What Is A Bully Breed?

What Is A Bully Breed

There’s a lot of confusion about what constitutes a bully breed. Some breeds are easy to categorize as bullies since their names include the word bull.

For example, Bull Terriers and Bulldogs are clearly bully breeds.

But many other breeds that aren’t as obvious can also be classified as bullies. Breeds such as Rottweilers and even Pugs are also considered to be bully breeds, even though they may appear drastically different from Bulldogs and Pitbulls.

This might leave you wondering: what is a bully breed?

Bully breeds share many characteristics, including loyalty, protective instincts, and loving demeanors, but it’s actually a breed’s history that classifies them as bullies. All bully breeds are descended from a common ancestor, the ancient Molossers of the Greeks and Romans. Any breed that can be traced back to the original Molossers is a bully breed.

Of course, the original Molosser breed is considered to be one of the oldest dog breeds we know of, with a history reaching back at least 2,500 years. Over that time, Molosser genes have helped to create a plethora of breeds, which is why there are so many bully breeds today.

Let’s dive a little deeper into that history and learn a bit about what breeds qualify as bullies and how bully breeds came into existence.

While we’re at it, let’s clear up a few common myths and misconceptions about these wonderful dogs.

What Is a Bully Breed Dog?

When trying to figure out what exactly constitutes a bully breed, you’ll probably find a lot of conflicting information.

Many people mistakenly believe that a dog’s physical traits alone can make them a bully breed.

For instance, characteristics like a large, square head with a muscular body and a friendly, playful demeanor. These traits are common to most bully breeds, but they’re not what makes a breed a bully.

Even so, there’s a good reason that all of these breeds seem to share similar traits. It’s because they come from the same genes!

Granted, those genes did split off hundreds or even thousands of years ago, but all bully breeds still share a common ancestor.

A Common Bully Breed Ancestor

If you trace any bully breed’s lineage back far enough, you will find the same ancient ancestor behind all of them: the ancient Molosser dogs of the Romans and Greeks.

If you’ve never heard of a Molosser before, you’re certainly not alone. Despite the fact that dozens of today’s bully breeds are direct descendants of these dogs, they’ve been extinct for long enough that few people have even heard of them.

Because all bully breeds are descended from these Molossers, they all share many traits, ranging from the physical to the temperamental.

However, many of these breeds split off from the Molossers in the far ancient past. Rottweilers, for example, were used by the same ancient Romans that kept Molossers in their armies and used them to guard their livestock.

There’s not much of a gap between those Molossers and the Rottweilers that the same Romans used shortly thereafter. But take a look at some of the other bully breeds and you’ll see that they’ve clearly gotten much further from those original Molosser genes.

For instance, let’s look at two of the smallest bully breeds, the Boston Terrier and the Pug.

No doubt, you can see a resemblance between these mini bullies and some of the larger bully breeds, but these two are a fraction of the size that most bully breeds reach.

Still, even these pint-sized bully breeds are descended from the same impressive Molossers from thousands of years in the past.

The Ancient Molossers

Even though Molossers have been extinct for many hundreds of years, their impact will continue to be felt for many thousands of years more.

These dogs were impressive, to say the least. They were massive dogs, used for a variety of tasks.

Originally, the Molossers were used primarily for the task of guarding livestock. They were large enough to fend off predators that would prey on the livestock, such as wolves and bears.

Soon, the Molossers’ jobs started to expand, and they were used to drive livestock between markets and even started being used as hunting dogs.

As hunters, these Molossers were incredible. After all, they were fierce and large enough to take on the bears and wolves that would try to feed on the livestock these Molossers were guarding.

But Molossers’ talents didn’t end at farm work and hunting. Rather, they also saw extensive use as war hounds on the frontlines of the armies of both the ancient Greeks and Romans.

It’s believed that were two distinct lines of these Molossers. The smaller group was used primarily for farm work and herding while the larger Molossers were more likely to see use as hunting dogs and war hounds.

Where Do Bully Breeds Come From?

Soon, these Molossers began spreading across the known world.

The Romans and Greeks brought them along on their conquests and many were traded to other civilizations where they were mixed with local breeds to create a variety of new dogs that could fulfill new uses or be better suited for particular climates or tasks.

During this time, many of the breeds we know and love today started making their first appearances.

For example, this is when the earliest Rottweilers were first bred, and they were used for a lot of the same jobs that the Molossers did, including farm work, herding, hunting, guarding, and more. Even today, Rottweilers still get used for some of these jobs.

Another well-known breed that got its start around this time, though a bit later than the Rottweiler, is the Boxer. But Boxers didn’t come directly from the Molossers. Rather, there was a step between known as the Bullenbeisser.

The Bullenbeisser was a beast of a dog and it was used for some seriously scary tasks.

For one thing, Bullenbeissers were outrageous hunters. Like the Molossers, Bullenbeissers were used to hunt. These dogs commonly hunted bears and boars with great success due to their massive size and impressive athleticism.

Furthermore, Bullenbeissers were one of the early breeds used for bull-baiting, which we’ll discuss further in a moment.

Bullenbeissers didn’t just die out. They were essentially bred out of existence through crossbreeding.

The Bullenbeisser is the direct ancestor of the Boxer, first created in the late 1800s by crossing the Bullenbeisser breed with Bulldogs that had been imported from the British Isles.

Prior to this, the Bullenbeisser had been nearly as successful as its ancestors, the Molossers.  The Bullenbeisser breed had spread throughout much of the known world, including the Roman Empire and more, but by the early 1900s, the breed was extinct.

Even so, they live on through today’s Boxer breed, which is the 11th most popular pooch in the US.

Of course, many other breeds branched off from those ancient Molosser roots, not just Rottweilers and Bullenbeissers. Even the British Bulldogs bred with the Bullenbeisser to create the modern Boxer were descended from the Molossers.

Where Does the Term “Bully Breed” Come From?

Many dogs had been given the name of Bulldog throughout the years, including quite a few of the original offshoots from the Molosser breed, such as those British Bulldogs we just mentioned.

However, this isn’t where the bully breed moniker was earned, though you’d be forgiven for believing it was.

Rather, the name was initially earned by the Bullenbeisser, due to the insane task laid before it: bull-baiting.

If you’ve never heard of bull-baiting before, it’s because the sport, if you can call it that, has been outlawed for quite some time in most countries.

It certainly seems barbaric by most modern standards, but bull-baiting was once an incredibly popular competition between two animals.

I say competition, but it’s really a blood sport.

In bull-baiting, dogs are pit against a bull in a fight to the death.

Keep in mind that bulls can weigh over a metric ton and have long horns that can easily penetrate a dog and rip them open.

In fact, this was extremely common in bull-baiting and part of the reason why people watched. Many people today would likely have a hard time watching such a thing, but a couple hundred years ago, this sport was wildly popular.

It was very common for the bull’s horns to rip the sides of dogs open, leaving their entrails spilling out.

Graphic, I know, but this wasn’t a one-on-one battle. It was an entire spectacle!

There would be several dogs at the least, sometimes as many as 20 or 30, though there was only one bull. The bull would be chained to the ground with a long enough lead for it to move while still keeping it confined to a rather small area that was usually about 30 feet in diameter.

The dogs were released, sometimes one at a time, and other times several would be released at once. They would attack the bull, some biting its ears, face, or neck, others going for the legs, stomach, or whatever was available.

If a dog was injured, they were expected to keep attacking. Many dogs died, but so did many bulls.

Even though this sport was a popular form of entertainment, it was primarily used as advertising. Pubs and bars would set the spectacle up outside their establishment to draw in large crowds that would drink and cheer, earning the bar a substantial profit.

As you can imagine, a dog needs to be tough, fierce, and nearly fearless for bull-baiting, and these descendants of Molossers were.

However, accounts from the time also say that the dogs and bulls were not naturally aggressive towards each other and sometimes even slept in the same stables without issue. These dogs were forced by their trainers to partake in the bloody events, but they weren’t naturally aggressive.

Even so, this is where the bully breeds of today earned that name.

Though Bullenbeissers were some of the first dogs to be used in bull-baiting, other similar dogs that were also descended from Molossers were used to great success, and the term became a catch-all name for the various breeds used for the bloody competitions, all of which had the same common ancestors.

Shared Traits of Bully Breeds

Today, many people think that bully breeds are named as such because they’re bullies, mean and aggressive dogs that like to attack and bite.

Of course, as anyone who owns a bully breed dog will tell you, nothing could be further from the truth!

This is a myth that plagues the bully breeds, but we’ll set the record straight on this and a few other misconceptions shortly.

First, let’s talk about some of the traits that really are shared by all bully breeds.

Keep in mind that not every single dog from a bully breed will display all of these traits. These are temperamental and physical characteristics that these breeds tend to display in general, but individual dogs are always subject to their upbringing.

If a dog is raised improperly, then despite their natural instincts, they could become aggressive or mean.

It is a bit ironic though that the traits most commonly associated with bully breeds by the people that know and work with them are the opposite of what many people believe due to their unfortunate namesake.

Bullies in school were always bad, but bully breed canines are a totally different story, and the term bully certainly doesn’t describe the temperaments of these breeds.

Let’s start with physical traits often shared by bully breeds.

Almost all bully breeds have large heads compared to their bodies. Their heads tend to be square with powerful jaws and they often have an underbite, though not always.

Bully breeds are also generally built very impressively with loads of muscle. Most are rather agile, though a few breeds are too bulky and low-slung to be as agile as others.

For instance, English Bulldogs aren’t quite as lean and athletic as a Boxer, though they do share muscular builds and oversized heads with a powerful jaw and an underbite.

And even English Bulldogs are pretty athletic. For proof, I present a video of Rudy the Bulldog in the 1029 WKC masters agility course.

In terms of size, bully breeds can go either way. There are giant bullies like Rottweilers, Great Danes, and Bull Mastiffs, but there are also much smaller members of the bully breed club like Pugs and Boston Terriers.

Temperamentally, most bully breeds are quite alike, especially if they’ve been properly trained and socialized. A poorly trained or socialized pooch can have behavioral problems regardless of their breed or natural personality.

Though bully breeds used to be used for the fierce blood sport of bull-baiting, modern bully breeds are gentle and loving pooches.

Granted, most of them have the physical ability to still be dangerous, but it’s just not part of their nature to be aggressive or violent unless provoked.

Be aware, many bully breeds are used as guard dogs and they serve the role of protector well. They might not be naturally aggressive, but you certainly don’t want to see one turn into a vicious beast because you endangered their family.

Bully breeds, from the largest Great Danes to the smallest Boston Terriers tend to be incredibly loving and affectionate dogs. They want to give and receive love all the time and they’re the type of dogs that love to be glued to their human’s side.

Even the biggest bully breeds don’t realize that they’re not lap dogs! From Rottweilers to Great Danes, these dogs are all love and want to be held like any little dog would.

Need some proof? Here’s a video of a giant Great Dane acting like a little lap dog! Gentle giants indeed.

Bully breeds also love to play. These dogs have boundless energy, so they can play practically all day!

Your bully breed will surely outplay you.

I have a Boxer/Pitbull mix, so bully breed through and through, and no matter how long I play with him, he’s never tired and he never wants to stop!

The Boxer in this video isn’t mine, but it will give you a sense of just how comical and playful these dogs are! Trust me, my dog does this same goofy stuff with any toy or rock he can find and it’s always equally hilarious!

Another trait common to bully breeds that we only briefly mentioned are their natural protective instincts.

These dogs bond very strongly with their owners, and if you ever make them feel like their people are in danger, you’ll see the scary side of bully breeds that are leftover from their days of fighting bulls.

You’ll also notice that most bully breeds have a ton of energy. That’s the reason they’re so playful!

After all, these are highly athletic dogs. If you have a bully breed, you should expect to spend quite a bit of time exercising them to avoid any destructive behaviors that bored or under-exercised dogs are likely to display.

Bully Breed Misconceptions

Now that we’ve discussed the traits you’ll see in almost all bully breeds, let’s talk about those misconceptions we mentioned earlier.

There are many myths surrounding bully breeds. People believe them to be dangerous and aggressive. It’s also commonly believed that bully breeds like Pitbulls can lock their jaws.

Bully Breeds Are Dangerous and Aggressive – FALSE

Bully breeds have a reputation for being aggressive and dangerous, but is it a fair assessment of them?

Most likely this idea comes from the bully moniker attached to these dogs, but in truth, bully breeds have been shown to have friendly personalities.

The American Temperament Test Society or ATTS administers temperament tests to different dog breeds in order to determine the average personality and agreeableness of each breed.

Let’s take a look at their findings for several prominent bully breeds.

We’ll start with American Pit Bull Terriers since Pitbulls have some of the worst reputations in the bully breed group.

The ATTS administered their temperament test to 931 Pitbulls in all, and 87.4% or 814 dogs total passed the test, proving them to be a very friendly breed in all.

Many popular non-bully breeds scored much lower than this, such as the Bloodhound with only 75% of tested dogs passing, or the Bichon Frise where only 76.7% of dogs passed.

This data seems to show that Pitbulls are friendlier than many other breeds!

Let’s look at another example. How about the Cane Corso? These giants are about as close to the original Molossers as any bully breeds. But how did they fare on the temperament test?

Out of 235 dogs tested, 88.1% passed!

Bull Terriers did even better with 91.6% of tested pooches passing and 83.9% of Boxers passed.

According to this data, bully breeds are more likely to be friendly than many other breeds, such as Doberman Pinschers where only 79.5% of dogs passed the temperament test.

Even the beloved Golden Retriever only has an 85.6% passing rate, to put things in perspective.

As you can clearly see, bully breeds are not naturally aggressive or dangerous.

Bully Breeds Can Lock Their Jaws – FALSE

This myth is one of the most commonly regurgitated misconceptions by the uninformed public. You’ll often hear people talking about how some bully breeds like Pitbulls can lock their jaws, and that’s supposedly part of what makes them so dangerous.

Only, that’s not actually true.

In reality, no dog can lock their jaw. Even bully breeds. Bully breeds have the same physical structure as other dogs. Their jaws work the same way, and they can bite, but their jaws definitely don’t lock.

Bully Breeds Have the Strongest Bites – FALSE

This myth kind of goes hand-in-hand with the last one.

Many people mistakenly believe that bully breeds have the strongest bites in the canine kingdom.

In truth, bully breeds have about the same bite force as other breeds of the same size.

For dogs, bite force is largely dependent on the dog’s size. So, larger dogs will generally have a stronger bite than smaller dogs.

Many bully breeds are indeed quite large, such as the Rottweiler with an approximate bite force of 328 PSI. That’s pretty strong, but the average domestic dog has a bite force of around 320 PSI, which doesn’t make the Rottweiler’s bite seem like it’s much stronger than average.

Pitbulls, however, are much smaller than Rottweilers, and their bites are much weaker, averaging just 235 PSI. That’s far below the average and serves as proof that bully breeds don’t have the strongest bites of any dog breeds.

Bully Breeds Are Bad with Kids – FALSE

Here’s another myth you’ll hear all the time when you talk about bully breeds.

Apparently, bully breeds are dangerous for children to be around. This is because they’re naturally aggressive, remember?

Of course, we know that’s not true, but public opinion isn’t easily swayed.

The truth is that bully breeds are great with children! These are loving and affectionate dogs that are highly protective of their people.

My Pitbull/Boxer mix that I mentioned earlier has been best friends with my daughter since she was born! He would always stand over her protectively and has played with her gently since she was old enough to play with him.

I don’t need to say much about this because this video of Pitbulls and babies will demonstrate just how good bully breeds actually are with children.

Why Are Bully Breeds Banned in Many Places?

Unfortunately, many bully breeds, particularly the well-known ones, are banned from a great deal of places.

In America, they’re not allowed in many apartments, hotels, or homes, and some states even have legislation restricting them, though they’re not outright banned from any states.

That said, these breeds fare even worse in other countries. Ecuador, for instance, has outright banned Rottweilers!

Pitbulls aren’t doing any better. They’re banned in just as many places, probably more. It might sound crazy, but Pitbulls are banned from the entire country of France!

The reason for such bans is mainly hype. Public opinion isn’t on the side of these breeds, so neither are lawmakers.

As we’ve already discussed at length, the allegations against bully breeds like Pitbulls and Rottweilers are patently false. These dogs aren’t more dangerous or aggressive than any other breeds, but as long as this stigma surrounds them, bans will likely continue.

In America, these bully breeds are often on the exclusion lists of insurance companies. This is why they’re not allowed in many apartments and other dwellings. The insurance rates for the complex would go up if these dogs were allowed to live there.

This is clearly an unfair policy, but it’s not even up to the apartments or homes as much as it’s because of the insurance companies.

Until bully breeds are removed from these exclusion lists, they won’t be allowed in many places other dogs are allowed to go.

What Kind of Dog Is a Bully?

As we discussed earlier, any breed that can trace its origins back to the ancient Molosser dogs of the Greeks and Romans is considered a bully breed.

Of course, these original Molossers were around 2,500 years ago, so their genes have had substantial time to be mixed with many other sets of canine genetics.

The result? We now have loads of different bully breeds!

If you’re a fan of bully breeds, this is great news since you have a practically endless selection of breeds to choose from.

I’m not going to list every single bully breed alive on the Earth today. There are simply too many!

Besides, many are newer mixed breeds that aren’t officially recognized breeds yet.

This list will instead cover all of the most common and popular bully breeds that you’re likely to encounter or might be able to find if you wanted to add one to your family.

  • Alapaha Blue Blood
  • American Bulldog
  • American Bully (American Pit Bull Terrier x American Bulldog mix)
  • American Pit Bull Terrier
  • American Staffordshire Terrier
  • Australian Bulldog
  • Boston Terrier
  • Boxer
  • Brazilian Mastiff
  • Bull Mastiff
  • Bull Terrier
  • Cane Corso
  • Catahoula Bulldog
  • Continental Bulldog
  • Dog de Bordeaux
  • Dogo Argentino
  • English Bulldog
  • French Bulldog
  • Great Dane
  • Miniature Bull Terrier
  • Neapolitan Mastiff
  • Olde English Bulldogge
  • Pug
  • Rottweiler
  • Spanish Mastiff
  • Staffordshire Bull Terrier
  • Valley Bulldog (Boxer x English Bulldog mix)
  • Victorian Bulldog

Final Thoughts

Personally, I don’t think you’ll find a breed out there that’s better than a bully breed.

Bullies are the opposite of their namesake. They’re loving, loyal, friendly, affectionate, playful, hilarious, sweet, and they make the best pets imaginable.

Bully breeds aren’t named because of their personalities, if they were, they’d probably be called cuddly bull breeds instead. Rather, they’re named for the vicious blood sport they used to be forced to participate in called bull-baiting.

But that’s not even what defines a bully breed. To be a bully, a breed must be descended from the great Molossers of old, which gives these breeds a rich and long history that stretches back well over 2,000 years.

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