The Bull and Terrier was not a true breed in the modern sense, but was rather a cross between an Old English Bulldog and a Terrier. In that respect, it was quite similar to a modern Labradoodle or Cockapoo. Bull and Terriers were bred primarily as fighting dogs, pitted against other Bull and Terriers in fights to the death. These dogs were extremely popular in the British Isles and in the United States for several decades in the 19th Century, but became increasingly rare as several different varieties of Bull and Terrier bred true and standardized into unique breeds. The Bull and Terrier was incredibly influential in later dog breeding and its direct descendants are the most popular dogs in the United States and among the most popular in the United Kingdom, Australia, and many other nations around the world.
The history of the Bull and Terrier is somewhat obscure, but the dog can trace its roots in Britain for thousands of years on both the Terrier and Bulldog side. Almost nothing is known for sure about the origins of either the Terriers or the Old English Bulldog, and both are hotly disputed among experts and fanciers. However, both are descended from some of the oldest breeds traditionally found on the British Isles.
Terriers and their ancestors have been found in the British Isles since time immemorial. Since these dogs were essentially unknown anywhere else until the 19th Century, it is almost universally agreed that they were developed on the islands, but from what other dogs is unknown. It is believed that they may be related to the Irish Wolfhound, Scottish Deerhound, and the extinct Canis Segusius, a breed of hunting dog kept by the pre-Roman Gauls of France and Belgium. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first surviving written use of the word Terrier comes from 1440, meaning that these dogs have existed since at least that time. However, it is widely believed that they are many thousands of years older. Archaeological digs from the 1st Century A.D. located near the English-Scottish border include two separate types of dog. One was a medium-sized coursing dog similar to a modern Whippet and the other was a short-legged, long-bodied dog similar to a modern Skye Terrier or Dachshund. This implies that as early as Roman times Terriers were already being used for their traditional purpose. A hunting dog would chase a small mammal down into its burrow and then a Terrier would be sent in to either kill it or drag it back out. This ability to, “go to ground,” is how Terriers got their name; the Latin word terrarius and the French word terre both translate to, “Earth,” or “Ground.”
Over the Centuries, Terriers became the invaluable companions of British farmers. These dogs were primarily used to eradicate vermin, but also occasionally for hunting. Terriers helped stave off starvation, increased profits and agricultural yields, and prevented the spread of disease by killing rats, mice, foxes, weasels, and other vermin, and also added an occasional rabbit to the stew pot or pelt for clothing. Until the last two centuries, Terriers were bred almost exclusively for working ability. These dogs became extraordinarily fierce and determined, and grew an intense drive to attack any animal their own size or smaller. Incredibly feisty and short tempered, Terriers would gladly meet any challenge offered by another dog. Scottish breeders cared so much about working ability that when a Terrier grew to be a certain age they would close it in a barrel with either an otter or a badger, two creatures known for intense ferocity. If the dog killed the other creature, it was considered worthy of being kept, and if the dog perished the problem was solved. Terriers were incredibly variable in appearance, but there were a number of localized land races that bred relatively true. For example, English Terriers tended to be smooth-coated and longer-legged while their counterparts in Scotland tended to be wire-coated and short-legged.
Until the 17th Century, Terriers were almost exclusively kept by the peasantry (with the notable exception of certain Scottish noblemen). This was largely because the small game that they specialized in was seen as beneath the nobility. As the last of England’s forests were cut down to make room for an expanding population, large prey such as deer and boar became very rare. The British upper-classes increasingly turned to fox hunting to replace the loss of their preferred quarry. A highly ritualized sport developed, one in which Terriers, pack hounds, and horses played a key role. A group of highly specialized Terriers were developed to hunt foxes. These dogs were typically longer-legged, quicker on the chase, and even more ferocious than their predecessors. By the end of the 1700’s, the British urban population had expanded, and the enclosure movement meant that millions of peasants were forced off of their lands. Farmers moving to cities brought their Terriers with them, where they found ample work killing the huge rat populations in urban centers. Eventually this developed into a competitive sport where Terriers would be placed in a pen with dozens of rats. The dogs were judged on how many rats that they killed and how quickly they killed them. Another specialized line of Terriers were developed for this purpose that killed extremely quickly and with great eagerness.
The Old English Bulldog was the original variety of English Bulldog, bred for work rather than companionship. It was a very different animal from its modern descendant: athletic, driven, ferocious, and extraordinarily aggressive. The Old English Bulldog was a descendant of the English Mastiff. There is perhaps no breed whose origins are as disputed as that of the English Mastiff. Some believe that the breed was developed from native British dogs by the ancient Celts or perhaps the mysterious peoples that preceded them. Others claim that the breed is the direct descendant of the war dogs of Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia and was first brought to the British Isles in the far distant past by Phoenician Traders. Still others believe that the Mastiff was introduced to Britain by the Romans and that it was descended from the Molossus (the war dog of the Roman Army) and/or the Tibetan Mastiff. There are also those who insist that the breed was introduced by the Alans, a barbarian tribe from the Caucasus Mountains who raided the Western Roman Empire alongside their Germanic allies. Whatever the truth is, the Mastiff was well-established throughout England by the end of the Dark Ages.
The British initially used the Mastiff as a beast of war and as the guardian of the nobility’s estates. These dogs were traditionally chained to a stake during the day and let loose to roam the grounds at night. Such chained Mastiffs became known as Bandogs. At some point, the British also began pitting Mastiffs in fights to the death against chained bears, a brutal sport known as bear-baiting. British farmers quickly realized that the Mastiff was extremely capable as an agricultural worker as well. At the time, it was a common practice to allow cattle and hogs to run loose on commonly owned land. Such creatures became half-feral and were both extremely difficult and incredibly dangerous to work with. The powerful Mastiff was capable of catching a raging bull and holding it in place until the farmers were able to subdue the creature. In modern times, this is known as bull-catching. Originally an agricultural necessity, bull-catching became a popular sport. As stake would be placed in the center of a pit or fenced ring and a bull would be tied to it, giving the animal approximately 30 feet to maneuver. The bull would often have pepper placed in its nose to enrage it or be otherwise abused. Mastiffs would then be set on the bull until it was subdued, a process which could take over an hour. Many dogs and bulls were killed in the ring, either from their injuries or exhaustion. This sport became known as bull-baiting.
At first, all Mastiff were considered the same, but two distinct varieties developed over time: a much larger, less athletic, and less aggressive animal used for property guarding and bear baiting and a smaller, incredibly athletic, extremely aggressive, and absurdly tenacious dog used for bull-baiting. It is commonly suggested that lines of bull-baiting Mastiff were highly influenced by the German Bullenbeiser and/or the Spanish Alano, both of which were Mastiff-type dogs used for bull-catching. Although this is quite possible, and perhaps likely, there is no concrete evidence either way. Eventually, the bull-catching Mastiff was considered so distinct that it was considered an entirely different breed, the Bulldog. It is unclear when this split occurred. It apparently had not occurred in 1576 when Johannes Caius wrote the first major book about British dog breeds as he does not mention the Bulldog at all but goes into great length describing the, “Mastive,” or “Bandogge.” He describes a dog that is virtually identical to a modern Mastiff, but also describes how it was useful for property guarding, bear-baiting, and bull-baiting. The first clear distinction between the two breeds comes from 1631, when an Englishman living in Spain wrote a letter to his friend in London asking for, “a good Mastive dog, a case of liquour, and I beg you to get for me some good bulldogges.”
Bull-baiting reached the peak of its popularity between 1500 and 1800, and for three centuries it was probably the most popular sport with the middle and lower classes of England. The Old English Bulldog was known throughout Great Britain, and it was one of the most popular and well-known breeds in the United Kingdom. However, social mores were changing by the end of the 18th Century. Blood sports began to be seen as cruel and barbaric and efforts were made to ban them. These efforts were finally successful in 1835, when Parliament made both bull-baiting and bear-baiting illegal. However, Parliament could not ban the love of blood sports that had been a key feature of British culture since at least Roman times. Bull-baiting continued to be practiced illegally in rural areas for many decades, and some think it did not die out until the First World War. It was much more difficult to hide a bull-baiting match in the confines of a city, and urban enthusiasts increasingly turned to dog fighting.
Dog fighting had likely existed in England since at least the Roman period, but was completely overshadowed by bull and bear baiting. After 1835, these roles were switched, and dog fighting became one of the most popular sports in the British Isles. It was not only a sport, but a huge business. Countless millions were spent gambling on the outcomes of fights, and large prizes were awarded to winners. Breeders began to experiment with what dogs made the best fighters. Although some early fighters tested Mastiffs, Hounds, and other dogs, two quickly became the most popular; Bulldogs and Terriers. The Bulldog was an obvious choice as it was already well known as a combatant, and was famed for its ferocity, aggression, determination, and pain tolerance. However, the Bulldog possessed a slow and deliberate fighting style which was necessary for combat with a bull but boring when engaged with other dogs. Additionally, although most Old English Bulldogs were more than aggressive enough to attack and seriously injure another dog, they were often not dog aggressive enough to fight to the death. On the other hand, Terriers were extremely dog aggressive, often willing to fight to the death over the slightest provocation. They were also very fast and tenacious. Most terriers did lack the size to be impressive in a fight, and also did not possess the immense strength of a Bulldog. British breeders quickly realized that by crossing Bulldogs and Terriers they could create the ultimate fighting dog. These crosses became known as Bulldog and Terriers, quickly shortened to Bull and Terriers. There is some dispute as to when the Bull and Terrier was first developed. Although there had surely been such crosses for centuries, almost all sources agree that they did not become popular until the late 1830’s. A few claim that a mysterious Scottish breed known as the Blue Paul Terrier actually existed as early as the 1770’s, but there is virtually no good evidence to back up this claim (and for that matter no evidence that conclusively shows that the dog was even a Bull and Terrier). By the early 1840’s, Bull and Terriers were extremely popular and completely dominated the British dog fighting rings.
The first Bull and Terriers were extremely variable in appearance, as would be expected from a cross-breed. Different dogs possessed different Bulldog and Terrier characteristics, depending on which genes it had inherited. This variety was greatly increased by the fact that many different types of Terrier were used. As a general rule, dog fighters greatly preferred smooth-coated Bull and Terriers, so wire and broken coated dogs were rarely used. The most commonly used Terrier was almost certainly the Manchester Terrier, a breed bred for rat killing competitions. Developed by crossing the Black and Tan Terrier with the Whippet, the Manchester Terrier was renowned for its speed and quickness. Another major influence was the already mentioned Blue Paul Terrier, which was developed primarily as a fighting dog. Smooth Fox Terriers also almost certainly played a major role. Many other pure bred and random bred Terriers also almost certainly were used, as were other breeds such as the Dalmatian, Pointer, Spanish Pointer, Greyhound, and Whippet. The resulting dogs ranged in size from that of a Fox Terrier to an Old English Bulldog. These dogs were usually longer than they were tall, but not excessively. Although almost always smooth-coated, the length was variable, and these dogs came in every color and pattern found in any dog. The heads and muzzles of the earliest Bull and Terriers were quite varied, and ranged from pure Terrier to pure Bulldog. Bull and Terriers were born with any type of ear, but they were invariably cropped as short as possible so that another dog could not grab a hold of them and/or rip them off in battle.
By the early 1850’s Bull and Terriers were becoming more standardized. This was a result of a combination of three factors. One is that Bull and Terriers were beginning to breed true, meaning that Bull and Terriers were beginning to be bred together to create other Bull and Terriers. Another was that breeders now knew exactly what they wanted and were focusing on those traits. Finally, fewer and fewer outcrosses to other dogs were being made (although a number of Bulldogs, Terriers, and a few other breeds regularly entered Bull and Terrier lines until the end of the 19th Century). By the mid-1850’s, most Bull and Terriers were intermediate in size between a Fox Terrier and a Bulldog, had short smooth coats in any color, and possessed a head and muzzle generally similar to that of a modern Staffordshire Terrier. Most Bull and Terriers had a medium-to-long tail which was sometimes docked. Those Bull and Terriers with more terrier blood generally came to have prick ears while those with more Bulldog blood generally had drop ears. Both ear types were still customarily cropped.
Breeders began to carefully select their Bull and Terriers to develop the dog that most ideally suited their purposes. A substantial amount of natural selection came into play, as dogs killed in the ring would not pass on their genes. Breeders also refused to breed dogs with low pain tolerance, lack of aggression, or the slightest lack of determination. Bull and Terriers became extremely dog aggressive, to the point where many would attack any other dog on sight. These dogs also developed an almost absurd level of pain tolerance, not making as much as a whimper even after life-threatening injuries. Perhaps most importantly, they developed a trait known as gameness. Gameness is a combination of determination and drive, and dogs with it will not stop any task that they have begun no matter the distractions or the cost. Of great surprise to many is the fact that a lack of human aggression was perhaps the single most important trait to dog fighters. Handlers had to be able to walk into a pit and separate two fighting dogs by hand without being bit. Additionally, dog fighters took their animals at home with them at night where they served as family pets, playing with children and even infants. It was an almost universal practice to not only immediately kill any Bull and Terrier that showed the slightest hint of human aggression, but also both of its parents and all of its descendants as well.
One of the most popular Terrier breeds in the first half of the 19th Century was the English White Terrier. A number of Bull and Terrier fanciers preferred the white coat and elongated face of that breed, and began to heavily cross them with their dogs. By 1860, there were two clearly distinguishable lines of Bull and Terrier. One had been heavily influenced by the English White Terrier. This breed was usually solid white or primarily white with colored patches. It came to have naturally erect ears and a highly elongated face. Although both types were exhibited at the earliest dog shows, it was the white, long-faced variety that attracted the most initial attention in the show ring. This type was standardized into a unique breed first, and became known as the Bull Terrier. Although exact breeding records were not kept, it is widely agreed that the Bull Terrier can trace most of its ancestry to other Terriers. The older type remained primarily a fighting dog. Dog fighting was especially popular in Staffordshire, located in West Central England, and dogs from that region were considered to be of the highest quality. Eventually, the older type of Bull and Terrier became known as the Staffordshire Bull Terrier or the Staffordshire Terrier. This breed continued to be found in a wide variety of colors, and also maintained the broad and shortened muzzle of the Bulldog, as well as its large head and pronounced stop. As time went on, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier also became standardized, albeit to a lesser extent than the Bull Terrier. In contrast to the Bull Terrier, it is generally agreed that the Staffordshire Bull Terrier is primarily descended from the Old English Bulldog.
Both Bulldogs and Terriers were exported to the American Colonies by the beginning of the 1700’s, where both became well-established. There is a dispute as to when the first Bull and Terriers arrived. Some claim that the American Naval hero John Paul Jones brought Blue Paul Terriers to America as early as 1777, but this claim is highly doubtful. It is more likely that the first Bull and Terriers began to arrive from England, Scotland, and Ireland with immigrants in the 1830’s. These immigrants and their dogs greatly increased the popularity of dog fighting in America. Most of these dogs were of the Staffordshire Bull Terrier type. American breeders quickly discovered that Bull and Terriers were not only highly skilled at dog fighting, but were extremely useful as catch-dogs and hog hunters, a result of their Bulldog heritage. Although one of the most popular dogs in Britain, Bull and Terriers became even more popular in the United States. In America, these dogs became known as Pit Bull Terriers or Pit Bulls, because they fought in pits. Partially as a result of their use as catch-dogs, American breeders heavily favored the Bulldog part of the ancestry over the Terrier. American fanciers also greatly preferred much larger and stockier dogs than their British counterparts, especially when it came to the heads. Known as Yankee Terriers, Rebel Terriers, and many other regional names, American were easily the most common type of dog found in America by the end of the 19th Century, and were especially popular in Northeastern Urban centers and rural areas of the American South.
A number of American breeders began to make attempts to standardize their Bull and Terriers. The first of these attempts to achieve wide success was that conducted by middle-class Bostonians and resulted in the development of the Boston Terrier, which became the first dog breed developed in the United States to earn recognition with the American Kennel Club (AKC). Perhaps the most influential was that made by Chauncey Z. Bennett in 1898. As a result of a number of disagreements that Bennett had with the AKC (mostly over his Pit Bull Bennett’s Ring), he founded the United Kennel Club (UKC). The UKC has always focused primarily on working dogs, and has grown into the largest purebred working dog registry in the world (and the second largest purebred dog registry of any kind in both the United States and the World).
The British Empire eventually came to directly control more than ¼ of the total land area of the Earth, and its economic and trading power stretched much further. Bull and Terriers were commonly brought on British ships to provide both companionship and sport for their crews. Many members of the British military and colonial bureaucracy brought their dogs with them for the same reasons. Seemingly wherever they went, Bull and Terriers and the dog fights in which they participated became quite popular. Many places developed their own breeds based on Bull and Terriers. The best known of these dogs are the Gull Terr and Gull Dong of Pakistan and the now-extinct Fighting Dog of Cordoba (Perro de Presa de Cordoba) of Argentina.
It is commonly said that the Bull and Terrier is now extinct, but that is only partially true. The truth is that the Bull and Terrier did not so much go extinct as it did evolve. Crosses between Bulldogs and Terriers continued throughout the 19th Century, and perhaps into the 20th, but they gradually became less popular for a number of reasons. Perhaps most importantly was that the Old English Bulldog was extinct. Bulldogs bred for the show ring became so different physically and temperamentally that they were completely useless to a dog fighter, even as a cross. At any rate, by the close of the 1800’s there were a number of highly specialized and standardized dog fighting breeds no longer needed the infusion of Terrier or Bulldog blood. Most of these breeds would have been considered Bull and Terriers 30 years earlier, and it would be fair to say that the hybrid Bull and Terrier did not disappear so much as it was divided into a number of purebred dogs. Changing social mores and new animal protection laws also meant that dog fighters were driven farther and farther underground, and they increasingly focused on improving their own lines rather than developing new ones.
It is unclear exactly when the classic Bull and Terrier went “extinct,” but it was almost certainly at some point between 1890 and 1920. However, there are a number of surviving breeds that could be considered pure Bull and Terriers, and several others that are crosses between Bull and Terriers and other breeds. The Bull Terrier, Miniature Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, American Pit Bull Terrier, Boston Terrier, and the recently developed American Bully could all be classified as pure Bull and Terriers while the Dogo Argentino, Gull Terr, and Gull Dong are primarily descended from Bull and Terriers which were crossed with local dogs. Highly popular around the world, Bull and Terriers were also highly influential in the development of a number of other breeds including the Rat Terrier, Teddy Roosevelt Terrier, American Hairless Terrier, American Bulldog, Alapaha Blue Blood Bulldog, Olde English Bulldogge, Tosa Inu, French Bulldog, and possibly the Doberman Pinscher. To this day, breeders continue to develop new breeds based on the descendants of the Bull and Terrier (primarily the American Pit Bull Terrier) and several of these may one day achieve widespread recognition. According to the national kennel clubs of the United Kingdom and Australia, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier regularly ranks in the top 10 breeds in popularity in those countries. In the United States, the American Pit Bull Terrier ranks second in UKC registrations and 1st in terms of American Dog Breeders Association (ABDA). Additionally, there is a huge population of American Pit Bull Terriers that are registered with dozens of other registries and far more that are not registered at all, and it is widely believed that dogs of that type are the most numerous in America. Untold thousands of American Pit Bull Terriers and Staffordshire Bull Terriers (often illegally or in secrecy) are also bred around the world. This all combines to mean that the descendants of the Bull and Terrier are some of the most numerous, if not the most numerous dogs in the world.