If you're considering getting an active and intelligent dog with minimal grooming needs, consider the American Staffordshire Terrier. This athletic dog is known for their tenacity, friendliness, and love of family.
Breed Origin and History
American Staffordshire Terriers were developed from a mix of bulldogs and terriers brought to the Americas from England in the 1800s. The dogs were first created to bait bulls and engage in dog fights, as well as to serve as working dogs on farms and as general protection dogs.
Over time, dog fighting fell out of favor with the public as more enlightened perceptions of animal welfare increased, and breeders wanted their dogs to shed the negative perception. The breed was renamed the Staffordshire Terrier in 1936 and was accepted by the prestigious American Kennel Club (AKC). The word "American" was added to the breed name in 1972.
The Pit Bull Breed "Group"
Many people consider the American Staffordshire Terrier to be a pit bull. In fact, "pit bull" is not a breed, but refers to a collection of breeds with similar ancestry and physical characteristics. This includes the American Staffordshire Terrier, American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT), and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. The American Bulldog is often considered part of the pit bull group, although not everyone agrees on this inclusion. The American Staffordshire Terrier and APBT have the same origins, but each breed eventually was established with some differences from the other.
American Staffordshire Terriers differ from the APBT in the following ways:
- The American Staffordshire Terrier is about 40 to 60 pounds, whereas APBTs weigh on average 85 pounds.
- The American Staffordshire Terrier is a recognized breed by the AKC. The American Pit Bull Terrier is recognized by the United Kennel Club (UKC) and the American Dog Breeder's Association. The UKC allows dogs to be registered as both breeds, but the AKC does not.
- Once the American Staffordshire Terrier was recognized by the AKC, breeders began to focus on different qualities from the APBT and looked to create a "show dog" with less dog aggression, or "gameness," found in APBTs at the time.
A number of dog breeds have been bred to American Staffordshire Terriers to create new cross-breeds. Some typical mixes include the American Bull Staffy (crossed with an American Bulldog) and the Frenchie Staff (crossed with a French Bulldog).
Socialization is critical with every breed, but is particularly important with this breed due to their loyalty and protective nature. Puppies should be exposed to a variety of sights, smells, sounds, and experiences. Even if you choose an adult amstaff, socialization is equally important, but older dogs often take more time to acclimate to different surroundings.
The breed has a stocky and muscular frame and rose-shaped ears, although many breeders crop the ears. They come in most colors, both solid and mixed, with patches of white. The brindle coat pattern is also common in the breed.
Being that the amstaff is considered part of the "pit bull" group, the breed suffers from the negative image of pit bulls in the media. In fact, the American Temperament Test Society tested multiple individual dogs for 200 different breeds, and dogs in the pit bull group tested higher than many other breeds. They landed in the mid to high 80 percentile in 2017, which is higher than many other popular breeds.
A well-bred American Staffordshire Terrier is known to be a friendly dog who loves people and is very intelligent and active. They tend to love children and were once known as "nanny dogs" in their early history. They may have a tendency toward dog-to-dog aggression due to their terrier nature, but breeders have worked to select for dogs without this behavioral trait. Many American Staffordshire Terriers live successfully with other dogs, cats, and small pets.
Because amstaffs are strong and athletic dogs, daily exercise and walks are a must to keep this breed happy. Dogs that don't get enough exercise can become bored and destructive. Providing them with ample appropriate chew items will also help them exercise their strong jaws.
American Staffordshire Terriers excel at most dog sports, including agility, dog parkour, weight pull, and rally. They are extremely versatile, and one can find examples of the breed working as therapy dogs, service dogs, and detection dogs.
Early socialization is a must for this breed. Any American Staffordshire Terrier owner can confirm you will face trepidation from people uncomfortable with the breed due to negative stories in the media. It is necessary to keep your American Staffordshire Terrier well-socialized and comfortable with people and other animals. Likewise, training at least the fundamentals of obedience will help you live harmoniously with this large, strong dog.
Medical issues that are common to American Staffordshire Terriers include:
- Hip dysplasia: A painful disorder of the musculoskeletal system
- Hypothyroidism: A disorder of the endocrine system leading to lethargy, skin problems, and neurologic symptoms
- Allergies: Various skin problems such as hot spots, irritations, and sun damage due to their sensitive skin and short coats
- Demodectic mange: a parasitic skin disease
- Cerebellar ataxia: a neurological disorder affecting balance and muscular coordination
- Heart disease: includes a variety of disorders leading to heart failure
- Parvovirus: primarily affects puppies and can be fatal if not treated immediately
American Staffordshire Terriers can live between 9 and 15 years, though most have an average lifespan of 12 to 14 years.
Amstaffs have a short coat that needs brushing once a week. Bathe these dogs as need, but don't overdo it. Giving your dog too many baths will strip natural oils from their coat. Trim their nails as necessary, typically around every two weeks.
Famous Members of the Breed
Petey the lovable dog from the Little Rascals television show who was one of the first APBTs to be recognized by the AKC as an American Staffordshire Terrier. This amstaff's real name was Pal, the Wonder Dog, and his trainer, Lieutenant Harry Lucenay, said he was one of the brightest dogs he'd ever trained. Some sources report that Pal had a natural, partial ring around his right eye, which was completed and filled out by a makeup artist on set. After Pal died, Lucenay used one of his offspring to play the character on the show.
Purchasing or Adopting an American Staffordshire Terrier
If you want to find a purebred puppy, the AKC website lists breeders with AKC-registered litters, and the Staffordshire Terrier Club of America has a breeder directory. Request to meet the parents of the puppy prior to adopting. Are the adults well-rounded? Are they friendly? What type of living situation are they in?
American Staffordshire Terriers are wonderful dogs that do best with owners who are:
- Willing to do at least the bare minimum of training in basic obedience behaviors
- Committed to socializing them early and often to people and other animals
- Able to provide a regular daily outlet for their high energy level
- Comfortable with negative attitudes toward their dog due to the public perception of the breed as dangerous
- Aware of the potential issues involving Breed-Specific Legislation and difficulty finding homeowner's insurance
If you're looking to rescue an American Staffordshire Terrier, you can find dogs local to you using Petfinder and Pit Bull Rescue Central. Because they are a popular breed, many shelters often have this breed at all ages. You can also search breed-specific rescue organizations:
- A & S Rescue: An organization dedicated to rescuing the breed and finding homes in Northern Illinois.
- Stafford Rescue: Dedicated not only to rescuing the breed, but also to ensuring each dog is placed in the most suitable home. The prospective adopter explains what they are looking for and volunteers assist in the search.
- Amazing Grace: A foster-based rescue located in Pensacola, Florida.
Is This the Right Breed For You?
If you're interested in bringing home an American Staffordshire Terrier, research the breed carefully and talk to knowledgeable breeders and rescue groups to help make an informed decision about the needs and benefits of this powerful and intelligent breed.