Friday, February 15, 2008

Ruff deal for the Staffie

By Fiona Wickham and Denise Winterman
BBC News Magazine

They're being dumped in record numbers and branded a "yob dog", yet Staffordshire bull terriers are ideal family pets, say experts. So why is this nation of dog lovers turning against them?

Extremely reliable, highly intelligent and affectionate, especially with children. It's not a description most of us would associate with Staffordshire bull terriers, but it's how the UK Kennel Club sums them up.

In fact, the breed is one of only two from over 190 it recommends as suitable with children, the other being a Chesapeake Bay retriever.

But while the thought of a doe-eyed retriever makes people feel all warm and fuzzy inside, a Staffie - as they are commonly known - often leaves them cold.

Somehow these little balls of muscle have gone from being considered good family pets to canine outcasts among large sections of this nation of dog lovers.

Staffies and Staffie crosses are being dumped in record numbers and not enough people are willing to give them a new home. So how did the sociable dog that likes to be loved fall out of people's affections?

The breed is a bit of a contradiction and that is a big part of the problem, says the Dogs Trust. While their natures are loving, their perceived physical similarities with banned breeds - such as pit bulls - has resulted in them being tarnished with the "dangerous dogs" label.

"Because of their appearance, certain types of people think they've got themselves a fierce dog and in fact they'd far rather be in front of the fire having their tummy tickled," says breeder Veronica Brown.

A result of this misguided association they have become a "macho" fashion accessory among some young men, say welfare groups. They are a "psuedo pit bull" for those who want to look hard.

Cashing in

"They have become a status symbol among some youngsters and the type of person who gets one for that reason is not likely to be the most responsible owner," says Ali Evans, from Battersea Dogs and Cats Home.

Child friendly dogs... many wouldn't think soThe consequences for the breed are worrying, say animal charities. Selling them has now become a lucrative business among certain groups and people wanting to make some quick cash are intensively breeding them.
"Some people now consider them as a source of income and are breeding them in their back gardens," says Ms Evans.
A pure-breed puppy with documentation to prove its Kennel Club registration and a health certificate costs around £600, so there is a market for cheaper dogs. Many are cross-breeds but still look the part. And looks count as the dogs are also being used as a protection, say animal charities.
That's not to say that Staffies can't be aggressive and dangerous. They can. Like all dogs, there can be moments of aggression which, coupled with the Staffie's strength, can lead to serious injuries. There have been many reported cases of Staffies attacking children, but these days the dogs are often trained to be more hostile. Owners build up their strength, making them hang off sticks to increase the power of their jaws.
It all fuels the negative image the dogs have now acquired and makes them harder to home if they are dumped by owners.
Mistaken identity

Birmingham Dogs Home says pure-bred Staffies and their crosses make up at least 40% of all dogs that end up with them. They make up a third of all dogs handled by Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, which has branches in London, Berkshire and Kent.

Staffies are often mistaken for pit bulls, such as thisThe media also has a part to play in attitudes towards the breed.
"Sometimes if there's a dog attack, they'll use a photo of a Stafford in the paper before the true identity of the dog has been made," says Ms Brown.
The dogs are being villainised, say responsible owners. Lorien Hill is mum to a five-year-old, Lucas, and has a Staffie, one of three she has owned over the years.
"Billy looks all rough and tough on the outside, yet he's the most gentle dog ever and in touch with the emotions of those around him," she says.
"They call them nanny dogs and that's because they're like babysitters. When Lucas is in the garden, Billy sits near him just watching."
She agrees they are often just a status symbol. As a result people assume Staffies are aggressive and make assumptions about why she owns one.
"Someone at the school gate was sarcastic to me about my dog," she says. "They said 'good you didn't get an aggressive muscly dog then'. People just assume.
Villainised breeds
"I think things are changing and they're beginning to go out of fashion as the hard boy thing. That might be why there's so many in the shelters, because a lot of people are put off because they're seen as a chav dog."
Staffies are not the first breed of dogs to be villainised. German shepherds, dobermans and rottweilers have all suffered bad press.
"What they all have in common is they are big and strong," says the RSPCA's chief vet, Mark Evans. "A smaller dog could be just as aggressive but there is less chance of it being a life-threatening attack."
As a result it does not make the headlines, he adds.
""We need to educate people about how to care for Staffies and also the wider population to dispel some of the myths," says Mr Evans. "What a dog is like is not down to their breed it is down to their owner."
A selection of your comments appears below.
I recently encountered an owner of a Staffie who told me I should put my dog (a labrador) on a leash otherwise the Staffie would attack. Why should it be my responsibility to protect my dog from his? Surely if he knows his dog is potentially dangerous he should not have been walking it in public, let alone off the leash. Matt MacLeod, Radcliffe-on-Trent, Notts
As a professional woman, mother of a 12-month-old and the responsible owner of three pedigree Staffordshire Bull Terriers I have absolutely no desire to 'be hard'. I have Staffies because they are the most delightful company. To suggest an outright ban on this breed is ridiculous.Miriam, Staffordshire
I own a labrador puppy and the majority of Staffordshire bull terriers she comes into contact with go for her. If it wasn't for my intervention it would have been a bloodbath. This is the reason why they have such a bad reputation; how can you say that they are loyal loving animals?Sarah, West Midlands
Is it possible that your dogs started it? If they get attacked on a regular basis I'd suggest monitoring their behaviour, it could be that your dogs are eyeballing other dogs which is essentially an invitation to a fight but one which a lot of people don't pick up on and so the dog that reciprocates gets the blame. Jaime, Manchester, UK
Walking our Staffie-cross in the countryside, a man walking two labradors saw that our dog was a bull-breed and let his dogs off their leads. What was he trying to prove? The two labs came over and growled at our dog (on a lead) and a fight broke out. I was so scared as the two labs were biting my Connor's face so he had to bite one of them in the cheek. Because of his breed he got the blame and ever since certain people shout abuse at me in the street. They shout "Those dogs don't deserve to live". Kate, age 14, Gloucester
For all of those living in cities and sick of seeing snarling Staffs with an idiot on the other end of the lead, try getting out into more rural areas and you'll see what wonderful dogs these are when paired with responsible owners. They're eager to please their owners but some idiots take advantage of this by praising aggressive behaviour.John, Dartford, Kent
In my local park, many people walk their dogs off leads. It is not acceptable, my children have the right to safety. I also think it should also be brought into the school curriculum to teach children how to behave around animals, in closed and open spaces. I have owned many different breeds, as I love dogs. I would not want to own a strong powerful dog. Dogs like people can be unpredictable. Laws, strong regulations and big licence fees should be as standard in owning any dog.Anon
I work with young offenders who insist on getting these dogs in the hope of adding to their reputation and image. They are very often disappointed that the dog does not want to attack everything in sight and indeed would rather be played with and given lots of attention. Press reports attempt to induce some kind of moral panic. Michael McBride, Motherwell, Scotland
I'm just waiting to encounter a Staffie round here that isn't called Tyson... or Killer... Maybe unless you can think of a better name you should be banned from keeping one of these dogs?Sarah, Brixton, London
I really would prefer that reporters stop referring to us as a "nation of dog lovers". It is not only extremely likely that over 50% of the population has no interest in dogs, my experience tells me that it is also very likely that many people would be happy to never see a dog again. Rich, Hampshire
Our Staffordshire bull terrier was taken from the garden on Friday, 8 February in Knowsley, Merseyside. He is such a trusting dog that he went without so much as a bark with the four lads (in hoodies and on push bikes) that took him. He hasn't been neutered so we hope he's been taken for breeding... any other reason is just unthinkable. Leanne, Liverpool
I love Staffies! My sister has one and I want one too. Unfortunately my wife won't allow it as we have a two-year-old and a second on the way. I've told her their reputation is not the correct image to have but to no avail.Barry Murphy, Dunfermline
I've had people cross the road away from and my dog - which is very rude. On one occasion a lady picked up her little dog and carried it past me, because she thought my dog would be aggressive. Nothing would be further from the truth, he's as soft as jelly. Her dog, on the other hand, was a yappy Yorkshire terrier - with a bad case of the little-big-dog syndrom. The press never comment on their aggressive nature?Laura, Cardiff
We have two Staffies. The oldest is very large and often mistaken for a pit bull, but if you broke into our house you'd only be in danger of being licked to death.Sharon Partington, Birmingham, England
I do not agree that Staffies are not dangerous dogs. I have two Jack Russells and walk them twice a day. The only dogs which have attacked them without provocation or advance warning are Staffies. In our local park a Staffie has recently attacked children playing football, one of them so badly he needed stitches. Staffies may be good dogs at heart, but because of their strength if they are not trained properly they get out of control and then become dangerous. Soline Druffin, London
It's great to see Staffies getting some true press for a change. I have been the keeper of my Staffies for nine years now and they have proven to be highly affectionate towards people especially kids and very sociable with other animals. They are able to take an accidental knock with no fear of retaliation and they are really great characters. It's a shame this trait goes unrewarded for so many of them.Lee, Hampshire
Like most things in this world it comes down to intent. A screwdriver is a handy tool when you want it to be a tool... they can also be a vicious weapon when intended so. Staffies are naturally peaceful, watchful, intelligent and loving. One of the few dogs in the world that will sit there and have its ears tugged on by a child - and not react badly. A breed I look forward to having as part of my family again one day.Paul, Birmingham
I own two Staffordshire dogs and they are the most affectionate dogs I have ever owned. They prefer to sit on our laps and go to sleep than go out for a walk. The hoodie culture gives this breed a bad name.Jill Shurey, Welwyn Garden City, England
Thank you very much for this story. I don't own a Staffie myself but there are several people in my family who have one and they are all very friendly and loving dogs. Hopefully this story will help raise awareness of their true personality.John, Aberdeenshire, UK
These dogs should be banned full stop. They are like walking around with a loaded gun. My puppy was attacked by one recently, a five-month-old cocker. Did the Staffy just bite? No! It bit and clamped on and would not let go. I had my hands in the Staffie's mouth but could not release its jaws from my puppy's leg, even with all my might. My hands were obviously cut and I have a vet's bill for hundreds of pounds for repair to my dog's leg. They are dangerous. Even my vet is sick of treating other animals attacked by them. Who buys them? People who want to be hard. I don't need a dog for that...Stuart, Gloucester


Indomitably courageous
Highly intelligent
Affectionate, especially with children
Totally reliable


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I own a male Staffie, he is about 2years old, he is the most friendly and loving pet anybody could ask for.
I have watched him, with other dogs and with my nephew and he is so gentle. My nephew is more danger to him. We once caught my nephew pulling on my dogs tongue
and he just laid there.

They are loving dogs that just want love and attention.....

8:20 AM  
Blogger grunty said...

I own an 8yr old staffie male and he is totally soppy.
He has been involved in dog fights but most were started by the other dog, I wade in and pick him up, he then just lies in my arms while the other dog growls at him with the owner going mad!
My son has a scarred face from an attack by a collie, I was attacked by a Labrador when I was younger so all dogs are capable of attack.
I say bring back dog licences and make them dear!!

10:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

my dog died last week in result of a staffy being off the lead. The owner said 'the staffy was brought up aroud children and never attcked before' i new the owner as well and i belived him but these dogs are in fact aggressive his jaws locked on to my yorkies neck who was on a lead and killed her. I hit the dog, bit it, put my hands in his mouth to prize it open... could i open the mouth no!!!! in my local paper last week a 4year old girl died as a result of a staffi off the lead teh dog ripped her throat out her mum was power less.all dogs are unpredictable, these dogs kill when the jaw locks you cannot open them rottweilers, staffys, japnese akits should be licensed pets. People say yorkies are aggressive i think i would a yorkie attck me rather than a staffy... any day im sure that 4your old girl who dies would as well... as you have a bit more chance in getting a yorkie off. Until the day i see small breeds or labradors, colliers, cocker spaniels kill some one i may change my mind. The RSPCA is full of rottweilers and staffys as alot of them are unpredicatble cannot be homed with children over 13years old or with other pets what does that tell you???? it isnt about the dog being abused mistreated, my nans boxer dog was terrible mistreated he turned out ok. fACT is staffys ,rottweilers, japanese akitas and pittbulls are aggressive the owners will never admit this thats why people get killed please god let there be a ban on these evil dogs. To me are not pets.

3:01 PM  
Anonymous brody said...

BAN THESE DOG!!!! i hate them

3:15 PM  
Blogger lana said...

how about we ban u and your silly little dogs.i have a staffy and is all ways on a sick of those silly little dogs that think they can take my staffy on.they are so dumb so are the owners.the only evil dog around now are the little dumb one like sick of little dogs trying to bit me and my kids.i already kicked the fuck out of one dumb small dog that kept comin after time i will brake their little dumb little dog owneres listen up keep your sily dog at home cos my staffy will get it.

2:29 AM  

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