“Is that a pit bull?”
“Yes she is. She’s very friendly.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard how friendly they are on the news!”
This short conversation was one I had while out on a walk with my husband and his 8 year old American Pit Bull Terrier, Sasha, in the spring of 2000. Before we could even answer his question the man had picked up his daughter and carried her well away from our “viscious dog”. People’s reaction to our dogs are not usually so accusatory these days but occasionally I still come across someone who takes one look at my dogs and looks for an escape route.
Owners of bully breeds can all relate to breed discrimination. That is to say that if you own a bully breed such as a pit bull, American bulldog, boxer, bulldog or Staffordshire bull terrier you will, at some point in time, have someone look at your dog with distain and a tinge of fear while crossing the street to avoid you. It won’t matter if you tell them that your dog is friendly, well trained and a Canine Good Citizen or therapy dog. Your dog “looks scary” and they won’t want to be anywhere near her. It’s a shame that people are still, in this age of information, so ignorant and judgemental.
While you won’t ever be able to force someone to change their mind about your dog, you still have a responsibility to make sure that your dog is a good ambassador for his breed (or mix). Training helps a great deal in accomplishing the goal of owning a well-mannered, friendly dog of any breed. But what happens when trainers and training facilities in your local area won’t accept a member of your dog’s breed or mix into their training programs? Or that they tell you up front that if your dog is a member of a certain breed or mix that they’ll only train him using a shock collar. What then?!
For many owners, this is the dilema they face. How can they be the responsible dog owners they strive to be if no one will help them train their dogs without the use of abusive training methods? There are many wonderful books available that provide terrific information on training in general and on training specific breeds or specific behaviors. My personal favorite for training “stubborn, difficult, hard-to-work-with” breeds is a book called When Pigs Fly: Training Success With Impossible Dogs by Jane Killion. Ms Killion has over 24 years of experience in owning and training bull terriers (and many other “Pigs Fly” breeds) and has tremendous insight into the world of bully ownership! I laughed out loud at her stories of living with her dogs and could relate on so many levels to everything she recounted! Included among all the fantastic tales of her bullies and their hilarious antics are real training solutions for owners of these breeds – not just bulldogs and terriers but hounds as well! I have recommended this book to every pit bull/bulldog/hound owner I know since I read it a few months ago. It’s a tremendous resource of training help!
However, not everyone learns best by reading but by doing. So what about those people who have trouble applying what they read to their lives? Well, force-free training is sweeping the nation and so, hopefully, if you look a little harder you’ll be able to find a trainer and/or facility who will help you with your dog. I’m thrilled that I have the opportunity to work with so many bully breed dogs in the St. Charles/St. Louis, MO area. I am also fortunate to have several friends and fellow trainers who also welcome these wonderful breeds into their programs. If you simply cannot find a resource in your area, I encourage you to join online groups, forums, newsletters and blogs and ask your questions of trainers and experienced owners from all over the country. You might be surprised at how willing trainers are to help someone who lacks local resources.
Remember, as a bully breed owner you have the same (if not more) responsibility to care for, train and manage your dog as anyone else. We must do all that we can to improve the reputation of these wonderufl dogs. It can be harder for us, as the owners of a persecuted breed, to find the resources available to owners of retrievers and poodles but resources DO exist. you just have to keep looking and don’t give up! Go to the library, go online, buy an e-book, join a force-free training forum and get started!