A Stafford Could Even Though He Doesn’t
Someone once told me ‘Dare to overcome the pretense of common discretion, and prioritize the standard elements of the Stafford’s makeup according to his intent rather than popular fashion. By all means, form an opinion, but form one with regard to the original, athletic purposes of the Stafford, and not just what looks pretty or impressive to others.'
When evaluating Staffords, the ideal image that comes to mind should be initialized by the basic elements of balance, agility, and great, efficient strength. These things should be considered before the details such as ear carriage, tail set, and topline are put under scrutiny.
It is true that a negative detail such as overloaded shoulders can throw off the entire picture of a Stafford, but the first thing that should be addressed is the general assessment of balance, not the questionable manifestation of some verbiage set forth in the standard. Here, we are often guilty of only arguing semantics and not real Staffords. In the example specimen with overloaded shoulders you may initially note a general skew in the functional, athletic balance of Bull and Terrier. Then you may ask yourself “What is it about this dog that makes him appear unbalanced?” Next the answer becomes apparent when the details are evaluated individually. In this case, those overloaded shoulders may be part of this particular dog’s style that includes other exaggerated proportions that are as a whole contradictory to the original consideration of balance as dictated by the efficiency and athleticism required of the Stafford as a game dog.
But how do we further prioritize these details of the breed standard into a system of evaluation that is most accurate? Do we simply say that those deviations from the standard that would most likely impede the dog’s ability to engage in combat are to be penalized greatest? Should we instead judge the merits and prioritize the requirements of the standard according to how essential each element was to a British fighting dog in 1936? And where do we obtain this knowledge? Or do we resolve ourselves to considering the Stafford a modern show dog, and use those measurements applied to Poodles? What about this business of a “Foremost all purpose dog?” Does this mean that a Stafford should be constructed to be a jack of all traits, but master of none? How do you rank in order of importance the essential elements of a dog that can do almost anything? And do you expect me to answer these questions if you read on?
These queries are meant to inspire others who are a whole lot smarter than I to reckon on ‘em for a while and let me know what they figure out. Or to simply elicit those who already know the answers to share their knowledge.
But in the mean time, I’m going to take up some more space on this page….
We have always been told not to judge dogs based upon faults, but to focus on their virtues. However, we don’t use the 100-point system that suggests weighted scores for each requirement of the standard. Instead, we are encouraged to begin with the whole Stafford, before we break him into pieces, or try to build him from scratch. What this requires is a fundamental understanding of what a Staffordshire Bull Terrier is. The Stafford, like most other breeds of dogs is a cultural manifestation. He is a product of an affinity for excellence as defined by a certain group of individuals who shared common experiences and inspirations. Out of the desire for an efficient gladiator capable of brutal contests the Stafford came to be.
The Stafford was not consciously developed as a “foremost all purpose dog,” or else the lineage might tell the story of a respected herding dog having been mated to a bitch who could retrieve a wide variety of game. Then their offspring would have been bred to a strong swimmer who could also run a cold track, take down a Leopard, home-school your children, and file your taxes all in the same day. Support of such nonsense is just that. The Stafford is said to be “all purpose” for reasons both political and practical. The former (political) was in order to legitimize the Stafford’s existence when dog fighting became illegal and the laws were enforced. Confirmation contests seemed for some to be a viable muse for continuing the breed as blood sports became deeper taboos. The latter (practical) is a circumstance that inadvertently arose from developing a loyal, athletic, extremely powerful, agile dog with a passionate personality. The “original” Stafford is simply a recipe for a fighter and a companion. The rest is just gravy.
Our Staffords today should not be judged based upon the image of a dog that can do it all, nor upon an embellished ideal of exaggerated features for the purpose of show. The ideal should be one of an agile, compact warrior who happens to be extremely versatile thanks to a design mandated by the role of a fighting dog living in early 20th century Staffordshire.
Forget about the jack-of-all-traits, consummate show dog nonsense. Abandon those muscle-bound pipe dreams of bulldog intent. And think for a moment about what balance, agility, and strength mean for a contestant who’s life depends upon it. This basic consideration of the Stafford must be our preface for addressing the details of the breed standard, and should rank at the top of our priorities in evaluating the dogs.
The outcome of a confirmation show is based upon how a judge interprets the priorities of the standard. What’s most important to him/her? Though I offer no exhaustive list for ranking the details of the standard, it seems to me that those elements most intimately related to function should be given greatest regard. The “unwritten standard” that Alan Mitchell (Hoplite) speaks about is an excellent example of inferring both implicit and explicit priorities of the breed standard based upon balancing what is foremost required by the Stafford’s original intent with a bit of consideration given to what makes a good show dog. You must begin with the whole dog before moving to his pieces.
To share a bit more of Mr. Mitchell’s sagacious grasp on what’s most important in Staffords consider this comment: When judging a class of Staffords the first thing I do is walk around the ring looking at the basic element of every exhibit. I ask myself, “Which ones look like Staffords?” This is the most important cut a judge makes. I note which ones have breed type and I spend my time sorting through that lot. All the 'virtues' in the world do a Stafford no good if he doesn’t look and act like a Stafford."
Simple? Or simply true?