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Get to Know the Staffordshire Bull Terrier: The Dog With an Identity Crisis

Some people think the Staffordshire Bull Terrier is the same as a Pit Bull, but he's really not.

Caroline Coile  |  Aug 3rd 2015


Killer or baby sitter? Pit Bull or nanny dog? The Staffordshire Bull Terrier is a dog with an identity crisis. The truth is, he’s legally considered a Pit Bull by many governments, and as such is banned in some places. But he was also such a valued babysitter that he is still known as the Nanny Dog. What’s up?

Read more interesting things about Staffordshire Bull Terriers

  • Some people think the Staffordshire Bull Terrier (Staffy Bull to his friends) is the same as a Pit Bull, but not really. For one thing, it’s the AKC American Staffordshire Terrier that can be cross-registered as the UKC American Pit Bull Terrier; and neither appreciates the generic “Pit Bull” designation. But it is true they share their histories up until recent times.
  • The ancient Romans developed dogs to bait bulls, bears, and other wild animals for entertainment. These dogs’ descendants were later used to control cattle for butchers. Butchers held contests to see who had the best bull dogs, and the contests evolved into cruel bull-baiting events that often lasted for hours. The latter wasn’t just for entertainment, but because of a belief that the meat tasted better if the bull was tormented before being butchered. Fortunately, bull baiting was outlawed in England around 1835.
  • Even though bull baiting was outlawed, that just meant that less public blood sports, like dog fighting, became more popular. Dog fighting was also banned, but it was easy to conceal and nobody really enforced the ban, so it surged in popularity. Compared to bull baiting, dog fighting favored a smaller, more agile dog, and the bull dogs were crossed with terriers to create the Bull and Terrier. These dogs were especially “game,” a trait valued in the breed and defined as the desire to never quit despite physical pain or impossible odds.
  • With the ban on blood sports, some breeders set about redefining the breed as a companion and show dog. They convinced The Kennel Club in England to recognize the Staffordshire Bull Terrier as a pure breed in 1935. The AKC only did so in 1975.
  • Meanwhile, immigrants to America brought their fighting dogs, and they developed a breed they called the American (Pit) Bull Terrier, which was AKC recognized in 1936. For many years, imported Staffordshire Bull Terriers were considered to be the same breed, but by 1975 the gulf between types was so wide that everyone agreed to split them into separate breeds. The Staffy Bull is much shorter and wider than the American Staffordshire Bull Terrier.
  • The Staffy Bull is nicknamed the “Nanny Dog” in England because it is trusted as a child’s nursemaid.
  • The Staffordshire Bull Terrier is the 11th most popular breed in Great Britain.
  • The Staffordshire Bull Terrier is the 77th most popular AKC breed. It is a member of the Terrier group.
  • The Staffordshire Bull Terrier has competed at the Westminster dog show since 1976, but since then has placed in the group there only twice, most recently in 2007.
  • The 1880s book “Jock of the Bushveld” featured a Staffy Bull.
  • Owners include Steve Irwin, Vin Diesel and Ray Romano.

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Read recent stories by Caroline Coile:

About the author: Caroline Coile is the author of 34 dog books, including the top-selling Barron’s Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. She has written for various publications and is currently a columnist for AKC Family Dog. She shares her home with three naughty Salukis and one Jack Russell Terrier.