How to Train Your Pit Bull

by Claire Anderson

Pit Bulls (aka “pitties”, “pibbles”, “bullies”, “wigglebutts”, “squishy faces”, “cutest-pups-in-the-world”, etc) are known for their complete disregard for personal space—currently, I have one with his head against my chest and I am typing to the rhythm of his tail beating against the couch in steadfast anticipation that I might stop and pet him. Pit Bulls are also some of the most fun-loving and enthusiastic dogs I have ever met and could warm even the coldest of hearts. They can be excitable and vocal in their play with other dogs and sweet, gentle giants with children. Sadly, Pit Bulls have been unfairly demonized which has caused all kinds of problems, but times are a-changin and I think/hope pitties will once again be “America’s favorite dog.”

The Pit Bull Basics: Overview

“Pit Bull” is a term used to described many breeds and mixes including, but not limited to: the American Staffordshire Terrier, American Pit Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, American Bulldog, and pretty much any other medium-large dog with short hair and a wide face. For the purposes of this article, we will simply refer to them as Pit Bulls, but it is important to understand that we are not talking about a single breed of dog. If you visit any shelter in Los Angeles, most of the dogs there will be labeled as Pit Bulls, and they are usually mixed breed dogs (with big old blockheads and a tail wagging so fast that it’s a blur!)

Pit Bulls originated in the U.K. in the 1800s, and quickly made their way to the United States. The origin story of the Pit Bull is a sad one, as they were initially bred from bulldogs and terriers for baiting and dogfighting for entertainment. Because of this, many people see Pit Bulls as active participants in what is absolutely their abuse and torture. By the early 1900s and until the 1970s, Pit Bulls were very popular and beloved by society; they appeared in many ads, TV shows and movies (like The Little Rascals). However, by the 1980s, the “dangerous dog” stereotype began to grow, perpetuated by the media, and encouraged abusers to buy and breed them for guarding and fighting purposes (i.e. abuse). The bottom line here is that we have a long and complicated history with these dogs and to jump to any conclusions or predictions about their behavior based on a story in the news is wrong and can be very harmful.

Pit Bulls are very popular, though it is difficult to find out just how popular, as they are not recognized by the AKC (American Kennel Club), and the term “pit bull” is used for so many different breeds and breed mixes. However, you can tell just by going to the dog park, taking a walk around a lake, or going for a hike just how popular they are, especially in our hometown of Los Angeles!

How to Socialize a Pit Bull

Socialization is a must for any dog in order to prevent various fears from developing into aggression and to ensure good bite inhibition. Unfortunately, much of the public still believes the stereotype that pit bull-type dogs are inherently aggressive, which is absolutely not true! A lack of early socialization can cause dogs to suffer from serious anxiety, as well as other issues that could develop into leash aggression, aggression with strangers, separation anxiety, and/or resource guarding. Thus, socialization is the most important thing you can do for your Pit Bull puppy. Even if you adopt an adolescent Pit Bull from a rescue group or shelter, socialization—done the right way—should be a top priority. We can help via private dog training, skype (or online) dog training, or group dog training classes!

Mental Enrichment and Exercise for Your Pit Bull

Since the term “pit bull” encompasses many different dogs, their exercise requirements vary. Many pit bulls need only a 30-45 minute walk/jog per day, while other will need a lot more. I have found them to be very expressive about their needs—I definitely know if I have neglected to take my guy on his morning walk because he will pace and bark at random things out the window. The main thing to consider with your pittie is that they want to be with you! So take them out daily: to the coffee shop, on a hike, to the hardware store, or simply for a car ride! Generally, they are social butterflies, so get them out into the world!

Mental enrichment is also very important for these intelligent pups. I recommend daily training sessions inside and outside the home, as well as “brain games” like scent work and retrieving specific items. I also love using a flirt pole (basically a large cat toy) as a reward for impulse control during training sessions because most pit bulls love to chase. Mental enrichment also comes in the form of exploring new places, so bring your dog to new hiking spots and allow them to explore!

Make absolutely sure that your dog has had a sufficient amount of exercise and enrichment before leaving him or her alone at home because, like any dog, pit bulls can be destructive if they are bored. Always leave your dog in a safe spot like a crate or dog-proofed room with a safe toy to chew on—check out our list of mental enrichment toys that we recommend to help keep your dog busy.

How to Train Your Pit Bull

Because we're dog trainers in Los Angeles and San Diego, the number one thing that people with Pit Bulls call us about is inappropriate greeting behavior with guests, i.e. running towards, jumping up, mouthing, licking, and/or almost knocking people over. This is usually due to a lack of exercise and/or enrichment, as well as an overwhelming, over-excited feeling of genuine happiness to see someone new. This is definitely not the worst issue to have with a dog, and the solution is simple but it will take patience and consistency in order to achieve the desired results.

Pit Bulls are generally very food-driven, but can also be extremely play and/or affection-driven, too! They will usually do very well with clear, consistent communication and expectations from everyone in their lives. Pit Bulls are very fun to train and are generally very quick to build a strong and devoted relationship with you if they feel that they can trust you. Give this dog love and clear communication and they will devote their lives to making you happy.

Pit Bulls and pit mixes can be wonderful additions to any family, provided they get what they need: lots of exercise, proper socialization, obedience training, and a couple of hobbies. The main thing to remember with any dog is that their success is dependent on your participation. These animals don't get to choose which home they will inhabit—that's our choice. Therefore, it's up to us, the dog owners, to do the research and learn about what these dogs need as well as make sure those needs are met while they are under our care.