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What Are Bully Breed Dogs?

Written by FOTP Team


American bully dog

If ever there was a confusingly named group of animals, it’s bully breed dogs. The term can be used to cover a huge range of pooches from pugs to pit bulls, and most are total softies – at least to their owners. However, some types have a reputation for aggression, meaning you do need to think carefully before welcoming one into your home. So which bully breed might make a fabulous four-legged friend for your family? Let’s find out!

At first glance, Bulldogs, Boxers, Rottweilers and Boston Terriers appear to have little in common. But in fact, they share an ancestor: the Molossers of Ancient Greece and Rome. 

These huge animals were capable of defending livestock from wolves and bears, but also of forming strong bonds with their owners. 

Over the next few thousand years, the Molossers’ descendents were bred for hunting, guarding, herding and farm work. Crossed with Terriers, they were used for fighting – particularly the vicious sport of bull-baiting, from which they gained their name.

Once those blood sports became outlawed in many places, these canines were instead bred as guard dogs and family pets. Let’s take a look at some of their characteristics.

There’s no denying that some bully breeds have a serious image problem. There are restrictions on ownership and breeding in certain states and countries as it’s feared they’ll attack other dogs or even humans. 

But, as we’ve already said, this is a huge and varied group of dogs. You’re not in much danger from a Pug - a breed specially developed to be sociable!

Even the larger, stronger breeds have their fans. Supporters claim that it’s not the dog that’s to blame, but the breeder or owner for encouraging aggressive traits or failing to train and control their animal as they should. So the debate about bully breeds rages on!

Bully breed dogs were originally bred for strength. They tend to be muscular, with broad shoulders, barrel chests, large square heads, and powerful jaws with an underbite. 

In many other respects, the various breeds differ hugely. Size-wise, they can be small or giant. While they all have short muzzles, some have been bred to have flat faces: these brachycephalic breeds are prone to health problems, so choose your pup with care. 

We can’t cover all the breeds here, so let’s just take a look at a few of the most popular – including those that are most controversial.

American Pit Bull Terriers (APBT)

This is the most notorious of all the bully breeds. First, let’s clear up some confusion: in the USA, the term “pit bull” is often used to refer to a group of dogs including American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, and American Bullies. In many other countries, it’s used only for the first of those breeds.

American Pit Bull Terriers are only medium sized, but very muscular. They look ferocious and have a reputation for being aggressive, fighting dogs. Ownership is banned or restricted in some US states, Canada, many European countries, and elsewhere. 

However, their proponents say that with proper socialization and training, a pit bull can be a sweetie. So if you think a pittie could be the pooch for you, do your research – including making sure they’re legal where you live – and get ready to put in those training hours. 

American Pit Bull Terrier

American Pit Bull Terrier


With their wrinkled faces and muscular bodies, Bulldogs have looks you either love or hate! But they can be loyal pooches who are good with kids, making them a popular choice with families today.

The standard breed is the English or British Bulldog. The American Bulldog is a little bigger, more athletic and less flat-faced. The French Bulldog is smaller, with delightfully pointy ears. Which type could you see bounding along next to you on your country walks?

english bulldog

British Bulldog

American Bully

Some dog lovers admire the looks of American Pit Bull Terriers (APBTs) – but are wary about their temperaments. Enter the American Bully: a breed developed in the 1980s and 1990s as a calmer variant of the APBT.

American Bullies are crosses between APBTs and Bulldogs, which come in four sizes ranging from pocket (13-17 inches) up to XL (19-23 inches). They’ve been bred as companion dogs, with reduced prey drives, and can make lovely, loyal pets.

American Bullies love to play, but need careful watching at all times, especially around kids. Be warned – they need to be told that you’re top dog, otherwise they can become dominant and even turn aggressive. 

American bully dog

American Bully

Boston Terriers

Hard to believe that these are also bull breeds! These dapper dogs are known as the “American Gentleman” thanks to their good-natured charm and the fact that many have black-and-white tuxedo coats. 

They were first bred in the late 19th century as a cross between Terriers and Bulldogs, and quickly became popular as pets due to their small size, friendliness, and adaptability. Oh, and did we mention they’re easy to train and great with kids?

Of course, there are a couple of downsides – they have high energy, and can become destructive if left alone. But for an active family, they make a great pet. 

Boston terrier

Boston Terrier


Gentle and playful, Boxers are beloved by families across the US. They can be clumsy and don’t always know their own strength, so it’s definitely best to put your valuables out of reach! Socialize and train them well, and you’ll be rewarded with a cuddly canine companion for years to come.


Boxer Dog


Cute-in-an-ugly way, these small dogs with big characters are delightful companion canines. However, those flat faces can lead to all sorts of nasty health issues, so do your research and invest in some pet insurance if you’ve got your heart set on a Pug.



Great Danes

Yes, these gentle giants really do belong to the same group as Pugs! They’re sweet-natured canines – but can you provide them with the super-sized home, garden, car, meals and equipment they need? If so, you and your family are in for one huge treat!

So that’s our round-up of bully breed dogs. Which one has stolen your heart?