American Staffordshire Terrier Temperament: What's Good About 'Em, What's Bad About 'Em
American Staffordshire Terrier Temperament, Personality, Behavior, Traits, and Characteristics, by Michele Welton. Copyright © 2000-2018
"Hey, that looks like a Pit Bull!" is the typical response when someone meets an American Staffordshire Terrier (AmStaff) for the first time.
It's true. An American Staffordshire Terrier and an American Pit Bull Terrier can look much the same – often so much the same that experts can't tell them apart. In fact, the same dog can be registered with the American Kennel Club as an American Staffordshire Terrier and also with the United Kennel Club as an American Pit Bull Terrier!
So what's up with that?
Well, these two breeds share exactly the same roots – a combination of tough working terriers and bulldogs brought to the U.S. from Great Britain in the late 1800s. They were used for dog-fighting and also as general farm dogs.
In the 1930s, some breeders decided to focus on conformation shows where a standardized appearance was the most important goal. These lines of dogs became the American Staffordshire Terrier (AmStaff). Animal aggression was toned way down, and a more laid-back temperament is typical.
Yes. It often surprises people to learn that this extremely muscular dog with the impressive, confident presence is so easygoing.
A well-bred American Staffordshire Terrier is a dependable, good-natured, loyal companion.
Athletic and agile, with finely tuned reflexes, he must have moderate daily exercise to maintain his splendid muscle tone.
Companionship is even more important, and extensive ongoing socialization is paramount. His attitude toward strangers varies from exuberant face kissing to polite reserve.
His attitude toward other animals, however, may be another story. Most lines are not particularly close to their dog-fighting ancestry, and many AmStaffs will live peacefully in a houseful of pets. But if confronted by another assertive dog, most AmStaffs will readily engage and then the results can turn deadly in a hurry.
American Staffordshires can be stubborn, yet they respond well to confident owners who know how to establish and enforce rules of expected behavior.
Because of public/media prejudice, every American Staffordshire Terrier should be trained through at least basic obedience and always leashed outside of his yard. Every well-behaved American Staffordshire seen on the street can help counteract anti-breed sentiment.
If you want a dog who...
- Is medium to large, muscular and powerful
- Looks imposing, so makes an effective deterrent, but is usually non-aggressive with people
- Has a sleek, easy-groom coat that comes in many colors
An American Staffordshire Terrier may be right for you.
If you don't want to deal with...
- Legal liabilities (public perception, future breed bans, insurance problems, increased chance of lawsuits)
- An extremely careful search to be sure you're acquiring a stable-tempered individual
- Providing extra socialization and training to make sure your dog turns out well
- Potential aggression toward other animals
- Rowdiness and exuberant jumping, especially when young
- Destructiveness when bored
- Strong-willed mind of his own, requiring a confident owner who can take charge
An American Staffordshire Terrier may not be right for you.
Keep in mind that the inheritance of temperament is less predictable than the inheritance of physical traits such as size or shedding. Temperament and behavior are also shaped by raising and training.
- You can avoid some negative traits by choosing an ADULT dog from an animal shelter or rescue group. With an adult dog, you can easily see what you're getting, and plenty of adult AmStaffs have already proven themselves not to have negative characteristics.
- If you want a puppy, you can avoid some negative traits by choosing the right breeder and the right puppy. Unfortunately, you usually can't tell whether a puppy has inherited temperament or health problems until he grows up.
- Finally, you can avoid some negative traits by training your American Staffordshire Terrier to respect you and by following the 11-step care program in my book, 11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy.
More traits and characteristics of the American Staffordshire Terrier
If I was considering an American Staffordshire Terrier, I would be most concerned about...
- Potential animal aggression. Many American Staffordshire Terriers are fine with other dogs.... but some are decidedly NOT. They may not start fights, but they will surely finish them. Some individuals have strong instincts to chase and seize cats and other fleeing creatures. And obviously this breed is capable of seriously injuring or killing other animals.
To keep your American Staffordshire in, and to keep other animals out, fences should be at least six feet high. If you have a digger, sink wire into the ground along the fence line. Gates should have the highest quality locks.
- Providing enough exercise and mental stimulation. American Staffordshires don't need miles of running exercise. Moderate exercise will do, as long as you provide it every day. These powerful dogs need regular opportunities to vent their energy and do interesting things. Otherwise they might become bored – which they usually express by destructive chewing. Massive destructive chewing.
- The strong temperament. The best AmStaffs are capable of learning a great deal, but they are not pushovers to train. To teach your American Staffordshire Terrier to listen to you, "Respect Training" is mandatory. My American Staffordshire Terrier Training Page discusses the program you need.
- Legal liabilities. American Staffordshire Terriers are already banned in certain areas, unfortunately tarred with the same broad brush as similar-looking breeds, crosses, and mixes. Homeowners' insurance policies may be refused or revoked if you are discovered to own a Staffordshire Terrier. Your friends and neighbors may be uncomfortable around this breed. In this day and age, the legal liabilities of owning any breed that looks intimidating and has a fighting heritage should be seriously considered. People are quicker to sue if such a dog does anything even remotely questionable.
Frankly, the American Staffordshire Terrier may be "too much dog" for the average household.
To help you train and care for your dog
Dog training videos. Sometimes it's easier to train your puppy (or adult dog) when you can see the correct training techniques in action.
The problem is that most dog training videos on the internet are worthless, because they use the wrong training method. I recommend these dog training videos that are based on respect and leadership.
To learn more about training your dog to be calm and well-behaved, my dog training book is Teach Your Dog 100 English Words. It's a unique Vocabulary and Respect Training Program that will teach your dog to listen to you and do whatever you ask.
My dog buying guide, Dog Quest: Find The Dog Of Your Dreams, will teach you everything you need to know about finding a good-tempered, healthy dog.
My dog health care book, 11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy, shows you how to help your dog live a longer life while avoiding health problems and unnecessary veterinary expenses.