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Alice van Kempen, Animal Photography
This larger-than-life clown is an extroverted guy. Sweet as pie with people, he needs to be socialized early to prevent dog aggression and needs a firm hand in general. He’d prefer an active family who likes his ebullient energy. Wherever the action is, that’s where you’ll find him. His short coat is easy to groom.
Because of his fun-loving, mischievous personality, the Bull Terrier is sometimes referred to as “the kid in a dog suit.”
There’s no mistaking the Bull Terrier for any other breed. With his football-shaped head, muscular body and unmatched swagger, this is a dog that commands attention anywhere he goes. He’s an icon, seen at the side of owners from General Patton to Princess Anne, and in advertising campaigns for beer -- the famous Spuds McKenzie -- and department stores. He's a high-energy tough guy with a soft heart, crazy about kids and strongly attached to his family.
The Bull Terrier is sometimes considered one of the breeds known as a "pit bull." Before getting one of these dogs, it is important to realize that there is much misinformation around the natures of pit bulls and there are campaigns to out-law the dogs. Check into local ordinances carefully to be sure that you can legally own one of these dogs in your town. Also do your own research so you can help educate friends and neighbors about the merits of this breed.
On the plus side, grooming is a breeze with a Bull Terrier; just brush him a couple of times a week to keep shedding to a minimum, and make sure his nails are trimmed and his ears are clean.
The Bull Terrier is an indoor dog. Besides having a short coat unsuited to cold or wet weather, he’s the kind of dog who thrives on companionship and needs to be with his family when they are home.
The family tree of the Bulldog is massive with many branches. One of those branches holds the bull-and-terrier breeds, the various results of 18th-century crosses between bulldogs and terriers. Those crosses were made with the intent of producing a dog with the strength and tenacity of the bulldog and the intensity, alertness, agility and “game” nature of the terrier.
The earliest Bull Terriers came in a variety of sizes. Some were as small as four to seven pounds and were considered toy breeds. Others were medium-size at 15 pounds and some ranged up to 45 to 60 pounds, close to the size of the modern Bull Terrier. They had an arched back, bent legs and an undershot jaw, all features that were reminiscent of the breed’s bulldog heritage.
James Hinks of Birmingham, England, was a well-known breeder of Bull Terriers in the 1860s, and it was he who started them on the road to the more refined look they have today: the longer head and the more symmetrical body that was predominantly or completely white. To create them he used existing bull-and-terriers, his white Bulldog Madman, and white English Terriers, which are now extinct.
Nicknamed White Cavaliers, they became fashionable accessories for gentlemen about town and could be soon sitting alongside them as they drove their carriages through the park. A rhyme of the time tells the story of the breed succinctly, saying that Hinks “Found a Bull Terrier a tattered old bum; Made him a dog for a gentleman’s chum.”
The fad spread to the United States. The American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1885, and the Bull Terrier Club of America was founded in 1897. A new variety of Bull Terrier was invented in the early 20th century when some breeders crossed them with Staffordshire Bull Terriers, adding color to the coat. The “Colored” variety of Bull Terrier was recognized in 1936. Today the Bull Terrier ranks 53rd among the breeds registered by the AKC.
The Bull Terrier is a people dog, plain and simple. He's happiest when he's with his family so he’s a terrible choice for an outdoor dog. However, that isn't to say he wants to lie adoringly at your feet. He'd much rather you got up and came outside with him, and went on a short stroll of, say, 10 miles.
Those excursions might be a lot more fun if he weren’t an infamous leash-tugger with a tendency to go chasing after every dog, cat and squirrel he sees. Be prepared to train him to listen to you – something he'll have a hard time seeing the value of much of the time.
Training isn't optional with this breed, unless the idea of a dog weighing between 45 and 80 pounds dragging you all over the neighborhood and ignoring every word you say in your own house appeals to you. Train your Bull Terrier from puppyhood on, with an emphasis on consistency, and you'll have a well-behaved, well-socialized canine family member.
Bull terriers can be protective, especially if they think their family is in danger, so be sure to socialize them around strangers and don’t encourage aggressive or guarding behavior. They can also be protective of their own space, toys, and food. This behavior must be caught early and corrected consistently, as it can lead to serious behavior problems.
Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at eight weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Don’t wait until he is 6 months old to begin training or you will have a more headstrong dog to deal with. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.
Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see the puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality. Whatever you want from a Bull Terrier, look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.
All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines. The Bull Terrier is fairly healthy, but genetic health problems that have been seen in the breed include heart disease, deafness, luxating patellas and eye disorders, such as ectropion and keratoconjunctivitis sicca, or dry eye.
In the hope of controlling the genetic diseases that already affect the breed and preventing any new ones from emerging, the Bull Terrier Club of America participates in a program operated by the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC). Before a Bull Terrier can become CHIC-certified, the breeder must submit tests evaluating the dog for deafness, heart disease, knee problems and kidney disease.
Additionally, the BTCA’s code of ethics recommends genetic testing for all dogs who will be used for breeding. Bull Terriers can suffer from a high rate of allergies that can cause skin itching and secondary infections, including ear infections.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Bull Terriers are big eaters so it's important to keep an eye on their weight. Keeping a Bull Terrier at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier dog for life.
Grooming the Bull Terrier is a cinch. Though the breed is naturally clean with little doggie odor, a bath every three months (or when he’s dirty) in a mild shampoo is a good idea. Brush his sleek coat with a natural bristle brush or rubber hound mitt once a week. Use coat conditioner/polish to brighten the sheen.
His ears need to be checked every week and cleaned if needed, and toenails trimmed once a month. Regular tooth brushing with a soft toothbrush and doggie toothpaste keep the teeth and gums healthy and the breath fresh. Introduce grooming to the Bull Terrier when he is very young so he learns to accept the handling and fuss patiently.
Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.
Finding a good breeder is the key to finding the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as possible. He or she is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than making big bucks. Be wary of breeders who only tell you the good things about the breed or who promote the dogs as being “good with kids” without any context as to what that means or how it comes about.
Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances and what the dogs are like to live with and come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you can provide for him. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps she takes take to avoid those problems. A breeder should want to be a resource for you throughout your dog’s life.
Look for more information about the Bull Terrier and start your search for a good breeder at the website of the Bull Terrier Club of America. Choose a breeder who has agreed to abide by the BTCA’s code of ethics, which prohibits the sale of puppies to or through pet stores, recommends that breeders offer a two-year health warranty and calls for the breeder to take responsibility for any dogs bred throughout the dogs’ life.
Avoid breeders who only seem interested in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. Breeders who offer puppies at one price “with papers” and at a lower price “without papers” are unethical. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from websites that offer to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Lots of reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include puppies always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies.
The cost of a Bull Terrier puppy varies depending on the breeder’s locale, whether the pup is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. The puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment, from parents with health clearances and conformation (show) and, ideally, working titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.
Before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Bull Terrier might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up to become the dog of your dreams. An adult may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive and demanding than a puppy. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.
There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for a Bull Terrier in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Bull Terriers available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for a Bull Terrier. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Networking can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. Most people who love Bull Terriers love all Bull Terriers. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The Bull Terrier Club of America’s rescue network can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Bull Terrier rescues in your area.
The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring a Bull Terrier home with you to see what the experience is like.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a pup. These include:
What is his energy level?
How is he around other animals?
How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors and children?
What is his personality like?
What is his age?
Is he housetrained?
Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
Are there any known health issues?
Wherever you acquire your Bull Terrier, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Puppy or adult, take your Bull Terrier to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
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