Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Andrew’s Primer for Having an American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT)

The following are my personal observations about taking on several APBT puppies.

There will be nothing new for people who are knowledgeable about Pit Bulls. In
fact, I am sure that most of this has been said elsewhere better and by more experienced people. I am using what I culled from such authorities, from consensus of those of us who own or have owned bullies and from my personal experience of working with my dog EVERY DAY for the last 10 years. Ditto for any fosters I have had. So, what you see below is meant for those who are contemplating of adopting and/or raising an American Pit Bull Terrier puppy.

1. APBTs are not for everyone. Definitely not for a first-time dog owner. Ferraris are not for everyone either. Ownership of an American Pit Bull Terrier demands dedication, a firm hand, willingness to commit to being responsible for every second of every minute, 24/7 of your dog's entire life. If you are a soft-hearted, Pollyanna and just want a dog to sleep with you, forget the Pit Bull. Yes, they are cuddly and many sleep with their human companions. Yes they love people. But they need A LOT of work to be safe, happy, and good companions for you. Also, if you are a cold-hearted bastard and like your dogs chained to a tree in the middle of the yard, don't bother with Pit Bulls. A chained dog CAN get really pissed off and should it ever got loose, I hope they bite you in the ass. If you are cruel to a dog, you will go to Hell, anyway, but I want you punished now, on this Earth.

2. APBTs are NOT guard dogs. Anybody who tells you otherwise is not knowledgeable. If you want a guard dog get one of the following: Fila Brasieliero, Dogo Argentino, Doberman (female), Dogue de Bordeaux, South-African Boerboel, Akita Inu, Rottweiler, Bouvier des Flandres, Cane Corso, Ca de Bou, Belgian Shepherd, Presa Canario, Bullmastiff, Neapolitan Mastiff, Thai Ridgeback, Giant Schnauzer, and Tosa Inu. But if you don’t know or don’t want to learn how to handle these dogs you are looking for a heap of trouble. So, better understand what you are getting into.

3. Minimum requirements:

a. Time – you should be prepared to spend at least 1 hour a day with your dog. Two hours is even better. Time will be spent:

i. training
ii. exercising
iii. grooming
iv. playing
v. feeding
vi. walking
vii. showing affection

This is for EVERY DAY for the life of the dog. After you exercise your dog hard, you have to cool it down by going for a slow walk and then apply a nice massage so the muscles won’t cramp. Your dog should not be exercised right after he gets fed. Need to wait at least 45 minutes. If you exercise him hard, he won’t want to eat right after, either. Err on the safe side – no food just before or just after exercise.

b. Money – you need to be prepared to spend quite a bit of money on training, food, vet bills, collars, leashes, brushes, nail-clippers, exercise equipment, and toys.

You should have at least 3 leashes, preferably 4:
i. one for training (6 ft)
ii. one for walking (5 ft)
iii. one for street walking (3 ft)
iv. one for long-distance work – I use a rock-climbing 50-ft nylon rope
v. retractable leashes are NOT for APBTs – ask me why, if you don’t understand.

Exercise equipment, per sé, is not necessary, but by exercising your dog you will be rewarded with a healthy dog that is also in good mental health and with equipment it will take you less effort than if you do it by running with the dog. If you are a fitness nut, by all means, jogging 5 miles twice a day EVERY day (come rain, snow, or sunshine) will do the trick. I, OTOH, play racquetball, do Yoga, T’ai Chi, ballroom dance, and walk fast for fitness. Other than walking, the dog can’t participate in my other activities. So I have a doggie (carpet mill, non-electric) treadmill, a mini-obstacle course in the backyard, a springpole, and light weight pulling equipment. And, of course, a lot of throw toys.

You won’t be able to buy just any dog toy. APBTs will EAT them. That includes the baddest and hardest Kong toy (the black one). Join Pit Bull discussion fora and see what people's experiences have been with different toys.

Those of us who take our responsibility of owning a Pit Bull seriously know that you can never be sure that your dog won't get into a fight with another dog. This is genetics. With proper training and good control of your dog, you can minimize "accidents." Still, just to cover your obligation to be prepared for all the contingencies of which you are aware, get a break stick. There are many sites that sell them, or you can look up one of the how-to sites and make one yourself. I hope none of us will ever need one, but if your Pit Bull gets hold of another dog, you need to know how to use a break stick. You also need to have practiced breaking up an impromptu dog fight. Below is a link where you can get a good education and buy a good quality break stick. Personally, I would never buy plastic. Mine are nice, slick, tough birch. I have never had to pull one out of my pocket yet, but I never walk with the dog without one. Better safe than sorry.

c. Knowledge – you will have to read as much as possible about the breed; you will have to become knowledgeable about puppies, generally; you will need to know everything about APBT puppies, specifically;

d. You must have a fenced in yard; the fence will have to be substantial, not shorter than 6-ft, preferably 8 ft. The fence will have to be buried at least 12 inches into the ground; privacy fences are ridiculous – don’t even think about containing an APBT with one. You cannot leave the dog by himself because he CAN jump any fence, will even use a tree next to a fence to climb it and jump off to the other side, will dig under, or even figure out how to unlock the gate(s). Depending where you live, leaving the dog alone, you also risk having it stolen. APBTs don’t handle heat well. If the temperature outside is cold, the rule of thumb shouId be simple.: don't leave the dog outside longer than it's comfortable for you in a shirt. Dogs will overheat in hot weather in no time at all and have to be able to come inside if they want to. When you play in the yard have plenty of water available ad lib.

4. Food. This is a huge deal with me. You have to do your homework and understand what a dog’s nutritional requirements are. Dr. Richard Pitcairn is an authority on dog and cat nutrition and his “Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats” is a must read.

Some people go all the way out there to B.A.R.F. (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food) diet. You can research this, but be aware that it requires a significant amount of daily work. I work full time so I am not a good candidate time-wise. There are pro and con arguments either way, so read about it or make up your own mind. If you decide to go with prepared food, again do your homework by reading dog food ratings, and do join discussion groups where APBT owners describe their own experiences with different foods. Don’t even think of buying cheap supermarket food. If you do, expect some hefty vet bills as your dog’s health WILL be compromised. Also expect a significantly shortened life-span.

You will also have to consider your dog’s preferences. Some premium foods will get “rejected” and you will waste your money if you try to “convince” your dog that he “should” like it.


Here is a critique of food scoring/grading systems:

There is a lot of information on dog food on the Internet. It is wise not to fall for ANY of the hyped ideas. This is not an exact science (just like human nutrition is not, either) so a bit of common sense goes a long way. One caution: use “wet” food sparingly, lest your dog become a finicky eater. Under no circumstances should you feed your dog “people” food. They have different nutritional requirements AND they will develop some behavioral issues that will haunt you, especially if you feed them from the table. This also goes into training issues so I will leave it to the experts to explain why indulging your dog with “treats” from the table is a REALLY bad idea.

Now that my dogs are adults, they get fed once a day. Food is not available to them at any other times, although some edible chews and toys are offered as special treats for a job well done or to ease ennui. They seem to like to huge beef bones from Publix. Cooked bones are not a good idea...they splinter and can perforate a dogs bowels or stomach.

You MUST become familiar with foods that put a dog danger. A decent list is here:

and here:


5. Socialization. BIG issue unless you are content with keeping you dog in your house at all times and never have anyone visit. And also you never intend you have any other pet in the house. While you are learning how to work with your dog you will have to get him used to people and animals. APBTs are naturally drawn to humans, but will be leery of people if you don’t expose him to all sorts of people, as many as you can manage, in as many environments as you can take them to. With proper exposure and training your dog can become a people friendly and animal friendly dog. BUT you can never trust an APBT not to fight. My bullies play beautifully with a nice, large, secure dog. It’s a pleasure to watch them play. I have taken my first bully to a dog park several times and decided it’s not for us. Some owners have zilch common sense and their dogs show it. There is no way of anticipating how your bully will react to an ill-behaved or aggressive dog. I use systematic desensitization to get the dogs used to other dogs and cats. There is not much I can do about their prey instinct – they will give chase to any furry fast moving creature. I suppose I could work on that, too, but I rather put our time and energy in a different direction. Besides, I haven't seen a Pit Bull catch a single squirrel, yet.

6. Training. Here I will become very opinionated. Early in my career, I was trained as an animal behaviorist, yet it took me a while to grasp the subtlety of dog training issues. Dog training can be a science. I differ in my technique from most trainers and disagree with many of the techniques used by Cesar Millan. Specifically to Millan’s work, most of us don’t have the talent to “read” a dog as accurately as he does. Also, we don’t have his resources. We don’t know about his failures or what really goes on at his “rehab center.” What we see is Hollywood and most of us will not have editors to cut out our failures. I really don’t think it’s a good idea for a 110-lb woman to try to flip and hold down a 75-lb APBT. Most of his techniques work for him; not so sure about most of us. I use the dog’s innate predisposition to want to please his human companion. The rest of it is pure manipulation of his behavior to accommodate my goals. My Pity Bulls work simply for “Good boy (girl).” That’s all. No treats, no whistles, no clackers, no shock collars (ugh!!). “No” for undesired behaviors, “Good boy/girl” for what I want from them. “No” was originally conditioned with a snap of the training leash. Now, since “No” is a conditioned stimulus, I don’t need the leash, unless I am pushing a complex learning hierarchy. Sequencing from sharp and soft voice commands and leash snaps to hand signals and then to normal talking voice was a natural evolution. For me it was and is a thrilling experience to see a dog pleased with himself because he did well. I must add that learned behaviors have to be constantly reinforced and extended. In my opinion, a dog can have as an extensive a “vocabulary” as you wish. I keep my “needs” to what I consider a GOOD dog.
That, to me, means good control of the dog, but not breaking their spirit or their personalities. APBTs are naturally funny and I wouldn’t want any of that to be “trained out.” Since I use “talking hypnosis” with my patients, similarly I will use short English sentences with the dog, with the command words emphasized. Seems to work for me. We have powerful, energetic, calm, and obedient dogs who make us laugh, smile with joy, and are pleased with their companionship. Mind you, the dogs have to “earn” everything. They have to sit while I get and prepare the food. They have to wait patiently for me to invite them on the bed or the couch. They have to lie down after they have eaten and while I am making food for myself. A have a manual for the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) exam. My bullies could pass with flying colors today and then some.

If you don’t intend to train to work with a dog definitely don’t get an APBT. This is as simple as I can make it. If you don’t do what’s right you will regret it and so will your dog. Worse yet, nobody is going to like your dog. That is about the saddest thing I can think of for a dog owner.

7. Spaying or neutering. If you don’t “fix” you dog, in my book, you are dirt. I know is hard to neuter or spay a pure-bred beautiful APBT with good temper. But, please neuter/spay as soon as soon as it's age-appropriate.

Five million dogs and cats are killed yearly in U.S. shelters. That is 13,800 every day or 575 dogs and cats killed every hour, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

In six years, one female dog and her offspring can theoretically be the source of 67,000 dogs.

So adopt. The resources for dogs and cats in this country are already overwhelmed. For every dog that’s born at least one has to die. When you buy a dog from a breeder, and I don’t care how reputable that breeder is, you are condemning another dog to death.

If you want to read my rants on the Pit Bull’s plight in this World, read the rest of my blog. I have a lot of material here and a lot of opinion that’s based on facts. My personal battle is with the media that has condemned millions of Pit Bulls to death by sensation-seeking for a couple of buck’s worth of advertising. My other personal battle is with politicians and ignorant people who push legislation to ban a true American icon. PETA would want to kill every single “pit bull” in existence. Of course, they have NO IDEA what a “pit bull” is. No surprise here, since there is no such a thing as a “pit bull’ or “pitbull.

Read the rest of my blog to understand why. In case you lose track, this blog is here: http://andrew-rozsa.blogspot.com/

There is nothing I can do about assorted criminals and animal abusers who are choosing to create hell on this Earth for themselves and for their dogs. I do believe that what goes around comes around. They should be pitied because they are getting and will be getting their just rewards. In perpetuity.

If, after you learned everything you can about APBTs, you still want one, you will be rewarded with the most amazing dog companion ever. APBTs are affectionate to a fault, intelligent, natural clowns, and highly trainable. They are very handsome dogs, they shed very little and require minimum grooming, they don't smell, they are clean, and they love to be your companion. My dogs are never more than a few feet from one of the humans in the house. When friends come over, we love to show off our dogs. We have yet to find a single person who met our dogs who doesn’t think that they are the most wonderful dogs they have ever met.


Anonymous said...

Well written Andrew.
Sara and Sassy -Alabama

Pinups for Pitbulls said...

Thank you for this wonderful article. I appreciate you taking the time to share your experience with other people. We're trying so hard to educate the public, these kinds of blogs really help, in my opinion.

Little Darling
President & Founder

Anonymous said...

Great article! I adopted a dog that was one day away from the pound, and I'd be a liar if I didn't admit that he has a good bit of APBT in him. From the first day I took him home, I've had to be retrained on how to be an owner of a "tougher" dog. Petey had the potential to be a dangerous boy, and I had to set aside my "anything you want baby" mentality to step up to the plate so that I could keep him. We BOTH needed, and received, training. I agree with the 24/7 aspect of ownership of this breed of dog. Petey is stubborn, headstrong, and wants to be at the top, and I constantly have to keep on my toes. But I wouldn't trade him for the world. He's affectionate, he's a clown, and one of the best boys I've ever had the privilege of having as a companion.