Choosing an American Staffordshire Terrier

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The American Staffordshire terrier has the unfortunate history of originally being bred for aggression and dog fighting. The breed is often confused with the pit bull, which is a separate breed.

History and Origin

Around the time of the Civil War, dogs were imported from England for the expressed purpose of dogfighting. Some of the imported breeds include the English bulldog, bull terrier, English terrier, Staffordshire terrier and various other terriers. It is from these dogs that the American Staffordshire terrier, affectionately known as the Amstaff, descends. Unfortunately, original breeding and development of this breed was primarily aimed at creating the ultimate fighting machine. This led to a stocky, powerful and aggressive dog. Thankfully, the sport of dog fighting became illegal and breeders concentrated on reducing the dog's natural aggressive tendencies while retaining their incredible courage, loyalty and stamina. In fact, World War II posters used the American Staffordshire terrier as a symbol of courage and bravery. The Amstaff of today is a loyal and protective dog that is not routinely aggressive.

Originally, this breed was referred to as the pit dog, pit bull terrier, American bull terrier or Yankee terrier. This is probably the reason this breed is confused with the pit bull terrier of today. In 1936, the American Kennel Club recognized the breed as the Staffordshire terrier, and as a member of the terrier group. By 1972, the name was changed to the American Staffordshire terrier and in 1974, the Staffordshire terrier of England was recognized as a separate breed.

Appearance and Size

The American Staffordshire terrier has a strong, muscular and stocky body with dark eyes. The ears may be docked and erect or left natural. If not docked, the ears are triangular, high set and hand down. The tail is short and usually carried down. The coat is short and thick, and comes in a variety of colors, but not more than 80 percent should be white. The Amstaff stands 17 to 19 inches from the shoulder and weighs 40 to 50 pounds.


The American Staffordshire terrier has a gentle and loving temperament towards people he knows and loves, but some have a tendency to be aggressive toward other animals. They are intelligent and obedient if socialized and trained at an early age.

Home and Family Relations

The Amstaff makes a wonderful guard dog and companion dog. They are extremely loyal and highly protective of children, adults and property belonging to their owners. The Amstaff is good with children if raised around them, but can be aggressive to strangers.


The American Staffordshire terrier needs basic and advanced obedience classes starting at an early age. They need a firm yet gentle hand with lots of socialization. This dog needs to be taught how to control his natural fighting instinct.


The hair coat of the Amstaff is short and smooth. Daily brushing and a wipe down with a towel will keep them clean and shiny.

Special Care

It is recommended to always keep an American Staffordshire terrier on a leash in public, as with any dog, and supervise him around strangers. They are very protective dogs and do not hesitate to use aggression if they feel their family of property is in danger.

Common Diseases and Disorders

Problems seen in this breed may include:

  • Gastric torsion (bloat) is a life-threatening sudden illness associated with the stomach filling with air and twisting.
  • Hip dysplasia is a malformation of the hip joint that results in pain, lameness and arthritis.
  • Cataracts cause a loss of the normal transparency of the lens of the eye. The problem can occur in one or both eyes and can lead to blindness.

    Arthritis and cruciate injuries are also relatively common.

    In addition, although these occur infrequently, the following disorders have also been reported:

  • Lick granuloma is a behavior problem that results in persistent licking of one area on the skin causing a non-healing wound.
  • Cutaneous histiocytoma – is a benign tumor of the skin that can affect young dogs.
  • Entropion is a problem with the eyelid that causes inward rolling. Lashes on the edge of the eyelid irritate the surface of the eyeball and may lead to more serious problems.
  • Deafness can occur at birth or develop later in life.
  • Patent ductus arteriosis, or PDA, is a birth defect of the heart that if not treated can lead to heart failure.
  • Mast cell tumors are malignant tumors than can occur in the skin or within the body.

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