Socializing Your Pit Bull

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All dogs should be properly socialized. Having a well socialized dog in your home means your friends and family will enjoy coming over and look forward to seeing your dog as well as you, while your furry friend can enjoy the company of other canines and go out into the world with a relaxed attitude.

On the other hand, a poorly socialized dog can intimidate visitors and make going places a hassle. If you don't socialize your dog, both of you will endure a more stressful existence.

Why Socialize Your Pit Bull?

Socialization is particularly important for pit bulls. The reasons for this can be divided into three categories:

  • Strength and speed.
  • Tendency toward dog aggression.
  • Breed reputation.

Strength and Speed

The pit bull is possibly the champion athlete of the dog world. Without question, it's one of the breeds capable of doing the most damage in the shortest amount of time to a perceived enemy. As with all large, powerful breeds that can do a lot of damage quickly, pit bull owners have a greater duty to look out for the safety of others.

Tendency Toward Dog Aggression

Certainly not all pit bulls are dog aggressive, but the potential exists to a somewhat greater degree than in many breeds. Pits are hardly alone in this, but again, all owners of breeds with a tendency toward dog aggression have an extra responsibility when it comes to socializing their dog.

Breed Reputation

If your Corgi attacks the neighbor's Chihuahua, or your Cocker Spaniel takes a bite out of a jogger's leg, odds are no one will immediately begin calling for the dog's euthanasia. It's certain no one will succeed in using one incident to launch a worldwide campaign to eliminate Corgis or Cocker Spaniels.
But pit bull owners have to worry about calls to "put down" their dogs even when they are clearly not the aggressors in a given situation, and there's already a worldwide campaign to eliminate our breed. Even aggressive posturing can contribute to the negative perception of the breed as a whole, or put your dog in a bad situation.

Put all these issues together, and it's easy to understand why it's so important to socialize your pit bull.

When to Begin Socialization

In most situations, the correct answer to "When should socialization begin?" is "Right away!"

The period between 4 and 14 weeks and especially 8-12 weeks is prime socialization time, when your dog is focused on learning about the world around her. But all of the first 6 months are extremely important. This is the age at which primary stimulus response patterns are established. Later, it becomes much harder to modify attitudes and behavior.

While puppyhood is the best time to begin socialization, if you've just gotten a new adult pit bull, you should also start socializing him immediately. As part of his learning the rules to his new environment, you should teach him to work and play well with others.

If there are bad habits to overcome, it will take more effort than with a puppy, but the longer you wait the more ingrained the unwanted behaviors become.

How to Socialize Your Pit Bull

Okay, we've established the why and when of socialization, now to the how. The methods will be slightly different for adults and puppies.

Puppy Socialization

Safety First

Because puppies have vulnerable immune systems and haven't had all their shots yet, you should wait until your vet says it's okay for him to mix and mingle with other canines. Until then, you can invite friends over and let him cuddle and play with them. You can also introduce him to older dogs who you know to be puppy friendly, healthy and immunized.

Puppy Class

Once your puppy is old enough, puppy class is a great idea. It's a chance for her to be around other puppies at a similar stage of development in a controlled, supervised environment. In addition to her own training, she will see numerous other puppies being reinforced for good behavior, while learning that humans and other dogs are mostly friendly.

At Home

Just because your puppy is going to class doesn't mean socialization stops there. You want her to understand that the rules apply everywhere. Invite people over so she'll know not to guard the house from visitors, or conversely, greet them with a bounding leap that turns into an accidental tackle.

Let her know that she'll always get positive reinforcement for good behavior, and that she can always expect a genial environment.

Everywhere Else

Whether it's bouncing around the house or going for a walk, expose your pit bull puppy to lots of fun, exciting and different situations. Take him for on-lead walks around the neighborhood, in parks and parking lots. Go to pet-friendly stores and sidewalk cafes. In all these situations, remain calm and in control.

Always let him know he is loved, and be quick to provide positive reinforcement. He will view the world as a friendly place, and in turn, he'll become a more confident, happier and better behaved dog for the rest of his life.

Adult Socialization

With adults, the situation is a bit more complex, especially if you don't know their history. Gradually introduce them to other dogs in a neutral, safe and controlled setting. Walking your adult dog on lead near dogs you know will have a relaxed, welcoming attitude towards her is an excellent example of this.

Once you've established that your adult pit bull reacts well (or at least acceptably) near other dogs on lead one at a time, try walking him near multiple dogs. A good next step after that might be obedience class. Along the way, you should get a good idea of whether or not supervised, off-lead play makes sense.

Keep in mind that with adult dogs, even if you can't always change the underlying attitude, you can often still change the behavior. Your new American Pit Bull Terrier might look at visitors and think "I want to jump up and lick their face as they come in the door!" or "Men with beards are dangerous," but you can still teach her it's not acceptable to jump up and lick people, and that it's really not okay to bark and growl at your bearded cousin Kevin.

Dog Parks

A quick bit of advice about dog parks: don't go there. While the vast majority of the dogs at the park will be fine playmates, it only takes one problem character to ruin the fun for everybody.

And here's the thing: Even if someone brought a crazed killer attack Labrador Retriever that's a known menace, and even if this 90 lb lab sneaks up from behind to attack your 35 lb pit who has been playing wonderfully with every other dog at the park for the past week, it's your pit bull who will most likely be blamed by everyone who didn't see the start of the fight. In this case, "everyone who didn't see the start of the fight" will be most of the people at the park and any responding animal control officers.

A Quick Recap

  • Start socializing early.
  • Make sure you control the setting.
  • Avoid dog parks as a socialization tool.
  • Always reward positive behavior.
  • On-lead meet-and-greets with dogs known to be friendly and well-behaved are a great way to start socializing an adult pit bull.
  • Puppy class and obedience class are terrific socialization opportunities.
  • Introduce your new pit bull to a variety of people, dogs and situations.
  • Don't introduce your pit bull to a large variety of new stimuli all at once; socialization should be slow and gradual until he is very comfortable.

Follow these tips, and your pit bull will be on his way to becoming a confident, happy canine role model.

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11 comments

Comments

Bmorelovin's picture
Bmorelovin
Wed, 09/01/2010 - 8:02pm

This sounds all too true, but I completely agree with the advice on the dog park. I work for an all natural pet food store and many of our customers attend a make shift dog park. However, that doesn't mean I will ever be taking my dog to the park. I know exactly how he will behave and no matter how much training I have given him, he will always be to excitable to safely play there. Unfortunately I know it's my responsibility to keep him safe and that means keeping him on leash.

arm11679's picture
arm11679
Sat, 11/06/2010 - 12:28am

my two pits are the most loveing gentel dogs, but i do find that people judge them befor they even know them. this pisses me off.......
but t the same time i do see the potential danger with other dogs, when playing at the park they tend to pack up against other dogs (playfully) but owners of the other dogs dont see it that way. i have a cat they love and my neighbors dogs are a pug and jack terrier and they play great together.

ive thought i should take them to parks seperately but that seems unfair to them because they love each other so much,,,,, what should i do to fix this?

Juju's picture
Juju
Tue, 01/04/2011 - 10:09pm

I know what u mean about how people re act to pit bulls. We just had an incident in my city where a police officer shot a pit bull because he was protecting his owner and the dog bit him. Of cours everyone is on the kill pit bull band wagon. I did call in to the news and they put my phone conversation on TV. Like I said to the reporter people need to educate themselves because they sound really ignorate. With that being said. I have an APBT and a Staffordshire Bull Terrier and I do take both of them to the dog park at the same time. I go first thing in the morning because usually there's no one there and the dogs can run and play together. My staffie does get nervous around other dogs sometimes so I keep her on a leash until she's calm and is used to the other dogs, if there are any. I keep them on a leash and introduce them to the other dogs there. After she's sniffed them and got to know them, I can take the leash off of them. My APBT is very puppy still. I was able to raise him so he's very friendly to other dogs and people. But I still keep both on a leash if theres other dogs there because I've noticed that alot of people that go to the dog park aren't paying any attention to what their dogs are doing. You're righ about taking them seperately one will definately be upset the whole time ur gone. Its been my experience that its best to go when no ones there or maybe just 1 or 2 are there.
I keep them leashed until I feel like they're not nervous or scared and trust that they get along with everyone at the park. Taking them for a walk before you take them to the dog park also helps. I hope this helps, it worked for me.

kathblack's picture
kathblack
Mon, 01/31/2011 - 10:01pm

We have 4 dogs and the only dogs we ever take to the dog park are the little ones that aren't pits. In fact, we only take the little ones to the park @ 8-10pm when there are only a few other dogs there. When there are too many people and too much going on, even the little dog park can quickly turn into a case of your-dog-did-this-to-my-dog situation. NOT worth it!

We won't ever be taking our pitties to the dog park for the exact reasons outlined here.  We take them for regular walks but are always alert to who/what is around us.  I have walked up someone's driveway and stood up against their garage door many times to pull my dog out of a situation if there isn't time/opportunity to cross the street or avoid another dog/person.  I have had people try to push me to let their dog sniff mine but I won't let it happen.  He's great with our dogs and the neighbors' dogs through the fence, but I don't trust other dogs OR other people and know that because of the breed, mine would be to blame. 

I love my dogs too much to put them at risk.

ramone's picture
ramone
Wed, 04/27/2011 - 12:31pm

so true!!

 

ramone's picture
ramone
Wed, 04/27/2011 - 12:31pm

so true!!

 

Blackout22's picture
Blackout22
Wed, 06/08/2011 - 2:38pm

I could not agree more either with the dog park situation, my bully just turned four months and when me and him would go to the dog park there was usually nobody there, but the minute other dogs showed up at least one of the two other dogs was aggressive and attacked him! I was alarmed that these were mostly poodle/weiner dogs too, it's ironic considering how much all these people cry out against pit bulls and staffordshire bull terriers yet their lack of socialization with their so called 'friendly non-violent' dogs is the reason why these fights break out to begin with!

Optimus's picture
Optimus
Tue, 06/14/2011 - 9:35pm

 Me and my Boyfriend got our beautiful blue nose pit a few months ago. He is about 6 months  to a year old and he has been the best dog we ever had. He is fun, loving and the cutest thing ever. We started to take him to the dog park so he can run free and socialize, he is always a sweetheart to other dogs and just like every other puppy try to play as much as he can...  But he would never defend himself so he gets bullied and even bit by other dogs. I really dont wanna ever go back there again with him but im not sure how to give him as much excersise and what could i do with him since we dont have a yard... :( If you guys have any ideas please help... Thank you.   

autumntoo's picture
autumntoo
Tue, 12/06/2011 - 5:31pm

I had similar problems at dog parks. In order to get my dog similar exercise and socialization I do doggy play dates with dogs that I know to be well behaved. My yard isn't as big as a dog park, but they have a lot of fun running around and playing with toys and are always tuckered out when it is over.

Optimus's picture
Optimus
Tue, 06/14/2011 - 9:35pm

 Me and my Boyfriend got our beautiful blue nose pit a few months ago. He is about 6 months  to a year old and he has been the best dog we ever had. He is fun, loving and the cutest thing ever. We started to take him to the dog park so he can run free and socialize, he is always a sweetheart to other dogs and just like every other puppy try to play as much as he can...  But he would never defend himself so he gets bullied and even bit by other dogs. I really dont wanna ever go back there again with him but im not sure how to give him as much excersise and what could i do with him since we dont have a yard... :( If you guys have any ideas please help... Thank you.   

rebeccajoshuaoshea's picture
rebeccajoshuaoshea
Sun, 07/03/2011 - 6:18am

I'm newer to the pitbull ownership community, but the first thing that came to mind when I read this was: don't quit going because of other people's dogs. You have every right to be there as they do, and if you are being the responsible owner, training your dog and such...and the others are the ones being aggressive, the owners of those dogs need to know this. Yes, they'll come back with, "Oh, but obviously yours being a pitbull, started this aggressive behavior in my dog..." Whatever--be upfront about it, not in a snobbish way, and if you continue to stand your ground, pretty soon those other dog owners will "get the picture." (at least we hope)

Are you ever able to go on some long walks, rollerblade, or even ride bike with your pit? If we had rollerblades, we would do that with O'Shea all the time. of course, you'd have to have your wits about you doing that, seeing as how our pits are extremely strong! We tried bike rides with O'Shea, and he seemed to enjoy that--but we had to try and stay on roads we knew weren't traveled much, as any passing traffic could cause him to become a little skiddish. But if you know of ppl who do have a yard that's fenced where he could run, that may help, too! :)