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What are bully breeds and where do they come from?

September 13, 2021

Ever wonder what a bully breed is and how they got their name? Bully breeds cover a wide range of dogs, from powerful police dogs to goofy lap dogs with lolling tongues. To help you appreciate and understand your canine friend’s bully origins, we put together this quick guide.

Why do we call them bully breeds?

Bully breed is a catch-all term for a type of terrier. Some bully breeds actually feature the word “bull,” as in bulldog, bull mastiff and the pit bull. This refers to their common roots as guard dogs and fighters that were tough enough to take on a bull.

Terriers that are bully breeds share a lineage, one that stems from the Molosser dogs of ancient Greece. Long story short, this muscular, athletic, short-muzzled working breed was brought from Asia, possibly by Alexander the Great, and bred with other large breeds to be used to safeguard livestock as well as property.

Later on, starting in England, some bully breeds were cultivated for dogfighting, including bull-baiting. When these cruel, barbaric and inhumane practices became outlawed in 1835, bully breeds were kept around to provide companionship, but they also continued to play a role as working dogs.

What breeds are considered bully breeds?

Bully breeds refer to many types of dogs, and they vary in size and temperament.


Jowls are what lend these dogs their charmingly gruff appearance. While they do have their stubborn side, these sweet dogs are loyal to the end. Many are descendants of the now-extinct Old English Bulldog. Once dog fighting was banned in England in 1835, enthusiasts of the Old English Bulldog used crossbreeding to create newer, gentler companions — while keeping its jowly, short-nosed features.

Examples of bulldogs are:

  • American Bulldog
  • English Bulldog
  • French Bulldog

For a deeper dive, read, Life with a bulldog: What new pet parents need to know

Boston Terrier

These “tuxedo” dogs are loveable little goofballs that melt hearts everywhere with their wide-eyed puppy stare. As medium-small dogs, they’re the perfect size for any household and make great family pets.

To get the full story, check out: Are Boston Terriers good dogs?


This breed has the whole package. Their rugged good looks convey their strength and protective nature, which can intimidate those who don’t know them. At the same time, Boxers are playful, devoted companions. They’re intelligent dogs that are easy to train. That said, they do leap and jump when excited. When it comes to greeting visitors, leashing up or kenneling may be necessary until all is calm again.

Bull Mastiff

This loyal, powerful dog is a crossbreed between the Mastiff and the now-extinct Old English Bulldog. These were kept by 19th-century English professional hunters (who were called gamekeepers) to chase and detain poachers and thieves. They’re also known as silent watchdogs. As modern-day canine companions, their gentleness and intelligence make them great family pets.

Bull Terrier

This dog’s appearance is like none other, with its egg-shaped head and pointy ears. A cross between a bulldog and a terrier, their playful, silly side evokes grins in their humans. But like a good terrier, they have an independent streak, which makes them quite stubborn.

Cane Corso Italiano

This dog is a close relative to original Molosser dogs; its name translates from Latin as “bodyguard-dog.” Though they have their lighthearted side and make excellent companions, they’re still used in security and law enforcement today. Without a doubt, gaining command of this canine can lend you a sense of power and strength, but you’ll also have a loving best friend.

Pit bull

A pit bull isn’t a dog breed, but it’s a term used to describe a type of dog. Sadly, these dogs have been maltreated and used in illegal dog fighting rings, even recently. Not only is this cruel and illegal, but it has also tarnished the reputation of pit bull breeds. As enthusiasts and pet parents will readily point out, training, socialization and a loving home will draw out its true nature: Pitties are sweet, clownish dogs that aren’t afraid to show their soft and gentle side.

When people refer to a pit bull, they’re referring to one of these four breeds of dog:

  • Staffordshire Bull Terrier
  • American Pitbull Terrier
  • American Staffordshire Terrier
  • American Bully

Are bully dogs aggressive?

Bully breeds look strong and formidable. If you become the proud pet parent of a larger bully breed, just be sensitive to the fact that some people and children may feel frightened or intimidated when they meet your dog, especially if they’re barking.

You’ll want to respect that, and the fact that bully breeds can attack when they feel that they or their loved ones are under threat. The key thing with managing bully breeds is taking the lead. Be their pack leader, and work to establish voice command.

With proper nurturing, training and socialization — which includes plenty of positive interactions with other dogs and humans — bully breeds make wonderful and gentle companions that delight and amuse their humans with their boundless love and silly antics.

Get more insight and guidance in Ode to large-breed dogs: Why pet parents love them.

Are bully breeds cuddly?

Without a doubt, a bully breed can be your favorite cuddle bug when you’re curled up on the couch, streaming your favorite movies. Though strong and muscular, bully breeds can also be surprisingly meek and gentle with their families. They definitely have a heart of gold that endears them to their pet parents each and every day!

As much as your bully breed appreciates a good snuggle and ear scratching, you’ll also want to meet their needs for plenty of vigorous exercise. That’s especially true for those that are close to their working dog roots (less so for the smaller companion breeds you’ll find in some bulldog species). These athletic dogs will look forward to their daily walks. They’ll also have a great time playing fetch and other active backyard games.

Get the most of your years with your bully breed

Maximize your years with your bully breed by choosing a high-quality diet that promotes long-term health. At family-owned NutriSource, we formulate all our foods with our innovative Good 4 Life® system. The probiotics and prebiotics aid in mineral absorption and support immunity by the production of natural antibiotics and antifungals in the gut for optimal health. Find NutriSource at your local, independent pet retailer.