I have a new man in my life - but just before you think my mother will be rushing out to buy a big hat, I must explain that he is a 12-week old puppy. Old age got the better of my first dog Heidi in March this year and life has not been the same without the energy and enthusiasm of a Staffie in the house. I should explain that Staffie or Staff are the names used by fans of this breed whereas the formal title is Staffordshire Bull Terrier.
He answers to the name Sprout because I've always liked the name and also because his wind has a very distinctive odour!
Since I've been out and about with Sprout I have come to realise how deep seated the prejudice is against the breed in this country. The number of times I have been asked 'he's cute - what is he?' to then watch people recoil is shocking. He is no different to any other puppy and, in my line of work, he will grow up to be well socialised and well trained, and yet, at such a young age, his character has already been judged because of what he is. Do we do the same to human babies?
Another woman visiting the vet at the same time as me was honest enough to tell me she only liked the breed when they were cute puppies. Fortunately the receptionists were both Staffie lovers and so she was treated to a master-class in the joys of Staffie ownership. They are often known as the 'nanny dog' as they can be such great family pets.
I have had similar experiences with my German Shepherd Dog (GSD). I was recently walking in Dovedale with some friends and their little Jack Russell terrier. For various reasons this little soul is quite wary of other dogs and people whereas my GSD will happily greet anyone. After a while my friend remarked that I was like a pariah with my dog as everyone skirted round us whereas they all wanted to stoke the little dog who had no desire to interact with anyone and would bark at any dog that got too close. What is more, I can recall a number of times my GSD has been barked and lunged at by Jack Russells, Bichon Frises, Chihuahuas and other small breeds without a word of apology from the owners. Can you imagine what they would say if that was the other way round?
Rescue charities like ours also encounter Staffie prejudices and some have even launched public campaigns in an attempt to improve their undeservedly poor reputation. At our Watford centre we've been bringing our Staffs out from their kennels to be with our reception staff in order to show how friendly and loving this breed can be. We've had a 100% success rate with homing those we've "showed" in this way and we will continue to do it.
So I haven't quite bought my hoodie yet but I am under no illusions about the sort of reaction I am going to experience when out with a GSD and a Staffie and it will continue to annoy me that my dogs and I are judged purely on their breeds without any recognition of their training and behaviour.
I do accept that there are some badly behaved GSDs and Staffies out there and some have been responsible for some serious injuries. But it doesn't mean other breeds are necessarily "safer". It's just that the dog attacks involving Golden Retrievers or Cocker Spaniels don't make the headlines in the same way. However in the vast majority of these instances the dogs weren't born bad. There has been a level or lack of human intervention that has impacted on the dog's behaviour. Like him or hate him, Cesar Millan was right when he said, "In the '70s they blamed Dobermans, in the '80s they blamed German Shepherds, in the '90s they blamed Rottweilers. Now they blame the Pit Bull. When will they blame the humans?"
Blaming the breed is easy, it provides cover for an irresponsible dog owner. I just wish people would look at the other end of the lead first.
Want to join me as a Staffordshire Bull Terrier owner? Then take a look here.