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Pitbulls are some of the most popular dogs in America, but all too often they are misunderstood. There is a lot of misinformation spread about how to train and discipline Pitbulls- and the best methods may not be what you expect.
So what is the right way to discipline a pitbull? To discipline a Pitbull properly, set your dog up for success by understanding their natural instincts and needs. When your dog misbehaves, withhold what they love the most: your attention. When your Pitbull behaves the way you want them to, reward them with praise, treats, and toys.
In other words, there’s no physical force needed, and disciplining a Pitbull is surprisingly easy. You probably don’t need to do it as much as you think.
Let’s dig a little deeper into everything you need to know about disciplining your Pittbull (and any other breed for that matter):
Why Dominance is Not the Answer
There seem to be as many misconceptions about disciplining Pitbulls as there are misconceptions about Pitbulls themselves. It seems to be even more difficult to get language involving dominance out of the Pitbull community than it is for the dog community at large.
Long after trainers have shown that dogs, including Pitbulls, do not operate according to dominance, too many recommendations are still made involving dominance. In all likelihood, your Pitbull is not trying to dominate you, and trying to dominate your Pitbull is not going to result in the positive behavior change that you’re looking for.
Dogs don’t seek out dominance between one another most of the time, and it is extremely unusual for a dog to seek out dominance over you. Rather, your dog’s misbehavior is likely coming from a lack of awareness about what you want, natural instincts which are very difficult for them to resist, or simply the joy of doing whatever they’re doing that you don’t like.
How to Discipline a Pitbull
Too often, Pitbulls are mislabeled as being headstrong or difficult to train. This could not be further from the truth.
The breed standard for the American Pitbull Terrier states that this dog is, “Eager to please and brimming over with enthusiasm.” Anyone who loves a Pitbull knows that these words are incredibly accurate.
Pitbulls like nothing more than to please their people. In fact, it is this very loyalty and love of people that drives Pitbulls to fight other dogs when asked to and never bite their handler no matter how hurt they may be. Disciplining a Pitbull isn’t quite like working with any other breed.
Here are a few of the reasons why:
High Pain Tolerance
It isn’t that Pitbulls can’t feel pain like other dogs, it’s that they have been bred throughout their history to endure pain and keep working. Whether fighting in a pit with other dogs or against wild animals like bears or bulls, tackling feral hogs, or protecting livestock from wild animals, Pitbulls have needed to fight through the pain throughout their history.
That means that the techniques offered by too many professional trainers that involve prong collars or choke collars or using corrections like hitting your dog in the ribs are not only inhumane and likely to hurt your relationship with your dog, but also very likely to be ineffective.
When your Pitbull is focused and believes they have a job to do, no amount of pain is going to deter them. This means that techniques that may work for more sensitive breeds, such as leash corrections, may be less likely to be effective for a Pitbull.
Deep Desire to Please
Pitbulls absolutely adore their families. If your Pitbull cowers when you discipline them, it’s likely not because they are hurt or afraid of pain, but because they are so horrified at having made you upset.
This is a dog that will work all day and drive himself into the dirt for you. That means that the best discipline for the average Pitbull is simply withholding your affection.
Most Pitbulls cannot stand to feel shunned by their families and will do anything to get back in your good graces. Contrary to misconceptions about Pitbulls, this is actually a breed that can be very simple to discipline just by turning your back on them.
This video shows just how affectionate and trainable Pitbulls can be:
Pitbull Discipline Tips
Ignore What You Don’t Like
Pitbulls hate to be ignored. It is very common for Pitbulls to seek out attention constantly. Many can become quite demanding and even pushy.
It can be problematic for any owner, but may be especially frustrating for children and guests. The instinct to yell at your dog or push them away is strong, but in fact, any kind of response may be interpreted by your Pitbull as attention, even if it isn’t positive attention.
Therefore, it’s essential that you ignore what you don’t want your Pitbull to do. Here are a few things that you should be careful to never reinforce by paying attention:
- Whining or barking at you
- Pawing at or nudging your body or hands
- Mouthing you or trying to move your hands with their mouth
- Jumping up on you or pushing hard against you with their body
- Barking at a desired object like the door or treats
If your dog’s behavior is bothersome, physically prevent them from doing it, rather than reacting. A classic example is turning your back on a jumping Pittie. Dogs that jump want your attention. Instead of giving it to them, simply turn your back and don’t engage until they’ve calmed down.
Only Ask Once
Pitbulls are highly intelligent dogs. If your Pitbull figures out that they can keep doing something until you have asked three or four times or if they realize that you won’t actually follow up on a command and that they can just keep doing it, you can trust that they will take advantage.
Never ask your Pitbull to do something unless you can enforce the command, and never ask more than once. If it seems that your Pitbull has suddenly forgotten how to perform a command, it is likely that something in the environment has changed, they’re bored of the command, or they are trying to see if they can get away with not performing it.
No matter which of these reasons is responsible for your Pitbull’s disobedience, repeating the command is not going to be a solution. Only say the command once, then follow through.
If your dog knows how to sit but isn’t sitting when you say the command, use a high-value treat like to lure your dog into a sit the way you would have when they were a puppy. My absolute favorite treat for this are these freeze-dried liver snacks which you can see on Amazon by clicking here.
It may seem strange to do this after you know your Pitbull knows how to sit, but this is the best way to reinforce that you are serious about the command every time.
To set yourself up for success, try not to ask your dog to perform commands when you expect them to not want to do it unless you have a high-value reward to make it worth their while. One of the best ways to cause your dog to ignore your commands is to keep doing the same boring commands over and over. Your Pitbull is a clever dog, and they want to be able to do new things and not be bored by constant repetition, so change up your training routine.
Consistency is Key
The Pitbull is an enthusiastic breed. They don’t need a lot of reinforcement to keep performing a behavior. Therefore, if the behavior that you don’t like is reinforced only a small percentage of the time, it probably will still not be extinguished.
If you give your Pitbull attention for whining at you in a weak moment and ignore it the next 20 times, you will probably still experience some whining from your Pitbull. If some members of the family do not follow the rules with your Pitbull, your Pitbull will display those behaviors, possibly with everybody, and possibly only with the people with whom they can get away with it.
The vast majority of times, if you feel that you need to punish your Pitbull, it is you who has done something wrong. Did you leave your teething Pitbull puppy loose in the house without supervision and did they chew up a chair leg?
Give yourself a thorough scolding and possibly a slap on the wrist, but don’t bother disciplining your Pitbull. You cannot expect an untrained puppy to resist the urge to chew on something as enticing as chair legs.
Have you taken your adult Pitbull for only short walks for the past three days and then found that they have dug a hole in the yard, jumped the fence, or bolted out the front door? Give yourself a stern talking-to so that you’ll never do it again.
Pitbulls are highly energetic, athletic dogs that require a lot of exercise before than can be expected to behave well.
Since Pitbulls often displayed some level of dog aggression, regardless of training or socialization, expecting a Pitbull to be dog friendly is unrealistic. Punishing your Pitbull for being aggressive towards neighborhood dogs or other dogs in your household may teach your Pitbull to hide signs that they are about to attack, but it will not inhibit dog aggression.
If your Pitbull displays dog aggression, it is up to you to control their access to other dogs, train them to resist aggressive impulses using positive reinforcement, and provide sufficient enrichment and exercise in a manner that is safe for other dogs in your community.
Teach Your Dog to Work With You in a Positive Way
Because Pitbulls are so eager to please, bold, brave, and athletic, they excel in all kinds of activities and dog sports. Training your dog to do something with you gives you the opportunity to provide positive reinforcement and correct undesirable behavior in a game-like environment that will be fun for both you and your dog.
You are likely to find that when your Pitbull has learned from you on the agility field, in bite work, dock diving, or anything else, they will also be more obedient and communicate better with you in your everyday life. As an added benefit, participating in dog sports and activities provides opportunities for your dog to get the kind of exercise and enrichment that they need to develop good self-control.
Enjoy Training Your Pitbull
Pitbulls are hard-working dogs that want nothing more than to make their people happy. In the vast majority of cases, if you feel like you need to discipline your Pitbull, it is because you have not set your dog up for success.
When you do need to discipline your dog, withholding what they love most in life (your attention) is likely to be all that is necessary to change the behavior. Be patient, consistent, loving, and set your Pitbull up for success, and you’ll likely find that you barely ever need to discipline them in any way.