Pitbulls traditionally love people, especially their families. Sometimes things go wrong, and the dog may develop aggression towards one or more humans.
There are few things more frightening to a dog owner than seeing their dog display aggressive behavior towards a person. Such Behavior can result in an injury and lawsuits or worse.
It is important not to ignore the behavior and equally important to deal with it correctly. Understanding and education are needed to help a dog through aggression towards people.
What Makes a Dog Aggressive?
There are many reasons a dog may become aggressive to people. Often it is stress and anxiety related, coupled with boredom and lack of training and exercise. Dogs that were bred to work—guarding, herding and hunting, will display:
- territorial aggression when guarding their space
- predatory aggression when hunting
- fearful aggression if they perceive that a person is a threat to them
This is why it is dangerous to use fear and intimidation as training tools. Even a well-meaning owner can make an aggression issue worse and become the target of the aggression by trying to establish dominance through hurting, intimidating, and frightening the dog.
Some aggression is due to a lack of socialization in early puppyhood if the puppy came from a mill or other cruel and unacceptable breeding situation. Health issues and genetics can also cause aggression due to pain or neurological issues that can trigger or exacerbate the behavior.
Aggression is a normal dog behavior, so there is no “cure” for it. The only way to handle it is to understand it, avoid triggering it, manage it and attempt to give training that will change the behavior.
Pitbull owners should take extra care to safely socialize their dog and prevent dog to human aggression. Raising a pitbull puppy to be comfortable around many kinds of people is the first step and keeping him safe.
Allow him to socialize with many kinds of people, older people, children of all ages, men with hats and beards, women, and people wearing uniforms.
A comfortable dog is a confident dog and a confident dog is less apt to bite.
- Beginning early, offer him many social opportunities with a variety of people.
- Keep interactions with people short and pleasant.
- Do not pass the puppy around more than a couple of times when meeting new people.
- Be sure people handle the puppy gently and speak softly to him
- Do not wrestle or play in a rough way with the puppy or encourage hand biting
- Bring the puppy around human social adult dogs so he may model appropriate behavior.
- Enroll in a positive reinforcement puppy class
If the dog is adopted as an adult there are still many things a dog owner can do to make their dog safer around people.
- Know when the dog is stressed and stop interactions if he shows stress behavior
- Do not allow people to handle the dog in a rough way
- Avoid situations that will trigger the dog to feel afraid or protective
- Consult a positive reinforcement trainer for safe adult socialization
Early Signs Of Pitbull Aggression
Sometimes aggressive behavior seems to appear out of nowhere. However, this is seldom the case. The dog has usually been showing signs of stress or discomfort. Typical body language signals that indicate early signs of stress are:
- Lip licking
- Turning away
- Moving away
- White ringed eyes
- Tight lips
- Shaking off
All of these signs are usually given before the dog resorts to a warning growl. Pitbull owners should not punish their dog for growling as this is his early warning system. Instead, it is best to identify the trigger that caused the dog to display a warning behavior. Once the trigger has been identified the owner can then determine how to avoid or desensitize the dog to it. If the dog is growling often, it is best to consult with a professional trainer. It can be dangerous to try to resolve the problem on your own.
You may wish to ask your veterinarian to check the dog over for possible pain in the body. At the visit, ask him where to find a positive reinforcement professional to help you resolve the aggression issue. In the meantime, there are precautions that can be taken to help keep your dog safer around people.
- Keep your Pitbull separated from whatever triggers his aggressive behavior
- Use a crate or other secure confinement option to prevent uncomfortable interactions
- Train your dog to wear a basket muzzle using play and positive reinforcement to create safety and a positive association with the training tool.
- Consider using a head halter for additional control during walks if the aggression is directed towards people in general.
Assessing the Situation
When determining the best approach to dealing with an aggressive dog it is best to consider the likely outcome of management and training for the aggression.
If the aggressive behavior is directed towards a family member, the age of the person and their ability to understand and comply with the rules of a behavior plan must be considered. Small children, elderly people, and people with very firm opinions about dogs and using dominance theory are all high-risk factors when trying to resolve aggression problems.
If the dog is aggressive to strangers the resources available to confine and manage him around strangers is a major consideration. If the dog resides in an apartment complex and becomes aggressive when he sees people that are not in his family, it will be impossible to safely manage and train him to be calm around people because of the trigger rich environment.
If the dog has bitten someone, the degree of injury created by the bite should be another consideration. If there are multiple bites or a bite with bruising and tearing requiring medical attention, this shows a lack of bite inhibition and an increase in the likelihood of maiming. A bite that does not break the skin or leaves only minor bruising is an inhibited bite and was intended as a warning rather than an attack with intent to harm. The type of bite is very helpful in assessing the possible outcome of managing and training aggressive behavior.
The Best Possible Outcome
If the Pitbull owner, with the help of a canine professional determines that he can safely house and manage his dog while he is working on a behavior modification plan, he should move forward with caution and consistency. The owner should reassess the safety of the situation on an ongoing basis for the rest of the dog’s life.
The dog may never be completely trustworthy with strangers, but with proper management, keeping the safety of the dog and people he comes in contact with at the forefront of any decisions made regarding the dog, there is hope that the Pitbull can stay in his home and have an improved quality of life.