(Part of an ongoing series of posts about my life as the new daddy of Otto, the rescue pitbull mix.)
What it is about bringing new toys home to your dog that is so enjoyable?
I suppose just the happiness it brings you to see them enjoying themselves.
With Otto it has also been waiting to see whether he would sniff it, taste it and then walk away bored no matter how much you tried to get him to become interested in most toys.
Otto is a bit of toy snob. He just can’t be bothered with balls (boring!) and the kinds of toys for which many dogs go nuts. He won’t chase anything on its own. Throw a ball and he looks the other way.
He likes stuffed toys with squeakers, but has the stuffing and squeaker removed so quickly that I stopped getting them for him.
It is said by many who love them that it is an almost universal trait that pibbles love to play tug-of-war and this is definitely Otto’s favorite game. Whether it’s with a rope or strip of canvas (or his leash when I am trying to walk him) he never tires of any kind of tug of war.
So I keep my eye out for different kinds of rope toys which look solid enough and have some sort of rubber ball or similar object attached with which he can occupy himself.
I ran across this one today which is almost all rope. He loves it.
Chewing is one of the major reasons why dogs are given up for adoption or abandoned, so if you can learn to constructively deal with the problem you’ve won a major battle.
I knew this about dogs, but did not realize how central giving them things to chew on (some breeds more than others) is to their well-being and happiness.
This toy bills itself as virtually indestructible. We’ll see. I’ll give it less than an hour before Otto has it at least partially destroyed. The only thing he never eventually destroys is his rubber Kong.
Such is life with a beloved pibble!
$12.99 at Target! Don’t spend too much on most toys unless they have stellar reviews on, say, Amazon where many people say they last a long time.
(Another in a series on my life as a first-time owner of a rescue pit bull.)
When I first adopted Otto from Chicago Animal Care and Control (CACC), the Chicago municipal shelter, I bought a harness for him and it turned out to be a bit of disaster on walks.
Otto was a problem dog on walks. He was not socialized well. He lunged at everything. Other dogs. Adults. And, most frightfully, little children. He was also a terrible ambassador for pit bulls, only reinforcing in the minds of all we met on his walks that pit bulls were scary dogs. (Any dog can be scary if they are not socialized well, BTW.)
I thought a harness would give me more control and calm him down, but that is not the way the harness worked in the real world. Just as with a plain old collar, Otto pulled and tugged and struggled to get at other people and dogs while wearing a harness. The harness gave me some measure of control over him which exceeded a plain collar, but did not seem to lessen the lunging behavior. Its advantage over a choke collar seemed to be only that: he was not choking himself while lunging. But walks were still a headache for Otto and me, and scary for my neighbors.
Reluctantly, I considered a training collar, which is a collar with (in my case) smooth plastic teeth which face a dog’s neck. So while the collar is designed not to close past a certain point so as to choke a dog, the teeth do dig into a dog’s neck if they pull too hard. Some “dog people” oppose them reflexively. But if you have a dog with whom you lose control because of aggressive behavior, you run the risk of that dog being labeled as vicious (or worse) and the authorities in Chicago will take that dog away.
It worked. And it’s been working since I first put it on him. After a short time he adjusted to it and just never pulled past a certain point. Otto started to find his equilibrium on walks. He still pulled, but pulled less all the time.
Today, five months later, I decided to switch Otto’s training collar for that harness I bought. We went on our longest walk ever.
He was great. Never lunged one time at anyone and walked in the same relaxed, controlled manner that he showed when he had been walking with the training collar.
An added thing to celebrate: when I first adopted Otto he was so skinny! Life in a shelter did not agree with him, I suspect because he was not getting the 24-hour loving he craves so much. The harness I bought was too loose even when it was adjusted to its smallest size.
Today the harness fit perfectly (as you can see from the above photo) and my little voracious eater has grown so much I hadn’t even noticed until I put the formerly too loose harness on him. In fact, I may need to buy a harness a size larger as he is almost to the point of outgrowing this one.
Patience and consistency in training. Those are the keys to life with a happy, loving pit bull.
Keep at it. Don’t give up. If I can do it, you can, too.
I adopted my rescue dog Otto on Sept. 26. It’s now nearly two months later.
They had almost no information about him when I did so. It turns out he was a mess of behavioral problems. He lunged at everything, dogs and people. He nipped at people who tried to pet him. He attacked any dog that approached him. He was not housebroken. At all.
Walks were a draining, frightening tedium of watching his every move and dragging him away from people and other dogs so much that he was choking. He almost bit a child. Had I not pulled him back at the last second he would have gotten the hand of my 90-year-old neighbor as he walked by in the hallway.
He took treats and played so aggressively he bit my hands a couple of times so hard he broke the skin. He nipped my legs so hard he left bruises.
It was so bad I had moments where I was not sure I could do it. I love him so much, but I just got out of the hospital after six weeks. Was I risking my health through the stress of constantly dealing with an aggressive, untrained dog?
Were all the negative things they said about pit bulls true?
It turns out the logical things they say about pit bulls are also true: They are how you train and treat them. If they are untrained or not treated properly, they can be as terrible as any other dog, Or worse because pibbles have such powerful jaws and muscular bodies.
With a lot of love, huge amounts of patience and a few times when I lost my temper and really yelled at Otto, things changed slowly.
So I thought I would share how this all happened so if you are experiencing a problem dog or are thinking of adopting, my experience might help you.
Aggression toward people and lunging at them
He is much better. Otto can now be walked on a loose leash and mostly ignores strangers when they walk by. As long as they don’t stop and talk to me or him.
Still needs a bit of work on this. But he is getting there.
Aggression toward other dogs
Better. Good, not great. I’d say about half the time he ignores other dogs unless the dog is very big or barks/growls at us.
Much more work needed.
These two things — aggression toward people and dogs — were partially mastered by treats. It sounds simple, but I read on some respectable web sites that the best way to train was to first teach him a command tied to treats.
We started with “Sit!”
Once he tied treats with “Sit!” in his mind, every time he showed any aggression toward people or dogs on a walk, I stopped him, gave the command “Sit!” and gave him a treat. By the time he was done munching on the treat, the other dog or person was gone.
Eventually it started working, first needing the command “Sit!” and eventually just ignoring most people and some dogs without any command or treat at all.
It supposedly has something to do with taking the negative connotations in a dog’s mind and replacing them with a positive one.
This can be maddening, especially if you have an easy gag reflex when cleaning up dog poop. (Like I do.)
No overt punishment when I caught him relieving himself in the house. Just the command “no” and a trip outside. No punishment at all if I didn’t actually see him make a mistake on the floor. That just confuses dogs because they are not quite sure what they are being punished about. No rubbing of his nose in it EVER. No hitting EVER. Dogs respond best to something they learn makes you happy with them.
Every time he urinated or defecated outside, he was praised profusely and given a treat. This also took time; nearly two months of consistent praise and rewards. It didn’t seem to be working at first, but now every time he poops he sits and looks up at me for a treat. This has the added benefit of him pooping and peeing much faster after we go outside, after which we can concentrate on making the walk more enjoyable for both of us.
Walks were a chore. By the end we were both frustrated. Now he walks on the leash with his head up and tail wagging, This has made a huge difference in our daily routines.
Biting while taking treats
He was so intent on getting the treat that my hand wasn’t even part of his thinking. So instead of offering it in my fingers, I offered it in a completely open palm, which forced him to think about my hand being there. That took care of most of the problem almost immediately.
Now we are concentrating on taking a treat from my fingers. If he lunges for the treat with his mouth, the treat is pulled back and I say, “Gentle.” He doesn’t get the treat until he takes it gently. Or gentle-ish.
Still more work on this. My fingers are scraped by teeth sometimes, but at least they are not bleeding or sore.
This has taken the most time. He still starts biting almost immediately if I start to roughhouse with him using my hands, especially outside. So I stopped using my hands.
No play whatsoever unless I have something in my hands; a stick or a pull rope. Anything but just my hand. If he nips or chews body parts at all under any circumstances now he is given a firm “No bite!” command. He now switches to a lick after a couple of “No Bite!” commands.
The only exception to this is he gently nibbles the tips of my fingers when he needs to go outside.
So there it is. It was tough. It was ugly at times. I felt ashamed the few times I really yelled at him and the only way I could get him to calm down afterward was to pick him up and rock him like a baby.
But now our walks are fun. I actually look forward to them and so does he.
Inside my apartment I spend less time correcting him and more time bonding.
Given time and patience and love, you can also have a dog that is a joy to be around.
Be consistent and don’t give up.
Another thing: everyone fancies themselves a dog expert. They are all well-intentioned. Some of them are correct. And some of their advice is downright loony. (I had one guy show me this weird thing he does tying his leash down and over and around a dog’s torso and legs that he swears cures lunging behavior. It was so complicated I thought perhaps he had a rope fetish.)
Do your research online on some respectable web sites and decide on a course of action after you’ve done that.
This is the story of how Otto my rescue dog came into my life.
I was at the Chicago municipal animal shelter looking at dogs and cats. Otto was in his cage; alone, withdrawn and not responding at all when I first sat down to talk to him on the floor next to his cage. He just stared at me with those adorable eyes and that funny tongue hanging from his mouth.
After about 20 minutes of this he finally walked over close enough for me to scratch his ear. Just close enough for a one-finger scratch and only for a few seconds. Finally, he leaned against the cage for the first time and let me give him a good scratch behind the ears. (Although if I moved my entire body at all he would pull away, frightened.)
I asked the staff if I they could take him out so I could spend some time with him. I said, “This dog just needs someone who understands him.” They agreed completely and they walked Otto outside to one of the meet-and-greet pens.
He was skittish but curious about this stranger who had been sweet talking him for about an hour.
After a while he came over and, without looking at me, sat down and put his head on my leg.
I was in love.
It’s been a week since I brought him home and he is a new dog. Still fretful at times and definitely scared when I take him outside. But inside my apartment he basically owns the place. He is my constant shadow unless he is sleeping in his new bed — which he loves.
He is ill-mannered and prone to willful bad behavior. He will require a lot of work and possibly obedience classes. He doesn’t understand no and doesn’t care if you tell him not to put his face in the garbage or don’t nip your ankles when you are walking (his favorite game right now). He is not housebroken yet, so he needs to be walked a lot.
But he is the most cuddly wonderful presence I have ever had in my life.
He loves his bed, but he is happiest when he is sleeping next to you in bed or on the couch. He loves to cuddle so much he tries to get as much of his body touching yours as possible before he falls asleep. Sometimes he falls into a deep dream-filled doggy sleep when he has simply draped his head over my neck or on my chest while I read my Kindle or watch TV.
I think of all the people who might have overlooked Otto in the adoption center because he was so withdrawn or his messy little tongue was always out. They have no idea what they passed up in this little rambunctious, sweet bundle of unconditional love.
(One more thing: I have started volunteering at Chicago Animal Care and Control or CACC. This is the official name of the Chicago municipal animal shelter. I’ve been so impressed by them after adopting two animals I wanted to help them out in any way I can. CACC has an impossible job dealing with over 17,000 stray, injured or abused animals every year. They deserve all the support they can get.)