Some people only take the history as far back as 1936, when the Staffordshire Terrier was first registered with the AKC (American Kennel Club). I believe it is necessary to go back further, way back into the 1800’s in England. Man bred dogs for gripping large game like boars and bears. These dogs were later developed into what was commonly called the Butcher’s Dog.
These dogs were 35 to 80 pounds, long of leg, sturdy in body, athletic with a strong head and muzzle. They were also used for all manner of work including stock work, hunting, and farm dogs as well as the ever faithful companion animal. These dogs showed unwavering loyalty and gentleness towards humans but were a breed which was required to demonstrate a certain level of animal directed aggression, but were routinely used in pairs to bait animals and hunt, so overt aggression towards others of the same species was not an extreme trait.
In 1835, a law set in motion in England made the sport of bull baiting illegal and over the next few years the activity eventually died down. The people turned to another blood sport, dog fighting. Selective breeding produced a dog that had a tendency to exhibit dog directed aggression with a greater agility for performance in the pit. These dogs were called Pit Dogs.
Although these dogs were used in the horrible sport of dog fighting, the dogs HAD to be friendly towards people. This meant that the breed was never really a threat to people, and hence became known as a people friendly dog, sometimes getting the term "nanny dog" as well as the ultimate warrior. Unfortunately this fighting heritage is what most people think of when talking about American Pitbull Terriers.
Migrants from England (and surrounding areas) which settled in America brought with them dogs, that we know as Pit Dogs or Pit Bull Terriers.
In America this breed was flourished. It was one of the most popular breeds, highly prized for its loyalty. The American Pitbull Terrier was used to represent the US Army in WW1 artwork, companies such as RCA. Lucenay’s Peter (UKC Registered Name) was famous as the dog of the Buster Brown ads and his more well known role in the Our Gang/ Little Rascals series.
A American Pitbull Mix named Stubby became a decorated WWI hero. Laura Ingalls Wilder of the popular Little House books owned a American Pitbull name Jack. Theodore Roosevelt and Helen Keller also owned American Pitbulls and the American Pitbull truly became America’s sweetheart breed, admired, respected and loved.
In 1898 the United Kennel Club was formed with the intent of providing registration and fighting guidelines for the now official American Pitbull Terrier. One of the founders, C. Z. Bennett assigned the UKC registration number 1 to his own APBT, Bennett's Ring in 1898. From that moment on, cross breeding was no longer accepted.
In 1935 those that wished to distance themselves from the fighting aspect of the breed petitioned the American Kennel Club for recognition of the American Pitbull Terrier so they could compete in Dog Shows and Performance events. The AKC conceded but under the stipulation that the dogs registered with them be called Staffordshire Terriers, the name of the province in England the breed supposedly originated in.
Upon the AKC’s acceptance, many people dual-registered their dogs with the UKC and AKC. Lucenay’s Peter was one of the first dual registered American Pitbull Terrier/ Staffordshire Terrier.
The AKC eventually closed it’s studbooks to the American Pitbull Terriers, they allowed registration only to those dogs with parents registered as Staffordshire Terriers, briefly reopening them in the 1970’s.
In 1973 the American was added to the Staffordshire Terrier in an effort to distinguish it from the newly recognized Staffordshire Bull Terrier. These days only those with Amstaff parents are eligible for registration in the AKC studbooks.
Today the Amstaff has evolved into a marvelous working and companion dog, used for various purposes as Police/ Armed services dogs, search and rescue dogs, therapy animals and livestock workers. They compete in all manner of organized dog sports such as herding, agility, conformation showing, obedience, Schutzhund and French ring.
Since the early 1900's breeders have moved away from the dog fighting heritage, and now concentrated on dogs with good stable temperaments, although it's the dogs history which gives the American Staffordshire of today it's admirable qualities.
The breed has suffered many set backs in recent times due to a minority of selfish breeders/owners who use this breed for fighting purposes, and other similar ones, as a vehicle to pursue their own personal narrow minded path to self gratification and glory.
A minority of people use this dog in an aggressive fashion, and unfortunately also in underground dog fighting competitions.
This could prove a major hurdle for those people who treat this breed with respect, as very strict laws, regarding dog ownership, are coming into place all over the world.
The future of this breed requires the help of dedicated owners/breeders, who treat the American Staffordshire Terrier with respect and love, and who are willing to educate the public about this breed.