Staffordshire bull terriers have enjoyed a massive upsurge in popularity in the last twenty years, and are now high up among the most commonly kept dogs in Britain. However, it's no coincidence that the rising popularity of 'Staffys' as they are also affectionately known, and cross breeds and mixed breeds of the Staffy type, coincided with the introduction of the Dangerous Dogs Act in 1991- but why? Well, read on for a little more information on the breed and its traits, some of the reasons behind its popularity, and some thoughts on whether or not a Staffordshire bull terrier makes a good pet for families with children.
The Staffy is a very muscular dog which is extremely strong for its height. They are medium sized and stocky, often having a familiar 'leg at each corner' look about them. They have triangular shaped heads with cheek muscles that are pronounced. They share some similarities in appearance with both the American pit bull terrier and the American Staffordshire terrier, breeds with which they are often confused by the untrained observer.
Back in the 18th century and beyond, the bull terrier types of dog from which the modern Staffy is descended were not kept as pets- they were bred and trained almost exclusively for blood sports including bull baiting and cock fighting, practices which are now thankfully outlawed in the UK today. When blood sports such as those mentioned above became illegal in the 1800's, dog fighting (pitting two dogs against each other in a bloody fight to the death) rose in prevalence, a practice which was in turn outlawed, although illegal dog fighting has unfortunately continued underground in small pockets across the UK and internationally. However, due to the fall in popularity of dog fighting and its illegality, Staffordshire bull terriers, as we now know them, originally one of the popular fighting and baiting breeds became less and less kept for fighting. Eventually, ongoing breeding of Staffys as companion animals and an increasing recognition of their desirability as family pets led to their being recognised by the Kennel Club in the UK as an official breed in 1935.
It's important to note that Staffordshire bull terriers are not one of the breeds and types of dogs which are covered by the Dangerous Dogs Act (1991) and so are subsequently legal to own in the UK. However, it is well documented that when the law first came into effect, people who at that time owned dogs such as pit bulls which were covered by the act sometimes took to referring to their pit bull dogs as Staffordshire bull terriers, in order to avoid falling under the remit of the law. Due to this deliberate misnomer, several high profile attacks by pit bull type dogs which were labelled as Staffys on both people and other pets have led to the Staffy name being much maligned at times as a dangerous or aggressive dog, when in fact the dogs in question were almost certainly not Staffordshire bull terriers at all. No definitive figures currently exist to suggest any kind of correlation between Staffordshire bull terriers and a significantly high proportion of the breed being prone to aggression. With the Staffordshire bull terrier currently being the fifth most commonly owned pedigree dog in the UK- and perhaps the most popular overall when this figure is combined with non pedigree Staffys and cross breeds- it's only to be expected that with a proportionately higher number of Staffys around than most other breeds, the occasional 'bad egg' will appear- just as can happen with any other breed or type of dog, large or small.As a result of the Dangerous Dogs Act coming into force, a marked rise in popularity of ownership of true Staffys and Staffy cross breeds occurred amongst prior owners of pit bulls and those who simply liked the look of both pit bulls and Staffys. As well as finding genuine caring homes with responsible owners, some Staffys and similar looking dogs unfortunately fell into ownership by the types of people who simply wanted a 'hard looking dog' and may have been keen to train their pet to reinforce this image- something which sadly still occurs all too regularly even today.
As with any breed or type of dog, differences in temperament, personality and behaviour are wide ranging across the breed, and of course more or less any dog can be bullied and trained to be aggressive. However, despite some people's bad intentions to create their own compact four legged weapons out of otherwise personable pets, the Staffordshire bull terrier is still rightly renowned for its loyalty, bravery and intelligence. They are quiet, generally calm dogs, easygoing and trustworthy, and the Staffy is much lauded as potentially the most loyal and loving family dog. The muscular and businesslike appearance of the Staffordshire bull terrier often makes them a popular choice as guard dogs, however the general good nature of the Staffy makes them rather ill suited for this kind of work as they are generally very keen to please people, non aggressive and easy going.
Thousands of families in the UK consider their Staffy to be a welcome member of the family, and an incredibly suitable pet to have around children, due to their calm tolerant natures and protectiveness of their 'pack,' which includes the human members. Well cared for and correctly trained Staffys can make an amazing addition to any family, and as is so often the case when dogs receive bad press, the root cause of aggression and any behavioural problems can generally be traced back to the person that trained them and looked after them, and not something fundamental within the dog itself.However, it is worth bearing in mind that even today, lots of people desire to keep a Staffy for the perceived 'street cred' which it gives them when teamed with a heavy studded collar and chain lead. If you are considering re-homing a Staffy or taking on an adult dog (and it's certainly worth considering- at any given time, Battersea Dogs Home estimates that over 80% of the dogs in its care are Staffordshire bull terriers or Staffy types) you should be prepared to dedicate a significant amount of time to vetting it's personality, the way it reacts to certain situations, and how well it can adjust to living in a loving family environment. As with any breed, never leave your children unsupervised with your dog, and teach them early on how to handle your dog, not to tease it, and to read the signs and signals it is giving off.Buying a Staffy dog or puppy from a reputable, experienced owner or breeder is a more sensible route to follow for families with children, as you will be able to view the dog's parents and train your new addition from a young age to behave in a safe and well trained manner.