STAFFORDSHIRE TERRIER AMERICAN
Let’s Talk Breed Education!
JUDGING THE AMERICAN STAFFORDSHIRE TERRIER
By Sara Nugent
T o properly judge a dog breed, the judge first needs to understand their history and then become familiar with their standard, and why it was written as it was, and to read it in the context of the dog it was written to describe. Th e American Sta ff ordshire Terrier is a breed that many judges have been given along with “the rest of the terrier group”. When I started showing Am Staffs, in 1970, we still often exhibited under judges who were long experienced with the breed. At that time, many of the active Am Staff breeders had been some of the earliest members of our parent club and some founding mem- bers. However, both those experienced judges and breeders were elderly and disappearing—while at the same time we had a large inf lux of new breeders coming into the breed throughout the 1980s. Somehow, there was a discon- nect during this transition, and the dogs changed greatly. Although the standard has remained unchanged since its acceptance by AKC in 1936, the dogs winning in the ring today are quite dif- ferent from the dogs of the 1930s. Unfortunately, our parent club, The Staffordshire Terrier Club of Amer- ica, did not have any judge’s educa- tion material to offer until 1998. By then wide spred drift in breed type had occurred. We f ind that today there are many misconceptions about correct breed type. The Stafford- shire Terrier Club of America has a very good visual standard booklet for judge’s education that we are happy to share with interested judges for more detailed information.
A Very Brief History Early in the 19th century, the Eng- lish and Irish immigrants to America brought with them their bulldog and terrier cross dogs. Th ese were dogs devel- oped from various crosses of the earlier English bulldog and the English black and tan and white terriers. Th e bulldog of that time was nothing similar to our present day version. Th ese were taller, leggy, sturdy, undershot farm dogs who actually were used to catch and hold cattle for the farmers to butcher. Bull baiting became a sport in England using these dogs, but as it became more popular to bait (fight) dogs instead, the bulldogs were bred to terriers in order to create a more agile and faster dog. Similar crosses developed into the dogs who became today’s Bull Terriers and Sta ff ordshire Bull Terriers. In America, the bull and terriers became both working farm dogs, and fighting dogs, as the immigrants brought their sporting events too. Eventually a registry for the dogs was established in 1898 ( Th e United Kennel Club) where they were called American Pit Bull Ter- riers. By the early 1920s, some of the owners began to petition the AKC for registration, as they wanted to separate themselves from the dog fighting element. After years of negotiation, a standard was approved and the AKC accepted the breed in 1936 as Sta ff ordshire Terriers, named after the similarly developed English bull and terrier breed—the Sta ff ordshire Bull Terrier—who achieved acceptance in the English Kennel Club the same year. To try to prevent confusion, our breed’s name was later changed to the Ameri- can Sta ff ordshire Terrier in 1972 when the AKC accepted registration of the Sta ff ordshire Bull Terrier.
Top to bottom: 1939 American Staffordshire; 1946 Specialty Winner; 1957 Specialty Winner
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Notes on Judging When judging the breed, it is first important to look at the entire dog, and to get an impression of not only the dog’s physical form, but it’s demeanor and car- riage. Th e Am Sta ff is a medium-sized, well-built dog, that should appear to have great strength for his size, with well- defined muscles, but who is always agile and graceful. He should appear, as our standard so well puts it, “keenly alive to his surroundings”. He is the picture of courage. He should appear confident, but lively and ready for anything, and very interested in his surroundings. A fearful Am Sta ff should never be rewarded. Cour- age is one of their most important charac- teristics. He should also be very light on his feet and agile. Th ere should be nothing clumsy about this dog. He should be up on his toes and very alive. Th e Am Sta ff outline should appear “stocky” as the standard states. Th is does not mean short-legged. It means that the dog’s chest is broader and ribs more well
sprung as compared to a hound body type. His body length should be slightly longer than his height, and his leg length should be approximately equal to his body depth at the shoulder. Th e ideal dog is not exag- gerated in any of these characteristics. He is balanced between strength and graceful agile movement. He should be shown in hard, muscular condition. He should show a tuck up at the end of his ribs and should never appear fat or particularly thick. He should be tight skinned like a terrier. Today we see too many dogs who are fat and whose loose skin wobbles as they gait. His outline should also display good moderate angulation front and rear that is ideally equal in its angles—enabling the dog to move e ffi ciently. Today, there is a tendency to see dogs in the ring with over angulated rears and straight shoulders, longer backs and shorter on leg. His head should be set on a medium length slightly arched strong neck that flows smoothly into a sloping shoulder. His topline should
Above: Early show dogs; Below: Am Staffs should tend to converge
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be slightly sloped from shoulder to croup, with another gentle slope from croup to low set tail. His tail should be carried below the level of his back, with a curve that resembles an old fashioned pump handle. Th e tail should fall to the hock Th e entire picture should be of a well-bal- anced capable dog who could perform well at many tasks and who stands ready to do so. He is a dog who appears to have great strength, but never at the loss of grace and agility. Th is is a strong, but moderate dog, who should show no exaggerations. Th e Am Sta ff has a very distinctive head. It should be of medium length with a broad skull, a strong muzzle, expressive eyes and no loose skin. Th e most outstand- ing feature is their very pronounced cheek muscles. As a breed whose purpose was to use its mouth to bite, the jaw should be very well defined, with a strong and even lower jaw. Lips should be close and even, with no looseness. A scissors bite is correct. Ears are set high. Th e muzzle is approxi- mately one half the length of the head. It is rounded and broad across the top, falling away abruptly below the eyes. It is narrow- er than the back skull, and wedges toward the nose, finishing bluntly. Planes of the forehead and muzzle should be fairly par-
allel, without dish or down face. Th e stop is distinct, but not too deep. Unfortunately, the head is one of the least understood parts of the breed today. Instead of the more terrier head called for in the standard, the tendency today is for a more massive, wide and meaty head, with more emphasis on back skull and less on muzzle. Instead of the strong upper and lower jaw, we see more lippy, but shorter muzzles, covering weak lower jaws. Instead of the lovely bony structure, we have an overly padded head, with a very deep stop, steeply rising plane of forehead and too often, loose or wrinkled skin around the muzzle and throat. Th is head shape is not to standard and should not be rewarded in judging. It would have been a distinct dis- advantage and made the dog less fit for its original purpose. Our standard calls for ears either cropped, or uncropped, with uncropped preferred. In judging the dogs, it should not matter whether the ears are cropped or not. However, it is so di ffi cult to finish a dog with natural ears that most owners give up and crop their dog’s ears. Th e only ear penalty mentioned in our standard is for full drop ears. It is highly doubtful that you will ever see an Am Sta ff with full
drop ears. Uncropped ears are to be car- ried either half prick or rose, and should preferably be short. No Am Sta ff should be penalized for having natural ears. Th is is very clear in the standard. Am Sta ff s come in all colors and can be solid, parti or brindle. But all should have very dark pigment and dark eyes. Th ere are colors mentioned in the standard that are less desirable, but all colors are permis- sible and there is no color disqualification. Th ere is no “best” coat color, but good dark pigment, especially at eyes and nose contribute to the typical expression and are highly desirable. Coat color is merely cosmetic and much less important than mental and physical attributes. Preferred size of the male Am Sta ff is 18" to 19" and female is 17" to 18". Weights are not given in the standard, but the correct ratio for these heights would be 48 to 60 lbs. for males, and 42 to 55 lbs. for bitches at the standard heights. Th ere will always be variations, but over the years the size has crept up until today’s dogs are averaging 19" to 22" or more, and weighing upwards of 70 lbs. A similar increase in bitch sizes has occurred. Along with the height, the weights and bone size have changed until the breed has little
Am Staff Front
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resemblance to the proportions of the original dog. Th is increase is wrongly encouraged by judges who reward the larger, heavier dogs, thinking they are more impressive. Th e more moder- ate size of dog or bitch should always be preferred to maintain the proper balance between power and agility. To increase the size and weight decreases agility and ability. Th e dog must always be a balance between the bulldog and terrier ances- try. Th e situation has become so bad in the show ring that it has become almost impossible to finish a championship on a correctly sized dog or bitch. Th ey are totally overlooked, or thought to not carry enough bone. Exaggerations are not desir- able and larger does not mean better in this breed. A correctly constructed dog should prove itself in movement. Th e Am Sta ff is a moderately angled dog whose movement is also moderate. He should move with a springy gait, but without roll or pace. His movement should show his power and grace and vitality. He is springy and light on his feet. He should tend to con- verge toward a center line under his body as his speed increases. His front and rear feet should track cleanly in two equal lines when coming and going. From the side,
Am Staff Side
his front should show good moderate reach with the rear legs driving to match. His rear feet should fall just where his front feet lifted, without overreach or interfer- ence. A dog who moves heavily or listlessly is totally incorrect. Th e problems in the breed today are mostly related to the drift in size and weight ratio from the original dog. Th is has caused a change in the dog’s overall
look and ability to work. Th e heavier body and heavier head are impressive to many judges and owners, but incorrect for the breed. A judge must always remember that this is a working terrier and resist the urge to be impressed by the more exaggerated bully type. Please keep in mind the dog is always balanced between strength and agility. A more moderate dog is always the most desirable, with no exaggerations.
BIO Sara Nugent has owned Ameri- can Sta ff ordshire Terriers for 45 years and has shown her dogs in conforma- tion, obedience and agility for most of those years, earning championships and advanced training titles. For the last 16 years she has been the Judge’s Education Committee Chairman for the Sta ff ord- shire Terrier Club of America and is a past President and member of the Board of Directors of the club. She bred Am
Sta ff s under the kennel name of Our Gang Kennel. She owned the #1 Conformation Am Sta ff of 1974 and won the STCA National Spe- cialty twice with the same dog. Although no longer actively breeding or showing in conformation, she still exhibits her dogs in agility and trains in other working venues. Her Am Sta ff s have also been ranked #1 in Obedience and #1 in Agility for the breed in various years. Her interest has always been in the proper structure, temperament and working abilities of the breed, and bringing the dogs to their full potential through training. She is a long time professional dog show photographer and student of the Am Sta ff breed.
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AMERICAN STAFFORDSHIRE TERRIER BREED SURVEY
I live in Vista, California. Outside of dogs, I enjoy garden- ing and reading, mostly fiction. I’ve been judging for 32 years, showing and breeding over 40 years. BETTY MICHL
I currently live in Indianapolis, Indiana, after having been born and raised in the Chicago area. Other than dog shows I am an avid Chicago Cubs and Bears fan. I follow most sports. I started showing AKC dogs in late 1972 with Am Staffs being my first breed. Through the years I have owned and shown Australian, Bull, West Highland White, Smooth and Wire Fox Terriers. Am Staffs have been my primary breed for the last 44 years. I have been judging since 2005.
1. Describe the breed in three words. MM: Powerful, athletic and devoted. BM: Loyal, loving and determined. CN: Smart, athletic and loyal.
I am a retired Social Worker residing in California. In my spare time, I am active in my community and engaged in fam- ily events. I owned an American Pit Bull Terrier as a child. I have been an American Staffordshire Terrier fancier and breeder for 52 years under the “Michl R” prefix. I have com- peted with my American Staffordshire Terriers in conforma- tion and performance events for 40 years. I have judged AKC shows and FCI events in 12 countries over the past 12 years.
2. What are your “ must have ” traits in this breed? MM: Strength, balance, type and movement! BM: Traits that exude type—strong; giving impression of great strength for size; chiseled head with
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pronounced cheek muscles; sloping topline and confident temperament. CN: My must have traits for the breed are type, balance and temperament. 3. Are there any traits in this breed you fear are becoming exaggerated? MM: Top lines not slopping from withers to croup and tail sets seem to be a bit too prevalent. BM: Yes, overdone dog in size and muscle, in part because they tend to lose athletic ability and springy movement. CN: Things that seem to be exaggerated are the size of the dogs. Though there is no height disqualification; we, as breeders, should try to breed to the preferred heights in the standard. I also feel while we are keeping bone and substance on the dogs we need to keep them looking agile and athletic. 4. Do you think the dogs you see in this breed are better now than they were when you first started judging? MM: Decided improvement on temperament and better balanced. BM: Most definitely better. Our dogs are healthier, with the array of medical tests available. Their temperaments are better with education of breeders and owners. CN: I feel for the most part the breed has improved through the years. I attribute this to the many breeders who are constantly and consistently improving their bloodlines. 5. What do you think new judges misunderstand about the breed? MM: That they are aggressive to humans and heads seem to confuse them. And this is a stocky, not long-legged, breed. Very muscular, but agile! BM: Judging dogs by the standard in accordance with the purpose for which they were bred. Judges now reward pretty and flashy marked dogs rather than form and func- tion for work, as is stated in the standard. CN: For the most part I think the new judges are doing a good job interpreting our standard in the ring due to the Parent Club mentors and seminars along with AKC men- toring as apprentice judges. 6. Is there anything else you’d like to share about the breed? MM: I really enjoy judging these fine animals and have never seen one in the ring that wasn’t friendly and happy. BM: The American Staffordshire Terrier should be a confi- dent dog, never displaying shyness or aggression.
An American Staffordshire Terrier should stand like it owns the ground it stands on; never step back from a judge when examined; and should be a happy, friendly dog with tail wagging. CN: The Am Staff is a great family companion and many have excelled in Obedience and Agility work. They are a healthy dog with very few health issues that need testing. They adapt well to just about any circumstance. 7. And, for a bit of humor: What’s the funniest thing you’ve ever experienced at a dog show? MM: Having my dog prove he was smarter than me by finish- ing in front of the judge in obedience since the judge was in the shade and I wasn’t. BM: While watching the American Staffordshire Terrier judging in a conformation ring that bordered a Lure Coursing ring, one of the American Staffordshire Terriers bolted from the conformation ring, and jumped the Lure Coursing fence to out run the dog competing in the Lure Coursing event. I think everyone was laughing, except maybe the handler. I guess it should really have been expected, after all, the standard does say: “Keenly alive to his surroundings.” CN: About the funniest thing I have experienced was when I was showing dogs I had traveled to the show with a dog that was in season. I grabbed a male at ringside to take in and he must have smelled the scent on me and decided I was his best friend. He would not leave my hip. Need- less to say I got him under control after three down and backs. Thank goodness the judge was forgiving. “I REALLY ENJOY JUDGING THESE FINE ANIMALS AND HAVE NEVER SEEN ONE IN THE RING THAT WASN’T FRIENDLY AND HAPPY.”
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What can you do with an AMERICAN STAFFORDSHIRE TERRIER?
By Sara Nugent
T he answer seems to be pretty much anything. Th ese medium sized strong and agile dogs are well suited for most dog sports. Th eir love of life, intelligence and ability to work with their owners translates well into various compe- titions and pursuits. Historically, the breed’s ancestors were developed first in England from old style working farm bulldogs crossed with working terrier breeds. Th ey inherited the strength and tenacity of both and the agil- ity and intelligence of the terriers. Brought to America in the early 1900s, they were further developed as both farm and home- stead dogs and as fighting dogs used in the “sport” of dog fighting. Most have kept their working abilities as farm dogs, and the courage, vitality and tenacity that they inherited from the fighting pit. Today, they are most often beloved pets and great companions. Th ey are highly intelligent, and quite responsive to training. Th eir short coats require little grooming and they have very little “doggy odor”. Th ey adjust well to indoor living in the home. Th ey are closely bonded with their families and usually good with chil- dren. Th ey can be very quiet house dogs who love to cuddle, but they are always up for a good game. Th ey thrive on atten- tion, and generally are not happy without it. Th ey are intelligent enough to get into trouble without an outlet for their energy and prefer a job of some sort that chal- lenges their abilities. Although there are general breed charac- teristics, I have always found them to have more strongly distinct personalities than most other breeds. Although I have owned and trained many, no two were ever alike. I find this a big attraction to the breed. Th ey are playful dogs with a sense of humor and even the eldest dogs are always eager to play.
Above: Agility; Below: Am Staff Service Dog
Personally, I can’t imagine my life without these dogs. And I don’t seem to be alone. Many of our active breeders have been in the breed for many years and also can’t imagine life without them. I have noticed over the years that some professional han- dlers choose Am Sta ff s for their personal breed after showing them for other own- ers. Th ere is just something special about the breed that endears them. One of my favorite traits is that they will comfortably look you right in the eye for long periods of time without feeling uncomfortable doing so. Th ey seem to be trying to read your brain. Th ey are very direct with humans and always want to be close to their owner. Th ey seem to have a real sense of empathy for humans. Many make good therapy and assistance dogs because of this. Th ey seem to understand when someone is in need of help or comfort.
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Th ere is a large variance in their accep- tance of other dogs. I have owned some that were very intolerant and some that got along fine with all other dogs. Because of their early fighting background, some have to be managed around other dogs. Th ey are not all naturally aggressive, but some have a low threshold of tolerance around other dogs. Socialization and training can make a big di ff erence here. But care should always be taken until you understand your dog’s personal level. With training, even intolerant dogs can work safely around other dogs. Training is a must for this breed, as it keeps them out of trouble and gives them something to apply their intelligence to.
Th ey love to test their strength against hard tasks and love solving a problem. Training works best when it is presented as a game. Am Sta ff s love a game. Force training can make them quietly resist, but fun is always fun. Competitive sports are right up their alley. Many Am Sta ff s train in several venues and compete suc- cessfully in all. My own dogs have titled in AKC obedience competitions through Utility titles, AKC agility competitions through Masters titles, and even Canine Freestyle. Once, on a dare I successfully earned a Schutzhund BH title on one of my obedience dogs, although he had no prior training in that sport. Am Sta ff s also successfully compete in dock diving,
tracking, Schutzhund, carting/drafting, weight pull, Earthdog trials, sprint rac- ing, lure coursing, frisbee and flyball. Many still have the instinct to herd and are great with farm animals. Th ey are also excellent varmit hunters. Some years ago my obedience trained dogs and I belonged to a square dance dog group that performed at events and dog shows and even on TV occasionally. We also started a therapy dog performing group that visited hospitals and nursing homes locally. Th ere are many Am Sta ff s who regularly visit nursing homes and participate in pet therapy. Th ere are also Am Sta ff s working as seeing eye dogs and service dogs for people with disabilities. Am Sta ff s also serve in search and rescue and as drug detection dogs for police. Th ere just doesn’t seem a lot that they can’t do. Although they are not usually very good watch dogs. In general, they trust humans and are friendly and don’t feel very threatened by strangers. Th ey are certainly not a dog for everyone. Th ey are strong and can be active and demand a lot of time and attention from their owners. But if you want to invest that time and attention, and love to play with your dog, there are many rewards to living with an Am Sta ff .
Left: Dock Diving; Below: Heeling; Agility
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