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Bull Terrier Show Craft: Good Head Points

As an animal welfare worker, Jana worked with Bull Terriers. She had a boarding home for the breed and currently owns a perky specimen.

Side profile of a bull terrier.

Side profile of a bull terrier.

Bull Terrier Head Type and Shape

The lack of a dip in the bull terrier's brow area is mostly why the breed seems so big-nosed. More famously, this profile is often referred to as being “egg-shaped” and it's easy to see why.

However, when it comes to a show-quality dog, the face should appear oval from the front as well as the side. To achieve the desired look, a bullie shouldn't have prominent cheekbones. The cheek areas must be filled out properly. Breaking away from all the curves in the region of the forehead between the ears should be flat.

Fun fact: The shape of the bull terrier's head made the name Bullet a popular choice for these dogs.

The Ears

  • The ears must be erect without artificial training and sharply tapering to a point.
  • They should be thin, open and triangular, without being overly large or placed too far apart.
  • Importantly, when the dog is alert, the ears must point straight up. Often, they point sideways, but this is not desirable as it leads to what is called “donkey ears.”

Fun fact: White bull terriers have large, pink ears reminiscent of a pig's. This led to one of the breed's nicknames—the “pig dog.”

A gorgeous red male but only one ear is correct and perky!

A gorgeous red male but only one ear is correct and perky!

Window to the Soul

Undoubtedly, the most striking feature (one of them, anyway) is the bull terrier's eyes.

  • Unlike most other breeds, where round is the rule, a bullie gazes upon the world with triangle-shaped eyes.
  • Small and dark, they provide the highly prized “varmint-y” look. When correctly placed, a bull terrier's glance appears intelligent and tough.
  • Eyes are considered incorrect when placed too low in the head or when the eyes are “soft”, or in other words; are too large.
  • The expression is considered very important and only when the eyes are small, slanted and highly placed in the skull can the keen look be observed.

Fun fact: Though it's extremely rare, dogs with blue eyes are sometimes born. However, the breed standard calls for dark colour, and any bull terrier with blue eyes will be disqualified in the ring. It is not a quality serious breeders encourage.

Mushroom for a Nose

Think of a mushroom sliced in half.

  • Though a bullie's nose is not that flat, the nostrils, similar to the mushroom, should curl strongly downwards and to the middle.
  • The colour must be black, and this can be quite striking in white specimens where only the nose and eyes are starkly different from the dog's overall white coat.

Fun fact: The bull terrier inherited its coal-black nose from its ancestor, the English White Terrier, a breed that went extinct in the 1800s.

Brindle is the colour of choice for many breeders.

Brindle is the colour of choice for many breeders.

The Magic and Damage of Colour

Who doesn't love a white dog with an eye patch? Several of them are movie mainstays as the kid's best friend. While it makes for a spunky-looking best friend, facial colour in a show dog can be a problem. Patches, blazes, coloured ears are all accepted in the ring – that's not the real issue. It may seem bizarre but head markings can create optical illusions that can make the most perfect head look, well, not so perfect.

  • The most common effect of an eye patch, especially a black one, is giving the appearance that the dog's profile has less fill and also obscuring the varmint-y look.
  • From the side, a blaze streaking up a fully-coloured head can make the egg-shaped slope appear dented in the worst way.
  • From the front, a blaze in a coloured face can make the cheek fills less obvious.

A good judge will be able to recognize a superb Bull Terrier underneath all that make-up but sometimes, there are too many dogs in the ring and too little time to scrutinize each.

Fun fact: Did you know that many clubs prefer brindle as the colour of choice for bull terriers? So much so, that when two dogs with equally good points must compete — either in the ring or a breeding choice – the one with brindle genes will be chosen.

The Mouth

There are three main areas that must be considered when it comes to a show bullie's mouth.

  • Lips
  • Teeth
  • Jaw

Not so fun fact: Did you know that most problems with the bull terrier's mouth originated when the skull shortened into an egg shape? This led to a host of jaw and teeth placement problems.

Lips Are the Least Problematic

It's true: the most problematic head area for a show breeder is the bullie's mouth. However, the lips are low on that list as there isn't usually a chance of severe deformities. The breed standard calls for lips that are tight and clean.

Fun fact: Nearly all bull terriers have good lips, even those with glaring jaw or skull faults.

Snappy Scissors

The correct dental arrangement is known as a scissor bite. Simply put, this means that the upper front teeth must closely fit against the lower — but in front of them.

Sometimes, the jaw is longer than it should be and this wrongly places the lower teeth in front. It is acceptable, however, for the upper and lower teeth to be level. This means that there is no overlapping either way.

The correct mouth needs proper placement of the canines and molars. The canine teeth are what mark dogs as meat-eaters, those long curved fangs designed for grabbing and slashing.

The bull terrier's fangs must closely fit together and in this case, the lower tooth must curve in front of the top canine. The reverse of this is considered a serious fault and happens when the dog has an overshot bite - the jaw is so short that the upper mouth extends too far. It's important to breed only dogs with correct canines since incorrect placement prevents the mouth from closing properly or injuring the dog's gums and palate.

The molars line the gums behind the canines. A common dental fault in bull terriers is that some never sprout their premolars. These teeth can be found right behind the canines. The reason for this, once again, was breeding meant to shorten the jaw in order to keep the scissor bite and also to make the animal's profile more pronounced. To prevent this, a bullie's jaw must be deep and solid and the muzzle long and wide enough to support the proper placement of all the teeth.

Fun fact: Did you know that an overly short and narrow jaw is called a “pig jaw”? Seems like bullies can't escape the porky references!

The Full Package

The bull terrier's skull may be frozen with a distinctive curve, but the dogs themselves are capable of great emotions. From an open-mouthed grin to the serious varmint-y glare, a bullie communicates with expression and behaviour.

Many owners can also tell when a bullie is upset, ill or guilty of mischief just by looking at their expression. Some dogs even perfect their poker face (especially when there's a torn cushion or obedience training involved).

Apart from being highly expressive, the breed's head is undeniably unique; tough and yet graceful — the full package.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Jana Louise Smit