Four-year-old Dougie loves to play fetch with his favourite toy, having his tummy tickled and being given lots of cuddles and walks.

But as a Staffordshire Bull Terrier cross, Dougie could be in for a 'ruff' deal when it comes to finding a loving home.

He's one of a number of happy, healthy, Staffies, on the 'long-stay' photo wall at Oak Tree Animals Charity at Wetheral.

And Caroline Johnson, General Manager at Oak Tree, says they have a large number of Staffies on their waiting list.

"Dougie is a real sweetheart. He's been with us since March after someone handed him in to the charity. He likes nothing better than being made a fuss of and is more likely to lick you," said Caroline.

The charity is working hard at trying to chance perceptions of Staffies, which for a number of years have been commonly tarred with the reputation of being aggressive, fighting dogs.

They have teamed up with Battersea Dogs Home in a bid to show people in the county the softer side of Staffies.

They hope their campaign - 'Staffies. They're Softer Than You Think' - will raise awareness of the plight of the Staffie

But the charity acknowledges they could be in for a long battle. For while the thought of a doe-eyed retriever makes people melt, a Staffie - as they are commonly known - often leaves them cold.

Somehow these little balls of muscle have gone from being regarded as a "Nanny dog" to canine outcasts among large sections of this nation of dog lovers.

Blighted by a bad reputation through no fault of their own, they are left in rehoming centres for long periods of time because owners mistakenly believe they are not suitable pets.

Becky Lowis, community engagement supervisor at Oak Tree says: "The charity has seen many loyal and loving Staffordshire Bull Terriers come through its doors over the years and by joining this campaign, we hope to reshape the outlook of this often misunderstood breed within our local community."

So how did the sociable dog that likes to be loved fall out of people's affections?

Dougie The breed is a bit of a contradiction and that is a big part of the problem, says the Dog Trust. While their natures are loving, their perceived physical similarities with banned breeds - such as pit bulls - has resulted in them being tarnished with the 'dangerous dogs' label.

"Our rescue Staffies have come to us for a number of reasons, mainly because people have been evicted, or moving into a house where dogs are not allowed," said Caroline.

She added: "Unfortunately Staffies do stick around longer than other breeds. We have in the past had some that were with us for three years, but now more often than not they are remaining for around three to four months.

"The brindle Staffie stays longer. Colour will always influence the public."

ITV's For The Love Of Dogs presenter Paul O’Grady has spoken out in defence of Staffordshire bull terriers.

Kennel Club definition of the Staffie temperament: Indomitably courageous, tenacious, highly intelligent, affectionate (especially with children), bold, fearless, totally reliable

O’Grady has been a supporter of finding Staffies and other unwanted dogs new homes through his involvement with Battersea Dogs And Cats Home, with the ITV show For The Love Of Dogs drawing attention to the plight of abandoned canines.

Paul O'Grady While legal, they have been linked to violent attacks in the past few years, but O’Grady says this is due to poor training by owners, not their natural temperament.

Staffie and Stray Rescue, says any dog can be trained to be aggressive and sadly Staffies are the victims of a minority of irresponsible dog owners.

A spokesman for Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, says the campaign was launched because they had seen a huge increase in the number of Staffies coming into their care and around a third of the dogs they took in were Staffies and Staffie crosses.

"We know what wonderful family pets they can be and it’s great to have the chance to work with Staffie and Stray Rescue to spread the word and give Staffies the second chance they deserve."

Oak Tree says will run the campaign with Battersea as long as they have Staffies at the centre and they will continue to try to overturn the Staffie myths.

They will welcome enquiries from people who believe they are in a position to welcome a Staffie into their lives. Contact Oak Tree Animals' Charity on 01228 560082 to speak to a member of their small animal team.

Staffie owner Freya Findlay says the family rescued Ella in November 2015 and described it as "one of the best things we've ever done".

"My mum, Jacqui, was passing through Rotherham and asked at the rescue centre which dog needed a home most and they said Ella. We think she's about 10 years old but her history is quite sketchy."

Freya and Ella Ella had been in the centre twice; they picked her up as a stray after she'd been extensively bred off and then her first family brought her back because they wanted a puppy instead.

She was then rehomed but the centre had to rescue her as Freya explained, she was being abused - her tail is broken and no longer wags, she has some teeth missing and a knife mark on one of her hind legs.

"Despite all she's been through, Ella is the most loving, trusting, loyal and funny dog. She now lives a life of complete luxury and is totally spoiled rotten - she has about three beds dotted around the house, a wooden kennel in the garden and she sleeps on a king size bed with an electric blanket on in winter," said Freya.

"She's not always great around other dogs and so you do have to be careful taking her out in public sometimes but we've always felt incredibly safe with her.

"I'd certainly recommend rescuing dogs, especially Staffordshire Bull Terrier types because they're so loving and there's so many of them in need of homes," added Freya.