Many people are uncertain of the differences between an American Staffordshire Terrier and an American Pitbull Terrier, and which makes a better pet.
Both breeds are haunted by a history of violent blood sports, and bad breeding choices.
But today, each of them has the potential to be a great pet, in the right home.
American Staffordshire Terrier Vs American Pitbull Terrier – Which is Best?
It’s rarely the case that one dog breed is decisively better than another.
Everyone’s own “ideal” dog depends upon their home, household, lifestyle, and the kind of relationship they want to have with their pet.
The American Staffordshire Terrier, often abbreviated to just Amstaff, is an American breed with an international fanbase.
Whilst the American Pitbull Terrier, affectionately also known as the Pittie or APBT, is still working hard to overcome a difficult reputation.
In this article, we’ll help you decide which is the best match for you.
- Amstaff and American Pitbull Terrier history
- American Pitbull Terrier vs American Staffordshire Terrier appearance
- Differences in temperament
- Training an American Staffordshire Terrier vs American Pitbull Terrier
- Who needs more exercise?
- Pitbull vs Amstaff health issues – who will live longer?
- Finding puppies
- Which breed makes a better pet?
American Staffordshire Terrier vs American Pitbull Terrier History
Understanding how a dog breed was founded can reveal important truths about what they’re like as pets today.
Both Amstaffs and Pitties are descended from fighting dogs, which were created by crossing Bulldogs and various terrier breeds in the 19th century.
Happily, dog fighting is now illegal. And both breeds have carved out alternative careers as companion dogs, working dogs, sporting dogs and therapy dogs.
Let’s have a quick look at the recent history of both breeds, which reveals a fascinating connection between them:
Pitbull Terrier history
The American Pitbull Terrier has never been recognized by America’s main breed registry, the AKC. But it is recognized by the United Kennel Club.
It was the predominant breed used for dog fighting until the ‘sport’ was banned in 1976. Unfortunately it is still the breed most likely to be used for illegal dog fights today.
Since dog fighting became illegal, Pitbulls have increasing enjoyed new lives as beloved pets. To try and facilitate this there have been multiple attempts to rename or rebrand Pitties over the years, but none have caught on.
In the early 20th century, the American Kennel Club caught wind that another bull terrier breed was gaining popularity – the Staffordshire Bull Terrier from Britain.
Since demand for this kind of dog existed, in 1936 the AKC agreed to accept around 50 American Pitbull Terriers from the UKC studbook onto their registry as well, on the understanding that the breeders would not supply dogs for dog fighting.
The name American Staffordshire Terrier was finally settled upon after a bit of tussling.
“Staffordshire” to promote the (somewhat distant) relationship with the popular British breed. And “American”, so that the actual Staffordshire Bull Terrier could eventually join the registry too (which it did in 1974).
The Amstaff went on to secure modest popularity in America – it’s the AKC’s 85th most popular breed – but enormous success as an export in other countries, notably France and Hungary.
Whether the Amstaff has ever really changed much from the APBT in any meaningful way is still a hot topic.
In fact, it’s possible for dogs to be registered with both the AKC as an Amstaff, and with the UKC as a Pittie.
American Staffordshire Terrier Vs American Pitbull Terrier Appearance
Since the Amstaff and Pittie history is closely intertwined, it is reasonable to expect two similar looking dogs.
And sure enough, they clearly belong to the same “type”.
But there are some tell tale differences between them too!
The Amstaff breed standard is owned by the AKC. It sets out what the ideal Amstaff looks like.
Amstaffs should look stocky and muscle bound, but also elegant.
They weigh 40-70lbs, with female dogs mostly occupying the bottom end of the range, and male dogs mostly making up the top end.
They’re 17-19 inches tall at the shoulder, and their body is relatively short, giving them a “boxy” look.
Their short coat is stiff and shiny. All colors and patterns are allowed, but more than 80% white in their coat is discouraged for health reasons we’ll come to later.
Fun fact: Amstaff’s noses are almost always black. Whilst pink noses are genetically possible, they don’t meet the breed standard, so they’re rare.
Unlike the Amstaff, the American Pitbull Terrier isn’t recognized by the AKC. As it currently stands, their breed standard is owned by the United Kennel Club (UKC).
The overall description of a physically ideal Pittie is very similar to an Amstaff. The words “muscular”, “solidly built”, and “agile” are all repeated.
The desirable height for a Pittie is the same too, but weight range is lower – between 30-60lbs.
So Pitbulls are usually noticeably less bulky than Amstaffs.
In fact, the Pitbull breed standard is emphatic that quality is more important than size. And that exaggerated size especially (such as a very big head) is undesirable.
This is another way that modern, responsible Pitbull fans are dissociating the dogs they love from their badly bred cousins of the past.
American Staffordshire Terrier Vs American Pitbull Terrier Temperament
Fans of Amstaffs and Pitties both wax lyrical about how unswervingly loyal, playful and loving they are.
But when it comes to suitability as a pet, it’s hard to ignore that the Amstaff has some advantages.
Amstaffs have been bred exclusively as pets since the 1930s. That’s nearly 100 years of selectively breeding from only the least aggressive individuals, to produce great pets.
Whereas Pitties could be legally bred for fighting right up to the 1970s. And sadly they remain the dog of choice for criminals staging illegal dog fights today.
So, a Pittie is more likely to have violent or aggressive dogs in their recent family tree, and inherit a propensity to be violent or aggressive themselves.
Are Amstaffs and APBTs dangerous?
This is a really contentious topic.
On the one hand Pitbulls are responsible for a disproportionate number of dog bite injuries to people.
And, when the victims are babies, children, or elderly, the results are sadly more likely to be fatal.
However, places which have reduced the number of Pitbulls by implementing breed specific legislation have not seen a correlating decrease in the number of dog bite injuries.
Which suggests that people can, and unfortunately will, breed any sort of dog badly.
And recently, high profile animal welfare agencies including the ASPCA have come out against breed specific legislation.
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean the Pittie is completely exonerated.
Even though it’s not inevitable they are dangerous dogs, among the people who still deliberately breed dangerous dogs, they are the breed of choice.
American Staffordshire Terrier vs American Pitbull Terrier Training
Since both dogs originally comes from lines of fighting dogs, they are more likely to be instinctively aggressive towards other dogs.
To have the best chance of overcoming this, it’s important to socialize them carefully and thoroughly with other dogs while they’re still puppies.
Puppies are very inclined to form long term positive opinions of things, if they have a good first experience with them before they are 12 weeks old.
So set up opportunities for your puppy to have short encounters with reliable and patient older dogs, and give them lots of edible treats at the same time.
They will come to associate unfamiliar dogs with good things happening, and hopefully overcome their natural instinct to dislike them.
Since people generally are sadly likely to have low opinions and expectations of all bull terrier type dogs, it’s also valuable to teach them a good standard of overall obedience.
The unfortunate truth is that they have to work extra hard to overcome people’s prejudices. But a well trained dog who doesn’t pull on the leash, or jump up will put people at ease, and make you feel more confident being out with them.
American Staffordshire Terrier vs American Pitbull Terrier Exercise
Both of these breeds need a lot of opportunities for physical exercise.
They need at least two substantial walks per day, and they especially enjoy endurance activities, such as canicross (running harnessed to your dog) and bikejor (cycling harnessed to your dog).
Both breeds also excel in a wide variety of dog sports, including dock diving and flyball. Training for and participating in organised events like these are a great way to meet a strong dog’s need for physical activity in a structured and productive way.
It also reduces the likelihood of them resorting to frustrated behaviors round the home, such as digging, chewing and barking.
American Staffordshire Terrier and American Pitbull Terrier Health
Owing partly to their size, both Pitties and Amstaffs are in the top 30 breeds most likely to develop hip or elbow dysplasia.
Approximately 1 in 4 Pitties and Amstaffs experience hip dysplasia. And roughly 1 in 5 Pitties and Amstaffs suffer with elbow dysplasia.
These joint conditions ultimately progress into painful arthritis and lameness.
Both breeds are also prone to:
- thyroid diseases
- the neurological condition degenerative myelopathy (Pitbulls slightly more so)
- and dental problems.
Amstaffs and Pitbulls which have a lot of white in their coat, and particularly covering their head, are also at risk of deafness and hearing loss.
This is because the same gene which “turns off” pigmentation also changes the delicate structure of cells in the inner ear which are responsible for detecting sounds.
To protect future generations, and prevent any of these problems becoming more widespread in either breed, breeders should health test dogs before using them in mating programs.
Good breeders will show you evidence of this when you visit their litter.
Which breed lives longer?
Amstaffs and Pitbulls are both under-represented in scientific research about dog life expectancy.
So we can’t offer any statistics about these breeds specifically.
American Staffordshire Terriers vs American Pitbull Terrier Puppies
You can find details of breeders of Amstaffs and APBTs from their local and national breed clubs.
It is worth taking your time to find a puppy which you are confident has been well raised.
This is especially true of American Pitbull Terrier puppies, which have a well known history of being exploited and abused by bad breeders.
As well as making sure the person breeding your puppy is taking the welfare of their dogs seriously, find out how much they know about the lives of their puppies’ grandparents and great-grandparents.
Socialization is incredibly important for these breeds to prevent dog-directed aggression. So ask breeders how they will be kickstarting that process while the litter is still at home with them.
Which Breed Makes A Better Pet?
The American Pitbull Terrier and the American Staffordshire Terrier both have some wonderful qualities, such as an unswervingly affectionate and even slightly clownish nature at home.
But they also have drawbacks, such as a high frequency of joint disease, and an increased tendency to display dog-directed aggression.
They are physically strong and athletic dogs. So they are best suited to households with very active outdoor lifestyles, or an interest in dog sports.
Bear in mind that some regions have laws prohibiting ownership of either breed.
Ultimately whether one of these breeds is right for you depends upon whether you’re allowed to keep them in your area. And whether you’re in a position to meet their needs, so that they don’t become another generation doomed by human choices and actions.
Do you have a American Staffordshire Terrier or American Pitbull Terrier?
Tell us about your reasons for choosing them in the comments!
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References and Further Reading
Adams et al. Methods and mortality results of a health survey of purebred dogs in the UK. Journal of Small Animal Practice. 2010.
Strain. The genetics of deafness in domestic animals. Frontiers in Veterinary Science. 2015.
Mora et al. Fatal dog attacks in Spain under a breed-specific legislation: A ten-year retrospective study. Journal of Veterinary Behavior. 2018.
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