Is a Bull Terrier the right dog for you?

A Bull Terrier has been likened to a mischievous three year old child in a fur coat but with the constitution of an armoured tank. The breed is officially described as “obstinate” although “particularly good with people” and “of even temperament and amenable to discipline.” They love people unconditionally, even vets, and absolutely adore children. They believe that owners exist entirely to be company for them, to be sat on, to share the settee with, to be played with, or walked with. Physical contact whenever possible is a prime objective. Children are for playing, cuddling, and if necessary, watching over. Though most Bull Terriers are friendly with other dogs they can be territorial and resent the intrusion of other dogs on ‘their’ patch.

Are you going to make a good owner, with a well trained dog which walks to heel, listens to your every word and is eager to obey? You are? Then get yourself some other brain-dead hound, for a BT will frustrate all your good intentions. Try a gundog - which has too few brain cells to think of anything except obedience. Like all the terriers, Bull Terriers are brainy and think for themselves. Cunningly, they pretend to be stupid, unable to understand the simplest of instructions, and so get their own way.

There are no weight or height limits in this breed, so they vary a lot in size - from about 45lbs to 75lbs (all right, to be up to date this is 20kg to 34kg). The ‘average’ dog is about 15lbs to 20lbs (7-9kg) heavier than the ‘average’ bitch.

Bull Terriers have two characteristics which are unique to the breed. The first is that they ‘trance’ (or ‘ghost walk’ or ‘weed walk’). Trancing mode is turned on by walking under a bush so that the leaves tickle the dog’s back. The dog’s eyes glaze and movement is in ultra slow motion; the dog almost looks as though it is stalking prey whilst sleep walking. A bush is not essential, they will do it under a table cloth if it hangs down to the right level, or perhaps the family Christmas tree. Don’t tell your vet about this - few vets know anything about the breed and they would only want to refer your dog to a neurologist (and probably you to a psychiatrist). In sharp contract, the second unique activity takes place at top speed. It is variously called ‘freaking’, a ‘mad five’ or in the USA ‘hucklebutting’. The dog suddenly takes off at full speed and sprints all over the house, round rooms, in and out of furniture, often in a figure of eight. The best ‘freaks’ involve going at full speed head first towards a wall/door/piece of furniture, and then at the last minute doing a half turn to slam sideways into the obstacle, bouncing off it and then continuing at full speed. This activity usually last for two or three minutes only, though it can be triggered or prolonged with a little encouragement. Freaking is an effective way of removing the legs from delicate antiques or denting the fridge door. During these displays all humans should remain perfectly still - the dog will aim to miss them. Similarly, when sprinting in the garden a BT considers it funny to run a full speed straight for you, then at the last second swerve to miss. It is extremely important for their humans not to lose their nerve and try to side step - going the wrong way will result in some very bruised legs!

When nothing interesting is happening a Bull Terrier becomes a couch potato, snoring, with eyes tight shut. Calling the dog’s name will usually bring no response, although the slight rustle of a sweet paper or bounce of a ball will produce an instant eruption. These dogs form very strong bonds with their owners, and are best kept in a one dog household for three reasons. First, Bull Terriers play very roughly - a bit like Rugger players, and so two or more may injure themselves, or wreck the house and garden. Secondly, the special relationship forged between owners and one dog may be lost. Finally, there is always a possibility that two or more may have a dispute, and fights between such powerful dogs can be very damaging, and are not forgotten by the dogs.

A Bull Terrier is a never ending source of amazement, frustration and love. Scratch its head to produce that unique snorting purr, a real smile and shining eyes. But they are not for everyone, they are special dogs for special people - people who have stamina, even more determination than the dogs, and who can give them the time and attention they crave.

Just a word of warning: before the Humane Act of 1835, bull and bear baiting, and dog fighting were favoured activities. The dogs used for these ‘sports’ include some of the ancestors of the Bull Terrier, and a minority of modern dogs can be dog aggressive.