Pit bulls are inherently friendly, especially toward humans. Typically, aggression is directed at other dogs and people they perceive as a threat to you. Your pit bull puppy will grow up to be an imposing, powerful adult weighing up to 78 lbs, so it’s essential to nip any aggressive tendencies in the bud.
Find the Source
Fear, anxiety and being territorial may cause aggressive behavior in dogs. However, a pit bull is typically confident and assertive, so an aversion to other dogs may be the more likely cause of aggression. Pit bulls are more likely to be aggressive toward dogs than they are to people, so make it a priority to confirm or rule this tendency out. You can identify the cause of aggression by monitoring your dog’s body language when exposed to various stimuli. A pit bull should be curious, watchful and confident, never edgy or unpredictable. If he is fearful, for example he’s scared of the vacuum cleaner, he’ll hunch, he may yawn and he’ll avoid looking at the device. Fear can soon escalate into aggression. Similarly, if he only becomes aggressive when new people or dogs enter the home, it’s likely that territorialism is driving his behavior.
Pit bulls are athletic and powerful. Even as puppies, they out-weigh and out-muscle dogs of a similar height. A quick jaunt around the neighborhood is not enough exercise for a pit bull puppy. Swimming, hiking and even running alongside your bicycle are great ways to burn off some off that energy.
By gradually exposing your dog to the stimuli that causes his aggression, you will eventually force him to come to terms with it. It’s a lot easier to do this with puppies as they aren’t as set in their ways as adult dogs. If, for example, your dog is aggressive to strangers, the trigger to his aggression may be the sound of the doorbell. By ringing the doorbell once an hour, while ignoring your dog’s reactions, you will gradually show him that the doorbell is just another sound in his daily routine. The key to desensitization is to begin the process at low intensity, gradually increasing intensity as the dog becomes more tolerant of the stimulus.
Once you’ve desensitized your dog to the aggression-evoking stimuli, the next step is to condition him to not only tolerate, but form positive associations with it. Pit bulls love physical affection, so an effective way to reward tolerance is with a little belly rub or petting. For a pitbull pup that is aggressive to other dogs, you can counter condition this by petting him every time a new dog approaches. This is called positive enforcement. Over time, your pit bull will learn that good things happen when new dogs appear in his environment. He’ll eventually begin to anticipate the fuss when he sees a new dog. Ensure that you have your pit bull on a leash when doing this, as even pups can switch from calm to aggressive quickly.
Unlike breeds of a more stubborn temperament, such as huskies, pit bulls do not benefit from overly assertive training. Pit bulls are extremely sensitive and can be become distressed and anxious if punished or harshly treated. Over time, anxiety can turn into aggression. For this reason, only ever use positive reinforcement to correct bad behavior.
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, "pit bull puppies may need even more socialization than other breeds." Let your pit bull pup mix with lots of different people and animals as soon as he’s had his vaccinations. Make it a priority to expose him to other dogs regularly, whether at the park or at pre-arranged "play dates." Exposure to adult dogs as a pup will help your pit bull modify his play. If bigger dogs regularly discipline him, he'll learn how to fit in. From six months of age, enroll your pup in a puppy class so he can experience what it’s like to be surrounded by similarly rambunctious pups. Breeds mature at a different rate so crucial development phases vary. For the pit bull, that phase typically occurs between seven and sixteen weeks. You should regularly socialize your pup during this period.
Simon Foden has been a freelance writer and editor since 1999. He began his writing career after graduating with a Bachelors of Arts degree in music from Salford University. He has contributed to and written for various magazines including "K9 Magazine" and "Pet Friendly Magazine." He has also written for Dogmagazine.net.