The Pitbull – By Dak
Dak & Stevie
There is nothing better than the uncontainable excitement of a well cared for Pitbull. A beefy wrecking ball of happiness. Who could look past those smiles? Pitties absolutely love life and everything they do is done with such an incredible level of intensity. Because of their incredibly muscular stature, incredible agility, and overwhelming desire to please their people, Pits are often used for competitive sports such as weight pulling, agility courses, and obedience competitions.
The Pitbull still remains one of the most notoriously controversial breeds today but, it’s gone back and forth for much longer. Many remember they were bred for fighting and killing In the 1800s, even against bears and bulls….. Originally bred from English bulldogs, they needed more agility and speed as the sport turned towards pitting them against rats, in a pit. This flew under the radar of Parliament’s cruelty to animals act since rats were considered a nuisance anyways. So they bred them with terriers, embracing the name we most recognize today, “The Pitbull Terrier”. Pit from the fighting pits, Bull from the English Bulldog, and you guessed it Terrier from the Terrier crossbreed. You now have a quick, muscular, ready to please, incredibly easy to train breed of such incredible design that they would and could do anything man requested. Fortunately, we began to see value beyond a fighting pit, and the now “American” Pitbull Terrier, after crossing to the States became an invaluable asset to the early settlers. They became working dogs and very happily did so. Farmhands, herding, hunting, protecting from thieves and wild animals, but there is one job I want to point out that most may not remember; Their loyalty & protection to their family especially their gentle demeanor to the children gave them a new nickname, “The Nanny-Dog”. During WWI & WWII they were even America’s Mascot. The all-American, Family dog. Unfortunately, history loves to repeat itself and now even Google’s first listing is “Pitbull aggression?”… followed closely by “Pitbull the American rapper”. Perhaps one of the most mistreated and misunderstood breeds out there. Enough about history, let’s move on to my personal experiences.
For many reasons, the Pit does much better in a house with space to run and play. They don’t do well left alone for long periods of time because they worship their humans and separation anxiety of a dog who already has the tendency to be quite mouthy… say goodbye to the furniture if you take the wrong approach AND your neighbors will hate you, a pitties cries can mimic that of a gremlin at times. For those that must be left at home for long periods alone, it is important to have some comforts left with them. Your favorite playlist at a lower volume can work wonders, because of how much they worship you, they associate everything that happens when you are around with you. My little one recognizes the theme to my favorite show, my favorite songs, she even knows what side of the bed I prefer and always makes sure to leave it available. To many crate training seems to be cruel but done properly and it becomes a comfortable safe haven for when they cant be near you. Use a cover to make it comfortable and less exposed, it’s much less threatening when they don’t feel the need to watch all four sides in a vulnerable state. Bedding can be hit or miss, usually, I like to make it as comfy as possible once they value something like their favorite blanket or toy, it becomes cherished and less likely to be destroyed. Stevie, my Pittie knows her crate as her “place”. She is rewarded every time she enters it and praised every time she is removed. By doing this, she is excited to cooperate when I tell her “place” because not only does she get a reward but ultimately she receives the ever more important praise that reinforces the bond between us.
Now about that mouthiness I spoke of. A pits muscular build of that blocky head provides the power to generate massive amounts of force into whatever they want to chew on. At one point in my life working with protection dogs, I was…Lucky?, let’s just say I experienced the force while wearing a bite sleeve. It is important that we give them outlets. You will be amazed at the strongest of toys they will dismantle. Do your research and find toys targeted for strong chewers. In my experience, Pitties are super bad at catch…. Mostly a thud to the nose and a scramble to pick it up after that however, they love the chase, making a “Flirt Pole” one of the best tools for their toybox. It targets the prey drive within them while becoming an excellent tool for exercise, all while having a blast! Once they do latch on to a toy or something, they love to show it off, sometimes with a game of keep away. It’s important to have a command for release and ensure it’s practiced often. This becomes a universal tool because to them, it will literally translate to “drop what you have in your mouth” equally beneficial early on for “get my shoe out of your mouth”.
Because this breed is a bundle of excitement and muscle, another command that is extremely useful is “wait”. In this case, we use it to say “remain still until I release you”. When you are hit with something built like a tank, it can and will knock you off your feet. The tricky part is because of their excitement, they do not realize they are potentially putting a loved one at risk. A good example is simply walking out into the backyard with them. They know it’s possibly playtime so that excitements there, they know you are coming so there’s another level, and perhaps the birds are still sitting in the yard because they haven’t realized you are on the way out.. So much excitement, sometimes they shake with it. In many ways a pit is like a child, it is extremely difficult to contain true excitement. This is where the wait command comes in, with a little practice, you can have your pittie wait at the back door while you and the children or smaller dogs make their way out until you release them with a simple “OK” and a lot of praise, effectively avoiding a potential disaster of your pittie barreling through everyone and thing. Learning brings them great joy and “wait” is a universal command, meaning you can use it for more than just one situation. For instance, my Stevie loves food and would love nothing more than to immediately gobble it up however, her desire to please me is much stronger than that. As I fill her bowl, I ask her to wait. Once her bowl is on the floor she shakes with excitement but knows I need her attention. Through many times of running this scenario, she now places her chin on the palm of my left hand and makes sure I know that she is making eye contact. She waits patiently, I usually don’t make her wait very long at all but, to test this occasionally I will take a step or two away from her bowl, she will immediately return to my right side, place her chin in the palm of my left hand, and make eye contact. She WILL NOT touch her food until I release her. With a simple “OK” she runs to her bowl and chows down, wagging her nub of a tail the whole time. Same applies to treats, I can hold a treat with my teeth, mumble “wait” as best I can, holding it as close to her face as possible and she will not touch it until released, even then friends and family are usually astonished at the gentle demeanor in which she takes it from me. All of this to say, Pits benefit just as much from early training as any other dog, in fact, because of the stigma they carry, maybe even more so.
Socialization is very important for this breed. They love their humans and unlike the shepherd who will a lot of times be more attached to one party (still loves the others but always has an “alpha”), the pit suffers greatly as to how they can equally split their love! Pits can be amazing with children as well, Stevie is a little more rambunctious with me because of our relationship, however, the moment my daughter enters the room, the wrecking ball turns into a teddy bear. That being said this breed can be a little more tricky to a multi-dog household especially if they were not raised in it but adopted, jealousy can play a part here. From the moment they are vaccinated, this breed needs to be socialized with other dogs. Things like doggy daycare are extremely beneficial and will turn your muscular tank of a dog into a versatile playmate. I have seen these dogs again and again “read the room” and adapt their playstyle to the other party’s needs. Gentle with puppies, they can be incredible at breaking nervous dogs out of their shell, and the most rambunctious thing you will ever see with an equally matched playmate. As for family and friends, it’s just as important to show them what they should be able to be comfortable with. Pits are not as threatened by outsiders as much unless they are given a reason to be, generally very happy to meet new people however, if they feel you are threatening to a loved one, especially a child… this becomes a different story. Things that are not encountered as part of everyday life are the things I would consider to be the biggest triggers for this breed. As a rule of thumb with any dog, it is highly important to note any triggers early on while trying to enforce confidence that these things are not a threat. One of the biggest you will always hear about is a volatile reaction to food. It is beyond extremely important to impress upon your pups early on that you will make sure they get their dinner. As puppies, playing with their food as they eat by removing kibbles and hand-feeding them is a good building block. It shows that this food is for them and that no matter how close you get or what you do, they will get to eat. It’s important as young pups to pet them and praise them as they eat. This will give the same confidence as the above practices. The “wait” command is also a good command to help practice these things. Once they know the wait command, asking them to wait, moving their bowl, and releasing them to finish their meal will again prove that no one has any intention of keeping it from them. ***None of this should be done with a new dog you have just adopted because you do not yet know their triggers, please seek professional advice on how to build your dogs confidence after adoption or rescue***
In conclusion, while Pitbulls have received mostly bad press, it’s my opinion that it is mostly improper handling and not providing proper tools to have the confidence not to react. A pit should be trained from the moment they are brought home, even if they are not yet fully capable of understanding, the building blocks of trust are absolutely necessary to a healthy, happy pet. They should be provided with everything needed to be successful, this means outlets, socialization, and plenty of their favorite resource of all…attention. They are what I would consider a little more of a “high maintenance” dog because of the attention they require and they are definitely not one that you can slack on their training however, routine exercises and daily reminders of their training and these dogs will remain some of the most obedient in fact, they were bred to be just that. My love for pitties is right up there with shepherds and in the case of the pit I don’t think I have come across a breed that expresses gratitude in the same extreme ways they do. This breed will do anything to please and always greet you with a huge ridiculous grin at the end of a long day. They will ensure you stay well radiated as they dig their way under the covers to be closer to you, they will often snore louder than your partner but in a much cuter way and, they will always make you laugh. Though I have had a few pits and worked with many more, my current pit mix “Stevie Faye” aka “my foster fail of 2020” is an absolute joy in the most ridiculous of ways.