What does Britain’s choice of top dog say about our country today?
We are rooting for the underdog again. The Labrador, king of the dogs, has finally been knocked off pole position in Top of the Dogs as seen in last night’s ITV ratings winner, Britain’s Top Dogs, a result that not only broke Ben Fogle’s heart but stunned an entire nation.
We have a new winner, an unlikely hero, the Staffordshire Terrier. Long regarded as an aggressive and unpredictable breed, we are far more likely to visualise a Staffie snarling through the bars of a rescue centre than curled up next to us on the sofa. But what many of us have always known is that they are actually one of the most gentle, loyal and loving of breeds, and if brought up with care and kindness, will make the most wonderful family pet.
The Staffie, not unlike our own beleaguered nation, was in dire need of some good PR. Their nickname, ‘nanny dog’, seems to have been lost somewhere in the recent history of gang culture and hoodies, where Staffies have been ‘weaponised’ and used as status symbols, the archetypal image of hostility and violence.
When I was walking dogs in London, I would frequently see fresh bite marks on the branches of trees in the park, a sign that a Staffie had been hanging there hours earlier, it’s jaws being forcibly strengthened. Then there was the Staffie I saw kicked in the street outside our flat in Vauxhall, it’s teenage owner threatening to stab me when I tried to intervene.
As any owner of a rescue dog will tell you, a difficult upbringing may cause that dog to be reactive in situations where it feels threatened. We humans are not so dissimilar. Brutalise any dog and there will be repercussions, whether that is a 37lb Staffie or a 7lb chihuahua.
So what has changed in the last year to push the Staffie up from fourth place to first? Well, it could simple be that Staffie ownership has substantially increased over the last few years and their through sheer ubiquitousness, have proved themselves to be far more than just a stereotype.
But I like to think there is more to it than that. The Staffie is exactly the type of dog we need in these troubled times. Strong, loyal and dependable, we need a dog who can be both tough and gentle, to passionately defend what it loves and believes in.
The Labrador, while being effortlessly charming and affable, is far too predictable and safe, not to mention outrageously greedy. Whilst they will always be associated with Home Counties rambling, posh Fulham boys, tweed and Tatler, it is a Britishness that doesn’t seem to sit well in today’s tumultuous, austere climate. The French Bulldog, last years number two, has clearly had its fifteen minutes, crashing down to number forty two in the list. The small, boggley-eyed Gallic creatures, cutely named things like ‘Baguette’ or ‘Claude’ are still incredibly popular, but for today’s ITV voting public, they have been kicked back over the Channel.
In our choice of top dog we have in fact selected the underdog, the one that is easy to overlook, and have championed it as a symbol for our times. We have looked past image, tradition and convention and plumped for something a little more interesting, something with a bit more personality. In our long overdue appreciation of the Staffordshire Terrier, we have found the perfect dog for our time, and one we should all try to emulate – robust but fair, powerful yet soft, curious, courageous and above all, looking out for others.