Astounding Ways of Knowing Your Bull Terriers (Fast)
TRAINING THE STAFFORDSHIRE BULL TERRIER
Most Staffords eagerly respond to training.
A well trained Staffordshire Bull Terrier is a pleasure to own, and teaching him to fit in with the family should be an exciting – if challenging – experience. The most important aspect of training is that it must be enjoyable and rewarding for both dog and owner. Above everything else it should be fun.
An eight-week-old puppy possesses needle-sharp little teeth, with which he will want to bite and tear up everything, and the concentration span of a gnat! With infinite patience, and praise when he does it right, he will make progress as he learns that correct behaviour will win for him a delicious treat and lots of enthusiastic praise from the boss.
Every Stafford puppy needs to be trained so that he settles into a happy and harmonious relationship with his owners. Just imagine what it would be like if your dog was allowed to do whatever he wanted to do. Without knowing, he would be misbehaving – and as a result constantly punished and shouted at. Without training, he wouldn’t understand what was accept able behaviour and what was not. What should be a happy and rewarding time with his owners would be chaotic and stressful. Worse, an untrained Stafford will lack respect for his boss and pack leader. Dogs always look to their pack leader to be in control and will only be bewildered by inconsistent requirements they do not fully comprehend. This is what sensible training and correct socialization is all about. Make it the aim from the very start of the relationship to ensure that your Stafford is well socialized and properly trained and you will soon be well on the way to developing that special bond of confidence and respect between you and your dog.
The type of training required will very much depend on the expectations of the owners and how they require their Stafford to fit in with their lifestyle. Always remember that puppies, just like small children, need guidance, motivation and mental stimulation. Well thought-out training will take these requirements fully into consideration. Many owners want a Stafford as a pet and companion, and are not interested in training him to compete at dog shows or take part in other canine activities such as agility competitions. For the pet Stafford training to conform to the social requirements of his home will be sufficient.
Preparing your Stafford for the show ring will be fully dealt with in Chapter 10, but it will suffice here to say that even dogs who are destined to compete at the highest level in the show ring must begin with the same training as the pet or companion dog. They will, of course, then need to be further trained in order to successfully compete in the show ring.
Great benefits can be derived from the socializing and training facilities offered by the many dog training clubs around the country. Plenty of help and advice is also on hand. As well as training the dogs for the show ring, these clubs offer the opportunity for invaluable interaction with many other dogs of all breeds. In addition, Staffordshire Bull Terrier Clubs run specific training classes for Staffords.
Meeting at the training club.
Taking your Stafford to a training class should not be problematical. Take him along when he is as young as possible and at that age he will quickly adapt to all the attention and company. Staffords like to please, and will respond admirably to the challenge! In some cases Stafford owners go along to train and socialize their dog, only to become convinced that their pet is very capable of doing well in the show ring or in other competitive activities. This may open doors to a whole new adventure!
Treats are very important to your Stafford, and successful training largely depends on the value of the treat to persuade him to concentrate and do what is required. A dog’s sense of smell is far more powerful than any of his other senses, and certainly it is far more powerful than that of a human. This fact should be fully utilized. Find a treat that is totally irresistible to him and you can guarantee his undivided attention. Make sure you have plenty of his favourite treats available whenever training is in progress. These treats should only be given during training.
Training clubs can be great fun.
The temptation of it all.
It really doesn’t matter what the treat is, as long it is something the dog really likes. Meaty is best, and it should not contain too much biscuit, which is high in sugar content. Don’t select something too large and chewy – a Stafford chomping away while the judge is attempting to examine his mouth will not be helpful. The ideal treat should be small, and easily accessible. Remember to offer treats from the palm of the hand as treats held in the fingertips can result in a painful nip from an over-zealous dog.
Only reward your Stafford when he does something right. If he doesn’t get it right, he doesn’t get the treat. Simple, isn’t it? Giving treats as rewards is the key to training a Stafford successfully, and in as happy and fun manner as possible.
TRAINING FOR THE YOUNG PUPPY
When a young puppy comes into his new home, you need to make decisions from the start about where he can and cannot go. If you don’t want him to jump on the furniture or on the beds, start training him right away that these items are out of bounds. If you want your puppy banned from a particular room in the home, a firmly voiced ‘No!’ will soon do the trick. He must learn that he is not going to be the pack-leader in the home, and to do this make sure that you initiate the behaviour required. You must call the shots and be the one that sets the pattern of social behaviour to determine the order of things. Do not let the irresistible little rascal elevate himself above his place on the social ladder. Even the sweetest, most submissive puppy will try to do this as his confidence grows. Unless taught otherwise, the puppy will seek any way he can to arrange the order of social interaction within his family to suit himself. Start the training as soon as you can, as it is much harder to do once the incorrect pattern of behaviour has been established.
Toilet training is one of the first matters to concentrate on (seeChapter 4). Where the puppy is going to live will largely determine how to proceed. A location as close as possible to outside access is clearly the best solution, but is not always possible. Staffords are very adaptable, and given the right care they will happily thrive in most forms of accommodation.
Is this where I go?
Consistent use of a command such as ‘Outside’ or ‘Toilet’ is recommended. After every meal, and whenever he wakes from sleep, gently carry your puppy to the allotted area and give the command word. He will soon go. When he does, give him lots of praise and fuss, and maybe a treat. He will soon begin to associate the action with the command. There will be accidents, of course, and laying down newspaper around the den will help in the early stages. Do not punish him for accidents. When trained properly, Staffords very quickly learn to be clean dogs. Persistence will pay off, and result in a clean, house-trained puppy.
For Staffords living in accommodation with limited or no outside access, the use of disposable puppy training pads is recommended. Place one of these pads in an area which is easily accessible and familiar to the puppy. Once he has accepted it, never place the pad in another area as this will only confuse him. Whenever he wakes up and after all his meals, take him to the pad and give the command. Give him plenty of praise when he goes. There will inevitably be accidents in the early stages, but gentle persistence will be successful in the end. Used training pads must never be shared by any other pets, and should be bagged and disposed of.
Dogs are essentially pack animals. Make it your objective right from the start that your puppy identifies you as his pack-leader. In the early stages of training motivate him by treats and toys as rewards. Never resort to any form of harsh treatment. Reward-based training is always the best way. Get the whole family to handle the puppy and fuss him all over. This will not only encourage confidence but greatly help him to find his place in the pecking order. He will soon learn what behaviours bring rewards.
Look out for puppy parties being held locally. These are usually organized by veterinary establishments and are open to very young puppies of all breeds. Such parties are a great opportunity for your new puppy to make friends and join in the fun. But do be aware that young Staffords play ‘rough’, and this may not go down too well. Young Staffords are often considerably stronger than other puppies, and may bite just that little bit too hard, so choose his playmates with care.
Someone said ‘Sit’.
Someone said ‘Stand’.
Start to train your puppy to walk on a lead around your garden as early as you can, and certainly before you take him into the outside world. This will not be easy at first as the puppy will probably object most strongly, pulling backwards, bucking, struggling and otherwise refusing to co-operate, but do persist. He will soon become used to it and can be encouraged along by holding a treat in front of his nose. Having an older dog in the home is useful here as most puppies, shown the way by the older dog, soon catch on and learn to follow. When he is old enough to be allowed out, it is a good idea for him to be accompanied by an older dog to a park or open space where the two can play and walk together on their leads. The puppy will then soon forget about any restrictions caused by his lead.
All too soon the time comes for your puppy’s first walk! By this time he should be used to a lead and collar but everything else he has ever learned will be completely forgotten in the excitement of all the new sights, smells and sounds in this new environment. You must be patient and he will soon settle, despite this exciting new world. If available, take another dog with you and your puppy will quickly adjust in the company of a pal.
Meeting a new friend.
There is nothing better for a young Stafford than to be taken out and introduced to all kinds of situations. Get him used to walks on a lead into shopping areas, along busy streets and anywhere where he will encounter new people and particularly children. He will be constantly fussed over. Encourage this as he will be learning to adapt within society. Don’t allow him to leap up or be a nuisance. Many people cannot resist fussing a young happy puppy, and he will love it. So will you! Familiarity with such situations, combined with consistent training to behave properly in public, will result in a Staffordshire Bull Terrier you will be proud to own and take out.
‘Where are we off to today?’
A young Stafford must not be taken for long walks until he is at least six months of age. It is easy to let this happen, as he will always be very enthusiastic and want to go further. But be sensible. Playing at home, combined with short walks in the park or in fields, is the order of the day. A growing puppy can all too easily be damaged physically by overdoing his exercise on long walks or engaging in strenuous activities. Once he reaches the age of about nine months this restriction can be lifted, and he will probably be capable of out-walking you any time! Always ensure that your young Stafford’s collar is tightly and securely fastened. There should be just enough space between the collar and the neck for your fingers. Train him not to resist the lead as any attempt to push backwards and slip out of his collar could have disastrous consequences if he should escape onto a busy road.
Many young Staffords suffer from car sickness. You can begin to overcome this problem by taking your young Stafford for a short ride in the family car every day. He will soon get used to these trips and start to look forward to them. Incidents of sickness usually stop quite quickly, especially if the puppy is not admonished in any way for the occasional lapse. Long trips may sometimes cause even an adult Stafford to become sick. Never scold your dog – he can’t help it.
Most Staffords quickly learn to love the car and will happily jump in and go for a ride. Be aware though, that they will often guard the car from passers-by.
Consistency is important. Always use a simple single command word such as ‘Stay!’, ‘Stand!’, ‘Sit!’ or ‘Heel!’. You can also use hand signals when appropriate. Provided you use them consistently, they will help to reinforce the verbal command. Deliver your commands in a firm and clear voice. Don’t shout, and don’t add unnecessary words. Never lose your temper if things are not going right. Any deviation from your normal calmness will only be counter-productive as it will simply confuse the dog.
A treat for a good girl.
Always approach every training session in a good humoured and confident manner. This will do much to encourage your Stafford to join in and enjoy the fun. Always make sure you have that treat ready. When your Stafford finds that he is rewarded for a particular behaviour or action, he will be keen to repeat it. Rewards must be given immediately so that he associates the desired action with the treat.
With the irresistible treat already in your hand, hold your palm upwards in front of his nose and give the command ‘Take!’ Your Stafford will be delighted to respond. If he makes a grab for the treat, close your hand so he can’t get it and resettle him. If he takes it gently, let him have it and make a big fuss of him. This shows him that you are pleased with him. This approach applies to all types of training. You may need to repeat everything time and again, especially with a young puppy. Remember that young Staffords are generally slow to mature and can be easily distracted. Always be patient and it will all fall into place sooner than you expect.
Never reward bad behaviour with a treat. A certain amount of discipline and determination will be needed to show the young puppy that you are his pack-leader. Like a naughty child, he will push the boundaries to see how far he can go, but he really must not be allowed to get away with it. Remember that you are dealing with a young puppy, and what is required is gentle discipline in the form of good-humoured persistence. Introducing the ‘Non-reward’ is helpful. In other words, when your Stafford gets it wrong, he doesn’t get a treat. He may get it wrong time after time but don’t give in. He will be frustrated by this lack of treats and will eventually begin to experiment with his own behaviour until he finally gets that delicious treat. Gentle, friendly and continuous encouragement from you will help him, as will heaps of praise when he gets it right.
As he gets older, and learns your commands, it will not be necessary to reward him with a treat every single time he gets it right, but always praise him. This should be enough. Staffords are intelligent dogs and will quickly learn to be obedient without the need to be constantly rewarded.
Punishment is not the opposite of reward. It is a not the case that a Stafford will effectively respond to punishment by a diminishing of undesirable behaviour. Shouting or in any way physically assaulting him will not work. The non-reward approach is much better at controlling or eliminating bad behaviour and the command ‘No!’, delivered firmly, is far more effective than any form of punishment.
With a young puppy, keep the commands short. Don’t do too much too soon, and always keep it simple.
A young puppy during training will be very sensitive to variations in the tone of your voice. If you sound angry, he will react accordingly and become confused and unsure. If you are light-hearted, he will happily respond and want to join in with the fun. In any training session always use a warm, friendly and persuasive tone. This he will learn to associate with training and will confidently react accordingly. The message should be clear: never start a training session if you are anxious or angry.
A good training session ends with play time.
Any form of physical punishment is definitely out, particularly when you are dealing with a young puppy. As a breed, Staffordshire Bull Terriers are brave and fearless, and are almost unbelievably tolerant to pain. Yet they are frightened by loud bangs, gunshots and fireworks. They are astonishingly forgiving, even when they have been cruelly treated, but that is not to say a Stafford will retain his trust in a human who uses any sort of physical force on him. In most cases, the noise from a rolled-up newspaper slapped against the owner’s leg is enough to startle a Stafford into ceasing a misbehaviour. It will not train the problem out of him: rewards and praise are always the way to train your Stafford.
Do not train too often. Your puppy will be learning quickly and be full of the joys of life, so make sure you intersperse the training sessions with lots of play and walks. Spontaneously interrupting play can be a great time to do some training, and at the same time it will show you are in control. Then, after a short period of training, with rewards and lots of enthusiastic praise, play can continue.
Always end a training session with something the puppy has learned to do well. Follow this up with praise and an enjoyable game. This will do much to help him realize that training is fun, especially if a treat and a game follow.
TRAINING FOR THE OLDER STAFFORD
With an older Stafford, you must gently but firmly establish from the beginning that you are the pack-leader and you set the rules – not him. The Staffordshire Bull Terrier is without doubt an enthusiastic and strong dog, and the phrase ‘Act first, think later’ perfectly sums up his good-natured but impulsive attitude to life. This may be endearing at times – but it can also be a nuisance. Training for a young puppy is important, but it is even more so with an adult dog who has been allowed to misbehave in the past. He may already have been trained to a degree, but you will need to adapt his training to your ways and establish the ground rules for his behaviour in your home. For instance, you may have to teach him not to jump up. When he does so, signal with your hand and firmly deliver the command ‘Down!’. Look him in the eye for a moment, then on your terms, allow him to come to you for a fuss. This will start to establish the necessary chain of command. He will learn to carefully observe your body language and respectfully approach you accordingly.
‘Did we do it right?’
The older Stafford may well need to go back to basics for his toilet requirements too, as he won’t know what is expected from him at first. Staffords generally want to please, and should adapt fairly quickly to the new circumstances, provided you are positive and encouraging. Retraining in the ‘command, reward and praise’ manner is recommended.
Training from the outset for the older or rescue Stafford will need to take into account what he already knows, whether good or bad. It is important to find out as much as possible from his previous owners, use that knowledge and adapt it accordingly, otherwise he may have no idea what is expected from him. As he learns, never scold him for lapses. Instead, always enthusiastically encourage and reward successes as he gradually adapts to his new way of life. Make this a challenge to be enjoyed both by owner and dog. You will be going the right way to forge a mutual bond of trust and friendship.
Adapting to new training.
Fun in the park!
It is an unfortunate fact that older Staffords may tend to have a history of aggression. This is not acceptable. The Stafford is a very powerful dog for his size, and any form of aggression must be brought under control firmly and swiftly. Training an older dog to instantly obey his owner’s commands is of crucial importance in avoiding any potential confrontation, particularly with other dogs.
Fundamentally there are two distinct forms of aggression: aggression towards people and aggression towards dogs. All breeds of dogs will bite and some, regardless of size, have a reputation for snapping and biting at people. The Staffordshire Bull Terrier, whose Breed Standard requires him to be totally reliable, is not one of these. It is rare indeed to hear of an instance of a genuine well bred Stafford biting a person in anger. Any such act of aggression would need to be dealt with immediately and decisively. Regretfully, no amount of retraining would help in such circumstances. Fortunately, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier is one of the most reliable and affectionate breeds obtainable, with an unequalled reputation for dependability with people, and in particular with children.
In contrast, Staffords will react if another dog shows aggression. His natural instinct is to assert his dominance when faced by another dog. It is important to understand that this aggression is only directed at other dogs, and not at people. Never take it as an indication of unreliability as a family pet. Train him from the start to avoid the possible consequences of aggression involving other dogs. Many responsible Stafford owners know what it is like to have their dog safely under control on a lead, only to have another dog, running free and out of control, charge towards him. Train your Stafford to resist such confrontations by instantly obeying your command to leave the other dog. It is not worth becoming entangled in what can all too easily develop into a nasty situation. Never allow your Stafford to run free in public places in the vicinity of other dogs. No amount of training will be of help in any resulting fight involving your dog. Your Stafford off a lead and engaged in a fight with another dog would be deemed out of control, and may lead to an infringement of the Dangerous Dogs legislation.
HOW TO APPLY THE COMMANDS
Clear commands are vital training aids. From day one, teach your dog to respond to your everyday commands. With a puppy, make sure you only introduce them gradually so that you don’t confuse him. You can choose your own words, but as a guide here are a few examples:
The ‘Stand’ command.
Stand! This one is very useful in the show ring and is used when a handler is presenting his dog for the judge to examine. It is quickly learned.
Dogs must be trained to walk properly without pulling.
Walk! This is not an easy one at first. Staffords are strong and impulsive dogs, who like to surge forward at the commencement of a walk on a lead. Gradual persuasion and ‘No!’ commands will eventually prevail. Whatever you do, do something to prevent him pulling on the lead. Otherwise you may end up with very long arms and with your dog gagging and choking. Ideally your Stafford should walk calmly at your side, preferably on a loose lead and at your pace not his. ‘Steady!’ is another useful command to slow him down.
Fetch! This is a good one as Staffords love to play. Your dog will quickly learn this command when you throw a ball for him. When he brings it back, you can also teach him the command ‘Drop!’ Some dogs will energetically co-operate for a couple of throws and then lose interest. If this happens, you’ll have to fetch it yourself!
No! This is the most important non-reward command. From the start it is the one to use for any situation when unwanted behaviour needs to be stopped. Be firm, but not unkind. Try to follow it up with praise for the correct form of behaviour, especially with a young puppy. Patience will be required as puppies do take time to get things right.
Down! This is another definite non-reward command. People not used to dogs will not appreciate a big Stafford jumping up at them, perhaps with muddy paws, no matter how friendly he is trying to be. This command is best taught right from the start with a young puppy.
Take! Unless taught otherwise, Staffords will be tempted to lunge forward to grab any treat you are offering him. This is not acceptable. As he does so, close your hand over the treat and don’t let him have it. Settle him down again, and only let him have the treat when he takes it gently.
Watch me! This is an important training aid and can be used to get your dog’s attention at the start of a training session. It will signal to him that it is time for him to concentrate. When you say the command, get and maintain eye contact for a few seconds. Reinforce your command with a treat.
Come! This is a tricky one! A Stafford running around and enjoying himself off the lead may decide to ‘play deaf’ and not come back to you. Do not reprimand him when he does come back, as he will associate the act of coming back with the reprimand, and next time may take even longer to return to your side.
An attentive sit.
Sit! A Stafford will sit quite naturally and will quickly learn to respond to this command. For show dogs, this is less important than the ‘Stand!’ command, as he needs to be standing for the judge to examine him.
With any new command, you will be pleasantly surprised how quickly your Stafford catches on – especially if he’s likely to get a treat! Limit the use of commands to those that are relevant, and only apply them when you need to. They must be neither too repetitive nor over-administered. Unnecessary discipline or regimentation enforced on a spirited breed like the Staffordshire Bull Terrier will ultimately fail. Let your dog be a proud representative of his breed. Calmness and consistency in the use of commands will help to establish and maintain a happy and rewarding relationship between you and your Stafford.
Many types of training aid are available to assist in the training of your dog, but some are more useful than others and some should be avoided altogether.
A harness can be very useful, especially for a Stafford that has any form of breathing problems. Unless taught otherwise, Staffords do tend to pull on a lead, which can result in painful choking and gagging. For some reason, they don’t seem to associate this with surging forward on their lead. If your dog chokes on a conventional collar and lead, try using a harness; it will not cure the pulling problem but does relieve the pressure on the neck and throat. The harness must fit properly and securely around both shoulders and fore-legs and the dog must be comfortable in it. Be aware that a harness will not allow you the same level of control as a collar. Just in case, it is best to have a collar round your Stafford’s neck at all times, to which you can clip the lead in an emergency. Brass harness decorations can be obtained for Staffords, which look attractive but may be associated in the general public’s mind with certain breeds of banned dogs.
A Stafford is a very powerful dog. A choke chain will not be helpful in an emergency and is of only limited assistance as a training aid. It may be effective at stopping a Stafford from pulling, but it won’t teach him not to pull in the first place.
Any type of radio-controlled shock collar is definitely to be avoided. Such gadgets are cruel and abhorrent. This should never be the way to train a proud and trusting Stafford. Electric shocks imposed in order to elicit an instant response are more likely to result in a fearful and insecure dog.
Typical clicker training aid.
Clicker trainers are excellent for teaching your Stafford, as are dog whistles designed for the purpose. Your dog will quickly learn to respond to them if you use them correctly. They make training fun, and are readily available. Staffords have an acute sense of hearing, and even if your dog has gone out of earshot of your call, he may still respond to a whistle. This can prove to be invaluable.
AN UNDESERVED REPUTATION
Before leaving the important subject of training, it is time to focus attention on how the Staffordshire Bull Terrier is sometimes portrayed. We live in an age of prejudice, directed towards the breed by some elements of modern society. Perhaps their superficial resemblance to certain banned breeds causes mistrust in some circles, while the publicity relating to incidents of dog aggression often makes mention of the breed.
Staffords responsibly under control out in public on a walk.
All responsible owners and breeders, who know what honest and wonderfully reliable dogs Staffords are, deplore the often inaccurate representation of the breed by uninformed elements of the media. They are appalled by the damage done to the breed’s image by irresponsible owners who do not train their dogs correctly and fail to take proper care of them. All Staffords are capable of responding forcefully to another dog’s aggression, so it is up to their owners to ensure they can prevent potentially disastrous consequences. Proper training and socialization will enable you and your Stafford to show the breed in its true colours. We all have a part to play in this.