Bull Terrier

Bull TerrierBull Terrier

Bull Terrier enthusiasts were so proud of this breed's courageous history, he became known as 'the Gladiator of the Canine Race'. Then political correctness intervened! Today, the history of the Bull Terrier remains testament to how admirers resurrected this wonderful canine to its original physique with his unique egg-shaped head.

History of the Bull Terrier

Terriers c 1800'sTerriers c 1800's

Although the progenitors of the Bull Terrier were almost certainly gladiators, the James Hinks strain we know today was created as a show dog for the new middle classes. The foundation bitch of his strain, Hinks Puss was first shown at the Holborn Show in 1862 and took first prize in the class for the breed.

Old English White Terriers 1864Old English White Terriers 1864

Hinks showed his Bull Terrier strain 82 times in 11 years with such success that his line of Bull Terrier became the foundation of the breed to the exclusion of all others. The three-generation pedigree of Puss and Madman (the foundation Sire out of Puss) indicates the breeds used were mainly the English White Terrier (now extinct), the white Bulldog and the Dalmatian.

Bull Terrier c 1903Bull Terrier c 1903

After the Cremorne Show in 1864, John Henry Walsh aka Stonehenge, the world's leading canine authority of the era, described Hinks dogs as "one you might fancy, but not bred to the business". The business, being of course, dog fighting. In England, dog fighting had been banned since 1835. Walsh wrote an expose on the illegal activity in the 1860s in Hinks home-town Birmingham, naming places, people and dogs, but there was no mention of Hinks or his dogs, substantiating his claim that they were not bred for fighting.

Old English White Terriers 1864Old English White Terriers 1864

So James Hinks took the Bull Terrier out of the murky mist of the Victorian metropolis of Birmingham in whose shadow the breed was born. As Jowatt, a well-known dog authority of the late 1800's expressed it "Hinks found the bull terrier a tattered old bum and made him a right 'un, made him a white 'un, a fine dog for a gentleman's chum". This made the Bull Terrier we know today a show pet for people who want a dog with a hint of a past, but not tainted by the dog pit itself[1].

The Bull Terrier becomes a Pure Breed

Exaggerated Bull Terrier down-faceExaggerated Bull Terrier down-face

As dog shows became more popular, the white Bull Terrier with the long foreface was born. But then breeders became so obsessed with head planes that curve gently downwards (the down-face) that the stop essentially became eliminated. Such was the passion which became the smoothly contoured egg-shaped head we know today.

Bull Terrier (coloured) c 1930Bull Terrier (coloured) c 1930

In addition, for almost 70 years, the White Bull Terrier retained almost complete exclusivity. By the late 1930's, through the Second World War and beyond exaggerated heads were selected over those with general sound body conformation. Consequently, some of these formerly athletic dogs became cripples with such long down-faces they looked like parrot's beaks! This took decades to correct[6].

Coloured Bull Terrier (USA)Coloured Bull Terrier (USA)

In the early 1930's coloured Bull Terriers, like those which were used to produce Staffordshire Bull Terriers, were bred with the white Bull Terriers to correct some of the conformation problems. This coincided with attempts to recognise coloured Bull Terriers alongside the whites. At that time there was not only prejudice against coloured dogs, there was also worse prejudice against white dogs that were bred from coloured parents. This controversy continued until the dedicated breeders of white dogs conceded that the occasional use of a coloured dog, particularly brindle was essential to maintaining pigment and general robustness. By 1950 white and coloured Bull Terriers became one breed in every country except the USA.

History of Bull Terriers In Australia

Bull Terrier c 1912Bull Terrier c 1912

In Australia the first Bull Terriers were imported by 'Plunger' Benson around 1886. Then came a pair 'Trentham Count' and 'Lady' which were awarded top honours by the well-known judge of the day, J C Coupe. This caused such a stir that a band of objecting opposing exhibitors and their dogs were forcibly marched out of the building and given life disqualifications![5] 

Bull Terrier c 1930Bull Terrier c 1930

Bull Terriers were strong at this time with 18 being imported prior to 1907, a litter whelped in quarantine, and a further 85 recorded in Tyzack's Annual[2]. Australia then seemed to follow the pattern of England with white Bull Terriers with exaggerated heads and unsound bodies gradually being replaced by a mixture of white and coloured, well-constructed animals.

The Bull Terrier and Miniature Bull Terrier Today

Bull Terrier (Male)Bull Terrier (Male)

Although the Miniature Bull Terrier has a mandatory height of under 35.5 cms (14 inches), the Bull Terrier has no specified height. Otherwise, these two Breed Standards are identical. Each breed should be substantially but athletically built, have an head egg-shaped head, and the males should look masculine with the bitches obviously more feminine. Each dog should have maximum substance for its size, consistent with quality and sex. Although considered here together, the Miniature should immediately look distinct by its more diminutive height.


The ideal head of a Bull Terrier is described as being egg-shaped with no indentations from the base of the ear to the end of the muzzle. What better way to understand an ideal Bull Terrier's head than to compare it with the shape of an actual egg! The Bull Terrier's skull is somewhat flat where the egg is widest. Then there is a smooth contour, just like a Bull Terrier's head, as it narrows towards the nose. The head planes, described as being down-faced gives the whole head, particularly the muzzle, the look of strength.

Bull TerrierBull Terrier

Tight skin should cover the head giving clean, tight lips. So you can easily see the depth of head in profile, particularly the muzzle, which provides the bone required to anchor the large strong teeth which should form a normal scissors bite. The eyes are as dark as possible, triangular in shape and placed so the muzzle appears perceptibly longer than the skull. Historically cropped, today the small neat erect ears with their thin leathers held stiffly erect complete the finish of this unique head.

The neck should be long and strong without dewlap and taper into sloping shoulders that should never have the 'tacked on' look of its Bulldog ancestor. The forelegs are strong and straight through upright pasterns to round feet. The elbows are placed close to the chest the depth of which is equal to the length of the foreleg. The chest is deep and ribs are well sprung so the body in profile has a gently curving underline. The body should look athletic with a strong level topline and arch over the well-muscled loin, completed by a tail which is thick at the root, tapers to a point, and carried horizontally. The hindquarters are muscular with well-developed first and second thighs forming a good turn of stifle.

Bull Terrier (Miniature)Bull Terrier (Miniature)

Bull Terriers move with a free true action but with a typical jaunty air which typifies his devilish character and temperament.

His tight skin is covered by a short coat which is harsh to touch. He comes in white with or without markings on the head. Alternatively, he can be with brindle is preferred. Whatever the colour, it should predominate the white which should be clear and not ticked. While black, fawn and tri-colour are acceptable, blue and liver colour are not.

References and Further Reading


We have now published a unique Terrier book 'Terriers Unveiled' Available at our sister site: https://rangeairevision.com/terriers-unveiled/

[1] Kevin Kane, James Hinks, Master Craftsman (Self-Published 2001), Chapter 2- "The Exhibition of Fancy and other dogs at The Holborn Horse Repository Show of 1862" and Chapter 3 - "Hinks Old Puss, Not Bred To The Business". Pages 13-62

[2] 'Tyzack's Annual' Compiled by T. W.Tyzack and C.S.Turner; Published 1912 by Bellamine Bros. Printers, 66-70 Flinders Lane Melbourne Pages 55 - 60 (Stud Book) and Page 93 (Imports)

[5] W. Beilby 'The Dog in Australasia' published George Robertson & Company in 1897 Chapter on the Bull Terriers Page 339 - 340

[6] Tom Horner, 'Developments and Changes in the last Half Century' The Fifth Bull Terrier Book, published by the Bull Terrier Club 1981, Clarendon Printers Ltd, Beaconsfield, Bucks UK Page 59.

[7] J.H.Walsh, under the name 'Stonehenge', 'The Dogs of the British Islands' (Fifth Edition) Published by 'The Field' Office, 346 Strand, W.C.London 1886. Book lll, 'Terriers (Other than Fox and Toy)', Chapter ll, Smooth Terriers (other than Toy). The Bull Terrier Page 262

See also our DVD 'Terriers Then & Now' contains more about the Bull Terrier and the Miniature Bull Terrier