Born out of the horrific world of 19th-century blood sports, the Staffordshire bull terrier has emerged as a dog well-known for its loyalty to (and love of) human companionship. Careful breeding at the end of the 19th century has transformed the breed into a loyal, steadfast companion, albeit one who still must sometimes deal with the “bully breed” stigma.
Staffies are well-muscled, stocky dogs with bright, expressive eyes and flat, squarish heads. Their thick-set bodies stand a little over a foot tall and around 30 pounds. Their short, coarse coats lay 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.
As with any of the “bull terrier” breeds, Staffies are always going to have to fight the preconception of being violent dogs. But through the years, Staffies have been bred specifically with an eye toward companionship and family interaction. As a result, Staffies are well-regarded as fantastically loyal and loving family dogs. Perhaps the most surprising thing people learn about Staffies is their tremendously patient attitude toward children, often being referred to as a “nanny dog” who will spend many a gentle hour in the protective company of small children, patiently enduring ear and tail pulls, climbing youngsters, and the accompanying loud noises.
However, it should be noted Staffies aren’t for everyone. The breed can be very strong-willed training partners and will need someone who doesn’t frustrate easily to show them the rules.
Additionally, while Staffies are wonderful companions for humans and they do not have a particularly strong prey drive, it is part of their nature to be standoffish to other dogs.
There are going to be exceptions, of course, and as always, temperament will come down to the individual dog, but as a general rule, Staffies should never be walked off-leash and may need to be the only dog in a home. This can be mitigated somewhat with proper training and socialization that starts early and often.
“Like with any dog, I tell people that if you can see the parents, you can get an idea of the pup’s temperament,” says Dennis Riordan, DVM, of the Riordan Pet Hospital. “Now with a lot of these Staffords and pit bulls and the like, that’s not always possible, because so many of them now are rescues. But if you have a chance to see the parents, I always tell people to do it.”
Staffies have their share of energy, and will need your help burning that off in some fashion for about an hour a day. Fetch in the backyard, or even a spirited wrestling match in the living room should be plenty to keep your Staffy fit and mentally engaged.
Not particularly well-suited for apartment life, Staffies can adapt if they are given plenty of opportunities for outside play. Ideally, they enjoy having a fenced yard to run around it. Keep in mind though they can be diggers, so keeping a close eye on them, or reinforcing the bottoms of your fence with concrete to prevent tunneling, may be a good idea.
Staffies make very good watchdogs, if only due to their imposing appearance and loud alert bark. However, they are definitely human-centric dogs and not particularly territorial, so if someone is after your possessions rather than your person, your Staffy is just as likely to let them be.
Wherever you are, your Staffy can be happy. While they are muscle-bound dogs with decent amounts of energy, they are also more than happy to curl up on a couch and spend the day snoozing by your side. Apartments don’t give them a ton of room to roam, and they might become restless if not worked a little more, but any home with a yard will suit them just fine.
A fence is a requirement, however, to keep your Staffy from indulging his inner curiosity streak and wandering off, or from chasing down the neighbor dog and giving them a stern talking to.
Before bringing home a Staffordshire bull terrier, you’ll also want to check with your local ordinances. Many cities have breed-specific legislation limiting or even preventing the ownership of breeds with violent origins, and some insurance companies may even have special clauses against insuring homes with those breeds in them.
When it comes to regular care, Staffies are easy like Sunday morning. Once a week, you’ll want to give them a quick brush down to remove any dead hair to help keep shedding to a minimum.
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 rule of thumb about when to trim your Staffordshire’s nails: If you can hear them tapping against the floor, it’s probably time for a trim. Keeping your dog on a regular nail trimming schedule will help keep their nails from growing too long, which can be painful for the pup and result in health issues.
Baths are only recommended as needed, so unless they roll in something smelly or take a romp through a mud puddle, those are probably the only times you’ll need to amp up their bathtime routine. Give their ears a periodic check, and talk to your vet for tips on how to properly clean their ears to prevent wax buildup and potential infections.
Good news: The two most common issues your Staffy will have to deal with are also the two easiest for you to monitor and prevent.
The first is heat. While they do fairly well in cooler climates, Staffordshire bull terriers are quite prone to overheating. This means you should never leave your Staffie outside unattended during warm days, and their activity should be closely monitored to prevent overworking.
Secondly, Staffies can be prone to packing on the pounds if their feeding is left unchecked. Be vigilant with feeding schedules, limit treats, and don’t be afraid to ask your vet for suggestions (especially if your Staffy starts to lose his chiseled look).
Those daily issues aside, Staffordshire bull terriers are fairly healthy dogs, with the most common hereditary issues being hip dysplasia, cataracts, and L-2-HGA, a recessive disorder that affects their central nervous system.
Bred originally to be ring fighters, the Staffordshire bull terrier descended from the now-extinct bull and terrier cross. As with all of the “fighting” terrier breeds, their common origin point is the English bulldog, long a stalwart fighter and bull-baiter. As bull- and bear-baiting was outlawed with the Cruelty to Animals act of 1835, breeders began crossing the bulldog with various terrier breeds, to create smaller, more agile dogs who could be trained to fight one another.
Almost immediately, breeders recognized the crossbreed that would become known as the Staffordshire bull terrier as having a particularly strong affinity for humans, and 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. Long imposing a ban against recognizing any breed with a pit fighting background, the AKC refused to recognize the Staffordshire bull terrier until 1974, two years after the American Staffordshire terrier had paved the way for them.