Monday, 5 January 2015

The Staffordshire Bull Terrier - My Staffy Project

Some time ago I read some horrific statistics that affected me so badly I felt I needed to, in my own little way, do something to try and help change attitudes towards the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. At the time, the only thing I had at my disposal to try and share some positivity was my ability to take pictures of dogs - so that's what I did. I live on a small island at the bottom on the UK and whilst I knew Staffies were a popular breed, I didn't realise just how popular until I put a shout out on my Facebook photography page for potential models. Within minutes I was inundated with messages from adoring owners who wanted their dog to take part and it was extremely difficult to choose the final eight. The only thing I could do was go by colour - one of each! The hope was to take some pictures that I could share of this beautiful breed having fun and being normal family pets. All the pictures in this article are from my own Staffy project and all of the dogs are very much loved family members.

Bella, a beautiful Blue Staffie with an incredible zest for life!
The statistics told me that Staffies and Staffy crosses made up to 80% of all dogs in shelters and rescue centres in the UK - and that thousands, every year were put to sleep over and above any other breed. This saddened me to the core. How did this beautiful breed of Man's Best Friend end up with such a terrible lot? And why have we allowed it to happen? We all know that unscrupulous people use Staffies as status symbols, train them to fight and cause all sorts of pain and abuse. But personal experience tells me that these dogs are kind, loyal, soft and adoring, and with the knowledge that they are one of only two breeds that the UK Kennel Club recommends for families with children, I wanted to learn more about them.

Molly - all about the tennis ball!
History of the Staffie

No matter how I try, I can't sugarcoat it - Staffies were originally bred for baiting and fighting. Up until the early 1800s it was commonplace for breeds of dog (the Old English Bull Dog/Boxers) to bait bulls before they were sold for meat, it was thought that the act of being attacked terrified the bull so much, the hormones it released in fear tenderised its meat. In fact, I learned that in some places, it was illegal to sell bull meat that hadn't been baited and many a butcher was fined for doing so.

However, in 1835 the Cruelty to Animals Act was passed and bloodsports such as bull and bear baiting were thankfully outlawed. However, dog fighting boomed - large bull-baiting arenas weren't needed any more and of course dog fighting 'pits' were much smaller and far easier to conceal from authorities. Dog fighting generated a lot of money, for both breeders of the dogs and those who gambled on the outcome of the fight - so as the ban on bull baiting came into force, dog fighting became even more popular. A new dog was needed to keep this spectacle going - a more manageable dog suited for the pit. By mixing bull dogs and terriers the 'Bull and Terrier' was produced - these were early descendants of the modern day Staffy.

So, how did they come from a fighting background to be known as one of the most people friendly breeds today?

Simply put, these dogs were bred in close quarters to families. They worked and fought around people and had no choice but to get on with their human counterparts, if they didn't, they were destroyed. They were often handled in 'the pit' and needed to be amiable. So the breed was developed. Those that showed loyalty and calmness around people were kept and bred, and those that didn't weren't.

The breed today

Penny - adored and adorable!
Today's Staffordshire Bull Terrier is a far cry from where it started. Becoming officially recognised as a breed by the Kennel Club in 1935, it is an awesome looking animal. Short and stocky with powerful features and most certainly, in the right hands, is extremely affectionate, loyal and intelligent. They are the fifth most popular breed in the UK and have earned the nickname 'The Nanny Dog' for loyalty to their 'people' and gentleness with children.

Seppy - a fine specimen of the Staffie breed. Handsome and playful - I completely fell in love with him during his photo-session!

But still they are looked upon a vicious dogs and overlooked in rescues and shelters resulting thousands of unnecessary deaths. 

In a recent study of dogs it was found that the most aggressive dog was in fact the Dachshund. The Staffy didn't reach the top ten list of aggressive dogs at all!  Statistically, there are more Staffies in the UK than Dachsunds so you would think Staffies would feature more strongly surely? But they don't. In the wrong hands, all dogs can be aggressive. If a dog is treated badly; if its needs aren't fulfilled, if undesirable behaviour is encouraged, that dog will likely be unpredictable around people and other animals. If a dog's breed characteristics aren't catered for properly and understood, then it doesn't matter if it's a chihuahua or a Great Dane, it is being set up to fail. All of the owners I worked with during my Staffy Project knew their dog's limitations. Some knew their dogs weren't happy with other dogs around, so they kept them on leads. Others played happily off lead, and some stayed right by their owners side. What I witnessed was a group of much loved dogs, every single one friendly and happy, and every owner taking responsibility to ensure their dog's safety and wellbeing based on their needs - and that is the key. This was a random mix of staffies not based on temperament, but colour.

So, this is my celebration of the beautiful Staffy. If you're looking to rehome a dog in the near future, please don't overlook them at shelters and rescues. Spend some time with one, you never know - he might just be the best friend you've been looking for.

The Staffordshire Bull Terrier.
For more information about Staffordshire Bull Terriers - please do visit Save the Staffy - a great page campaigning to challenge attitudes towards the breed and offering information to Staffy owners.



4 comments:

  1. What a sweet post! Loved your pictures. :-) I have a boxer mix, and an American Pit Bull Terrier and they are wonderful dogs. We worked Ziva through some fear reactivity issues and now she's great! We are also starting doggy agility.
    Come say hi sometime!
    dzdogs.com

    ~DZ Dog Mom

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  3. Hello, Cora! Very interesting article and the photos are brilliant! We also have a lot of useful information and quality Staffy equipment here - www.pitbull-dog-breed-store.co.uk.

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  4. I know puppies look cute and all but what I find most charming about them is that they are in love with the world. Pitbull

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