Let’s discuss balance, type and movement in the Staffordshire Bull Terrier.
The Staffordshire Bull Terrier is a balanced blend of Bull plus Terrier but when we say we strive for an equal blend, are we picturing in our mind the original breeds used or modern day versions in this recipe? Many people today are picturing the modern day version of the English/British Bulldog. This way of thinking is dangerous to the health and future of the Staﬀord. That type of animal was not intended as the athletic gladiator the Staﬀord was bred to be.
The original Bulldogs used to create the Staﬀord looked more like the athletic bodies of an American Bulldog, Boxer and similar breeds, without the exaggerations. This is not something that can be easily disputed as it is shown many times in book after book on the history of the Staﬀord. The original Bulldog used to create the Staﬀord didn’t resemble what we picture as a Bulldog of today. He was leggier, more athletic, less wrinkle, and in general a beautiful example of a gladiator. We can see why this breed was chosen, for he was portrayed to be powerful, courageous, tenacious and tough, but still a reliable guardian with an oﬀ duty quietness and aﬀection for humans.
The other half of the ‘mix‘ is said to have been either a now extinct breed known then as the “White English Terrier” or the ‘Black and Tan Terrier.” It may have resembled the Manchester Terrier which is one reason we have a disqualification (highly undesirable in other countries) in our AKC Breed Standard for Black & Tan as this pattern can possibly overtake a breed and we love our color variations we have today.
Keep in mind they did not have access to DNA coat color testing when the standard was written. You can find tan pointed Staffords in many patterns and colors actually – red with cream points, blue with tan points, black brindle with tan points under brindle pattern, piebald where the only points visible would be if a colored patch shows where a point might be. BUT one thing you will find in a tan point of any color is the tan color surrounding the anus of the animal. It’s a telltale sign the animal is affected with the tan point allele.
The first breed standard described a dog built much more like a modern American Pit Bull Terrier calling for an 18 inch dog to carry just 38 pounds (todays top end for weight). As time went on the show fraternity wished to further distance themselves from the underground world of dog fighters that still existed. Thus in 1948/49 the standard was changed to include the single most significant alteration to the breed’s makeup clearly defining the Staffordshire Bull Terrier as a show dog, not a fighter. The top end of the height range was reduced by 2 inches (14” – 16”), yet the weights remained the same (24-34lbs bitches – 28-38lbs dogs), thus calling for a more compact dog of greater substance, no longer ideal for the pit. This change would mark the show Stafford’s official severance of its ties to the fighting world.
The breed standard describes a dog which has a terrier attitude of course, although he is also unlike other terriers in many ways. His temperament is described as being bold, fearless and totally reliable. He shouldn’t spark off unless he feels he needs to but he also doesn’t shy away either. The reliable part of the description is that you can expect a true Stafford to be quietly in control, yet he also may respond as a terrier should if the need arises. In other words, he wont pick a fight, but he may just end one. Be aware of what you have and if his temperament is indeed reliable you should have control. The Stafford should always be manageable.
The physical descriptions in the breed standard are there to distinguish him from other terriers. He is described as being ‘wide’ which means he is wide for a terrier, as many terriers are not wide. He has a distinct stop, unlike many other terriers which have little to no stop, but not completely vertical. As well, he will not have the short upper arm many terriers have. His upper arm (humerus) will be equal length to his scapula. These points of the standard are to differentiate him from other terriers, not to ask for the widest, deepest, most distinct, etc.
“The Staffordshire Bull Terrier is a smooth-coated dog. It should be of great strength for its size and, although muscular, should be active and agile.”
The Stafford is an efficient athlete. Everything about him should reflect this. There are to be no exaggerations in his make-up. Excess would inhibit the breed’s original function as well as its health.
He needs enough bone, enough muscle, and enough substance to support his powerful, athletic endeavors, but not an excess of any of these features. He will need strength and vigor, allied with speed and suppleness. The Stafford should have stamina in abundance. He should feel hard to the touch, never soft.
The Staffordshire Bull Terrier gait is described as “Free, powerful and agile with economy of effort. Legs moving parallel when viewed from front or rear. Discernible drive from hind legs.”
For Stafford movement there is no waste. This means legs moving straight from shoulder to toes with no paddling, hackney, nor stilted or kicking the rear feet up. The pendulum moves in a straight line, but there is of course much more forward travel from the shoulder, and the pasturns bend unlike the “typical” long-leg terrier movement. He wastes no energy getting from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’. The Stafford’s movement is clean and fairly simple. He should be able to easily gait without being run. The Breed Standard only says “discernible” drive from the rear. That’s at a fairly slow pace. It moves from discernible to powerful as the speed increases. Legs again moving in straight planes, with good width in proportion to the rear structure. When gaiting at a good clip there will be some converging to maintain a good center of balance. This is much more efficient that the literal interpretation some have that the Stafford’s legs move at the same width as they fall when standing. Maybe at a very slow pace, but not for long once you speed up. They shouldn’t track close, but they don’t have a true parallel movement as a Bulldog or Frenchie might because a Staffords ribs hold their front legs out making it difficult for them to converge much if any. He should never have any looseness of shoulder or elbow, nor should he have flat feet. His point of withers should never drop below his backline, nor show wrinkle behind.
The Stafford should be clean and free of wrinkle or lippiness. His lively and keen expression comes partly from his famous ‘smile’ and partly from his medium sized, dark eye (preferably dark, but can be in relation to coat color yet never yellow, gray or too light) which tends to show his delightful personality. He is constantly aware of his surroundings, he is playful and energetic, and also sometimes a bit naughty or mouthy. His tail will be a giveaway of his mood usually so you dont want to see a tucked tail indicating uncertainty. He has no problem moving around a show ring and should be happy to do so with his ‘person’ by his side.
The Stafford is not a brachycephalic breed. The ideal muzzle length can be described as 1/3 muzzle to 2/3 skull and approximately 1/2 the depth of the skull. Muzzle from tip of nose to base of stop should measure no less than 1/2 from stop to occipital bone. The ideal muzzle angle is a little less than parallel to the angle of the skull – slightly converging planes. His skull should be broad & deep through and nearly the same width as depth. The size & shape of the nose & nostril affect appearance and breathing ability. The Stafford should ideally have large open nostrils.
When judging the Staffordshire Bull Terrier one of the first questions that comes to mind is “How do I determine which parts of the standard are more important than others?” As mentioned, the Stafford was RE-established as a show dog in 1949. However, the basic answer to this question is the same as it is with most all other breeds: Always give priority considering the original function of the breed. As unsavory as it may be, those elements most important to the historic function as a fighting dog should not be forgotten. In fact, they are to be given the greatest attention. Breed Type – that most elusive concept that is yet so obvious when you see it! If you show your dog, or are involved in the world of dog breeding, you will often hear the phrase ‘typey’. You will read critiques telling you that a particular specimen has type in abundance. This topic generates hot debate and has been written about since people began crafting breed standards.
“Type is a very diﬃcult term to deﬁne –chapters in books have been devoted to the subject without a truly clear resolution.” Richard Beauchamp, in his book, Solving the Mysteries of Breed Type, asserts that “Knowing what was originally intended for our breeds is critical,” and that “If we pay respect to nothing else, it should at least be to what the creators of the breed intended.” He argues that following this principle will help avoid exaggeration, stating that breeders, “…seem in constant danger of believing that if a characteristic is called for at all, then the more of it a dog has the better!” We see this in the Stafford ring every weekend. Again, because its worth repeating – the Stafford should show no exaggeration at all.
The Stafford should be a balanced animal from nose to tip of tail. Nothing should be exaggerated or out of proportion. His head size should be in proportion to his body, not over or undersized but keep in mind that the original point system called for 25 points to asses the Stafford head. In the country of origin, UK, at the end of the written Breed Standard for the Staﬀordshire Bull Terrier it is stated:
“Any departure from the foregoing points should be considered a fault and the seriousness with which the fault should be regarded should be in exact proportion to its degree and its eﬀect upon the health and welfare of the dog and on the dog’s ability to perform its traditional work.”
This is a good reminder to not only look for the balanced Staﬀord, remember its origin, but also to balance your judging when in the ring with the breed. The AKC Breed Standard for the Staﬀord lists only three ‘faults’ and only three ‘serious faults’. Fault judging is to be avoided but these six points should be kept in mind when you ﬁnd yourself faced with similar virtuous examples in your ring from which to select from.
The clean outline of the athletic Stafford is distinctive and a delight to see.
He is indeed a breed like no other.
Lynn Caswell (Wavemaker Staffords, The Stafford Knot, Inc. 501(c)(3))
Excerpts from – The Stafford Knot, Jason Nicolai, Lorelei Craig, Alan Mitchell and Melanie Sinclair