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Bull Terrier
Courtesy of the AKC Library and Archives

Recipes aren’t just a bunch of ingredients. Even a culinary newbie knows that proportions and preparation play a role in determining whether you’ll make a lofty soufflé or a dense brownie.

The same philosophy applies to dogs – particularly in a breed’s formative years, when it is still, well, somewhat half-baked.

In the early 1800s, as the Victorian craze for purebred dogs began to percolate, breeders started crossing two very different kinds of dogs, both of which had interspecies antagonism as part of their job descriptions. The Bulldog, with his heavy bone, wide frame, and powerful, jutting jaw, was perfected for the blood sport of bull-baiting, which became illegal before the 19th Century was even half over. Various terriers also evolved over centuries across the British Isles to help exterminate vermin.

Bull Terrier
Courtesy of the AKC Library and Archives

The cross-pollination of these two kinds of dogs resulted in what they called, logically, the bull and terrier. These crossbreeds, also termed half-and-halfs and half-breds, provided their breeders with the best of both worlds. They had the tenacity and gripping power of the Bulldog and the gameness and agility of the terrier. When the public spectacles of bull- and bear-baiting were outlawed in the 1830s, blood sports went underground. They moved into basements and alleyways, with the dogs pitted against each other rather than a lumbering, oversized foe.

Basically the hybrid of its day, the bull and terrier wasn’t a bona-fide breed. Rather, it was a rough outline, a starting point for several breeds, including the dogs that today we call “pitbulls.”

From Bull-and-Terrier to Bull Terrier

Another breed that descended from these rough-hewn crosses was the Bull Terrier, which was molded into a distinct breed by James Hinks of Birmingham, England.

An Irish-born shoemaker’s son, Hinks started his breeding career raising poultry and rabbits. He soon segued to the lucrative dog market. Sort of 19th-century dogdom’s answer to the Cake Boss, dog dealers like Hinks often maintained large dog yards, where they crossed various sizes and styles of dogs to arrive at a recipe that would develop an enthusiastic following.

Like any good cook, Hinks added a dash of this and a pinch of that to make the standard bull-and-terrier formula his own. While as a rule, these pragmatic, working-class dog dealers didn’t document their improvisations, Hinks’ son – also named James – noted that his father used Dalmatians early on to impart the Bull Terrier’s striking all-white coat.

Courtesy of the AKC Library and Archives

The most successful dog dealers were also clever marketers, able to anticipate future fads and fashions.

Hinks concentrated on streamlining his dogs while retaining their density of form. Some suggest he added Greyhound or Pointer to straighten the legs, which tended to bow thanks to the Bulldog’s genetic contribution. As they lost some of their bulliness, the dogs became more refined. They had longer forefaces and necks, with less wrinkling and lippiness.

“In short, they became the old fighting dog civilized, with all of his rough edges smoothed down without being softened; alert, active, plucky, muscular, and a real gentleman,” recalled Hinks’ son James. “Naturally, this change brought the Bull Terrier many admirers.”

The White Cavalier

A fixture at the dog shows that were cropping up with increasing regularity, Hinks presented his “New Bull Terrier” at a Birmingham show in May 1862. As he had intuited, the public appreciated the breed’s milky-white coat. They also liked the idea of a good-natured dog that wasn’t spoiling for a fight, yet would have no problem finishing one – a concept of canine chivalry that earned the Bull Terrier the nickname the “White Cavalier.”

A rhyme penned by a terrier aficionado of the day perhaps sums it up best: “Hinks found a Bull Terrier a battered old bum/And made him a dog for a gentleman’s chum.”

Like much of England’s burgeoning middle class, the Bull Terrier may have had humble, even less than impeccable roots. But that didn’t mean they couldn’t transcend them to become a well-heeled companion. In addition to moving away from the look of a fighting dog, the Bull Terrier diluted the corresponding temperament. They earned a reputation as a playful and exuberant fellow. The public easily forgot their occasional streaks of independence in the face of their jaunty charm.

Courtesy of the AKC Library and Archives

For his part, Hinks was apparently less amiable than the dogs he bred. In 1855, he reportedly went to prison for stealing rabbits from a vicar’s garden. There are also several cases of assault. Among the reported victims are a police officer who requested Hinks remove a crate of chickens from a walkway; an inebriated patron of the pub Hinks owned who didn’t take kindly to the proprietor breaking up a fight, and even a Bull Terrier that reportedly bit Hinks in the ring, though the dog’s owner maintained that Hinks was trying to eliminate the competition.

After getting the breed off to a strong start, Hinks died young, in his late 40s, of tuberculosis.

Today’s Bull Terrier

As the 20th century dawned, Bull Terrier breeders began to focus keenly on the breed’s unique head. Some have compared it to that of a shark for its convex planes. The dramatic profile slopes gracefully from the top of the skull to the tip of the nose without the suggestion of a stop, which is where the foreface meets the muzzle. To complement this uniquely full face, breeders strove to produce dogs with dark, deep-set, triangular eyes, imparting what today’s standard calls a “piercing glint.”

Around the time that the Bull Terrier’s unique “egg head” became standardized, breeders began to introduce color into the breed. Crosses to Staffordshire Bull Terriers brought in the various colored markings and brindling seen in the Colored Bull Terrier variety today.

Over the years, well-known military men, from President Theodore Roosevelt to General George S. Patton, owned Bull Terriers. But true to the vision Hinks had almost a century and a half ago, today’s Bull Terrier is proof that his recipe has stood the test of time.

Related article: Get to Know the Bully Breeds
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