Afraid of Strangers and Aggressive Toward Other Dogs
I am in desperate need of help for my pit bull!! Last April, we took in a stray what we thought at the time was a black lab mix. He had been left wandering the streets and a local farmer put an ad in the paper explaining the situation.
The poor boy had been on his own for weeks. We took him (Bear) to the vet and found out he was a pit mix - approximately 9 months old. We don't know any history of him prior to our taking him in. We got him fixed within the first month of getting him.
Bear has been great with our female cattle dog. However, in the past 6 months, he has started to show aggression towards strangers and other dogs.
With strangers, it seems to be fear aggression. He growls and barks, but cowers away from them. We tell people not to look at him and just ignore him - let him come to them. Eventually, he does and is very friendly. But, we hate having to be constantly worried about this.
Also, he is VERY aggressive towards other dogs. There are a few neighborhood dogs that come around and he gets in fights with them! He is always tied up when outside - so we know he is protecting his territory. BUT, none of this is okay with us. We punish him, tell him no, make him lie down, etc. He definitely gets that he is in trouble - but it is not stopping the behavior in the future.
We live in a rural area and there aren't a lot of resources for trainers, so we are kind of on our own. My husband is getting really frustrated and is talking about bringing him to the shelter! I don't want to give up on him and know there must be something we can do!!!
Plus, in our area, the shelters are filled with pits who never get adopted...so I know what his fate will be and that breaks my heart!
Bear is such a little love bug with us...fantastic with my 8 year old stepson and other kids. It is just strangers and other dogs....PLEASE, any thoughts you have would be greatly appreciated!!!!
As a pit bull owner it's important to take into account the breed's heritage and that dog aggression is not uncommon. People who understand and love the breed accept this and control the environment and manage their dog to compensate for this trait rather than expecting the dog to be other than he is.
That said, there are some things you are unwittingly doing with Bear that have likely increased any dog aggressive tendencies he may have been born with. And if you reverse these, you may find that you have a dog that fits in nicely with your household and who will love you with his last breath.
The Tie Out: You say that Bear is tied out whenever he is outside and that neighborhood dogs come on to your property and he gets into fights with them. You believe this is because he is protecting his territory.
I'd say it's more likely that from Bear's perspective he's not just defending his territory, he's defending his life. Even if you see these other dogs as being harmless, that doesn't mean that Bear sees it the same way.
In an altercation, the other dogs can run away, but Bear cannot. And he knows this. He is in a vulnerable position. And he's probably adopted the philosophy that the best defense is a good offense.
Punishment: You say that when Bear fights with other dogs you punish him. Yet, the behavior doesn't stop. And you don't understand why since "he knows he's in trouble".
Understand first of all that what you are punishing Bear for is instinctive behavior. If you want him to stop the behavior, you need to take him out of the situation that triggers it rather than leaving him in the situation and punishing him for it.
Secondly, because dogs can seem so human at times, many people overestimate their cognitive abilities. While Bear may know "he's in trouble". He probably doesn't know exactly why.
If he's made any association between being punished and preceding events, it's likely that the presence of other dogs cause him to be punished. All the more reason for him to fend them off. Ironically, the punishment may actually be fueling his antipathy towards other dogs.
You don't say exactly what you do to punish Bear. But dogs in general and pit bulls in particular are very sensitive to human emotion.
It's quite possible that not fully understanding what precipitates whatever form of punishment you're using, Bear has decided that humans are somewhat unpredictable and perhaps a little scary at times. And this could be feeding into his wariness of strangers.
As you've already surmised, the answer is training. You say that there are no trainers in your area. I understand that. I live in a rural area too. But that doesn't have to stop you from training Bear. Some people spend time and money with a trainer. Other people spend time and money learning from books and other materials. Here are my top recommendations for you:
1. To work on Bear's aggressive behaviors and fear of strangers: Click to Calm - Healing the Aggressive Dog
2. To work on Bear's obedience skills and build a better bond between you: Canis Clicker Training
3. To help you better understand Bear's psychology and the mis-communication that often happens between dogs and their owners: The Culture Clash - A Revolutionary New Way to Understanding the Relationship Between Humans and Domestic Dogs
I know you had the very best of intentions when you took Bear in as a stray. But, to solve this problem, you and your husband need to face the fact that you're going to need to change the way you're doing things if you want to give Bear a fighting chance.In Summary:Get Bear off the tie out.
Start walking him on a leash. He needs at least one long walk per day--preferably two. And, of course, take him out whenever he needs to relieve himself. The alternative would be to build an outdoor enclosure so that other dogs can't get to him. If you do the latter, please use this as an exercise pen only--not his living quarters. Pit bulls need to be with their humans. They get lonely very easily.Use counter-conditioning--not punishment to deal with Bear's undesirable behaviors
. I've recommended the book Click to Calm as a resource for that.Obedience train Bear
. You want Bear to be social, easy to live with, a dog you can be proud of. It's up to you to teach him how to be those things. But first, you'll need to learn how to teach him. I like Canis Clicker Training. But, any positive, no-force method will work. The important thing is to get started.
So you have your work cut out for you. But it is SO WORTH IT to have the love and trust of a true canine companion. Good luck. Let us hear back from you if you have updates or more questions.