By Sarah Grace McCandless, Animal Planet
When someone says “pit bull,” you may picture a particular pooch — one with a stocky build, short coat and strong head, for example. But the breed is one of several dogs that fall under the umbrella of bully breeds. Unfortunately, dogs in this group have fallen victim to inaccurate stereotypes, and many people believe they’re naturally aggressive. In reality, though, the bully breed category offers a number of wonderful choices for potential owners — including those who are in search of a loyal, obedient, playful companion for their kids.
In fact, the American Temperament Test Society, Inc. (ATTS), a professional organization that independently tests the temperaments of over 25,000 dogs across 200 breeds, concluded that bully breeds such as the American pit bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier and Staffordshire bull terrier all rank in the mid-80th to low-90th percentile in terms of friendly disposition — on par with dogs such as the beagle and the Australian shepherd.
A good attitude is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the positive attributes the bully breeds have to offer. Read on to learn more about the history of various bully breeds and what makes them tick, and see which one might make the perfect match for your lifestyle.
14. Boxer (above)
According to the American Kennel Club, the development of boxers traces back to at least the 19th century, when German breeders created the line by crossing different types of bulldogs with other breeds, including terriers and perhaps even mastiffs. Boxers are strong, smart and alert, with protective yet friendly temperaments. They are known to stand up on their hind legs and bat with their front paws when playing or engaging with an opponent — that’s where the name “boxer” comes from. Beyond providing companionship as a pet, these dogs have served in a number of other ways, including assisting the blind and acting as couriers during World War I. Boxers made their way to the U.S. shortly after World War I ended and now rank as one of the most popular breeds in the country, according to AKC registration statistics.
13. Alapaha Blue Blood
Named after the region of Georgia where it was first bred in the late 1970s, the Alapaha blue blood actually has roots that trace back to a now-extinct group of dogs — including the mountain bulldog, old southern white and old country (big) bulldog — that first arrived in America during the 18th century. A working dog at heart with natural herding instincts and capabilities, the Alapaha is also a loyal companion that’s particularly protective of its owner and friendly with children. With a medium, athletic build supporting a broad head, loose upper lip and wide set eyes, this dog needs a lot of daily exercise, which makes it a great choice for families that have plenty of backyard space.
12. American Bulldog
This healthy, hearty breed hails from England, where it was originally bred to drive cattle and guard farm property. The American bulldog still maintains those protective instincts; you can see that in the way this breed creates strong bonds with its owner and fearlessly defends him or her against anything perceived to be a threat. Though they may have a tough exterior, these dogs are also known for interacting well with children and other pets — especially if you socialize them early on to foster their naturally happy, friendly temperaments. The American bulldog also has a very sturdy and muscular build, with a short, stiff coat that is relatively easy to groom and maintain.
11. American Staffordshire Terrier
Sometimes referred to by the nickname “Amstaffs,” this breed made many appearances on war posters in the United States during the first half of the 20th Century as a symbol of courage and bravery. As a result, many thought of these dogs as true all-American pets. Early ancestors of the Amstaff, however, actually trace back to England; it was first bred in the U.S. toward the end of the 19th century, primarily to guard property, help out on farms and provide companionship. Though medium in size, the American Staffordshire terrier has a stocky build and strong head. It’s also active and affectionate, even toward strangers. If you want pop culture’s perspective on what this canine is like, Pete the Pup — who starred in several “Our Gang” films and “The Little Rascals” series during the 1920s and 1930s — is an Amstaff.
Image credit: Rude / Wiki Commons
10. Boston Terrier
Nicknamed the “American Gentlemen” due to its dapper appearance (many have a black and white, tuxedo-like coloring), the Boston terrier is a cross between the English bulldog and the white English terrier, first developed in the stables of Boston, Massachusetts following the Civil War. These dogs are highly intelligent and very lively, but their small, compact frames require only a minimal amount of exercise. Boston terriers are easily identifiable by small ears that sit upright on their skulls, as well as alert and kind expressions. True to its New England roots, the breed is also the mascot of Boston University.
9. Bull Terrier
With its playful nature and fun disposition, some might call this dog the class clown of the bully breed group. But the bull terrier also knows how to mind its manners and exhibits great loyalty toward its owner. If you want to keep this breed around kids, though, it’s important to engage them in obedience training beforehand; bull terriers like children and can match their energy, but there’s a chance they might get too rowdy and accidentally knock tykes down. With its distinctive egg-shaped head and confident gait, this breed is also a popular choice for show rings and agility competitions. Hollywood has fallen in love with the bull terrier as well: The breed has starred in many films, including “Toy Story” and “Babe: Pig in the City.”
According to American Kennel Club (AKC) registration statistics, the bulldog is one of the most popular breeds among dog owners, in part due to its loving disposition and irresistibly cute, wrinkled face. That distinctive muzzle with folds above the nose is actually known as “rope,” and you’ll need to clean it daily to avoid infection. Also, bulldogs are sensitive to heat, but they require daily exercise to keep their weight in check; owners who live in especially warm climates should probably take these dogs out for early morning or late evening walks, when temperatures are more tolerable. Friendly with both children and other dogs, the bulldog has served as a lovable mascot for years at multiple institutions, including the United States Marine Corps, and several universities, including Georgetown and Yale.
English gamekeepers bred the bullmastiff in the mid-1800s, because they needed a fast, yet not overly ferocious, dog to help keep poachers at bay. Enter the bullmastiff, a 60/40 split of a mastiff and bulldog, and a breed that continues to maintain the same confident and fearless, yet kind and friendly, disposition it’s had since the beginning. Despite the bullmastiff’s impressive size and stature — they can weigh between 100 and 130 pounds (45 and 59 kilograms) and stand up to 2 feet (.6 meters) tall — they actually require minimal exercise.
This breed has proven to be a popular family pet among politicians and celebrities: For example, former U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt owned a bullmastiff named Blaze, and actor-director Sylvester Stallone cast one of his own in the film “Rocky.”
6. French Bulldog
This bully breed was first developed during the 19th century by lacemakers in England, who were in search of a toy-sized bulldog that would be more likely to snooze while they worked. The onset of the Industrial Revolution pushed some of these craftspeople to France, and the dogs went with them — that’s why the breed uses the word “French” as part of its name, and these days, many simply call these dogs “Frenchies.” French bulldogs are particularly good with children and love to play the role of lap warmer, but they can also be stubborn to train. Originally, this breed could have either bat (upright and rounded) or tulip (folded over) ears, but bat is the current breed standard. Since they are short-nosed, most Frenchies snore. Also, they can overheat easily, so owners who live in warm climates should take that into consideration when taking these pups outside.
5. Olde English Bulldogge
Breeders first developed the original Olde Bulldogge in the 17th and 18th centuries, but those dogs tended to have significant breeding and breathing problems. David Leavitt created the modern version of this bully breed — a mix of English bulldog, bullmastiff, pit bull and American bulldog traits — to circumvent these issues. Reintroduced in 1971 in Pennsylvania, the present-day Olde English Bulldogge is outgoing and friendly in nature and also enjoys playing the role of security guard. This breed is strong and athletic and responds very well to obedience training, thanks in part to an inherent loyalty to its owner.
Image credit: Cindy Funk / Flickr
4. American Pit Bull Terrier
This breed is a bull and terrier cross that originated in Europe, and early immigrants introduced it to the United States during the mid-19th century. Though the American pit bull terrier was first officially recognized for breed registration more than 100 years ago, its key traits haven’t changed much: These dogs are very athletic, making them a good fit for agility competitions and dog sports. Medium in size, American pit bull terriers have a distinct, sturdy head, generally stand 1.5 (.5 meters) to 2 feet (.6 meters) tall, and weigh anywhere from 30 to 60 pounds (14 to 27 kilograms). They are extremely loyal to their owners, usually friendly with strangers, and highly intelligent: Law enforcement agencies often train pit bulls to be narcotics and explosives detection dogs.
Image credit: Fake Plastic Alice / Flickr
3. Renascence Bulldogge
The Renascence Bulldogge is another modern reinterpretation of the original Bulldogge from the mid-1800s. Minnesota-based breeder Chadde JoliCoeur created this breed in the 1990s by combining five different types of bully dogs, including the American bulldog, Hermes bulldogge and bullmastiff. Sometimes referred to as gargoyle bulldogs or guardian bulldogs, Renascence (which means “rebirth”) dogs are very muscular and athletic, weighing anywhere from 60 to 90 pounds (27 to 41 kilograms). They are incredibly loyal and protective of their masters, but not inherently aggressive.
Image credit: Creative Commons
2. Staffordshire Bull Terrier
The Staffordshire bull terrier is thought to be one of the first “bull and terrier” crosses made in England centuries ago. Known by a number of nicknames, including Staffie, Stafford or just Staff, these dogs are extremely athletic and muscular, as well as smart, tenacious and affectionate, and as such, they excel in agility and show rings. They also rarely drool, because unlike so many other bully breeds, the Staffie’s lips are not loose in any way. Staffies generally weigh between 30 and 35 pounds (14 and 16 kilograms) and stand around 1.5 feet (.5 meters) tall in height. A popular choice for families because of their affectionate attitude toward children, Staffies also require little upkeep in terms of grooming; most can get by with a weekly brushing, thanks to their short, smooth coats.
1. Victorian Bulldog
London Breeder Kenn Mollett reintroduced this breed in the late 20th century, inspired by a similar line that had been popular during Victorian times. Resembling the English bulldog, though larger in size, this variety has a wide, heavy torso, a muscular build and a large head with the distinctive bulldog underbite. These dogs are quiet, playful and loyal in nature, making them an excellent choice for families, and they tend to get along well with other animals, too, including those of the non-canine variety. You’ll need to clean the deep wrinkles on their face regularly to avoid infection, and though they don’t require a lot of exercise, they love attention and respond well to obedience training.
Image credit: Identity Photogr@phy / Flickr