by   David Hancock

Some years ago, I went to the World Dog Show dual-based in Vienna and Budapest. In Vienna, there were many exotic breeds, little known in Britain but mostly of doubtful quality. The most impressive breed by far was the American Staffordshire Terrier (with no 'Bull' in the breed title), banned here by type if not proscribed by breed. With no sign of aggression, they were the fittest dogs on show, with quite admirable movement. At 18" high the breed is more an equivalent of our Bull Terrier, often also 18" high, than our Staffordshire Bull Terrier, 14-16" high. The American Staffordshire Terrier is recognised by and registered as a pedigree breed with the American Kennel Club, but sadly if understandably not by ours. It reminds me, as a type, of Lyndon Ingles's Bull Terriers, especially his outstanding dog 'Hinks', so like the Bull Terrier of, say, 1922. The AKC Breed Standard for the breed contains many valuable directions to breeders of this dog, unlike our KC's Breed Standard for our Bull Terrier, that has allowed and then condoned the disfigurement of that once-distinguished native breed.   

   The AKC's Breed Standard for the Amstaff very sensibly includes such phrases as these: "Head - medium length, deep through, broad skull, very pronounced cheek muscles, distinct stop; and ears are set high." Our KC's Breed Standard for the Bull Terrier describes the desired head for the breed with these words: "Head - Viewed from front egg-shaped and completely filled...Profile curves gently downwards from top of skull to tip of nose which should be black and bent downwards at tip..." Nature by itself and no function I can think of could come up with such requirements! Our show ring Bull Terriers waddle not walk around the ring; Amstaffs stride around the ring with obvious power and muscular ease. On movement alone, I could understand any patriotic English breeder wanting to develop a new English Bull Terrier breed impressive on the move and one displaying the natural head expected from a bull-and-terrier blended origin, rather like Pegg's dogs of 1899. Here in the UK, I am not surprised that three times as many Staffordshire Bull Terriers are registered each year than Bull Terriers, a huge change in just a century.

British terrier stock was very much involved in the origin of the American Staffordshire Terrier, a breed developed there and from the same root stock as the American Pit Bull Terrier. The American Staffordshire Terrier or Amstaff is now highly popular in continental Europe but is unlikely to be favoured here because of our entirely irrational decision through the discredited Dangerous Dogs Act to judge a dog’s behaviour on its physical construction. Amstaffs do look like Pit Bulls. I have seen them at half a dozen world dog shows from Helsinki, Budapest and Vienna to Brussels, Dortmund, Oporto and Lisbon. Two aspects of their appearance there stand out: firstly they were for me the best breed there for physical soundness and secondly every single one of them had a stable, equable, quite admirable temperament. Their conformation was a model for many breeds; the breed uniformity was remarkable – each one looked as though it had come from the same dam! They may well have been the best-bred dogs on display. They resembled our old Bull Terriers as depicted by 19th century artists; they represent the unexaggerated, eminently sound, canine athleticism, as desired by our ancestors in their vermin-controlling terriers. Their blood would improve our waddling egg-headed Bull Terriers and provide good breeding material for those seeking bull-lurchers. For such admirable dogs to be denied to dog men here by ill-founded, blindly-implemented, poorly-drafted legislation is lamentable.

The Amstaff resembles some of the so-called 'Irish Staffies' that I see at casual dog shows run by those who rate a dog more than its pedigree. They are often taller, lighter and more symmetrical than show-ring Staffies - with far, far better movement. Sadly a few have been seized by ignorant police 'experts' who make the ludicrous claim of being able not only to identify a breed's type through the use of a tape-measure but also its temperament. The ill-conceived Dangerous Dogs Act is already failing both our dogs and the public; it is depressing that British policemen, once famed for their good sense, can strive mightily to make thoroughly bad legislation even worse. Such fear of seizure is inhibiting the breeding of an improved Bull Terrier and Staffordshire Bull Terrier; these two English breeds have been degraded by show ring breeders, more likely to pursue a temporary fad than perpetuate their breed for true type and soundness. In time our precious Bull Terrier will feature a spherical head and piggy eyes and our admirable Staffie will display tiny, weak feet, muscle-bound movement and an exaggerated 'spread' in the brisket. An urgent injection of outside blood is called for; the blood of a consistently high quality sister-breed is urgently needed. That breed for me is the American Staffordshire Terrier.