The Stafforshire Bull Terrier
Ahem - This is me, Hecky
Below, a brief history of the breed.
First, let's look at the name (deconstruct it, as some modern philosophers are wont to say) for some genealogical clues. "Bull" and "Terrier" immediately jumps out, and indeed, they inform the breed's ancestry.
The Terrier's Legacy
There is much debate as to the specific terrier that definitively informed the staffie's ancestry - some experts suggest the English White Terrier (a breed that is now extinct), while others argue for the Manchester terrier (click on the thumbnail to your right to see a Manchester "Black and Tan" Terrier), and still others argue that a cross between the Manchester and White terrier was used. What is clear, though, is that the turn of the seventeenth century saw the staffie's origins informed by a terrier, especially in the face that was brought forward and out in the cross with the bull dog below. Of course, aspects of the burrowing terrier (the word comes from the French - "terre" - which means earth) personality is also evident in the staffie of modern times.
The Bull's Legacy
The Bull, of course, refers to the British Bull Dog, but originally, the bull dog that contributed to the breed lines of the staffie didn't quite look like the famous bull dog of contemporary times. Taller and more athletic than the current bull dog, with legs under, rather than beside the ribcage as is the case with today's bulldog, one can nonetheless see in the wide and deep brisket, and the stocky, muscular frame the bull's gift to the staffie's build.
Bull & Bear Baiting
Okay, now why would people want to cross these two breeds? The answer, unfortunately, is not a pleasant one. During the 1800's the "sport" of bull- and bear-baiting was popular in England. This essentially involved the barbarous practice of tethering a bull to a stake, and to set a pack of dogs onto the bull. Similarly, with the bear. The bloodthirsty expectation was that the bull would eventually be killed, but in the process also injuring or felling one or more of its canine attackers. Now whereas the early Bulldog and the Mastiffs were used, they were rather heavy, and the search was on for an agile dog, but with the same strong jaws, and an aggressive temperament. The cross between the Bulldog and the Manchester terrier achieved just that - a smaller dog, more nimble, but as strong as ever. Initially, this dog was known as the Old Pit Bull Terrier, but over time became known as the Staffordshire Bull Terrier.
While the bloody practice of bull- and bear baiting was eventually outlawed in Britain, the barbaric sport was particularly popular in Central England, and well in the county of Staffordshire, on the upper reaches of the Trent river. And here, then, an explanation of the full name - Staffordshire Bull Terrier.
From these less than favorable and inauspicious beginnings would evolve one of the most lovable, popular, loyal, and trusted breeds on the face of the earth. In his authoritative Encyclopedia of the Dog, Bruce Fogle mentions that "There is probably no breed that is more loving with its family .... than this kinetic mass of solid bone and thick muscle" [B. Fogle, The Encyclopedia of the Dog, DK Publishing, 1995]. Indeed, in England, Staffies are also known as "nanny dogs" which says much about their relationship with children.
Currently, the Staffie is popular in all the corners of the world, especially countries which had ties to Britain as former colonies. In Canada, Australia, New Zeeland, and South Africa, the Staffie is a favored breed. In fact, in South Africa, it is the most popular breed - maybe because it has been immortalised in the popular novel (and now big budget film), Jock of the Bushveld, by Sir Percy Fitzgerald.
The Amstaff and the Pit Bull
In the US, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier is often mistaken for a Pit Bull Terrier or an American Staffordshire Bull Terrier. These are separate and distinct breeds, even though they share a genealogical and ancestral history with the Staffordshire. In the 1880's, when the bull and terrier breeds arrived on North American shores, selective breeding produced a generally heavier, taller (and many say more aggressive), dog. The Amstaff and the Pit Bull represent these two lines of selective breeding away from the original Staffordshire. In the table below, a simple comparative difference chart helps to distinguish these three breeds from each other.
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