With their large, broad heads, defined jaws, and strong stance, it is easy to see why many are intimidated by the American Staffordshire Terrier. Categorized as one of the breeds under the layman’s term “pit bull”, there is much more to this dog than its history of abuse.
- Muscular build
- Naturally affectionate and sociable
- High energy
- Loyal companionship
The American Staffordshire Terrier, also known as the AmStaff is a medium-sized but highly muscular, short-haired breed that was developed in the United States in the 19th century. It was a larger version of the Staffordshire Terrier imported from the United Kingdom.
These dogs were originally bred for use in blood sports, for one-on-one fights with other dogs, or to attack bears or bulls as a pack. These cruel practices have been banned since then, although dogfighting rings continue illegally up to this day.
Their reputation may be fearsome, but in the 1930s, the AmStaff became a popular family dog because of the influence of Pete the Pup from Little Rascals.
Because of its reputation, the AmStaff is subject to breed-specific legislation in certain parts of the United States. This started in the 1980s, when Florida required pit bull-type dog owners to complete special registration and provide proof that they had the capacity to pay $25,000 dollars in public liability insurance. In 1984, a locality in New Mexico banned pit bull-type breeds and went to so far as to allow capture and euthanasia of such dogs existing in the community.
As of 2018, various forms of breed specific legislation are enacted in counties in 37 states.
But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. As more and more people interact with American Staffordshire Terriers, public perception has been slowly but surely changing. In recent times, AmStaffs have been gaining popularity as loving family dogs and industrious working dogs.
Appearance and Vital Stats
Dog Breed Group
The American Staffordshire Terrier originated from a cross between a bulldog and a terrier. While its physical appearance is closer to the bulldog line, this breed is in fact under the terrier group.
Like other breeds in this category, the AmStaff is energetic, loyal, and highly driven. This intense fixation on an activity can manifest as stubbornness. However, with proper and consistent training, these dogs can excel at a wide variety of tasks.
Size (Height, Weight)
Males usually weigh between 55-70lbs and stand at 18-19 inches at the shoulder. Females are slightly smaller, weighing between 40-55lbs and standing at 17-18 inches at the shoulder.
American Staffordshire Terriers are relatively healthy dogs with a life span of 12-16 years.
AmStaffs are stocky, medium-sized dogs with highly defined musculature. They have broad heads, prominent cheek muscles, and deep chests.
The American Staffordshire’s coat is short and smooth. On the upside, it is very easy to maintain. On the downside, it provides a rather thin layer of protection against the elements and pathogens in the environment.
In early spring and early autumn, AmStaffs have their seasonal shedding. Apart from these two periods, they shed very little.
Coat colors include black, brown, fawn, red, liver, and blue. They may be solid-colored, have splotches of white, or exhibit a brindle pattern. The nose is always black. Dogs with red noses are American Pitbull Terriers originated from Ireland and cannot be registered as American Staffordshire Terriers.
The AmStaff’s tail is long, thin, and straight, arising from well-defined muscles.
The American Staffordshire’s ears are usually cocked or rose-eared, that is, the pointed tip is folded down and to the side.
Ear cropping was a common practice in the era of blood sports as the AmStaff’s ears were easily injured during fights. This was continued later on by pet owners who wanted their dog’s appearance to be more intimidating. However, this practice has lost its popularity amidst the rise of animal welfare.
American Staffordshire Terriers suffer from an undeserved reputation for aggressiveness due to their history. It is because of this reputation that irresponsible owners are drawn to the breed. They perpetuate this cycle by maltreating their AmStaffs and training them to be violent. Any animal that suffers abuse will learn to treat the world with fear and suspicion.
However, when raised responsibly and with love, the true nature of the American Staffordshire shines through. They are affectionate with their owners and friendly towards people. Early socialization with different kinds of people and animals will help encourage this trait.
AmStaffs are highly energetic dogs with considerable strength for their size. Their playfulness may cause harm simply because they do not know their own strength and weight. Regular exercise and mental stimulation activities are good ways to redirect their energy.
Their strong will and even stronger bodies make training a requirement of this breed. These dogs thrive under physically capable, confident trainers who use positive reinforcement to capitalize on their intense desire to please.
Those who are looking to welcome an AmStaff into their family should be prepared for disparaging comments made about their dogs. There is still a strong stigma attached to “pit bull” breeds that fuels hatred and fear towards them. The best way to correct these misconceptions is to properly train and care for your dog. Public perception will change one well-behaved “pit bull” at a time.
American Staffordshire Terriers may adapt to apartment living provided that they are given regular exercise and mental stimulation in the forms of toys or training activities. People considering this breed should be able to fit in at least 1-2 hours of exercise daily.
AmStaffs are known to be heavy chewers. Investing in durable dog toys tailored for larger breeds can lessen the incidence of destroying objects at home.
Children and Other Pets
American Staffordshires are generally friendly and gentle towards children. However, due to their size and strength, supervision is necessary. Note that children should be taught how to properly approach dogs regardless of the breed.
AmStaffs have a strong prey drive due to their breeding history. Early socialization with different animals can curb this tendency. It is recommended that this breed be supervised when playing with other dogs.
American Staffordshire Terriers reach their peak physique when fed a high-protein diet. Use meat-based protein rather than plant-based protein for maximum effect. The addition of healthy fats will help with skin and coat problems.
If owners are considering preparing homemade meals for their AmStaffs, they should consult a veterinarian to ensure that all nutritional requirements are met.
These dogs may be medium-sized, but their bulk requires a large amount of food. An average adult AmStaff should be fed at least 3-4 cups of food. If the dog is active and receives rigorous exercise daily, this amount should be increased. Otherwise, feeding them more could result in obesity.
Note that food requirements differ depending on age and activity level. It is best to consult a veterinarian how much your dog should be fed to maintain a healthy weight.
The AmStaff’s short, smooth coat allows for a low level of maintenance. It takes longer for this breed to develop the characteristic “doggy smell”. Brushing once a week will remove most dirt and debris from under the coat. Bathing may be done once a week at most to avoid stripping its coat from protective secretions. Usually, these dogs are bathed on an as-needed basis.
AmStaffs are prone to developing halitosis or foul breath. It recommended that teeth cleaning using veterinary-approved dog toothpaste be done weekly, if not more often.
Some chew toys have been specially designed to help keep plaque and tartar at bay. Plaque is a sticky substance that forms on teeth after meals. It usually harbors bacteria. When plaque is exposed to the minerals in saliva for a long time, its hardens to form tartar. This porous surface can serve as a breeding ground for bacteria. Allowing a dog to sink its teeth into vet-approved chew toys and treats on a regular basis can help loosen and remove the plaque and tartar formed on the teeth.
Nails should be cut regularly as it can be painful when they put their full weight on human skin. Training an AmStaff puppy to tolerate tooth brushing and nail cutting will save a lot of time and effort as they grow older.
Regular exercise is essential in keeping an American Staffordshire Terrier happy and out of trouble. If a yard is available, it is important to reinforce the perimeter with a high, sturdy fence.
Whether or not there is space at home to run, it is important to take AmStaffs on walks at least once a day to allow them to exercise their bodies and their brains. Owners should train their dogs as early as possible to avoid leash pulling, jumping at strangers, and barking. It is much better to train them as puppies as they are smaller, lighter, and therefore easier to control.
These dogs are canine athletes who excel in all forms of dog sports. This can be a fun way to exercise, train, and create a bond with an AmStaff.
Future owners should consider investing in heavy chew toys and mental stimulation toys to keep these dogs from being bored at home.
American Staffordshire Terriers are relatively healthy dogs. As such, pet insurance for this breed is lower compared to others. However, there are still some health issues that may occur.
Hereditary factors may predispose this breed to medical conditions such as hip or elbow dysplasia, congenital heart disease, hypothyroidism, and cerebellar ataxia. Prospective owners can avoid this by seeking responsible and ethical breeders. Those who choose to adopt AmStaffs from shelters should be aware of common conditions in order to recognize the symptoms early or take steps to prevent them from occurring at all.
AmStaffs need to be exercised regularly outdoors, which increases their chances of encountering parasites, bacteria, fungi, or irritating substances found in the environment. Their short coat may not afford an adequate layer of protection against certain pathogens, hence skin conditions are common. It is considered good practice to clean dog paws before reentering the house as this part of their body most likely to come into contact with disease-causing agents. Regularly deworming and ectoparasite prevention will keep these diseases at a minimum while still giving the dog the outdoor time it needs.
This breed is playful, energetic, and has a high tolerance for physical pain. Their exuberance may lead them to overexert themselves running or exercising, leading to joint and bone problems. Patellar dislocation, early-onset osteoarthritis, and spondylosis may occur if dogs are continuously subjected to intense physical activity. Activities that are taxing to the joints should be spaced out to allow for rest.
Similar breeds and Breed variations
American Staffordshire Terriers are under the umbrella category of “pit bull”. It refers to any dog or breed that is a result of crossbreeding bulldogs and terriers. This includes four breeds recognized by the AKC: American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Bull Terriers, and Miniature Bull Terriers. There are also unofficial types like American Pit Bull Terriers and American Bullies, which are not recognized by the AKC.
Staffordshire Bull Terrier
The closest relative to the American Staffordshire Terrier is the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. This breed originated in 18th century England and exported to the United States. American breeders wanted to have a heavier version of the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, hence the AmStaff was born. Whereas the AmStaff stands at 17-19 inches at the shoulder, its cousin from Europe has an average height of 14-16 inches and weighs less than 37 lbs.
American Pit Bull Terrier
The American Pit Bull Terrier is not a registered breed under the American Kennel Club. It is only recognized by organizations created for recognizing pit bull-type dog breeds, such as the United Kennel Club. They are very similar in appearance to the American Staffordshire Terrier, except they are slightly taller at 17-20 inches, are lighter at 30-60 pounds, are longer in body (hence appearing less stocky), and are available in a wider variety of colors and patterns. Some owners register their dogs in both the AKC and the UKC. In such a case, the same dog is registered as the American Staffordshire Terrier in the AKC and the American Pit Bull Terrier in the UKC.