The onus is on the owners of every American Pit Bull Terrier to go the extra mile to ensure their Pit Bulls have good social skills that will guarantee they have positive interactions with people and other dogs.
“You have to start socializing young,” says dog behaviorist and veteran dog trainer Harrison Forbes of Savannah, Tennessee. “The puppy stage between 5 weeks and 20 weeks is critical because that’s when the Pit Bull sets her attitudes about how she reacts toward other dogs and people. If the Pit Bull has positive interactions and experiences at this impressionable age, you are giving your Pit Bull great social skills that she will be able to carry forward into adulthood.”
Reputable Pit Bull breeders will emphasize to their Pit Bull puppy buyers that it is their responsibility to continue the puppy’s socialization after they bring her home. “One of the biggest problems Pit Bull breeders encounter is that often when people acquire a dog, they give her lots of attention, but then after a few weeks, the novelty wears off and the Pit Bull puppy is left alone in the yard, starved of companionship and exercise. This can have a very negative effect on the Pit Bull’s personality.”
“Isolation can be your Pit Bull’s biggest enemy,” Forbes says. “It leads to frustration and aggression and will override any positive interaction the Pit Bull had been exposed to while with the breeder. Pit Bulls are very people-friendly and enjoy going places, so it’s not difficult to make socializing an everyday thing.”
Socialization means exposing your Pit Bull puppy to people, places, things and other dogs in a positive way so that she will learn to be confident, not fearful. The best way to begin socializing your APBT puppy is to take her with you, where dogs are allowed. “From puppyhood, take your Pit Bull everywhere,” Forbes advises. “Start off with rides in the car. Take your Pit Bull with you when you pick up the kids from school, go to visit friends and even short shopping trips.”
“It’s important to understand your Pit Bull’s temperament to ensure that she can handle social encounters with other dogs and people,” says dog trainer Kathy Santo. “Some Pit Bull puppies are easily overwhelmed.”
Behaviorists point out that one of the biggest problems to be faced when taking a Pit Bull out to public places is that often the owner assumes that his or her Pit Bull will act the same way she does at home.
“It’s no use saying ‘my Pit Bull is well behaved and has never started a fight’ if she’s spent her whole life in the backyard and has never had opportunities to socialize and interact with other dogs,” Forbes says. “That’s why it’s so important that your Pit Bull accompanies you everywhere all the time.”
Another good socialization tip is to dress your Pit Bull in a fun collar, bandanna or even a T-shirt with a cute message. This visual image will invite other dog owners to interact.
“Especially when it comes to Pit Bulls, you’re putting out the message that your APBT is friendly and doesn’t match what other dog owners may consider to be the negative stereotype of the American Pit Bull Terrier,” Santo says.
A great way to introduce your Pit Bull to new people and situations is to teach her a couple of great party tricks to show off her social skills. This can be anything from a high-five greeting to rolling over.
There will always be people who automatically leave when they see a Pit Bull coming,” Santo says. “But when you go into a situation with an open-mind and a smile, you are automatically going to generate a better response out of your audience.”
Owning a Pit Bull may involve a lifetime of socialization and training but the rewards can be a lifetime of fun.