The Three Differing Breed Standards

Published by TSK Editor on

Re-posting this in honor of Alan's 100th birthday on Friday March 31st, 2023

The Three Differing Breed Standards by Alan Mitchell (Hoplite)

The Staffordshire Bull Terrier came into existence in 1935. Before you jump out of your chair and protest read on.

Many people owned Bull and Terriers or Pit dogs and the owners of these met at the Cross Guns Hotel, Cradley Heath to form a club and register these dogs as the ‘Original Staffordshire Bull Terrier’ and the Club as the ‘Original Staffordshire Bull Terrier Club’. Between 40 and 50 men attended. The landlord was Joe Mallen, Jack Barnard became the first President, Joe Dunn was the secretary, M. Smith was the first Chairman, In May the first club was registered under the KC’s amended name “The Staffordshire Bull Terrier Club.” This without doubt came about for a mixture of reasons. Firstly, where people came in contact with these dogs the character, the total reliability with children and the sheer personality won many families to ownership and these people had no intent in pitting their dogs against other dogs – they just knew a great dog when they met one. Secondly, the people whose families had bred these dogs for generations resented the Hink’s cross breed being called Bull Terrier and usurping the crown that belonged to the Bull and Terrier and Pit dog.

These people then had to write a standard and since there was a great variation geographically and even locally they needed to draw out a guide which would incorporate enough of the current dogs to make the breed viable in the show ring. They had also, to produce a blue print of type so that they would all look reasonably alike and recognisable as a breed.

They were men, no better and no worse than any other group with a common interest. They were not word smiths first and foremost and yet they produced a basic standard which served its purpose admirably and has been amended since, first to bring the breed to a closer standard for height and weight in recognition of the way the breed had evolved and later to bring it in line with the KC standardization plans.

I don’t doubt for a moment that those involved in shaping the original standard made sure that it would include their own strain of dogs and indulge their prejudices. For a start there is no such thing as a poor coat colour in a fighting dog yet colour was specified with exclusions. I don’t suppose the colour of the dog’s nose ever won or lost it a fight either but the Dudley nose was out. Fourteen inch Staffords were put below the minimum height, yet one Lancashire strain of highly successful Pit dogs was mainly of that height, but of course the Midland men set the standard and the minimum height was set at I5 inches.

The original standard gave a range of 15 – 18 inches at the shoulder and weights from 28 – 38 lbs for dogs and 4lbs lighter for bitches. It required strength and agility. The head was well described and subsequently has not seen seen as needing much change although the interpretation of a short foreface has changed as the required proportion from nose tip to stop and stop to occiput was not put in the standard.

The inclusion of fully pricked ears was, no doubt, as a result of pressure within the group as the ear carriage was not more than a minority deviation from the half pricked and rose ears on most of the dogs. The full drop ear was ruled out as untypical and rightly so. The major exclusion was gait or movement. There is a view that a dog did not have to walk any special way to cross the scratch in the pit. On the other hand a lightly built muscular dog would lend to walk with spring and the gait was recorded by the fancy as “A short stepping almost mincing gait,” and until the weights went up in proportion to height this was general. By the time the standard was revised most show dogs moved with a ‘powerful thrusting gait’, and that is how it stands. It is strange how even today when young dogs approach each other and weigh each other up, or a dog prospects its chances with a bitch they revert to the old movement for a few seconds. Champion Wychal Buckeroo and Dark Crystal of Malstaff had this gait. It gives the impression that the Stafford could spin leap and pick a swallow out of the air – it wasn’t far out with Buckeroo! The old villain, on the way to 11 years, walked down the ring coming off the ground at each step and suddenly sprang and grabbed a ringsider’s dog before it even knew he had moved. Personally I miss that charged, high tension athletic gait.

The first standard produced a scale of points weighted in favour of the head This was found to be more hindrance than help and was abandoned. In 1949-50 the KC approved a new standard. The first amendment was the addition of “eyes may bear some relation to coat colour.” Indulge in semantics and it could be argued that blue eyes on a blue dog might be acceptable. Semantics are for Bible scholars and philosophers – the meaning is understood.

The second removed fully pricked ears from the acceptable since they all but disappeared from the ring and changed the expression. This was no loss.

The mouth was next amplified in detail to make the requirements clearer. The definition of hind quarters was also specified in detail and well bent stifles and the requirement of legs being held parallel seen from behind was stated when it had all been understood before that.

The next amendment and complete departure from the original standard was in adding blue as a colour. All other dilutions of colour were discouraged, but someone persuaded the founders of the ‘new’ standard to include blues. This produced a catch 22 situation. It made blues eligible for CC’s. Unfortunately, the standard requires a black nose and the nearest to a black nose I’ve seen on a blue is a charcoal grey and dull. To help the late Bob Salisbury in his quest to breed black noses on blues I found two of the late Graham Steer’s blues with dark grey noses and, despite disparate sizes and types, got a mating after a lot of difficulty. The best of the pups still had dark grey noses. If those who amended the standard truly wanted blues and were not ‘persuaded’ they should have allowed the grey nose on blues. If they didn’t they should have left the blue subject to the same penalty as livers or black and tans. To my mind the blues would be no loss to the breed as pigmentation is a minefield at best.

The height/weight clause now produced a heavier dog in proportion to height, lowering the bottom of the standard to 14 inches and the top to 16″ and male weights and female weights remaining as they were. The addition, “these weights to be related to the heights,” clarified the position.

The faults section then separated faults to be penalised and those to debar a dog from prize winning. Light eyes, pink eye-rims, tails too long or curled, non-conformation to height and weight, full drop or pricked ears, undershot or overshot mouths were left to be assessed according to their severity. However, Dudley noses, badly undershot or overshot mouths (where a gap exists between the two sets of teeth) were anathema, debarring a Stafford from a prize.

No standard does more than give a thumbnail sketch of the breed. There is more accepted as part of breed-type than is ever written down and this is passed on from generation to generation. For instance, the angle of muzzle to skull is recognised and those departing from it look so odd that they are not acceptable. The crease in the skull which gives expression isn’t codified, yet see an apple headed Stafford, one with a Chihuahua type domed skull and all the true Stafford look is gone. There are many more finer points -like the hard coat, the set-on of the ears etc. all understood. (Except by people who cannot breed out the undesirable and claim it is a virtue!)

The next development was at the instigation of the K.C. which took notice of the variations in breed standards and the competence of some against others and decided to produce a common format. This led to a redistribution of parts of the standard, placing things in a different order more than changing Ihings.

The standard now tightened the description of the bite, and put in writing the desirable qualities in the lip and defined the tooth qualities which had always been known but not written. The incidence of little pegs of teeth which had crept into some strains no doubt triggered this.

The new standard did not define mathematically what constituted a short foreface unfortunately and here is an area in which dramatic change could evolve which would completely change the appearance over a number of years. They missed the opportunity to define down-face and dish-face which again would have fixed type and prevented a change in the breed’s appearance.

The fleeting mention of feet in the original standard was probably a legacy from the philosophy of the pit, although early photos show no more variation than is current now. Once the well-padded foot was given a separate hsting in the 1948 standard it took care of that. However, in their wisdom the solid coloured dog was required to have black nails in the latest standard. The question arises then as to whether there ever has been a solid-coloured Stafford as every dog I’ve ever seen has two main colours and always a few white hairs somewhere. However the intention is understood.

No standard has changed the requirements of the tail in a Stafford. The hooked tail, gay tail, short tail, kinked tail have not been included although they exist as deviations from the ideal, nor is the Northern or Midland set-on the tail differentiated. Perhaps, one day, only the tail will be recognizable as the part that remains of the original dog!

Gait and movement now were defined and since the modern dog has a powerful, low, economical gait with little lift front or back, that was codified. This reflected the evolution of the show dog from the fighting dog, and the change in weight/height equation.

The coat clause left out ‘close to the skin’, as redundant. What it did not tackle was the consistency of the hair. The original coat was smooth and hard so that stroked head to tail it was smooth to the touch; the other way it was spokey and hard. Whether those who had influence also had the silky, soft coat or whether it was an oversight, it was an opportunity missed.

The revisionists also dodged the catch 22 with blues, whilst with faults it restored the balanced view that faults should be penalised in accordance with their severity, removing the arbitrary attitude to some, which seems to me to restore a balanced view.

So we have had 3 standards to guide the evolution of the show Stafford.

The writers of the standard are not primarily wordsmiths and neither are they lawyers or barristers involved with framing laws, therefore the standard is generally sound, with omissions, imprecisions and vagueness in places but nothing to render it non-operable. I have written of areas which could well be decided upon to benefit the breed and I hope one day they will be tackled.

What then is the result of all these changes and all that has been preserved. First of all the modern show dog is much more of one type, it is a better looking dog, and is generally sounder in my opinion. The lowering of the height standard has made the dog manageable by more people for show and companion use and this has broadened its appeal.

Clearly it is a success story, however in my view the character and temperament are the keys to success. The strong personality, love of children and character are the irresistible attraction of the breed. Where one appears in a street, more follow and not in self-defence as the uncharitable might suggest, but because contact and familiarity with the Stafford generates a love of the breed for its sterling character.

The breed has for some years ignored the height/weight clause and many times judges have been allotted 100% of the blame. Yet the very critics use stud dogs which do not conform, the breeders continue to produce a vast majority of Staffords too heavy for the height and a dog or bitch which strictly conforms to the standard in these respects and is typy and sound is the odd one out in the ring. Place it first and what follows? Exhibitors howl when a dog slightly over the height standard takes a CC yet they would be devastated if their 16 inch and 42lb dog was dumped! Catch 22 again! If breeders produce a majority of dogs and bitches spot on the standard the judges will follow. If the judges select only such dogs the breeders will follow or will the judges be boycotted by committees whose dogs do not conform? In reality if people howl about big dogs meaning height wise, they must be prepared to howl about big dogs weight wise. There are two sides to the equation! Whatever the commotion, the dogs put up are great dogs and selected from stiff competition and I’m too old to start a crusade even if I wanted to.

To sum up:- From the pit dog the breeders of the show Staffordshire Bull Terrier have bred an attractive and recognisable dog and have standardised size and type to a great degree so that quality runs deep. Had the influential people and main breeders decided to maintain a light leggy show dog I have no doubt that the same would have been achieved and the dog would have resembled the Staffordshire Terrier of the USA in build and size.

The manageable size (comparatively) and the character give it wide acceptance. Bad temperament, only present in a notable but very small number, could do more harm to the breed than anything else. In my view a dull, lethargic sleepy dog is not a Stafford; a nervous snappy dog is not; neither is a dog which dislikes children or bites its owners and others. I have had some very strong-minded Staffords, some ‘head bangers’ full of aggression, and some happy-go-lucky laughing dogs. I can honestly say that when they have fallen out and fought, I have never had my skin broken as I separated them. Jaws have reached my hands and arms and they have released before harm is done because they were true Staffords. All my stitches have come from other breeds, big and small except for one Stafford not of my breeding which attacked children on sight and you could not handle to free her from mesh which had ensnared her leg. She was put down, not for biting me, but for launching herself at a child (and at the first evidence of this mental problem). The Dangerous Dogs Act is on the statute book. Breed bad’uns and you’ll have the tens of thousands of good Staffords muzzled. That’s the Standard to stick to meticulously.