Staffy Breed Background and Training

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Staffy Breed Background and Training

Post by aliceatkinson on Thu Nov 30 2017, 10:38

Following what happened to one of the puppies in my litter, I felt compelled to write this article which relates particularly to Staffies. People tend to underestimate the amount of work you need to put in to train the breed, and this is why you end up with such tragic tales.

https://medium.com/@alicebonasio/what-i-know-about-staffies-b9f83d9e8e3c

I am kind to my dogs and train them with positive reinforcement, yet I do think that some trainers confuse discipline with cruelty and violence.

This is the equivalent of parents who refuse to say "no" to a child. The result is a confused and unhappy creature, unsure of how they're supposed to behave and unable to function appropriately in a social context.
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Re: Staffy Breed Background and Training

Post by Paris1990 on Thu Nov 30 2017, 13:47

This is absolutely appalling.
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Re: Staffy Breed Background and Training

Post by LizP on Thu Nov 30 2017, 15:14

It is appalling, but maybe not the way you intend.

I'm appalled that you advocate pinning a dog, and that you believe a dog has to learn to submit. Dominance should play no part in training, none at all, and I'm sad that there are people who believe it should. It may not be physically 'violent' but it is mentally on a par.

I know that there are other who disagree, but I don't believe that staffies are out to get other dogs. Yes, there may be some who are genuinely aggressive, but many, many staffies are simply worried by others and it is possible to retrain them using confidence building methods, without having to resort to archaic and unfair methods such as pinning. I volunteer at a rescue centre where we see lots of staffies and crosses, many of which are poorly socialised, and many of which improve even in their time in the stressful environment of the centre through positive, kind, confidence building methods.

I don't know the story of this puppy so can't comment, other than to say that it is a sad one.


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Re: Staffy Breed Background and Training

Post by aliceatkinson on Thu Nov 30 2017, 15:25

I can only assume that you haven't read the post in its entirety, as all the points you raised are specifically addressed there. Yes I have to say I do disagree, but I do believe you are also misinterpreting what I'm recommending. As I made very clear in the post, this is not about using violence in any way, and I am appalled that someone would think that it is a kindness to kill a healthy animal instead of providing discipline (yes, in a kind, loving and consistent way, as I made abundantly clear in my post) The advice in no way conflicts with that, as my very well loved, well adjusted dogs are a testament to, as opposed to the one which was subjected to these "kind" methods and ended up killed at 5 months. What is appalling and totally irresponsible is to ignore the fighting instinct that has been deliberately bred into staffies. This does NOT mean (again as I make abundantly clear in my article) that these all staffies will become aggressive towards other dogs. Temperaments vary of course, dogs are individuals with their own personalities. But you have to be aware of breed traits, and this gives you the appropriate tools to compensate for undesirable consequences that arise from this. That is my point. Responsible dog ownership is about balancing love and kindness with discipline, otherwise even with the best of intentions you might well end up with a very confused, unhappy, and maladjusted dog, and that is in no way the dog's fault.
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Re: Staffy Breed Background and Training

Post by LizP on Thu Nov 30 2017, 16:20

But you yourself say you recommend pinning and making sure a dog knows you are dominant, that he has to subject himself to your wishes? Or did I misunderstand that?

As I said, I don't know enough about the story of Fudge to comment. Having worked professionally with remedial horses and their owners as a qualified trainer, I learned that you can only form a true judement of a situation by being there.

I'm quite aware of the staffie's background. It's what gives him his tenacity and, yes, his readiness to resort to a fight if he feels that's what he needs to do. However, that's not the same as saying that staffies are by definition dog aggressive and are looking for a fight. This big problem I have with the 'staffies are dog aggressive through breeding' view is that it can easily mask what is in fact going on.

Responsible dog ownership is about understanding your dog, your individual dog, and about ensuring that he is trained to be responsive to your requests. That can be done by positive reinforcement and boundaries, it doesn't need 'discipline' either through violence or through dominance. I completely agree poor training can end up with a confused and unhappy dog, but that does not mean it needs to pinned, etc. to prove you're boss.

I understand you are upset by what has happened and am sorry that it did, but please don't write off non-dominance based methods because of it.


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Re: Staffy Breed Background and Training

Post by aliceatkinson on Thu Nov 30 2017, 16:55

I do respect your view point and actually think we agree on most aspects here and share a love of the breed.

To be clear, I'm certainly not writing off non-dominance based training, as positive reinforcement, socialization, and confidence-building methods consist of the vast majority of what I have done with Watson, Missy and Holmes.

Very occasionally, I've had to discipline them when they displayed aggressive behaviour or even the first hints of it, but most of the time this was only through withdrawal of attention or a stern word.


As anybody who ever crossed my threshold will tell you (when they're finished being licked by 3 extremely boisterous, confident, and perhaps over-friendly Staffies) I am as soft for them as it is possible to be, I don't get off on trying to be dominant and they certainly aren't' cowed, intimidated or shy creatures in any way.

I can count on one hand the occasions (mostly when Watson was going through his hormonal teenage phase or when Missy got too possessive over her ball in the park) when we had to pin them down to get their attention. again, they were never hurt, it was a matter of "stop what you are doing and really remember just how wrong this behaviour is" because when they are very excited, nothing else registers. They did remember, and the behaviour did not repeat itself.

Entirely agree that training needs to be adapted with each dog in mind. Even though we have raised Holmes' father and mother, we don't expect him to develop in exactly the same way as either of them. We watch, praise the good, let him know what we think is bad, and adapt. I also accept that depending on a dog's temperament, it is entirely possible they would never really need to take this more direct approach, I'm certainly not prescribing it wholesale.

What I would argue is that some of the discourse around dog training has tended towards glossing over or even entirely denying the pack mentality or the role breeding plays in their behaviour, and in branding discipline as violence (psychological or otherwise) I think that is going too far. You have to adapt your toolkit to your dog and your situation, but I can understand that it's easier to make these things black and white as for some it would be a slippery slope between this sort of thing and actually using violence against them. It's complicated, and I appreciate not everyone will agree.

What I do know, however, is that a healthy 5-month old puppy should not have been written off as a hopeless case, and I do feel that if he had been given clearer boundaries he would have been able to get over what were perfectly addressable issues (I know, because I addressed them early on with my own dogs, this pup's father, mother and brother) and be (like they are) the most beautiful, loving bundles of joy one could ever be blessed with.

Perhaps we will have to agree to disagree on some things, but I do praise your concern for the breed and your work with rescue dogs. As I said in the post, I do wish Fudge had been given a chance of being rescued himself.
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Re: Staffy Breed Background and Training

Post by Nifty staffy on Thu Nov 30 2017, 20:45

Posting Fudge’s story is definitely food for thought.
The biggest shame is that he paid with his very short life.

It does particularly hit home for me as my Nifty is practically the same age, bar a day or so. I also purchased her from a breeder who lives with the litter 24/7 from birth to departure for new families and ensures they see a maximum of things to have the best start in life.

As Liz says, you cannot judge unless you were there and they also say that there are 3 versions to every story : yours, mine and the truth.
Whatever happened from Fudge’s point of view will never be fully understood but it is clear that communication in all it’s forms is vital for all to live happily ever after, so to speak.
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Re: Staffy Breed Background and Training

Post by aliceatkinson on Thu Nov 30 2017, 20:51

Nifty is an absolute beauty, I take comfort in the regular updates from my 3 beautiful princesses Millie, Poppy and Missy too, all the pups are thriving and so friendly and sociable. I try very hard every day not to let the sadness I feel for Fudge spoil the joy of having Holmes and knowing the happiness that the others bring to their own forever families too.
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Re: Staffy Breed Background and Training

Post by gillybrent on Fri Dec 01 2017, 10:13

Hi & welcome to the forum.

what an awful story - poor Fudge. what must he have gone through?

I do think that some staffords are genetically hard wired to fight. However, they are few and far between nowadays, and can be controlled with kindness. generally speaking staffords are very sensitive & so harsh, dominance training will not give as good results as force-free.

I certainly don't agree with pinning a dog down (Cesar Milan style), but I do agree that they need discipline and consistency when training, and if things go wrong, you need to be able to control your dog.

Force free training doesn't mean lack of discipline or letting them get away with murder, just that you get them to do what you want them to willingly, and happily because they like the rewards!

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Re: Staffy Breed Background and Training

Post by aliceatkinson on Fri Dec 01 2017, 10:39

Hi Gilly, thanks for the reply, and your sentiment on Fudge. In my saddest moments I do dwell on what he must have gone through, and the only thing I can picture is utter confusion. I know and understand Staffy behaviour, so I know the personality of that pup at 8 weeks and it was affectionate, friendly, and playful. All the pups fought with each other as I said, but play-fighting is what pups do. The point of my post is that if you're mixing that with older, shy dogs, or socializing them with lots of new dogs, you need to take that into account, and get the message across of what is wrong and what is right, specially if they tend towards the dominance as Fudge started to (not really that surprising for a healthy male staffy pup)

And as per my last reply, I entirely agree with positive reinforcement training being adequate in most situations, and reiterate here that this is how I train my own dogs. Pinning is only ever been a "Nuclear option" which ensures that they know when they've come near to crossing a line that would bring them, other dogs, and myself into potential danger.

With Fudge (and I know this from several videos posted by his owner) it was clear he responded beautifully to positive training. He learned all his commands promptly (everything from sitting down, leaving cheese on the floor until told to eat, getting laundry out of the washing machine, or "emergency stops") as he was clever, responsive and eager to please.

The only thing wrong with that picture was the tendency to get too forceful with other dogs. He clearly did not understand just how displeased this made his owner. So he carried on, and it escalated until it became (in her estimate at least) unmanageable. And she chose to kill him instead of signing him off to my contact at a specialist charity which fosters and specifically places SBTs in new and loving homes, and where I'm absolutely confident he could have found a new home where those issues could have been addressed without the pressure of having 3 other distressed dogs and an anxious child in the picture. I stand by my view that killing him at this stage was a completely cruel and unnecessary course of action. By her own admission all options had not been explored fully by any stretch.

So my point about pinning, controversial as it might make me, is that in a case like Fudge's it might have saved his life, by shocking him at the time when he was engaging in that behaviour and thus helping him make the connection between what he was doing wrong and his owner's displeasure. Instead he kept on trying to please in the best way he knew how. He learned all his tricks, and then probably thought it was a good thing to show off to his mommy how big and strong he was by jumping at and wrestling other dogs...
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Re: Staffy Breed Background and Training

Post by LizP on Fri Dec 01 2017, 11:52

I think you're missing a bit how dogs minds work, I'm afraid. It sounds like you're implying that dogs make decisions in these cases based on what you may or may not approve of, but it doesn't work like that.

Animals learn to either get what they want and/or avoid what they don't. Treats/praise (positive reinforcement) get them what they want. Positive punishment gives them something they want to avoid (physical or other). To complete the set, negative reinforcement takes away something they'd rather not have and negative punishment withholds or removes something they do want. In very basic technical terms it all comes down to one of those three.

Not included in there is what someone else may or may not want, because science has pretty conclusively proved that other than humans animals do not have the ability to empathise like that. They may respond to another being's emotion or energy, but they don't have the ability to think 'what would x like me to do?'.

That means that avoiding doing a behaviour because of the resultant response from you (plural, not you specifically) is because their wish to avoid the response is greater than their wish to perform the behaviour. In other words, if their dislike of being pinned is greater than their desire to bark at another dog, they'll avoid barking.

It's obviously more complex than that, there's all sort of associated learning that takes place, there's the fact that their perceptions and ours are often different, that there's more than one thing going on, etc. but in broad terms when looking at 'discipline' (positive punishment) it is essential to remember that it works because it is not nice.

Sadly, punishment does work which is why people are still wedded to using it. That does not, though, make it right. Clearly, if it comes to life and death in a one off emergency situation you'd use anything but teaching a dog to be pinned, having that as an option that you feel happy using as part of your training toolkit, advocating its use, is not acceptable. Pinning works because it is horrible for the dog, end of. It is to me no more acceptable than a choke chain. I will always, always seek other ways.

Talking of dogs not understanding what we are thinking, I'm afraid they don't try and get into our minds, try to impress us. I have no idea what happened with Fudge but there is no way he was trying to impress his mommy. He would have been acting either because he felt worried/threatened (very common with staffies), because something made him angry (that could even include a mental imbalance, pain, etc), or some other instinctive reason. Whatever it was we will never know, but we can rule out that he was just trying to show off.

I know that all sounds very critical but it is so important to understand the dog, that it is a dog and not a 4 legged human. It's just the same in the horse world, people attribute all sorts of behaviours to horses being dominant, aggressive, etc. but when you look through the animals' eyes there are always instinctive, usually self defence, reasons.



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Re: Staffy Breed Background and Training

Post by aliceatkinson on Fri Dec 01 2017, 11:59

Thank you Liz, as I said, I respectfully disagree with your view, and that science conclusively supports either stance. There is a lot of debate and evidence around various training methodologies, and it is not - as you rightly point out - a black and white issue.

I do disagree with your views on Fudge and I will also respectfully say that I am in a better position to get into his mindset having known him from birth and being the owner of much of his direct family.

However, everyone is entitled to their opinion, which is informed by their own experience. Yours is different from mine, and I for one agree to disagree.
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Re: Staffy Breed Background and Training

Post by Mia05 on Sat Dec 02 2017, 08:28

I have to diagree staffies ARE NOT fighting dogs they were bred originally for getting rats out the mine, you speak of discipling your dog of what means ? Staffies were also used to guard kids in nurseries hence the reason they are called nanny dogs. As stated everyone has different experience of staffies . Any dog is unpredictable its the way you train them and this has to be done regardless of whether they are already if you like, fully trained . A dog has to be trained every day .

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Re: Staffy Breed Background and Training

Post by aliceatkinson on Sat Dec 02 2017, 08:54

Hi Mia, you are both right and wrong there, in that the clue is in the full name of the breed (Staffordshire Bull Terrier) a few centuries back Old English Bull dogs (used in Bull Baiting) were crossed with Terrier stock (which traditionally has been used for ratting). You can still see that part of their heritage come through in a the way Staffies play with ropes and similar toys, in that they shake it from side to side very vigorously, which is typical Terrier behaviour (it's how they'd kill a rat quickly to avoid being bitten).

In 1835 when baiting "sports" were banned, these "Bull and Terrier" dogs, which were quite large, were bred with smaller terriers to create shorter, stockier Staffies we see today. This was specifically done so that they would be small enough for indoor dog fighting. However, the breed was also very popular with miners and of course (as my local squirrels will attest to), the ratting side of Staffies is alive and well, so I'm sure they were used for the purpose you originally describe too.

As for Nanny Dogs, I have Australian relatives who themselves own two Staffies and always had them. It's what everyone calls them over there, and having had endless friends with children and babies of all ages visit, I can certainly attest to the fact that their natural affinity with children is beautiful to see, which is why I made clear in my post that in no way does the fighting history mean that they are not excellent family dogs. Aggression to people and aggression to other dogs are entirely different in a Staffie's mind and to instantly equate one with the other is wrong.

In answer to your question, what I mean by discipline in the broader sense is to establish boundaries early on, specially with a puppy. That means communicating when they've done something wrong as well as reinforcing the good. The vast majority of the time this is done simply with a stern "no" (for example, when he bites his mother's harness in the park just as she's about to go after her ball at 100 miles per hour, which I always think might result in him losing a few teeth if he doesn't let go, or at the very least put them in a painful collision course) to which he responds well, but you're right, it takes repetition, as they'll forget their training when they're over-excited, so it's a constant process of watching, assessing, evaluating and responding.

As I said before, most of that process only needs love and positive reinforcement. But to ignore the breed traits of tenacity, stubbornness and potential aggressiveness towards other dogs is to be less equipped to deal with it adequately in my opinion.
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Re: Staffy Breed Background and Training

Post by gillybrent on Sat Dec 02 2017, 16:05

Yes, you're right - Staffordshire bull terriers were bred specifically to fight. They needed a dog that could be strong but nimble, game but tractable. The old bull dogs were too heavy & clumsy & were undershot, useless for fighting other dogs. So they bred the old bull dogs with terriers (several different types) to produce a dog that would be game enough and strong enough to fight, but then to be able to live in the miners' houses (two up, two down) with the whole family including babies. Any dog that wouldn't fight, or wasn't 100% reliable in the home was culled.

So, staffords themselves were never ratters, although their ancestors probably were.

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Re: Staffy Breed Background and Training

Post by jola139 on Mon Dec 11 2017, 09:08

I'm sorry but pinning your dogs is wrong. Dogs don't see us as their pack, they know we are not dogs, so all the practise with growling at your dog, pretending to eat their food first, pinning etc is just silly.
For dogs we are partners, who need to show them how to behave in our human world. Pinning for a dog is a pure aggresion, so when owner does it, dog is confused...
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