A modern history of the SBT

Although in the context of Kennel Club recognition the Staffordshire Bull Terrier is a relatively ‘new breed’, on the basis of the many drawings available, a Stafford-like animal existed at the turn of the 19th Century. A classic example is “Crib and Rosa”, a painting by Abraham Cooper, circa 1816. For almost seventy years “Rosa” was taken as the model bulldog, but the modern bulldog bears little resemblance to her.

Allowing for a slight prejudice, the only modern dog of this type is the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. An engraving of “Crib and Rosa” by Scott bears the caption – “Engraved by John Scott. Published in 1817”. “Rosa” was by the Honourable Berkeley-Cravens “Old Bowler” out of Bowlems tulip-eared bitch, by Paddington Jones’ “Hoppy” out of the famous Staffordshire bitch. “Crib” was got by Mrs Halls “Nimble” out of “Rosa”. It is not suggested That the ‘famous Staffordshire bitch’ was a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, but it could be concluded that animals of that type, existed in that county before 1816. Her fame probably arose from her prowess in the bullring.

Bull baiting was abolished by law in 1835 and coincidentally the Staffordshire Bull Terrier was officially recognised in 1935.

What happened during those one hundred years in the wilderness? Prior to the abolition, the professional bull-baiters, or ‘hunkers’ as they were called, took their teams of bull-dogs around the countryside. After abolition their livelihood was in jeopardy and it is thought that they then turned their attention to dog-fighting. They had teams of battle-hardened dogs whose bravery was unquestionable. When it came to using them for dogfighting their immediate problem was the dogs instinct of biting and holding, which while essential in the bull-ring failed to provide a spectacle in the ‘pit’.

A popular view held is that Terrier blood was introduced to provide faster animals, but this seems inconclusive, as the bull-baiting dog gambled its life on the speed of seizing such a small target as a moving nose which was protected by fearsome horns. This doubt, cast upon a bull-bating bulldogs speed is influenced by the conformation of the modern bulldog, although it has to be said that the modern bulldog can move considerably faster than his appearance would suggest.

If it was unnecessary to improve the speed of the bull-baiting bulldog, improvement had to be made in the direction of reducing its instinct to bite and hold. This was achieved by a reduction of jaw strength, which could have been helped by the introduction of ‘foreign’ blood e.g. the Terrier. It could also have been accomplished by selective breeding. Previously, dogs with strong underjaws were selected for the team, a practice which might well have been reversed. There would have been a reluctance to endanger the essentials of courage and tenacity, and an incentive to preserve these traits by the minimal use of ‘outside’ blood.

There exist, copies of dog-fighting rules which are as comprehensive as the Marquis of Queensbury rules on boxing. These show that dog-fights became well organised events, but more importantly, a study of them shows that they placed the emphasis on courage, tenacity and endurance. Under these rules, no dog was allowed to be encouraged to fight and by the same token he could choose to stop fighting whenever he wanted.

While the money depended on owning a winning dog, it was also necessary to provide a spectacle to attract an audience. Dog-fighting was a ‘blood’ sport and blood had to be provided. On the evidence of the modern day bulldog, the bull-baiting dog probably had small teeth which, while capable of hanging on, were not as efficient as large teeth at drawing blood from an opponent, so ‘foreign’ blood may have been a useful adjunct to selective breeding.

As a ‘blood’ sport, in dog-fighting ‘blood’ had to be seen, which is why so many of the dogs engaged in this practice carried a lot of white. Not only was it necessary to draw blood, but it was just as necessary for the spectators to see the blood which had been drawn. Dogs with weaker jaws would be more likely to change their grip for a better one and thus more action would follow. Dogs with larger teeth would draw more blood. Dogs with white coats would better display their wounds.

However, even today a Stafford will do more damage to subcutaenneous tissue than to the hide. Relatively unmarked dogs have been unable to move the next day through deep capillary bleeding. The author was reminded of a brief skirmish between a Staffordshire and a German Pointer, and although the dogs were quickly parted and checked for damage (which there was apparently little or none), they were not surprised to learn that the Pointer was unable to put his foot on the ground next morning.

When eventually dog-fighting was outlawed, the bull-baiting, dog-fighting dogs continued to exist in pockets mainly in the Black Country, where bull-baiting was continued for some years after it was prohibited, as no doubt did dog-fighting, when that in turn was made illegal. They had never been members of large kennels and their transition to ‘house’ dogs was a natural progression. Staffords came in all shapes and sizes, the one constant being their mental make-up. Affection for his friends and children in particular, his off-duty quietness and trustworthy stability, made him the foremost all-purpose dog, which enabled him to become an acceptable member of the family. As a nursemaid to the children, while providing a little sport for the master by way of a little ratting or badger-baiting, with his workmanlike appearance to discourage intruders. These were some of the characteristic traits that made a contribution to his meteoric rise in popularity.

Unhappily to the authors mind, the Kennel Club has dropped this ‘characteristics’ clause from the 1987 Breed Standard. This seemed ill-advised at a time when they are discouraging mental defects in dogs generally.

Kennel Club recognition of the breed is shrouded in mystery. Recognition was announced in the April 1935 Kennel Gazette in the name of Staffordshire Bull Terrier. There was no explanation as to how this came about. No Breed Club or Breed Standard existed.

One possible explanation suggests itself. At that time ‘Bull Terriers’ could be registered ‘Sire, Dam and date of birth unknown’, so in effect any dog could be registered as a ‘Bull Terrier’. In consequence, many of the dogs registered were found to be, what became known as Staffordshire Bull Terriers. Thoseof you fortunate enough to possess pre-war Kennel Gazettes can see Sir Richard Glyns coloured Bull Terriers, andwill note their distinct similarity with Staffordshire Bull Terriers. The fact that ‘downface’ in Bull Terriers did not exist at that time addedto the similarity.

The Bull Terrier fancy has always had strong representation in the Kennel Club. Its first secretary, Mr.Shirley was a prominent fancier of the lightweight Bull Terrier, and at the time of the Staffordshire Bull Terrier recognition, there was Sir Richard Glyn. Possibly this accounts for the recognition of the Stafford in somewhat unseemly haste, to prevent purchasers of Bull Terriers ending up with Staffordshire Bull Terriers.

In early June, following recognition in April 1935, the Kennel Club gave permission for Staffords to be included in the classification of the Hatfield Show. This excellent start was marred however, when the Best in Breed Stafford bit the ear off a Scottie that was passing its bench. Jimmy Pye, the Show manager, who was at that time something of an impressario in the Dog Show world, managing all sorts of shows, barred Staffords from being classified at any show run by him. It was a penalty that extended for over ten years.

At the Hatfield Show, Mr.Sam Crabtree judged the Staffords and did a very good job, in spite of the fact that at the time no breed standard existed. No doubt, the fact that he and his family had been Bulldog fanciers for many years, helped in his decision, which were very much in line with the subsequent Breed Standard and his critique would serve as a model today.

Later that month, June 1935, a club was formed and a Breed Standard drawn up under the title of ‘A Description of the Staffordshire Bull Terrier’. This document was adopted on the 15th June 1935.

Norseman’s Critique of the Article…

“It’s true to say that the dog ‘Rosa’ shown in the painting bears more than a passing resemblance to some modern Staffords. People should not be surprised at this, because despite many writings to the contrary, there exists no evidence that a cross was ever made to Terriers to create our breed. It may at first seem madness to suggest such a thing, but when examined in depth, Stafford history shows the events and reasons generally given to be nothing more than assumptions and guesswork. Indeed, it becomes clear that the breed we call the Staffordshire Bull Terrier received a name first, and then the history was created.

Baiting sports were indeed outlawed in 1835, but to suggest that our breed was in the ‘wilderness’ until Kennel Club recognition is wrong. The baiting dogs of the time were still kept and admired by those who valued them for their gameness, often using them as outcrosses to other breeds to improve the qualities of these other dogs. These owners were more interested in whether the dog could undertake his task, rather than how he looked. Baiting continued to be participated in well into the late 1800’s. However, as it was illegal, large crowds were not encouraged. It was far easier to hold clandestine dog-fights rather than events with larger animals, and these matches would be held inside, often in pubs. In these areas the spectators would have been much closer to the action, and trying to contain an excited 50lb dog would have been difficult. Smaller examples would have been easier to handle and these smaller dogs began to become popular.

Further evidence that baiting continued, is to be found in an 1889 book on the bulldog by Fulton. In it, he writes from memory of a bull-baiting that took place in Greenwich. He describes how Bull-dogs, very different from the ones exhibited at the time, were run at the Bull. One has only to examine old paintings and prints that depicted baiting, etc. They clearly show the dogs that Fulton is describing; very different to Bulldogs but identical to Staffords. Of course these dogs were named according to their main function at the time, Bull dogs. Not all dogs of this type were run at the bull, the pastime cost money and the poorer classes tested their dogs against other dogs.

The qualities that the baiting dogs possessed were ideally suited to all forms of combat and in particular dog-fighting. The ‘official’ history suggests that this was not so, as the the dog held too much and drew too little blood. This is a fallacy which history compounds further by explaining dog-fighting rules. The sole aim of dog matching is to find the most game dog, however, this is not always the winning dog. The dog who is most game, is the one which will continue to fight regardless of the punishment that he receives. It cannot be sensible to claim therefore that the old time dogmen bred their dogs to ‘let go’ more and have less instinct to hold, as Cairns suggested. It is the tenacious dog who keeps his hold that shows his willingness to fight, whereas the dog that does not keep its hold would appear to be unwilling to continue, and wants to give up the fight. What’s more, once the dogs were fighting the aim would be to bite hard and thus injure or incapacitate the opponent. With this in mind, it does not seem credible to suggest that jaw strength was reduced and thus makes this less probable. It would be akin to Mike Tyson working on his fighting style, to enable him to punch lighter.

What is more, the dog fighting rules mentioned explain that dogs ‘out-of-hold’ can be counted out. With that in mind, would dogs be crossed with Terriers to ‘let go’ more.

The Stafford, with the exception of perhaps the American Pit Bull Terrier, has the strongest jaw of any dog, coupled with an instinct to hold on. It is obvious that the argument given for reducing jaw strength is perhaps the clearest example, of how the idea of a Terrier cross is being woven into the baiting dogs history, with little or no evidence to support it.

The article then goes on to extol the virtues of owning a white-coated dog, claiming that the blood showed more clearly on its coat, thereby providing more visible blood and attracting more spectators; yet more inaccurate information. It seems to have been forgotten that the pastime was illegal. The reason that whites predominated amongst baiting dogs was due to the fact that they were descended from the ‘Alunt’, a white-coated mastiff type dog, brought to Europe by tribes from Asia, and used as guards, hunters and sporting dogs. Boxers also originate from the Alunt and a glimpse at photographs of old Boxer (or ‘Bullenbeiser’) Shows reveal a majority of the dogs to be completely white. White still occurs in Boxer litters despite the attempts of exhibition breeders to eradicate the colour.

Let it not be forgotten the ‘official’ history explains that the bull-baiting dog had small teeth to help him hold on to the bull, but which were no good in drawing blood. The Terrier blood was then introduced to lengthen the teeth (weaken the jaw and reduce the holding instinct). Can it really be, that smaller teeth were more efficient at holding flesh than long ones? Of course not! The American Bulldog is quite capable of holding a wild boar during the hunt with ‘normal’ sized teeth, as is the Dogo Argenteno. It is assumed that because the modern Bulldog has small teeth, the old baiting dogs must have had them too. This is forgetting of course that the modern-day Bulldog has been crossed with all manner of dogs, including the Pug, to obtain the ultra-short face; not a characteristic of the early baiting dogs.

To sum up, the Bulldog that we know today bears no resemblance to the baiting and fighting dog of the 1800’s, whereas the Stafford is identical. Early fanciers of the Bulldog such as Farnham and Fulton acknowledge that the Bulldog, with its ultra-short muzzle, was a show development. The excuse given for the muzzle, was that the dog needed the nose turned up in order to breathe with a hold on the Bull. The wrinkles that cause so much discomfort, were required to drain the blood from the dogs eyes. Strange, when we’ve been told that; a: the Bulldogs short teeth drew very little blood, hence the Terrier cross, and once he took hold he never let go, so what did he need to look at…and b: other dogs that hunt by biting and holding do not possess ultra-short muzzles, or turned up noses. The Stafford, as previously mentioned has no problem with biting or holding. It seems as though a story has been created to explain a deformity.

Thus, I believe that the Staffordshire Bull Terrier is the original baiting dog, with no crosses. The ‘official’ history has been created to fit the nameand not the facts. A name considered because the Bull Terrier, touted as the gladiator of the canine race, had already been Kennel Club registered. This dog had hard evidence of Terrier cross and was registered by its creator James Hinks. This dog was widely admired for its alleged gladatorial prowess; what a shame when it was everything the Stafford was, and the Bull Terrier was not

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