New Owner's Guide to Staffordshire Bull Terriers


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Staffordshire bull terriers are small, powerful dogs, which are deservedly popular for their amiable and lively natures. They can also be a handful, and need proper training and supervision. They are not a breed to take on without owners being prepared for a lot of commitment, as any rescue centre will tell you. They want someone to be devoted to, and if it's a family, even better.

Stafford owners know that these dogs love people, affection and comfort, and can be very placid and tolerant with children, yet they also appear a lot in press reports of dog bites. So why is it that a dog nicknamed the 'children's nanny' gets such a bad press? Stafford lovers point out that press reports aren't always accurate. Bites by Stafford and rottweilers are 'news', more so than bites by mongrels, so if a dog looks vaguely like a Stafford, it will tend to be reported as such. There is also the problem that any dog which isn't properly socialized, trained and supervised can be a menace, especially if it has powerful jaws. Staffords in fact are one of the most tolerant breeds where children are concerned. They aren't easily spooked by kids rushing around and screaming, and generally taking liberties with them. However, they can be 'mouthy' dogs, and need to be taught from puppyhood that mouthing people, especially children, is unacceptable. They are also fast-moving dogs, and aren't easily frightened, so can rush into trouble. It's not easy to call them back once they have started a headlong rush towards something that interests them. Your dog may simply be too interested in what he is doing to hear you.

Staffordshire bull terriers are one of the breeds most vulnerable to being killed in traffic accidents. To keep your Stafford safe, the garden or yard has to be secure, with a high enough fence to prevent escapes, and lockable, so that no-one is likely to come in and leave the gate open. It's also safer to keep your Stafford on a lead if you are anywhere near a children's play area, or a busy road, even if you think your dog's recall is pretty good.

Staffordshire bull terriers were designed to be family dogs, and the breed is generally friendly and outgoing with people. It's important to check the temperament of the parents of any Stafford pup you are interested in - it is not a good idea to buy a Stafford pup just because it is cute. It's worth seeing the mother, and finding out something about the father's temperament. You may not be able to meet the father, if the breeder has sought an especially good stud from a long way away, but you can find out a lot by asking about the qualities that made the breeder seek a particular stud. It's also worth asking about what efforts the breeder has made to socialise the pups, and get them used to living in a home with humans. Good breeders won't mind if you ask questions. However, many fine Staffies of unknown parentage have come from rescue centres. Rescue dogs are generally vetted thoroughly, and if you choose a good rescue centre, they should be able to advise on whether you and a particular Stafford are compatible.

Once you get your Stafford home, his training can start. He is learning all the time from the people he meets, and what he is allowed to do, so let him know from the start what you want of him, for example, what he is allowed to chew, and where it is allowed to lie. Pups need to learn how to behave with children, and this includes learning to be gentle with them, greeting children nicely. It's easy to pet your pup when he jumps up for a cuddle because he looks so cute, but it's safer to stick to the rule of no cuddles unless all four paws are on the ground. Children are usually very curious about puppies, so you can use encounters with children on walks as opportunities for lessons, if you don't have children of your own. It's also helpful to teach your pup to behave well with adults of different appearances, including postmen and meter readers, so that he is friendly with everyone as an adult.

Teaching bite inhibition starts when pups are small, by letting them know that nips and mouthing are not acceptable. A short 'time out' can help control nippiness, in fact pups often get nippy when they are overtired, and need some sleep, just as small humans can become fractious when they are overtired. Giving pups something to chew on other than people also helps, if your pup decides it's fun to chew you, in a moment of boredom. Stafford pups like exploring the world with their mouths, and you might find this amusing, but someone who doesn't know your treasure may not! If you always offer a chew toy when your pup starts mouthing you, this can help get the pup out of the habit. Stafford pups tend to chew a lot, so need a plentiful supply of chew toys. These should be robust, since fragile expensive toys can be demolished fast, especially squeaky toys! It's cheaper and more practical to make homemade toys out of thick cardboard, or rolls of jeans cloth twisted together and knotted.

Staffords like rough play, but you need to stay in control. They thrive on affection, so, again, short time-outs are a good way of letting them know when they get too manic. They also love tug games, which are fine, so long as you teach them the 'drop' command as part of the tug game. It is very difficult to take objects from the mouth of an adult Stafford that hasn't been taught to drop objects on command, and that thinks your attempts are just part of a fun game of tug! You can teach 'drop' by offering the pup something to take, then offering something he values more, saying 'drop' when he relinquishes the first object. 'Trading' can also help when a pup takes an object you'd rather he didn't. Again, if you say 'drop' when he drops the forbidden object, he gets the idea of what 'drop' means. Simply trying to pull a forbidden object out of a Stafford's mouth is not generally a good idea. The pup may think it's a game and grip the object harder. Once the pup has learnt the 'drop' command it can be incorporated into all sorts of games, to reinforce it. Staffords can learn to enjoy retrieve games, for example, and these involve giving up an object in order to get you to throw it.

Staffordshire bull terriers can be stubborn, but they are also intelligent, and soon realise when it's in their interests to obey you. Being consistent helps a lot, so that your pup realises that jumping up doesn't bring cuddles, and mouthing people is not allowed! It's well-worth aiming for a rock-solid recall, practising in a safe, enclosed area. Even if you don't achieve this, practising gives you a much better chance of calling your dog out of trouble if he slips the lead when you are out walking, or dashes out of the front gate. If you teach your pup the basics, how to behave round children, to sit, stay, come back on command, walk politely past other dogs and to go to his place when guests arrive, he will be a fine ambassador for the breed. Training classes are very useful, once your Stafford is old enough, and if he already knows the basics, you are both likely to enjoy training classes that much more.

Staffordshire bull terriers are not ideal guard dogs. They are barky dogs, so can be good watchdogs. They will give warning barks, which should be enough to deter most intruders. However, after having barked, well-socialized Staffords may then be very friendly with unwanted strangers who approach them in the right way. They are certainly not dogs to leave outdoors unattended. They have relatively thin coats, so feel the cold, and are 'people dogs' so prefer to be with their human families. Because these dogs can be so friendly with strangers, there is also a risk of Staffords being stolen, if they are left outdoors unattended.

This breed was descended from ancestors developed for dog fighting, and this means that fights can be a problem. Many owners say that Staffords are best kept as single dogs, rather than in multi-dog households, and should never be left with other dogs unattended. This is a popular breed, with a large gene pool, so there is a great deal of variation between individuals. You may feel that your particular Stafford is placid and a softie, and would never scrap. Even so, it's safer not to take on a companion for your Stafford unless you know the breed very well. Generally, opposite sex mixes of dogs of different ages are safer than keeping two dogs of the same sex that are close in age. The problem isn't so much that Staffords are quick to take offence - they can be quite tolerant with other dogs - it's more that once Staffords do decide to fight, they can inflict a lot of damage, and may not give up easily. Socialization with other dogs is, of course important, but even well-socialized Staffords may take a dislike to some dogs they share a house with, or meet on walks. It's safer to keep them on the lead if they are being walked somewhere where there are a lot of other dogs.

Staffordshire Bull Terriers are more prone than average to accidents because they are bold, fast-moving dogs. This applies especially to young Staffords, but if you can keep them out of trouble when they are youngsters, they tend to be active and healthy most of their lives. Common health problems include eye trouble and tumours.