9 Facts About Bull Terriers

Bull terriers have a distinct look.
Bull terriers have a distinct look. / Anita Kot/Moment/Getty Images

It’s impossible not to have fun when hanging out with this goofy, lovable breed, whose personality is as unique as its looks. Here’s what you need to know about bull terriers.

1. Bull terriers were bred to fight. 

Illustration of a bull terrier, 1985.
Illustration of a bull terrier, 1985. / Heritage Images/GettyImages

Bull terriers are directly related to bull-and-terriers. As their name suggests, they were a cross between bull dogs and various terriers—breeders thought the tenacious spirit and agility of the terrier mixed with the brute force of a bulldog would create the ultimate fighting pit dog. The breed was known as a “canine gladiator.”

Dog fighting and other blood sports were outlawed in England thanks to the Humane Act of 1835. Bull terriers were given other tasks, such as ratting and being companions. 

2. One man decided to class bull terriers up. 

white bull terrier in a woody cowboy costume
Today’s bull terriers are fancy, too. / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

In the 1860s, James Hinks of Birmingham, England saw potential in these dogs, and decided to make them a distinctive breed. He crossed them with the now-extinct white terrier, as well as the Dalmatian and possibly the border collie. Hinks bred all of his dogs to be pure white, with a longer face and no bow legs. This new-and-improved breed boasted more consistent, sophisticated looks than its predecessor.

Originally, these fancy dogs were all white and called “White Cavaliers.” Later, the bull terriers were bred with Staffordshire bull terriers, creating bullys with colors such as brown, black, red, and brindle. The breed’s popularity grew rapidly, and by 1897, the Bull Terrier Club of America was established.  

3. Bull terriers have some of the canine world’s most distinct faces. 

a white bull terrier resting on a couch
Distinctive and adorable. / Chiara Benelli/Moment/Getty Images

Bull terriers are known for their long, egg-shaped faces that slope in the front into a Roman nose. Their eyes are also unusual: The bull terrier is the only registered breed to have triangle-shaped eyes.

4. OCD is common in bull terriers.

a woman walking a white bull terrier outside
Enrichment is good for bull terriers. / Carl Court/GettyImages

A dog chasing its tail can be cute, but it’s also possibly a sign that the canine has obsessive compulsive disorder. Studies have shown that bull terriers and German shepherds are much more likely to compulsively chase their tails than any other breed. Other signs of the disorder include frequent chasing of shadows and compulsive pacing. Worried about your dog’s obsessive behavior? Keeping your pup busy can help.

5. Bull terriers are the clowns of the dog world. 

black and white photo of a bull terrier jumping through a hoop
Bull terriers know how to put on a show. / General Photographic Agency/GettyImages

Bullys might seem a little intimidating with their muscular appearance, but they’re actually very sweet, gentle dogs. Known for their goofy and fun personalities, bull terriers are perfect for active families. The dogs love to play and get into trouble. 

6. Some bull terriers are deaf.

A piebald bull terrier standing near a lake.
A piebald bull terrier. / Pawel Wewiorski/Moment/Getty Images

As is the case with Dalmatians and other dogs with piebald coats, bull terriers sometimes have trouble with their hearing. It was believed that deafness could be bred out of the dog, but many breeders continued to use deaf dogs regardless. Others simply didn’t realize that the offspring of dogs deaf in only one ear could be totally deaf. 

7. Bull terriers make good spokesdogs. 

Bullys are no strangers to the limelight. Spuds MacKenzie was a well-known bull terrier that worked as the mascot of Bud Light. The party dog was marketed as a man’s dog, often with a gaggle of women (“Spudettes”) on paw. In reality, the cool bachelor-hound was a female named Honey Tree Evil Eye, or “Evie” for short. Regardless, the people loved it: Between 1987 and 1988, Bud Light sales increased by 20 percent. 

Another laid-back bull terrier in the business is Bullseye, the Target dog. The mascot sports Target’s logo like a spot on her eye (don’t worry, it’s non-toxic dye). She’s appeared in commercials since 1999, so naturally there has been more than one Bullseye, but how many exactly is shrouded in mystery. The popular dog flies first class, knows a host of celebrities, and has even been immortalized in wax at Madame Tussauds in New York. 

8. A bull terrier was the official greeter of Juneau, Alaska. 

A statue of Patsy Ann in Juneau, Alaska.
A statue of Patsy Ann in Juneau, Alaska. / gillfoto, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Patsy Ann was born in 1929 and came to Juneau as a puppy. Despite being deaf, the bull terrier had an uncanny ability to tell when and where ships were coming in to dock; she would come to the wharf and visit the unloading boats. Patsy Ann was dubbed the official greeter and loved by all. In her spare time, she would visit the locals who greeted her with scraps and treats (in her later years, she got quite plump). Some say that the bully was photographed more than Rin Tin Tin.

Patsy Ann lived to the ripe age of 13, and a statue was erected in her honor. Juneau still sells merchandise with her likeness to this day.

9. You can get a smaller version of a bull terrier.

Although technically a different breed, miniature bull terriers exist. These smaller dogs only grow to be about 14 inches tall, while their larger cousins can be up to 21 inches. These dogs also shed much less than their larger counterparts.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015; it has been updated for 2023.