I know that styles of training tend to always hit phases in popularity, I can't say I necessarily have a mentor or style of training that I adhere to: I started my psyc degree & became fascinated with behaviorism (BF Skinner), so I have used a lot of those principles when teaching Czr, and of course now Via. But I don't limit myself to that; I know behavior can be SO diverse, what worked for Czr may not work for Via, so I take the time to interact with them, remain open and eclectic - if something isn't working, I switch it up. I don't like limiting myself by focusing on a set of instructions because I feel that's often frustrating for all parties involved and not conducive to learning, it almost sets a protocol of "learn this way or fail". If my energy is negative because I feel like I'm slamming into a wall repeatedly, I'm not going to enjoy training and either will my dog. It's not realistic to assume humans will all learn the same way, and I think we underestimate canines if we think that they should.
My best advice for training your dog is to have fun with it, play around & see what gets the best response. I don't believe a step-by-step guide or cookie cutter tutorial will generate anything spectacular unless you are fortunate enough to have it fit seamlessly with your dog. If you enjoy training, it will be more rewarding for both of you. I believe that's what has helped me teach Czr so much: learning is a positive & fun experience. I use praise as a reward: I don’t like encouraging dependency or fixation on food/treats (ironic considering my dog can ask for cookies, I know lol). I want to know my dog will listen even if I don’t have distraction tools accessible.
As for advice for a first time pit bull/bully owner, first and foremost expect your dog is going to act like a dog (crazy concept, huh?), they can be hyper and tenacious (they are not a lazy breed), they require mental and physical stimulation. I believe 6 factors contribute to balanced bullies:
- COMPANIONSHIP - these dogs LOVE to please & be around you, there are no limits with them - they can exceed any of your expectations if you spend the time together. They are not good yard dogs, actually no dog is a good yard dog and having a dog left in a yard is highly associated to human bite-related fatalities (See the National Canine Research Council).
- EXERCISE - running in the yard is not enough, dog parks are not enough. Play is NOT exercise, they will get far more out of structured walks.
- BOUNDARIES - don't get me wrong, I spoil my dogs but there is a lot of behavior I just do not accept & will keep working on it until they learn not to do it: pulling, jumping, barking - people will be quick to judge your dog, these behaviors intimidate when it comes to many large dogs. Sometimes the best thing we can do is keep showing the general public your dog acting BETTER than a dog.
- PURPOSE/JOB - I find my dogs respond well to working programs, it helps stimulate them mentally & direct their natural drive into something positive. Via, for example, started in agility just a few months after getting here, Czr has completed multiple phases of obedience, agility, temperament, executive protection and certification as a service animal. Prey drive isn’t a bad thing, most animals have it - see a small dog going hard on a squeaky toy? What do you think a screaming small toy is mimicking? Just understand it and work on ways to direct it into something you can readily control.
- ROUTINE - it's so simple but most dogs find a lot of comfort in schedules, my dogs know at certain times 2x a day we go out for our walk and it lasts 45 minutes to an hour. If your dog’s energy seems out of control, start applying walking schedules and you might find yourself surprised in the difference that occurs when they know that exercise is coming consistently.
- SOCIALIZATION - teaching your pet to meet other animals or people submissively. I personally don’t allow any rough play, jumping on other dogs, or using mouths. It only takes one dog perceiving that as a challenge to result in an attack. Know your dog's limits and boundaries, its your job to protect them and keep them (as well as others) safe.
I am currently working on a book that will detail more of my specific training techniques and examples, including how I trained Czr. Watch our blog for updates on when that will be available!