What is a Bully Breed?

posted: 05/15/12
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Bully Breeds actually make for very loyal and loving pets.
GK Hart / Vikki Hart / Getty Images
Most Common Bully Breeds[b]American pit bull terrier[/b], [b]American Staffordshire terrier[/b], [b]Boxer [/b], [b]Boston terrier[/b], [b]Bulldog[/b]

You might be surprised to learn that some of America's most beloved dogs are considered bullies. From large-and-in-charge boxers to small and stout Boston terriers, there are a variety of dogs that fall under the category of "bully breeds." Many of these dogs have unfair reputations for being dangerously aggressive -- especially pit bull breeds like the Staffordshire bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier and American pit bull terrier -- but they actually make for very loyal and loving pets. So how did these canines get the title "bully breed" in the first place? Let's start at the beginning.

What's in a Name

The term "bully" can invoke a sense of terror and intimidation, so it's no wonder many people believe these breeds pose a danger to society. However, the term actually has nothing to do with the dogs' temperament or behavior, and everything to do with their origin and history. Bully breeds all come from the same root stock called Molosser, which is a breed that originated in ancient Greece. Molossers were big dogs with large bones and muscles, pendant ears and short muzzles. The bullies that we know today were created as a result of Molossers combining with other breeds, like the Old English bulldog or mastiff breeds. Though they were originally bred to protect livestock and property, some breeders and owners began to use the dogs for other, unsavory purposes. For example, during the 19th century in England, they were used in blood sports like bull baiting, and some believe this is where Molosser descendents first came to be known as "bully breeds."

American Heroes

At the turn of the 20th century, British parliament established laws to outlaw blood sports and more immigrants traveled to the United States, bringing bully breeds with them. Once in America, these pups began serving in various professional roles. For example, a pit bull named Stubby became the first American war dog during World War I, when he served with a platoon in Germany. There, he saved countless lives and became a decorated war hero upon his return to the U.S. This early example of a bully breed's heroism and loyalty helped catapult bullies to the status of beloved household pets. Their popularity continued to grow throughout the mid-1900s, and a bully breed dog's image appeared on pro-America propaganda materials during World War II. There's no doubt bully breeds had become America's dog by the 1950s. So what changed?

Unfair Rep to Loveable Pet

You could probably trace the beginning of bully bias back to the 1980s, when gangs began using pit bull breeds for protection or as status symbols. According to the ASPCA, another probable cause is the media's misidentification of dogs involved in attacks. One often overlooked fact is that any dog may attack if it's neglected, abused or trained to be aggressive.

Bully breeds are normally gentle dogs when they're cared for properly, and they have many qualities that make them great pets for active people with lots of time to give. They are very social and extremely loyal to their owners. Thanks to their athletic bodies and exceptional intelligence, they are very energetic and generally excel in agility. Believe it or not, bully breeds are very good with children, too. As with any dog, you should supervise bullies when they're around strangers, children or other pets. There's no doubt bully breeds have been given a bad name, but many animal lovers are dedicated to restoring their image and proving they deserve to be among America's favorite dogs again.

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