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Breeder Buzzwords – The Staffordshire Bull Terrier

The Bull and Terrier breeds are extremely popular companions throughout the world, and perhaps none is better designed – or more maligned – for the job as is the highly intelligent and affectionate Staffordshire Bull Terrier.

In most English-speaking countries the “Staffy Bull” or “Stafford,” as fans sometimes refer to the breed, is well-known among the pet-loving public and the dog show fraternity. According to the Staffordshire Bull Terrier Club of America, the breed is one of the best known Terriers in the British Isles, a Top 10 most popular breed in Australia and the most popular Terrier of all in South Africa.

Hailing from the West Midlands of England, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier is the creation of 19th century coal miners following the passing of the Cruelty to Animals Act of 1835 that outlawed bull baiting and other blood sports. Ironically, it was during this period that the tenacity of the Old English Bulldog was combined with the quickness of local Terriers to develop animals used primarily for entertainment as “pit dogs.” These dogs were bred for their courageous and obedient nature, and put to use in the shadowy underbelly of illegal arenas.

Despite the ban on dog fighting, the activity continued to flourish even as the earliest dog shows were being held. Fighting dogs of a solid white color attracted the attention of conformation exhibitors, who developed their animals along separate lines to become today’s Bull Terrier. For many years following the advent of dog shows, colored dogs continued to be used in the pit.

One hundred years after the ban on bull baiting, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier was finally granted full recognition by the Kennel Club in England. A parent club was established that same year, and today multiple clubs exist in Britain to support the interests of the native breed.

The U.S. has also been a welcome home to many Bull and Terrier breeds, including the Bulldog and French Bulldog, but the Staffordshire Bull Terrier has largely been overlooked here thanks to the development of several American originals, including the American Staffordshire Terrier and the American Pit Bull Terrier.

AKC recognized the Stafford in 1975, nearly 40 years after the registry granted full recognition to its cousin, the Am Staff.

Strength and agility, an affectionate and obedient nature, and a boundless sense of humor have positioned the breed entirely suited for an all-purpose life in the modern world. Registrations for 2012 place the breed 76th of the 175 recognized breeds.

The Staffordshire Bull Terrier combines strength and agility with an affectionate and obedient nature and a sense of humor that knows no bounds. Photo © Dmitri Pravdjukov/Dreamstime

Strength Plus Speed

The General Appearance
 section of the AKC breed standard describes the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, in part, as possessing “great strength for its size and, although muscular, [it] should be active and agile.” The Bull and Terrier combination is plainly evident in the breed’s physique as well as through its dexterity.

Owing to the breed’s Bulldog ancestry, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier presents a rather muscle bound appearance. According to the SBTCA, their form is “so striking that it’s easy to forget that they are smaller than most American Pit Bull Terriers.” Staffords measure between 16 and 18 inches at the shoulder, with dogs weighing from 28 to 38 pounds, and bitches from 24 to 34 pounds.

The breed’s muscular frame is especially evident up front. In a 1992 AKC Gazette column, Lucille Perry quotes Bob Smith from an article that first appeared in the English publication The Stafford, wherein the breed specialist offered his view of the Staffy Bull’s impressive front end: “In a reasonably fit Stafford, his shoulders, when viewed from above, would be the widest part of the dog… In a so-called athletic dog, I would seek a balance of power and agility, in other words, an animal [that] would give the impression of strength plus speed.”

The Staffordshire Bull Terrier’s combination of strength and speed can be astounding. As noted by Steve Eltinge in his 1988 AKC Gazette feature article titled, “Breed Under Fire: The Staffordshire Bull Terrier,” the first Staffy Bull he encountered made quite an impression. In describing his experience, Eltinge writes, “He was the essence of understatement: compact and muscular yet could sprint as fast as a Whippet; 16 inches at the shoulder yet capable of jumping a five-foot fence; quick as a Fox Terrier yet determined as a Bulldog; powerful, yet gentle enough to lie at the foot of a child’s cot.”

The Staffy Bull has been called the “children’s nursemaid,” for although it possesses great physical strength, it is also a tender guardian and child’s companion.

Very Pronounced Cheek Muscles

Few breeds, if any, have as cheeky a grin as the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. It’s virtually impossible to avoid falling under the spell of the Stafford’s smile.

The head of the Staffordshire Bull Terrier is described by the breed standard as having “very pronounced cheek muscles” along with a “short, deep through, broad skull” and a “short foreface.” The skull and muzzle meet with a “distinct stop,” with the muzzle approximating one-third of the head’s total length.

In another AKC Gazette article titled, “Correct Head Type,” Perry refers to an article by W.A. Boylan that first appeared in “Stafford News” of New South Wales, Australia, in the mid-1950s to address variations in head type. “We still see different types of heads: bull, terrier and a type that resembles the Mastiff,” according to Boylan.

In the article the Australian fancier writes, “The first two types are further divided into types that vary because of either too blunt or too sharp a foreface or a lack of stop.” A bull-type head, Boylan suggests, “must be carried on a bull-type neck attached to a body built to carry it.” Likewise, “The Terrier-type head is more finely made and usually carried on a neck and body with lighter bone.”

In either case, “very pronounced” cheek muscles demonstrate the breed’s legacy as a fighting dog. As Boylan notes, the ideal head “can be quick to punish with ease of movement.”

The Staffy Bull’s bite is one where “the outer side of the lower incisors touches the inner side of the upper incisors.” A badly overshot or undershot bite is considered a serious fault.

Rose or Half-Pricked Ears

The ears on the Staffordshire Bull Terrier are not large, and they appear unlike those of its Bull and Terrier cousins. They differ from the Bull Terrier’s in that they are always folded, never prick, and they must never be cropped as is sometimes done to the Am Staff.

Rose ears, like those of the Bulldog, and half-pricked ears as occasionally seen in the Pit Bull are equally acceptable in the Stafford. The leather of a rose ear folds inward at the lower back edge, with the upper front edge curved over, outward and backward, exposing the inside of the burr.

The leather of a half-prick ear is similar to that of a semi-prick ear. It folds horizontally along its length, with the tip bending toward the front midway along its length. Either ear type is acceptable, and full drop or full prick ears are serious faults.

The handsome and intelligent Staffordshire Bull Terrier enjoys the support of dog lovers around the world thanks to its considerable strength, affectionate nature, indomitable courage and its unforgettable smile.

Written by

Dan Sayers started “in dogs” through a chance encounter with a Springer Spaniel in 1980. A student of dogs ever since, he’s shown Spaniels and Hounds in the conformation ring and breeds Irish Water Spaniels under the Quiet Storm prefix. A dog lover with a passion for the creative arts, Dan has worked as a freelance writer, photographer and illustrator for many years. His feature articles and columns have appeared in Dogs in Review, Dog World and the AKC Gazette, and his design work has appeared in dozens of publications in North America and abroad. An interest in all things “dog” brought Dan to Best In Show Daily, where he gets to work with the most dynamic group of fanciers every day. He lives in Merchantville, New Jersey, with his partner, Rudy Raya, Irish Water Spaniel, Kurre, and the memory of Oscar, a once-in-a-lifetime Sussex Spaniel.
  • Susan Chaney
    Susan Chaney March 3, 2013 at 7:46 PM

    The more I read about this breed, the more I think my Chi mix is part Staffordshire Bull Terrier. He has so many of the breed’s physical characteristics and much of its temperament. Thanks for reminding me that I really do want to get him tested for his breed makeup.

  • Adrienne Owen March 3, 2013 at 8:38 PM

    Fantastic article Dan!!!!!! Thanks for putting Staffys in a positive light! :-)

    • Dan Sayers March 4, 2013 at 2:28 PM

      Thanks, Adrienne.

      I’ve never met a Staffy Bull that wasn’t a real charming character!


  • Patricia Collins Briasco March 4, 2013 at 2:20 PM

    Dear Mr. Sayers, Thank You for writing such an insightful and in depth article. As a breeder of these dogs for many years and a dog show enthusiast, I can tell you they are the most loving, intelligent and caring dogs to all who choose to love one. I am grateful and honored that I can share my life with this most wonderful of breeds.

    • chaundra
      chaundra March 5, 2013 at 10:31 AM

      Hi Patricia,

      Thank you for writing. Best In Show Daily is only too happy to spread the word about your wonderful breed. Take care and enjoy your Staffords!


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