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How to Raise Your Pit Bull to Be Less Aggressive

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Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He has been working with dogs for more than 40 years.

How to Make My Pit Bull Less Aggressive

How to Make My Pit Bull Less Aggressive

Not All Pit Bull Facts Are True

There is a lot of poor information out there. Today, I read an article on how to use a pack of “bloodthirsty” pit bulls to guard your property. Websites like DogsBite.org blame all dog-on-human violence on these breeds and list all of the incidences of pit bull attacks and human deaths each year in the United States. In 2014, they report that almost 64% of fatal dog bites were because of pit bulls, or at least by dogs identified as such. All that info, so much _____!

No matter how many pit bull fans out there try to state the truth about these dogs, there are always going to be detractors. Why is that? Part of the reason is that some of the facts claimed by pit bull lovers are wrong.

Provide your Pitbull with plenty of exercise.

Provide your Pitbull with plenty of exercise.

Why So Many People Hate Pit Bulls

Here are a few statements made by fans of pit bulls and what the detractors have to say.

Pit Bulls Do Not Have Locking Jaws

Pit bulls do not have locking jaws. This one is easy to argue because any person with a veterinary medical background will tell you that they do not have locking jaws, despite the false reports on a number of anti-pit bull websites. Their jaws are no different than any other breed of dog. Many of the dogs do, however, hold on tight when in the midst of a fight, and pit bull fans sometimes do not acknowledge this.

The Media Is Biased Against Them

The media is biased against them. If a small or medium-sized dog not known for biting does attack a human, no one cares and it is not going to make the news. Attacks by small dogs do not usually cause serious injury and are unlikely to be reported. Pit bulls, however, always make the news. Thus, whether the anti-pit bull lobby chooses to accept it or not, the media is biased. When an unidentified breed bites, it may be described as a “pit bull type” by some writer trying to make the front page.

It Is the Owner and Not the Breed

It is the owner and not the breed. Although these breeds are powerful and athletic dogs, all of the serious attack cases I read about are caused by poor handling and could be avoided by following the steps listed in the second part of this article. Does this mean these breeds should be forbidden to all just because some owners do not know how to take care of them? Not in my opinion. It is the fault of the owner, not the breed.

Punish the Deed and Not the Breed

Punish the deed and not the breed. This is a commonly repeated phrase by all pit bull supporters, but it does ring true. The anti-pit bull crowd wants to forbid ownership of all pit bulls since they think it will avoid the deed by eliminating the breed. However, before these breeds were a common status symbol among gangstas and others, people bought Rottweilers, Dobermans, and before that even German Shepherd dogs. All of them were accused of viciousness. It is not the pit bull that is at fault—the problem is with people that do not even deserve to care for a large dog.

These dogs are not vicious breeds but there are a lot of myths out there that owners have to fight against. In order to crush some of these negative perceptions, every owner has to make sure that his dog is always on his best behavior.

If you train him right your Pitbull should not be considered a dangerous dog.

If you train him right your Pitbull should not be considered a dangerous dog.

5 Simple Tips for Raising a Good Dog

So if your pit bull has to face all of this prejudice from the very start, how do you make your dog as calm as possible so that he can never be accused of a violent act?

1. Obedience Train

Obedience train your dog as soon as you bring her home. This is obvious but almost all of the dogs that cause problems are untrained. If you do not know how to train your dog, learn now, and start as soon as you bring her home so that she responds to your hand signals and voice without hesitation. When I walk my dog, I always put her in a “down-stay” when we approach anyone else on the beach. The people can see what a well-trained and obedient dog she is and thus she acts as an “ambassador” for other pit bulls.

2. Socialize Them

Socialize your dog from an early age. There is a lot of disagreement on how early this should be done since young dogs are more susceptible to contagious disease before their last vaccines. Based on my personal experience, I think socialization needs to happen in the sensitive period (up to 16 weeks of age) before a dog is through with her vaccines. A well-socialized pit bull will enjoy human company.

3. Be the Leader

Whether or not you believe in alpha dogs and dominance theory, there are a few simple exercises you should always practice at home: Feeding your dog after making him sit, keeping your dog off of the couch, having your dog sleep in his own bed instead of your bed, and teaching your dog to wait for your okay before going through a door. Even if your pit bull does not need this type of training, it will become a standard part of her life and make her a better-behaved pet.

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4. Exercise Them

Provide your dog with plenty of exercise. It is another cliché, but a tired dog really is a well-behaved dog. Almost all of the stories I read about pit bull attacks happen from people who leave their dogs in the house all of the time, keep their dogs chained up all day long, or do not know how to interact with a large athletic dog. If you want a pit bull just so that you can keep him chained up in the yard and show off to the neighbors, you should not have a dog at all.

5. Keep Them Healthy

Keep your dog well fed and in good health at all times. Yes, these things can affect his behavior. A dog that is starving is more likely to bite; a dog that is suffering from a painful illness will have a short temper and be more likely to snap when bothered by a family member or stranger. Keep your pit bull in good shape, and if there is something wrong take, him to your veterinarian for an examination.

More Suggestions

The following suggestions will not make your pit bull less aggressive but will make him a better canine citizen.

  • Even if walking your dog off-leash, carry a leash with you and put her on it when approaching children. Almost half of the victims of dog bites and fatal dog attacks are less than 13 years of age, and even if your dog is a good citizen, many parents are ready to condemn her just because of the breed. Keeping your dog on a leash when a child is close is the best way to avoid any problems.
  • If you are walking your dog off-leash and see another dog or small animal, attach the leash immediately. Not all pit bulls are aggressive (even those with s scarring that makes it look like they have been involved in fighting) to small dogs, but if the small dog is aggressive and attacks your dog, your dog is going to be blamed for any damage even if he is only defending himself.
  • If you have the opportunity to participate in a therapy dog program, do so. Pit bulls are great dogs and every person that meets a dog in therapy will remember the experience.

All pit bull owners know that these dogs have a terrible reputation and face extreme prejudice. Do not make things worse. Follow these steps to make sure that your dog is not aggressive.

References

Williams EJ, Blackwell E. Managing the Risk of Aggressive Dog Behavior: Investigating the Influence of Owner Threat and Efficacy Perceptions. Risk Anal. 2019 Nov;39(11):2528-2542. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31136682/

Miller KA, Touroo R, Spain CV, Jones K, Reid P, Lockwood R. Relationship Between Scarring and Dog Aggression in Pit Bull-Type Dogs Involved in Organized Dogfighting. Animals (Basel). 2016 Nov 15;6(11):72. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5126774/

Clarke, N. M., & Fraser, D. (2013). Animal control measures and their relationship to the reported incidence of dog bites in urban Canadian municipalities. The Canadian veterinary journal = La revue veterinaire canadienne, 54(2), 145–149. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3552590/

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Questions & Answers

Question: My 14-month-old pit bull has attacked a puppy at obedience training. According to your list, I have been doing everything right. She seems to have an extremely high prey drive. How can I train my pit bull to be less aggressive?

Answer: Sorry to hear about your pitbull. There is not a lot I can recommend that is not outlined in the article. If you have already obedience trained her and socialized her properly, then the aggression is most likely due to her prey drive. Some dogs are just built this way. (One of my seniors is this way and will jump on any puppy that will approach her. She does not hurt them, but will not stop until the puppy goes running away whining.)

The thing you should do now is realize the potential problem and prevent any dogs from being hurt. Keep her on a leash when walking. Make sure that she cannot jump out of your backyard. You should continue to socialize her with other dogs, but sometimes it is just the one other dog they put up with, not a strange animal.

Question: My 5 month pitbull was a nice pup bit now that he is growing he starts to bite everyone; when you touch him he stays still but once ypu let him go he starts biting again. Everytime I put him in a leash to go walk he starts biting it too. What can I do ?

Answer: Have you taken your dog for obedience classes? This is a good first step. It does not sound like you have a mean puppy, just a very rambunctious dog that needs to learn boundaries.

If you have not started obedeince training with an experienced group, start immediately. If you have, and are still having this problem despite training, socialization, and the other things suggested in this article, you need to consult an animal behaviorist. If you do not know who is available in your area talk to your regular vet and get a referral.

Question: My 11-month-old female pit bull attacked my 15-year-old male dog last night. She was acting weirdly overprotective of some new toys I bought them to the point she was growling at me when I sat close or looked in her direction. I've had her since she was one month old. All the 15-year-old dog did was pass by the sofa she was laying on to get into the room. I also have a 5-year-old daughter and a cat. What should I do?

Answer: It sounds like your dog was resource guarding, not being aggressive to the other dog. You can read more about this subject, but the most important thing in controlling your dog is having her obedience trained so that she will obey you. If she does not respond to your commands every single time, get further training.

If she does, you may need to consult a behaviorist about this problem. Talk to your local vet about getting a referral closest to where you live.

Question: My five year old Pitbull is a sweetheart to humans and my other dog, but with other animals she goes crazy and tries to kill them. She has killed many toads, cats, possums and owls. I don't know what to do?

Answer: Your dog has a very high prey drive. You are fortunate that she is okay with your other dog, because a dog with a high prey drive that is not good with other dogs can be a real nightmare.

There are a few things you can do to make her more manageable. The first is to stop playing any game that makes her interested in prey. A flirt pole (a ball on the end of a fishing pole type stick), tug of war, and sometimes even catch can make this problem worse.

The other thing that high prey drive dogs need is an activity. Teachig her obedience is very important. She should respond immediately to sit, down, stay and other basic commands. Use the time that you play with her now to work on her obedience.

Sometimes almost nothing works. Dogs with high prey drive (like greyhounds and Afghan hounds) are sometimes impossible to have around other animals. Cats are usually in danger if they run, which most of them will.

Question: I adopted a six-month-old Pitt from my local shelter. Will I still be able to socialize her safely with other dogs and humans? Also, can training her now still be as effective as it would've been when she was just a few weeks old?

Answer: Training will be just as effective, but dogs have a window of socialization (sensitive socialization period) that closes about four months of age. Your dog can still be socialized, and should be even more than a young dog, but it is going to be a lot more work.

Get your dog started in obedience classes right away. The socialization with other dogs at well-run classes will be a big help.

Question: My two-month-old Pitbull bull terrier started biting; is there still enough time to stop him from biting me? How do I do it?

Answer: Two-months-old is still very young and you have plenty of time, although you should get started right away. Your puppy is not being aggressive, just mouthy. Please follow the instructions in the article.