Are you considering making an American Staffordshire Terrier a part of your family? They’re an incredible breed with tons of personality, and they’re also highly trainable. Still, they descend from the Staffordshire Bull Terrier—a dog bred initially for dogfighting—so they carry a negative stigma.
Whether a breed is connected to use in blood sports or not, it’s always important that you learn all you possibly can about both their temperament and their nature before you bring one home. To make that a little easier for you, we’ve looked at the statistics and done all the research you’re likely to need to get a clear picture of what kind of pet the American Staffordshire can be for you and your family. Enjoy!
Why Do American Staffordshires Carry a Negative Stigma?
In a previous article explaining the history of the American Staffordshire Terrier, we told you that the roots of the AmStaff breed had a long history of being used in fights. Because of that, AmStaffs have earned a reputation as aggressive. While it is understandable that the breed’s historical connection to violent canine sports might influence these claims, they are largely untrue today and should be regarded as a harmful stereotype. To better understand why the American Staffordshire Terrier carries a negative stigma, let’s look back at the history of the breed.
Origin of the Staffy
The American Staffordshire Terrier, also known as the AmStaff or Staffy, is believed to be a cross between the Old English Bulldog and several different English Terrier breeds, such as the White English and the Fox Terrier. The breed has its origins in 19th century England, a period when dogfighting was an unfortunately popular pastime. So popular, in fact, that entire breeds were explicitly procreated with the inhumane activity in mind.
The Bulldog and the Terrier were bred together during this period to cross the speed and athleticism of the Terrier with the strength, confidence, and gameness of the Bulldog. The resulting dogs, known as the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, would later cross the Atlantic, eventually evolving into two separate breeds: the American Pit Bull Terrier and the American Staffordshire Terrier.
Is the Stigma True?
While it is true that long ago that the AmStaff’s forebears were created with the explicit purpose of being used as fighting dogs, the AmStaff itself has long since evolved past those violent roots. They are regarded today as loving, affectionate, friendly dogs. Perhaps, they’re even too friendly. AmStaffs are not very successful guard dogs due to their tendency to take kindly to strangers without a second thought.
Breaking the stigma about the American Staffordshire Terrier is made more difficult by irresponsible dog owners who foster violent or aggressive dog behavior through lack of training or abuse. All dog breeds do have the potential to become aggressive if you are not willing to give them the proper attention they require, so it is most often up to you whether or not your AmStaff lives up to its unfair reputation.
Does the AmStaff Have an Aggressive Nature?
Since you now know their origins as English fighting dogs, you’re likely wondering if American Staffordshire Terriers are naturally aggressive animals. After all, it’s easy to imagine that the traits selected for blood sports would not be so easily lost over time. It’s also easy to imagine that a dog breed as muscular and powerful as AmStaffs might be aggressive, as they can appear quite intimidating to some.
However, the truth is that the history and the appearance of the American Staffordshire Terrier are both quite misleading. The breed does not have the aggressive nature that its ancestors were bred for, and the reasons for that are fascinating.
The AmStaff’s Friendly Disposition
Despite their breeding for blood sports, aggression toward humans was considered among the least desirable traits of the AmStaff’s predecessors. That is because human handlers needed control over their fighting dogs, and any dog that showed aggression toward people was incredibly difficult to keep in check. For that reason, only dogs that were friendly and loyal to humans were allowed to breed.
It’s safe to say that, for the most part, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier left its fighting dog roots behind when it made the jump over the pond from England to America. According to Britannica.com, the American iteration of the Staffordshire Terrier “was bred for a stable temperament and adapted for hunting rodents and other vermin and game and for farm work.” The courage, loyalty, and high trainability that these dogs possess made it easy for them to be transformed from fearsome to family-friendly in only a few generations.
The AmStaff received AKC classification in 1936. At that time, they were hardly known as vicious attack dogs. In fact, they were often used on television and in movies and seen as the loyal family pets that they genuinely are. One of the most notable AmStaffs was Petey from Our Gang, better known today as The Little Rascals. Had the breed been known for its aggressive nature at that time, it’s improbable that any would have become Hollywood stars.
How to Avoid Aggressive Behavior
A mistreated or neglected dog has the potential to become aggressive regardless of what breed it is. The most significant difference between many breeds and the American Staffordshire Terrier, however, is that AmStaffs are incredibly strong and bold, so an aggressive one does have the potential to be particularly dangerous. That’s why you must make a concerted effort to discourage aggressive behavior in your AmStaff should you choose to bring one into your life. To help you do that, here are some helpful tips to follow.
Puppy Training and Early Socialization
As with all dogs, puppy training is imperative for the American Staffordshire Terrier. Training should begin from a very early age to avoid learning bad habits that can be difficult to unlearn as the dog grows older. One of the simplest forms of training you can provide for your AmStaff is by allowing it to socialize as early as possible. Early socialization can help your dog become accustomed to meeting strangers and strange dogs, lowering the potential for aggressive behavior.
Obedience training is always helpful if you want to have a great relationship with your dog and eliminate their potential to cause any catastrophes in your life. A dog that understands where it sits on the totem pole of power within your family is a dog that is far less likely to behave aggressively. It may be worth considering a professional trainer if it’s within your financial means. Still, there are plenty of more affordable resources for you to learn how to make your AmStaff the most obedient family pet you’ve ever had, as well.
Plenty of Exercise
Another tremendous key in avoiding aggressive behavior in your AmStaff is providing plenty of mental stimulation. This breed has lots of energy, and if it doesn’t get to exercise, it can become a handful. Inadequate exercise can cause barking, destructiveness, and aggression. Double your anti-aggression training by providing your pup with an opportunity to run with other people and other dogs so that it can burn all of that excess energy while learning how to socialize.
Lots of Love
Perhaps the simplest way to ensure that your American Staffordshire Terrier does not become aggressive is by giving it ample amounts of love, care, and attention. Neglected and abused animals are the most likely to act out violently, and that could all be prevented with a little bit of TLC. Of course, it’s still essential to socialize and train your dog, but the foundation of creating a gentle nature in your AmStaff is through affection, kindness, and care.
Beautiful Characteristics of the AmStaff Temperament Revealed
We hope you can now see that the negative stigma connected to the American Staffordshire Terrier is groundless at best. The American Kennel Club breed standard itself will tell you all you need to know about these amazing dogs. It lists them as confident, intelligent, and good-natured. But that’s not all the breed has to offer. Here are some of the more incredible characteristics you can expect from your American Staffordshire Terrier puppy, provided it is well trained and properly cared for.
A Loving Pet
Unless you want a dog to provide a specific service for you, such as herding or protection, the single most crucial characteristic just about anyone expects to see from a high-quality family pet is a loving nature. American Staffordshire Terriers are some of the most loving dogs you can find. If you decide to bring an AmStaff into your life, prepare for a ton of appreciation, affection, and companionship.
A Loyal Friend
AmStaffs are a particularly loyal breed that will develop a strong bond with you and your family rather quickly. They love to go on long walks and play outside with anyone that they recognize as part of the family. Still, most of all they just love to be by your side. Loyalty is one of the finest qualities in all family pets, and there aren’t many breeds out there that can match the loyalty your Staffy can provide.
A Playful Pal
Your AmStaff will be a very energetic dog, and while this does mean your commitment to them will have to be greater than with some other breeds, it also means you’ll always have a friend to play with. By exercising your pup, you’ll not only be lowering their overall energy level and reducing the odds that they’ll act aggressively, but you’re also building an even stronger bond with them.
The terrier dog breed family is full of intelligent and trainable pups, but the American Staffordshire Terrier is among the most brilliant and trainable of them all. You can expect your AmStaff to learn commands rather quickly, and, provided you’re truly dedicated, you can eventually have your dog trained to an impressive level. This characteristic is one of the primary reasons you shouldn’t worry about your Staffy being aggressive. If you’re willing to put the necessary time in with your pup, it will always follow your lead.
A Long Lifespan
It’s safe to say that any dog owner wants to spend as much time with their companion as possible, but unfortunately, some breeds have significantly shorter life expectancies than others. Generally, the smaller breeds live the longest, but the American Staffordshire Terrier bucks that trend with an average lifespan of about 12-16 years.
Other Dogs with an Aggressive Temperament
Now that you know the true nature of the American Staffordshire Terrier, you may be wondering which breeds actually do have an aggressive temperament. Well, you may be quite shocked to learn that it’s not necessarily the ones that were bred for fighting or the ones who look the strongest and most fierce. You can find aggressive temperaments in breeds of all shapes and sizes. Here are just a few examples of that.
Sometimes the snarling and snapping come from the place you least expect it. Chihuahuas are the smallest dog breed around, but that doesn’t stop them from bearing their teeth when they feel they or their owner are in danger. This breed is fiercely loyal and can make their devotion to their owner known by getting aggressive at times.
English Bull Terrier
Although they are both believed to be descendants of the Bulldog and the White English Terrier, the English Bull Terrier and the Staffy have clear distinctions which show that they are entirely separate breeds. The stocky and powerful English Bull Terrier can be very energetic (high prey drive), and they can play quite rough. Without a commitment to training and socialization, they can have an aggressive streak that is hard to break.
Another dog breed that you may not have expected to have an aggressive temperament is the Dachshund. These pups may be small, stubby, and adorable, but they were bred to hunt badgers, and that means a bit of a mean streak was a desirable trait in them. Today, the consequences of that breeding can manifest in dominant, defensive, or aggressive behavior, particularly without socialization.
This one is perhaps less shocking than some of the others on this list. Rottweilers are big, strong dogs specifically bred for guarding, so they make for quite an intimidating watchdog. If they do get aggressive, it has the potential to get ugly. The good news is that, much like most other aggressive dogs, the issues most often arise when the Rottweiler is mistreated, abused, or neglected. With the right amount of dedication and care, you can significantly reduce the odds of a Rottweiler becoming a danger to you or anyone else.
That’s about everything you need to know about the American Staffordshire Terrier. If you were on the fence about whether or not to bring one home to your family, hopefully now you’ve got a much clearer picture of the breed and its temperament. If you’re still undecided, remember the following key points that we covered.
First, the AmStaff is believed to result from a cross between the Bulldog and a few different terriers. The initial Bull and Terrier was bred with the explicit intention of creating a highly desirable fighting dog. However, after they made their way to America, those traits were by and large bred out of them, and today they are affectionate and family-friendly.
Remember that a large part of what makes many dogs aggressive is neglect, abuse, and mistreatment. Of course, each dog’s disposition always plays a significant role in its personality. Still, with the proper care and dedication to the dog, you can make great strides towards preventing any violent behavior.
The final aspect of Staffies that we covered was the many beautiful characteristics that they have. They’re playful, loving, loyal, and they tend to live pretty long lives for dogs of their size. In other words, if they’re given the right opportunity to show them, the AmStaff’s positive attributes clearly outweigh the negative ones. Just be sure that if you choose to add one to your family, you give it the care, attention, and love it needs and deserves.
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