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What Were Bull Terriers Bred For? – History, Roles & Bull Terrier Jobs

Whether you like Bull Terriers or not, you have to admit they have a unique look. No one can forget or mistaken the iconic egg-shaped head of these dogs. But with such an odd look and shape, you may be wondering what they were meant for.

So what were Bull Terriers bred for? Bull Terriers have one of the most interesting origin stories of all dog breeds. This distinctive breed was originally bred for fighting in dog fights. Though that occupation is fortunately behind them, they still had quite a few different jobs through the years before arriving where they are now.

If you trace the history of the Bull Terrier, you will find a breed that has truly evolved over time. From being a vicious fighting dog to ratting dog, this breed has done it all. Continue reading to learn the full history of this iconic breed.

Bull Terriers Were Bred for Fighting

Content Warning: This article discusses the history of Bull Terriers, which includes information about dog and animal fights. However, we include NO IMAGES of such fights. Plus, we don’t ever condone dog fighting in any way, shape or form.

Fortunately, we have come to our senses (for the most part) as a species and outlawed dog fights in most of the world. However, once upon a time, this was seen not only as acceptable, but even a past time and hobby for many people.

But up until the mid 1800s, the Bull Terrier could be found fighting other breeds in arenas among all classes of Brits.

As their name hints at, Bull Terriers were bred as a mix between Bulldogs and Terriers. However, the type of terriers mixed with the Bulldogs varied. And in the past, the Bull Terriers were even called Bull-and-terrier dogs.

Bull Terriers were seen as a breed that combined the best of two other breeds to prove themselves as champions in fights. An unfortunate history, but a true one.

Why Bulldogs and Terriers?

The Old English Bulldogs were bred for their ability in a pastime called bull-baiting, where a Bulldog would be turned loose to fight a staked bull. Spectators would bet on the outcome, or rather which animal would survive the encounter.

Owners saw Bulldogs as ideal for bull-baiting due to their:

  • Wide frames
  • Heavy bones and sturdy skeletal frame
  • Aggressive jutting jaw

However, they were hardly renowned for their speed. Stock and well muscled? Absolutely! But these Bulldogs couldn’t zip around at the right speed for a fight. Their entire strategy was the “go low, pin and hold” method, which relied more on endurance and strength.

Terriers, however, were known for their speed and agility. Originally bred for exterminating vermin or as “ratting dogs,” Terriers had to have plenty of agility to catch and kill.

So, when bull-baiting became outlawed around 1830, bloodthirsty “hobbyists” simply adjusted and figured they were going to have dogs fight each other instead of bulls. It was just as heinous, but it was not outlawed like bull-baiting.

Thus, they saw a combination of the Bulldog’s strength and a Terrier’s agility as a winning combo. It only made sense to crossbreed the two breeds, at least for enthusiasts of this bloodsport.

One of the First Hybrid Breeds

Up until the 19th century, dog owners were obsessed with purebred dogs and only purebred dogs. If you were going to own a dog, it better have a purebred pedigree to go with it. And even today, this is still a fairly popular sentiment.

However, this ideology didn’t persist forever. And as the 1800s continued onward, people began to see the benefits of crossing breeds. In other words, people began to understand that you could get the best of both worlds when breeding hybrids.

So back when the Bull Terrier first appeared on the scene, it wasn’t even considered a real breed, but a “half-and-half.” And there wasn’t only one type of Bull Terrier, instead there were several “Bull-and-Terrier” breeds.

The name essentially applied to any breed that was a Bulldog mixed with some kind of Terrier, and not specifically tied to the Bull Terrier we know today.

How the Modern Bull Terrier Became a True Breed

It took a few decades, but eventually the Bull Terrier became a breed all of its own. It is all thanks to an Englishman named James Hinks. This enthusiast took one of the Bull-and-Terrier crosses and continued to standardize it. 

Though colored versions of this breed were around, Hinks’ dogs were the distinctive white that still defines many Bull Terriers to this day. Only about two decades later, the Bull Terrier officially came to the American Kennel Club.

As he continued to refine this breed, it also moved away from its bull-fighting days. Instead of being bred for ferocious and deadly ability, they were now moving towards a more civilized appearance. 

Hinks’ unique style of Bull Terrier, understandably, earned itself the nickname the “White Cavalier.” All the strength and ability were still retained in their Bull

Though instead of raw aggression, the Bull Terrier now showed off a sophisticated refinement that appealed to owners on both sides of the pond. In other words, Hinks’ Bull Terriers were very versatile working dogs, but also decent companions.

But just because their fighting days were of the past, it didn’t mean Bull Terriers suddenly were living the easy life. This breed still had plenty of potential in its physical build and quick speed, so it simply switched careers.

Thankfully, it ended up working jobs that were far more human than dogfighting. And, frankly, more often than not they simply lived out their lives as gentlemen’s companions never working a day in their life.

What Were Bull Terriers Bred for Once Fighting Was Illegal?

Though dogfights still took place in illegal arenas (and yes, even today in some parts of the world), Bull Terriers now had a range of new reasons for being bred. Illegal dog fights weren’t going to keep the old fighting Bull Terriers alive.

The most obvious reason that Bull Terriers were bred for was their refined appearance. Owners could boast a dog that exuded calm, but also had an indomitable appearance. 

And this aesthetic appeal is a large reason for their continued popularity. Bull Terriers are rarely bred for working jobs, and instead live lives of quiet sophistication.

However, if you have a Bull Terrier that you think might make a good hunting companion or a sentinel, then they very well may excel at such tasks. Here are just some of the jobs and roles that Bull Terriers served in society post-dog fighting.

Bull Terriers as the Gentleman’s Companion

Having renounced their fighting days and seen refinement from Hinks, Bull Terriers enjoyed great popularity as the breed of choice for young gentlemen.

Their athletic frames were seen as great complements to many a young well-off lad who wanted to add to their masculine image.

This sleek yet refined masculinity has had an enduring appeal for the breed. Even famously “macho” United States President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt had a Bull Terrier.

Bull Terriers as Show Dogs

It isn’t hard to see why Bull Terriers became so popular so quickly. They simply look good and have one of the best temperaments in the canine kingdom. As a result, their rise to prominence in dog shows also makes sense. 

As the 20th century came along, breeders began standardizing some aspects of the Bull Terrier. To be specific, much attention was paid to its unique head shape. The abdomen of the breed was also bred to be thicker, creating a heftier dog.

However, it was their elongated, egg-shaped head that stood out easily among the competition, and became a key focus for breeders. 

Their triangular eyes are also one of their key features seen in Bull Terriers. In fact, the AKC’s breed standard aims for dark sunken eyes with a “piercing glint” to them.

Bull Terriers as Ratting Dogs

In a post-dog fighting world, Bull Terriers often found themselves living up to the “terrier” part of their name. Like their spirited Terrier ancestors, many Bull Terriers found themselves working as vermin exterminators and ratters.

Using their speedy Terrier side, Bull Terriers served (and still serve) as highly efficient ratting dogs. And although they can range in size, the smaller Bull Terriers could easily get into small hiding spots of the rats.

Rare is the rat that could stand up to this powerhouse of a dog. However, other smaller Terrier breeds still tend to be more popular for these sorts of tasks, such as the Yorkshire Terrier or Rat Terrier.

Bull Terriers as the Official Greeter of Juneau

Well, more specifically, we are talking about one Bull Terrier. Though this is hardly a common reason for breeding Bull Terriers, one once served as the official greeter of Juneau, Alaska.

What does that even mean though? Well, a Bull Terrier named Patsy Ann would regularly come to the city’s wharf and “greet” docking ships. After doing this for a while, she was dubbed the official greeter of the wharf. 

It’s likely that not many Bull Terriers will have the opportunity to be a “greeter,” but this just shows how versatile a Bull Terrier can be. Their sweet-tempered and charming personalities give them a friendly vibe that bodes well with strangers.

Bull Terriers as Whatever You Want Them to Be

Bull Terriers might have been bred for fighting, but those days are long behind them. Now they are mostly bred for their striking appearance and playful demeanor. In other words, they can be anything you want them to be!

Though they are often hard of hearing, they can still serve in a variety of tasks. Or they are suitable as a loyal canine companion. Whether in a single owner home or a large family, Bull Terriers will thrive with proper training and a lot of love.

Whatever the case may be, there is no denying that this breed still holds a strong appeal for owners all around the world. 

Improvement Breeding in Bull Terriers

The term “improvement breeding” essentially refers to the breeding for appearance. That is, breeding for physical attributes and not for temperament or good health. And while this may seem harmless, it negatively affects future generations of dog breeds.

It’s near impossible to breed for both appearance and health. When unethical breeders breed for only desired appearances, they will be neglecting health. Unfortunately, like many popular dogs, the Bull Terriers were subject to this type of breeding.

In some way, we can call this genetic deformities in dogs. One of the first things you notice in the Bull Terrier is the football head. Believe it or not, Bull Terriers weren’t always like this. However, they were deformed to have this head shape because people liked it.

For reference, here’s a picture of what the Bull Terriers looked like back in 1915:

Notice how the head was much more in-line with a “typical” dog?

Within a few decades, breeders had bred a mutated skull, which has now become one of the iconic traits of the Bull Terriers. Along with their thicker bodies, the Bull Terrier looks wildly different than it did in the past.

All this, was because Bull Terriers lost their job with fighting. After the outlaws, their only selling-point was their looks. So, breeders had to adapt and start breeding for “more attractive” physical looks, at least according to the buyers.

Report Dog Fighting

We will wrap up this guide with a quick note on how to report dogfighting. Pitting animals to fight against one another is a practice that we humans should put well behind us.

However, it still happens all over the world, and even here in the United States. If you suspect dog fighting is occurring in your area, we strongly encourage you to report it.

By following the above link you will find a hotline where you can anonymously leave a tip about dogfighting in your area.

And if you witness a dogfight happening, we advise simply calling 911 (or the local emergency number for your country if outside of the US). Dogs deserve love and affection, and dogfighting is the opposite of all that. 


Fighting and ratting aren’t all that Bull Terriers can do. So we would love to hear what your Bull Terriers do. Maybe they are simply warm family companions (nothing wrong with that!) or they could be the guardians of your home.

Whatever the case may be, we invite you to share about your Bull Terriers in the comments below. 

RELATED QUESTIONS:

  • Are Bull Terriers Smart? – Yes, Bull Terriers are certainly unique and wonderful pets. But as a Bull Terrier owner, you may be questioning the intelligence of this breed. Here’s how they compare in dog IQ and what makes them really intelligent dogs.
  • What Were Pitbulls Bred For? – Like the Bull Terriers, Pitbulls shared a similar dark history. That is, they were subjects to dog fights and bull-baiting as well. Learn about the differences between the two dog breeds in the past.
  • What Are the Types of Bulldogs? – Bull Terriers are mixed with Bulldogs. But did you know, there are several variations of Bulldogs? That’s right, the Old English Bulldogs not only gave us the Bull Terrier, but also these other amazing breeds.

The Bull Terrier has become a deformed dog breed through breeding for appearance.
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