While the Staffordshire Bull Terrier is an AKC recognized breed, with a detailed breed standard, the Pit Bull isn’t technically a breed unto itself or recognized with a breed standard with a kennel club registry. Rather, it’s basically a catch-all term for many of the so-called bully breeds such as the American Staffordshire Terrier, American Pit Bull Terrier, American Bully, American Bulldog, and even the Staffordshire Bull Terrier.
A Staffordshire Bull Terrier is one of the smaller of the recognized bully breeds. They are short and adorable – only about 14-16 inches tall at the shoulder, and weigh in at 28–38 pounds for a male, 24–34 pounds for a female. The breed description on the AKC website puts it well: a gallon-sized dog in a quart-sized container. Full disclosure: they are one of my favorite breeds, and seeing a diminutive female Staffordshire Bull enthusiastically pulling her handler in my general direction at a dog show recently had me nearly squealing with delight.
Staffordshire Bull terriers come in a broad range of accepted colors: Red, fawn, white, black, and blue (a slatey-bluish gray), or any of these colors with white, as well as any shade of brindle or any shade of brindle with white. Staffies, or Staffords, as they are known, are muscular, fearless little dogs, with a short, broad, head and pronounced cheek muscles, and have natural uncropped ears. And can you say cute?
Pit bulls, as a catch-all term, are often similar in type, except with a little more leg. A registered American Pit Bull Terrier or APBT (UKC recognized), is about 17 to 21 inches at the shoulder, with weight ranges of 35 to 60 pounds for males and 30 to 50 pounds for females. The APBT breed standard stresses balance in the dog’s proportion. Meaning the dogs should be balanced with proportions of weight to height that avoid rangy, leggy dogs, or overly squat, broad dogs. They must be both powerful and agile.
Both breeds have short dense fur with no undercoat: true wash-and-go dogs.
As with all of the bully breeds, these two breeds evolved from the horrible “blood sports” of yesteryear of bull baiting, bear baiting, and pit fighting with other dogs, where their owners would put the two animals together in a fighting pit and wager on them. Thankfully these ghastly “sports” have long been eliminated, but pockets of pit fighting still exist illegally in the U.S., unfortunately.
The pit bull types were therefore bred as animals that had to be very good with their owners/handlers (non-aggressive towards humans, even at the height of arousal) but aggressive with other dogs.
This formerly bred-in aggression towards other dogs or animals of days gone by can be a holdover issue even in our modern Staffords and APBTs, so it’s vital that owners of bully breeds take extra care to socialize their dogs with other dogs from an early age. A well-bred, well-socialized Staffie or APBT is a wonderful family pet, sweet and biddable, and great with children, other dogs, the family cat, and other animals.
Staffordshire Bull Terriers have breed nicknames of “the Nanny Dog” and “the Children’s Nursemaid,” due to their well-known affection for children. They are not guard dogs, and will greet all guests as friends with a wagging tail that’s typically the most “aggressive” part of their anatomy: a happy Stafford’s tail can feel like a riding crop when they’re enthusiastically greeting you—and they know no other way to greet you than enthusiastically.
With its common ancestry, the APBT is also a very friendly dog. They can be a little more serious than the happy-go-lucky Staffords, but they are people dogs in the end. They too love children—Petey in the old “Little Rascals” serials of the 1920s and 1930s was a pit bull.
Indeed, aggressive behavior towards humans is uncharacteristic of the breed, and they are extremely friendly even with strangers. They have a zest for life and are eager to please, usually with the same actively wagging, “weapon” tail as Staffords. This breed does very well in performance events such as obedience, rally, and lure coursing due to its natural agility, high intelligence, and eager to please personality.
Both the Staffordshire Bull Terrier and American Pit Bull Terrier are active breeds. They like to be on the move and have inquisitive minds with a seemingly inexhaustible well of energy. A long, brisk walk on leash will give you both a workout. And with their longer legs, the APBT can be a great jogging partner as well.
Both dogs love to run and jump, and flyball or agility can be great fun wit—and for!—them. And one of the best-known pit bulls of recent years was a dog named Wallace, who, with his high drive athleticism and energy, became a world champion disc dog. His legacy lives on in the Wallace the Pit Bull Foundation.
Not all Staffords or APBTs like to swim, but for the ones who do, dock diving can be a lot of fun for them. Both breeds also enjoy weight pull competitions, where their compact, muscular builds exceed. Scent work is also a sport where they do well, whether tracking or nose work.
But at the end of the day both these breeds like nothing better than to curl up with their humans, preferably under the covers on cold nights. They are sweet, people-oriented dogs whose willingness to work and desire to please makes them unbeatable at anything they do, and, best of all, they are outstanding companions at the same time.