Ways to love, train, educate, share information, and revel in being a Pitbull Parent.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Why a Pitbull?

I spent a considerable amount of time thinking about what I would share in this post. In the end, I realized that, while I've shared some really important information with my readers, I've never really gotten personal about my feelings on pitbulls.

I do believe I mentioned in Pitbulls 101 that I, at one point, was one of those people who believed the negative hype about pitbulls. I'd heard stories, a friend of a friend knew someone who had their face mauled, and the like. I'm sure each of you can relate your own similar story. 

So because of what I'd heard, mind you, heard, I decided I didn't like pitbulls. I just knew they were dangerous, killer dogs who would turn on any person who was stupid enough to love them. 

Then I started dating my husband. He is what some of you would call a "hood rat", possibly a reformed "thug". He lived in the part of Milwaukee where you would expect to find pitbulls, and dog fighting rings. And indeed, he did know people who did horrible things to their dogs, including training them to fight, and once they were ready, to participate in fights. He did, however, also know people who had pitbulls as loving pets, and through him I met Spudz.

Yes, Spudz, just like Spudz McKenzie. Spudz belonged to a couple friend of my husbands, and she was the first real pitbull I ever became acquainted with. Spudz was white, with a brown spot on her right shoulder, and she was about four years old. One of the things I remember vividly about Spudz was that she had puppies shortly after I first met her. 

So one would think, a pitbull mom with brand new puppies, STAY AWAY, right? No. Complete opposite! It was almost like Spudz was thrilled to share her little miracles with the world, and with any human who showed an interest. 

After Spudz had her litter, I started to try and get to know her a little better. Attempting to conquer my own personal fear of a notoriously mean breed of dog wasn't easy for me, but my husband and his friends encouraged me to try and connect with Spudz. They really wanted to show me that Spudz was a loving dog. Especially because my husband's friends had a two year old, and I was pretty darn judgemental about that. (I know, boo me later!)

So I slowly began sitting by Spudz, letting her rest her head on my lap. I would sit and just rub her belly while my husband would visit with his friends. And I quickly began to realize that Spudz was just a lover, a wonderful dog who would get that glazed look in her eye if you rubbed her in the right spot. It got to the point where I'd beg my husband to visit his friends just so I could visit with their dog.

I got to the point where I started to wonder what all the fuss was about pitbulls.

When I think back to all the negative things I thought about pitbulls, and people who would own one, I'm ashamed. And I've come to realize how easy it is for people to believe something wholeheartedly even though they have no personal knowledge on the subject. I was, after all, one of those people.  

We've lost touch over the years with Spudz owners, but they, along with the loving dog they owned, helped to open my eyes about pitbulls. My husband most of all deserves credit for exposing me to a breed I had closed my mind about. He forced me to look at them as individual dogs, and dog owners, instead of a lumped together group of ferocious beasts and horrible people.

So when people ask me, Why a pitbull? Can't you get another breed of dog? I ask them, Why should I? What's wrong with a pitbull? I love pitbulls. They are loving, loyal companions, just like many other breeds of dogs. 

I didn't really start to educate myself about the breed until my husband brought me home a pitbull puppy who was going to be drowned by her owner. He knew by that time I was ready to own one, and the sad story was the clincher. But I never would have been open to owning a pitbull if it hadn't been for his friends, and their dog, Spudz. 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

To Fix or Not to Fix?

The topic of today's blog is one I've been thinking about for a while now. It's a fairly serious subject, and it's one that, I believe, should be considered by every pet owner.

Spaying and/or neutering your pets.

Some of you might cringe at the notion (particularly those of you reading who are males), but it's an important topic that has consequences beyond your own particular pet.

Spaying or neutering your pets has quite a few benefits to your companions health. The ASPCA's website details a few of the reasons why it's important for pets health. Some of those reasons include:

  • It will help your pet live a longer, healthier life because fixing your pet helps prevent uterine infections and breast cancer. These diseases are fatal in 50%of dogs and 90% of cats. 
  • By neutering your male companion by the age of six months,you can actually prevent your companion from getting testicular cancer.
  • By spaying your female companion, you stop the animals heat cycle, preventing her from leaving blood spots all over your house!
  • A male dog who isn't neutered will do just about anything to find a willing mate, including running away from home. By neutering your male, the chances of him roaming away from home are reduced drastically. 
There are other reasons for spaying/neutering your pets, and you can go to multiple websites to go over those reasons before you make a final decision. 

But this blog is focused on pitbulls, and I believe pitbull owners should have an entirely different reason for spaying or neutering their pits.

Pitbulls are currently the most bred dog in the country. The website, The Truth About Pitbulls, tells us that there are approximately 3 million pitbulls now living in the United States, but only 1 out of every 600 of those pitbulls will have a "forever home", meaning they won't end up in a shelter, or euthanized.

Two pitbulls with the slogan Do the Deed Help the Breed Spay and Neuter
All across the country, there are shelters, some that are designated no kill, but most of them not, that are overflowing with pitbulls who are in need of a good home. Pitbulls can be especially hard to adopt out because of the undeserved stereotype that follows them. As a result, the breed known as pitbull fills animal shelters more than any other breed of dog. An example of this can be found on the website, Pawnation, which tells us that in Chicago, pitbulls make up 40% of the animal shelter population, the breed also represents 2/3's of the dogs that are euthanized each year. These are troubling numbers, and that's only in one city.

In other cities in the U.S., still more pitbulls are euthanized. Every year about 3.4 million animals will be euthanized at shelters in the US, and of those, 1 million of them are pitbulls.

There are shelters that are designated as no kill shelters, where they do not euthanize the animals in their care. Such places are expensive to run, and space is extremely limited. It can be very hard to get a dog into a no kill shelter.  While most shelters are well run by people who care deeply about animals, there are shelters that do not take great care of the animals in their custody, and some pitbulls live in places where they are hungry, cold, and starved for affection.

In either case, whether a dog is in a well run shelter with people who care or not, animals deserve to be in a home, with a loving family. But when there's an overabundance of dogs, like we have now with pitbulls, the chances of that happening start to get slim. 

I stated on my About page that this blog was not going to focus on abuse/adoption stories, and I still feel that way. However, given this topic, I will share that my Concobar is a rescue. I'm sure that many of you readers also rescued your dogs. We know how easily our pitties could have had a worse fate. 

Responsible pitbull parents should be dedicated to making sure no more pitbulls end up in shelters. We can do this by spaying and neutering our pitbulls so there's no chance they can reproduce and make more puppies. Puppies that can end up in shelters instead of homes.  

I realize cost can be a factor in whether some dog owners fix their pets, or not. If you are in a situation where you cannot afford to take your dog to the vet, I encourage you to do some research. There are organizations all over the country that have established programs so that low-income families can get their pets spayed or neutered. I live close to Milwaukee, WI, and a group called The Brew City Bullies Club, or BCBC, has such a program. They also offer training, socialization, and several other resources for pitbull owners in their area.
The ASPCA has a tool on their website that will search for such a program in your area. 

Getting your companion fixed can be a big decision for some, and if you're not sure if it's the right thing for your dog, you should definitely do some research, call a vets office and ask questions, and talk to other dog owners who've had their pets spayed/neutered. In the end, I hope that you make the choice that's not only right for you, but also for your dog, and it's breed, as well. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Failing the Well Behaved Dog Guidelines and Why it Doesn't Matter

I have heard from many different experts that dog owners should not treat their dogs like children. That seems like sound advice, and relatively easy to follow, as well. And It makes sense, your dog is your pet, not your flesh and blood, right?

However, if any of you lovely readers are like me, your dog is kind of like your baby. You're bonded to him/her almost as intimately as you are to your own children. Your dogs mood affects you; if your dog is happy, playful, and smiley, you become happy, playful, and smiley. And your moods seem to be reflected in your canine buddy. I know when I'm sad and weepy, Con comes to me and snuggles, and it makes me feel better.

So in the opinion of many dog experts, some famous, some not, my pittie fails, in an extraordinary way, their well behaved dog guidelines.

Those guidelines include things like:

  • Not allowing the dog onto the living room furniture
Con loves, loves, loves laying on the couches! She's so spoiled about comfort that she, literally, will not lay on the floor without some sort of cushion. She's been known to drag a blanket off the couch, and work it with her paws until she's satisfied with the comfy lump she's formed on the floor. Then she lays on it and takes a nap. 
Con sleeping on top of pillows on the couch
Con, the Queen of Comfort, sleeping on top of pillows on the couch. 
  • Not allowing the dog to sleep in the bed with you
Again, the Queen of Comfort, as I affectionately call Con, loves her soft and comfy bed, A.K.A. my bed. While she usually won't go lay on the bed until I call it a night, she races me up the stairs and is waiting, not so patiently, for me when I reach my bedroom. Her favorite place is underneath the covers, so I spend a portion of my night  holding the covers up as she goes back and forth between going under the blankets, and laying on top of the blankets. I think she gets a little toasty under there after a while and needs to come up for air!
  • Not allowing the dog to play tug-of-war
Yeah, tug is the only game Con really likes to play, and during the winter months it can be the only exercise she gets. Without regular exercise my pitbull turns into an explosive bundle of energy that drives me crazy. So I think tug stays.
  • Not allowing the dog to lay on your lap
This no-no actually makes sense to me. The theory is that your dog is claiming ownership of you when he/she lays on top of you, therefore stopping anyone else from getting too close. Since Concobar gets a tiny bit jealous when anyone, and I do mean anyone, tries to hug or kiss me, I can see the truth in this theory.

That being said, I still let Con lay on my lap. We have cuddle time. I like it. Sue me!
  • No "baby talk" allowed when interacting with the dog
While I don't really use the cutesy baby talk tone when I talk to my pittie, I do find myself saying, "Who's my good girl? Con's my good girl! Yes she is!" I think she likes it, I think it makes her feel special. Okay, maybe that's me projecting on my dog, but does it hurt her? No, then baby talk continues! 

The point of all this is simple. My co-worker and friend, Cheryl, really put this into words for me one day while we were discussing this topic. Her comment was, "It's all about what YOU find acceptable. If it doesn't bother you, then what your dog is doing is just fine." 

Wow. Imagine that! All those experts, and it comes down to what I want? Now there's a new concept! 

But Cheryl was right. If you don't mind your dog being on the furniture, then let him/her on the furniture! If your dog is as well behaved as you want, then you've done a good job. If he/she listens to you when you order them off the couch, then all is well in doggie/pitbull parent land. Being happy with your dog is what matters. That's the beauty of being the owner, you get to decide what you're going to train your dog to do. If you don't want your dog sleeping in your bed, then don't let him/her in the bed. Done deal. 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Still Seeking Your Companions

I'm still looking for pictures of your dogs to add to my Pitbull Parents Showcase. If I get enough pictures, I'll spotlight a different dog each week, accompanied by a story you'd like to share about your favorite companion!

Blogger has added a great new gadget, a contact form. If you'd like to see your dogs pictures on this blog, please use that form to let me know! I think this could add a fun, and personal, element to my blog, and give all of you wonderful readers a chance to show off your best bud.

Concobar laying with her belly up
Goofy Pictures

Concobar wearing a graduation cap
Pictures your dog wishes you wouldn't share!

My daughter, Alexa, and Con, snuggling while asleep on our couch
Sweet pictures

Concobar sleeping on floor with only her head buried under a blanket, rest of her body is visible
Pictures that'll make others laugh
I want them all!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Enemy Number One

My staffie, Concobar (Con), jumps. Whenever someone comes to our front door, she crowds the entry way, barks wildly, and then attempts to jump on the person who is trying their hardest to get in the door. 

When we're out on a walk, (aided by our trusty Weiss Walkie!), beware any unassuming passerby who stops to pet Con and giver her a little attention. She laps it up, then reciprocates by jumping up, quick as a snake, and getting that darn lick on the face in.

I tried every training tip and technique I could find to get Con to stop this behavior. Nothing worked. I grudgingly had to give her points for being uber-stubborn. 

Then one day, for reasons I can't even explain, I got a squirt bottle, filled it up, and waited. Of course it felt like I had to wait forever before someone finally came to the door. But eventually someone did, and I got ready. As my daughter let her friend in the house, I grabbed that squirt bottle, aimed it at Con, and gave her the command, "NO JUMPING!". Of course, she didn't listen. So I squirted her. All I put in that bottle was ordinary tap water, but to Con, it might as well have been mace! 

At first she was so startled she stopped moving completely. After a few seconds she regained her moxie, and tried to jump again. Once more, I pointed the squirt bottle at her and gave the command. This time, she was looking at me out of the corner of her eye. And because she was, she saw that squirt bottle pointed at her, and the friend walked into our house without further incident.

Needless to say, I was stunned. Months and months of work and it all came down to a $.99 squirt bottle! Once I got over the shock, I was singing hallelujah! I had found Con's mortal enemy, the one thing she hated so much she would do anything to avoid it, even listen! I used the squirt bottle to train Con further, and now have a very well behaved dog. Visitors can now walk all the way into my home before she approaches them. And the squirt bottle rarely makes an appearance anymore. 

Training Concobar is a never ending project. As I'm sure other Pitbull Parents will agree, for us dog owners who are not "experts" there is almost always a behavior issue that needs to corrected. Whether it's barking at every little noise (as Con is prone to do), practicing the sit and stay, perfecting the "come" command, or trying to get a dog to stop jumping, being a dog owner means that correcting and training your dog is a tireless responsibility. 

If you do some research, as I did, you'll find that there are thousands of websites that offer all different sorts of training advice. And of course, there's the expertise of the famous Dog Whisperer, Caesar Milan. I've found some of his techniques to be very helpful, while others I haven't even bothered to try. Many of the websites also offer sound advice, if you can pick your way through the minefield that is a results list from your search engine. 

However you choose to train your dog, whatever techniques you give a shot, there are several key factors that will determine whether that training will be a success or not. 

  • Patience. You must have a never ending store of patience with yourself and with your dog. It can be trying, especially after you've repeated yourself twenty times and your dog is still not listening. However, if you give up, your dog will never learn the behaviors that can be essential in a happy owner/dog relationship.
  • Repetition. As I mentioned in my earlier post, Pitbulls 101, constant repetition is absolutely key when training your dog. Remember, the actions that don't come naturally to a dog are all learned behaviors. And you can bet that sitting when he wants to run, staying by your side instead of chasing squirrels, and ignoring his instincts to bark at every noise, all fall under the heading of learned behavior. The only way for your dog to learn that behavior is for you to repeat the commands you want your dog to learn, over and over. 
  • Creativity. It's important to try new and different training techniques with your dog. It's likely you'll try several different areas of training before you find what works best for you and your dog. Don't be afraid to be creative. Go with your instincts, and your dogs instincts. If you believe you can get your dog to perform a desired behavior by doing something you haven't read about or seen on TV, that's okay (as long as it doesn't hurt the dog). Give it a shot. You might hit on something that really works for the both of you. 

So this is my advice to you, fellow Pitbull Parents; Find you dog's mortal enemy! Don't forget to be creative while you're doing so. The squirt bottle may work for you, or it may not. I've heard of other dog owners using bells, flashlights, even vacuum cleaner hoses, successfully.  

An important thing to remember is that you're not trying to scare your dog into submission. You don't want to create an atmosphere of fear. You're simply using the mortal enemy as a tool. If used well, you should get to the point where just saying it's name will get your dog to comply. And then, the prize at the end of a long, hard road, your dog will behave without even a mention of his mortal enemy! 

Remember, having a well-behaved pitbull is one of the best ways to become a breed ambassador. And the path to getting a well-behaved dog is proper training. Every time a stranger can walk up to pitbull and come away from that encounter with a positive impression is a win for the breed! And a win for those of us who are committed to spreading the word about what a great pet a pitbull can make.