Introduction To The Staffordshire Bull Terrier

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By: Alan Mitchell (Hoplite)

The Western Staffordshire Bull Terrier Society

General Appearance—-Smooth coated, well balanced, of great strength for his size. Muscular, active and agile.

The Staff is an athlete. Everything about him should mark him as such. There should be no exaggeration in his make-up. He needs enough bone/substance; enough muscle; enough strength of limb etc; but not too much of any of these features. He will need strength and vigour, allied to speed and suppleness, with endurance and stamina in abundance. The cloddy, heavy boned, over muscled dog may look impressive but he’ll lack the speed, agility and stamina of the athlete. The lightboned, racy dog will lack strength and power. The one in the middle will get the job done.

Characteristics —Traditionally of indomitable courage and tenacity. Highly intelligent and affectionate, especially with children.

The Staff’s temperament is legendary. His intelligence and willingness to please is taken for granted by his friends and is a source of astonishment to others. He is a pleasure to have around. He loves human company and thrives on it; seems to know just how to behave with the big ones, the small ones, the old ones, the loved ones, the neglected ones. He’ll make you feel special, “read the paper for you”. He knows he’s your best friend. He knows you need him. Not renowned as a guard of property but attack his friends at your peril, especially his small friends. Should not be used/trained as a guard/attack dog. You may have trouble calling him off.

Temperament—Bold, fearless and totally reliable.

But he’s all dog. He’ll play for hours. Take him to the field and his sporting instincts will surface. He loves a romp; he’ll hunt with the best of dogs. And though his past might suggest an aggressive and vicious spirit, this is not the case. He owns the ground he stands on and is never craven. Just socialize him as a puppy with other dogs/pets/animals and he’ll never be a threat to any. Maybe, it’s a confidence born of his past. He has nothing to prove .He knows he’s top dog.

Head and skull —Short, deep through with broad skull. Very pronounced cheek muscles, distinct stop, short foreface and black nose.

The Staff’s head should have a skull/muzzle ratio of 2:1. So the foreface/muzzle is short in relation to the rest of the head, shorter in this respect than most terriers’. The stop, the step down from the top of the skull to the top of the muzzle is quite marked. Not as deep as in other breeds with this type (Bracycephalic) of headpiece eg; Boxer, Bullmastiff. But it is definite and will affect the setting and shape of the eyes and overall expression. The Staff’s skull should be balanced for equal width and depth and be well padded with muscle, with well-developed cheek ”bumps”. These are the muscles which close the jaw and enable your Stafford to grip with power and endurance. His foreface, muzzle and jaw, should be equally balanced for width and depth and continue the strength of his head as a whole. A foreface which falls off below his eyes makes for a ”foxy” head. But too much bone will make him coarse and take away from the quality of the head. Enough is the key word. His nose is black. His nostrils wide/open. He’ll need to breathe through them at times so little, pinched nostrils will not suffice. Remember, he’s an athlete so all his parts will have to function well.

Eyes — Dark preferred but may bear some relation to coat colour. Round, of medium size and set to look straight ahead. Eye rims dark.

To complete the expression the darker the eye the better in any colour of dog and the light coloured eye in the dark coated dog are not clever. If the stop is correct, the eye size and shape should be as well. If the stop is shallow, eye shape will be almond and the expression will suffer. If the stop is exaggerated, the eyes will be overly large and prominent, again moving from the correct expression. Eye rims should be dark but will bear a relationship to coat colour and pigmentation. The colour, whether of the eye or rim, is a cosmetic feature and has no effect on function. Should be judged as such.

Ears —Rose or half pricked, not large or heavy. Full, drop or pricked ears highly undesirable.

The Staffords’ ears should be quite small and light. Pulled forward the tip should not extend beyond the corner of the eye. They are preferably rose shaped and fold back close to the back of the skull. Remember his past. Big, heavy, untidy (badly carried) ears present an easy grip for his opponent and packed with tiny blood vessels bleed profusely. (Ever wonder why ears were cropped?)

Mouth —Lips tight and clean. Jaws strong, teeth large with a perfect, regular and complete scissor bite, i.e. upper teeth closely overlapping lower teeth and set square to the jaws.

Heavy, loose lips have no functional value and, again, present a grip for an opponent and a possible point of injury for the dog himself. Lippy dogs in action, trying to get a quick grip, often fang themselves. Ever seen a lippy lurcher? And they have to get mouth on, a grip, in a split second! Lippiness makes for a coarseness in the foreface. Jaws, as mentioned under HEAD CLAUSE should be strong. Look for fill below the eyes and width in the muzzle. Fault a heavy and prominent lower jaw, often making for an undershot mouth. Fault a weak, receding under jaw often accompanying an overshot mouth. Look for balance in strength between top and bottom jaws. And do not confuse a jaw fault with untidy dentition. Teeth should meet in a scissor bite. The scissor bite is important for all carnivores. This is the nip which the animal uses to cut through the skin/hide of its prey; this is the nip with which the bitch opens the sack to release the newborn pup. The incisors are precision instruments, the close scissor bite their means of operation. The canines are the striking/gripping/catching tools. They puncture and hold. The molars are the crushing tools. They break-up and grind the food for swallowing. So that all these teeth can exert maximum pressure they must be set square to the jaws; they must be in line to support each other. Teeth, which are not set square or in line, will sustain more damage in normal wear and tear and would have sustained massive damage in the dog pit. Ask anyone with working terriers about the importance of good mouths. Look for big, strong, well-placed teeth in your Stafford.

Neck —Muscular, rather short, clean in outline gradually widening towards shoulders.

Compared to humans who balance their heads above their shoulders, dogs carry their heads in front of their shoulders. This construction requires a strong neck, stronger in relation to the weight of the headpiece. Nature provides them with a strong neck.

Dogs, as carnivores/preyanimals, hunt and catch their food. When they strike their prey, they strike downwards, hit with the head/foreface/upper canines and grip by closing the under-jaw. The strength of the strike comes from the muscular neck which delivers the hammer blow. The dog kills by shaking its prey and crushing with molars. Too short/stuffy a neck means the dog must shake with its whole forequarters to get the job done. Too long/elegant a neck is weak. So look for a rather short neck; I take this to mean of moderate length. I think that length from nose-tip to occiput could be a guide to a proper neck length. (If you’ve ever had the misfortune to witness a fight between two dogs, you’ll know that the shaker did most damage. And you’ll know that getting the opponents off the floor and stopping the shaking was the key to the separation.) The power for any head action comes from the dog’s neck.

Forequarters —Legs straight and wellboned, set rather wide apart, showing no weakness at the pasterns, from which feet turn out a little. Shoulders well laid back with no looseness at the elbow.

The front legs/forequarters carry the whole front, the heaviest part, of the dog so they need to be wellpositioned, continuing the line from the shoulder to the feet, providing the optimum base of support. Not outside the body of the dog and not too close below the body. The body of the dog is tied to the shoulder blades by the big muscle groups of the neck, shoulders and chest. It isn’t propped, it is slung. Well laid-back shoulder blades allow for a longer attachment, make it easier for these muscles to carry the weight and provide a smooth meeting of the neck and upper back, the cervical and thoracic vertebrae. Upright shoulders make for a stuffy neck and a dip behind the withers. Length in the shoulder blade and upper-arm allows for longer, more athletic muscle as opposed to the short, bunchy, heavier muscle which short limbs tend to carry. The heavy muscled dog may look awesome but the athlete will get the job done with less puffing and panting. The pastern, the main joint above the front feet, equivalent to your wrist, needs to have a little give. With the other joints of the front limb it will cushion the impact when the foot hits the ground loaded with the weight of the dog. So, while this joint should be strong and able, it should break the line of the leg. Staffords’ feet turn out slightly from pastern to sole. There are those who say that this was to give the dog a broader/more stable base of support in the pit, making it more difficult for his opponent to unbalance him. I think it’s just a little peculiarity of the breed. Refer to “wide front” in next points.

Body —Close coupled, with level topline, wide front, deep brisket, well-sprung ribs; muscular and well defined.

The coupling for the majority of folk is taken to mean the loin or the part of the back from the last rib to the hip joint. Close coupled, therefore, means short in the loin. A short loin is a strong loin but lacks the flexibility of a longer loin. This flexibility was vital to a dog in the pit. It permitted him to turn with speed and power and it transferred the pushing/wrestling drive from the big muscles of the hips and thighs to the business end. So how short is long or how long is short? As with the neck, stuffiness here is a fault. This flexibility in loin is a virtue in the brood bitch .She needs to be able to get round with ease to perform her matronly duties. The older, “less delicately reared” would say, It’s a poor bitch can’t lick her own arse!

The level topline, so much a feature of posed dogs, so often lost on the move. Topline, again, is taken as the back from behind the withers to the top of the croup. We consider level to mean like a tabletop. But the spine of a dog, that structure which determines the line of his back is not level to this degree. It may be level for the length of the thoracic spine, the ribcage, but it will rise slightly over the lumbar spine, the loin. The spine for the length of the loin is the only bone, hard tissue, in that part of the body. A slight rise, as in a humpback bridge would seem to make sense here and strengthen this part of the assembly. So while we don’t want camels, we do need to be as suspicious of the absolutely level topline as we are of the not so level one. Look at other working breeds, agile and athletic ones, and maybe we won’t be just as hung up on this particular clause.

Widefront. Not sure why. I believe that the Stafford with his bulldog ancestry would always have been a wider fronted dog than other terriers.

They, with their earth dog ancestry, would have needed to be quite narrow to get to ground and follow their vocation. So I tend to think that this clause may have been a comparative one. I’ve heard it said that the Stafford needed this wide front to give him stability in the pit. A lot of the time in the pit, at least one and often both front feet are off the floor. And if he needs width the dog can place his feet to get it. It’s been said that the space between the front feet, the brisket and the ground should be a square. So in a 16-inch dog, whose brisket comes to his elbow, the width between the inside of his elbows should be 8 inches. (Withers to elbow = elbow to floor.) I certainly would not be happy with a wider front than this and as a choice would prefer the shape between the legs to be slightly rectangular with the short end on the floor.

Deep brisket. The brisket should be no deeper than the point of the elbow.

The dog does not need any more depth. Look at all the working/hound breeds. Indeed more than this is an exaggeration and an impediment. It, quite simply, is extra weight for the dog to carry. It will take away from his ability to perform.

Well-sprung ribs. I was always led to believe that spring of rib referred to the way in which the rib connected to the spine and their capacity for expansion. Ribs were required to spring to the side before they curved down to form the chest wall. This gave the dog the room he needed across his back and gave ample curvature to the ribs as they reached to the sternum. The front ribs, flatter than those behind, gave room for the elbows to be tucked under the shoulders with room to move freely below the dog. The rear ribs have more curve. There is a temptation to admire Staffords with massively barreled ribcages and great depth of brisket in the belief that this provides more room for heart and lungs, so increases stamina and endurance. But it isn’t the size of these organs but their efficiency which is important and bulky bodies are only more weight for the dog to carry. The Stafford should, like all performance dogs be well ribbed back. This is where the room and protection for his vital organs is found. So we are looking for dogs whose ribcage is carried back below, before the tuck-up begins. His forechest should be evident and fill the space between and in front of his shoulder joints but not overly so. We don’t want pigeon chests.

Hindquarters —Well muscled, hocks well let down with stifles well bent. Legs parallel when viewed from behind.

Wellmuscled. This is where the propulsive power comes from. Staffords should have strong, powerful thighs. Not just for movement but in his earlier existence he had to drive his adversary back, to unbalance him and to bully him. Like it or not it was a vital feature.

Hocks well let down. The hock joint, your ankle, should, in the Stafford, be close to the ground, to his pads and toes. This, quite simply, gives stability to his hind limb in all its actions.

Stifles well bent. Equivalent to your knee. In a comfortably freestanding dog the stifle joint should be sufficiently bent to place the hind foot just behind a vertical line from hip to tip of toes. Easy to pose a dog thus. So try to find him off duty. (Having moved a dog in the show ring he should be allowed to come to a comfortable stop unaided, unposed. Then you’ll see the bend of stifle.) The ability of the stifle, and indeed hock, joints to open and close is an essential element to movement. This is how the dog uses his legs to drive and reach, to change the length of the limb to clear the ground and swing through its movement. See under MOVEMENT CLAUSE.

Legs parallel when viewed from behind. Hocks, from joints to feet should be parallel. Again, beware the posed dog. Well-constructed Staffords should stand four square without any assistance.

Feet —Well padded, strong and of medium size. Nails black in solid coloured dogs.

Well padded. Thick, spongy pads are a requisite for comfortable, hardwearing feet. Splayed feet with thin pads have short duration and break down easily. Get a shoe with a good sole.

Strong. There should be a natural clenching in the joints of the dog’s toes which makes for compact feet. Feet will be sized in proportion to the size of the dog, to the bone in the dog. Small feet on a heavy-boned leg are as wrong as big feet on a lightly boned specimen. Look for balance.

Nails black in solid coloured dogs. Easy but cosmetic.

Tail —Medium length, lowset, tapering to a point and carried rather low. Should not curl much and may be likened to an old-fashioned pump handle.

Medium length. Should reach the hock.

Lowset. Origin is just off the level of the topline.

Tapering to a point. Easy. All tails are thus.

Carried rather low. Stafford tails should curve from origin to hang down.

Should not curl much and may be likened to an old-fashioned pumphandle. For the younger generation, who never took the bucket to the pump, the handle hung down and flicked back at the bottom. The Stafford at ease carried his tail in this position, even on the move. Alerted, he lifted it in response to an excitement/threat which might require an answer. But he did not carry his tail erect. The gay tails, seen so often today, can be an indication of a fault in construction/movement, a shallow pelvis and stilted rear action.

Gait and movement —

Free, powerful and agile with economy of effort. Legs parallel when viewed from front or rear. Discernible drive from hind legs.

The first clause is easy. He should flow across the ground. The second is more problematic. A moving dog, of any breed, will not move with legs parallel. It was a rough guide. Old-timers (even older old-timers) used say that terriers should move like a train. Most terrier breeds are relatively narrow-chested so convergence to a centre line may be difficult to spot and they may appear to move parallel, like a train. But this is simply not true. Efficient and balanced movement requires that the feet converge to minimize any lateral displacement and keep the centre of gravity of the dog above and within the base of support or as close as possible to this.

Otherwise the dog will roll to each side with each step, a waste of effort, inefficient and cumbersome. So look for this convergence in the line of the leg from shoulder to foot, from hip to foot. It will be easier to see at faster pace. Judges should require dogs to move at a fast trot.

Discernible drive from the rear legs. Viewed from the rear, the only measure of drive we have is in the pads of the feet. Moving away and really pushing/driving off his rear feet the dog will show us his pads. From the side we look for the dog to leave his foot well behind him when he drives and to close the space underneath when he reaches forward. His rear foot should replace his front foot just as it lifts to reach forward. It should not set down two inches behind. Your dog moves by moving/swinging his limbs at the joints of origin ie; the shoulders and hips. To clear the ground with each stride he shortens these limbs by slightly closing the joints; in his rear the stifle and hock joints and in his front the shoulder and pastern joints His feet should be picked up enough to clear the ground. His topline should hold its shape and flow forward without any bounce or up-down movement. Doing this he will cover the ground with ease and economy. These are the indications of sound movement. These are what we should look for and reward. Possible aberrations. If he is showing pads but moving off-line, crabbing, he is trying to match good drive behind to poor reach in front. If he seems to be prancing at the front, may be he is attempting to compensate/synchronise poor front movement with good rear movement. If he is snatching and running at the back, may be he is trying to catch up, to match poor drive at the back to good reach at the front. The other possible problem area for movement could be the result of breeders breeding for even shorter backs. Remember the ”close coupled” clause. It is easy to focus so much on any particular attribute that we exaggerate it to faulty proportions. So consider the possibility of a back so short that it leaves no room for drive and reach below. Then we need to straighten the stifle and stilt the movement to get any balance/coordination. (I suggest you take a look at the Smooth Fox Terriers. But don’t mention my name.) And, take heed, this can be done. We get short stuffy dogs, which move and show smartly for clever handlers, but do not move well, as in efficiently and effectively.

Your dog will move in the ring at a trot. This gait means that the front left leg and the rear right leg move together, then the front right and the rear left. But they do not move simultaneously. The front foot moves just a split second before the rear. This precise timing is programmed by nature in every well-coordinated dog. It enables the dog to move smoothly without tripping over his own feet. All dogs, like all humans, are not necessarily well coordinated. Some are clumsy, awkward. Left foot doesn’t know what the right foot is doing. Used to be referred to as neuro-motor morons. You know the dancer who was always stood on your toes!

Coat —

Smooth, short and close.

Coat texture should be soft and velvety, a little bit longer and more profuse in dogs kenneled outside but smooth and close to the body.

Easy to care. Good food, exercise and a warm bed. Only needs an occasional bath and the sponge down when he’s been in the ”sheugh”.

Colour—Red, fawn, white, black or blue, or any of these colours with white. Any shade of brindle or any shade of brindle with white. Black and tan or liver colour highly undesirable.

No such thing as a good horse being a bad colour. This is a matter for personal taste and colour in a Stafford is purely cosmetic/aesthetic. The dominant colour in the breed is brindle; the black brindle is now predominant though there are still quality dogs of all colours albeit with much smaller gene pools. The tiger brindle carries the genes for the full colour spectrum, others tend to breed colour predictably. Breeding reds/pieds/fawns constantly will dilute coat colour and if at the same time strong pigmentation is retained, black hairs will appear in the coat to produce a grizzle or smut. The black and tan is the extreme of this. So an occasional cross to a brindle is needed to prevent the appearance of these undesirables. I have a notion that liver is really a weakness in colour and that black/tan is so dominant, that were it allowed, it would quickly swamp the breed. But check this stuff out!

Size—Desirable height at withers 35.5 – 40.5cms (14-16ins), these heights being related to weights.

Weight: Dogs: 12.7 – 17kgs (28-38lbs);

Bitches: 11-15.4kgs (24-34lbs).

This should be straightforward stuff but causes a lot of division amongst enthusiasts. We need to remember that the standard is a guide, so none of these heights or weights are cut-off points. We will get quality dogs outside these marks and we should be always willing to appreciate and reward quality. The folks who drew up the standard were describing what, in their opinion, was the ideal Stafford. I can only say that “Virtus in medio stat”. The ideal is in the middle and to keep it there we have to use dogs on either side of it, in this case above and below. If we use the ideal as the top limit then we will breed down; if we use it as the bottom-line then we will breed up. And we have a breed which could quiet easily split into two types, a terrier type and a bulldog type.

We need to always look for the bull and terrier type.

Faults —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.

This is the pit for the faultfinding specialists; the dentists, the chiropodists, the optometrists etc. We need to be able to look at the whole dog and see his virtues. We should view all dogs from a distance, assess them against the standard and judge them as examples of their breeds before we move close enough to get caught up in the details and cosmetics. I do recall reading a statement by the late Raymond Oppenheimer, of Bull Terrier fame, about one of his breed. He said something to the effect,” He was as full of faults as hell of fire but the best Bull Terrier I’ve ever seen.” We need to be appreciative in our judging, not mean and small minded. The standard is a guideline open to interpretation, not etched in stone. To have digested it and memorized it word for word, but be unable to apply it sensibly, is to have wasted time and will make no contribution to the future of any breed. If we can’t identify the virtues what will we build on? The quality of present Staffords is the stepping-stone to the future.

Note —Male animals should have two apparently normal testicles fully descended into the scrotum.

If your number concept is weak you may have to use your fingers.