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04 Socialization, Training, and Recreational Activities


This article is from the American Pit Bull Terriers Breed FAQ, by Michael Bur with numerous contributions by others.

04 Socialization, Training, and Recreational Activities

APBTs are generally inclined to be extremely friendly and trusting
around people. This is usually true even with dogs that have not
been properly socialized around people. Still, you will want to
take no chances. From the time your puppy is tiny, you should
encourage friends, strangers, and neighborhood kids of all ages
to pick her up and play with her. Try to make your puppy's
associations with humans overwhelmingly positive. Walk your
puppy through crowded public places, such as street fairs, to
get her accustomed to the presence of lots of people. With this
breed, human-aggressiveness is rare. Until fairly recently in the
APBT's breeding history, this highly undesireable trait was kept
out of the breed through brutal simplicity: a dog that displayed
aggression toward people was shot on the spot, no second chance.
As a result of this ruthless culling, today you're more likely to
encounter the opposite problem: figuring out how to restrain your
dog's insistence on licking every face that goes by. However, as
in all breeds, there will occasionally be a human-aggressive
individual--usually, but not always, the result of backyard
breeding or neglect and abuse. Owning such a dog is, to say the
least, a tremendous liability. There are various degrees and
causes of human-aggressiveness in dogs. Sometimes the problem is
classic dominance-aggression, and it can be nipped in the bud at
an early age if you appropriately re-establish your dominance.
In any case, at the first sign of a problem, you should immediately
seek expert help from a behaviorist or trainer with experience
specifically with this breed. For your own safety, the safety of
your neighbors, and for the sake of the breed, you should not
hesitate to euthanize such a dog if necessary.

With APBTs, a much more common problem than human-aggressiveness is
dog-aggressiveness. If you want to be able to take your APBT to
parks and other public places where other dogs may be present, you
must begin its socialization very early. Socialization with other
dogs is important for every breed, but it is especially crucial for
APBTs. Not all APBT's are naturally inclined to dog-aggressiveness,
but many are. Early socialization is not a guarantee against the
eventual development of dog-aggressiveness, but, combined with basic
obedience training, it is often effective in countering the breed's
aggressive tendency and permitting your APBT to enjoy the company
of other dogs throughout its life. The socialization process cannot
begin too early. Find other responsible owners of small puppies and
non-aggressive adult dogs (all innoculated, of course) and make sure
to have regular (daily, if possible) periods where the dogs can get
together and play. Like human beings, dogs are social creatures.
They are happiest in the company of their own kind. Yet playing
with other dogs is not something that a dog is born knowing how to
do; it is learned through experience: by imitiation a puppy learns
the difference between appropriate and inappropriate behaviors.
You should closely supervise your puppy in these dog play groups.
Dog play consists of two primary actitivies: imitation of fighting
and imitation of predatory chases. To a novice dog owner, these
play activities may seem much more serious than in fact they are.
Dogs can take a lot of rough play with plenty of barking,
play-growling and play-biting, so long as none of the dogs feels
threatened. You should look to see whether the dogs are exchanging
top and bottom positions and taking turns chasing each other; this
is an indication that they both accept the rules of appropriate play.
A common problem with APBTs is that they play too roughly, and,
not realizing this, frighten their play-mate into serious defensive
posturing. Ideally, you should choose large, easy-going dogs for
your APBT puppy to play with. If your puppy becomes too rough for
her playmate, let her know your disapproval verbally and correct
her by temporarily picking her up and ending the fun. Remember, a
10-week old pup is not a monster; she can't seriously hurt her
playmates. The crucial formative period between 8 and 16 weeks is
the time to socialize your APBT puppy most intensively. If you
wait till she is 6 months old before exposing her to other dogs,
it may be too late to socialize her safely, and you will be stuck
with a dog that can never let off-leash in public places.
Socialization will not always succeed in preventing your APBT from
becoming dog-aggressive; but failing to socialize your dog will
almost certainly guarantee that you dog will become dog-aggressive.
Throughout the process of socialization, you never want to allow
your APBT to imperil other dogs. You must keep in mind that
sometimes even well-socialized APBTs, once they reach a certain
age (usually between a year and a half and three years), can
suddenly "turn on" toward dogs. To be on the safe side, every
APBT owner should carry a breaking stick and learn how to use
it properly. When you decide to buy an APBT, you must be clear
that there is a possibility that your dog may eventually need to
be isolated from other dogs, no matter how diligently you socialize
her. This is one of the potential inconveniences of owning
an APBT.

Like socialization, basic obedience training should also begin early.
With this breed, it is essential to have your dog completely under
voice control. Contrary to a common misunderstanding, training will
NOT "break the spirit" of an APBT. Dogs are hierarchical pack animals.
Their psychological well-being depends on their knowing with certainty
their exact status in the pack and on their having a definite lead
to follow. This "pack mentality" is the instinct that made canines
domesticable: a dog regards her human family as her pack and looks to
her masters as the pack leaders. A dog that is never trained and is
allowed to do anything it pleases will be perpetually anxious and
confused, since this absolute freedom and the resulting uncertainty
as to who is really the pack leader produces insecurity in a canine.
It is mainly for this reason, and not for hunger alone, that lone
wolves and lost dogs are especially unhappy; their freedom is too much
for them to handle. The APBT is no different in this respect than any
other breed.

Another harmful myth about APBTs is that they require a different
kind of training than other breeds: "The only way to get these dogs
to respect you is to beat the crap out of them." In fact, APBTs
tend to be very eager to please and emotionally sensitive, so that
harsh treatment is counterproductive. APBT's really love being
praised and hugged, and it is mainly by these positive means that
your APBT will learn to anticipate what you want and do it eagerly,
just like any other breed of dog.

When you find an obedience class in which to enroll your dog, you
will need to make a decision about a training collar. The APBT is
the world's most pain-insensitive breed. Therefore, an ordinary
chain choke collar may not be sufficient to get your dog's attention
when she gets a mind to chase a squirrel. An ordinary chain choke
make also do cumulative damage to your dog's trachea. In this case,
you should probably use a pinch collar. Not only is it able to get
a dog's attention better, but it is less likely to injure the dog's

Once your dog is properly socialized and trained, there is no limit
to the actitvities that you can enjoy with your dog. APBT's are
extremely versatile and tireless athletes. They have been known to
excel at agility, fly races, tracking, and frisbee. Many excel
at big game hunting. Having been bred for prolonged,
high-intensity activity, they can run for hours and hours, and so
they make great hiking or mountain-biking companions. Many have
phenomenal leaping ability. Some can even climb trees. One
competitive sport specifically designed for APBTs is weight-pull
competitions, a regular feature of ADBA-sponsored shows.

APBTs not only enjoy lots of hard exercise, they NEED it. An
exhausted APBT is a happy APBT. If you won't have the time to
exercise your dog regularly, you should choose another breed. You
don't need a big back yard to provide you dog with sufficient
exercise. One popular indoor exercise device that many APBT owners
rely on is a treadmill. You can work your dog up to 30-45 minutes
daily. Another stationary exercise device is the spring pole.
This device is a simple solo tug-of-war machine that some dogs
will play with for hours.

Be careful not to push your puppy to overexertion while her bones
are still growing. Puppies should be allowed to establish their
own comfortable level of exercise. Serious use of a treadmill
should only begin at a year and a half or older.


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