Is there any breed more controversial than the American Pit Bull Terrier? Not only are many people afraid of them, they’re even singled out to be killed on sight in some areas due to Breed Specific Legislation (BSL). So what’s the truth about Pit Bulls, and how can the average owner train one to be a friendly family pet? Read on.
Pit Bull Temperaments
Contrary to the beliefs of the legislators and activists who have introduced legislation banning them in many cities and counties throughout the United States, Pit Bulls are not naturally vicious. In fact, their ancestors were family dogs prized for their ability to guard their owners’ wives and children without harming them or the livestock while the man of the house was away from home.
Most Pit Bulls are naturally prone to test their limits and ignore the occasional command. They may, due to their background as a dogfighting breed, be reactive toward other dogs. Pit Bulls are best suited for households with at least one experienced dog owner who understands positive reinforcement training and is willing to take some obedience classes with the dog. As long as there is a family member taking responsibility for training, however, most Pit Bulls do very well with children of all ages. Their low sensitivity to pain makes them less likely to react violently to a pulled tail or being tripped on by an exuberant child. Additionally, they are playful, puppy-like dogs throughout life. Most are very fond of children if socialized with them at a young age.
Training Pit Bulls
Pit Bulls, like all dogs, learn best through positive reinforcement. Harshly punishing a Pit Bull can be dangerous. They have a high tolerance for physical pain, so by the time you are giving a big enough correction to get a response from the dog, you could be at risk of injuring him or her. Additionally, Pit Bulls often associate whatever they’re looking at when they feel pain with the pain, rather than their own behavior. For example, if you gave a harsh collar correction for sniffing a cat while walking, the dog might think that the cat caused the pain and attack the next cat it sees.
Try clicker training to motivate your Pit Bull during training. This method allows you to reinforce the exact instant your dog performs the correct behavior. If your Pit Bull isn’t food motivated, try using a game of Tug-of-War with a favorite toy as a reward for each click. Some Pits will even work hard for praise alone.
Combine clicker training with a NILIF (Nothing In Life Is Free) approach to make sure your Pit Bull continues to obey even when you’re not actively in a training session. That means no attention on demand–if your Pit walks up and shoves his head in your lap, ignore him. When he’s doing something desirable, like chewing an appropriate toy, call him over and give him attention, then stop on your time, not his. Whenever the dog wants something, he must perform a desired behavior to get it. That includes petting, going outside, coming back inside, getting his breakfast, getting a treat, getting his leash put on for a walk, getting his leash taken off when you get home, and everything that the dog finds desirable and rewarding. This method of interacting with your Pit Bull will keep him continually attentive and obedient.