The American Staffordshire Terrier is a muscular, compact, and loyal breed. Standing at only around 18 inches tall, this powerful dog can still weigh as much as 70 pounds. That said, most AmStaffs (as they’re often called) are around 40-60 pounds, with females typically falling into the lower end of that range.
Despite only becoming an official breed by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1936, American Staffordshire Terriers can trace their history back to 18th-century England, where, sadly, they were used in the barbaric sport of bullbaiting along with many other “bully” breeds.
However, the modern AmStaff is a loving, cuddly, and loyal family dog known for their athleticism and eagerness to please their favorite people. Besides their dense and compact frame, the AmStaff is also known for a wide range of colors including brindle, blue, brown, liver, black, and white.
Caring for an American Staffordshire Terrier
A naturally athletic breed, American Staffies need a lot of exercise. Pet parents should aim for at least 60 minutes of exercise daily, which can be broken down into smaller sessions. Games of chase and tug-of-war are favorites of the AmStaff breed, but any vigorous exercise will be welcomed by these energetic dogs!
With their short single-layer coat, the AmStaff isn’t a big shedder, but these dogs will still leave plenty of small hairs in all their favorite spots. Their short stiff coat makes grooming simple, and pet parents should set aside time for brushing once every few weeks, with baths every 4-6 weeks.
These dogs are known for their loving and extremely affectionate personalities with the people they’re close to. Naturally loyal AmStaffs can also be protective of their family, so socialization is important—especially for American Staffordshire puppies. With the right socialization, these dogs will grow up to be calm around strangers, other animals, and in new situations, but pet parents should still be mindful of their protective temperament and always set their AmStaff up for success.
American Staffordshire Terrier Health Issues
AmStaff dogs can live long lives, with a lifespan of roughly 12-16 years. Overall, the breed is generally healthy. But, as with many other breeds, signing up for pet insurance is still a good idea to help with any unexpected medical costs. The breed can be prone to several orthopedic issues later in life.
Hip dysplasia is a hereditary disease where the ball and socket joint of the hip does not develop properly. In minor cases, this can lead to discomfort but in more severe cases it can lead to extreme pain and lameness. Diagnosed via x-rays, hip dysplasia can be seen in American Staffordshire puppies but is more often diagnosed when dogs are 1-2 years old. NSAIDs can help manage the discomfort, but treatment options will depend on the severity of the disease.
Elbow dysplasia is an inherited syndrome of developmental abnormalities that leads to degenerative joint disease of the elbow in large-breed dogs. Just as with hip dysplasia, it can sometimes be seen in young AmStaff puppies, but it's usually diagnosed when dogs are 1 year or older.
Pet parents should watch for limping in either of the front legs, which becomes worse after exercise. Anti-inflammatories, low-impact activities, and physical therapies are part of treatment, and surgery is recommended for severe cases.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)
American Staffordshire Terriers can be prone to another hereditary condition called progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), which slowly leads to blindness.
The condition can start in puppyhood, but more often impacts adult AmStaffs and usually starts with increased difficulty seeing at night. PRA isn’t painful, but there’s no treatment. Instead, pet parents will need to support their AmStaff’s loss of vision by maintaining a routine and consistent home layout to prepare for their dog’s eventual blindness.
Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland fails to produce enough of the thyroxine hormone. This condition is usually seen in dogs around 4-10 years old and some of the first signs are weight gain, lethargy, and a thinning coat. The good news is that hypothyroidism is manageable with medications, and AmStaffs that receive treatment can go on to live normal lives.
Cerebellar ataxia is a hereditary neurological disorder that has been documented in the American Staffordshire Terrier. Symptoms can start between 3-6 years of age and commonly include gait stiffness, loss of balance, head tremors, and rapid eye movements.
Unfortunately, this disease has no cure and most dogs are euthanized as their condition progresses and they become unable to walk.
Food and Skin Allergies
American Staffordshire Terriers can be prone to allergies from food or their environment. They can suffer from intense itchiness and often lick and scratch areas like their ears, neck, armpits, abdomen, and paws. Their skin can become irritated from the self-trauma, which leads to an open infected wound called a hot spot.
Typically, a short course of antibiotics will help with the infection, but the American Staffordshire Terrier may need to be fed a hypoallergenic diet to avoid skin and gastrointestinal issues.
What To Feed an American Staffordshire Terrier
While the American Staffordshire Terrier is compact, they’re still considered a large dog breed and their nutritional requirements reflect that. Look for a well-balanced diet high in meat-based protein, vitamins, and minerals.
Sticking with foods that meet the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) guidelines for the appropriate life stage is a good starting point for AmStaff parents. It’s also a good idea to discuss your chosen diet with your veterinarian, as food choices can vary by activity level and any existing conditions.
How To Feed an American Staffordshire Terrier
For American Staffordshire puppies, food should be split into at least three meals a day (on a regular schedule, usually in the morning, afternoon, and evening). As your dog grows into an adult (AmStaffs are typically considered adults at 1 year old), you can start feeding twice a day, morning and evening. You can maintain this feeding schedule into your AmStaff’s senior years too.
Regardless of your AmStaff’s age, always avoid exercise immediately after feeding, as this can potentially lead to a health issue like gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV).
How Much Should You Feed an American Staffordshire Terrier?
When using a commercially available diet, simply following the feeding guidelines on the label is a good place to start. For a home-cooked diet, it will take a little more work to figure out how many calories are in each meal and how many calories your dog needs per day. Using a calorie calculator is an option, but you can also consult with a veterinary nutritionist who can assist with formulating an appropriate home-cooked diet to make sure that all nutritional requirements are met.
Regardless of the route you take, activity levels should always be taken into consideration, as younger dogs require more food than older and more sedentary dogs.
Nutritional Tips for American Staffordshire Terriers
Joint supplements containing glucosamine and chondroitin can help provide protection to joints, since American Staffordshire Terriers can be prone to orthopedic disorders.
Additionally, omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial not only for joints, but also for healthy skin and a glossy coat. You can find omega-3 fatty acid supplements in a variety of forms, including chews or oils. Many diets already have them added to their formula, so check your dog’s food before supplementing.
Behavior and Training Tips for American Staffordshire Terriers
American Staffordshire Terrier Personality and Temperament
American Staffordshire Terriers are a high-energy breed that does best with at least 60 minutes of daily vigorous exercise. Loving and affectionate with their family, this breed can be somewhat more reserved with strangers, and socialization is required to balance out their natural wariness. Socialization is especially important when AmStaffs are puppies because the social skills they learn as a young pup will continue to serve them into adulthood.
With proper socialization, American Staffordshire Terriers can get along with other pets. But pet parents should be aware that these dogs have a naturally strong prey drive, so living with smaller dogs or cats can be more difficult. Proper introductions are essential with animals of all sizes, and introducing your AmStaff to other animals early in life will be extremely beneficial. It’s up to you to teach your AmStaff that smaller animals aren’t something to chase!
American Staffordshire Terriers are patient and loving with children, but interactions between kids and dogs of any breed always need to be supervised.
American Staffordshire Terrier Behavior
AmStaffs can be prone to anxiety, and that can often lead to separation anxiety. Training early and often can help manage this anxiety, and providing a steady routine for your AmStaff can help. Additionally, the basic building blocks of a happy dog—exercise, attention, enrichment, and mental stimulation—can all help manage or prevent anxiety.
AmStaffs can be vocal in response to strange noises, but they are still generally quiet enough to be apartment-friendly dogs.
American Staffordshire Terrier Training
American Staffordshire Terriers can be strong-willed, but they are still eager to please. This means they can be trained quickly—but it will require some effort to keep their attention. Keep progressing with training to avoid a bored AmStaff. Teaching verbal commands and hand signals can be a fun and rewarding part of training too.
As an athletic breed, anything active will be especially likely to keep your AmStaff’s interest and should be worked into your training routine, like agility training or chasing balls and Frisbees. These dogs need more than a brisk walk to be happy, and most pet parents will need the help of toys to wear them out.
Fun Activities for American Staffordshire Terriers
American Staffordshire Terriers will be eager to join in any interactive exercise that involves their favorite humans, but some of their favorites are:
Tug of war
Chasing balls, Frisbees, and just about anything else
American Staffordshire Terrier Grooming Guide
AmStaffs have a short, stiff, single-layer coat that makes grooming a breeze—brushing them every few weeks is all it takes. And while you will see a moderate level of shedding, it’s manageable for most owners.
American Staffordshire Terriers can have sensitive skin. Frequent baths can dry out their coat, which means a simple approach to grooming is typically best. Stick with bathing no more than every 4-6 weeks with a pet-friendly shampoo. A product with aloe and oatmeal is usually best.
Supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids—if this is not already part of their commercial diet—can help keep their skin and coat healthy.
The AmStaff’s short coat is easy to maintain and isn’t prone to matting. American Staffordshire Terriers don’t need frequent brushing, but giving them a once-over every few weeks can help keep their coats clean—and make for a great bonding time.
While there’s no special eye care required, AmStaffs can develop an eye condition called distichiasis, which is an abnormal hair growing from the eyelid toward the eye. The hair can cause irritation to the cornea, and common signs include squinting, increased blinking and tearing, redness, and even abrasions on the cornea.
Look out for these symptoms and consult your veterinarian if you notice any. Lubricants can help manage distichiasis and keep AmStaffs comfortable, but in some cases, surgery may be required.
Ear cleanings can be done during bath times (around every 4-6 weeks), especially if there is a large amount of buildup in the ear.
While the breed isn’t especially prone to ear infections, you’ll still want to stay vigilant for redness or discharge from the ear when cleaning. Other signs of ear infections include head shaking, pawing at the ears, or pain on touch. Consult your veterinarian if you notice any of these symptoms in your AmStaff.
Considerations for Pet Parents
The American Staffordshire Terrier, unfortunately, has a bad reputation thanks to years-long stigma. Because of that, any potential AmStaff parent should be prepared to challenge this reputation and present their pup as a true ambassador for the breed. That includes extra attention to socialization, training, and always making the extra effort to set their dog up for success.
Your goal should be to make people think twice about the unfair reputation this breed has—especially when they meet your smiling, playful, and friendly AmStaff!
As active and social dogs, the perfect AmStaff home is one where they’re able to get regular interactive exercise and attention from the people they love. The breed can live with small animals and with young children, but those scenarios are best reserved for more experienced owners.
American Staffordshire Terrier FAQs
Is an American Staffordshire Terrier a Pit Bull?
The Pit Bull isn’t actually a breed on its own. Instead, it’s a blanket term used to describe a variety of breeds, including the American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and American Bulldog. As a result, some people may refer to AmStaffs as Pit Bull, even though one refers to a specific breed while the other refers to a group of breeds.
How big do American Staffordshire Terriers get?
American Staffordshire Terriers typically stand between 17-19 inches tall and weigh between 40-70 pounds.
How long do American Staffordshire Terriers live?
A relatively healthy breed, AmStaffs can live long lives with most reaching 12-14 years. Regular veterinary care can often extend their lifespan even longer—close to 16 years.
Are American Staffordshire Terriers good family pets?
American Staffordshire Terriers can make great family pets and they have an excellent combination of calmness, playfulness, and tolerance for children’s sometimes-rough handling that can make them a great match. Still, it’s important to watch and manage their protective instincts and prey drive.
Featured Image: iStock/Emre Ceylan
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