American Staffordshire Terrier Obedience & Training Guide
The American Staffordshire Terrier is one of many dog breeds that fall under the general grouping of being a Pit Bull. Also known as Am. Staffs, Amstaffs, and Staffies, these dogs can make great pets given their history of being bred to fight other dogs, or be used in bull baiting. Due to their genetic predisposition for being tenacious (which is not the same as aggressive) they require special handling and obedience training.
American Staffordshire Terriers should not be weaned until 8 weeks of age, and provided they are fully vaccinated can begin puppy socialization and training at 12 weeks of age. Until the time they are fully vaccinated puppies should not leave their home or yard. This will help keep them safe from highly contagious diseases such as Parvovirus.
The first lessons, which may occur prior to taking a pup for socialization, are to get it to accept wearing a collar. This is generally done when the pup is young, and it should be checked regularly to be sure it has not become too tight as the puppy grows. The puppy may fuss at first but typically, will ignore the collar after a day or so, and it should be left on.
To train the puppy to walk on a leash soft treats are needed, cut small so the puppy does not get fat. Use the puppy's name and offer a treat while gently tugging the leash (but not so hard you actually pull the puppy forward). As soon as it steps towards you, release the pull so the puppy understands that when it does the right thing pressure is released. As the puppy approaches you reward it with a soft treat. In the first days failure should not be an option, the puppy should only be a few feet away, and the training session is kept short, ending on a positive, so the puppy does not become stressed.
From the basics of learning to walk on a leash while at home, the puppy can later learn to sit, down, and so forth. Socialization is also a critical step, not only for American Staffordshire Terriers, but dogs of all breeds. Owners may select to take their pup, or adult dog, to proper obedience classes, or continue at home. It is worth noting that formal classes allow for more socialization than most owners can give on their own and help the dog learn to be obedient amid distractions, as well they offer a guide to correct owner errors. It is strongly recommended that an American Staffordshire Terrier attend at least Puppy Socialization Classes, or Basic Obedience Classes. Clicker training, or other positive training methods, should be used.
Sit and Down
To get a dog to sit, it should be standing up, facing its owner. The owner should be prepared with a bag of small soft treats in their pocket. Right handed people should hold the dog's leash in their left hand and use their right hand for giving rewards. The dog is shown the treat in its owners hands. The dog is instructed to sit, while the owner moves their hand over the dogs head, from nose to forehead, low enough that the dog can smell the treat. As the dog cannot reach the treat without jumping up (which should be corrected immediately, and never tolerated) it is forced to put its rump in a sit position, at which time the dog is rewarded and praised. The handler should never pull on the dogs neck, nor push on the dogs rump – which are outdated training methods.
photo source - also note - natural ears
To get the dog into a down position the treat is held in a down turned hand, again after the dog is made aware that the owner has treats. The hand is lowered to the floor in front of the dog while the dog is given the “down” command. As soon as the dogs front and rear hit the floor the dog is rewarded with the treat and praise.
The command “down” should be used only to mean lay down, not to get off furniture, or to stop jumping on somebody.
Socialization is how a dog learns to interact with other dogs, and people. This is best done at a proper obedience school where the dogs can be watched by several knowledgeable dog people. Otherwise it may be accomplished by taking the dog to areas where several dogs are, such as the dog park. The dog must be allowed to interact with other dogs and learn from them what is acceptable and what is not.
With the American Staffordshire Terrier it is very important that the dogs owner do this while the dog is young, and that the owner is knowledgeable enough not to create a situation for their dog where it can fail. Many dog owners get nervous and this nervousness transfers to their dog who may lash out at another dog as a result. By holding a dog back in a safe situation the dog may actually think there is a threat or danger and may respond in a way that is not acceptable.
To socialize a dog to new situations the owner must have total control over it, and expose it to many different situations in a way that the dog does not think these are scary.
Socialization is extremely important with any dog, regardless of breed, it is often poorly socialized dogs that get into fights, Amstaffs included.
Beyond the basics, which we have mentioned, there are other training steps that should be taken, such as recall, in which a dog is told to “come”. This is done by continuing on with getting the dog to respond to coming to its name. Owners of American Staffordshire Terriers should not off leash their dog unless it has perfect recall (the ability to come when called).
American Staffordshire Terriers should also learn commands “leave it” and “drop it” both of which can be taught by using rewards.
House training can start at 10 weeks, but results may not be seen for a few more weeks. House training is best done by crate training, confining a puppy to a crate at night and when it cannot be watched (never more than 8 hours at a time, and never more than 16 hours a day). The idea of crate training is that the puppy does not want to mess in its bed/den. The puppy will not want to be left in the crate at first but if allowed out when it cries, it will learn to cry for attention every time.
Crate training is a whole other issue unto itself so will not be covered fully here, however it is important to note that it requires time, commitment, and consistency. The owner must be prepared to go outside with the puppy every time and reward it for going to the bathroom outside. The biggest mistake people use is rewarding it when it comes indoors, which only teaches the pup that it gets rewarded for coming in, not for doing its business outside.
American Staffordshire Terriers should never be engaged in dominance games, such as games of tug of war. These dogs are strong and if they win enough of these game they may come to think of themselves as an Alpha (pack leader) which puts them on the road to becoming a potentially dangerous dog.
American Staffordshire Terriers, like any large dog, should not be allowed to jump up on a person even in play. If the dog does this stepping back, or raising your knee to meet, are the best ways of stopping this, Immediately ignore the dog so it learns it gets no attention from this - do not talk to the dog, turn away. Only when the dog sits and shows good behavior does it get rewards and attention.
photo source - note - cropped ears
Note: Some puppies really dislike being pulled on a collar, and a body harness may be used instead, however by encouraging it to move through offering treats, rather than pulling, most dogs accept the collar quite well. If the dog does grow to be stronger, and pulling on the collar can be a problem, a head halter (similar to those used on horses), or a body harness may be a good option, choke collars are fairly ineffective as dogs can lean on them regardless.