of this, they don’t need a lot of maintenance. Brush your dog’s coat once a week with a soft-bristle brush or a hound glove. That will be enough to get rid of loose fur or other foreign materials. Do regular ear checkups and clean when necessary. Also, remember to trim your terrier’s nails. Overgrown nails can be uncomfortable and even cause walking or running issues.

Diet. A bull terrier should get fed high-quality, commercial, or home-prepared dog food. Always consult your veterinarian before choosing to make an at-home blend for your dog. Making your own food can be a complicated and time-consuming process, and more importantly, you will want to make sure that you’re meeting all of your dog’s nutritional needs. Always feed your dog according to its age. Never feed your puppy on adult food, and vice versa. bull terriers need food rich in natural calcium especially when they are young.

You should always watch your dog’s weight and calorie consumption. Some bull terriers are prone to obesity. Take care not to overfeed your dog on treats when training.

Never forget to provide your dog with fresh, clean, drinking water. Also, make sure to find out which human foods are safe for your dog’s consumption before feeding them any. If you suspect things are not right with your terrier’s weight, talk to your doctor before considering any diet changes.

Exercise. bull terriers need moderate exercise every day to stay happy and in good mental and physical health. Consider taking your terrier with you on long walks. Another thing that works is canine sports. Taking part in sports like agility, tracking, obedience, and coursing ability tests can go a long way in stimulating and channeling your dog’s energy.

Training. The key to successful bull terrier training is making the training experience fun and playful. If the training is not fun, a bull terrier will not be willing to participate. The most effective way to train them is to use toys and food treats in the training process. Also, consider incorporating dog sports. 

bull terriers can be successfully trained to do things like detecting bombs, doing search and rescue missions, and becoming service dogs (for therapy, health alerts, and assistance). This breed should be trained with a lot of humor and patience. With positive reinforcement, you can train your bull terrier to do almost anything.

You should start training and socialization from when your terrier is a puppy to develop the best behavior. If they get trained by different trainers, they should always stay consistent and follow the same training rules. Try to find puppy parties or groups to socialize your bull terrier puppy. Always make sure your puppy is immunized first before starting socialization.

Immunization. You should make sure your bull terrier gets immunized while they are still young for maximum protection. Puppies should start vaccination after they get to eight weeks of age. Talk to your vet to decide which vaccines are needed. All dogs should have the following core vaccines (unless there’s a medical reason not to vaccinate):

  • Distemper
  • Adenovirus
  • Parvovirus
  • +/- Parainfluenza
  • Rabies

In addition to these, other vaccines are just as essential for some dogs based on their lifestyle and risk. These include: 

  • Leptospira (should be considered for all dogs based on increasing prevalence)
  • Lyme disease
  • Bordetella
  • Canine influenza
  • Rattlesnake toxoid

The bull terrier is prone to genetic conditions, a problem common in pure-bred dogs. There are conditions that specifically affect this breed of dogs. One of the most common ones is linked to their “Roman nose”. The shape of the bull terrier's head may cause their teeth not to line up properly, leading to issues with opening and closing their mouth. These genetic issues can be detected by doing DNA tests.

Other common conditions with bull terriers include:

  • Deafness. Some pups may be born without hearing.
  • Atopy. These are allergic reactions that cause itching and ear infections.
  • Kidney issues. Conditions affecting kidneys
  • Lethal acrodermatitis. This condition only occurs in white bull terriers and causes growth issues and a serious skin infection.
  • Heart issues. Conditions that affect the dog’s heart valves
  • Luxating patellas. This causes kneecaps to move out of place.

To avoid genetic conditions, breeders should have their bull terriers tested for heart and kidney conditions. They should also test for the lethal acrodermatitis genes and avoid breeding two carriers. You should also make sure you test a puppy for hearing before taking it from the breeder. Breeders should try to share information among themselves and help each other to come up with the best quality breeds.

The bull terrier has certain points of concern, including physical features that may become exaggerated in the future and cause health issues for your dog.

Consider doing the following tests on your bull terrier:

  • Cardiac examination
  • Brainstem auditory evoked response (BAER) testing performed at BAER testing centers
  • Patella evaluation
  • Kidney and urine analysis

Sometimes bull terriers can get aggressive and even bite if they feel provoked or threatened. Other things that may trigger your terrier to get aggressive include:

  • Loneliness. When left alone for long, bull terriers can get anxious and angry,
  • Lack of socialization. If not socialized from a young age, your bull terrier can get hostile around small, loud kids.
  • Lack of physical activity. bull terriers need exercise to manage their energy build-up, failure to do this can cause your dog to have outbursts of rage and aggression.
  • Inadequate stimulation. If not stimulated enough, bull terriers can develop habits like tail chasing and excessive barking.

Despite showing aggression due to the above reasons, bull terriers have many positives including:

  • They are strong, protective, and charming at the same time.
  • They are welcoming, loving, and will do well with people of all ages.
  • They are always enthusiastic and show high energy levels.
  • They are comical and always ready to have a good time.
  • bull terriers are sensitive, intelligent, loyal, and committed to their humans.
  • They are always eager to go out or play games.
  • They are not overly cautious or fearful.

Today’s bull terrier was first bred in the 19th century to help with the control of vermin and for animal blood sports. It came from breeding between the now-extinct Old English Bulldog and the Old English Terrier. The Old English Terrier is known today as the Manchester Terrier. The development of this breed was aimed at combining the speed of the lighter-built Terrier with the tenacity of the Bulldog. The Bulldog was not doing well in combat. At the time it was bred to fight bears and bulls tied to posts.

People started to breed bulldogs and terriers believing the result would be a better fighter. Not much was done to preserve the breed’s original form. bull terriers were only bred to improve performance and not appearance. The dog that came from bulldogs and terriers was much smaller and easier to handle.

A breeder from Birmingham, James Hinks, was responsible for using new blood to give the bull terrier its characteristic muzzle. Before 1920, most of the bull terriers bred were all white, until it was realized that they were more prone to deafness. After that, colored bull terriers started becoming more sought after and valuable.

The first modern bull terrier came up in 1917 and was called "Lord Gladiator". It was the first dog to have no stop in its skull. While James Hinks tried to breed bull terriers to get the perfect dog for a gentleman, the breed was used in pits and was quite a good fighter.