Staffordshire Bull Terrier

Photo of adult Staffordshire Bull Terrier

Despite having the reputation of a fighter, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier is a sweet-tempered, trustworthy, and docile dog that is eager to love and to be loved. It is known as the “Nanny Dog” for its natural fondness for children and is affectionately nicknamed the 'Staffy'. It is said to be a love machine in the body of a warrior, as its muscular, toned body gives it an imposing figure.

Staffies are short-coated, medium-sized dogs, very strong and powerful for their size. They are quite energetic, with a happy-go-lucky attitude and an eagerness to please their owners. They can be stubborn and strong-willed, requiring a consistent and firm leader, one that will work on creating a strong animal-human bond.

About & History

Staffordshire Bull Terriers originated in the Staffordshire region of England, back in the 19th century, and were popular among coal miners. Dogs were bred for harassing and fighting bulls, both for entertainment and practical purposes, as bull-baiting was believed to help tenderizing the meat. Besides bull-baiting, they were also used in bear and dog fights. Workers used to pit them against each other, as a source of entertainment. Owners wanted smaller and faster dogs, without compromising their strength, skill, and friendliness towards people, as they many times needed to intervene during fights without the risk of being attacked.

Breeding dogs for blood sports started in the mid-16th century and it is possible that Staffordshire Bull Terriers started developing as a breed then. They are a mixture of Landrace working dogs, Bulldogs, and Manchester Terriers. Being a pit bull type of dog, they share common ancestors with the American Pit Bull Terrier, the Bull Terrier, and the American Staffordshire Terrier. Through selective breeding, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier developed into a small but powerful dog, with strong jaws, but nevertheless gentle, loyal, and loving to humans.

The development of animal welfare awareness led to the ban of canine blood sports in the UK in 1835. Still, Staffordshire Bull Terriers were used in clandestine dog fights for many years. Over the years, however, fanciers of the breed started pulling them away from the pits and Staffies were accepted by the British Kennel Club in 1935. Breed standards were developed after the recognition of the breed, which is usually uncommon. In the US, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier was recognised by the Kennel Club a few decades later, in 1975.

Appearance

Staffordshire Bull Terriers are muscular dogs and are very strong for their size. They have a short coat that comes in different colours:

  • Brindle (yellow gold bridled with black cross stripes)
  • Fawn (yellow gold with a black mask)
  • Black
  • Red
  • Blue
  • White
  • Any blending of these colours with white

Staffordshire Bull Terriers have a short head and a broad skull with a short foreface. Their strong jaws are a typical feature of the breed and they are visible due to their pronounced cheek muscles. Their hind quarters are also quite muscled and their ears are small.

Male Staffies weigh between 13 and 17 kg (29-37 lb) and females between 11 and 15.4 kg (24-34 lb). Male Staffies are usually 36 to 41 cm tall (14-16 inches) and females 33 to 38 cm (13-15 inches). The American version is slightly larger than the European.

Character & Temperament

Photo of Staffordshire Bull Terrier puppy

Staffies are exuberant and lively dogs that love playing and running. They are happy and cheerful, very energetic and impulsive, and extremely affectionate towards people – especially children. They are even known as the children’s nursemaid in the UK, as their love and protectiveness towards children are well-recognised among Staffies. They usually show their love and affection by jumping up on people, pawing, nuzzling and licking.

They absolutely need to be close to people and will not tolerate being alone for long periods of time, or to be left on their own in the backyard. They are incredibly people-oriented and they crave companionship. When lonely or bored, Staffies become noisy, destructive, and agitated. Because they are so fond of people, they may not be the perfect watchdog, although their appearance usually suffices to scare off intruders. The Staffy's ability to adapt to new people and even changing homes make them easy preys for dog snappers.

Staffies are very active and need lots of play time. They are Terriers, meaning they will show the Terriers’ typical behaviour – they will dig, chase cats and other furry small animals, and will not tolerate other dogs. With proper socialization and when growing with other animals, including cats, they will probably be at ease around them. However, it is preferable not to leave a Staffy alone with other animals without supervision. They are not pacifists and will fight if challenged. Moreover, it does not take much for a Staffy to feel challenged and its dominant character will prevent it from acting peacefully in such situations. Its prey drive is also quite hard to keep under control. For these reasons, off leash walks are not always recommended, however, this can be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

The Staffordshire Bull Terrier is a stubborn dog – one with a strong temperament that will manipulate its owner if he lets it. They need a firm leader that will not let them become the boss. Staffies are bold and fearless, they are curious and always ready for adventure. Agility and obedience are good sports for them, providing both the mental and physical challenge they need to thrive. Nevertheless, Staffies are also quite stable and know how to be quiet when off-duty. They love to curl up in the couch close to their owners and they make good house pets. High-spirited and intelligent, Staffies are never shy. They love to chew, as they have well-developed cheek muscles. It is important that they have strong toys to chew and play with. If not, they will probably find their own in a piece of furniture, shoe, or any object they might find, as they are not always too respectful of property.

Prospective owners should bear in mind the legal liabilities linked to owning a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, as they are subjected to breed-specific legislation in some countries or regions. There are bans on the breed and also insurance-related issues that should be taken into account before buying or adopting a Staffy. Although public perception is bad towards Staffies, they are truly loving. Bad reputation comes from bad owners that exploit the Stafford’s eagerness to please and to be liked by training them to be aggressive. Nonetheless, Staffies are fun, kind and partners for life. They just need firm leadership and tons of love and affection.

Trainability

Staffordshire Bull Terriers are easily house trained. They need to be trained by a consistent and dominant leader, otherwise it is the dog that will assume the pack leader role. Leadership will keep them under control. Obedience is also advisable as part of training. Rewarding good behaviour is preferable to punishing misdeeds and patience is a must when training a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, as they are usually quite stubborn and wilful. Early socialisation is important, as Staffies tend to act aggressively towards other animals. When properly trained and socialized though, they become well-behaved and friendly around other animals.

Health

Staffordshire Bull Terriers can live up to 14 years. They are known to have a high pain threshold, making it hard to sometimes spot health issues, which is why owners should be alert to any changes in behaviour or health status. Staffies are more prone to the following health problems:

  • Cataracts – Staffordshire Bull Terriers may suffer from hereditary juvenile cataracts, resulting in impaired vision and, ultimately, blindness. They usually occur at an early age and progress quite rapidly. Cataracts are characterized by an opacity in the eye lens that can be removed surgically and replaced by a new lens. Because this condition is genetic, there are DNA tests available to identify the dogs that carry the disease. When buying a Staffy, it is important to get one whose parents have been tested and are clear of the defective gene.
  • L-2-hydroxyglutaric aciduria (L2HGA) – L2HGA is a genetic metabolic disease that results in dementia and behavioural changes in Staffies. Dogs with L2HGA lack a certain enzyme that breaks up the L-2-hydroxyglutarate compound. Because this compound is not metabolised, it builds up in the brain, leading to lack of coordination, seizures, muscle tremors and developmental problems. The disease has no cure, although signs can be treated. There are DNA tests available to screen for the disease and breeding animals should be tested and not used for breeding if they carry the defective gene.
  • Mastocytoma – Mastocytomas are tumours of a type of cells called mast cells, which are present in the connective tissue (especially in vessels and nerves close to the skin and mucosae). There are different grades, according to the differentiation of the tumour and usually better prognoses are given to the more differentiated tumours.
  • Skin allergies – Some Staffies may have skin allergies, which are characterized by itching, scratching and redness of the skin. Hair loss and sore spots may also develop and the problem may lead to bacterial infections. Diet supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids can help treating the problem.
  • Distichiasis – Distichiasis or double eyelashes occur when eyelashes abnormally arise from unexpected locations on the eyelid or grow in abnormal directions. The severity of the clinical signs varies. Affected dogs may not show any signs at all if the abnormal eyelashes are soft, or they may have irritation of the eye, which causes inflammation, eye discharges, pain, and even ulceration of the cornea.
  • Hip dysplasia – Hip dysplasia is a genetic trait that may also have some environmental factors involved. It results from a deficient formation of the hip joint that prevents the thighbone from correctly fitting the hip socket. The joint becomes lax and the constant wear and tear that results from the dog’s locomotion leads to inflammation, pain, and arthritis, with the typical signs of lameness and even refusal to move becoming evident in the most severe cases.
  • Demodectic mange – Demodicosis or demodectic mange is caused by parasitic mites called Demodex. Demodex live in the dog’s hair follicles and oil glands and when, for some reason, the dog becomes immunologically compromised, signs of demodicosis occur. Thinning hair, scaly skin, inflamed skin, and skin lesions, especially in the dog’s face, trunk, and legs, are the most common signs. The condition is treatable but because hair takes time to grow again, it may take several months before a dog completely recovers from demodectic mange.

Exercise and Activity Levels

In order to maintain its muscle tone and compact looks, Staffies require lots of exercise. Daily walks or jogs will suffice for them to keep up with their needs and high stamina. Two or three half-hour to one hour walks or playtimes are the best to make a Staffy happy and keep their muscular appearance. They love games, playing, and running, so it will not be difficult to find a way of keeping them active, given that the owner is around and willing to provide them with the opportunities to play and exercise.

Grooming

With its short coat, Staffies do not require much grooming and are easy to maintain. They shed little, thus a weekly brushing to keep their coat shiny and remove dead hair are enough to keep them looking great at all times. The usual basic grooming routine is recommended, which includes checking the ears for signs of inflammation and nail trimming if necessary.

Famous Staffordshire Bull Terriers

Examples of famous Staffordshire Bull Terriers are:

  • Sui, the dog of the famous Australian conservationist Steve Irwin. Sui was well-known for accompanying Irwin in his wild adventures, helping him handling crocodiles and snakes. Sui appeared in several episodes of the show “The Crocodile Hunter”.
  • Winston, Vin Diesel’s Staffordshire Bull Terrier. Vin Diesel, a famous action film star, is a fancier of the breed.

Cross-Breeds

Cross-breeding Staffordshire Bull Terriers with other dog breeds is not uncommon. Some of the most popular cross-breeds include:

  • Miniature Rottweiler – Cross between a Staffordshire Bull Terrier and a Rottweiler
  • Staffish – Cross between a Staffordshire Bull Terrier and a Scottish Terrier
  • Staffordshire Bullmastiff – Cross between a Staffordshire Bull Terrier and a Bullmastiff
  • Staffpatterdor – Cross between a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, a Patterdale Terrier, and a Labrador Retriever

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