Staffordshire bull terriers are well-known for their loyalty to—and love of—human companionship. Commonly called "Staffies" by their adoring fans, these smart and social pups form strong, unwavering bonds with their family. Despite their sweet nature, these dogs are still overcoming misconceptions about their breed.
"The Staffy, unfortunately, has a bad reputation," says Georgina Ushi Phillips, DVM at Not a Bully. "Any potential Staffy owner should be prepared to challenge this reputation and make their Staffy a true ambassador for the breed with extra training, socialization, and always setting their dog up for success. Make people think twice about this dog's reputation when they meet your smiling, playful, and friendly Staffy!"
Staffordshire bull terriers are well-muscled, stocky dogs with bright, expressive eyes and flat, squarish heads. Their thick-set bodies stand a little over a foot tall (typically anywhere between 14–16 inches) and weigh 24–38 pounds. Their short, coarse coats lie close to their bodies, giving them a shiny, sleek look.
Staffies come in a wide range of colors including red, fawn, black, blue, white, brindle, and a variety of bicolors, usually with white as one component. Whatever color your Staffy is, his neck is wide, chest broad, and tail wagging.
Because of their history as fighting dogs, Staffordshire bull terriers unfortunately have a bad rep. But today's Staffies are far removed from their 16th century ancestors and have developed a new identity as caring, even doting, family companions. As a result, Staffies are well-regarded as fantastically loyal and loving family dogs.
"Bred to be brave, most Staffies are going to be up for any kind of adventure you can throw at them," Ushi Phillips says. "But they're not just about adventure, and this highly social breed is happy to be a part of anything you're doing. With above-average intelligence, Staffies will catch on quickly to your habits and work to become a part of your daily routine."
This love for their people extends to children as well. In fact, many Staffies are so good with kids that they've been called "the nanny dog" throughout history, Ushi Phillips says.
"The Staffy is hardy, sturdy, and tolerant of rough play from children, which already sets them far ahead of many smaller breeds that might not be so happy to put up with active kids," she says. Of course, not every Staffy will love children, so make sure introductions are slow and always supervised by an adult.
But Staffies aren't for everyone. The breed can be very strong-willed, so your Staffordshire terrier puppy needs early training and socialization to grow into a well-mannered, smiley adult. Because of this, they make a better fit for an experienced dog owner—as Ushi Phillips says, their loyalty and bravery can sometimes get them into trouble.
To be happy, a Staffy needs you by his side. While they have a decent amount of energy, Staffordshire bull terriers are also more than happy to curl up on a couch and spend the day snoozing by your side. Some can do well in apartments as long as they get 45–60 minutes of heart-pumping exercise each day, and access to a fenced-in yard for playtime is ideal.
Though each dog is different, most Staffies fit right into a family with children and, with proper socialization, most live well alongside other pets, including cats. But Staffies do have a high prey drive, Ushi Phillips says, so introductions need to be done with care and they usually do best with similar-sized dogs.
Before bringing home a Staffordshire bull terrier, check your local ordinances. Some cities have breed-specific legislation limiting or even preventing the ownership of breeds with fighting origins, and some insurance companies may even have special clauses against insuring homes with those breeds in them.
Regular brushing is also a good time to check for things like coat sheen (dull hair can mean a lack of nutrients in diet), nail length, and ear and dental health. A good guideline about when to trim your Staffordshire's nails: If you can hear them tapping against the floor, it's probably time for a trim.
"Baths every other month, or when your Staffy has a little too much fun outdoors, is all that most will need," Ushi Phillips says. "Many Staffies have sensitive skin, so be careful not to dry out their skin with too much bathing."
But because Staffies can have an independent streak, they might lose interest in long training sessions. Ushi Phillips recommends keeping sessions short when learning new commands.
The typical Staffordshire bull terrier lifespan is 12–14 years. Ushi Phillips says they're considered to be healthy dogs, but, like all breeds, there are certain health issues these pups are susceptible to.
"While pollen or dust can make us sneeze, it may cause itchy, dry, and irritated skin in Staffies," Ushi Phillips says. "Some may also have sensitivities to certain diets, which will again often show up in their skin. Work with your veterinarian at the first sign of itchy or irritated skin to help pinpoint the cause and prevent any secondary condition or infection from developing."
One major health concern is gastric dilation volvulus (GDV), commonly known as bloat. This is a life-threatening condition where the stomach becomes distended with gas and twists.
"While the exact cause isn't known, managing how quickly your Staffy eats or drinks seems to help," Ushi Phillips says. "Make sure you understand the signs of GDV and have a plan in place to quickly get your dog to a veterinarian."
Always make sure you're working with a reputable Staffordshire bull terrier breeder who conducts all health screenings recommended for the breed. If you're adopting a Staffy, ask for all available health information.
Bred originally to be ring fighters, the Staffordshire bull terrier descended from the now-extinct "bull and terrier" cross—a mix of the old English bulldog and English terriers, according to the Staffordshire Bull Terrier Club of America (SBTCA). The dogs were used for bull- and bear-baiting. When the practice was outlawed with the Cruelty to Animals Act of 1835, breeders began creating smaller, more agile dogs who could be trained to fight one another instead.
Almost immediately, breeders recognized the crossbreed that would become known as the Staffordshire bull terrier as having a particularly strong affinity for humans. For most of their existence, Staffies have been prized as much for their companionship as their fighting prowess. Staffies made their way to North America in the 1880s, and further cross-breeding led to a taller, stockier breed eventually named the American Staffordshire terrier.
With the passage of the Protection of Animals Act of 1911, pit fighting largely came to an end in the U.K., paving the way to further legitimacy for the Staffordshire bull terrier. The breed was recognized by the Kennel Club in 1935, but it would be another four decades before the American Kennel Club (AKC) would follow suit in 1974.
- Steve Irwin had a Staffordshire bull terrier named Sui, who would accompany him on trips and was seen in several episodes of The Crocodile Hunter.
- Vin Diesel has long been a fan of the breed, having owned several in his life.
- In 2018, a 2-year-old rescue named Cooper became the first Staffordshire bull terrier to become a K-9 police dog for the Staffordshire, England, police force, and helped track down over £250,000 in heroin and cocaine in his first year on the job.