Category Archives: Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Dog behavior, tips on training, and more.

Pit Bulls: Fact vs. Fiction

Below we have compiled some awesome facts and incredible myths about our “bully” friends. Unfortunately there is an overabundance of pit bull type dogs in America’s shelters in large part due to the widespread myths and misundertanding surrounding these dogs.


Myth #1: “Pit Bull” is a breed

Fact: Pit Bull is NOT a breed. It’s a generic term often used to describe all dogs with similar traits and characteristics known to the public as “pit bulls”. When we use the term “pit bull” here it should be understood to encompass American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, and Staffordshire Bull Terriers. Take this test and see how well you are able to pick the “pitbull”:

Myth #2: Pit Bulls are mean and vicious

Fact: No more vicious than Golden Retrievers, Beagles or other popular dogs! According to a recent study of 122 dog breeds by the American Temperment Testing Society (ATTS) pit bulls achieved a passing rate of 83.9%. That’s as good or better than Beagles (78.2%) and Golden Retreivers (83.2%).

Myth #3: Pit Bulls have “locking jaws”

Fact: Studies show that the jaw of the pit bull is in proportion to its size and is no different than any other breed of dog. There is no evidence that any kind of locking mechanism exists in the American Pit Bull Terrier.

Myth #4: Pit Bulls turn on their owners

Dogs, as a species, do not perform behaviors “just because”. There are always reasons for behavior, and when aggression becomes a problem the reasons can be such things as improper handling, lack of socialization or training, a misreading of dog behavior by the owner, or, rarely, disease. Aggression, when it presents in pet dogs, follows specific patterns. First occur warning signs, then more warning signs, and finally, when those signs are continually ignored or misinterpreted, the dog resorts to using its teeth. When an
owner is startled by a sudden, aggressive outburst, it is because they have been unaware of problems that were brewing. This is true of all dogs, not just Pit Bulls. Pit Bulls, indeed no dogs, “turn” on their owners.

Myth #5: The only thing Pit Bulls are good for is fighting

Unfortunately, a large amount of attention has been brought to the fact that the Pit Bull was originally created for fighting other dogs in the pit. Since the breed was selectively bred for and excelled at this task, there is a common assumption that fighting must be all for which the breed is good. The truth of the matter is that the Pit Bull is one of the most versatile of canines, capable of excelling at just about any task his owner asks him to complete. They are routinely used for: obedience trialing, conformation showing, weight pull, Schutzhund (a German sport which requires dogs to perform in obedience, tracking and protection phases of a competition), agility, and have even been known to participate in herding trials, search and rescue work, and a variety of other tasks including police and armed services work. But fanciers will argue that the task this breed performs best of all is that of beloved companion.

Berkeley at work as a certified therapy dog!

Out-U-Go! is fortunate to have many loving Pit Bulls in our pack. As a matter of fact, I am the proud parent of a Pit Bull named Berkeley Moon who became a certified therapy dog in 2008. Berkeley currently visits Naperville area schools to assist students with their reading.

For more information please take a look at the following sources and organizations, and hug-a-bull today!

Ill Communication

We are often left to ponder why our dogs behave badly without taking a look at ourselves and how we’re communicating with our pups.  Superior and effective communication is the key to all good relationships.  Communication between you and your dog is even more important because we speak completely different languages.  In the human world, it seems that most behavior is somewhere between good and bad…in the grey area, if you will.  In a dog’s world, however, there really is no grey area; it’s either good or bad.

Our pups have trouble understanding shades of grey when it comes to situations and our expectations.  In order to achieve clarity when you communicate with your dog, you must eliminate grey areas in your training.

Humans typically approach things situationally, e.g., my dog can jump on me when I come home as long as I am not in my nice work clothes, or my dog can come up with me in the bed as soon as my partner leaves, but never while he or she is home.  Our reactions are dependent on the situation.

Dogs, on the other hand, are unable to use reasoning skills.  They are unable to understand the slight nuances that we as humans take for granted.  Conflict arises when a dog doesn’t understand how its behavior elicits such different responses.  Conflict can often create negative, unwanted, and sometimes even aggressive behavior.  It can even create some neurotic behaviors like spinning in circles or tail-chasing.  This is because the animal is confused and doesn’t understand that their behavior will elicit reward or punishment, so they are desperately trying to find a coping skill to help them feel better.

We must achieve maximum clarity and effective communication with our dogs.  We must convey the meaning and our intentions exactly and our dogs must be able to accurately predict which behaviors we want and which we don’t want.  So, how do we do this?

Mark Both Good and Bad Behaviors

We must mark the behavior we want the moment that it happens with a verbal cue.  A well timed “Good!” or “Yes!” or the clicker followed up with a treat says to your dog “THAT’S WHAT I WANT!”  You must be consistent and mark and reward the behavior immediately when the dog shows it.  This will ensure continuation of the behavior and, in time, understanding.

It is also helpful if we mark the behaviors we don’t want with a verbal cue, something like “Ah ah!” or simply “No”, to communicate to our dog where they went wrong.  Overly physical correction is not warranted; in fact, your hands never need to touch the dog.  Simply withhold the reward.  Your dog will realize when they hear the negative verbal cue that the specific behavior is wrong and they do not need to show it again if they want to be rewarded.

You must be consistent!  Teach your pup that there is only one path to a reward.  This allows your dog to have a clear mind and not waste their energy trying to cope with the unknown.  We must teach them through consistency and clear communication how to learn.  This clarity allows them to be successful and will lead not only to better obedience, but also a much stronger bond with us—and that’s really what dog ownership is all about!


Loose Leash Walking

Loose leash walking… it’s what separates mutt from maven, puppy from prodigy.  We all want it, but few truly achieve it.  Ask any dog walker which skill they could impart to any dog, and I’ll bet most would say “good leash skills.”  In fact, most owners would likely agree.  So, how do we go about teaching our pooches to cut us a little slack?  Here’s a few tips that are likely to get you off on the right paw.

First, let’s talk equipment.  Again, ask any dog walker what their least favorite piece of equipment is, and this time you might get a more unanimous response:  “RETRACTABLE LEASHES”…usually uttered with disgust.  Simply put, retractable leashes are the wrong tool to use if you want to teach your pup to walk nicely beside you.  It gives your pup mixed signals.  Are they supposed to stay at your side?  5 feet away?  10 feet?  There is not enough consistency with a retractable lead to give your dog a clear idea of where you want him or her.  I also don’t trust those flimsy buttons to save me when I need my dog to stop for traffic.  I like to use a nice nylon or leather leash, no more than 6 feet in length; 4 foot leashes are nice for bigger dogs whose heads come up to about the waist.

Beyond the leash, there are several harnesses on the market, most of which claim to keep a dog from pulling.  Let’s be clear:  the only thing that will stop a dog from pulling is YOU.  Some harnesses help, but there is no magic solution that will instantly work.  That said, there are a few harness that I like because they offer control.  It’s all about control, people.  The gentle leader (my personal fave) is a harness that goes around the muzzle and then clicks behind the head.  It gives the walker a lot of control over the dog’s movements, since the body has no choice but to follow the head.  Control the head, control the dog.  A lot of pups do not like the feel of the gentle leader on their muzzle, so you may have difficulty getting your pooch to accept it.  If this is the case, I would look into the Sensation harness.  It’s a body harness that allows you to connect the leash to the chest of the dog instead of the back.  It’s more comfortable for most pups, and still allows you to control the front end of the dog.  I stay away from any harness that connects to the back of the dog, as it tends to create an opposition reflex and actually causes the dog to pull harder.

Okay, enough about equipment.  Let’s move on to technique.  I find that when I’m training a dog for almost any reason, it is helpful to focus on what I want them to do, rather than what I don’t want them to do.  In the case of leash walking, picture in your head what that looks like.

What a "J" looks like, for the alphabetically challenged.

Envision what the leash looks like coming off of your dog’s collar or harness.  It should look like a “J”, where the leash comes down off of your dog with slack before coming up to meet your hand.  With this mental picture in mind, begin walking with your pup.  Any time that leash has the nice, loose “J” look to it, use your marker (either a clicker or whatever word you usually use, e.g. “Yes!”).  Follow up the marker with a treat or whatever reward your dog fancies (attention, a pat on the head, etc.).

Of course, most walking sessions will not start out this way.  Most pups are so eager to get out on their walk that the pulling starts almost immediately.  In this scenario, one technique is to simply plant your feet and wait for your pup to come back to you.  If needed, you can give a pat on the leg or make a sound that will get their attention.  As soon as they come to your side and the leash is loose, use your marker the mark the behavior and follow with the reward.  The timing of the marker is very important.  You want to click or use your word at the precise moment that you get the behavior you want.  The reinforcement should come quickly, but should follow AFTER the marker.  Once the dog is at your side, continue walking again, and repeat the drill every time your pup starts pulling again.  Stop, plant your feet, get your dog to come back to your side, mark, reward.  They will soon learn that pulling gets them nowhere, and being by your side gets them attention and/or food.

If this doesn’t seem to be working (and remember, BE PATIENT!), you can add a slight modification.  When your pup starts pulling ahead, simply change direction and walk the opposite way.  Once they’ve caught up and are nicely walking at your side, mark and reward.  This also teaches them that you are in control of the direction of the walk, and if they put tension on the leash they don’t get to go where they want.

You might look silly constantly stopping, turning around, patting your leg, and making kissy noises, but who cares?  It’s a lot less embarrassing and frustrating than having your pooch take you for a walk.