Training Tips


No matter what form of training you want to involve your pit in, the best method is to use positive reinforcement. Pits are food oriented, so making a reward food, makes them think they are playing a game and winning. Disciplining or yelling at a pit bull when he/she does not do what is directed only makes them rebel.

Pit bulls are very emotional and will emotionally shut off if you try to force them. When training, behaviorists recommend using a flat collar. Prong collars work as well (I use one on my dog), even though they look like medieval torture devices. They work by pinching the skin when you are correcting the dog. If the dog is not pulling on the leash, the prong collar simply rests on the neck.

Choke chains should be avoided. Chokes can cause serious tracheal damage. Pit bulls do not respond like other breeds. Since they have such strong neck muscles, they are impervious to the constant strangulation they endure with choke chains, and rarely respond to their handlers.

Gentle leaders are also excellent choices for training, especially if your dog is quite large. Gentle leaders can be purchased at most pet stores and make it so when the dog pulls, the head gets torqued around, so he/she is off balance and not using full weight. It is not a muzzle of any sort, although many people will comment about that. It’s an excellent method that has worked for me many times. The challenge is getting dogs to accept something on their face. Starting this at an early age will help.

Weight pulling

 A weight pull contest tests how much weight (on a cart or sled) each dog can pull for a short distance, usually 16 feet. Handlers are not allowed to touch the dogs or use food as bait. They are only allowed to verbally urge on their dogs. Usually there is a time limit and 2 dogs compete against each other. If the dogs succeed, more weight is added until one dog does not make it. Many breeds participate in this but this sport is made for bully breeds.

What makes them so good is not only their strength but their perseverance. They also want to please and have a natural instinct to pull. Two major organizations sponsor weight-pulling events: The International Weight Pull Association (IWPA) and the American Dog Breeders Association, which registers only pit bulls. The UKC sponsored its first event in Feb. 2002. 

Skijoring

This is a form of weight pulling when your dog pulls you! If you are a cross-country ski buff, this is for you. This sport originated in Norway and has increased in popularity in the US. There is equipment you need to get, but the general idea is a harnessed dog pulls you on skis. Be aware that you can get going really fast, so work your way up. The pit bull’s natural strength and desire makes them great for this sport. The only downfall is that pit bulls don’t have the endurance for long-distance treks.

Obedience

Pits as well as huskies are excellent obedience dogs. They are inherently intelligent and learn very fast. They are also so in-tune with people and have an incredible desire to please their owners. The only issue with obedience is that pit bulls can be stubborn and are so self-confident that sometimes they feel they don’t need to learn when you want them to. I find the hardest part of keeping my pit bull focused is just that.

Working him in the yard works great; working him in a class with 10 other dogs is harder; working him around tons of people is the hardest. But once you get to that level, your dog will ignore a nuclear explosion to do what you want. It takes a lot of work. Almost every community offers dog obedience classes. You can find out information from your local shelter. Often there are obedience trials, either for fun, or for serious competitors. Contact your local shelter or dog trainer for information on competitions.

Tracking

This competition allows dogs to demonstrate their high level of scent capability. A dog follows the scent of a person walking through a field and finds one or more articles left along the way. As the dog’s ability progresses, they will be challenged with older trails, more turns, challenging terrain, and city geography.

Search and Rescue

Any breed can be a search and rescue dog if they have the instinct. Most trainers find their future stars at shelters. They have a variety of tests to evaluate each dog’s willingness to persevere, the interest in what he/she is doing, and the drive. The majority of dogs are not meant for this sort of work, but there are always those that shine. Pit bulls, with their self-confidence, love of people, and working prowess, are great dogs for this job.

Schutzhund

In German, this means “protection dog.” Since 1970 trials have been held in the US, where dogs are tested in tracking, obedience, and protection work. The protection work involves a person wearing a heavy, padded sleeve, and the dog being commanded to elicit a series of bites. This activity is considered controversial, considering the fear that a pit bull attack instills in the general public. But trainers insist that the trained dogs are not the ones out there biting people. They say that the training teaches the dog to control its drives in response to a threat. If interested in this training, owners need to find a reputable center.

There are many local clubs and trials offered as well. Contact the United Schutzhund Club of America.

Pet Therapy

Animal-assisted activities are casual meetings between animals and people, often those who have physical or mental disabilities. The benefits of pet therapy are well documented, so that many facilities welcome the chance. Most interested people can call local nursing homes or centers and ask if they can bring their dog for pet therapy. But if you are interested in getting national certification, there are 3 organizations that offer training: The Delta Society, Therapy Dogs International, and the Foundation for Pet Provided Therapy. Pit bulls excel at pet therapy because of their affinity for people.

Pit bulls enjoy being the center of attention, which is a perfect trait for this activity. Even those that have been rescued will thrive at this new “job” that makes them and the people happy.

Agility

These races are offered all over the country for all breeds of dogs. Most people are introduced to the sport on the Animal Planet tv station. The important keys to this contest are drive, energy, and motivation. The most significant ability is that to take cues from the handler. The dog needs to love what he/she is doing and that will make a good competitor. Contact the United States Dog Agility Association.

Flyball

This is a fast-paced team relay sport in which 1 dog runs over hurdles to a spring-loaded box that shoots out a tennis ball when the dog paws the lever. With the ball, the dog runs back to the starting line and the next dog goes. Four dogs make up a team. This is an incredible form of exercise for pit bulls. The key is speed and agility to go over the hurdles. They also need intelligence to get the ball and be able to focus on the task at hand.

At flyball competitions, there are tons of other dogs running, barking, and people yelling and cheering. It can be very distracting for the unfocused dog. Contact the North American Flyball Association.

Running

You don’t need any equipment to do this other than motivation and a healthy dog. Pit bulls are pure muscle and any way that they can expend energy and exercise, and even better, be with you, they are all for it. As a general rule with all dogs, avoiding lengthy runs on hard concrete is best – the constant abuse on both yours and you dog’s joints will take its toll. A dirt or gravel path is great for running. Just grab a leash, some sneakers, and off you go…

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