The History of “America’s Terrier”
Written by Ed and Karen Thomason
Alpine Falls American Staffordshire Terriers
To explain the history of the American Staffordshire Terrier, one must first understand their original purpose. There was a need to create a dog with the power of a bulldog, and the tenacity of a terrier, to excel as a canine gladiator; either being fought against each other, or performing multiple tasked on the farm for the “American” pioneers. The American Staffordshire Terrier (herein called the Amstaff) was created in England from a the early bulldog bred to various terriers in the early 1800s, if not earlier. The now extinct White English Terrier and the Old English Black-and-Tan Terrier (resembling a modern day Manchester) were most definitely used. However, it is said that these two terrier breeds were none-to-game and it is likely that the Fox Terrier was also used in creating the early bull and terrier cross to obtain this trait. We will first discuss the purpose of both the early bulldog and the early terriers and their uses before being crossed together to make what was the beginning of the Amstaff.
Early Bulldog. The early bulldogs were carefully bred for the purpose of baiting bulls or other large game. These dogs did not resemble the bulldog we know of today, they had more leg, where somewhat rangy in appearance, had a more developed muzzle, and often had a long rat-like tail. Many dog historians feel that the description and paintings of the early bulldog resemble the modern Amstaff, with the exception of head type, more then resembling the modern Bulldog.
As early as the 1500s, blood sports, such as bull-baiting and bear-baiting in England were a success and a form of entertainment for all. The strength of a bulldog was put to the test in these events as it took on the large game in an attempt to “pin” it by the nose. It has been said that the “sport” of bull-baiting originated from an everyday task in which the bulldog was asked to assist the butcher by catching the bull for slaughter. At this time, the bulldog was also known as the “Butcher’s Dog.” The sport of bull-baiting became so popular, that until 1835, it was forbade by the law in England to sell meat from a bull that had not been baited first. To prepare for the days event, a strong rope, approximately fifteen feet in length, would be tied to the root of the bull’s horns, or a wide leather collar would be buckled around the bull’s neck to keep it from escaping. The dog, or sometimes dogs, would be released and were expected to attack front-on in an effort to pin the beast by biting and holding the nose of the bull. The event would be over when the bull was “pinned.” Bear baiting was performed in a similar manner. There are many accounts in which the dogs did not make it through these events. The breeders of this era used this as a way of testing their breeding stock for the proper strength and tenacity in which they felt the bulldog should possess.
Early Terriers. Terriers basically originated in the British Isles. They were used for rat and vermin control by farmers, and by hunters to go into the fox holes after their prey. “Terra” is the Latin word for earth, and terriers were used for digging after game in the “earth”, known as “going to ground.” These dogs date back to the late 1400s and are depicted in various writings and paintings. They were divided into two groups, shaggy and smooth coated. These dogs varied in size depending on the work that was required of them and were loosely named referring to their duties. If their prey was larger, then a heavier and taller dog was used to attack and hold it in the open. If their prey was small, then a dog that could fit and fight in tight quarters was needed. There was confusion in names of various terriers because of lack of communication between townships in England. Dogs of similar appearance and that were used for similar purposes were called by different names in different towns. People that used these terriers were more interested in their working abilities then establishing common names or physical specifications. It was not until the early 1800s that the dog fanciers desired to improve on certain strains of terriers, which was the beginning of separate terrier breeds and the crossing of various terriers with bulldogs.
Early Amstaffs/Bull and Terriers. When the Humane Acts passed in England in 1835, all blood sports where to be halted; unfortunately, dog-fighting then became more popular. There was then a need for a somewhat smaller dog with the self confidence and stamina to fight for hours. These dogs were needed to exude the courage and fighting ability of the bulldog along with the gameness and dash of the terrier. Thus the bull and terrier crosses became more popular, especially among coal miners and heavy industry workers in the Staffordshire area of England. Though at one time these dogs were called the Half And Half, it is recorded that to obtain these desired characteristics, the cross needed to be more Terrier then Bulldog.
During this same timeframe, immigration to the United States was increasing and the dog men from England, Scotland, and Ireland where importing their bull and terrier crosses with them. One of the more prominent of these dog men of that era was Cockney Charley, who made frequent trips to England to bring fresh breeding stock back to the States.
Once in the States, these bull and terrier crosses, still used for dog fighting, were also found to be priceless to the pioneers whom knew little of their fighting history. These bull and terriers played an important role on the American farm as guardians of children and homestead, controlling of vermin, and also assisted in rounding up the stock for their masters. It is thought that these early Americans played a large part in increasing the size of these dogs which was the beginning of separating them from the smaller English stock, and becoming the early “American” Staffordshire Terriers.
While we do not condone dog fighting events, the dog men in which fought these dogs are a very important part of the history and making of the Amstaff. These men were the first to keep accurate pedigrees and breeding records and helped to write the “standard” of the American Staffordshire Terrier. These dogs were bred to have mental stability along with the other desired traits for a canine gladiator. They would be matched against each other and then would be expected to return to their home with their master and watch over the children and household. This time frame in the history of the Amstaff is most certainly when the breed began to grow in popularity.
Then in 1898, the United Kennel Club (UKC) was formed. The breed, at which time its type was more defined, was then recognized as the American Pit Bull Terrier with the UKC. They where employed to keep pedigrees of these dogs along with fighting records. They went as far as to publish a magazine, which is still in publication today, called “Bloodlines.” Today’s Bloodlines is now a magazine for all breeds that are recognized by the UKC.
The “Pit Bull” enjoyed its greatest period of respect during the First World War. There was rarely an issue of Life Magazine that did not feature a cartoon version of the breed. Two such illustrations grazed the cover of Life Magazine. One cover, with the title “The Morning After,” depicted a bandaged and scarred Pit Bull (February 4, 1915). The second, with the caption “After Six” (March 24, 1917), was a Pit Bull wearing a top hat and a bow tie. Both magazine covers where illustrated by Will Rannells.
In addition to magazines, the breed was also represented on a popular WWI poster by Wallace Robinson. This poster depicted five “soldier” dogs, each representing their native country which was involved in the war. The United States “soldier” was an American Pit Bull Terrier. To stand out, this “American” dog was drawn larger and was in the center of the poster; with an English Bulldog and a German Dachshund to his left, and a French Bulldog and a Russian Wolfhound to his right. The caption under the American Pit Bull Terrier stated “I’m Neutral, BUT-Not Afraid of any of them.”
During this war, “Stubby”, an American Pit Bull Terrier, earned the rank of Sergeant and was the most decorated dog in World War I. He received medals for warning “his” soldiers of a gas attack, and for holding a German spy, at Chemin des Dames, until US troops arrived. He was received at the White House by three different presidents for his courageous efforts during the war.
By the end of war time, the Pit Bull became an extremely popular dog in the States. Many people, not knowing their fighting background, kept them as pets, guardians and ranch workers.
The breed was known by many different names at this time; the American Bull Terrier, the Yankee Terrier, Half and Half, Bull-and-Terrier, Pit Bulldog, the American Pit Bull Terrier, and the StaffordshirSe Terrier. The name preferred by many breeders of that time was the “American Bull Terrier.”
In 1921, one of the first breed clubs was founded; The American Bull Terrier Club of Clay Center, Kansas. They wrote a standard for the breed, which parts of our current day standard originated from.
The name “American Bull Terrier” was submitted for approval to the American Kennel Club (AKC) in the early 1930s, and was rejected on the basis of being too similar to the Bull Terrier name, which had been recognized since 1891. The AKC also rejected the name American Pit Bull Terrier, because the word “pit” went hand in hand with the illegal blood sport of dog fighting. In May of 1936, a group of fanciers, headed by Wilfred T. Brandon, was organized under the name Staffordshire Terrier Club of America (STCA). The club requested and received AKC recognition for the breed under the name of Staffordshire Terrier; a very similar name to its smaller cousin, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier; which had received recognition in England in 1935.
On June 10, 1936, the “Staffordshire Terrier,” received full recognition with the AKC. The newly founded national club was organized at the Morris and Essex Kennel Club show in Madison, New Jersey, on May 23, 1936. The first president of the STCA was Mr. Wilfred. T. Brandon.
The first Staff on record to attend an AKC dog show was “Doyle’s Shriner.” He made his debut at the Northbrook Kennel Club show in Illinois on August 30, 1936. He was awarded a novice class win, however winners dog and best of breed where withheld. One week later in Birmingham, Michigan, the first best of breed was awarded to “Maher’s Captain D.” This dog went on to become the breeds first AKC Champion of record.
The first National Specialty put on by the Staffordshire Terrier Club of America was held on May 29, 1937 at the Morris And Essex show. The entry was three males and three bitches. Winners Dog and Best of Breed was “Basset’s Black Beans.” Winners Bitch and Best of Opposite sex was “McCab’s Guilda.”
History tells us, that even with the new AKC breed recognition, not all the early Staff frontiersman where against dog fighting. There are many accounts where these dogs where multiple best of breed winners in the show circuit as well as multiple match winners. One such account was a well known stud dog, “Corvino’s Braddock,” who was a fourteen time pit winner and the sire of AKC Ch. “Young Joe Braddock,” who was Best of Winners at the 1946 National Specialty.
William M. Whitaker, the third president of the STCA, thought it was time the breed moved in a different direction. During his term in office (from 1948-1964), Whitaker published a club newsletter in which stating that known dog-fighters were to be expelled from the national club. The club and its members then worked diligently to move the breed out of the shadows of its past while maintaining the correct temperament stated in the standard; “courage is proverbial.”
In 1974, the AKC requested that the “American” be added as a prefix to the Staffordshire Terrier name. Its cousin, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, was gaining AKC recognition and confusion between the two breeds wanted to be avoided. At this time, the two breeds were distinctively different in size and proportions.
Todays well-breed Amstaff is a stable family pet, agility and obedience star, police drug detection dog, therapy/service dog, and/or a dog show star. Most Amstaffs have a fun loving personality and kisses to share with anyone that is willing to put up with them. They are known to be “clowns” in the household, always giving their masters a reason to smile. Amstaffs have another characteristic that is quite unusual, and this is, if they are sold, or change hands, they accept their new master in a relatively short time.
Unfortunately, the Amstaff has one last fight on his hands.
Between back yard breeders and todays legislators, we are fighting everyday to keep this truly “American” breed alive and well. Please remember that when voting for your local legislators; Breed-Specific Legislation (BSL) is not the proper way to handle menacing dogs of any breed.
Information was collected to write this article from the following sources:
Fraser, Jacqueline. The American Staffordshire Terrier. Virginia: Denlinger’s Publishers, LTD, 1990.
Nicholas, Anna Katherine. The Staffordshire Terriers: American Staffordshire Terrier And Staffordshire Bull Terrier. New Jersey: T.F.H. Publications, Inc., 1991.
Foster, Sarah. The American Staffordshire Terrier: Gamester and Guardian. New York: Howell Book House, 1999.