Jake Vernon, 32, was lying in bed in his house in Spokane, Wash. It was the morning of St. Patrick’s Day and he was in pain, his eyes closed. Both his legs had been paralyzed in a car accident a decade ago, and his right leg had been broken in a recent hospital mishap. So he took some medication and that’s when his dog, Gracie Bean, saved his life.
Gracie, an American pit bull terrier, had begun yapping at Jake. She ran to the back door, barking, then ran back to a groggy Jake —who yelled at her.
“I even swatted her a few times and told her to lay down and be good,” he told PEOPLEPets.com in a recent telephone interview.
Finally, he opened his eyes and was horrified to find the bed’s headboard on fire, along with the pillows, blankets and even the bedside table. The smoke alarm was blaring, warning of the blaze that would soon destroy his home.
Wearing only a sweatshirt, Jake grabbed a Snuggie to cover his legs and crawled across the bed. “I dove head first into the wheelchair and landed on the ground and then I had to crawl into the wheelchair,” he says.
Next he faced getting out of his house’s back door, the only one with a wheelchair ramp. With his legs sticking out at odd angles, Jake had trouble navigating the narrow exit. He recalls thinking, “You’d better move your ass right now or you’re not going to have an ass to move.”
So Jake, who plays wheelchair basketball professionally, banged his chair and his unbent legs into walls to straighten himself out. All the while Gracie was calm. “What was so crazy was my dog was not afraid of the fire,” he says. “My dog walked right between me and the fire and stayed right there.”
After he wheeled out with a few minor burns — and gashes on his legs — Jake summoned the fire department (his wife, Michelle, 33, was out that morning). That’s when he saw something else that he’d never witnessed before: People smiling and cooing over his 2-year-old hero pit bull.
“I was seeing a big firefighter, 6-foot-6, and he got down on his hands and knees and hugged that dog with everything he had and he kept saying, ‘This this is the best animal in the world.’ ”
Jake first met Gracie Bean as a puppy. His wife had found her on Craigslist and gave the dog to her husband as a Christmas gift. Gracie had no special training, but Jake later taught her how to push open doors. Little did she know she’d become a rescue dog.
“She is the most spoiled-rottenest dog in the world,” says Jake. “She’s gotten the biggest cheeseburgers, French dip au jus sandwiches, and ice cream!”
Pit bulls are a compact and well-muscled breed, and trying to control one of these strong dogs on a leash can be challenging. Because your pit bull would happily drag you wherever his nose told him to go, it’s important that you take the time to train him how to walk properly on the leash. Not only will this save your arms from a lot of soreness, it will also help your dog make a good impression. Because pit bulls are seen as “bad dogs” by many people, a pit bull that pulls on his leash will automatically be labeled “aggressive” and feared.
Your goal is to get your dog to walk nicely on a leash without having to struggle the whole time and end up exhausted when you get home. He should eventually walk calmly by your side with the leash hanging loosely. In fact, it’s important that you are careful with some collars when leash training your pit bull, because they are strong and have a high tolerance for pain. Your pit bull might ignore the pain he feels as he chokes himself, so he can do severe damage to his throat and lyrnx. Chest harnesses should be used carefully as well because they will give your dog even more leverage to use against you.
Tools to Try
You can try using a head leader / halter to leash train your pit bull, I’ve used them and they work great for minor correction. A head harness connects around the snout and head, transferring the energy to your dog’s neck. This doesn’t hurt him, but it does take away his ability to pull on the leash. Head leaders / halters, such as the Gentle Leader head harness, are a safe and easy way to start training your pit bull to walk on a leash. (be sure to secure your dog with a secondary leash(just use your regular leash) just in case your pup slips out our snaps the lead / halter. I don’t trust them and they aren’t always heavy duty)
Here is a great Leader / Halter Collar on Amazon.
Why Your Pits Pulling & How To Handle It
Chances are your pit bull is pulling because he is excited and wants to hurry forward. His nose and ears are being overloaded with new information, and he wants to be able to investigate everything. Forward momentum is the most powerful weapon you have in your leash training arsenal. When your dog begins to pull, simply stop walking.. He will eventually get the point that pulling the leash is not getting him anywhere. When he returns, reward him with a treat, and then start walking again. As soon as the leash tightens, stop in your tracks and wait for the return. You should never move forward when there is tension on the leash. Your dog should get the idea that a loose leash means progress and a tight leash means that he’s not going anywhere. I can’t stress how important it is to be consistent and PATIENT with this part. It’s more beneficial to walk 50 feet with perfect patience and consistency than to walk a mile… trust me.
Rewarding the Good Behavior… Ignoring the Bad
Make sure you take plenty of treats along with you on your training walks. Rewarding him for walking on a loose leash (or, in the beginning, for letting it go loose at all) will help to reinforce a positive connection between your dog and a loose leash. Don’t scold your dog for pulling, he most likely doesn’t know he is doing anything wrong. When you retaliate by getting mad or angry you are only making it harder on the both of you. I know it is hard, but just be aware of your emotions and take breaks when needed. Leash training a pit bull takes patience, and you need to be willing to stand still until your dog returns to you and lets the leash go loose. This might mean that your walk takes a full half an hour and you only walk one block, but your dog will start to learn and improve. Remember consistency is key, if you are strict one day, and let him do whatever he wants the next, he will never learn.
Here are some great training treats that my dogs love!
Another tactic you can try is to change directions suddenly. If your pit bull is pulling, make a sudden turn. Your dog now has to catch up with you. As he approaches, the leash will loosen and you can reward him. This also teaches him how to pay attention to you during a walk, rather than being so lost in his surroundings that he can’t hear a word you say. Having your dog’s attention at all times is vital on walks. If another dog or person approaches, or if your dog gets off of his leash, you need to know that he will listen to you when you call him back or tell him to sit. Having a dog that doesn’t listen on walks can be dangerous for you, for your dog, for strangers, and for other dogs you might meet. This is especially true in the case of pit bulls because there a lots of people that are terrified of the breed. You can also avoid lawsuits or complaints against your dog, since many people will unfairly interpret any misbehavior on the part of a pit bull as aggression.
Patience is Key
Don’t get frustrated if your pitty is slow to learn how to walk nicely on a leash. Take a few deep breaths and realize that is a learning process for him, and it will take time. This is an essential skill that will help him stay safe and can help him make a good impression on the people you meet along the way. Walking your dog is no fun if it is stressful or painful, but it’s necessary to help the dog expend his extra energy. With some patience and diligent training, you and your dog can enjoy your walks together.
I love reading how to do things, but if I can watch that’s even better. I’ve found a few videos that demonstrate what has been discussed above that I hope will help.
Leash Walking Tips
This is a great video from kikopup on simple training exercises on working with leash training your pit(or any other dog for that matter). She even talks about how to deal with your dog not taking treats due to distractions on walks(happens to me all the time).
Daily walks should be an enjoyable event for you and your dog so keep up the practice and you’ll be a pro in no time!
Physical fitness is an important factor in a dog’s overall health, so it’s necessary for you to help your pit bull get enough exercise. Not only will this help him maintain his target weight and prevent unnecessary health problems, it will give him an outlet for all of his energy (which might otherwise be used to destroy your home). Exercise helps dogs stimulate their minds, which is beneficial for you because a bored pit bull is often a destructive one.
Walks are one of the most important parts of a dog’s exercise routine. Dogs burn calories and energy when they walk, so this simple exercise is a great way to keep your dog in shape. Walks aren’t just for exercise either. When you put your pit bull on his leash, you are taking him away from his usual environment and giving him a chance to explore the larger world. The exposure to new smells, sounds, and sights will give him a chance to exercise his mind as well as his body. An energetic pit bull needs two walks per day. Aim for 20 to 30 minutes for each walk, or, if you prefer, you can take one extra long walk. Keep your pit bull safe on walks by keeping him on his leash at all times, taking your own water along in case he gets thirsty, and wearing reflective gear at night. If you encounter any new dogs on your walk, be sure to watch your dog’s body language for signs that he is getting tense or nervous. If he is, remove him from the situation before a fight starts.
Dogs make great exercise partners, especially if you enjoy running. Pit bulls have high energy and great stamina (if they are in good condition) and will enjoy a brisk jog. Running has the same health benefits for your dog as it does for you – it burns calories quickly and gives his heart a good workout. If you aren’t fond of jogging however, a long walk will do just as well for your pit bull.
You can also try taking your dog for a swim. Many pit bulls love water, though you may have to introduce him to swimming slowly. Take his favorite toy to a pond and toss it into the shallow water so that he only has to wade out to get it. He may pounce happily into the water, or he may be shy about it at first. Stick to shallow waters until your dog gets used to spending time in the water. Once he is comfortable, you can gradually throw the toy into deeper waters until he is forced to swim to retrieve it. It’s important to remember, however, that not all dogs know how to swim instinctively, so it’s a good idea to start out with life jacket on your dog just in case. If your dog enjoys swimming, it will be a great way to get him the exercise he needs! (He might even feel tired afterward. Did you think that was possible?)
Swimming can also count as play time. Play is just as important as walking. When you play games such as fetch and tug-of-war with your dog, he is getting physical exercise while fulfilling his need to engage in predatory behaviors. You’re giving him an outlet for the hunter within, and he will love every minute of it. Games allow your dog to use his instincts and his intelligence while spending time with his human best friend. When you play with your dog, you are helping to strengthen the bond between you while keeping him mentally and physically healthy.
A great option for getting your dog extra exercise is to train him to compete in one of the many available dog sports. These sports are mentally challenging and often physically demanding, and they will keep your dog in good shape and give him a challenge to overcome. They also allow you to reinforce and continue your dog’s training, so he will be the best-behaved dog in the neighborhood. There are a surprising number of sports available; agility, disc-dog Frisbee competitions, dock diving, weight pull, and flyball are all canine sports that your dog can participate in. Pit bulls, with their compact muscles, have been known to excell at weight pull competitions. Your strong pit bull might get extra satisfaction from that particular sport! Some pit bulls have also been known to do extremely well at disc dog, a game in which the handler and the dog perform a choreographed sequence of Frisbee tricks. In fact, if you want to see what your pit bull is capable of, you can check out this link for some great videos: http://www.pitbullunited.com/wallacethepitbull/wallacevids.html.
If you are diligent in making sure that your pit bull gets enough exercise, you will find that he is not only healthier, but that he is more balanced, obedient, and happier. Through walks, jogs, or play, you can enhance your dog’s training, keep him physically fit, and strengthen the ever-growing bond between you. On top of all of that, you might find that you get some exercise of your own along the way!