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Last April (2008) one of Donna's mates rang up to say his dog had been killed in accident with a car (thankfully it was instant and she didn't suffer) and that he was looking at getting another dog which was preferably a rescue dog. Anyway Donna, being the kind and helpful soul she is, spent the next few days running him around to find him a dog, and in the process decided she wanted a dog as well. I'd mentioned it to her a few months before, but I was instantly over-ruled due to fact that we have two cats as well as rats and a hamster to look after as well as the fact that I'm wary of dogs. I used to be petrified of dogs and have been known to take massive detours to avoid them, but due to spending time in households where there were dogs I'd started to get over it. Anyway, Donna mentioned it to me and I said we could sleep on it and then if she still wanted to get one we could. The only problem I had was that she wanted a rescue dog. As I put it, an accident waiting to happen.
A few days later, and after a bit of searching we found our hound. He was 11 months old, called Buster and the only thing that was known about him was that he'd been handed in for being a natural chewer. He'd apparently destroyed some cuddly toys that belonged to the children at his former home, but what worried me even more was that he was a Staffy/Spitzer cross. We went to have a look at him and he looked like a proper Staffy apart from being slightly taller, and having more angular features. Oh, and this incredibly silly looking curly tail. Donna, being a natural animal person was straight into his cage and fussing him, while I walked in quite cautiously. I'd love to say there was an instant bond between us, but there wasn't. He was more interested in Donna than me, but he seemed pleasant enough and after a quick chat to make sure we could bring him back within 7 days if there were issues with ourselves or the cats, we agreed to take him. It was a huge gamble because we didn't know what he was like with cats, children or indeed other people, but Donna has a natural gift for sensing what animals are like and when she said he was the one for us I trusted it.
Staffies are not dogs for first time owners, even if you get one as a puppy. They can be very stubborn and boisterous at times, and they also have a seemingly endless supply of energy. A well adjusted Staffy will see the world as a playground and want to play with anyone or anything they come across and this can cause problems, especially if they're left alone during the day. They're also natural chewers and mouthers which is were the problem comes in. If they get bored or anxious they'll chew. If they get excited they'll chew. In fact they'll spend vast amounts of time chewing anything from dog chews to their toys, and in our case our £3000 leather sofa and he's even had a pop at our bed's footboard. The amount of exercise they need is phenomenal and if you want a lapdog or live in a flat or house with no garden DO NOT get a Staffy. They need a good run every day so expect to be taking a trip to the park whatever the weather, and they also require about two hours of play broken up into 10 to 15 minutes chunks throughout the day. They're energetic and it's when they don't get this stimulation that they become destructive. It's not intended, but they need to get rid of the energy somehow.
When we got him home we had the interesting and unenviable job of introducing him to the cats and seeing what he was like with them. His initial response was to chase the cats, but we kind of understood this. It was a new house and he didn't know we had cats, but a quick tap on his nose and he got the idea. Feebs, our Turkish Van, wasn't an issue because she'll quite happily stand her ground and can be pretty fearless, but the main problem was Sambee who is a jet black Norwegian forest cat. Sam has primary retinal disease which means he's almost blind and when you combine this with the speed at which the dog can move, we knew there would be problems. For the first week or so there were a few interesting moments, including a few where I had to step in and apply taps to the nose when it was getting out of hand, but eventually it settled down and they tended to avoid each other as opposed to anything else.
Staffies need to be properly socialised. If you know anyone with children,
other dogs and even cats (yes, I said cats) ask them can you take them around to be introduced. The reason for this is simple. If you keep a dog in isolation with just your family and him they become wary of anyone or anything else that isn't part of their 'pack'. As most dogs are pack orientated this causes problems with agression if someone new appears and they feel they need to defend their pack. Socialising them with other dogs helps them realise that other dogs are not to be feared, but are new 'playmates' (one of our neighbours dogs has a habit of just walking in if we leave the front door open while bringing in shopping and not once has there been a scene between them). A well socialised dog will quickly learn it's place in the pack too, which makes them easier to train.
All seemed to be going well apart from the fact that Buster seemed to ignore us when we called him. We wondered whether this was because Buster wasn't his real name and possibly one given to him by the rescue place so we started calling names out and seeing which got a response. Most of them involved him looking at us like we were mad, but the minute I said Taz his ears went up and he was jumping all over us. Either his name was Taz or he just liked the sound of it. From then on he was known as Taz, or rather Tazmania as he's known on his insurance papers on account of his chewing.
The next issue was an important one. After about two weeks, and once he'd realised he was now part of the pack, we had a dominance struggle. He bared his teeth at me once when I told him to move out of my way, and then did the same to Donna a few days later and went to snap at her. As we have frequent contact with children (although he's never done this with kids including my 3 year old niece or 7 year old nephew) we said that if it happened a third time then he'd have to go back. It happened a few days later and Donna immediately rang the rescue place, who said they were now full and gave us the number of someone who may have been able to take him. We called the lady and her response was that she'd be willing to pay to have him euthanised as he was a danger! At no point was dominance raised by anyone and even Donna, and all she knows about animals, didn't even contemplate it because she's had all her dogs from pups. Even though I was wary of dogs, thats not to say I won't stick up for myself with them and after spending an evening reading up on it, I gave him a stay of execution (or rather eviction as it would have been). I waited for the fourth time.
Staffies, like all dogs, will try and become dominant at some point. It's the way packs work. When this happens you need to be able to nip it in the bud. As to the severity of it? That depends on the individual dog, but you need to be able to distinguish a play for dominance with an actual aggressive attack. A display of asserting dominance will be growling and maybe baring teeth or possibly snapping at you, but no actual aggression as such - it's intended to get you to back down and thus allows the dog to assert it's authority. You'll know agression because the dog will actually try and bite you properly. There are differing ways to make a dog realise that you're the alpha. Some dogs will back down by you simply standing your ground, others require a more physical approach. By physical I don't mean beating the dog, or 'breaking' as it's sometimes called, but grabbing it by it's scruff and smacking it's nose a few times. The way to do this is to make yourself as large and imposing, and as loud as you actually can be. Make sure the dog is positioned so it can't attack you if it decides to get nasty, and just bring the tips of your fingers down straight onto it's muzzle with enough force to let it know it's in the wrong, but not enough force to actually hurt it. It's a fine balance. I know I'll probably get flamed for this, and I really hated doing it, but it worked. After that, make them lay in their basket for an hour or so before patching it up with them. Making friends with them is important as it restores the bond and they know then that they're not being 'ejected' from the pack. Also, it's worth noting that dominance issues are not one offs, but they happen occasionally (although infrequently) if the dog sees the dynamic of the 'pack' changing. If it happens frequently then you may need to think about whether you've got the right dog for you.
Taz is quite intelligent, and actually enjoys learning tricks, which he can do with lightning speed. We've taught him to 'sing' (although I can't see him being signed up to any record labels or winning X Factor in the near future), he knows all the names of his toys, can go to other people in the house at command and, unusually, we've even trained him to wait when we've put his food down. We can even leave the room and he'll just sit patiently and wait.
Staffies, as I've mentioned, are very 'pack' orientated and eager to please. They also have 'human' expressions and one of the cutest is curiosity. They're intelligent and training them is quite easy. If they do well reward them, if they don't then simply don't fuss them and they'll cotton on quick. Never treat it as training, but more as a game. If they don't get the hang of something then don't chastise them as this will actually give them an aversion to it as opposed to encourage them to learn. You also need to accept that there are some things that even the most well trained dogs hate. Taz hates hoovers and showers, but thats just him. No amount of training has managed to get him over this and it's just one of those things. Treat training as a game and even if you get frustrated at times, see it through. It reaps dividends in the long run.
Taz can sometimes be confusing. Occasionally I'll be petting him and he'll put his mouth around my hand. This isn't biting, but 'mouthing'. A lot of Staffies do it, and it's perfectly normal. It's a comfort thing and their equivalent of holding your hand. Sometimes he'll do it to move my hand to where he wants to be stroked, and other times he'll just lay there with my hand in his mouth. He can also do it while playing. It's not agressive, but simply something he does. Yes, when he's playing it's a little bit harder than normal, but it doesn't hurt.
Staffies, as well as chewing, tend to 'mouth' a lot. Some people don't mind, while others hate it. It's important to realise that they're not trying to bite you or chew your hand. If they were going to bite you then you would seriously know about it, because they have very powerful jaw muscles and the locking mechanism. They can be taught not to do it, but I'll leave this up to you. You're asking them to go against a natural instinct, but if you're not comfortable with it then it's your choice. It's almost like a trust thing and they seem to be saying "I trust you, but do you trust me?". One thing I will state is I've never seen Taz do it to a child. It's like they know that it might scare the child so he doesn't do it.
As I've said, Taz is great with children. He loves them and if we have kids around he'll follow them around and go on guard. Seeing this is amazing and it's like he's babysitting them almost. He's also very tolerant of my 3 year old niece, and will put up with her poking and prodding him without complaint. We've never worried about him with kids, but then again we're not saying we'd leave him alone with them totally.
Despite what recent media coverage may have you to believe, Staffies are extremely tolerant of children and very protective of them. Seeing them interact with children is strange because they'll take interest in what they're doing and seem to have an ability to know something that will put them in danger. They'll either put themselves between the child and the potential danger or come and alert humans. I admit, they're not unique in the respect, but the fact that they seem to have this intuition is testament to their intelligence and love of children. Having said that, I have a firm belief that all dogs are only two meals away from being a wolf (thanks to Terry Pratchett for that quote) and small children and dogs should not be left totally unsupervised. Yes, it's common sense, but at the end of the day you should be aware.
One of the main problems we have with Taz is the reactions of other people to him. All Taz wants to do most of the time is play and due to his energy levels, keeping him on a leash all the time is out of the question. The reactions we've seen from some people while walking him are unreal though, but it goes to prove that some people who are dog owners don't understand the body language of their pets.
Pictures of Staffordshire Bull Terrier
a bad reputation. They're frequently confused with American Pit Bulls (who have a similar temprament if they're well adjusted dogs), and due to this even harmless gesture can be misinterpreted. A dog's 'play' posture is chest to the floor, front legs outstretched and backside in the air with the ears forward. It is basically challenging you to do something fun. They may also show their front teeth slightly, but this is 'smiling' and looks very different to a snarl. Staffies are no exception, but you need to be ready for some completely unexpected reactions from other people and be ready to intervene if they take it wrong. The chances are that their reaction caused by fear or defence will also be misinterpreted by your Staffy and cause both confusion and defensive action on their part. Make sure you're close enough to diffuse any situations that may arise. The problem is more with the people than your Staffy (or any dog for that matter) as opposed to the other way around. Also, expect people to view him as a hellhound as opposed to the loyal and playful pet that he is. What people don't realise is that people get bit by different dogs everyday of the year, but when certain breeds do it then it's a media circus. This feeds people's fear and causes their reactions to outweigh the actual danger. If a Staffy was going to attack, it would. It wouldn't waste any time posturing beforehand. I'd like to stress that some Staffies don't get on and play well with other dogs. This is down to no reason than who they are, and can be the same for any dog.
For all Taz's playfulness and his outgoing personality (the only person he seems to have a vendetta against is the postman purely because they haven't been introduced) he's also an excellent guard dog. He's a great audible deterrent and will bark at anyone approaching the house, but if we greet them he understands they're not a threat. He does know when there is a threat and has twice visibly and audibly 'warned' youths up to no good.
Staffies are one breed of dogs that are taken seriously as guard dogs, thankfully to media portrayal of them. They can be fiercely protective of their family and other animals in their care. As much as you see their soft side, you can guarantee that they have an excellent understanding of their surroundings and whether people are meant to be in the house or what their intentions are. They are constantly alert and able to evaluate any threat potential even before you may be aware of any. A well balanced Staffy will be accepting of new people if you are, yet protective of you if you're in a position where you're uneasy. Their natural behaviour is to put themselves between you and any new comer, and then wait to see what your reaction is before they make any decision on how to respond. They will also sound like they're going to eat the person alive when they greet whoever it is (even if they know the person - Taz goes ballistic if I forget my keys and have to knock on the door), but this is just them saying "Hello!".
So do I regret getting my Staffy? Not for a moment. He's fitted into the family, and to be honest we can't imagine life without him. Would I recommend a Staffy as a pet? Well that depends.
If they're going to be left alone for most of the day and not going to get the stimulation they need then no. They're also not 'image' dogs. Yes, they may look the part, but if you're getting a dog for that reason then you shouldn't be allowed to get a dog. Also, if you live in a confined space like a flat or house without a garden then think again. They have bundles of energy and they really need to space to run around and play.
I'd also steer clear of getting a Staffy as a rescue dog if you have small children or other animals in the house. The main reason for this is you don't know it's history, but I'd state this about any dog as opposed to just Staffies. We were fortunately lucky in this respect, but it was a huge gamble.
If however you can give them the care and attention they need, as well as the demanding physical side of it then yes. They're great animals and will reward you with love and devotion. I love my Staffy to bits.
P.S : I know that a lot of the information in here could apply to all dogs, but I've included it because it is relevant to Staffies. Also, I know Taz isn't a full Staffy, but he's predominantly a Staffy and Ciao don't have a Staffy/Spitzer cross section :)