Staffordshire bull terriers were named the top breed out of 100 on Britain’s Top Dog 2019. After the two and a half hour countdown on ITV, Ben Fogle and Sara Cox announced the country’s new favourite breed had taken the top spot from Labradors, who moved down to third place.
Nobody needs to tell me Staffies are the best, I have one – so I already know this. However, for a breed that is often, wrongly, stereotyped as ‘aggressive’ and ‘dangerous,’ this is a huge step in the right direction.
But, does this mean people are changing their opinions and seeing them for the loving breed that they really are?
I’m, of course, biased but I believe Staffie owners to be the most passionate about their breed. This is, in part, because we must stand up for them against the unfair reputation that precedes them. From my experience, others don’t tend to sit on the fence. Opinions are passionately for or against them
While many are quick to gush over my dog, some aren’t. People have turned their nose up on simply hearing her breed, minders have refused to take her based purely on their reputation, we have been told that she should wear a muzzle because of how she looks and that laughably, we don’t look like Staffie owners. The latter is a big part of the problem – her breed can be seen as a macho accessory, not the wonderful family pet that they truly are.
As expected, responses to the outcome were mixed and of course, negative stereotypes were regurgitated – no doubt primarily by those who know no more about the breed than what they read in the media that, more often than not, fuels this.
Writing in the Daily Mail, Jan Moir, referred to the winning breed as ‘canine thugs.’ While one Twitter user said: “If they aren’t naturally more aggressive than other dogs why then do you see gang members having staffies as their preferred dog of choice. Not seen many gang guys with chihuahuas on the end of a lead.”
— Battersea (@Battersea_) January 29, 2019
This is exactly the reasons Staffies have the reputation they do – irresponsible owners. Yes, they are powerful but in the right hands, that raise them in the right way, this isn’t ever a cause for concern. However, they are also loyal and eager to please, it’s these brilliant traits that, when coupled together with the wrong hands, can have devastating results, particularly for the dogs themselves.
Even the words used to describe the top ten were wholly positive, bar the best breed which still included the line ‘they will fight if challenged. Their aggressive side only comes out if encouraged by their owner.’ In these few words, would the fact that they can actually be incredibly gentle and were described by the Kennel Club as a Nanny Dog, not have been a fairer description? This type of language is what makes it so hard to rid these dogs of the unfair prejudices against them.
To counteract this, however, Battersea run a ‘Softer Than You Think’ campaign while the Blue Cross, that say, on average, it takes 23% longer to find a home for Staffies, are appealing for potential owners to ‘see past their looks to their winning personality’ by photographing their faces in cardboard cutouts of other breeds.
Sadly, they are still the breed most likely to be abused or end up in a rescue centre. In 2017, the RSPCA’s 17 nationally-run animal centres took in 5,208 dogs 10.5% of which were Staffies or Staffie crosses.
An RSPCA spokesperson said: “Staffies have suffered a great deal from overbreeding and bad press recently and many end up in our care due to irresponsible ownership. We currently have 67 Staffordshire bull terriers in our kennels who are waiting for new homes. However, given the right home and care, Staffies can make absolutely wonderful family pets. Many of the Staffies in our care are loving, playful, fun-loving dogs who would thrive in family homes.”
Unfortunately, I think we still have some way to go to alter perceptions and rid them of their harmful stereotypes entirely. However, as the RSPCA so rightly said: ” We hope that this will be the start of a change in attitude towards these super pooches.”
They might not be able to remind their critics that they are officially the best breed, but I can guarantee their owners will be quick to.