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How to Make a Great Pit Bull out of a Pit Bull Puppy


 Have your Pit puppy interact with as many different kinds of people and dogs as you can, from a very early age (8-12 weeks especially).  Do not play roughly, or wrestle on the floor, and don’t allow others to do so.   Studies show that rough play and aggressive training techniques contribute to aggressive behavior.

Do feel free to play tug games, but don’t use an easily eviscerated toy.  Rather, use a tug rope.  You can easily teach your dog to relinquish objects nicely by tugging for a few minutes and then using a small treat to “trade” for the tug.  You can say “trade” as you do this, so your dog learns the cue.  This training helps avoid yanking things from the pup’s mouth, which can create resource guarding behavior.  So, you’ve taught some valuable skills by playing in this way!

 Teach a solid “watch me” at a very early age, and have the pup meet other species of animals (cats, birds, etc.) while he is on leash – and getting an object reward for not touching them.  In other words, if puppy leaves the cat alone and turns back to you, he gets the tug toy or gets to chase the ball.  Getting your Pit, or any predatory breed, to orient to object play is very important.   If necessary, get a good clicker trainer to help you with this.  Hands off training is very useful in teaching SELF control to dogs.

Do lots of handling and restraint exercises before the puppy is 16 weeks old, beginning at age 8 weeks.   Touch the pup and quickly let him lap some cheese from your other hand.   This tells him that being handled is a great thing!  Be sure that you touch “off  limits” areas, too, so your dog will never be surprised when a vet or groomer does so.   Be diligent in teaching a “gotcha” cue when you touch his collar.  Here’s a nice video from Emily Larlham demonstrating how to do it:

Teach self control – the pup can be taught to “sit” to get you to snap the leash on, or open the door for his walk.  Pup can wait for the food bowl to hit the floor before breaking “sit” and going toward it.   While I no longer subscribe to a “nothing in life is free” mantra, some of these exercises are still useful to teach a dog to control his own behavior.

Get your Pit to a positive puppy class by 10 weeks of age to learn those cues!  This means he’ll also still be well within the optimal socialization period – giving you the best possible opportunity for him to like people and other dogs.  If you have fears about vaccinations, please read the AVSAB statement about this.

Don’t let your Pit pup bully other puppies.  If he cannot resist, have him play with safe non-bullying, but confident, adult dogs instead of pups his own age.  An adult dog can quickly teach him that his rowdy behavior is unacceptable, but he will only get bolder if he rolls and pins other puppies.  If you are unsure he is bullying, do a “consent test.”  Gently remove him from his playmate.  Allow the playmate to “vote with his feet.”  If the playmate doesn’t cheerfully return to your puppy, it’s time to redirect him to another playmate.  Be aware that Pits normally have a physical play style that not all other breeds of dogs appreciate.

IMPORTANT: Do not assume that “it’s all how you raise them.”  You may not like it, but genetics play a role in dog development, too, and a certain number of dogs will be naturally dog aggressive, no matter what you do.

Even if you have a dog with dog aggressive tendencies, you can train your dog to pay attention to you and be much less likely to ever use aggression.  If you are ever in doubt as to your dog’s capacity for aggression, err on the side of caution – the truth is that you may not have a dog park dog.  Realize that your dog’s behavior has an impact on all Pits and Pit owners.  Any incident your dog has with another dog or person will likely be blamed on your dog, so bend over backward to have a well mannered dog.  We all want to prevent BSL (breed specific legislation).

Here’s an interesting interview with nationally known trainer and behavior expert, Jean Donaldson. on Pit Bulls:

One of Jean’s former students, Drayton Michaels, who posted that interview, runs a very successful training business in which only positive methods are used to train these dogs – have a look around his site, too:

Engage your Pit in meaningful work.  Possibilities: Obedience, Rally Obedience, Agility, Weight Pull, Therapy Dog, etc.  This breed could really use much more  positive exposure in public to avoid becoming targets of breed specific legislation or unfair insurance practices.

Now for the surprise —  everything you have just read applies to ALL puppies! The recipe for success, good manners, and reduction in aggression lies in early socialization, good management and prevention, and non-coercive training.

About pawsforpraise

I own and operate Paws for Praise. We offer group dog training classes and behavior consultations in a dog and human friendly environment. We think training should be fun for you and your dog. Go ahead - make a tail wag!

16 responses »

  1. I work with many pitbull puppies. This is a great article and I am surely sharing.

  2. excellent post, very informative. I wonder why the other experts of this sector
    do not realize this. You should proceed your writing.

    I am sure, you have a huge readers’ base already!

  3. I’m not sure where you are getting your information, but good topic. I needs to spend some time learning much more or understanding more. Thanks for great info I was looking for this info for my mission.

  4. Hi there, You have done an incredible job. I’ll certainly digg it and personally recommend to my friends. I am sure they’ll be benefited from this website.|

  5. I read this article and am going to try everything you mentioned but I despairitly need help. I have a 2 year old pitbull/boxer mix. He is very laid back and has been since we rescued him over a year ago. This past weekend i rescued a puppy who mother supposedly died fighting and she was going to be a bait dog because they wouldn’t be able to fight or breed her as she was the runt of the litter. (Her sisters and brother were 12 lbs to her 6 lbs.) I and exhausted from lack of sleep but I really want to do right by this puppy. My first responsibility is to my boy. I need help. Do you know of anyone in the Leesburg, Va area?

  6. It’s hard to find experienced people in this particular subject, however, you sound like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks

  7. Good Post. I have read quite a few posts on this topic and you have written about it the best. Keep it up!

  8. Tons of great information in this post. One thing that I can’t stress enough is how important it is to socialize your pit bull as much as possible. There’s no turning back the clock once you miss that window of opportunity to socialize your dog.

  9. Wow this has really gave me some knowledge thanks cause I never knew one thing about training a Pitt

    • Training a Pit is like training any dog – they all learn the same way and as long as you develop good training skills and are using sufficient motivation in the form of reinforcements that the dog enjoys working to earn, you can have great success.

  10. I’ve had several dogs before, but never had a pit bull before. This is a very good article for me. I’m glad I checked out the videos you have posted on here to they have helped out a lot. Keep writing please. Do you have a section on how to teach your puppy not to tear things up that he isn’t supposed to have? If so, could you send the link to me? Thank you.

    • With puppies, I use management and prevention to my advantage. Ian Dunbar’s book “After You Get Your Puppy” has suggestions on setting up a pup’s environment and using crate training and chew toy training. Also, I get my pups in to a good positive puppy class no later than age 12 weeks, if possible, and I make sure to teach object exchange and a solid “leave it” cue. Kikopup channel on YouTube has some video tutorials.

  11. I am in desperate need of help. I have a 7 week old pit bull puppy. Someone gave it to me because I just recently lost an elderly dog. This is the most aggressive puppy I have ever seen in my life. Is this just their nature or can this little fella be trained. I do not spank him (nor any other dog), but I do give a firm, “No”.
    What did I do that for. This 7 week old puppy lunged at me and bit my finger!
    He will “Stalk” someone walking by and jumping out at them. I held him close to me and
    he bit the stuffings out of my face! (LOL)..Funny, but not funny.
    Would it be best if I just gave him away or is their hope?

    • Seven weeks is too early to have been removed from his litter, but there may still be hope for the little guy. Please contact a force free trainer to help you. Your pup will need to play with other puppies (carefully matched so he doesn’t bully them, or get bullied). Also, grab a copy of “Life Skills for Puppies” which is a great reference on how to handle pups. Pet Professional Guild has a Puppy Education section on their website with some great handouts.
      Rather than scold your pup for nipping, try to simply remove yourself when he does it. So, tell him by not making eye contact, not touching, and not speaking, plus leaving him, that his behavior lost you as a playmate. Step over a baby gate or leave him on the other side of a closet or bedroom door momentarily. Better yet, be proactive and train!


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