American Staffordshire Terrier

Inherently vicious? Definitely not!


The City of Cincinnati and some surrounding communities have banned them. The City of Fairfield, Ohio first declared them vicious and then banned them, and the State of Ohio lumps them in with breeds “commonly known as a pit bull dog” and calls them vicious.

The media stirs the pot with stories about rampaging pit bulls and deadly attacks, and the public is frightened.

The object of all this attention is a group of dogs loosely referred to as “pit bull dogs” or “pit bull terriers” and specifically including three or four breeds that have not been bred for fighting for decades and that were not aggressive to humans even when they were bred for fighting. The reason for the attention is the irresponsible actions of some owners of these dogs — owners who fail to properly socialize and train their animals or who actually use them for criminal purposes.

The American Staffordshire Terrier takes the brunt of the criticism, but the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, the American Pit Bull Terrier, and even the Bull Terrier share the notoriety.

These breeds come from the same basic stock in England. After bull and bear baiting were outlawed in 1835, gamblers promoting blood sports turned their attention to dog fighting and to development of a breed with the tenacity and valor of the Bulldog (then resembling the modern American Staffordshire Terrier, now evolved into a squat, bowlegged sourpuss) and the agility of a terrier. Known originally as bull and terrier dogs, the crosses eventually produced the Staffordshire Terrier, a fierce fighter in the pit but easy to handle during training and when injured, and the Bull Terrier, a breed with a Roman nose and equal talent in the pits.

The first Staffordshire Terriers came to America as early as 1870, where they evolved into two separate breeds: the American Pit Bull Terrier breed first registered by the United Kennel Club in 1898 and the non-fighting dogs that eventually gained recognition with AKC under their British name. For a few years, UKC regulated dog fighting, but ceased its support decades ago and will expel members suspected of involvement in this illegal activity.

American pioneers enjoyed the versatility of the Staffordshire Terrier as vermin dog, homestead protector, and even hunting companion and herder. However, although it recognized the related Bull Terrier in 1885, AKC stalled recognition of the dog known in the US as the American Pit Bull Terrier until 1936, when it accepted the breed as the Staffordshire Terrier.

Meanwhile, back in England that same year, The Kennel Club recognized the original bull and terrier dog as the Staffordshire Bull Terrier.

As often happens, selective breeding in the US produced a bull and terrier dog larger than its British forebears. So, although the Staffordshire Terrier of the AKC and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier of England were virtually the same dog in the beginning, they now differed enough that AKC renamed its breed the American Staffordshire Terrier. Then, in 1974, AKC accepted the Staffordshire Bull Terrier into its ranks.

Days of infamy

Because of their fighting heritage, three of the four American bull and terrier breeds were destined to be misunderstood and maligned even decades after the breeds' fighting days were ended. Tales of unprovoked vicious attacks, jaws with the strength of Hercules, and dogs climbing on cars and even into trees to reach frightened victims seem to occur in bunches in newspapers all over the country, and each such spate of stories is often followed by a ban on the breeds.

However, just as with other breeds and mixes, the attacks by these dogs can be traced to human error or malfeasance — the dogs involved were likely to be poorly trained and socialized or deliberately trained to attack humans.

The majority of American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, and American Pit Bull Terriers have responsible owners who do not allow their pets to run loose and terrorize the neighborhood, yet these folks and their dogs suffer along with the irresponsible owners when a ban is imposed. The publicity given “pit bull” cases suggests there is a plethora of these dogs around, but AKC registered only 1810 individual Staffordshire Bull Terriers and 549 litters in the six years from 1990-1995, and 6588 American Staffordshire Terriers and 1803 litters in the same period. People who breed these dogs for fighting or criminal purposes do not register with either AKC or UKC.

Care and training

These breeds are easy care. The incidence of hip dysplasia is relatively low, and dogs are generally healthy. Coat care is minimal, and need for exercise is moderate. However, training is an absolute, no-excuse requirement, for like most other terriers, they can be stubborn and independent.

As with other hard-headed breeds, training begins with selection of a breeder who chooses only dogs of good temperament to produce puppies and accustoms the puppies to handling before they go to new homes. A breeder with an belligerent bitch or dog and fearful or aggressive puppies is to be avoided at all costs. Puppies should remain in the litter until they are eight weeks old to get the full benefit of interaction with brothers and sisters.

Training continues when you get the pup to your home. Good manners commands such as sit, stay, down, and come are essential for good control. Tug-of-war games are strongly discouraged as they tend to make the dog use his mouth to get his way. When puppy shots are completed at about 16 weeks of age, you should begin instruction in a puppy kindergarten class. If you do not have the time to put into training a guardian breed, don't get an AmStaff or Staffordshire Bull Terrier.

[More on obedience training]

AmStaffs and Staffordshire Bull Terriers kept as pets should be spayed or neutered to moderate territorial behavior and discourage the tendency to escape in search of a mate. As with other guardian breeds, these dogs should never be tied or chained outside unattended, and they should never be subjected to teasing by children or adults who want to goad them into growling or “attacking.”

Even with all these common sense precautions, dogs of these breeds can become aggressive or vicious just as dogs of all breeds and mixes can. However, the great majority of AmStaffs and Staffordshire Bull Terriers are loyal, courageous, and fun-loving companions, good with considerate children, guardians of home and hearth, and affectionate to family relatives and friends.

See also Ozzie Foreman's article “My dog was banned in Cincinnati

[More on finding a dog]

Norma Bennett Woolf

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