What Were Bull Terriers Bred For? (Bull Terrier History)

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With their distinctive egg-shaped heads and muscular frames, Bull Terriers are one of the most recognizable dog breeds around. But behind their stylish looks lies a breed that was originally developed for far less fashionable purposes.

Bull Terriers have a rather brutal history, as they were first bred in 19th century England for the now outlawed bloodsports of that era. Though they later transitioned into beloved companion dogs, understanding the breed’s origins provides crucial insight into the traits and tendencies of today’s Bull Terriers.

In this article, we’ll explore the early days of the Bull Terrier breed and uncover the roles they were originally bred to fulfill. Tracing the evolution of Bull Terriers from fighting dogs into companions gives perspective on how intentional breeding over generations can dramatically reshape a dog breed.

Origins of the Bull Terrier

The Bull Terrier breed traces its roots back to 19th century England

The Bull Terrier breed traces its roots back to 19th century England and the now infamous bloodsports popular at that time. Bull Terriers originated from crosses between old English Bulldogs and various terriers.

The rugged Bulldogs provided the tenacity and strength these new hybrids would need. The agile terriers introduced traits like quickness and a high-energy, feisty temperament.

This blend of characteristics from the parent breeds was the perfect recipe for creating dogs suited for the brutal tasks demanded of them.

Bull and terrier mixes first emerged in the early 1800s. The goal was to develop a powerful yet nimble breed that could succeed in dog fighting pits and also work at exterminating vermin infestations of rats and mice.

These early Bull Terriers were bred without much care for aesthetics, valued primarily for their working abilities.

Through continued selective breeding over several decades, the Bull Terrier breed as we better recognize it today began taking shape. The breeding efforts now centered on crafting an athletic and spirited fighter that also boasted a striking appearance.

Use in Bloodsports

In their early days, Bull Terriers were bred specifically for the now banned bloodsports of animal baiting and dog fighting.

Their courage and refusal to back down from a fight made them the first choice for pit fighting against other dogs. They became favorites in this cruel sport, which involved two dogs being locked in a pit together until one dog gave up or died.

Bull Terriers were also used by butchers for bull baiting, a practice where dogs surrounded and harassed bulls to tenderize the bull’s meat before slaughter. True to their name, Bull Terriers excelled at baiting larger animals.

Another common and equally gruesome role was ratting. Bull Terriers accompanied men into rat infested spaces and bet on how many rats each dog could kill in a certain time period.

Their agility and strong prey drive meant Bull Terriers could readily tackle these vermin extermination tasks.

While horrific by today’s standards, these bloodsports highlighted traits like gameness, tenacity, and agility that breeders prized in early Bull Terriers. The dogs were single-minded in battling their opponents, cementing their reputation as fiercely determined fighters.

Transition to Companion Dog

Although they were originally bred for bloodsports, today Bull Terriers are great companion animals.

By the mid-19th century, bloodsports like dog fighting and bull baiting were banned in England through new animal welfare laws. With their traditional “jobs” now illegal, the future of Bull Terriers was uncertain.

However, some breeders saw potential to reshape the breed’s reputation from gladiator into companion. Through selective breeding, they worked to amplify the Bull Terrier’s noted loyalty and playfulness while toning down their pugnacity.

While still maintaining the energy and athleticism of their fighting ancestors, concerted breeding efforts helped transform Bull Terriers into steadfast, people-oriented companions rather than dogfighting competitors.

As they transitioned into roles as loyal pets and show dogs, Bull Terriers became promoted as the “canine gladiator” turned gentleman companion. Their gallant spirit remained, but now directed toward pleasing their human families rather than baiting bulls.

This major shift in Bull Terrier breeding paved the way for their popularity as sprightly, fun-loving family pets. Though some of their feisty foundations remain, deliberate focus on producing companion dogs allowed the Bull Terrier to find acceptance in Victorian society.

Bred for Specific Traits

As Bull Terriers moved beyond the fighting pit and into family homes, careful breeding selections continued to hone the ideal traits for their new station.

One signature feature breeders focused on perfecting was the Bull Terrier’s distinctive “egg-shaped” head—the breed’s most recognizable feature. Through meticulous breeding over generations, this unique head profile became a fixed breed hallmark.

In addition to aesthetic considerations, breeders also bred specifically for companion-friendly temperament. Desired qualities like playfulness, affection, and loyalty were intentionally cultivated in breeding programs.

The breed standard for Bull Terriers also calls for traits like intelligence, courage, and energy that make them successful as active, engaging pets. However, aggression is considered a serious fault.

While their athletic muscular build reflects their fighting heritage, modern Bull Terriers are bred to be charming, people-oriented pets first and foremost. Careful breeding transformed them into outgoing companions while retaining their spirited zest for life.

Popular Companion Today

Today, Bull Terriers are bred almost exclusively as companions and show dogs, not for the bloodsports of old. Through dedicated breeding efforts over the past century, the breed has successfully shed its fighting history and vicious reputation.

As pets, modern Bull Terriers are fun-loving, goofy, and affectionate with their families. They thrive on human interaction and plenty of activity.

That hearty energy that once served them well in the fighting pit now makes them eager playmates and exercise buddies.

While protective, contemporary Bull Terriers are typically gentle and friendly when properly socialized.

However, their strength and zeal still requires dedicated training and activity to prevent problem behaviors. Their spirited nature remains!

In the show ring, Bull Terriers are bred to meticulous aesthetic standards focused on their distinct head, strong build, and elegant gait. Form now takes priority over their original function as gladiator dogs.

Though they retain a bold, lively spirit, today’s Bull Terriers are bred first and foremost to be loyal, entertaining companions. Through conscientious breeding programs, their reputation was transformed from fighter to charming family dog.

Bull Terriers: From Fighters to Lovers

In summary, Bull Terriers originated in 19th century England as a cross between Bulldogs and terriers specifically intended for the brutal bloodsports of that era. As adept fighters, they were prized for ratting, dog fighting, and baiting bulls.

However, once these activities were banned, Bull Terriers underwent a major evolution from pugnacious pit dogs into refined pets through dedicated breeding efforts. The breed was reshaped to emphasize companionable qualities over combativeness.

Today’s Bull Terriers still carry that courageous spirit of their ancestors, but apply it to enthusiastically playing with families instead of battling other animals. Their history provides crucial perspective on how this breed was first molded for bloodshed then carefully transformed into delightful companions.

By understanding where Bull Terriers came from, we gain better insight into the unique blend of tenacity and loyalty that makes them such popular pets. From notorious fighter to charming companion, the Bull Terrier’s remarkable history reveals how dedicated breeding can entirely redirect the purpose of a dog breed over time.

Josh Martin- Founder and Creator of Terrier Owner

Josh Martin is the proud owner of a female Jack Russell Terrier Named Luna. Josh founded TerrierOwner.com to share the stories of owning a Terrier and to help all terrier owners with the struggles, excitement and common questions that come with being a new terrier parent.

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