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As fans of the Pit Bull breed already know, these loving dogs are often a little bit overly excited about letting everyone around them know how happy they are to be alive. This can often translate into what seems to people as overly aggressive. This is made worse by the reputation that the breed has in the public eye.
Although gentle behavior is important for all breeds, it is especially important for Pit Bulls since they can be frightening to people when they are overly rambunctious.
If you have a Pit Bull puppy on your hands, there is no time like the present to start teaching him that he will get more praise, attention, and rewards when he chooses to behave with a gentle and calm demeanor. This guide offers three simple methods along with tips for success so that you can make sure your Pit Bull isn’t over the top with enthusiasm.
It is important to start any training with your Pit Bull puppy by identifying what motivates her. That is, what counts as a reward for your puppy?
Since you are dealing with a Pit Bull, odds are good that you can count food as a major motivator. Most Pit Bulls are more than happy to work for small bits of food like chicken or cheese mixed with their regular food rations. This is your “go to” for formal training sessions because it is easy to repeat and lets you reward at a very fast rate, which makes training faster.
However, since training your Pit Bull puppy to be gentle is an ongoing and continuous process, think of “spur of the moment” motivators that are not related to food; for example, praise, petting, a toss of the ball, “Good Girl!”, or a tug with her favorite tug toy.
Start to become aware of when you give your dog these non-food rewards and choose times when she is most calm. Although it will take some time, in the long run, the state of mind that you reward most will be the state of mind you get most from your puppy. If you are good at catching and rewarding behavior you love, then you will end up with a full-grown dog that has a gentler disposition.
In addition to a good training plan, set your puppy up for success by making sure his or her needs are being met.
Make sure your puppy is getting plenty of exercise.
Puppies have a lot of energy and they need to burn it off. You cannot reasonably expect a puppy to be gentle all of the time. Make room for plenty of play such as fetch, follow the leader, or recall drills. Your puppy needs appropriate outlets for physical activity before you can expect calm behavior.
Mental stimulation is important for puppies.
It is not enough for your Pit Bull puppy to get her run time in each day. Keep her mentally fit by doing several short training sessions a day. In addition, consider doggy Einstein toys which bring a mental challenge to the table without needing your supervision. Puppies, just like children, need to be challenged to learn or they can become anxious and destructive.
The Randomly Reward Calm Method
Look for calm behavior
One of the most effective methods to train your Pitbull puppy to be gentle is to start to be aware of times when she is already calm and gentle. Go out of your way to reward these times in ways that do not get her too excited and break the peace. Gentle pets, praise, or giving her a chew toy are ways to let her know you are happy with her behavior.
Praise and reward
When your dog is tired and lying down for a nap, sit next to her and give some gentle pets. If you catch her sitting quietly nearby, reach down and give some ear or belly rubs, telling her in a soothing tone that she is a “Good Girl!”
Rough games only on command
If you want to sometimes play roughhouse games like Tug of War with your Pit Bull, that is fine! Just make sure that you initiate the game with a command like “Tug it!” instead of letting your puppy start such games on their own. If they try to bully you into a game of their choice, walk away and ignore the pup.
Stop rewarding unacceptable behavior
Pay attention to how you might be rewarding overly excited behavior and stop doing that. If your puppy is being pushy or acting in a way that is overly energetic, do not continue to pet or play with her. Instead, turn your back and ignore her. Once she settles back down, give her some praise.
When ignoring your puppy fails to calm her down, and the excited behavior has reached annoying levels, it is time for the dreaded “Time Out.” This means placing your puppy in the crate or in a room by themselves for 3-5 minutes. Let her out only after she stops carrying on and give her another chance to behave. If not, right back to “Time Out.”
The Take Your Pets! Method
Since Pit Bull are such attention hogs, petting is usually a major reward, and often becomes something that can create a lot of excitement. It is important to go out of your way to train your puppy that taking their pets means no play biting, pawing, jumping up or any other behavior that you do not like
Put pets on command
Start by petting your puppy saying “Take your pets!” If she quietly accepts her pets, then continue to give them. The instant she does anything that you consider excited or undesirable behavior (and think here of what you want if a stranger goes to pet her) then just say “Too bad!”, look away, and immediately go limp.
Ignore pest behavior
It is likely that she will try to nose or paw you to solicit more pets. Just ignore this too. If she gets too rough, get up and walk away. If she stops nosing and pawing, even for a few seconds, start petting again saying “Take your pets!”
Repeat the above process and you will find that she quickly learns that pets are yours to give, and only if she is calm and gentle. Practice often. Most importantly, stop rewarding any attempts to pester you into giving attention.
Practice “Take your pets!” with other people, teaching them to use the same rules (that is, to immediately stop petting if your dog isn’t calm and gentle). Make sure to practice with some children as well so that your Pit Bull puppy learns that respecting little people is important.
The Gentle Greetings Method
Decide on a greeting
It is critical if you want to train your Pit Bull puppy to be gentle, that you give him guidance on how to give a proper, gentle greeting. Although you can decide for yourself what this will look like, a popular choice is a nice 'sit' while he accepts some pets from a new or returning friend.
First, teach your dog a strong 'sit' by regularly practicing and rewarding this vital behavior. For puppies under a year old, you should be practicing sit throughout the day at least 10-20 times. This helps to set 'sit' as a default behavior, a great choice if you want a gentle dog.
Practice 'sit' whenever doing any greeting. This includes meeting someone new as well as greeting your puppy after you have been away, going in or out of the house, or just plain whenever you feel like it.
Pet while sitting
Make sure your puppy gets used to being petted without breaking the 'sit' position. Do this by adding a reward such as food for when your puppy sits and enjoys being petted while staying relaxed.
New people and places
Once you have practices this gentle 'sit' greeting, take it on the road. Ask folks to please turn their back on your puppy until she chooses to sit, then allow them to pet her and/or give her a treat. If she starts being rambunctious, walk her a few feet away from the new person and get her attention. Try again until you she gives you a nice 'sit' greeting.
By Sharon Elber
Published: 03/20/2018, edited: 01/08/2021