What Is the Difference Between American Pitbull Terriers & American Staffordshire Terriers?

by Betty Lewis
Lovers, not fighters: both the American pit bull terrier and the American Staffordshire terrier are affectionate dogs.

Lovers, not fighters: both the American pit bull terrier and the American Staffordshire terrier are affectionate dogs.

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Don't feel bad if you confused an American Staffordshire terrier with an American pit bull terrier. Many years ago, they used to be considered the same dog, but over time, the breeds diverged as the Staffordshire was deliberately bred not to fight, which had been his main job. The main difference between the breeds today is size.

Breed Recognition

The American Kennel Club does not recognize the American pit bull terrier, instead choosing to recognize the American Staffordshire terrier. Don't feel bad for the American pit bull; the United Kennel Club recognizes him. Since DNA testing isn't reliable to confirm which kind of terrier the dog may be, occasionally a dog is registered with both organizations. If the dog meets the club's breed conformation standards, he can be registered. Petey, the American pit bull terrier from "The Little Rascals," was registered as an American Staffordshire terrier with the AKC.

From One Dog to Two Dogs

Both the American Staffordshire and the American pit bull can trace their roots to 19th century England and Scotland, when bulldogs and terriers were bred to compete in dog fights. Known as the Staffordshire terrier or bull and terrier, he was a welcome addition to farms and homes, where he controlled the rodent population and helped to hunt big game. The dog's fighting ability made him popular with American immigrants. He earned his keep in American fighting pits in the late 1800s. The Americans preferred, and bred, a larger version of the dog, who took on the name pit bull terrier, as well as American or Yankee bull terrier. Gradually, the dogs diverged. The American pit bull terrier was the first dog registered in the UKC in 1898. The American Staffordshire terrier was accepted by the AKC in 1936, originally as the Staffordshire terrier.

Almost Identical

It's difficult to differentiate the two dogs by appearance. Generally, the American Staffordshire is larger, weighing up to 75 pounds. The American pit bull usually maxes out around 60 pounds, however, he can weigh as little as 30 pounds or as much as 90 pounds, making it easy to confuse him with the American Staffordshire. In both cases, he's a powerful, muscular dog with small to medium-sized ears perched high on his head. Both have short coats in a variety of colors, including white, brindle, fawn, blue and black. The American pit bull's head is large and broad, though not too large for his body, while the Staffordshire's head is medium-sized.

More Similarities Than Differences

Over the past 50 years, the Staffordshire has been bred specifically to leave his fighting ways behind, resulting in a friendly, affectionate dog. Some American pit bulls are directly descended from fighting lines, while others are far beyond that genetic pool. As a result, the American pit bulls aggression levels toward other animals can vary from high to nonexistent. Both breeds are athletic, energetic and excel in activities such as agility, drafting and tracking. They're also devoted family members, who get on well with children. Their terrier bloodlines mean they're prone to digging and chasing small prey.

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