If your dominant pit bull is ruling your home and you are ready to go sleep on the couch, you may be getting a tad bit worried. Take a deep breath; contrary to popular thinking, it is most likely a lack of clear interspecies communication that leads to troubling behaviors.
Establish what is really causing the troublesome behaviors you're seeing. The popular belief that dogs are attempting to control your home and life is damaging to the owner-dog relationship and may lead to stress, anxiety and aggression from the dog, along with fear and antipathy of the owner, according to the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. Just because your pit bull is misbehaving does not mean he is trying to establish authority. Generally, dogs perform certain behaviors simply because such behaviors have a history of being reinforced. A good approach would entail decreasing undesirable behaviors be removing the rewards for such behaviors while lavishly rewarding acceptable, alternate behaviors.
Determine how to change your dog's behavior. For instance, if your pit bull is jumping on you, don't be quick to assume he is doing so because he wants to assert his height and rank over you. Rather, consider how many times you or your guests made eye contact, pet him and talked to him in the past when he was jumping, possibly since he was a puppy. To stop jumping, simply ignore and turn your back when your pit bull is on two legs, and reward lavishly when he is on all fours. Make sure all your guests adhere to the same protocol. Work on finding rewarding ways to teach your pushy pit bull how convenient it is to engage in alternate, more acceptable behaviors. As an opportunist, your pit bull should learn which behaviors are the most advantageous.
Implement the "Learn to Earn" training program. This non-confrontational program will train your pit bull to “do” something in order to earn what he wants. Fill your treat bag with your dog's kibble and place it around your waist and train him to "earn" every kibble by sitting first. You can then move on to practicing training your pit bull to sit before you snap on the leash, sit before you open the door, sit before you give him attention and so forth. With a structured set of rules in place, your pit bull will learn what he needs to do in order to attain life rewards such as food, petting, access to the outdoors and playtime. This training method promotes impulse control and emphasizes your leadership role since you will be controlling all your pit bull's resources instead of allowing him to get them for free.
Consult with a dog trainer for help if the behaviors are challenging or consult with a certified applied animal behaviorist or board-certified veterinary behaviorist if the issues appear to be particularly troublesome. These professionals will assess your situation and help you develop a training or behavior-modification program custom tailored to your specific needs. With a specific program in place, you will soon realize how your dog is simply misbehaving due to a history of reinforcement rather than an intent to seize your property and become the king of your home.
- Make your dog earn his food, kibble by kibble, throughout the day rather than giving food all at once in the food bowl.
- Reward generously during the initial stages of training.
- Consider keeping your pit bull tethered to you on leash all day for the first days of training.
- Make sure that your rules are consistent and that all family members abide to them.
- Manage your dog's environment to prevent your dog from rehearsing unwanted behaviors over and over.
- Avoid giving attention to demanding behaviors such as barking, jumping and pawing.
- Don't miss opportunities to reward; keep a watchful eye on your dog so you can reinforce wanted behaviors.
- Consider that behavior changes do not happen overnight, it takes a while for good behaviors to become a habit.
- If your dog ever shows any signs of aggression, consult with a professional.
Adrienne Farricelli has been writing for magazines, books and online publications since 2005. She specializes in canine topics, previously working for the American Animal Hospital Association and receiving certification from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. Her articles have appeared in "USA Today," "The APDT Chronicle of the Dog" and "Every Dog Magazine." She also contributed a chapter in the book " Puppy Socialization - An Insider's Guide to Dog Behavioral Fitness" by Caryl Wolff.