Muscular and full of courage, the American Staffordshire Terrier, colloquially known as the AmStaff, is a wonderful and loyal companion. Originally bred as a fighting and baiting dog in 18th and 19th century Great Britain, the American Staffordshire Terrier has evolved into a loving and social breed, adored by dog owners across the world. AmStaffs have been a storied part of British history and American popular culture, and it was an American Staffordshire Terrier named Sergeant Stubby who served valiantly with the United States Army’s 102nd Infantry in World War I. In 2018, AmStaffs were ranked the 85th most popular dog among 193 breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC).
The American Staffordshire Terrier is a sturdy dog with a large, square head, standing roughly 17 to 19 inches at the shoulder. Though weighing only 50 to 60 pounds, the American Staffordshire Terrier is impressively well-muscled, and is often confused with its smaller cousin, the American Pit Bull Terrier.
AmStaffs are notably stocky with a relatively short body and a short, stiff-haired coat that can come in a wide variety of different colors, from black, blue, and brindle, to fawn, sable, bronze, red, and white. Markings are also common on the American Staffordshire Terrier, and include a black, blue or white mask, patches, spots, points, and white markings.
Other physical traits of the American Staffordshire Terrier include a pair of straight, big-boned front legs; powerful, muscular back legs, and a tail that is short relative to its size, tapering to a point.
While the American Staffordshire Terrier was first bred for fighting and baiting, it has left most of its aggressive history behind, and is generally a very affectionate, loving dog. Despite its intimidating build, the American Staffordshire Terrier is good with children, and can make a great family dog if properly trained. The AmStaff is also highly intelligent, alert, and social, and loves to be around people. Though this breed can be somewhat territorial, it tends to love attention and is generally friendly to everyone, even strangers.
Notwithstanding its sociability and love for humans, the American Staffordshire Terrier may not be friendly around other dogs, and it is possible for the breed to display aggression, particularly when in the company of other unaltered dogs. AmStaffs are also unlikely to be friendly to other animals such as cats.
The average life expectancy for an American Staffordshire Terrier is 12 to 16 years. AmStaffs are playful and have plenty of energy, which can manifest itself in several ways. It’s important for the AmStaff to exercise regularly, otherwise it may be prone to destructive behavior and barking. American Staffordshire Terriers can easily get bored or suffer separation anxiety if left alone for long periods of time, and may chew to express their frustration. While an AmStaff will love to go places with its owner, the breed can prove difficult to travel with due to air travel restrictions and bans on the breed in several cities and countries around the world.
Caring for an American Staffordshire Terrier
The American Staffordshire Terrier is a unique dog that requires special attention to ensure good health, proper behavior, and a full, happy life.
A high-quality diet of packaged or homemade dog food should be provided for the American Staffordshire Terrier, correspondent with the dog’s age. There are plenty of nutrient-dense options available, and it is important to make sure the AmStaff receives a balanced diet of reputable food for large dogs. A commercial dog food can also be supplemented with the addition of probiotics for dogs or fish oil for dogs to ensure a more complete diet. Care should also be taken to prevent an AmStaff from overeating, as obesity can lead to other health issues. It’s also imperative that AmStaffs, like all dogs, only be given human food that is safe for dogs to eat.
The American Staffordshire Terrier needs frequent exercise and is an athletic, active breed. AmStaffs tend to prefer to exercise socially with their owners, so leaving them to an empty yard may not be the best solution. This breed is also always up for a challenge and will love partaking in agility and obstacle-based activities designed for dogs. Adequate exercise is extremely important for the American Staffordshire Terrier to promote psychological and physical development. AmStaffs also love to chew, dig, and jump, and can end up being quite destructive if their daily exercise needs are not met.
American Staffordshire Terriers are one of the most trainable dog breeds, but training them can require a great deal of patience. Given its physical prowess, headstrong mentality, and keen intelligence, an AmStaff that hasn’t been socialized and properly trained from a young age may be obstinate and poorly behaved. A leash for dogs that pull and plenty of consistency will go a long way for these dogs that can be inclined to pull on walks. The AKC also suggests that puppy training classes are a necessity for the AmStaff, given the breed’s strength and tendencies to jump, dig, and chew. In addition, training is crucial to helping socialize the American Staffordshire Terrier, and is important to ensuring that this powerful dog is obedient under the control of a confident owner.
The American Staffordshire Terrier is generally a very healthy breed with a long life expectancy for a dog its size. Some of the most common health problems that can occur in the American Staffordshire Terrier are cardiac disease, hip dysplasia, and allergies of the skin.
The AmStaff is also susceptible to autoimmune thyroiditis, for which the AKC recommends annual testing, as well as cerebellar ataxia and elbow dysplasia. There are now genetic tests available for cerebellar ataxia, and best practices for helping to prevent hip dysplasia include a healthy diet and avoiding obesity, plenty of exercise, and administration of a dog joint supplement.
A good practice for maintaining the general overall health of the American Staffordshire Terrier is to regularly clean and check the dog’s ears, in addition to brushing its teeth. Other minor health issues that may occur commonly in the American Staffordshire Terrier include cataracts, distichiasis, and mast cell tumors.