Bull Terrier Temperament: things to know before getting a bull terrier

Bull Terrier Temperament

Let’s talk about the English bull terrier temperament. What are these often misunderstood and mis-labeled dogs really like?

Are they the aggressive monsters always ready to kill, as some people think? Are they fighting dogs at heart, bloodthirsty and thriving in situations of conflict and violence? Can you raise a bull terrier to be your personal weapon?

Or are they loving, loyal and intelligent dogs that have endured decades of a bad reputation due to overall human confusion about their nature and a few incidents (of which English bull terriers weren’t even a part of?)?

Bull terriers are not any more vicious or aggressive than any other breed

Bull terriers are not any more vicious or aggressive than any other breed

English Bull terriers really do have a bad reputation. Since they were originally bred to fight other dogs and exploited in such cruel activities for centuries, a lot of people believe they are intrinsically vicious and dangerous. 

English Bull terrier appearance doesn’t help matters either. Sturdy, bulky, powerful-looking dogs with shark-shaped head and small eyes – they just have to be evil, don’t they?

But any person that knows English bull terriers closely will tell you it’s far from the truth. Bull terriers are not any more vicious or aggressive than any other breed. Yes, they are very powerful, strong dogs. They are born power athletes of the dog world. But they are not evil. In fact, they are quite the opposite.

Bull Terriers are very powerful, strong dogs

Bull Terriers are very powerful, strong dogs

English Bull terriers were specifically bred NOT to be aggressive towards people. This is because, during dog fights, people had to be able to break the most heated fights at any moment. If a bull terrier was aggressive towards the person trying to break the fight (responded by snarling or biting the person) the dog was not considered suitable for further work and/or breeding.

An English bull terrier historically has to have a “cool” mind to be able to have enough self-control and not lash out at people even in the middle of a fight with another dog! These traits of self-control and non-aggression towards people have been encouraged and strengthened through selection for generations and generations of English bull terriers.

This is why, contrary to the popular belief, an English bull terrier is a very patient, collected, calm and tolerant breed when it comes to people. Bull terriers are NOT aggressive towards people. They love people, especially their owners, but they are also normally very friendly with everyone.

Bull terriers are NOT aggressive towards people

Bull terriers are NOT aggressive towards people

People attacks by bull terriers are actually very rare and are not any more common than other breeds. In fact, some other breeds, such as German Shepherd or Doberman, are much more guilty of being aggressive and attacking people since those breeds are guard dogs and it’s in their nature to distrust people. Bull terriers are nothing like that! They are one of the most people-centric and people-loving breeds out there.

Bull terriers are very good with children, even really young ones. Patient and calm, an English bull terrier will let children do things that another breed would never tolerate, both due to their self-control and calm demeanor and to their high tolerance to pain. A mentally healthy and well-raised bull terrier will never attack a person unless there is an evident danger to the owner.

One reason English bull terriers are not necessarily recommended for families with very young children is that bull terriers can be somewhat rough in play, as well as a little clumsy. Since they are pretty muscular and heavy, they can accidentally hurt a very young child while playing. But that is only accidentally and more due to excitability and playfulness of the bull terrier – never due to aggression.

Bull terriers are very good with children, even really young ones

Bull terriers are very good with children, even really young ones

This, of course, only applies to well-raised, well-behaved dogs. An English bull terrier that hasn’t been socialized and trained, and that is not paid enough attention to, may very well be dangerous just like any other breed. Probably more so because of several factors that are specific to the bull terrier breed.

This is where some of the reputation may be somewhat true – bull terriers can be and often are aggressive towards other dogs.

This is particularly true of mature male English bull terriers who can be territorial towards other males. Bred to fight other dogs, the bull terrier’s instincts are still powerful enough to incite aggression in the situation of close contact with another dog.

Normally, in a well-behaved English bull terrier, this only happens if a bull terrier is attacked by another dog. This can be a really dangerous situation for the attacker. If the bull terrier decides to counter-attack, it can be hard to persuade them to stop.

Bull terriers can be and often are aggressive towards other dogs

Bull terriers can be and often are aggressive towards other dogs

A bull terrier can easily cause serious damage to any other dog, including much larger dogs, such as German Shepherds or Rottweilers. 

English Bull terriers are incredibly strong dogs, and very stubborn, which can make them particularly dangerous if they do decide to attack. They also are insensitive to pain, and fighting is literally in their genes. With bull terriers, if you don’t invest enough time and effort to raise a calm, obedient dog, and socialize it with other dogs, you may very well raise a monster.

Socialization, training and dedication to your dog is crucial – more so for English bull terrier than any other breed. Your bull terrier needs to get used to other dogs and animals (cats, squirrels in the park, etc) being in his field of vision.

He or she needs to learn to play with other dogs in early puppy-hood, so that, by the time the bull terrier matures, it becomes natural for them to be surrounded by other animals.

English Bull terrier temperament: High Intelligence

Bull Terriers are a very patient, collected, calm and tolerant breed

If you don’t socialize your English bull terrier, they will be afraid of other dogs, or aggressive towards them, or both, since they simply don’t know how to behave around them. If you provide your English bull terrier plenty of opportunities to socialize from the time they are young, they will not be a danger to other dogs or terrorize neighborhood cats etc. Instead, they will grow as a well-behaved citizen that you can take off the leash in a park and that will find friends to play with everywhere you go. 

If you aren’t the type of person who will be able to dedicate time and effort into being a responsible owner and training your dog, a bull terrier isn’t the right dog for you.

English Bull terriers (and Mini Bull Terriers) are one of the smartest breeds out there. Many bull terrier lovers believe it is THE smartest breed, which is, objectively, not that far from truth.

English Bull terriers are one of the smartest breeds out there

English Bull terriers are one of the smartest breeds out there

English Bull terriers are outstandingly inquisitive, learn fast, and are extremely intelligent. This also stems from their fighting past. Only the smartest dogs were able to be successful in the fighting ring. Intelligence and quick thinking in the fighting pit were traits that were highly encouraged and sought after, thus only the smartest of the dogs were allowed to breed. Nobody needed a slow-thinking bull terrier.

This is why these highly beneficial traits were passed on through generations and generations of English bull terriers, giving us the brilliant breed they are today.

English Bull terriers are a very “self-possessed” and stubborn breed. Or, you could say they are just very motivated and dedicated to whatever they decided to do.

They are not a dog that will follow someone’s whims and not have their own opinion. Bull terriers always have their own opinion about everything. This doesn’t mean they always do whatever they want. This means they need a strong leader.

Bull terriers always have their own opinion about everything

Bull terriers always have their own opinion about everything

English Bull terriers are very persistent, even stubborn. If they want something, they can be hell-bent on it, and will try to get it, unless they get a clear command from a confident leader they respect. This is not a melancholic, lazy, unmotivated dog. Again, such character traits have been thoroughly bred out of bull terriers due to their fighting past.

On the contrary, bull terriers are highly motivated, highly engaged with their surroundings, and genetically stubborn.

This, combined with their intelligence, is probably one of the first and the most important things to understand about English bull terriers. Bull terrier is a dog with a huge and incredibly strong personality.

Precisely for this reason, English bull terriers are NOT easy dogs, and they are NOT dogs for everyone. This doesn’t mean they are evil, or that they are not manageable. This just means they need their owner to be a strong, confident leader.

Bull Terriers are highly motivated, highly engaged with their surroundings, and genetically stubborn

Bull Terriers are highly motivated, highly engaged with their surroundings, and genetically stubborn

When it comes to an English bull terrier, you as the owner need to know exactly what you are doing. You need to be the pack leader, always. You need to be smart enough and engaged enough in your day-to-day interaction with your bull terrier for them to never even get a shadow of a doubt as to who is the leader.

Again, if you are a relaxed dog owner who wants a dog but doesn’t want to invest hours into training and directly interacting with your dog (such as playing, walking, training, taking them on errands with you, etc), you might not be the best owner for this breed.

This is another aspect of English bull terrier personality that makes them such a remarkable breed, both as a family pet and as a former fighting dog.

English Bull terriers are very calm dogs in that they are hard to provoke. A healthy, well-bred and well-raised bull terrier is never nervous or frightful, and will not snap at people or other dogs randomly and unexpectedly.

English Bull terriers are very calm dogs in that they are hard to provoke

English Bull terriers are very calm dogs in that they are hard to provoke

In that sense, an English bull terrier is a much safer dog than, say, a dachshund or some lap breeds or toy breeds. In fact, it’s usually the smaller breeds that bite the most, including their own owners, often without much reason, due to their unstable nervous system and general meanness. You will not have that with a bull terrier.

English Bull terriers as a breed are also absolutely fearless. They are not intimidated by anything, be it other dogs, people, or new situations. This is a great trait for a dog if you want it to protect you in case of a real attack, but can also make them dangerous if an English bull terrier is not raised well and becomes aggressive towards others for no reason.

Fearless and insensitive to pain, an uncontrolled aggressive bull terrier can be a real danger to people (including you, your family and your children). 

Despite their stubbornness and strong personality, English bull terriers are extremely loyal to their owner and their family. They are incredibly loving and affectionate dogs.

English bull terriers is extremely loyal to their owner and their family

English bull terriers is extremely loyal to their owner and their family

Their favorite activity is being around their family, watching, and participating in whatever you are doing at the moment. They love their people, and love being a part of everything.

English Bull terriers do not do well with loneliness and shouldn’t be left alone or without interaction for long periods of time, which can make them bored, depressed, destructive and even aggressive. They need company, and also an outlet to expand their endless energy. Which takes us to:

English Bull terriers have LOTS of energy. They are not passive, dormant dogs that will sleep on your couch for hours (although they do enjoy that from time to time).

If you are a couch potato, an English bull terrier will not be a good dog for you. They are smart and energetic, and, as such, require lots of mental and physical stimulation, such as walks, games (especially rough play!), training, and general activity.

If you are a senior or a person that prefers a night with Netflix to a night out hiking or roller-blading, you might want to reconsider getting a bull terrier. Being bored and under-exercised is not only bad for your dog – it can also quickly become dangerous for you, your family members and other people.

A neglected English bull terrier that can’t use up their energy in playing and interacting with their owner can easily become destructive, aggressive and potentially dangerous. Consider this before getting a bull terrier puppy.

In an ideal situation, an adult English bull terrier needs about an hour walk in the morning, half an hour during the day and another hour in the evening. If you provide them with that amount of exercise, you will get a happy, healthy, completely non-destructive dog. But do you have this much time to give to your dog? If you do, maybe a bull terrier is for you.

There is a lot to consider when you think of an English bull terrier temperament and whether they will be a good fit for you. All in all, a bull terrier is a wonderful breed; intelligent, calm, collected, fearless, loving and affectionate, stubborn but not aggressive.

When thinking of getting a bull terrier, consider your own temperament, and that of your family, to see if you could be a good fit for a bull terrier, and if a bull terrier would be a good fit for you.

You can also read:

Bull terrier pros and cons – are you sure a bull terrier is for you?
Miniature bull terrier: why should you consider a mini bull terrier


Additional reading

Bull Terrier AKC https://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/bull-terrier/

Bull Terrier Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bull_Terrier

Psst, while you are reading this post, I just wanted to say you might also like these other articles:

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11 Responses

  1. Arrie de Beer says:

    Having had five BTs, the present one my first mini, I thought this was an excellent description.

    You might want to mention something about their eating and sleeping habits.

    Best of luck with your BT.

    • Ms Bull Terrier says:

      Thanks so much Arrie! 🙂

    • Tomáš says:

      An excellent article and true description of the breed. I however would add two things that i find typical of BT. One of them Is not so positive, though…

      1) These dogs are REAL pigs! Literally. Their way of eating and drinking is simply horrible. After having eaten, the pieces of food is all over the bowl, the floor and even the kitchen wall. When drinking, again the water Is all over the place. It’s because the water stays within Its lips and the dog goes slowly dripping it. Lots of regular cleaning must be done then. The same applies for your clothes. Whenever you put on new and clean clothes, you take for granted they won’t stay so for too long. One brief contact of his muddy, wet or food-covered muzzle on your trousers and you can go change again. WORSE, the BTs just LOVE eating s*its outside! Always and again, no stopping them, unless you keep them permanently on the leash, which is wrong.

      2) The BTs are the funniest dogs on earth! My dog gives makes me laugh everyday and does not even have to try hard. These are the little things: the funny sounds they make (yes, even burping and loud farting), the way they sleep on the back looking as if they’ re dead, the way they all od sudden start jumping and running around in circles, the way they try to fit in some place (a chair, box, etc) that Is just toooooo small for them, still the BTs win:) Truly they behave and act in a way unseen with any other breed. And everytime i think nothing can surprise me, my dogs find the way. And i can’t but laugh

      As to conclude, apart for what has been written about the need of thorough training, socialization etc, I would not recommend this breed to those, who:
      a) are too obsessed with cleanliness and neat and tidy clothes at all times, and
      b) lack a sense of humour and take themselves too seriously. Because the dog Is here to amuse you and you hardly keep your poker face

      As for myself, my two year old dog Is my first BT and I know, that i will never want any other breed. Bull terrier for once and Forever!

      Best of luck to all current and future gentle BT owners.


      PS: excuse my English – not my native language, still hope it makes some sense

      • Ms Bull Terrier says:

        Thanks so much for your comment Tomáš! All true 🙂 Yes, they can be pigs haha! And poop eating ughhh…. I guess we love them for the good and tolerate the bad 🙂

  2. Molly says:

    I like this article a lot except for the fact that the reputation of being bred as a fighting breed just isn’t true.

    Temperament and behavior towards people, yes very much. The breed is often confused with the older (and extinct) Bull-and-terrier, which existed prior to the current breed.

    The Bull Terrier as we know it today, wasn’t brought into existence before 27 years after dog fighting was made illegal in the UK. The founder James Hinks showed the dog and won a series of shows in its very first year in the ring – and they were a big hit.

    It’s very true that they’re bred to have a larger than life demeanour, and they’re excellent with people.. but they’re also bred to know they’re strong, and will often avoid fights with other dogs simply out of lack of interest. They’re terrible fighting dogs.

    It’s rumored they’re cross bred with Old English Bull Dog, dalmatian, (extinct) English white terrier and Russian Borzoi – so as for the fighting perspective those breeds wouldn’t really make sense either.

    Aside from that, they’re about the most funny and gratifying breed I’ve ever had the pleasure of having been assigned ‘slave’ to – but trust me, if you don’t have the patience and the time to commit to this breed – it’s gonna have the run of the house, and you’re in for a long ride.

  3. E says:

    I was attacked by a bull terrier, unprovoked, so I wish you wouldn’t give the false impression that bull terriers will never attack a human. I have spent my life as a dog lover, and still am, but am now afraid of all new dogs I meet because of this experience. Please consider that all dogs can and will attack people, and bull terriers specifically can cause a lot of bodily harm.

    • Ms Bull Terrier says:

      So sorry to hear about your experience! Yes, you are certainly correct, any dog can attack, regardless of the breed. I will update the article. I was also bitten by a dog once, although that was because I frightened the dog accidentally. It was a learning experience! You are absolutely right. All dogs need to be approached with care.

  4. evelyn says:

    I have never had the unfortunate experience of being attacked or bitten by a dog. My sister has and now she suffers P STD because of that. I’ve had 2 bull Terriers and soon I will get another one. I love the breed and their sweet disposition, however some people get this breed and try to fight it and make it a nervous wreak while doing so. My experience with bullies would be they are incredible dogs if purchased by a good breeder that treats them well. Mine have been sweet, loyal and clown like in every way. I just lost my bull terrier last week due to kidney failure and it really hurts so badly I cannot say. I honor this breed by getting another imo. I have so much love to give them and they have so much joy to bring to me. Bad owners create bad dogs. Any dog can be a biter if not raised in a loving, caring home. So sorry for you experience..it was one of a kind coming from these dogs.

  5. Evelyn says:

    Also like another comment made here by several people, once a bull terrier enters your life.. you will NEVER want one out of your life! They are adorable in every sense of the word. The first one I got was for my son but he lived here. I thought he was so ugly when we got him but once the personality kicks in the become the most beautiful sight you’ll ever have to pleasure of looking at! I absolutely love these dogs and my husband and entire family including children and grandchildren are their biggest fans now too!

  6. Chantal says:

    Although this article has many facts, I don’t think it is right to mention that they will never attack people or dogs. I have a golden retriever who is very submissive and friendly. Since a young age she has been socialized around other dogs and people and has never had any issue. But recently my golden retriever was attacked by a bull terrier when she was playing with another dog at a leash free dog park. Although my dog did not get hurt because the owner was able to get their bull terrier off quickly it was a scary experience and makes me cautious around certain types of dogs.

  7. Robert Green says:

    They are known for having aggression to other dogs and cats. I today have sadly witnessed this first hand .Whilst walking my two Long Haired Chihuahuas I saw a lady walking her Bull Terrier on the other side of the road,it was plainly wanting to get to my dogs it span around wildly on the leash until it slipped it and then attacked one of my dogs who now is in specialised vet surgery and only 50/50 for surviving.

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