Few breeds are as misunderstood as the American Staffordshire Terrier ― along with every other breed that falls into the misleading “pit bull” category. But despite its violent history, the AmStaff, as well as all these other breeds, has been bred mainly for companionship over the past century and a half. The result is a friendly, albeit intimidating and tenacious dog, which doesn’t deserve all the bad press that it gets.
A friendly dog with a grim history
The modern American Staffordshire Terrier can trace its origins back to England, where it started out as a mix between the Bulldog (a much less friendly version of the bully breeds of today) and terrier breeds. The AmStaff has had many names over the years, and it got even more complicated when the breed made its way to the US around 1850. By then, it was known as the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, but by 1976, the Americans had bred a larger dog that now needed to be distinguished from the British version. Hence, the American Staffordshire Terrier.
Much like other so-called “pit bull breeds“, the American Staffordshire Terrier has come to be severely misunderstood. The ancestors of this dog ― just like the ancestors of other bulldog breeds ― were originally bred for managing cattle and hunting, but eventually started being used in bull-baiting. This was a barbaric pastime that took advantage of the tenacity, courage, and strength of a bulldog, while encouraging aggression. While bull-baiting in Britain was banned in 1835, this type of dog was still used in dog-fighting rings, and sadly, this still happens today. But thanks to the efforts made by dog-lovers back in 1860s Britain to resurrect and refine these breeds, we have all the wonderful bully breeds we see today.
Aside from all of this, the American Staffordshire Terrier has been known in film and entertainment for decades, as well as in more serious contexts. While pups like Bud, Petey, and Tige have captured the hearts of Americans throughout the 1900s, an AmStaff named Stubby made Sergeant, and became the most decorated dog of World War I. The American Staffordshire Terrier has long been an American favorite, and with its long list of admirable traits, it’s not hard to see why.
Size and appearance of the American Staffordshire Terrier
The most striking things about the American Staffordshire Terrier are the same things that make people so readily point them out as a “pit bull breed”. They’re stocky, muscular, with a wide head and a big smile. They’re not that tall, though; the AmStaff stands 17 to 19 inches in height. In terms of build, the American Staffordshire Terrier and the similar American Pit Bull Terrier have a lot in common, though they have at this point been bred separately for over 50 years. The most obvious distinction between them is that the AmStaff is often larger, and tends to have a somewhat more docile personality.
Their coat is short and smooth, and comes in colors like blue, white, fawn, red, and black. They also come in mixes of these colors, as well as brindle. The American Staffordshire Terrier doesn’t shed much throughout the year, but every spring and fall, you’d better be ready to brush every day in order to catch the excess of loose hairs. Overall, the grooming needs of the American Staffordshire Terrier are pretty low, and this dog usually doesn’t have much of that typical “dog odor”, either. For their stocky build and heavy muscle, the American Staffordshire Terrier moves quite gracefully, with a springy, agile gait. On another note, the AmStaff is known for being prone to bad breath ― make sure to clean those pearly whites on a regular basis.
Temperament and personality
Despite its widespread reputation of being aggressive, the American Staffordshire Terrier is anything but. This dog has long been known as a friendly, loyal, and brave companion, and they haven’t really been used for much else in many generations. When it comes to their guard dog tendencies, well, there are none. At most, they make a decent watchdog through intimidation alone, due to their reputation and appearance, and they’re likely to give at least a bark of warning at the sight of a stranger. That said, it doesn’t take long for an American Staffordshire Terrier to make a new friend ― they love spending time with humans, especially their family, and want to join them in everything they do. Whether this involves a long walk, some intense playtime, or chilling on the couch, they’re game for anything.
The American Staffordshire Terrier is very intelligent and trainable, with a lot of personality, and they need to be properly stimulated, trained, and socialized in order to thrive. They’re naturally fond of people, which puts them among the breeds that tend to do well as assistance dogs in terms of emotional support, and they’re considered friendly dogs in general. They might be a little standoffish toward other dogs, though, hence the importance of socialization. Also, a bored American Staffordshire Terrier can act out through digging and barking, and will pull on a leash without proper training ― while friendly, it’s a breed that needs a firm hand. But just like with any other breed, it’s all about making sure your pup gets exactly what they need to be happy.
Things to consider
The reputation alone of the American Staffordshire Terrier can cause some problems, in terms of rules and regulations (i.e. Breed Specific Legislation), depending on where you live. Due to the damaging misconceptions about this breed, as well as other bully breeds, some places may not allow them at all, and insurance companies may refuse to cover households that have them. Not to mention, people may react a certain way, when they spot an AmStaff on the street. Sadly, far too many people have over the years taken advantage of the same physical traits that made breeds like this so popular during their bull-baiting days. So much so, that many only see the American Staffordshire Terrier and other breeds like it as dangerous. And all the people who keep perpetuating these harmful stereotypes through misinformation and rumors definitely aren’t helping, either.
If you choose to bring an American Staffordshire Terrier into your life, be prepared to face some prejudice, no matter how wonderful and friendly you know your dog is. Until attitudes change, this aspect can be a challenge, in itself. But if you’re up for that challenge, and you’re ready to put the effort, time, and attention into giving your American Staffordshire Terrier what they need to be happy, you’ll have a loyal companion for life.