Of Type and Balance

If I had a dime for every time I’ve asked a question of type and balance, I’d be rich enough to buy all the answers I’ve been looking for. 

For the bulk of my inquiries what I have gotten from most Stafford folks whom I admire for their proven knowledge of the breed are those ambiguously safe answers that guard one from the deepest criticisms, rehearsed to perfection. If all else fails, throw out the jargon of the day in a way that sounds meaningful.  Don’t get me wrong.  There is no substitute for years of experience that never loses the focus of progressive learning.  Yet in my frustrations, I find myself wondering if I simply do not know how to properly phrase my questions, or if there is a contingency that holds some secrets too precious to share.

Nonetheless, I’ve been listening to those who will speak on the subjects of Balance, Proportion, and Type, pulling together those rare morsels of objective sentiment that may just culminate into a bit of truth.  As a starting point, I have found that we should assign common words common meanings.  We must recognize the difference between “Proportion” and “Balance” beyond mere semantics.  One should not use these terms synonymously.  This idea is realized through considering the following, thematic patterns of observation and logic: 

 It is very possible for a Stafford to be proportional regarding the fact that none of his parts overshadow the totality of his others.  That is to say, his head, neck, shoulders, rib, hams, and bone all complement one another in such a way that no single ingredient stands out of place.  Proportion can furthermore imply that those “ingredients” all amalgamate into a pleasing whole.  A Stafford may be strikingly powerful with admirable musculature and of real presence.  His parts may all clearly align with themselves, and he may fit himself to a tee.  One exaggeration, for instance can be complimented by a specimen’s composition of many other exaggerations.   Still, the notion of balance does not apply to such discussion of the Stafford’s make-up at this basic level.

The term Balance should be reserved for Stafford discourse concerning matters of archetype.  Instead of head, neck, shoulders, rib, etc. the primary ingredients now become Bulldog and Terrier.  Balance deals with the efficient, functional blending of opposites; a true Krasis.  Now we enter a realm a bit more subjective in nature, and I believe this is where most of my inquiries about this topic are getting lost.  Why?  Because interpretations will vary concerning the proper blend of bull and terrier in the Stafford.  To confuse things even more, there is a popular notion that there are three distinct “types” of Staffordshire Bull Terriers; the “Terrier type”, the “Bulldog type”, and the “balanced type.”  This notion merits an exercise of further delving…

Accepting the trinity of “types” does not serve the Stafford well for many reasons.  First of all, when new judges are taught that three “types” of Staffords are not only present, but acceptable, then we have already steered them wrong on two accounts.  We have told them that a great variation of blends is acceptable, while historically speaking, the variations in the early fighting Staffords [in general and relative terms] did not consist of a large spectrum between bull and terrier.  They consisted of a large spectrum of sizes and weight classes, yet several men of the day account that a relatively consistent blend of bull and terrier inadvertently arouse from the mating of winner to winner.  Historic photos support this as well.  This relative balance between bull and terrier held true throughout the size range.   Apply this consideration to the design of modern pit dogs (reference to game A.P.B.T.’s). The “evolution” seems to hold true. Variations in size are great, yet balance is tighter than that of the modern show Stafford.  Regardless of our opposition to this particular form of “work”, it is simply the notion of function being behind the helm. 

By identifying “Bulldog type”, “Terrier type” and “Balanced type”, we have also told judges that the ephemeral notion of Type is to be defined as some sort of a range between bull and terrier.  This is a fundamental misnomer.  How inaccurate and ironic is it to say that type, (that which make the Stafford distinctly Stafford, apart from all other breeds) should be identified in three different blends from two different influences?  How many times have we heard, “He’s a good Stafford for his type?”  What a person is really saying is “This dog is proportional, but not balanced.”  In arguing about whether or not we should think of Staffords in terms of three types, please revisit the simple logic of all this.  If a Stafford is not of the “Balanced type” then he must, by default be of the “Unbalanced type.”  Now then, should potential judges be taught that the unbalanced type is acceptable? 

Strictly speaking, the term “Type” should not be used in discussing these three classifications of balance.  However, gleefully accepting three variations of balance is not the most beneficial way to progress in our learning, let alone the improvement of breed consistency.  

Recall our first discussion of proportion.   A Stafford who has good proportions isn’t necessarily well balanced (a proper blend of Bulldog and Terrier).  A Stafford who is unbalanced in favor of the bulldog may be very well proportioned, and admittedly, quite a beautiful animal to look at; likewise with an unbalanced, terrier-style Stafford.  So where do we turn for guidance in practical terms on the acceptable definition of balance?  Why not the breed standard?  Proportional Staffords may be well off the height to weight ratios outlined within, but balanced Staffords will not.

The standard can further help us differentiate between proportion and balance.  A 16 inch, 48 pound dog may be well constructed, and even create a very pleasing picture.  Such a specimen may be considered proportional, but never balanced.  A fit, 17.5 inch, 48 pound dog may be proportional as well as balanced.  He is simply oversized, which is a fault like any other, but it must be treated with great consideration, as now we may be moving away from one of the distinguishing characteristics of type.  The size range helps set the Stafford apart from other Bull-&-Terriers, and is thus a rudimentary element of type.  (E.G.  What do you call a 21 inch Beagle?  A Harrier.)

Along these lines, the notion of “breeding to the standard” is another misconceiving ideology that if given too much regard can mask some very important factors not explicitly stated within the standard itself.  The idea is very limiting.  It is important to remember that the Stafford came before the standard. The standard was created to describe the ideal Stafford, not to build him.  If the standard were used strictly as a recipe, then a breeder may get any number of outcomes.  It is not a complete schematic of the Staffordshire Bull Terrier.  We must first begin with the whole dog, before trying to define any number of his parts.  The breed standard should be used as a test, applied to the animal to see how well he fits the outline of those characteristics a Stafford should exhibit.  However, those explicit characteristics do not create an entire Stafford.  For instance, a 16 inch, 38 pound dog may indeed fit the standard, but this does not tell us if the dog is balanced.  He may actually be a 30 pound unbalanced terrier-style dog fattened up to match the standard.  However, if we begin with a dog that appears to be of the proper balance and fitness, and then put him to the test, we should find that he will, by nature of his proper build fall within the size range outlined within the standard.

Just in case the horse isn’t quite dead, allow me to strike it once more.  Breed type in the Staffordshire Bull Terrier isn’t the simple outcome of polling the bulldog and the terrier in the appropriate amounts to produce an efficient fighter.  This has been done with several bull-and-terrier breeds, and even surpassed with the A.P.B.T.  Therefore, that which sets each apart from the others goes far beyond the simple notion of balance.  It certainly incorporates, but is not limited to idea of the proportion, which we now know to be encompassed by balance.

If there must be a trichotomy in Staffords, let it not be “Bulldog”, “Terrier”, and “Balanced”, but proportion, balance and breed type.   In the ideal Stafford proportion will be found only within balance, and balance will be found only within breed type.  Beyond a well-proportioned dog of proper balance between bull and terrier that will naturally fall within the height/weight guidelines of the standard, breed type includes those subtle nuances that make a Stafford look and act like a Stafford.  This is where the (eye of the) beholder card is most often the trump.

In my eye some of the subtle nuances that constitute type on a well-proportioned, properly-balanced Stafford include the furrow/crease on top of the head that is created by the temporal muscles, the distinct stop, 2 parts skull 1 part muzzle, rose ears, the confident, yet steady expression, a style of muscle that is both strong, yet enduring, a fit hardness that makes itself apparent to the eye as well as the hand, an hourglass figure when viewed from above, a short well-muscled flexible torso creating a level topline but not a flat back, a powerful underjaw firmly attached with punishing musculature, and an overall picture of efficiency, agility, and a nobility that is earned, not inherited.  More often than not, breed type is realized as an image within the individual’s mind often associated with the characteristics of a particular dog, living or dead.   Of course that image may vary from judge to judge, and the ones who agree with you, who are the ones who are correct, eah? 

The other sub-set characteristics that make up breed type is the personality and temperament.  It is impossible for any judge (even the best) to fully discern these in the 2 minutes allotted for each dog in the ring, but a few trademark antics of the Stafford are never far from the ring.  Included in them are that enthusiastic love for life and the people who share it, the bold attitude in consideration and dealing with other dogs who “misbehave”, the clownish skuttle-butt (40 m.p.h. run through the house with the ears back and the hindquarters held low), the ornery intelligence, the Stafford vocal and body languages, and a personality like a coconut; hard on the outside, soft on the inside. These trademarks and the many other subtleties of character possessed by the Staffordshire Bull Terrier are what make so many people appropriately assert, “This is truly my TYPE of dog.”