Is the Staffordshire Bull Terrier an aggressive breed?
On January 30 2019, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier terrier was voted Britain’s favorite dog breed in a U.K. television show hosted by Ben Fogle. This result surprised many people, including Ben Fogle himself, who was sure that the Labrador Retriever would be top dog! The ‘Staffie’ has a bit of a reputation in certain circles for aggressiveness and unpredictability – but clearly a LOT of people in the U.K. love the breed.
Staffordshire Bull Terrier Temperament
So why the apparent conflict of opinion about the character of the Staffie? For a start, there is that muscular and tough appearance. Most Staffies look a bit intimidating. This comes from their ancestry, as they were bred specifically for fighting by crossing a Bulldog with a Terrier.
Then there is their attitude, which is basically fearless. Remember, they were originally bred to fight other dogs. If a Staffie gets into a confrontation with another dog, they will rarely back down. And finally, there is the general confusion that clouds the issue of what a Pit Bull Terrier is, exactly. Many people may see a Staffordshire Bull Terrier and call it a Pit Bull Terrier.
But this breed has always been a family pet breed, even in its dog fighting past. They like being in a family situation, and are very good with children, and have even been called the Nanny Dog! The U.K. Kennel Club lists the Staffie as a breed suitable for families. So, in fact, this IS a big softie masquerading as a street fighter.
However, there IS that dog fighting past which has left an ingrained tendency to face off against other unfamiliar or strange dogs. If this issue is addressed when the dog is a puppy by proper socialization and subsequent training, the Staffie grows into the perfect family dog. However, you should always deal with a reputable breeder.
This is an energetic breed, and they love to charge around at top speed. This means they do best if you have a well-fenced back yard for them to get enough exercise, but they can also make great apartment dogs if you can take them out regularly for long walks.
Their terrier heritage means that your Staffie will tend to dig, and chase any small animals, including cats. They have a strong prey drive.
Staffordshire Bull Terrier Breed History
The origins of this breed date back a few hundred years, when the popularity of blood sports in Great Britain was on the rise. In particular, bull-baiting and dog fighting were the most profitable for the owners of winning dogs and those betting on the outcomes.
The original English Bulldog was bred to approach a bull in the ring, avoiding being gored by horns or trampled by hooves, and then bite the bull on the nose without letting go. This then allowed the butcher to approach the bull to kill it.
Animal blood sports were outlawed in the U.K. in 1835, after the Cruelty to Animals Act was passed by Parliament. Bull-baiting stopped, and Bulldogs were out of a job. But dog fighting could still take place in secret, in cellars and pits.
For dog fighting, gamblers crossed the muscular and powerful Bulldog with terrier breeds, often thought to be the Black and Tan Terrier and the english White Terrier. This produced a faster, more agile dog. They were referred to as ‘Bull and Terrier dogs’.
They also picked up the name Staffordshire Pit Dog. As well as dog fighting, they were also sometimes put into a pit filled with rats, and bets were placed on how many rats the dog could kill in 60 seconds.
At that time no breeding records were kept, and these ‘Bull and Terrier’ dogs did not conform to any particular breed standard. They were popular in the English Midlands, particularly the city of Birmingham and the adjacent region of Staffordshire.
But by the 1860s a prominent breeder called James Hinks produced a more predictable Bull and Terrier breed line. Illegal dog fighting was in decline, but the Bull and Terrier type dog was becoming a favorite family pet. Hinks died in 1878.
In 1935 breed enthusiasts tried to register the Bull and Terrier dog with the United Kingdom Kennel Club, under the name “Original Bull Terrier”. The Kennel Club didn’t like the name, and were wary of the dog fighting background. However they decided to allow recognition under the name “Staffordshire Bull Terrier”.
Examples of the Bull and Terrier dogs were taken to the United States in the late 1800s, before the breed was recognized and registered by the U.K. Kennel Club. In America they were still used for dog fighting as well as all-purpose farm dogs and companions.
They were imported to America under various names such as Pit Dogs, Pit Bull Terriers, American Bull Terriers or Yankee Terriers. In 1898 the United Kennel Club was formed, to provide guidelines for all the pit type dogs that had been used in dog fighting. The breed was registered under the name “American Pit Bull Terrier”, and was the first breed recognized by the UKC.
On the other hand, there were American breed enthusiasts who wanted to show their dogs in the show ring, and didn’t want any connection to the fighting background, so they applied to the American Kennel Club for recognition. The AKC recognized the breed under the name ‘Staffordshire Terrier’ in 1936. After some years, the AKC realized that there was some confusion with the english Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and amended the name to American Staffordshire Terrier.
Since 1900 the American Staffordshire Terrier has evolved to become slightly taller and heavier than the english Staffordshire Bull Terrier, but both breeds have left their street fighting days behind them, becoming a friendly and affectionate family member.
Height: 14 inches to 16 inches
Weight: 28 to 38 lbs (males) and 24 to 34 lbs (females)
Life Span: 12 to 14 years
This breed comes in a variety of colors and color mixes, including Black, White, Blue, Brindle, Fawn and Red.
Ease of Training
This popular breed has high intelligence, and learns quickly, and also wants to please its owner. Responsible breeding over the last 120 years has produced a dog very different from its blood sport origins. The main problem with this breed can be its power and strength. A poorly trained dog may become a dangerous dog. While this is true for any breed of dog, the power and strength of the Staffie make it more of a potential threat.
So, while the Staffie is not difficult to train, you DO have to spend the time and effort to make sure you end up with a stable and predictable dog. This starts with socialization as a puppy, to introduce the dog to new sights, sounds, smells and people. This process must continue for at least the first 12 months.
At the same time, around 6 months of age, you must take your Staffordshire Bull Terrier puppy to puppy training classes. It is essential that you make it clear to the dog that you are the boss at all times, even as a small puppy. Even when the puppy misbehaves in a cute way, don’t ignore it. You must be consistent in your praise and your reprimands, otherwise the dog will become confused, and as it gets older try to assert its dominance.
At about a year old, it’s time for obedience classes. This is an easy dog to train, but it must be trained!
Staffordshire Bull Terriers do vary quite a bit in their alertness and their caution towards strangers, depending on how they have been socialized as puppies. Some are suspicious of strangers, while others are friendly and welcoming. As watchdogs, some are good while other may be not so good. This variability means they are not a good watchdog.
BUT, as a guard dog, they can be excellent. This is a powerful dog, fearless and very strong, and will take on any unwanted intruder without mercy. This is a very muscular dog with a broad chest and a low center of gravity, and the only thing to stop them from defending their home is a gun.
If you are looking for protection, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier will serve you well, but it may be better to avoid confrontation by looking for a bigger breed with more of the intimidation factor, such as the Belgian Malinois.
This an easy breed of dog to groom. They have a short coat that only needs a regular brushing once a week with a hound glove. They only need occasional bathing if they start to develop a doggy smell, or have rolled in something smelly.
The claws should be inspected monthly, and trimmed if they get too long to prevent cracking and splitting. Ears should be inspected weekly for any signs of foreign objects, dirt, or signs of infection such as redness or swelling. Teeth should be brushed each day with a dog-specific toothpaste, NOT a human toothpaste.
The Staffordshire Bull Terrier is a generally healthy breed, after over 120 years of careful breeding. However, there are a few possible health issues to be aware of, including;
- Hip Dysplasia
- Elbow Dysplasia
- Patellar luxation
- Eye issues, like cataracts.
- Heart disease
In addition, Staffordshire Bull Terriers can suffer from a metabolic disorder called L-2-Hydroxyglutaric Aciduria. Dogs with L-2-HGA lack an enzyme necessary to break down hydroxyglutaric acid, which then builds up in the spinal fluid and plasma.
Symptoms include a lack of coordination, seizures, developmental problems, and tremors. There’s no cure and the dogs rarely live more than a few years. A DNA test has been developed that allows breeders to know which dogs are carriers of this condition. Do not buy a puppy from a breeder who does not have written documentation that the parents are free of this condition.
Responsible breeders will have their stock dogs screened by a veterinarian every 12 months, and avoid breeding from dogs that have scored positive.
Famous Staffordshire Bull Terriers
Jock of the Bushveld is a true story by South African author Sir James Percy FitzPatrick. The book tells of FitzPatrick’s travels with his dog, Jock, a Staffordshire Bull Terrier cross, during the 1880s, when he worked as a storeman, prospector’s assistant, journalist and ox-wagon transport-rider in the Bushveld region of the Transvaal (then the South African Republic).
Based on a true story by Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, the film tells of his adventures in the bushveld in the late 1800’s. Fitzpatrick is an Irishman who goes to the South African bush to seek his fortune.