Unwanted Pit Bull Behaviors and How to Successfully Correct Them

The following is an excerpt from "The Complete Guide to Pit Bulls" by Erin Hotovy. For more information visit the books Amazon Page.

Author Credit: Erin Hotovy

As sweet as your Pit Bull may be, he probably won’t be a little angel all of the time. Every owner has different standards for how they want their dog to behave. For example, some don’t mind barking while others expect their dog to be silent while in the house. There are lots of behaviors that may be classified as unwanted. This chapter will help define these behaviors and give possible solutions so you don’t feel as if you’re constantly battling your dog’s behaviors.

What Is Bad Behavior?

Bad behavior is somewhat of a subjective term. What some owners will not tolerate, others will let slide. It’s easy to think about how you want to deal with bad behaviors when you split them into categories. Bad behaviors can be seen as annoying, destructive, and dangerous.
Annoying behaviors are the kinds of things that some owners might tolerate, while others plan on enforcing strict rules. Barking is one of these behaviors. No one wants to come home at the end of a long day to a dog that barks at every little noise or movement outside, nor do the neighbors want to hear constant barking while you let your dog out. Another annoying behavior is when an excited dog jumps up on you to greet you. It’s not polite for a dog to jump up on people, nor do you want dirty paw prints on your pants. It’s a behavior that’s probably not going to hurt anyone, but it’s annoying enough to disrupt your life on a small scale.

pitbull colby
Photo Courtesy – Kristen Wood

Some bad behaviors cause damage to property, so you’re probably more willing to correct them. Chewing is a big issue with Pit Bulls. They have strong jaws that can leave deep tooth marks in furniture. They are also smart dogs that chew to entertain themselves. If your dog is left unattended in the backyard, he may decide to dig a few holes before anyone notices. This kind of behavior can leave unsightly divots in your landscaping that can be a pain to fix.
Finally, there are some behaviors that are downright dangerous. If your dog gets nervous around humans to the point of aggression, it’s imperative that you correct these behaviors before someone gets hurt. While this is rare with Pit Bulls, it’s something to look out for if your dog has had a rough past. The same applies for dogs that don’t get along well with other dogs. Aggressive behaviors should never go unchecked. You may also want to consider behaviors that could potentially be dangerous for you or your dog, on a lesser scale. If your dog pulls while you walk, this could cause injury to you. Or, if your dog likes to bolt into the street every chance they get, you’ll want to figure out how to successfully recall your dog so he doesn’t get hurt.

As a Pit Bull owner, you may have to make decisions about the behaviors you will accept and the behaviors you will never tolerate. That way, you can start working on breaking bad habits, according to the severity of the behavior. Make any dangerous behaviors first priority. Once you get some of those issues sorted, you can work on the lesser annoyances.

Finding the Root of the Problem

Though it may seem as though there is no rhyme or reason as to why your dog does the things that he does, there’s probably some rationale behind their actions. When your dog acts up, it’s up to you to examine the situation and find the cause of the behavior. Once you find the triggers, you can work to desensitize your dog, teach new behaviors, or avoid the triggers.

pitbull Chamucos
Photo Courtesy – Meredith Duncan

For example, you may notice that your dog barks incessantly every evening when you’re trying to relax after work. Nothing you do seems to break your dog’s attention and their noise is extremely annoying to you. Take a moment to assess the situation. When you take a step back, you may notice that you leave the blinds open on the windows that face the street. Your dog is clearly stimulated by something happening out there. And, once you look outside, you notice that the neighborhood kids are outside playing before supper. Perhaps your dog is alerting you to the fact that there are people outside of your house. So, once you figure out what your dog is yapping about, you can simply close the blinds so they can’t see the kids, or you choose to walk your dog at that time so they’re too tired and distracted to bark.
If you’re dealing with a behavior like jumping up on people, this can be corrected once you understand the reward the dog gets for the action. When your dog jumps on someone, it instantly directs their attention to the dog. Also, the person may pet the dog because Pit Bulls are adorable and hard to resist. This becomes a reward for your dog. They learn that if they jump, someone will pay attention to them. So, to fix the problem, you must do the opposite of what they want. When they jump, turn your back to them. This will show that you will have nothing to do with this behavior and you won’t unwittingly reward it. With enough practice, your dog will not even bother to try jumping on you because they know it won’t go anywhere.

If you can start to figure out the reward your dog gets out of certain situations, it can make it easier to figure out how to correct the bad behaviors and reinforce the good ones. It can be difficult to think like a dog, but with enough observation, you may notice subtle clues that will lead you inside their brain.

Bad Behavior Prevention

pitbull red nosedThe best way to avoid constantly battling your dog’s naughty behaviors is to prevent them altogether. However, this is easier said than done. If your dog has had a previous owner, you have little control of what your dog learned in their early life. So, the moment you catch these behaviors, you must put a plan into place on how to solve them.
If your Pit Bull is a puppy, training is key. You must spend a lot of time observing your dog, basically waiting for them to make a mistake. Then you can quickly correct the behavior before it becomes a habit. So, the first time your dog jumps on you, quickly turn your back. This way, you can never give your dog a reward for the annoying behavior.
Along with correcting bad behaviors, reinforcing good behavior may go a long way. If your dog has a tendency to bark, teach your dog a command like “no bark.” This way, you’re simply giving your dog treats when they are quiet, while saying the command and giving them praise. You can also avoid bad behaviors by teaching different ones. If your dog runs to the door and jumps on the visitor every time the doorbell rings, you can teach your dog to lie down on their bed whenever the doorbell rings. That way, your dog is out of the way and in a prone position that makes it hard to bark and be excited.

Also, a bored, energetic dog tends to get into trouble more than a tired dog. If your pup is constantly getting into trouble, take a look at his daily exercise. Adding some extra playtime or another walk to your dog’s day may help him calm down enough to behave while in the house. Also, if the issue is that your dog is chewing on your belongings, make sure you have plenty of better alternatives around for your dog to gnaw on throughout the day. You cannot expect to teach your dog not to chew on anything. This is one behavior where you must find a suitable alternative.

How to Properly Correct Your Dog

Correcting bad behaviors can be tricky because in general, negativity does not work well on dogs. When training, you want to be as positive as possible. When teaching a dog how not to do something, a lot of owners have the tendency to yell or use other tactics to deter their dog from making the same mistake again.

pitbull chocolateWhen you catch your dog in the act of being naughty, call their attention to the behavior. Clap your hands loud enough to break their attention. Some owners swear by a can of rocks to shake when their dog is really in the zone. A sharp “hey” may also work. The key is to keep your voice at a tone that gets their attention, but is not angry. Once they’re looking at you, you might say “no” and redirect their attention elsewhere. For example, if you catch your dog chewing on the legs of the table, get their attention, tell them “no,” then give them a chew toy to gnaw on. This shows them that when they have the need to chew, they should direct it toward a more suitable option.

Correcting bad behavior is difficult because you cannot punish your dog after the fact. Just like with finding accidents hours later, you cannot clap your hands and correct your dog after finding your shoes tattered, especially when you don’t know when the destruction occurred. For this reason, you have to be constantly supervising your dog if you hope to catch and correct any bad behaviors.

Pain and fear have no place in dog training when it comes to correcting bad behavior. This tactic will inevitably backfire on you. Dogs respond to fear with aggression, so it can be dangerous to you or others around you if you make your dog feel like they have no other choice but to attack. Also, a dog that fears you is not a friend, but a victim. A good dog owner does not hit their dog because their pup ruined the carpet. Instead, a good dog owner with control their frustrations, gently correct their dog, then clean up the mess and wait until the next opportunity to teach the dog. Pit Bulls are sensitive dogs, and even too much angry yelling will damage them.

pitbull monster blue
Photo Courtesy – Kade Peterson

If your dog’s bad behavior is causing a serious rift in the relationship between you and your dog, or their behavior is downright dangerous, it’s time to call in reinforcements. There are so many resources for you to use when things go wrong. You might talk to your breeder because they know Pit Bulls well. It’s possible that they’ve experienced similar issues and can give you some helpful tips for working through them. A trainer is also a good resource for training issues. An experienced trainer has worked with a lot of different dogs from all walks of life. It’s likely that they’ve helped another dog and owner with a similar problem and know exactly how to help you. If worse comes to worst, you may decide you need to hire a private trainer to come to your home and diagnose your dog’s issue and help you work with your dog.

Dogs are great, but they sometimes do things that are not compatible with their owner’s life. When it comes to your dog’s behavior, decide how you want them to behave and stick to it. Some battles, like not having your dog jump on your bed, might not be worth the fight. Other behaviors, like growling at strangers, requires attention before it progresses. If your dog does something you don’t like, try to figure out why they do that particular action. Once you find a motive, come up with a few solutions to try. Sometimes you need to teach a new skill, while other times, you adapt to avoid the trigger. If things progress and you don’t know how to fix the problem behavior, call an expert. There are many people out there who have solved these problems with other dogs and can help you do the same so you have a happy life with your Pit Bull.

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