Staffordshire Bull Terrier (Staffy)
Looks can be deceiving and this was never more true than with the bull terrier. Presumed by many to be aggressive, unfriendly dogs thanks to their muscular build and breeding heritage, the affectionate bull terrier actually thrives while spending time with bonded humans. “Bull terriers are cute, clown dogs,” says Pam Nichols, DVM, President-elect of the American Animal Hospital Association. “They have a funny sense of humor, but are also very stubborn. They aren’t super interested in pleasing parents although they are very sweet dogs for the most part.”
While they are low maintenance on the grooming side, they are quite the handful when it comes to training and supervision. Bull terriers are busy dogs from the time they are puppies until middle age, earning the nickname “the kid in a dog suit.” They love company and are very playful, but can also be mischievous and destructive, especially left to their own devices. Bull terriers always keep life interesting for their owners, either by entertaining them or frustrating them.
The bull terrier has a face like no other. Their heads are long and egg-shaped, sloping down into a Roman nose, and are topped by pointed ears. They are also the only registered breed to have triangle shaped eyes. When it comes to their size, bull terriers can really vary, with some on the smaller side at just 35 pounds all the way up to beefier 75 pound bullies. They are big-boned dogs and their gait shows off their strength and agility. Their coats are made up of short, flat hair that appears shiny and feels hard. They can either be white—even solid white—or colored with various markings, with more than 20 different combinations.
While bull terriers may seem tough and intimidating thanks to their unique looks, they are a sweet and gentle breed. They are goofballs, the class clown of the dog world, and owners delight in their funny personalities. They love to play and get into trouble in equal measure. These extroverted pups are always happy to see you and meet other people, often feisty in their greetings.
They definitely have some personality quirks. Bull terriers can tend to be a more aggressive breed. Because they are full of fire, their dominant traits can manifest in disagreeable ways without intervention. You want to ensure your bull terrier does not become possessive or jealous so they don’t act out towards other dogs. They also commonly have obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD, says Nichols, which translates to obsessively chasing their tail or their own shadow or compulsively pacing. If these are behaviors you see, talk to your veterinarian.
If you bring a bull terrier home, plan to spend lots of time with him. They are very active dogs and they need companionship all day long. Leaving a bull terrier on their own is a recipe for disaster. They eat anything, so your home should be bull terrier proof to avoid emergency veterinary surgery.
Because they play rough, adding a bull terrier to a family with children needs to be considered carefully. They are not recommended for homes with young children, but older kids who know how to interact with the bully—never teasing them or playing tug of war—can definitely help them burn off their energy. Keep in mind that bull terriers may be aggressive to kids they don’t know and may protect their young humans from friends during rough play.
While they can be aggressive to dogs of the same sex, bull terriers tend to get along just fine with dogs of the opposite sex. They definitely cannot be trusted with cats or other small animals. That said, Bull terriers do well serving in roles for bomb detection, search-and-rescue, service, assistance, health-alert, and therapy dogs.
Because the bull terrier’s coat is short and glossy, it requires little grooming. Brushing once a week with a soft-bristle brush helps to remove dirt and loose hairs. Those signature, significant ears do need to be regularly checked and cleaned as needed. And bull terrier nails should be kept short so they aren’t uncomfortable walking. They don't need frequent bathing—unless they’ve gotten into a stinky mess—and can be washed with either dry shampoo or wiped with a damp cloth. Their coat doesn’t keep them warm in colder weather and luckily they don’t mind donning a sweater or coat.
Keeping in mind that they were bred for both sport and companionship, it’s ideal to take your bull terriers on a daily half-hour to an hour-long walk. Thanks to their strength and dexterity, they are also skilled at obedience training, tracking, and agility courses which are all great ways to challenge their energy. But go easy with puppies who are especially bouncy. High-impact activities—like jumping on furniture or playing Frisbee—can damage developing joints. They also need to exercise their mind and love the challenge of interactive toys.
Be patient and be willing to laugh a little through the bull terrier training process. Timid and first-time dog owners need not apply. Because they are a terrier, they put a bigger emphasis on play than on work ethic. So when it comes time for any training, ensure that it is fun for your bully. They respond well to positive reinforcement—bring on the food and toys, but avoid rawhides—show them you are in charge without being harsh or using physical punishments. Independent thinkers that they are, bull terriers can be a challenge to train, so be consistent, especially when housetraining. They do well with crate training, which helps keep them out of trouble.
Socialization is important for bull terriers; they are naturally suspicious of strangers and are inclined to be aggressive with other animals, especially dogs of the same sex. Make sure they know how to welcome visitors to your home.
There are a few health issues to consider for bull terriers. Hereditary nephritis is a severe form of kidney disease that can be found in bull terriers even from an early age. The disease causes the kidneys to malfunction and often a dog suffering from this affliction will not live to be older than three. Because they have a piebald coat, bull terriers can have hearing issues ranging from partial to total deafness. They can still lead relatively normal lives with special training and handling. Their unique coat, especially for all white bull terriers, can also lead to contact allergies and other skin issues such as rashes, sores, and irritations. Bull terriers may also suffer from heart disease which is typically indicated by a heart murmur. Their distinctive eyes are also prone to lens luxation which may be treatable with medication or surgery, but may also lead to eye removal. And as mentioned, bull terriers are likely to deal with OCD in the form of spinning, or chasing their tail for hours on end if left unchecked. It may be treatable with medications like phenobarbitol, anafranil, or Prozac for extreme cases or simply eliminating boredom for milder cases.
Bull terriers were first bred in the 1830s as fighting dogs, by likely crossing a bulldog with the now extinct white English terrier, and later Spanish pointers to increase their size. They were considered gladiators in the dog-fighting ring, prized for their strength and tenacity.
Then in the 1860s, as dog fighting was outlawed and finally lost popularity, bull terriers were bred to be all white as a fashionable companion for gentlemen. They earned the nickname "White Cavalier" thanks to their courageous approach to dog fighting and their courtliness towards people and sweet disposition. The first bull terrier was registered by the American Kennel Club in 1885. Then the Bull Terrier Club of America was formed in 1897. The colored bull terrier was made a separate variety in 1936, and the miniature bull terrier became a separate breed in 1992.
There are many notable bull terrier owners, including General George S. Patton, actress Dolores Del Rio, author John Steinbeck, and President Woodrow Wilson. Perhaps the most famous bull terrier is Patsy Ann, the official greeter of Juneau, Alaska. Patsy Ann sat on the docks in Juneau during the 1930s greeting sailors and taking photos with tourists. Her spirit lives on in Juneau thanks to a commemorative statue commissioned in 1992.
- Spuds Mackenzie, the sly-grinning bull terrier used in Budweiser commercials in the late 1980s, helped increase the popularity of the breed.
- Target decided to use a bull terrier as their official spokesdog, too. They introduced Bullsye in 1999 with the Target logo appearing as a spot on her eye—thanks to non-toxic dye.
- Bull terriers have also been popular in books and on the big screen. Bullies are featured in Oliver Twist, The Incredible Journey, and the Nancy Drew series. In fact, Jumanji and The Polar Express author Chris Van Allsburg includes a bull terrier named "Fritz" in each book he writes.As for movies, bull terriers have appeared in Toy Story, Frankenweenie, and Next Friday to name a few.