From the past history of the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, the modern dog draws its character of indomitable courage, high intelligence, and tenacity. This, coupled with its affection for its friends, and children in particular, its off-duty quietness and trustworthy stability, makes it a foremost all-purpose dog.
A lot of people rush and skip right past the opening four words of this portion of the Breed Standard – “From the past history” – remember what this breed was bred for originally. When taking in the assessment of the Stafford temperament, this should not be forgotten. No, we don’t want raving lunatic unmanageable dogs on our hands, nor do we want shy fearful cowering animals. What we are striving for is bold confidence. A dog who trusts that his owner will not put him in harms way and who will quietly, confidently be on alert, on his toes, but in control.
A confident dog is not a loud dog, nor is he obnoxious and rude. He understands ‘dog manners’ and understands pack order. A bold, confident Stafford will not start a fight, but he will also not back down from a challenge. This is one important thing one must remember when owning a Stafford. The responsibility lies strictly on the dogs owner/handler to always be in control of the dog and always make sure the dog knows that. The owner/handler must be confident in understanding and recognizing canine behavior and always know what to look for – signs, that any trouble may occur. If a Stafford gets noisy in the ring, fires up or ‘talks back’ this is normal and should be accepted. This is no different that other terriers who are on their toes, when asked to ‘spar’ in the ring. A Stafford, needn’t be asked to spar, nor should they be – but should already be on his toes, at the ready, but under control. He is, after all, a terrier!
Moving on, ‘the modern dog’ – meaning we understand the dogs no longer do what they were originally bred for, thankfully. What is Stafford character? It goes beyond ‘courage’, intelligence’ and ‘tenacity’ but these three words do perfectly describe a proper Stafford.
They should display courage like a gladiator, never fearful – always recovering at any unexpected start. Never shy. Never fearful. Never cowering. In a show ring situation, a Stafford should appear confident and strut, show off and look proud and happy to be there. They should stand for exam as if they had been doing this forever. If you see a Stafford being dragged around a ring on its belly, leaning away from human touch or, heaven forbid, snapping or snarling in fear – this is unacceptable and not to be encouraged nor rewarded! A Stafford showing signs of fear is as incorrect as a Stafford showing any kind of human directed aggression! Either direction in temperament is totally unacceptable! However, please understand the differences between any aggression towards a human (NOT acceptable in a Stafford), and any aggression towards another animal. These are not the same thing, nor should they be defined or judged as such. A terrier, especially one originally bred for pleasing its owner by doing what was originally asked of it, whether ratting,bull baiting or dog fighting, will still carry that instinct. It is now up to US not to encourage or reward this behavior. However, as I stated, if a Stafford should fire up in the ring, as long as it recovers and is under control, is no different from any other terrier being judged on spirit and attitude. It is when it becomes out of control that there is an issue.
They are a very intelligent breed. This can be seen in many ways beginning from how easy they are to housebreak, train, live with. Usually a Stafford can be housebroken in a matter of a week, sometimes less. I have been able to teach tricks in a matter of perhaps 2-3 attempts. One of ours probably knows around 30-35 tricks. Show ring training is a breeze with a Stafford. In fact, Staffords are able to easily train their owners! Mine quickly learned if they ring the bells hanging on the door, not only will someone come running to let them out, they can usually expect a treat when they come back in! How’s that for training us!?! I know of Staffords who know how to open doors, unlock crates, get our of dog runs, etc – so extra care should be taken when containing a Stafford.
The word tenacious, when used as a noun means holding fast, deriv. of tenēreto hold + -itās -ity
Interesting, isnt it?! To Hold. A dog bred to catch vermin, bait bears and fight being described as being able to ‘hold fast’.
It is synonymous with perseverance. Many would sooner forget this word in our standard altogether, but they shouldnt! Being that it is a part of the temperament part of the Breed Standard it should be remembered and preserved. A Stafford can and will ‘hold fast’ whether to a spring pull toy, a tire tug, a sock toy – or another dog. Remember, a Stafford is NOT a dog park breed!
Please be mindful of this, but understand its possibility and accept it as part of the breed itself, its history and what it was bred to do, and more importantly its Breed Standard expects it.
All of the aforementioned descriptions coupled with its affection for its friends, children in particular, make up this breeds temperament. Staffords are EXTREMELY bonded to people. Not only its own people, but ALL people. For this reason they do not make suitable guard dogs, nor should they. They are like velcro, always wanting to be near people. Happiest with with people. The Stafford is not a yard dog, but a house dog. Although children are mentioned in the Breed Standard, and they have been called the ‘nanny dogs’ I hope sensible people will also understand these are still dogs. They are powerful, exuberant dogs. Yes, they are tolerant and will put up with a good bit of poking and prodding by children, but please also understand that they may jump on or knock over unintentionally a small child or weak adolescent. Staffords can also be quite ‘mouthy’ dogs. They can use their mouths to ‘hold your hand’ and often will. This is quite typical behavior and must be trained to NOT do this. Do not be alarmed when a Stafford uses its mouth as it should be gentle and never hard or aggressive. Learn to know the difference and teach using positive reinforcement or gentle correction that this is unacceptable. All dogs, no matter the breed, should be supervised when with children. ALWAYS!
When properly exercised, trained and cared for a Stafford will spend its days lounging around, napping and waiting for the fun to begin. This is the ‘off-duty’ quietness described in the Breed Standard. At dog shows, although you will hear the excited ‘chirping’ sounds coming from many of them, you will also see many curled up asleep waiting for their turn in the ring.
A breeder friend of ours got back a dog she bred in SBT rescue. The owners surrendered him saying he snapped at their child. Being that this is so uncommon a trait in Staffords they were perplexed. When the rescue coordinator finally got the dog into her possession, she took it to be vetted and discovered that the dog had such severe ear infections in both ears that both ear drums were burst! This dog was in such intense pain and had been for many many months! He had been a product of neglect, whether intentional or not, it does prove that for months he had put up with the poking, pulling and prodding of the children in this home until one day when poked in the ear he was in so much pain he could not take it. He didn’t attack the child. He merely snapped and growled a warning telling the child he was in pain and to stop its behavior. He tolerated the pain as long as he could and nobody noticed. Thankfully, he was treated, recovered and adopted by a new, more responsible, family. THIS illustrated the utmost in ‘trustworthy stability’!
Our favorite part of the description of the Stafford temperament is ‘a foremost all-purpose dog’. Staffords will try to do anything you ask of them. This is proven all the time when you look at the many canine activities and sports they participate in, and excel at! They are excellent athletes and can easily be kept in prime condition. They thrive on activity. They make good farm dogs, couch potatoes, disc dogs, flyball competitors, weight pullers, they are excellent at agility, many can swim (please use life jackets) and love all sorts of activities – as long as they are with their people! Staffords are a VERY HAPPY BREED! That tail wags and that huge Stafford smile becomes infectious to all who are around the breed!