Owning a dog comes with much responsibility. Being a pit bull owner, in some ways, requires you to go above and beyond general good dog ownership practices. As owners of a maligned breed, we face challenges such as breed stigma, breed discriminatory legislation, home owner’s insurance discrimination, and media bias. It is important for dog and owner to be a great ambassador team; doing so, will not only improve your relationship with your dog, but also display to the public how wonderful this breed truly is. Becoming a breed ambassador is as much of a responsibility of the owner as it is of the pit bull at the end of the leash! Exercise, training, respect for others (both human and canine), spay/neutering, proper identification, and education are just some of the key components to being a breed ambassador.
Exercise. All dogs require exercise, though the individual exercise needs of dogs will vary with age, personality, etc. Some pit bulls seem to retain almost puppy-like energy even well into adult years, while others can be mellow ‘couch potato’ types. In general, these smart, athletic dogs enjoy a challenge both mentally and physically. Without the proper amount of exercise, dogs may engage in other, sometimes inappropriate or destructive, behaviors out of boredom or frustration. Exercise should include physical and mental stimulation. A tired dog makes for a happy, well behaved dog and a happy owner. A daily 20-minute walk may not tire out your dog. Unstructured off leash time in the yard may also not be effective in meeting your dog’s mental and physical stimulation needs.
Here are some ways that many of our PBRC volunteers exercise their dogs. Many of these options can also incorporate obedience training into the exercise program, giving your dog the best of both worlds.
- Recall practice up and down a flight of stairs
- Biking with your dog with a safe bike attachment such as the K9 Cruiser.
- Jogging with your dog
- Teaching your dog to run or jog on a treadmill. This can be a lifesaver in the winter months!
- Playing fetch in a fenced area
- A flirt pole or The Chase It Dog Toy. This toy is an ideal toy to incorporate training and self-control while your dog has fun. Requiring a sit or down before allowing play, is just one way to add training to fun time.
- Push-ups for dogs: Have your dog sit, then down, then sit, and then down… you get the point!
- Tug of War. There is some controversy over this game. However, we believe that most dogs enjoy playing tug and it can be played safely and correctly, given some ground rules. Add obedience work into this fun game, so that your dog learns to say, “please” with his behavior to earn what he wants. You can incorporate cues such as ‘sit,’ ‘down,’ ‘wait,’ ‘take it,’ and ‘drop’ into the game.
- Provide mental stimulation for your dog with interactive, ‘stuffable’ food toys such as Kongs. These toys are durable and a wonderful way to make crate time enjoyable. Remember that in a multi-dog household, Kongs and other chew items or food toys can be viewed as high value. You may need to separate your dogs when they have such treats to avoid conflict.
Training. This is key to having a well-behaved dog. Many pit bulls have food and/or toy drive and as a breed, they are very people oriented; thus making training them a breeze! PBRC supports the use of positive reinforcement in dog training; we believe that by rewarding correct behavior using treats, toys, and social attention, most dogs will learn quite quickly what it is you want them to do! Training your dog can include training your dog at home, out on walks, during exercise, through interactive games, in a class, or private session. There are benefits to all of these types of training. We also believe that training is ongoing and should be incorporated throughout your dog’s daily routine for life. For example, implementing a “No Free Lunch” program can be a simple way to practice cues daily.
General training tips:
• Use rewards to positively reinforce appropriate behavior, both cued and spontaneously offered behavior. In short, catch your dog doing something right - and let him know with praise and a treat!
• Make sure you practice cues frequently enough for your dog to truly learn the desired behavior. Sometimes humans assume the dog has learned something, when in reality, the dog may not yet have had enough practice to pair understanding of the cue word with the expected behavior.
• Do not repeat cues over and over. If your dog doesn’t respond, ask yourself “Why?” Has the dog truly learned the cue? Is there something else in the environment that is too stimulating or distracting for your dog? Have you put in enough practice time?
• Short training sessions are best! 10-15 minutes of working on cues can be plenty. It is better to have very short, successful sessions, than to drag out a long session of training where good behavior will eventually peak and then decline. You want to make sure you are rewarding the best, most successful attempts at desired behavior, especially when training new cues.
• Take a class! Group obedience classes are a great way to practice and generalize skills, build your dog’s confidence, and develop the relationship between you and your dog in a controlled environment. Avoid classes or instructors that use harsh or punitive methods to train. You want class to be fun, not worrisome! We recommend that you observe classes without your dog present before signing him up for class; in this way, you can ensure that the class suits your needs.
• As you and your dog become more skilled in your training level, you may want to take your skills ‘on the road.‘ Incorporating training into your daily walks will help proof your skills. As your dog’s ability to focus improves, add distractions slowly. If you are in an environment where your dog does not seem comfortable, do not force him to participate. This will only hinder your relationship and set back your training. Become a good reader of your dog and learn to recognize stress signals. A few examples of stress signals are: lip licking, yawning, excessive sniffing, and the inability to reorient back to you.
• Once you have established a solid foundation of training, you may want to consider being evaluated for the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen Award. If appropriate for you and your dog you might also consider becoming a certified therapy dog team. http://www.tdi-dog.org
Respect. Demonstrating respect for your dog, and for others is also part of being a good breed ambassador team. When you are in public with your dog, please be considerate of other humans and dogs. Recognize that not all people are dog lovers and not all dogs like other dogs. Make sure any introductions done are with permission and supervision. Do not allow your dog to approach everyone he sees, and vice versa. Teaching your dog to sit and look to you for guidance regarding introductions is a great way to demonstrate manners and good citizenship. Always have control of your dog and be sure to check your equipment before leaving the house. Follow leash and scoop laws.
Spay/Neutering. There are so many wonderful pit bulls waiting for their forever homes, many the result of irresponsible or uncontrolled breeding. Responsible owners have their dogs spayed or neutered. Having your pit bull altered also reduces many health risks. In addition, making sure your dog has identification is also important. If your city requires pet licensing, make sure your dog is wearing a current tag. At the least, your dog should wear a name tag with your contact information. Microchipping is also recommended as sometimes collars or tags fall off.
Education. This part of owning a breed ambassador weighs mostly on us humans. When talking to others about your dog, please be as well spoken as possible. Research your beloved breed so that when you are confronted with myths and stereotypes, you can share the facts instead. Never lose your temper or insult others. Doing so, does nothing to help existing negative stereotypes.
We hope that these tips will help you to become a great ambassador dog and owner team. Pit bulls are wonderful dogs and as great owners, we can show off our pets in a positive light!