In Richard Harding Davis’, “The Bar Sinister,” published in 1903 by Charles Scribner’s Sons, the protagonist is a Bull Terrier named Kid that overcomes his rough-and-tumble beginnings as a street fighter to become a much-celebrated bench champion. The rags-to-riches tale, told from the dog’s point of view, highlights the strong will and exuberant nature of the breed nicknamed “the canine gladiator.”

Kid was the only white puppy in a litter of black-and-tans. His mother had “no royal blood” in her veins, although his sire had “twenty-two registered ancestors” and resembled “a marble figure by a great artist.” Kid’s adulterated parentage mirrors the blending of breeds that gave rise to Bull-and-Terriers in mid-19th-century England.

Among some members of society, dog fighting became a popular underground activity after bull and bear baiting were outlawed. The old English Bulldog was crossed with various Terriers to create powerful yet agile dogs that could be pitted against one another for sport. Most authorities suggest a larger version of the Manchester Terrier and the now extinct White English Terrier were part of the mix used to create the progenitors of today’s Bull Terrier.

The advent of dog shows resulted in the breed’s refinement for the ring. An Irishman living in Birmingham named James Hinks is said to have bred the white dogs exclusively. The businessman and dog dealer is credited with preserving the courage of the Bulldog while eliminating any trace of that breed’s extreme conformation.

The Bull Terrier’s appearance was further enhanced by the introduction of the Dalmatian. In “The Bull Terrier Illustrated Standard,” published by the Bull Terrier Club of America in 1991, three sub-types are referenced as “the genetic ingredients which produce the ideal combination of substance, soundness and shapeliness called for in the Bull Terrier Standard.” The three types are Bulldog, Terrier and Dalmatian, although it is noted, “Excess of any of these types is undesirable, the ideal being a blend of the good points of all three.”

In 1887, a club was formed in the U.K. to represent the interests of the breed and its enthusiasts, and the first standard was published the following year. The Bull Terrier Club of America was formed in 1897.

The breed’s original fighting temperament was modified through judicious breeding, but by the early 20th century health-related problems associated with the white dogs became apparent. Conditions such as congenital deafness caused some to incorporate the Staffordshire Bull Terrier into their breeding programs. The “colored” dogs that resulted were eventually accepted as a separate variety in 1936.

The Bull Terrier’s distinctive appearance and clownish nature have endeared it to generations of dog fanciers, and several individual dogs have done much to promote the breed’s many fine qualities. The Bud Light spokesdog, Spuds Mackenzie, and the mascot for the retail giant Target have raised the breed’s visibility among the general public in recent years.

In 2006, a Colored Bull Terrier, Rufus, Ch. Rockytop’s Sundance Kid, was awarded Best in Show under Judge James G. Reynolds at the 130th annual Westminster Kennel Club dog show.

Registrations for both varieties in 2011 confirm the Bull Terrier’s popularity, placing the energetic breed 51st of the 173 AKC-recognized breeds.

The Bull Terrier is a Bull-and-Terrier breed with a distinctively egg-shaped head and an exuberant personality. Photo © Isselee/Dreamstime.

An Egg Head

In “The Bar Sinister,” a new mistress enters Kid in a New York dog show where he’s ultimately deemed “the true type.” This kind of pronouncement would only be possible if the dog possessed his breed’s uniquely shaped head.

The Bull Terrier’s distinctive noggin is hard to miss. It is “long, strong and deep right to the end of the muzzle, but not coarse,” according to the Head section of the AKC breed standard. Its outline should be an oval when viewed from the front, “filled completely up, giving the impression of fullness with a surface devoid of hollows or indentation.” This lack of concavity contributes to the head’s desired egg shape.

In profile, the head curves “gently downwards from the top of the skull to the tip of the nose,” according to the standard. “The distance from the tip of the nose to the eyes should be perceptibly greater than that from the eyes to the top of the skull.”

“More strength of muzzle with less curve of profile is preferable to a pronounced profile with a narrow muzzle that tapers to a point,” according to the illustrated standard.

A Well-Rounded Body

“He’s like a marble figure by a great artist – one who loved dogs” is how one famously formed Bull Terrier is described in “The Bar Sinister.”

The AKC breed standard describes the Bull Terrier’s body as “well-rounded with a marked spring of rib.” The chest is “broad when viewed from in front,” with “great depth from withers to brisket.” Shoulders are “strong and muscular, but without heaviness,” and there is no “slackness or dip at the withers.” The back is “short and strong,” “slightly arched over the loin,” with the back ribs “deep.”

“The underline from the brisket to the belly should form a graceful upward curve,” according to the standard.

The Bull Terrier’s “dense, muscular, shapely body” also defines the breed, according to the BTCA illustrated standard. It creates the impression of “short-backed, well-knit strength with graceful lines.” These lines, as directed by the illustrated standard, “flow continuously from the base of the ears over a graceful neck, tying smoothly into the level withers and thence back to a slight rise over a muscular loin, finishing in a gentle curve over the croup to a low-set tailhead.”

A White or Colored Coat

“For a while I, when I’m washed for a fight, am as white as clean snow,” Kid says about his coat. His pride is justified, since the Bull Terrier’s earliest supporters so prized the breed’s gleaming white color.

A White Bull Terrier may possess colored markings, but only on the head. Markings anywhere else are to be “severely faulted,” according to the breed standard.

In the Colored variety, “any color other than white, or any color with white markings” is acceptable, although brindle is “the preferred color.” The standard states, “A dog which is predominantly white shall be disqualified.”

The illustrated standard cautions that markings in both White and Colored Bull Terriers can cause “optical illusions” that create false impressions. In the White variety, “skin pigmentation is not to be penalized,” however, blue eyes disqualify in both varieties.

The Bull Terrier’s coat is “short, flat, harsh to the touch and with a fine gloss,” according to the standard, with tight-fitting skin.

In “The Bar Sinister,” Kid meets up with an ancient Mastiff that tells the young dog about the father he never knew. The old dog’s words are a charming reminder of the powerful impression the canine gladiator is capable of making: “He had sleepy pink eyes and thin pink lips, and he was as white all over as his own white teeth, and under his white skin you could see his muscles, hard and smooth, like the links of a steel chain… He looked just as proud and haughty as one of them stone dogs in Victoria Park – them as is cut out of white marble.”