Fostering Other Dogs with a Pit Bull

by Colleen
(Madison, WI)

I work with a rescue group and have decided to keep one of our foster dogs, a pit bull mix. We got her when she was about 3 monts old and she was very skinny and full of fleas. As she has grown she has filled out and is now about 10 months.

For the first couple of months she was very submissive and was great with other dogs, wanting to play and we would take her to the dog park and she would do great and play with the other dogs. I should also mention we have a second rescue dog that is a terrier mix who is also good with other dogs, but has a tendancy to initially bark at them, at least in our home.

About a month ago, or maybe a little longer, I noticed that the 2 dogs started to get into fights over different things, usually treats. It never seemed that serious but it does bother me.

I have also found that our Pitty has become more aggressive towards other dogs that we bring into the house for rescue - in fact right now, I would not trust her at all.

We are watching a friends border collie and can NOT trust the pitty with her - she shows complete aggression and even when we have tried - taking them for walks outside the out it was ok, but as soon as we were back in the house the fighting started.

The bad thing that happened today is my daughter when she got home from school, she let all the dogs out together in the backyard. The border collie and the pitty got into it badly, and my daughter broke it up but got bit by the pitty when this happened.

I am really concerned - the pitty, Hope, has never been aggressive with people, but we really are in an environment where we want her to be able to greet other dogs and be friendly. Please help.

Gale's Reply:

Hi Colleen:

The scenario you're describing is pretty common. You brought Hope into your home when she was a young puppy. She was submissive and seemed to fit in with your other rescue and foster dogs. Life was good. And you figured it would stay that way.

The thing is, almost all puppies are submissive to older dogs when they are young. But as they mature, some dogs become more assertive or even aggressive in their interactions with other dogs. This applies to all dogs--not just pit bulls.

Although not the norm today, for generations, pit bulls were selectively bred to be human submissive and dog aggressive. So antipathy towards other dogs is
a possibility that all pit bull owners need to understand and take into account as part of the breed's history.

Not all pit bulls are dog aggressive. Tolerance for other dogs exists on a continuum. And dog aggressive behavior can be mitigated to a large extent through leadership and responsible handling.

Many pit bull owners, perhaps the majority, have more than one dog. I know quite a few people who foster multiple pit bulls at one time. They've done it. And you can do it too. But I would encourage you to consider your situation holistically--not focusing solely on Hope's behavior.

What you have in your home is a dog pack. And more than that, a pack with a continually changing membership as dogs are adopted out into permanent homes and new fosters replace the ones that have left. You need to provide structure that will compensate for the lack of stability in pack membership. (Actually, dogs need structure regardless, but it's especially important here.)

Here are my recommendations:

1. Check out this article: Managing a Multi-Dog Household.

2. This little booklet: How to Be the Leader of the Pack - And Have Your Dog Love You for It! by Patricia McConnell will provide you with a set of ground rules for establishing your positive leadership role with the dogs in your home.

3. If you're not familiar with effective ways to deal with resource guarding, this is a must in a multi-dog home. Check out MINE! - A Practical Guide to Resource Guarding in Dogs by Jean Donaldson.

4. The conventional, home-spun 'wisdom' of allowing pet dogs that get into a tiff to 'work it out between themselves' is a BAD IDEA. Aggression generally breeds more aggression. When in doubt, it's better to intervene a little early rather than too late.

A dog that comes out 'on top' in a fight will be reinforced in that behavior and therefore likely to repeat it. The underdog in a fight may begin to adopt an aggressive stance with other dogs out of fear. And there's always the very real possibility that one or both will be injured or killed. Prevention is preferable to intervention.

That said, if Hope or any other dog you have in your home has become habituated to behaving aggressively with other dogs, you can work to re-condition that behavior through classical counter-conditioning. Emma Parsons has written an excellent book on this: Click to Calm - Healing the Aggressive Dog.

Good luck and bless you for fostering homeless dogs. We need more earth angels like you who care for the voiceless souls on this planet. Feel free to post back here and let us know how it's going.

Comments for Fostering Other Dogs with a Pit Bull

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Apr 06, 2012
Follow up
by: Colleen

I wanted to follow up to let you know that our little pittie girl is doing so much better with other dogs again. We have taken her to the local training class, positively pitties, and she just shone! She did very well and has been very very good.

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