I was talking to a friend of mine recently about the Pit Bull Terrier and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier and why there is such difference between the two today. This is always an interesting subject and one that has been talked about many times over the years by different dogmen. I was asked my opinion on the matter and thought I would share with everyone some of the points that I raised during our conversation.
The early fighting dogs of Britain and Ireland were used in a variety of sporting activities, from ratting to field work to baiting sports. They were a sporting dog in every sense of the word, they were willing to have a go at everything and anything that their owner put in front of them. Up and down the UK and Ireland every region had their own local fighting strain known locally by a local name. These dogs were mainly owned by the lower classes who cherished the gameness and drive of these dogs which helped their owners make a few extra pennies at their local pub in some sporting activity.
Whether you believe that the early fighting dogs were the original bulldog or the result of a bull and terrier cross there is no denying the admiration that dog fanciers had for these dogs. It’s well documented the variety of sports that they were used in and the variety of wild animals that they were pitted against. There are many old tales of these dogs facing lions, bears, bulls, badgers and even monkeys.
Today, both the Pit Bull Terrier and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier can make great pets and very good sporting dogs that thrive in sports like lure racing, weigh pulling and other similar activities, despite what the followers of the “hate bull breeds” band wagon continually say they can be very loving and stable dogs.
There is no denying that the Staffordshire Bull Terrier and the Pit Bull Terrier are miles apart today despite both breeds descending from the same root stock. The Staffordshire Bull Terrier descends from the many local fighting dogs that existed in the UK prior to the 1930’s when the Staff was officially registered by the KC, whilst the Pit Bull Terrier descends from the Irish and British dogs taken to America by immigrating dog-men from Ireland and Britain in the mid 1800’s. The Pit Bull Terrier remained a working dog whilst the Staff became a show dog. It’s no surprise to see what’s happened with the Staff, as all you have to do is look at the show version of the Pit Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier to see what happens to breeds when the KC gets involved with them and the breeding of a dog becomes based around matching a unrealistic standard.
Once the British and Irish dogs were in America, they were mainly bred for the pit as that was the main sport that dog men in the USA bred for up until the 1970’s when it was outlawed. Whilst the Staff and the dogs prior to It in the UK and Ireland were always bred as a sporting dog capable of doing a bit of everything. It was common for the Staff to be used in field work and this was done right up until the mid 1960’s in Ireland during the Irish trials which were ran by the Irish KC. There are a number of factors which I think have contributed to the Staffordshire Bull Terrier becoming a shadow of its former self and the Pit Bull Terrier go from strength to strength.
The first thing I always believe that a dog bred solely for one purpose will eventually become a much better dog than any other breed in that activity. Whilst a dog that is bred and used in a variety of activities may very well compete with the best of them, it will never be in the same league as a master of its sole trade. The fightings dogs in the UK and Ireland were always worked in a variety of arenas.
The second point is the fact that the Staffordshire Bull Terrier despite descending from working dogs, it become a show dog, there is no getting around that fact. Over the years there has been many great Staffs that were able to compete with the very best but these were the minority and not the majority. I could probably count in one hand the amount of Staff lines in the last 50-60 years that have produced some good working examples. I think from the get go the Staff was doomed to fail with it becoming a registered breed, show people getting involved and breeders breeding dogs for looks to match a show standard. The Staff standard has been changed a few times over the years and it’s always to the detriment of the breed, one of the biggest changes has been the maximum height being reduced to 16 inches tts. The changes may seem minor to many fanciers but over time they slowly begin to effect the over all balance of the dog and the dog loses a lot of the key attributes it had that made them such a good working dog.
The third point is that the Pit Bull Terrier was always kept as a working dog by working dog men. There was never any restrictions imposed on breeders or the dogs. Dogmen bred best worker to best worker. There was no restrictions on coat colour, nose colour or height. Their whole breeding principle was in creating a formidable working canine athlete, capable of carrying out the task at hand and not for looks to match a silly show standard. The Pit Bull Terrier, like the Greyhound, were created by mankind and have evolved into fine canine specimens of evolution being pushed to the limit as only the very best have been bred from for many years.
There are of course other factors which have played a role in getting both breeds to where they are today but in my opinion, the above points are some of the key factors that have made all the difference between these two great breeds. I think going forward the difference will only get even bigger as now we are seeing this modern craze of show breeders breeding for exaggerations and coat colours and there is an ever increase of blue Staff breedings happening. I do think that the true Staff men will eventually have to bite the bullet and look at an outcross somewhere along the line, in order to bring back some much needed working blood to the ever dying working Staff lines.