[dropcap]H[/dropcap]aving had or been around working dogs for most of my life, I thought I would put pen to paper in regards to the Staffordshire Bull Terrier and their use in the field. I will try to concentrate only on my experiences with my dogs.
I have had Staffordshire’s for about five years now and they were quite a divergence from the dogs I had previously.Nell Staffordshire Terrier Being a bit naive in terms of what exactly constituted a good example of the breed, I went to see a dog advertised in East London. Now this dog was not advertised as a Stafford, so I kind of fell into owning the dog, despite my head telling me not to. This dog was owned by a family who had kept him outside all of his short life. They had bought him for their eldest son who wanted it to pose with and to guard the corner shop, but when they got the dog home, they couldn’t cope with the natural exuberance of a Stafford pup and they misread it for wildness and aggression. This meant the dog being banished to the garden, with not so much as a kennel. Now obviously, every time one of the family ventured into the garden with food, the dog naturally became excited, jumping up, mouthing, wanting to play. This was met with shrieks of fear and nerves from the family. A vicious circle as the less they went out the less socialised the dog became. After a good few months, the family got so fed up with this dog that they decided that they wanted their garden back. Yours truly answered the advert and was shown, unaccompanied, into the garden whilst the owners watched from the kitchen window. What greeted me was a brindle and white bundle of energy, desperate for some attention and a bit of looking after. As I mentioned earlier, I was under the impression that the dog was other than he was in terms of the breed, but call me a soft bastard if you like, I couldn’t leave the poor bugger there. We came to an agreement and the papers were signed, and off I drove with my new dog.
Taking the dog from Ilford into the heart of the Kent countryside was the best thing I could have done and I never once regretted buying him. Well maybe once, when he ripped my Victorian bird’s egg collecting books to shreds. But that was soon forgiven. As I said, I had no real experience of what this breed can do in the field, so I decided that we would just mooch about on the land and see what was what.
The first thing I noticed was that his prey drive was phenomenal and he would chase anything.Nell With Fox. Naturally I had to try and direct this away from stock and try to focus it on what was at hand. I would say that it was an ordeal and one I don’t really consider 100% successful. He still checks to see if I am looking when we walk through a field of sheep. After he got the idea of what was expected of him, he started using his nose a lot more. He is a first rate finder and uses his brains as well as his nose to track. He started marking rats in the river banks and soon was trying to dig down to them. From there he graduated to rabbits and then to fox.
It wasn’t long after this that we decided that we were going to get another Stafford, but this time, we’d look about a bit more and try to get a nice b*tch from proven working stock. Now I am a bit choosy when it comes to dogs and there is a huge variation in Staffords. I personally don’t care much for the over bully ones, or the short legged type, preferring the small, terrier type above all. A bitch was found which was off working parents and she was taken home to meet the dog. Now a lot of people have trouble housing two of these dogs together and I was no different. Things came to a head one day and the inevitable happened. Far from being the start of something terrible, the reverse was actually true. They seemed to establish a kind of pecking order and they haven’t had a cross word since – touch wood.
The test now was to see how the bitch would take to hunting and whether she would work in a team with the dog. Being a bitch, she is naturally a bit more clingy and doesn’t hunt up as well as I would have liked. The dog ranges out and chases a scent, whereas the bitch will only chase what she comes across. As an interesting side note, the dog opens up when he is onto something – one for Vimmy there! I honestly believe that without the dog, my little team wouldn’t catch half of what we do now, as the bitch doesn’t work for it like he does. I wouldn’t call her lazy, but she just doesn’t hunt up as I would like her to.
Having spoken to a few lads over the years about hunting with Stafford’s, some of them come back with the argument that Stafford’s can’t catch foxes. Well given an open field and any sort of law, I totally agree. But where I hunt, I have very few open fields, the majority of my permission is small orchards, dense coppiced woodland and scrub. I have seen my dogs catch foxes on this type of land time and time again as they push the fox into mistakes, which are often fatal. Once a Stafford has gotten hold of a fox, it is game over. Some people have asked me to catch them foxes so that they can try their dogs on them, but they are totally missing the point. For a Stafford to locate, chase and catch a fox, in my eyes is far more of an accomplishment than a Stafford killing one. These people are not entertained.
Fox Taken By Terrier.The Bitch will mark a wood pigeon roosting in the tree which is a real bonus for me. I didn’t realise what she was doing at first, but she stands there looking up into the hedge or tree, stock still, pointing with her muzzle. A few pebbles into the leaves and a woody will fly out. It still amazes me.
Over the years, we have caught all manner of fur and feather and had great fun doing it. I realise that there are better and more suited breeds for the job at hand, but I enjoy seeing these dogs work so I will carry on with them. I have had better dogs in the past and I hope to have better dogs in the future (don’t we all!) but for now, they’ll do.
Up until now I have dwelled by and large on my dogs positive points, so I will now try to expound on their negative qualities as a hunting dog.
First and foremost, they are (generally speaking) too large for most earth work, and too small for being any good at consistently catching anything. I have had mine out lamping and they catch the odd rabbit here and there, but if you are going to be doing anything remotely seriously, leave these dogs alone. If you want a pot filler or a fox killing machine, or indeed a deer dog, there are a number of specialist breeds and crosses out there. Anything my dogs retrieve is only fit for the ferrets anyway as they have such a hard mouth that everything is peppered with puncture wounds. I know I am preaching to the choir here but I hope you know what I am trying to say.
Then there is their propensity to be quarrelsome with each other. Mine get along because the dog is totally subservient to the bitch. Given this mostly harmonious relationship, there still are niggles, petty jealousies and squabbles, especially when a catch has been made. The dog aggression is something I could live without, but hey, that’s what they have been bred for after all! Keep a breaking stick in that poacher’s pocket!
I have found their noses to be fairly good, with proper encouragement of course. Most of the people who own these type of dogs are never going to use them for hunting, the vast majority being pets. When given a chance, I reckon some could come good. A friend of mine in Australia has a male which has an incredible nose, something I would never have attributed to this breed a few years ago. I genuinely think it has a lot to do with upbringing. Let’s face it, there are some wonderful examples of athletic Stafford’s out there, more so now than I can ever remember. Given the right opportunities and of course, the right owner, I think that some of these dogs could serve a purpose in the field.
Please don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating that you hunters out there should swap all your dogs for Stafford’s. All I am saying is that they can do a job if you let them and give you bags of fun along the way.