For pit bull lovers, the American Pit Bull Terrier can be a loving and devoted pet. Intelligent dogs, they are eager to please and quick to learn. Despite a stubborn streak, they are easily trained because of their willingness to do anything to please their humans. The breed suffers from a bad reputation, however, as an aggressive, unpredictable fighting dog. This is an image that groups such as the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals are trying to change. Irresponsible or ill-prepared owners who raise poorly socialized or untrained pit bulls can perpetuate the myths. If you are adopting a previously owned pit bull from an animal shelter, you might have to spend some time retraining it.
A pit bull that has been left at an animal shelter may have a mysterious history along with unacceptable habits. Observe your new pit bull to determine what types of training it had previously and what habits you will need to change. Remember that changing these habits can take weeks or even months. Don't scold your pit bull for making mistakes, or you can cause resentment or spark aggression. The dog doesn't know any better yet. Consider hiring a professional trainer or behaviorist if your pit bull exhibits aggressive behavior.
Correct Unwanted Behavior
Pit bulls are a sensitive breed. They crave human affection and approval. Punishing unwanted behavior can make problems worse, as it can lead to aggression, fear or resentment. It can also confuse your pit bull, which is acting in a way that was previously allowed. When you catch your pit bull causing trouble, with its head in the garbage can, for instance, interrupt it with a whistle, a clap or a noise. Say the words "no!" or "leave it!" at the same time. This will startle your pit bull and it will stop the behavior. Eventually you can phase out the use of the noise and simply rely on the voice command.
Provide an Alternative Course of Action
If you want to retrain your pit bull, you have to teach it what you expect. Once you interrupt a behavior and get its attention, reward it for listening to you. Offer the rewards, such as treats and praise, the instant your pit bull stops the undesired behavior. For example, if you are trying to retrain your pit bull not to get on the couch, reward it as soon as possible after it jumps off. The intelligent pit bull will associate the reward with being on the floor rather than the couch. As it listens to your interruptions and commands more consistently, reward it with treats less frequently. Never stop using praise, however. Eventually your pit bull will learn that good things come to dogs that stay on the floor.
Teach Basic Obedience
No pit bull should be without basic obedience skills. At the minimum, you should teach your pit bull to sit, stay, lie down and come if it didn't learn from its previous owner. These commands give you control of your dog in all situations and can help keep it and others safe. Use treats to lure your pit bull into position for each command. Slowly withhold treats as your pit bull learns each command and obeys more and more consistently. Hold multiple training sessions a day, but don't expect your playful and energetic pit bull to focus for more than five to 10 minutes at a time. Always keep training sessions fun. Remember that pit bulls love to please. If you feel yourself or your pit bull getting frustrated, end the training session.
You will need to continuously reinforce your pit bull's new training in its everyday life. You can do this easily if you are willing to get creative. Ask your pit bull to lie down and wait for you to prepare its meals or sit and wait several feet from the door before greeting visitors. Have your pit bull sit and stay until you have opened the door and released it to go outside or to chase after its toy. Set rules for your pit bull to follow and enforce them consistently throughout its life.
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