In this photo, from left to right, are Daria (from the ACC in NY), Adventures of Dually, Rescued Pit Bully Rags to Riches (from Fitchburg Animal Shelter), Z (from a "woops" litter in Bellingham, MA), Spark Plug (from Lincoln Animal Shelter RI) and Patches (from FAS & Broken Tail Rescue, Inc. in MA). They range in age from 8 months (Daria, the little blue girl) to 5.5 years (Spark).
It gives me great pleasure to share this photo with you, because there was a time that it felt like we might never get there. You see, all these dogs were from different backgrounds, with different social experiences and different temperaments, and one in particular that I talk about all the time, made things particularly challenging.. oh Patches, how I love you, my dear ... Patches came to me completely by accident when my former roommates and I volunteered to meet with the fosters to provide some new insight and at the very least some socialization... That night, Patches came for an overnight with us after making great progress in a matter of minutes with some new techniques, and well... the rest is history!
Not a lot of the general dog-owning public understands the process of maturity in the canine... Just because a dog acts a certain way at a certain age, especially when they are younger, does not mean that that dog is going to STAY behaving that way for life. If we all acted the same way we did when we were 6, 12, 21... oh lordy lordy! Dogs are no different, except things can escalate much faster, because unfortunately for all of us, they are on a shorter timeline than homo sapiens. That being the case, as Patches matured, he showed some truly unnerving behavior toward other dogs. He remained good with the ones that he'd met in his younger stages - 8-9 months or so - but newbies were a challenge, and Patches wasn't in it to "scare" another dog, or "dominate" another dog, but "eliminate" another dog. WHY in the world would I be putting this information out there right now? Because I want to illustrate the point that with understanding, management, an open mind, rehab, the right tools, and the right help... change is possible. Just look at the picture below.
Now, I'm not going to lie to you and say it was all easy. It wasn't. It was really hard, and I definitely cried a time or two, wondering what in the world I was going to do in order to make sure this dog - these dogs - were going to be provided with the greatest life possible after all they had given to me. Aside from all the training with the REST of the pack, Patches needed some special attention, and I utilized everything at my disposal in his overall rehabilitation: muzzles, crates, backpacks, clicker, e collar, obedience training, classes, pack walks, gates. It takes a lot of diligence to solve inter-pack dog-on-dog issues sometimes, and this was a process that took MONTHS, arguably, over a year.
How were we finally successful in achieving the happy result you see in the picture - a picture where 5 pit bulls of unknown ancestry and upbringing are relaxed and snuggled up together on one big couch as a family? I attribute that success to many things, but above all: perseverance, diligence, not giving them the opportunity to "screw up," supervision, the shamelessness in asking for help (even though I'm a professional dog trainer & business owner), exercise and the ability to stay calm in the trenches, which is a skill I had to develop & work on! (Staying "calm" doesn't come naturally to all of us! And that's ok. Think: Progress, Not Perfection! Once you are aware you have something to work on, it gets easier & easier! <--- That is an important concept to recognize in dogs as well... Anything, no matter what it is, gets easier the more they are permitted to practice it, and that holds true whether they are practicing fighting with each other or practicing being calm on the couch after a run. It is largely up to you what you permit your dogs to practice. Trust me on this one!)
In closing, thank you for taking the time to read this, and if it helped you, or would help someone else, feel free to share it. This is a HAPPY story, not a "sob" one: we (me and my beloved pack) have a very close, happy, peaceful, balanced, stable, FUN life together now - ALL of us - and I'd like to take this opportunity to say, if you are experiencing issues like I did, reach out to Higher Expectations Dog Training & Behavior Modification or your local bada** trainer. DON'T give up. If you have enough dedication and are humble enough to ask for help - and ACCEPT the help - you can do it.
Happy training, and can I get a "WOOP WOOP!" for Patches and his crew!
***Special thank you to Kelly Stevens, Nick Dodge & Janan Braley for making this story possible.***