The following is an excerpt from "The Complete Guide to Staffordshire Bull Terriers" by Dr. Joanna de Klerk, DVM. For more information visit the books Amazon Page.
Author Credit: Dr. Joanna de Klerk, DVMOnce you have decided that a Staffordshire Bull Terrier is the breed for you, you will need to decide where to find your new best friend. Broadly speaking, there are two distinct approaches and much depends on whether you want a puppy or would prefer to rehome an adult dog.
Purchasing or Rescuing?
In general, if you want to welcome a puppy into your family, you will be looking at purchasing from a breeder. There can be an exception to this rule, given that Staffordshire Bull Terriers are greatly overrepresented in rescue. It can occur when a pregnant female is brought into a rescue center, or a litter of puppies are found that have been dumped. So, if you are really drawn to adopting a dog in desperate need of a home, but you really want a puppy, it is worth contacting the rescue centers in your area, as they may well have Staffie pups available. Bear in mind, though, that a rescue puppy will almost always come with no history, and the health and temperament of the parents will be unknown. Also, your puppy may not cost you any less than buying from a registered breeder as all rescues charge a rehoming fee. And in the long term, any issues arising from poor breeding may cost you more.
Many people will gladly take the risk of adopting a rescue pup because of the satisfaction in giving that dog a brighter future, and taking a chance on future costs is not an issue. On the other hand, if you prefer to take on a known quantity, or you wish to show your dog or breed from him or her, buying a Staffordshire Bull Terrier from a registered breeder is a sound choice.
Some people prefer to adopt an older dog, especially as there are so many Staffies in rescue. This can be very rewarding, as for many of these dogs that have been rejected, all it takes is a bit of love and a settled home environment to turn their lives around. For other dogs, the job may be more of a challenge. Staffies are not aggressive or disobedient by nature, but if they have experienced cruelty or neglect, it may be a longer job to restore their trust. In severe cases, behavioral issues can be so engrained that they can only be improved to a certain point, beyond which they have to be managed. This can impact severely on the owner’s life, so a rescue dog is not to be taken on lightly. However, in most cases, a rescued Staffie will reward his adopter with a lifetime of gratitude for giving him a second chance, as Staffies really know how to form a bond, more than most other breeds of dog.
Researching the Establishment
The Staffordshire Bull Terrier is a breed that has been badly overbred, and a lot of breeding is casual, accidental, and unregistered. Therefore, you may find pups for sale on the internet or advertised locally. In some instances, you may even be able to see the parents. However, you should be very savvy about back street breeders, or puppy farms, masquerading as reputable owners who have happened to have a litter born to their family dog. You may be shown the puppies in a clean front room of a family house, unaware of the squalid conditions their overbred dogs are kept in elsewhere. You may be given false information about the parents, and any paperwork may not be valid. The dogs will not be registered if the parents are not, and therefore you will not be able to show your dog or breed a registered litter from him or her. Most significantly, your dog may carry or develop a number of genetic conditions that affect the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. Some of these are outlined in Chapter 13.
To avoid being caught in this situation, you should look for a breeder that is registered with the Kennel Club in your country. Their website is a good place to start. Alternatively, most registered breeders advertise online, giving you the opportunity to research that breeder’s dogs, and check that they have the bloodlines, appearance, temperament, and qualities that you are looking for.
Buying a Staffie as a puppy means that you are in full control of his training right from his early socialization, through to obedience training and any further activities that you may have in mind for your dog. Your dog will always have known kindness and will form an early bond with you as his owner. Therefore, he will be a settled dog and likely to grow into a typical happy, loyal, and gentle-natured Staffordshire Bull Terrier.
Inquire about the Parents
If you have identified a registered breeder or a number of breeders on the Kennel Club website, or elsewhere online, that have litters available or expected, then you are in a good position to research the parents before you even visit the breeder for the first time. This is because parents with registered bloodlines have most likely excelled in shows, or their bloodline has certain distinguishing characteristics, and these can be researched on the internet.
Breeding to approved Kennel Club standards requires certain protocols to ensure the health of the puppies, and this involves testing the parents for certain hereditary conditions. Only those parents that do not carry these conditions may be bred from. In this way, by purchasing from a registered breeder, you can have a good degree of confidence that your dog will remain healthy throughout a long life. Therefore, even if your purchase cost is initially higher, a dog with registered breeding will usually cost you less in the long run because he will not be a frequent visitor to the vet’s office.
Beginning with the mother of the puppies, you should check that she has not been bred prior to her third season, and that she is not over seven years of age. She should also not have bred more than three litters. You should be able to see the mother as she may be with the puppies, or at least on the same premises, depending on which stage of the weaning process the puppies are at. However, the father is often a stud dog that lives with another owner, so unless you make an appointment to visit him, you may have to make do with photographs and copies of his documentation.
You should ask the breeder to show you certificates for the health tests and screening that have been done for both parents. These tests are optional, and the breeder should be able to explain why he may not have tested for every condition.
At the very least, the parents should have been scored for hip and elbow dysplasia, and have been screened for hereditary cataract (HC). For a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, the hip score should be lower than the breed mean score of 12.9, and the elbow score should be as low as possible and ideally 0:0.
You should also ask the breeder about the medical history of the parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents of the puppies, in case there are any other diseases in the family line for which there is currently no genetic or screening test available. You should ask the breeder about their policy in the case of any genetic disease occurring to your dog later on in its life. Some breeders may agree to contribute to medical costs or refund the purchase price. At the very least, a good breeder will want to be informed if any genetic condition should arise, to improve their breeding decisions.
Finally, you should look at the five-generation pedigree certificate of the puppy, for instances of the same name appearing more than once. When this occurs, it is a sign of inbreeding, and any genetic weaknesses can be magnified. It is not uncommon for pedigree dogs to have some names cropping up more than once; however, it is considered responsible practice by the Kennel Club that inbreeding should be limited.
Looking at the Puppy
Breeders generally welcome visits from potential purchasers after the puppies are four weeks of age, with a view to releasing the pups at around ten weeks when they are fully weaned. Initially, the puppies’ characters may not be evident, so the first visit may not be the time to make your selection, but by 6-8 weeks you will be able to see their different personalities. The breeder may wish to make his own first personal selection at this stage to continue the breeding line. Others may also have reserved pups before you, so do check to save disappointment.
Sometimes a breeder will make his own choice about which pup goes to which owner on the waiting list, based on his evaluation of the pup’s character and the potential owner. There is much to be said for this kind of “arranged marriage”; however, for most people, choosing their puppy is an experience they look forward to.
When you view a litter, you may go with the expectation that your puppy will choose you, but it is important not to let your heart rule your head entirely. Remember that the most assertive puppy that comes straight up to you for attention may turn out to be a handful, and not as easy to train as a more polite pup. On the other hand, being drawn out of sympathy to the quiet one who doesn’t want to engage with you could be a mistake, especially if you have children, as this puppy may turn out to be defensive and not as friendly.
As a rule of thumb, opting for the middle ground is the safe choice, but whichever puppy catches your eye, there are a number of checks to be made.
Your puppy should be confident and friendly, happy to be handled and inquisitive at your presence. He should be observed playing happily in a clean environment with his littermates. Spend some time with the litter without feeling rushed while you get to know their personalities, then ask the breeder if you can pick up any of those on your short list and look for the following.
The puppy should be clean and dry, smelling of nothing but puppy! His bottom should be clean with no discharge, and his ears and nose should also be clean, with no crustiness or smell. His skin should be clean with no dandruff or sores. His eyes should be clear and bright with no discharge or inflammation. Take a look at his tummy to check there are no hernias, and if he is a boy, check for two descended testicles, although at this stage both may not have dropped, so this is just something to check again before you bring your pup home if he is affected.
When you think you have made your choice, spend a little time with your puppy away from the pack to test your emotional connection with the little character who is going to spend the rest of his life with you.
If your pup has distinctive markings the breeder may have no trouble recognizing him to reserve him for you, but if the pups are all a similar solid color, the breeder may put a colored collar on your pup until the day he is ready to be picked up.
Remember, you are not obliged to choose a puppy just because you have gone to see a litter, and if you have any misgivings about the breeder, the parents, or the puppies themselves, you should walk away and find another litter. It is vitally important that you feel positive about your new dog, as there will be changes and sacrifices in bringing him into your home, and the whole point is that your dog should enrich your life just as you make his complete.
It has already been said that Staffordshire Bull Terriers are the most overrepresented breed in dog shelters, and if you are drawn to rescue, you will never have any trouble finding a Staffie in need of a good home.
For most of these dogs, they have been abandoned through no fault of their own. Staffies are overbred, very often indiscriminately, and sometimes from parents with poor temperaments or health issues. They are also a high energy breed, especially when young, and their boisterous nature may prove too much for some owners. Unfortunately, they are also often taken on by people who lack the commitment to train them. This is a great shame as the Staffie is an intelligent and trainable dog, but like any dog, if the training and socialization window in the early months is missed, he will develop antisocial behaviors, and living alongside a human family can become more challenging.
In some cases, a Staffie in rescue can only successfully be rehabilitated by a professional trainer or an owner experienced in the breed. For this reason, when choosing a Staffie from a shelter, you should be guided by the shelter or charity, as they know the temperament of the dog. Furthermore, most dogs taken into rescue will be tested with children, cats, and other household pets, and some will be fostered before rehoming for a more complete evaluation. Any reputable rehoming charity will be committed to matching a dog in their care with the potential owner and home being offered. A successful match is important because when things do not work out, that dog has been let down once again, suffered another blow to his trust, and been set back in his rehabilitation. Also, every organization should offer rescue backup, which means the dog must always be returned to the shelter if the home does not work out at any stage. The dog can never be rehomed independently.
Once you have applied to adopt a dog from a shelter, you will usually be home checked by a representative of the organization, irrespective of your level of experience. This is to make sure that you live where you say you do, and if you rent your property, that you are permitted to keep a dog. It is also to check your family situation, to make sure everyone is committed and understands the implications of adopting a dog, and to check that your home is secure and suitable for a Staffordshire Bull Terrier. It is not an exam, and any shortcomings such as a hole in the fence will not fail you; you may just have to attend to anything the home checker notices before you can pick up the dog.
Rehoming a dog is not free. The shelter incurs considerable expense with every dog they take on, so the adoption fee, which may run to several hundred dollars, goes toward these expenses and such things as neutering, vaccinations, parasite treatment, microchipping, and any medical care. The adoption fee also ensures dogs are not seen as a free commodity, to be picked up for dubious purposes such as illegal dog fighting. This is a very real risk for Staffordshire Bull Terriers, as they are generally non-aggressive, so are commonly used as bait dogs. Those who survive this ordeal are often brought into rescue with physical and psychological scars.
If you rescue a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, you will always know you have done a great kindness to an unfortunate dog that has been let down by the species he was born to idolize. You will know this because he will never let you forget it, showering you with the love that is in his nature, and a friendship for life.
To read more from "The Complete Guide to Staffordshire Bull Terriers" by Dr. Joanna de Klerk, DVM, or purchase on Amazon, visit the link below: