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Make no mistake: Known in U.K. as the children’s nursemaid, the Stafford is a love machine. This small “pit bull” tends to be good with children and people, but not other dogs. He is an independent thinker who excels in joie de vivre, but likes to do things his own way and needs an experienced leader.
The Staffordshire Bull Terrier is generally considered one of the breeds known as a "pit bull" in the United States. Staffords are specifically exempted from national breed bans in their native Britain as well as Australia and New Zealand, but that's not the case in the United States, where most laws aimed at "pit bulls" apply to them as well.
Before getting one of these
dogs, it is important to realize that there is much misinformation around the natures of "pit bulls" and there are campaigns to outlaw the dogs. Check into local ordinances carefully to be sure that you can legally own one of these dogs in your town.
Despite the "pit bull" reputation this dog has received, there are few breeds quite so in love with the human race as the Stafford. In his native Britain, his nickname is "the children's nursemaid." But make no mistake: He's a terrier through and through, and thus he digs, he chases
cats, and he's not always great with other dogs. Here’s what you need to know if you’re interested in bringing home a Stafford.
The Staffordshire Bull Terrier is a vibrating, dancing, chortling love machine in the body of a warrior. He definitely does not love other dogs, however, and he's also not too fond of
cats, although a few Staffords that are raised with other household pets can live with them in harmony. Just don't count on it.
The Stafford is smallish – under 40 pounds – and similar in looks to the larger
American Staffordshire Terrier. Despite his size, he's a powerful dog, and can be a challenge to walk on a leash if not well-trained.
In fact, he can be a challenge just to live with if not well-trained. This is not a breed for someone who likes to let his dog call the shots, because he most certainly will. Show your Stafford the ropes from puppyhood on, using gentle, consistent training, and you'll have a well-behaved, well-socialized canine family member. Don't do it, and you'll have a sofa in shreds, a backyard full of holes, and a dog who doesn't listen to you.
Staffords don't do well if they're left alone for long periods, and are not happy as backyard dogs. Let him live as a member of your family or you might find yourself with a lonely, bored, noisy, and destructive nuisance instead of a happy, well-behaved companion.
The exercise needs of the Staffordshire Bull Terrier are not modest. These dogs radiate energy, and need long walks and plenty of play time. They're challenging to have around strange dogs, however, so off-leash walks and dog parks aren't usually possible with these dogs. Many Stafford owners get involved with more organized canine sports like agility or obedience to give their dogs a mental and physical workout. Staffords are susceptible to temperature extremes, so keep them cool in hot weather and limit activity as much as possible to cool mornings and evenings.
The various bully breeds, as they’re nicknamed, have been around for centuries. They date at least as far back as the 15
th century, when bullbaiting -- the harassment of a bull by a
bulldog -- was not only the preferred way to tenderize meat on the hoof, it was also a popular form of public entertainment. Pit bull-type dogs came into existence in the 18
th century, the result of crosses between large and ferocious
bulldogs and smaller, faster but just as tenacious terriers.
The Staffords evolved from those early bull and terrier crosses. They were popular with working men, in particular coal miners in Staffordshire, England, who enjoyed pitting them against each other. That association with fighting meant that breed recognition did not come quickly for them, even though dog fighting had been outlawed in 1835. It wasn’t until a century later that England’s Kennel Club recognized the breed. The American Kennel Club recognized the Staffordshire
Bull Terrier in 1975.
His breed standard says that the Stafford is a dog of indomitable courage, high intelligence and tenacity. Coupled with his affection for people, he can be a wonderful family dog in the right home.
The ideal Stafford puppy (and adult) is friendly and not inclined to be shy or snarly toward people. That attitude generally doesn’t carry over to other dogs, however. The Stafford has an innate dislike of them because of his dog-fighting heritage. Some Staffords are perfectly nice toward other dogs, especially if they have been well socialized or brought up with them, but in general you should assume that you will need to carefully manage a Stafford’s interactions with other canines. He also has a strong prey drive and may be unsafe around
cats or other furry animals unless he is raised with them. Even if they appear to get along, it would be smart not to leave them together unsupervised, especially outdoors, where “house rules” don’t necessarily apply.
The Stafford fairly vibrates with energy and enthusiasm, always ready for adventure. His curiosity and tenacity can lead him into trouble, however, so make sure when he is outdoors that he is safely confined to your yard with a solid fence.
If you read the “Other Quick Facts” section, you know that the Stafford has prominent cheek muscles. This dog loves to chew and he has powerful jaws. Provide him with tough toys as an alternative to your furniture and other possessions, and be prepared to replace them frequently.
Because he adores his people, the Stafford will protect them from any threat, but he doesn’t care so much about property. And because he likes people in general, he’s not going to be as concerned about a thief entering your home when you’re not there as a guardian breed might be. On the whole, though, he makes a good watchdog. His appearance alone is usually enough to scare off anyone with ill intent.
With kids, the Stafford can be an excellent playmate. In England, he is known as the “nanny dog” because he is so fond of children. Of course, no dog should ever be left alone with a child as a babysitter, but the Stafford, with his sturdy, not-too-big body and energetic nature, can quickly become a child’s best friend. Even though the Stafford is on the small side, he can be too rambunctious around a toddler, accidentally bowling him over, so supervise their interactions.
Whatever you are doing, a Stafford will want to be right there alongside you. Don’t get this
dog if you don’t want him “helping” you in your office or woodshop, going for car rides with you and hanging out with you on the sofa while you watch TV or read. He loves going on hikes and walks, and his athleticism makes him suited to many dog sports, including agility and rally.
When it comes to training, it’s important to take into account the Stafford’s exuberant, impetuous, stubborn and sensitive personality. Patience, persistence, and firmness are all necessary to keep him on the straight and narrow, but never be harsh, either verbally or physically.
Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at 8 weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Never wait until he is six months old to begin training, or you will have a more headstrong dog to deal with. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, so you can start building a strong working relationship, or work with a trainer who understands the bully breed mindset. Be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and
parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed. These experiences as a young dog will help him grow into a sensible, calm adult dog.
Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see the puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality. Whatever you want from a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood. Then enjoy your new dog. He lives life to the fullest, and he’ll make sure that you do, too.
All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.
Bull Terrier is fairly healthy, but genetic health problems that have been seen in the breed include
elbow dysplasia, patellar luxation, and juvenile cataracts. Staffords also suffer from a fairly high rate of allergies that can cause skin
itching and secondary infections. Learn more from the
Staffordshire Bull Terrier Club of America.
The breeder from whom you purchase your puppy should have written documentation from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) or the University of Pennsylvania (PennHip) that both of your puppy's parents have hips rated fair, good or excellent. OFA certification that the parents’ elbows are not dysplastic (malformed) and that their knees do not luxate (slip out of place), is must-haves as well.
Breeders should also provide Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF) documentation that their breeding dogs have had their eyes tested within the last year and are free of inherited (juvenile) cataracts.
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.
Other tests are not necessary, but are a plus. They are OFA heart, thyroid and hearing evaluations.
Your puppy's breeder should be willing to go over the health histories of his parents and their close relatives, and discuss how prevalent those particular health concerns are in his lines. If the breeder tells you she doesn't need to do those tests because she's never had problems in her lines, her dogs have been "vet checked," or any of the other excuses bad breeders have for skimping on the genetic testing of their dogs, walk away immediately.
Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas and a puppy develops one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in most cases the dogs can still live a good life. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and what they died of.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping a Stafford at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier dog for life.
The Stafford has a short, smooth coat and his grooming needs are modest. Brush the coat a couple of times a week to keep shedding to a minimum. Bathe him every three or four months or as needed if he’s dirty.
The rest is basic care. Trim the nails as needed, usually every week or two. Brush the teeth frequently with a vet-approved pet toothpaste for good overall health and fresh breath.
Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.
Finding a good breeder is a great way to find the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as possible. He or she is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than making big bucks. Be wary of breeders who only tell you the good things about the breed or who promote the
dogs as being “good with kids” without any context as to what that means or how it comes about.
Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances and what the dogs are like to live with and come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you can provide for him. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps she takes take to avoid those problems. A breeder should want to be a resource for you throughout your dog’s life.
Look for more information about the Staffordshire
Bull Terrier and start your search for a good breeder at the website of the
Staffordshire Bull Terrier Club of America. Choose a breeder who has agreed to abide by the SBTCA’s
code of ethics, which prohibits the sale of puppies to or through pet stores and calls for the breeder to sell puppies only with a written contract.
Avoid breeders who only seem interested in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. Breeders who offer puppies at one price “with papers” and at a lower price “without papers” are unethical. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from websites that offer to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Lots of reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include puppies always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies.
The cost of a Staffordshire Bull Terrier puppy varies depending on the breeder’s locale, whether the pup is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. The puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment, from parents with health clearances and conformation (show) and, ideally, working titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.
Before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Staffordshire Bull Terrier might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up to become the dog of your dreams. An adult may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive and demanding than a puppy. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.
Take your search for a knowledgeable, responsible breed rescue organization seriously. The dogs should have been evaluated and made available for adoption only to suitable homes. If they tell you a particular dog isn’t right for you, believe them, and keep looking. There is certainly no shortage of pit bull-type dogs in America’s shelters and rescue groups, and there is no question you’ll be able to find the right one for your family. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Petfinder.com can have you searching for a Staffordshire Bull Terrier in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Staffordshire Bull Terriers available on Petfinder across the country).
AnimalShelter can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for a Staffordshire Bull Terrier. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Networking can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. Most people who love Staffordshire Bull Terriers love all Staffordshire Bull Terriers. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The
Staffordshire Bull Terrier Club of America’s rescue network can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Staffordshire Bull Terrier rescues in your area.
The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring a Staffordshire home with you to see what the experience is like.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a dog. These include:
What is his energy level?
How is he around other animals?
How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors, and children?
What is his personality like?
What is his age?
Is he housetrained?
Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
Are there any known health issues?
Wherever you acquire your Staffordshire Bull Terrier, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an
Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Puppy or adult, take your Staffordshire Bull Terrier to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
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