Patrick is an enthusiastic keeper of Staffordshire Bull Terriers, or “Staffies” as they’re commonly known. His first was a gentle female dog called Vixen: he bought her from a breeder back in 1987. When she passed away at the age of thirteen, he bought a new puppy, Oscar, and that was over twelve years ago.
Of all breeds, Staffies suffer from the most dramatic divide between their public image and the reality of individual dogs. Vixen and Oscar have both been the most placid, good-natured dogs that you could imagine, yet when people see a Staffie out on a walk, they will even cross the road to avoid being close to them.
The main problem is that Staffies are a “bull terrier” type of breed. They have short, stocky, bowed legs, a muscular barrel-type chest, and a stubby muzzle with powerful jaws. To the uninitiated, they resemble other breeds like American Pit Bull Terriers, bred specifically for dog fighting. The name “Staffie cross” is often incorrectly used to get around legislation in other jurisdictions (such as the UK) where these bigger, more aggressive breeds are banned. In Ireland, Staffies are included on the list of restricted breeds that includes Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, Rhodesian Ridgebacks and Dobermans. This means that they are subjected to extra rules when in public: they need to be securely muzzled and kept on a short leash under the control of somebody over the age of sixteen.
The reputation of the breed is made worse by the fact that from time to time, individual Staffies have badly bitten people, including children, and these horrific episodes are widely reported in the media. Furthermore, bull terrier types have become popular “accessories” in certain social situations: the stereotype is a tough, tattooed young man stalking public areas with his dog in an intimidating manner.
The reality of a typical Staffie is far removed from this image. Oscar is a good example: he is never aggressive to people, nor to other dogs. If he sees another dog, he will try to keep out of its way. If he is attacked by another animal, he will stand his ground, but only in a defensive way.
At home, Oscar is adored by Patrick’s grandchildren. He’s often surrounded by young children, and he has never reacted in any type of negative way. He’s happy to be petted by them, and when he’s had enough, he takes himself away to get some peace in his own basket. Many years ago, the Staffie breed was known as the “Nanny Dog” because of their gentle nature and their tolerance of children. It’s important to note that nobody should ever allow any dog to be left on their own, unsupervised, with a child. Children can be unpredictable with dogs, and dogs can react in unexpected ways, so adults should never be more than a step away from all child/dog interactions.
Dog behaviour is partly inherited, but the biggest influence is the way that the owner teaches the animal. Patrick has firm boundaries for Oscar: the dog has been trained to be calm and obedient over many years of consistent life together. If anyone is considering getting any type of dog, they need to be sure that they can commit time and dedication to their animal. Any dog can become “difficult” if their owner allows this to happen.
Oscar is just beginning to show signs of old age: he has a heart murmur which causes him to cough after strenuous exercise or if he gets excited. But he still loves his walks, and enjoys chasing his favourite ball. And of course, he still enjoys spending time with those adored grandchildren.
- Staffies are a sadly misunderstood breed
- Most individual Staffies are gentle, good-natured dogs
- Any dog breed can be aggressive: it’s up to owners to train their own pets correctly