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As the day draws nearer when you bring home a new Pit Bull puppy, you couldn't help but share your excitement with a neighbor. However, her reaction was not what you were expecting. Rather than share your enthusiasm, she looked utterly shocked. It turned out she is worried about her children's safety, living with a Pit Bull next door. Eventually, you managed to convince her that when well-brought up they are a lovely dog... but now the pressure is doubly on to make sure you raise an obedient and well-mannered dog.
Fortunately, you took care to select a pup from a breeder who believes in early socialization. You also visited the mother dog as she nursed her pups, and she was a sweetheart. So the stage is set, and the rest (as the saying goes) is up to you.
It is a sad fact that largely through no fault of his own, the Pit Bull breed has a bad reputation. Dogs are a product of their training and experiences, and with good handling from an early age, the Pit Bull makes for a delightful pet. This is why teaching a Pit Bull pup to be obedient from a young age is so important.
But HOW you teach the puppy to be obedient also matters. Older training methods relied on intimidating the dog so he did as asked out of fear of the consequences. However, this makes for a dog that is outwardly well-behaved but is conflicted or anxious internally. In turn, this is a recipe for the dog lashing out when he feels threatened.
The ideal option is to use reward based training methods, which encourage the dog to behave well through a combination of rewarding good behavior and giving him a rich variety of life experiences. The good news is when you do things right not only will the dog be obedient but he'll be closely bonded to you.
Obedience training a Pit Bull puppy isn't about special equipment, so much as being knowledgeable about how a dog's mind works and having an endless supply of patience. To make the training super-easy it's also helpful to have a few props including:
- Tasty treats: Small, bite-sized treats are best so the pup gets the flavor but doesn't spend ages eating
- A bag or pouch to keep the treats handy
- A favorite toy to use as a reward when the pup does well
- A distraction-free space in which to work with the dog
- An ordinary collar (or harness) and leash
The Reward-Based Training Method
Why Reward-based training?
Old fashioned training methods relied on dominating the dog and keeping him in line. Superficially this appears to work as the dog is intimidated and fearful of you. However, this training method is flawed and based on incorrect science (Rather than a wolf pack fighting for dominance, the members behave more like a family unit.) Reward-based training works on a similar concept to a parent teaching a child good behavior. It encourages desirable actions and discourages inappropriate ones. The dog is incentivized with treats or praise, and learns to think through requests to offer the appropriate action.
Find an appropriate reward
Identify a reward the puppy really desires and is prepared to work to get. Pit Bull are fond of food and so tasty tidbits usually do the trick. However, keep the treats small so that the pup doesn't spend an age chewing and slow up training. For the non-food motivated pups, consider praise or rewarding him with a game with a favorite toy.
Lure and reward
Use the treat as a lure to get the behavior you want. For example. for 'sit', get his attention with the treat then raise it slowly over his head. As he follows the treat his bottom will automatically sink to the ground. Say "Yes" in an excited voice and give the treat. This is the beginnings of teaching him to sit.
Work on basic commands
A good repertoire of commands include 'sit', 'stay', 'down', 'look', and 'come'. Start teaching your Pit Bull puppy these from an early age and you'll be able to control him in a wide range of situations.
Plan for bad behavior
Know how to react when the puppy misbehaves. Be aware that telling the pup off can accidentally reward him with attention. Instead, it's best to say a short, sharp "No", and then distract him away from what he was doing. If he persists in being naughty then withdraw your attention and walk away so that he learns he loses your attention rather than gain it.
The Do's and Don'ts Method
Do: Socialize the Pit Bull puppy
Socialization is a process where you introduce the puppy to a variety of new scents, sights, and sounds. This is done in a positive way, where the dog enjoys the encounter and is praised for being calm. This helps him accept a wide range of situations as normal, which means as an adult he's less likely to be anxious or fearful.
Don't: Use harsh training aids
There is no place for shock or prong collars when training a Pit Bull puppy. The former inflict pain and have the dog behave because he is fearful of the pain. However, this also raises the dog's anxiety level and makes him more likely to lash out or bite than not.
Do: Work with the puppy regularly
Training is not a one-off activity. For starters, work with the puppy several times a day, in short sessions. As he matures and grows into a dog, don't let training lapse but hold a refresher session at least once a day. If he's already a star with the basics then teach him a trick or two. He'll love the one-to-one attention.
Don't: Punish the pup for growling
This sounds counter-intuitive, but you should never punish the puppy (or dog for that matter) for growling. Growling is his way of communicating he is uneasy. Punishment may silence the growl, but it will do nothing to allay his feelings. This means when threatened the dog may simply not give a warning before biting. It's better to be aware of how your dog is feeling, than drive the growling underground and have an unpredictable dog.
Do: Give the pup plenty of exercise
Many bad behaviors are the result of boredom. Make sure to give your pup plenty of exercise to burn off that excess energy, along with games to provide mental stimluation.
Do: Be a responsible owner
Many people are intimidated by the Pit Bull as a breed. It is your responsibility as an owner to train your dog to be obedient and a canine ambassador for the breed. This also means taking responsibility for your dog and keeping him on a leash in circumstances when you aren't 100% certain of his behavior, or when other people are uncomfortable around a Pit Bull.
The Meet His Needs Method
Why meeting his needs matters
Frustration is a common cause of poor behavior in dog, whether this is lack of exercise, boredom, or being kept with too many other dogs. Be aware of what the dog needs in order to feel safe and confident, and your pup is more likely to behave well and respond to training. The opposite is a dog whose needs are not met and he displays displacement activities such as chewing, barking, or becoming aggressive, as a means of coping.
An outlet for energy
Pit Bulls are an energetic breed with working roots. Keep your Pit Bull puppy in a small apartment without enough exercise and he's going to be too full of energy to pay attention to obedience training. Be sure to give the pup exercise at least twice a day, for an appropriate amount of time. After each session he should be pleasantly tired, (rather than utterly exhausted.)
Adequate mental stimulation
You only have to look at the example of kids to know it's difficult to behave when you're bored. The same goes for puppies. Give the Pit Bull puppy plenty of mental challenges. This can include things like taping a treat inside a cardboard box and letting him chew his way in, or by using puzzle feeders at mealtimes. Indeed, basic obedience training comes under the header of mental stimulation when done correctly, so you can catch two birds with one stone.
Promote feelings of well-being
Although this sounds rather touchy-feely for a roughy-toughy breed such as the Pit Bull, it is crucial. This is because a stressed, anxious, or fearful dog is more likely to become aggressive in order to protect himself. To promote a confident, well-adjusted adult dog it's crucial to socialize the puppy, but also be sure not to overwhelm him. Whether it's music played too loud or rough children, if he feels things are out of control he's more likely to become fearful, which can lead to unwanted behaviors.
Provide a place to call his own
Provide the puppy with a safe place to call his own, where he can withdraw to when life gets too hectic. This is a coping mechanism which can stop him misbehaving because he's outside his comfort zone.
By Pippa Elliott
Published: 04/11/2018, edited: 01/08/2021