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: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jaxuTuH2ow
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: http://www.pitbullguru.com/
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.