Save the Pit Bull
Check out these 20 tips to help keep the American Pit Bull Terrier legal as a pet dog.
D. Caroline Coile |
Posted: September 4, 2012, 4 p.m. EDT
Every Pit Bull owner has the ability to change the public’s perception of the breed. Breed-specific legislation isn’t something that only happens in other places to other people. Someday, it could happen where you are, to you. It’s much easier to prevent it if you’ve already worked to get the public on your side. You can do that by following these 20 suggestions to save the American Pit Bull Terrier.
1. Face Reality
Don’t be so preoccupied denying Pit Bull pitfalls that you add to their bad deeds. Sure, lots of Pit Bull paranoia is unjustified. But that doesn’t mean Pit Bulls are never dangerous. Pit Bulls have attacked pets, and even people, and have done so with fatal results. Pit Bulls are powerful dogs who are not easily dissuaded from whatever they’re doing.
Don’t be oblivious to signs of trouble. And remember, dogs change as they mature. Don’t discount aggressive signs as flukes, and don’t just chalk them up to being the other dog’s fault.
2. Don't Take Your Pit Bull to the Dog Park
Dog parks are great places for dogs to mingle, play and chase one another, but they’re not good places for pit bulls. That’s because dog parks are also great places for fights to break out.
Unfortunately, whether your APBT starts the fight or not, this is what he was bred to do, and chances are he’s not going to stop until the other dog is severely injured or dead.
It may seem unfair to deny your Pit Bull the fun of the dog park, but it’s the safest thing to do for your dog. Sara Meehan, director of Misunderstood Pit Bulls in Richmond, Virginia, suggests forming small play groups of compatible dogs. That way, you know the dogs and owners and are in a better position to stop any trouble before things get out of hand.
3. Make Sure You PIt Bull Is Never Loose
What if, despite your efforts, your Pit Bull is aggressive to dogs or people? You can’t take chances or take a wait-and-see attitude. Not only could a Pit Bull with aggressive tendencies kill or maim a beloved pet (or worse, a person), but in so doing, your dog will likely be signing his own death warrant as well as bringing a lawsuit down on your head.
You have two choices: absolutely prevent the possibility or relinquish your Pit Bull to somebody who can deal with the aggression. You prevent the possibility by making sure your Pit Bull is never loose. Your fence needs to be pit bull proof so that your APBT cannot go over, under or through it. Do it right the first time because you may not have a second chance.
4. Neuter or Spay Your Pit Bull
It’s no secret that testosterone increases aggression. Most fatal dog attacks are carried out by intact (unneutered) males. With few exceptions, your life, and your Pit Bull’s life, will be much easier if you neuter him before sexual maturity. Even female Pit Bulls can become more tractable when spayed, as some females tend to be more aggressive according to their estrus (heat) cycle.
5. Socialize Your Pit Bull
Socialization is critical for any puppy, but even more so for a Pit Bull puppy. Those first few months could mean the difference between a pit bull that interacts with trust and friendliness toward strange dogs and people versus one that is shy, aggressive or unpredictable.
Socialization isn’t just important for meeting visitors. It’s also vital for the times your pit bull needs to be boarded or handled by the veterinarian. And although you plan on keeping your pit bull his entire life, what if the unthinkable happened and you couldn’t? Could your dog adjust to a new family? In such cases, socialization can mean the difference between life and death.
6. Take Your Pit Bull To Obedience Classes
Take your Pit Bull to obedience classes. Start young, while you can control him easily. You’d be surprised by how many fellow class members can be won over by a smart Pit Bull.
Obedience classes teach your Pit Bull to accept other dogs and people, and to focus on you around distractions. They also teach basic good manners. An APBT can easily scare somebody by jumping up on them in greeting. Instead, train your pit bull to sit for greetings, allowing the stranger to feel more comfortable.
7. Make a Good Impression
People notice Pit Bulls. They especially notice Pit Bulls when they do something to live up to their bad press. Make sure your Pit Bull makes his own good press. Don’t give onlookers a chance to complain or worry about things you and your Pit Bull do. Don’t let your Pit Bull scare people, challenge dogs, chase cats or act aggressive in any way. Don't give your pit bull a scary or threatening name. You and your Pit Bull are ambassadors for the breed, and that means you have to be extra careful to be responsible, well-mannered and nonthreatening.
8. Be a Good Pit Bull Canine Citizen
Of course you should make sure your Pit Bull always behaves in public, but you can also go one step further and earn a certificate attesting to his good citizenship. The American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen title is awarded to dogs who pass a series of simple exercises that any well-behaved dog should be able to do in public. The CGC has been recognized by some insurance companies that otherwise discriminate against pit bulls, and it may also come in handy when looking for rental housing. It doesn’t matter that your pit bull isn’t AKC registered — any dog, pure or mixed, is eligible. Find tests in your area.
9. Pass a Dog Temperament Test
The American Temperament Test Society offers a 10-part test that evaluates aspects of a dog’s temperament, such as stability, shyness, aggressiveness and friendliness. No special training is needed and dogs that pass earn the TT (Temperament Test) title after their names.
Not only will you be documenting your Pit Bull’s sound temperament, but you’ll be adding to the record of all Pit Bulls. The ATTS keeps records of how many dogs in each breed pass or fail. American Pit Bull Terriers typically score among the best of breeds. Adding your Pit Bull’s score to the tote can only help this breed’s image.
10. Earn a Title
Your Pit Bull doesn’t have to parade around a show ring to earn accolades. Plenty of venues exist in which Pit Bulls can shine. The United Kennel Club not only offers conformation shows, but obedience, agility and weight-pulling competitions. Your pit bull may even be eligible for AKC events by registering under an Indefinite Listing Privilege number, an option that’s available for purebred (but non-AKC registered) dogs who are neutered or spayed. APBTs can also compete in doggie dancing competitions, tracking trials, some herding trials and schutzhund competitions. Every time you and your pit bull excel as a team, it will further the American Pit Bull Terrier’s reputation as a trustworthy, obedient companion.
11. Train Your Pit Bull To Be A Therapy Dog
You know how your Pit Bull lifts your spirit when you’re down. Pit Bulls are talented therapy dogs, seeming to know just the right thing to do, whether visiting children or adults, and whether sick, mentally, physically or emotionally challenged. Obviously, this is not something you do just to prove a point. You need to go into therapy work because you have a genuine desire to share your Pit Bull with others, and because your Pit Bull is absolutely trustworthy. To become an official therapy dog, you’ll need to get some instruction and your dog will need to demonstrate that he’s gentle, well-mannered and tolerant of what can sometimes become heavy petting. Most large cities have training programs.
12. Come to the Rescue
Pit Bulls can smell a dog treat at 50 paces. They also can smell a buried or lost person. What better PR for the American Pit Bull Terrier than to have your Pit Bull find a lost child? Pit Bulls have excellent noses, they don’t let obstacles stand in their way, and they’re courageous, nimble and athletic — the ideal attributes for a search-and-rescue dog. For more information about training for search and rescue, visit the American Rescue Dog Association.
13. Get Involved In Your Community
Don’t be the last one to know if breed-specific legislation is being planned in your community. Attend your city or community government meetings. Be ready to speak out reasonably against unfair proposals. Make yourself known in your community as a dedicated and responsible dog owner who knows the law and isn’t afraid to advocate for dogs. Responsible pit bull owners tend to fade into the background, so when politicians think of pit bull owners, it’s the bad element that comes to mind. They need to know about the good owners and their pit bulls!
14. Organize With Other Pit Bull Owners
There’s strength in numbers — especially in numbers of Pit Bulls and their people. Form a group to keep abreast of local legislation that affects dogs, and to set a good example of responsible dog ownership and encourage others to get involved with their dogs. By sponsoring training classes, meet-and-greets, pet fairs, and even matches and competitions, you can make your presence felt in a valuable way in your community.
15. Get Connected
Nobody can do it all alone. If you find your community threatened by breed-specific legislation, you need to get help from people who have fought it before. The AKC is adamantly opposed to breed-specific legislation, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s aimed at AKC breeds or not. Search for groups devoted to breed-specific legislation and dog law.
16. Spread the Word
You already know there are plenty of irresponsible Pit Bull owners out there undoing all your good work as fast as you can do it. Some of them don’t care and never will. But some of them don’t know any better, or don’t know how to make things better. It’s not going to make much of an impact if you’re the only one in your community doing good deeds. So you need to get the word out. When you meet Pit Bull owners, encourage them to join an obedience group or other responsible dog group. Encourage them to be responsible. Tell them of the pitfalls of setting a bad example and the threat of breed-specific legislation.
Volunteer at your local shelter and work to educate fellow workers about Pit Bulls. Work with Pit Bull adopters to make sure they know how critical it is for them to set a good example.
17. Rally to the Rescue
You may not be able to bring another Pit Bull into your family, but you can help other families bring one into theirs. Pit Bulls are difficult to adopt out, partly because people are afraid of them. But when they see what this breed can do, or see that pit bulls are a great family pet, they’re more likely to give this breed a chance. Meehan reports that they get far more response at adoption booths when the booth is manned by a family, including children, than when it is manned by a couple of 20 olds. Of course, while at the booth, it’s your chance to educate the public about the many marvels of pit bulls. You can also help by fostering and training an pit bull, greatly increasing his chances of adoption.
18. Report Dog Fighting
Chances are, you won’t be confronted with a dog fighting event, but you never know. Dog fighting is cruel, illegal and adds to the bad reputation of the Pit Bull. Don’t tolerate it. Report it. And while you’re at it, support your local animal control so they have the funds to battle dogfighting.
19. Support the Cause
Maybe you’re more of a behind-the-scenes person. Volunteer your expertise to fight unjust dog laws, promote dogs in general and Pit Bulls in particular. Sure, it’s great if you’re an attorney with legal skills, or a lobbyist with bigwig contacts. But it’s just as useful if you’re good at creating websites, writing, photography, managing online auctions or fundraising.
20. Be Media Savvy
Pit Bull attacks make the news. Make sure Pit Bull good deeds do, as well. When you hear of good deeds by Pit Bulls, forward the news to your local paper. They may be looking for filler material and a Pit Bull hero can make for a good human-interest story.
Excerpt from the Popular Puppies Series magabook American Pit Bull Terriers with permission from its publisher, BowTie magazines, a division of BowTie Inc. Purchase American Pit Bull Terriers here.
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