In the nineteenth century, the Bull and Terrier, a cross between a number of British Terrier breeds and the now-extinct Old English Bulldog, ancestor to the Bull Terrier, rose to prominence as a breed primarily suited for three bloody tasks: pest control, dog fighting, and bull-baiting. Typically, a bull-baiting setup consisted of a bull being attached to a stake via nine meters of rope, inside of a rope enclosure. The goal of the Bull and Terrier was to incapacitate the creature by scoring successful and sustained bites on the bull's snout, one of the bull’s most sensitive areas. If the dog hoped to survive the encounter, he needed to steadily advance while keeping as low to the ground as possible. As long as the dog stayed close to the ground, as he was trained to do, he could move closer toward the bull while avoiding its horns. The term “Go low, pin, and hold!” referred to the actions the dog had to take to survive his encounter with a bull, since the dog's ability to hold on to the bull's snout often meant the difference between life and death.
Sadly, a large number of bull and terriers were severely injured or killed while participating in the bull-baiting, with many breaking bones and losing limbs. It was not until the passing of the Cruelty to Animals Act of 1835 that the blood sport was made illegal in the United Kingdom.
Bred with an emphasis placed on functionality over appearance, the Bull and Terrier was meant to combine the tenacity and hardiness of the Old English Bulldog with the agility and intelligence of a Terrier. Many owners bred the dogs strictly for fighting purposes, and, with none of the owners seeking to preserve the original Bull and Terrier breed type, the Bull and Terrier eventually gave way to its descendants: the Bull Terrier and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier.
Near the middle of the nineteenth century, James Hinks, of Birmingham, England, crossed a Bull and Terrier with an English White Terrier. He aimed to give more attention to improving the offspring’s appearance than Bull and Terrier breeders of the past, who tended to focus solely on honing the dog's fighting capabilities. Hinks's goals were to lengthen the head of the dog, straighten its crooked front legs, and to make its body balanced and proportional. The end result of Hinks's work was an all-white breed with enough unique features to distinguish it from its progenitor, the Bull and Terrier. Though the dog still lacked its iconic, egg-shaped head, Hinks had effectively created a one-of-a-kind Bull Terrier. In 1862, Hinks entered his female Bull Terrier, Puss, into “The Exhibition of Fancy and Other Dogs” at the Holborn Repository. Puss was sired by Madman, an award-winning white Bulldog owned by Hinks, and she continued in her father's footsteps by winning first prize in the exhibition's Bull Terrier category.
According to some accounts, Hinks entered Puss into a fight against another dog in the early 1860s. Allegedly, the dog's owner complained that Hinks's efforts to create a beautiful bull terrier came at the cost of eliminating the fighting spirit of the bull and terrier. Though the other dog in the story is sometimes described as a Bull Terrier or Pit Bull, and the details of the wager change from one account to the next, Puss always manages to best her opponent and prove that she has the fighting abilities of her ancestors, only suffering slight cosmetic injuries during the fight, if any at all. However, the truthfulness of the tale is often called into question due to a number of discrepancies and factual errors found in different versions of the story, including the version provided by Hinks's own biographer, Kevin Kane.
Hinks continued his attempts to improve the features of the Bull Terrier. He introduced more diversity into the breed by including aspects of the Dalmatian, Spanish Pointer, Greyhound, Foxhound, Whippet, Borzoi, and Collie. The Borzoi and Collie lengthened the Bull Terrier's head and reduced its brow-to-snout stop, while the other breeds added their genetic traits of stoutness and agility into the mix. Hinks strived to keep the coat of the Bull Terrier white in appearance, and he referred to the dog as “The White Cavalier,” since Hinks's vision for the breed was to not create a dog that was brutish and imposing, but to instead create a handsome dog that possessed the ability to fight for and defend its master if the need arose.
It was not until the birth of the all-white Lord Gladiator in 1917 that the Bull Terrier finally received its trademark, egg-shaped head. Lord Gladiator was the first of what its now considered the modern version of the breed, sharing the refinements of Hinks's Bull Terriers while eliminating the stop previously found in the profile view of their heads.
Though many of the first bull terriers were bred to have completely white coats, like Puss and Lord Gladiator, many breeders began introducing color into their pups' appearances when it was discovered that white terriers carried an increased risk for genetic disorders and illnesses. Ted Lyon is often credited for playing a vital role in the establishment of the colored Bull Terrier's popularity in the early twentieth century. Similarly, Harry Monk is recognized for bringing pointed ears to the breed once docking was outlawed, and both Monk and another breeder named Billy Tuck are acknowledged for developing the oval shape of the breed's head.
Originally, the Bull Terrier exhibited a large range in sizes, including a toy variety that was recorded to be under ten pounds and could be as small as three pounds! However, some of the miniaturized varieties were found to suffer from health issues associated with the small size, and as a result, fell out of favor in the early nineteenth century. However, although the dogs still weren’t bred for extreme miniature sizes, perfectly healthy, yet somewhat smaller specimens still appeared within the breed from time to time. In the 1930s, a new appreciation for these healthier and smaller dogs was revitalized, and fanciers began to revive the smaller dogs in a more conscientious and careful manner. By breeding smaller Bull Terriers and selecting for health and longevity, care has been taken to produce a smaller version of the larger standard dogs without health problems or extremes. This has resulted in the Miniature Bull Terrier variety that we see today.