I am always suprised by the stupid things some people say to me about my pit bull. Once, in Petco, someone said to me, "how can you bring that monster in here?" I looked down at Rudy, who was sitting quietly by my side, carrying the bully stick that he had picked out 5 minutes into our cruise through the aisles. "You mean, him?" I responded, and pointed down to Rudy who looked right at me and I truly swear winked up at me. "Yeah, that monster" the guy said. "He will eat a baby you know." "Really? God, I didn't know that!" I know he eats socks, bully sticks, peanut butter, toilet paper off the roll, used q-tips (I know - ewwww!), and god forbid, an entire bag of popcorn straight out of the microwave if I let him, but a baby? Nope. I've never seen him eat one of those.
I calmly said "come on Rudy", and we just walked away. I didn't feel like arguing with yet another uneducated idiot. We got in line, and I made Rudy sit while we waited in line. The people behind us oohed and ahhed about how well behaved he was, and he did a few tricks like paw, sit, lay down, up, and wait, for the cashier who showered him with treats. Then, the little old lady buying cat food behind me, who had been petting Rudy for about 5 minutes, said, "he is so cute!" but "what kind of dog is he?" I looked right at her and said it - "he's a pit bull". She looked shocked!! I saw her pull her hand back, and she looked right at me and said, "but aren't they dangerous?" "He doesn't look dangerous at all!" she exclaimed. She then proceeded to tell me that she had never met an actual pit bull but she had read and heard all kinds of terrible things about them, and was sure she would never like to meet one. But now she had met one, and I'll be damned - she was so impressed by Rudy and his manners in the store that she proceeded to tell me that she was glad she had met us, and that we had changed her mind about pit bulls. As I left I thought about all the exchanges I have had with people about poor Rudy.
When I fell in love with Rudy that December day on Church Street, I had no intention of defending an entire "group" of dogs. I don't use the word breed because as many of you know, the term pit bull itself is not a breed. People say pit bull based on look, and what they are really referring to are dogs such as American Staffordshire Terriers and American Pit Bull Terriers, which is what Rudy is. I really didn't even know what Rudy was when I fell in love with his pitiful face that day. I just knew he was the sweetest, most loving dog, that had ever stolen my heart in the span of 5 minutes. I adopted him without really knowing what I was gettting myself into.
And that is why I train so much. I have realized that it is my job to make sure that nothing Rudy and I do will bring any further comments from uneducated idiots. I know that Rudy is going to be judged more harshly than a lot of other dogs simply because of what he is, and because of the choices we make. I don't want to put Rudy in a situation where he is going to get blamed for something that may not truly be his fault. When I adopted Rudy, I took on the task of being a responsible dog owner, and that responsibility became larger than when I had a lab, because no one looks at a chocolate lab and tells you he will eat your child!!
So we train. We train every day. We use every day as a training opportunity. I purposely try to take Rudy to as many places as I can so we can practice our training in different situations all the time. I try to challenge him a bit, while trying not to push him too much so as to set him up for failure. When Rudy starts to slide, I take away his privileges, and we start again a few steps backward in the training schedule. We build up Rudy's privileges again slowly once I start seeing the behaviors I want and expect from him now. It is a constant process. When we go out for a walk, we practice always. Rudy is never allowed to walk out ahead of me when off leash. He must always be at my side. If his recall slips at all, then we back up our training even more.
One of Rudy's traits is his stubborn personality. I would expect nothing less from him since he is my dog. He is strong, and bull headed, and he wants to do everything his way. The problem, so do I, and I am the pack leader. And that is what I am constantly trying to show Rudy. Rudy needs to know that I am the leader always, because that is the only thing that will allow him to be a truly balanced and happy dog. But he is stubborn, and he fights me constantly for control. And as soon as you give him an inch, or start letting him "slip up" even a bit, he starts trying to take more and more control from me.
Example, last weekend I went away to the Adirondacks to run a half marathon. I left Rudy with the husband. The husband is working on his relationship with Rudy, but part of that for him is trying to bond with Rudy, and the husband tries to do that by allowing Rudy to "slip" a little bit. That means while I was gone for two days, Rudy got two days of freedom. He got to have two days of making bad choices and very little leadership. He got to sleep in the recliner when he wanted to, without having an invitation to get up on the furniture. He didn't sleep in his crate while I was gone, but rather he slept in bed. Then, while the husband went hunting, Rudy got free run of the house for the entire day rather than being in his crate. So, rather than relax in his crate all day, and practice self-regulating, Rudy got to be out all day and make as many bad choices as he wanted, without corrections.
When I got home, I noticed that Rudy seemed to be more hyper than normal. Then, I took him for a walk. He was out of control. He was running up ahead of me, wouldn't come to me when I called, wouldn't heel, wouldn't follow me when I said come on, despite stimming him. I turned up the ecollar and he would ignore me completely. It was like I wasn't even there. So, I put him on leash, and he was pulling and acting like an idot. He even did a zoomie, which we haven't had in months! Then, another dog walked by, and Rudy was lunging, and pulling on the rope like an idiot, barking and growling, despite my turning the ecollar up. He wouldn't sit or listen to me. I quickly realized that Rudy's two days of unlimited freedom and bad choices had a severe impact on his training.
He still wasn't calmed down by Tuesday when we went to socials. The social started, and Rudy ran from my side like he was on a mission. I knew this was not a good sign. Rudy never leaves my side at socials, and he certainly doesn't charge around the circle engaging other dogs. Within 5 minutes of the social, Rudy had gone after another dog, and had to get a correction from Rhonda. He hadn't had that type of interaction in months, and I knew that those two days of "no rules" had gotten him so adrenalized that he wasn't capable of regulating himself again. He was hooked on that adrenaline feeling again. He was insecure again from two days of not having a clear leader.
So, we stripped privileges again, and went back to the basic rules. Sitting at the door waiting to go out, walking calmly on leash, no furniture, staying in his place, etc. Within a few days of enforcing the rules, Rudy began to calm down and follow the rules. We were able to go on a nice off leash walk by Friday. We continue to train. And we will continue to train every day. Because Rudy needs it. Because I need it. And because that is what responsible pit bull owners everywhere should do.