The versatility of the American Staffordshire Terrier (herein referred to as Amstaff) has been a coveted attribute of the breed since its early creation. During the early to mid-1800s, many dog men immigrating to the United States brought their dogs with them. Though originally used heavily for fighting in England, Ireland, and Scotland, the breed found its place on the farm with the pioneers in the early expansion of the US.
The settlers found that a slightly bigger bull-and-terrier breed (of which the Amstaff was derived) was better for multiple tasks on the farm and homestead. With a need for a bigger dog, the breed in America increased in size from the dogs that were originally brought over from England and other neighboring countries. A big Amstaff was still not needed, but the intent was to create a medium breed with the strength of a large breed, with agility, grace, and the mentality and ability to tackle any task given to them.
The Amstaffs of this time were asked to be guardians of children and homesteads, control vermin on the farm, and herd livestock. They were used as catch dogs, and even asked to be draft dogs at times. With the strength of the bulldog and the tenacity of the terrier, the pioneers couldn’t have asked for a better multi-purpose dog to have by their side.
Breeders of yesteryear and today’s breeders have done a nice job of keeping the Amstaff an extremely versatile breed. They are wonderful family dogs, listed as “a breed good with children,” and are just as good as a working dog. The breed is generally medium to high energy and drive. They are very people-oriented and enjoy spending time with their owners. Amstaffs are happy to please their “people.” However, they tend to put a silly twist on things, so training can be quite comical at times. Motivation training usually works well, as food or toys are perfect rewards in their minds.
As companions, many people find Amstaffs to be great jogging or hiking partners that are then happy to return home and be great house dogs. People looking for a dog for performance events will find that many Amstaffs excel in Obedience, Rally-O, and Agility. Weight Pull, Dock Diving, Terrier Races, Flyball, Lure Coursing, Drafting/Carting, Tracking, and even Earth Dog Trials are all events where an Amstaff can be found.
As a working dog, you will find Amstaffs serving as Search and Rescue Dogs, Drug Detection Dogs, and even Police Dogs. Believe it or not, they are still used in the Southern States as catch dogs for hog population control. Though not as popular in the States, many people in Europe train their Amstaffs in protection work. Many Amstaffs do not excel in protection work, however, as they were not bred for “protection” against humans as were many working breeds. They naturally have a stronger bite inhibition with people, so when training in protection/Schutzhund work, the trainer generally needs to train in a manner where the Amstaff finds it to be a game for them to excel at.
One can also see Amstaffs visiting hospitals or retirement homes as Therapy Dogs where many elderly people remember the breed as a reliable War Dog. (Amstaff Sgt. Stubby was the highest decorated dog in World War I.) The breed can also be a wonderful Service Dog, as they are very “in-tune” to their owner and their owner’s needs.
Many Amstaffs participating in working and performance events are also beautiful show conformation dogs. The Staffordshire Terrier Club of America (STCA), the breed’s AKC parent club, has done a wonderful job at putting a great emphasis on dogs that can not only show their beauty in the conformation ring and become a Champion of Record, but also have working titles at the end of their names.
For many years, the STCA has recognized these dogs by offering the Register of Honor (ROH) award. To complete the requirements of the ROH, an Amstaff must be a Conformation Champion, have a Companion Dog title (CD), and either have their Canine Good Citizen (CGC) or Temperament Test (TT).
In recent years, the STCA has added to their ROH awards by offering different levels (Silver, Gold, Platinum, OTCH), all with higher level Obedience titles required. Along with this came the STCA Versatility Award (Silver, Gold, Platinum, and MACH levels). The Versatility Awards recognize dogs that go beyond the ROH requirements with titles in events such as Rally-O, Agility, and Tracking. The higher the level of advancement in the events, the higher the level of Versatility Award the dog will receive.
As new Amstaff breeders crop up and old-time breeders pass away, I hope to see this wonderful breed stay as versatile as it has always been—and meant to be.
The original article above was written and published in January of 2012. Eleven years have passed and the Amstaff has additional events to participate in to show the world, once again, how versatile a breed it is.
In 2013, the Barn Hunt Association was established. This is its own entity, not an AKC club; however, its events are oftentimes held in conjunction with AKC shows. When a dog earns a title with the Barn Hunt Assoc., it can also be listed as a title with the AKC if the proper application is submitted. Barn Hunt is “a sport with historical purpose.” Many dog breeds were originally created specifically to be vermin hunters; whether they “go to ground” or hunt above ground, the end result was to eradicate vermin.
Like many other performance events, there are multiple levels to Barn Hunt, with each higher level getting more and more difficult. The dog must find a rat(s) and complete certain obstacles such as going through a tunnel (some with bends) and climbing bales of hay. The dog and owner/handler must have a good bond with each other in order to read one another’s body language and cues to complete these tasks. In the 10 years that Barn Hunt has been offering trials, the Amstaff breed has excelled to the highest of levels. The breed’s desire to please their owner really shines through as they work together in the ring to complete their job. Barn Hunt with an Amstaff can be very rewarding for owner and dog alike.
In 2016, Fast CAT was introduced as a new AKC event. Amstaffs had already excelled at Lure Coursing with running Coursing Ability Tests, but with Fast CAT the Amstaffs have been able to show off their explosive starts and keep up a fast pace with this timed 100-yard dash chasing a lure. “It’s over before you know it—and it’s nothing short of awe-inspiring to watch your dog run at top speed, ears back, eyes focused, legs strong.” (AKC website). The Amstaff’s instinctual drive makes them a natural for chasing the lure and showing off their high speed and athleticism. To make it even more fun, Fast CAT is ranked for the Top 20 fastest dogs by breed!
In 2017, the AKC introduced the sport of Scent Work. This is based on the work of Detection Dogs (such as Drug Dogs), employed by humans to detect a variety of scents and substances. In AKC Scent Work, the dogs search for cotton swabs that are saturated with the essential oils (Birch, Anise, Clove, and Cypress). These cotton swabs are hidden out of sight in a pre-determined area to be searched, and the dog has to find them and communicate the find to the owner/handler. Just like in Barn Hunt, teamwork and good communication between dog and human are essential for success in Scent Work. Many Amstaffs and their owners enjoy delving into this event, which creates a stronger bond between the two.
In addition to these three sports that the Amstaff has excelled at since their introductions, the AKC has a few other newer titles that the breed can achieve: Trick Dog, Stunt Dog, Farm Dog, and AKC Temperament Test.
With new events and titles added over the past decade, the STCA has modified their Performance Awards:
- ROH Award: Amstaff must have AKC Championship, CGC or equivalent Temperament Test (TT), and AKC CD
- Advanced ROH Awards: Silver (CDX), Gold (UD), and Platinum (UDX)
- Versatility Award: Amstaff must have a CGC or TT and titles in any other AKC-recognized venue (Rally, Obedience, Agility, Tracking, Barn Hunt, Coursing, Dock Diving, etc.)
- Achievement Award: Amstaff must have CGC or TT, and titles in three different AKC sports (Rally, Obedience, Coursing, etc.)
The American Staffordshire Terrier is truly an amazing breed that is always up for a new task, big or small. Participating in performance sports that encourage the bond between the dog and its owner is always a plus in the eyes of an Amstaff.