Proper socialization is important for all dogs, but in the case of pit bulls, with their genetic predisposition for dog aggression and the negative image placed on them by the media, it is an absolute necessity. While not all pit bulls are aggressive toward other animals, socialization can help reduce the risk that your dog might become aggressive due to fear or stress. It will also help your dog remain happy and confident, and help him live a life without fear.
Ideally, socialization should begin at a young age, when the pit bull is still just a puppy. Don’t worry if you have adopted an older dog, however. You can still help him become accustomed to the various circumstances he will find himself in. In fact, many people argue that adopting an adult pit bull from a shelter is a much more accurate way of determining if your dog will show any dog aggression. Shelters will not put aggressive animals up for adoption, but young puppies can develop such tendencies as they get older. Regardless of whether your dog is a puppy or an adult, it is important to begin introducing him into a variety of situations as soon as you possibly can.
The first thing you should remember about socializing your dog is to take it slow. Dogs of any breed can become nervous in new situations, so it’s important to take it easy and let your dog become comfortable at his own pace. Don’t just throw him into the deep end and expect him to swim! When you introduce your dog to a new situation, keep a close watch on his behavior. If he starts to appear tense or nervous, it’s time to take a break and move him away from the situation. Introduce him to it again later on.
Introduce your dog into as many different situations as you can think of. Pit bulls are actually bred to be very friendly with humans, and you can encourage this by showing your dog off to all of your friends. Let him meet a variety of people wearing a variety of things. Tall people, large people, redheads, brunettes, glasses, hats, mustaches – he needs exposure to all of these things. It would be a good idea to ask some of your friends to bring umbrellas along when they meet your dog, so that he can learn not to fear these as well. Be creative, and try to think of the types of people your dog might see on the street. It would be a good idea to introduce your dog to children as well, but make sure you supervise the dog and the children at all times. Young children especially like to pull ears and tails, so it’s important that you pay attention to your dog’s body language, and separate him from the children if he looks as if he’s reached his limit. You should keep all of your dog’s meetings with other people as positive as possible. Start out with quiet, low key encounters and gradually allow him to witness you and your friends at your rowdiest. Always reward your dog for not acting fearful. If he stays calm and relaxed, give him a treat and praise.
It is also a good idea to take your dog into as many different locations and around as many different modes of transportation as possible. Dogs can be spooked by cars, bikes, skateboards, or any other type of vehicle, and the more positive exposure they have to these things the less fearful they will be. Keep treats on hand to reward your dog for staying calm. Try not to reinforce negative behavior by consoling or comforting him when he acts afraid. Simply move on, or remove him from the situation. When he shows no signs of fear, reward and praise him. This will allow him to make a positive connection with the situation. Taking your dog to parks, cities, beaches, or any other place you can think of will help you expose him to a wide variety of situations, people, vehicles, and objects. But remember to keep him on a leash at all times. As you get to know the dog you will come to trust him, but other people may not feel the same, especially since people tend to get nervous around a pit bull. Be courteous and play it safe by keeping your dog on the leash. This will help you avoid trouble if any unexpected situations arise.
As mentioned (and contrary to popular belief), pit bulls are actually very friendly toward humans and strangers. They love being around people. The same is not always true about other dogs. It’s important to socialize your pit bull with other dogs, but you should do so carefully. Pit bulls were often bred for use in dog fights, so many of them have a genetic inclination to be aggressive toward other animals. Dog aggression can vary greatly between individual dogs, and can change throughout a pit bull’s lifetime. Your dog may not show any signs of dog aggression, or he may bristle, snarl, and lunge at every dog he sees. These are two extremes, of course, and your dog might show dog aggression only in certain circumstances or with certain other dogs. While he may be reluctant to attach another dog, he won’t necessarily back down from a challenge either. So it’s important to be careful when exposing your pit bull to other dogs. If you get your dog as a puppy, it would be a great idea to take him to puppy classes, where he will have a chance to play with other puppies in a controlled environment. This will help him get used to other dogs at an early age. You can also try introducing your pit bull to other dogs in a neutral area, and always on a leash. Never simply throw two dogs together or leave them alone. Pit bulls are capable of doing severe damage to other dogs and any unpleasant encounter can lead to more dog aggression in the future. It is also a good idea to avoid places such as dog parks, where large numbers of dogs are running free. Any breed of dog can become nervous or aggressive if it feels threatened, especially in the presence of multiple other dogs. Know your dog’s limits and what circumstances are likely to spark aggression, and you will be able to safely allow your pit bull to interact with other dogs.
Don’t be nervous about socializing your pit bull because of his breed. Remember that he is likely to be very friendly with strangers, unless he feels he has reason to fear them. Introducing him to a wide variety of people and circumstances will help build his confidence and reduce the chances of him developing aggression in the future.