What a fine New Year's Resolution eh? And how, praytell, can you achieve that? Well, our hope is that you will make just such a resolution for Bella, Honey, or Delilah.
"But I CAN'T" you say. "Bella, Honey, and Delilah - they are all picky with other dogs. Bella doesn't even like cats! I have dogs! I have cats!" You say.
The sad truth is, these dogs will never improve, and will continue to live very under-enriched lives in their temporary places that can't offer help for these dogs become better. Without a leader to guide them, Bella & Delilah may have to continue to live in a home with so many dogs to manage there is no time for training. For Honey, the stress of the kennel will lead to more problem behaviors and frustrations with other dogs.
"Easy peasy" dogs make it into "easy peasy" foster homes, and thereafter, usually pretty quickly into forever homes. But Bella, Honey, and Delilah -- they struggle. Because they were not started off right. Their "first" owners may have kept them outside with little socialization. They may have neglected to teach them manners inside the house because they simply didn't have the time or the patience. Maybe their owners "tried" to train them, but didn't understand how to do it right. They may have yelled at them for displaying aggressive behaviors, did leash corrections, or just tensed up at the sight of another dog walking past -- all things that will FURTHER frustrate a dog and reinforce their behavior. When dogs see their owners aren't in control, they are forced to take the lead, and unfortunately this creates highly undesirable results!
So these 3 girls, Miss Bella, Honey, and Delilah - They ended up as strays, they were left unwanted. "Teach me! Make me better! Make me adoptable! I only want to LOVE you!" Their eyes plead. And still, no one came. CCB wants to change all that for them. Because truth is, these dogs have a lot to offer. They are your TYPICAL pit bull - full of energy, loyalty, unwavering love for humans, and whether we like to acknowledge it or not - a good bit of them are dog selective. Like many terriers, they can have prey drive.
There is good news for you, the potential foster home, and for these dogs in question. A dog that doesn't get along with other dogs doesn't have to continue to be that way. Sure, they may never have best dog buddies, but maybe they can at least learn some manners, be presentable. Wouldn't it be great if they could go to an adoption event without their handler hiding in shame??
They need a leader to teach them. And that is why CCB provides resources. Easy step-by-step guides on how to teach a dog-reactive dog to stop spitting obscenities at other dogs.
Step 1: Keep a Journal
Sometimes in training it's hard to tell if we are making progress. So let's prove that hard work pays off! Write down what happened on Day 1 you started training. How did your foster dog react when presented with another dog? What exercises did you work on? What seemed to work, and what seemed to fail? Did you move too fast? You can organize it however you want, but make sure to take good notes.
Step 2: Slow and Steady Wins the Race
Lets face it, it's hard not to rush things. It's natural to want our pets to get along from the start. I mean, who wouldn't want it to be easy? But with pit bulls, lets face it, it can take some work. But remember, it takes longer to undo something done wrong than to do it right the first time! Set your foster dog up for success always!!
Put your foster dog on the NILIF program from the moment they walk in the door. Soon your foster dog understands that "Whew, I don't have to freak out anymore! This human person has got my back! They are taking care of the food, the treats, the potty time - I can just relax and be a dog!"
Start out with your foster dog crated in a room away from your other pets. Don't stop there. Put a baby gate in the door. This avoids any confrontations either dog is not ready for! (Make sure neither dog is willing/able to scale the baby gate!)
The room you choose should be in eyesight of a high-traffic, or regularly inhabited room, so you can talk to your foster dog and praise either dog when they regard each other calmly. It also gives your foster dog the opportunity to see that your current pets are a valued part of the pack.
If your foster dog is up for it, and you have another person to help, you can start taking walks together, with one person per dog, but kept distance between them at all times to avoid any face-to-face issues. Remember to rotate who walks in front, and to alternate with walking side by side (but making sure at least one person is between the two dogs). MUCH praise for being calm and friendly. Consider attaching a treat pouch to your hips for extra, ultra special breakthroughs between the two dogs that are cause for a food reward. An example of an event that deserves effusive praise? Anytime the dogs looked at each other with low slow tail wags! Be watchful of body language - it speaks volumes.
Step 3: Pet' N Praise at the Gate
Now you may feel your foster dog is ready for the next step - out of the crate, but with the baby gate up. Monitor this VERY carefully, hanging out at the doorway, petting both dogs and offering praise. Ask them for some sits at the doorway, and upon successful completion, praise and reward their behavior. ONLY give treats when both dogs are being good. This is the step we spent the most time on.
Be prepared for some "doggie disagreements" here - this the first time the dogs have possible access to each other, and they may feel a little intimidated. If you see any aggressive displays, verbally reprimanded BOTH dogs, and send to "time-outs" behind closed doors.
When you have reliable, consistent happy tail wags at the gate and no aggressive displays, you can move on. On your walks, you can allow the dogs to move closer, but still avoid any direct contact.
Step 4: Tie Em Down (Not What You Think!)
Now its time for your foster dog to try a tie-down, but enclose her with an x-pen. You can install a tie-down in the same room the foster dog's crate. This is another closely monitored step, as pit bulls are strong, and we don't want them pulling the eye-hook out of the wall or trying to scale the baby gates!And by now you know the drill: praise and treats for good; take a step back for the bad. Continue walks, allow the dogs to move closer, but still avoid that direct contact! If you think your foster dog is ready, a few short butt-sniffing sessions may be tried here. But remember our aim is success, so don't feel pressured for this step yet!
Step 5: X Marks the Spot
Now un-clip that tie-down, and just let your foster dog hang tough inside the x-pen. Take your time with this step since the next step will be having your dogs out together with no barrier! You need a solid foundation before you continue. Keep a very close eye on body language and extinguish any posturing by either dog and praise appropriate behavior. Continue with the walks and allow some more butt-sniffing, but no face-to-face contact yet.
Step 6: Clip, Calm, Correct
Now switch! Clip your foster dog to a tie down, but no x-pen. This is the most difficult step, but you have worked up to it, and learned a lot about body language in the process. Either dog is likely to be overexcited and rude. There may be attempted humping or dominance displays. But remember CALM, distinct, verbal corrections. Have a water spray bottle handy, for any "tiffs" or for utra-stubborn dogs that may have a tendency to tune you out. Walks may have freer contact, maybe some short face-to-face contact. We're almost there!
Step 7: Nice to Meet You!
Time to let two dogs meet! Leash each dog so you have something to grab if needed, but let the leash drag on the ground. Diffuse any uncomfortable or rude behavior with a pat of your leg, a recall (calling a dog to you), or with obedience exercises. Remember the golden rule of pit bull ownership; DON'T TRUST A PIT BULL NOT TO FIGHT. I.E., never leave them unattended. When you can't be present, remember to utilize the crate that your foster dog has learned is their safe, worry-free zone. And it's worry-free for you too!
The time for this entire process varies. It may take a week. It may take 3. Do not focus on the calendar, and instead on what your training journal tells you. Is it time to go to the next step, or does this step still need work? While it can be hard at times to put off integrating your foster dog into your life fully, the success you’ll enjoy from taking is SLOW is undeniable. Doing it this way will allow you to gradually increase the difficulty of the interaction without putting you in a situation you can't handle.
I believe in our foster parents, our supporters, and most of all I believe in the dogs we pick for our rescue. But what kind of rescue would we be if we only chose perfect dogs? Bella, Honey, and Delilah are not perfect, but truly, who of us is? Today, we need YOU to make a resolution to CHANGE THE LIFE OF A DOG THAT NEEDS YOU ... MOST.
Our next installment: The Truth about Cats and Dogs!