What to Do When Your Pit Bull Puppy Becomes Confrontational

Confidence is fine, but confrontational behavior is not.
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Your pit bull puppy should be a confident and inquisitive dog. Confrontation is normal for such a puppy as he begins to discern boundaries and find his place in pack hierarchy. Curb confrontational behavior as early as possible to help your dog adapt appropriately to a domestic environment.

Identify the Causes

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Monitor your pit bull’s daily routine and make a note of anything that causes him to become confrontational. The cause may be as simple as someone approaching him while eating, but with pit bulls confrontational behavior is likely to occur due to the presence of other dogs.

Pit bulls descend from the molosser family of dogs, which were used for protection. While you can train pit bulls to be tolerant of dogs and other animals, they are instinctively suspicious of new dogs and are rarely overly friendly. Pit bulls are highly protective of people, they're bold and they're strong. (Sadly, this makes them appealing to people who train dogs for fighting.) Their instincts to protect "their people" and territory mean they may become confrontational in the presence of other dogs. Knowing the cause will help you neutralize the motivation for your pit bull's confrontational behavior.

Spot the Warning Signs

Identify the behavior patterns that precede confrontational behavior. Your dog will typically give out a few hints before becoming confrontational. Pit bulls are typically watchful and confident and are therefore unlikely to go straight from being calm to confrontational as a nervous dog would. Instead, a pit bull may stare down a person or animal before growling or barking to warn the interloper off. Certain body language can indicate impending confrontational behavior, too, such as a still, stiff tail; lick-lipping; and folded-back ears.

Leash the Dog

Set the leash length so you can keep him close by, but allow enough slack that he doesn’t feel restricted. It’s essential that you have physical control over your pit bull when correcting confrontational behavior. Only when he is being confrontational can you correct the problem. By leashing him, you can safely introduce him to situations that would push him to be confrontational.

Control the Situation

Re-create a controlled environment that would likely cause confrontational behavior. For example, have a friend bring his dog around to the house, or have someone approach the food bowl -- whatever is most likely to get a reaction from the dog. Walk your dog around on the leash and give him plenty of fuss for as long as he remains calm and passive. Look out for signs of him becoming agitated, so you can stop doting at the optimum moment. He won't necessarily confront the stimulus immediately, so you're effectively rewarding him for staying calm until he "snaps" -- at which point, you withdraw the praise and loving petting.

Neutralize the Motivation

As soon as your pit bull shows signs of becoming confrontational, stop fussing him and change your walking direction. This discourages the confrontational behavior. By removing the praise and fuss, you have reduced the quality of his environment. With sufficient repetition, he’ll learn that by behaving confrontationally, good things get taken away.

Alter His Habits

Discourage confrontational behavior. If his behavior escalates to full-on confrontational posturing and aggressive gestures, gently pull the leash and say, “no,” calmly. By tightening the leash, you restrict his movement, which is an aversive stimulus. By introducing an aversive stimulus, you teach the puppy that confrontation has a negative outcome. Reward calm, passive behavior. Once he is calm, walk him around again. Give him a food treat or physical fuss when the pit bull responds with prolonged calmness and passive behavior when exposed to stimuli that previously caused confrontational behavior.

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