Written by Ella White
Just because two dog breeds look similar, doesn’t mean they’re the same. And when it comes to American Staffordshire Terriers and Pitbulls, there are a few key differences in their characters and temperaments that potential owners should be aware of – despite their physical resemblance.
In this blog, we’ll look at the similarities and differences between these two “bully breeds,” from their breed histories to their personalities as pets.
Amstaffs are from the terrier group, which was traditionally bred to hunt vermin. Terriers are small and agile. So when dog fighters, who had left England for America when Britain banned dog fighting in 1835, wanted the terrier’s speed and agility combined with the strength and muscle of the bulldog, the two breeds were bred together. The result? American Staffordshire Terriers and Pitbulls.
The Amstaff was originally known as the Staffordshire Terrier, with the ‘American’ being added in the 1970s to separate the breed from its British cousin, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. The American Kennel Club recognised Am Staffs, which the United Kennel Club requires the breed to be registered as American Pitbull Terriers. The Pitbull was the first breed recognized by the United Kennel Club in 1898, but they are still not recognized by the American Kennel Club.
As a result of their reputation as an aggressive breed, there was an attempt to change the Pitbulls name to the St Francis Terrier or the New Yorkie between 1996 to 2004, but this was dropped following criticism.
Both ‘staffy’ and ‘bully’ breeds have a reputation as being dangerous and aggressive dogs. But the truth is, when well trained by a loving family both the American Staffordshire Terrier and the American Pitbull are loyal, energetic, and intelligent pets.
Though they are some traits and their physical features are undeniably comparable, there are some basic differences between Amstaffs and Pitbulls – beyond the fact that they are two totally separate breeds!
American Staffordshire Terriers, or Amstaffs as we will refer to them here, are medium in size and often have a stocky, muscular build and a strong jaw. Their physical strength led this breed to be used in illegal fighting rings, which is how the Amstaff developed a reputation as an aggressive dog. However, when not being exploited for dangerous and illegal purposes, they’re actually playful, loving, loyal, and very friendly dogs.
The Pitull has fallen to similar stereotypes due to irresponsible owners using the medium sized, muscular breed for illegal fighting and intimidation. But by nature, the Pitbull is actually very calm and gentle, and makes an incredibly loving member of an equally affectionate and loving family.
Due to their similar build, height, and colorings, Amstaffs and Pitbulls are often mistaken for the same breed. Both are stocky, medium-sized, and come in black, white, brown, tan, and piebald variations among other colors.
Both the Amstaff and the Pitbull are short-haired and don’t need much grooming. They’re muscular with thick legs, and have long tails which are often docked. Similarly their ears, which are set high on their heads, and are naturally long, but often docked to stand erect.
Amstaffs tend to be shorter than Pitbulls, with males growing up to an average of 19 inches and females up to 18 inches. Male Amstaffs weigh up to 70 lbs while females weigh up to 55 lbs. Pitbulls tend to be taller – with males at 21 inches and females and 20 inches – and lighter with males up to 50 lbs and females up to 60 lbs.
Generally, Amstaffs have less visible muscle tone than Pitbulls despite their greater weight. While the leaner Pitbull is visibly muscular throughout their body.
Disregarding their unfair reputation as aggressive and scary dogs, both the Amstaff and the Pitbull share a number of positive qualities that make them brilliant family pets.
Both breeds are friendly, adaptable, and great with children. They are loyal and devoted to their families, and are fairly easy to train despite their stubborn natures. Like all dogs, thorough training is essential for these breeds to ensure that they live happy, stress-free lives. This includes plenty of socialization with people and other animals from a young age. They can be prone to separation anxiety, and love being around their people.
The Amstaff and Pitbull are also both very playful and energetic, meaning they need a lot of physical exercise and are best suited to active families that can keep up with their high energy levels. Any dogs that don’t get enough mental and physical stimulation can become bored, destructive, anxious, and aggressive.
Amstaffs can be calmer, more reserved, and less energetic than Pitbulls, who love to play and need very frequent exercise.
American Staffordshire Terriers are smart, respond well to positive reinforcement, and love to please their owners – all qualities that make them easy to train. They need two walks of around 30 minutes per day to keep them healthy and love to play with their owners throughout the day. Due to their stocky build they can be prone to weight gain, and the breed is also susceptible to hip and elbow dysplasia.
Amstaffs have a short coat which only needs grooming about once per month and rarely sheds. They’re not well suited to apartment living as they need plenty of space and can be quite noisy. They also live happier lives with owners that are around a lot, as they love to be with people and can develop separation anxiety when left alone.
Pitbulls require rigorous training and socialization. They need a lot of exercise and play time, as their high energy levels can lead to destructive behavior if they have pent up energy that needs to be released. Like Amstaffs, they can be prone to hip and elbow dysplasia as well as some mild skin conditions.
Pitbulls have a short coat that doesn't need too much grooming, but it does shed. Regular washing and brushing can help reduce the amount of hair they leave around your home. They are best suited to homes without other pets, and though they can adapt to living in smaller apartments they require a lot of attention and don’t like to be left alone for long periods of time.
Both the Amstaff and the Pitbull share a life expectancy of around 12-16 years. Their muscular build means that both breeds require a healthy diet of lean proteins and regular exercise to prevent weight gain and promote a long, healthy life.
As we’ve already explained, their history with illegal dog fighters have given Amstaffs and Pitbulls the unfair reputation as aggressive breeds when in reality they are friendly and loving breeds.
However, all dog breeds have the potential to become aggressive if mistreated, badly trained, not properly socialized, or neglected. In fact, both the Amstaff and the Pitbull are known to be significantly calmer and less aggressive than other breeds, including the Border Collie which ranks as more aggressive according to the American Temperament Test Society.
Though both breeds love and get on well with children, Pitbulls can become aggressive with smaller dogs and other animals and are often not well suited to homes with multiple pets. They are loyal and demand attention, which can cause friction between other animals.
But whether you opt for the Amstaff or the Pitbull, both will thrive as excellent and affectionate family pets as long as they’re given the training and socialization they deserve.