10 Commandments Of Pit Bull Ownership

10 Commandments Of Pit Bull Ownership

Pit bulls are the greatest dogs out there (not that I’m biased!).  However, there are some commandments that must be followed to responsibly own them and keep them safe.

Thou shalt not flaunt BSL and breed bans

Many politicians and communities automatically assume that the only people who would want pit bull are criminals and thugs.  So let’s help ameliorate that false theory by obeying the laws.  This starts by not moving with your pit bull into a city or HOA-run neighborhood that bans pit bulls.  Is this discrimination fair?  No, of course not.  But flaunting the laws to try to “prove” you have a good pit bull just backfires by showing that pit bull owners are indeed law-breakers.  Do the research necessary to find safe and appropriate housing where you and your pit bull can live in peace.  If you move into an area that requires muzzling or extra insurance, do it.  Fight the good fight by educating people whilst obeying the law.  Is making a point by flaunting BSL or breed bans worth endangering your dog’s life?

Thou shalt keep your pit bull on leash

Leash laws are abundant throughout most of the country, and there is a reason for this.  Dogs, being animals, often do stupid things such as run after cars or chase deer or go bounding up to other dogs and their owners.  No matter how well trained your pit bull is, I always advise keeping your dog on leash unless you are in a safely enclosed area.  Especially with a pit bull, should your dog go cheerfully chasing after wildlife or another dog, you run the risk of your dog being labeled vicious, a nuisance, dangerous, getting shot by somebody, and/or making a news headline.  Again, is it fair?  No, but it is what it is.  Don’t risk your dog’s safety.  Put them on a 100′ longline (that you are holding onto) if you cannot find an enclosed area for them to play and run.

Thou shalt not use shoddy/weak/ill-fitting equipment

Most pet stores carry super cute collars.  However, most of those super cute collars have flimsy little plastic buckles.  Unless you are NEVER planning on hooking a leash onto the collar, or having to grab that collar in an emergency, don’t buy a flimsy collar.  It is imperative that our dogs be vested out in solid, safe equipment.  Make sure all hardware is metal.  I recommend avoiding even metal snap collars.  Instead, get a nice wide metal buckle collar, or a nice martingale.  Just because you want sturdy doesn’t mean you can’t have pretty, too!  There are plenty of options for solid yet fun and attractive collars.

Wide, metal buckle collar and well-fitting harness.

This applies to harnesses, too.  I’m a huge proponent of harnesses, even for dogs who walk nicely on leash.  You just never know when your dog (dogs being impulsive creatures!) will decide to lunge after a squirrel.  I like to avoid any pressure on Inara’s trachea, so she is always walked on a harness.  There are many shoddy harnesses out there that are made poorly and/or do not fit dogs well.  You want a harness that is, of course, solidly made and will hold your dog safely.  You want one that will not hinder shoulder mobility, as many front-clip harnesses do (there are exceptions!).  Since most of our pit bulls are pretty thin-skinned and thin-furred under their armpits and bellies, it is important that the harness not chafe them.

Thou shalt invest in force-free training for your pit bull

Yay for dog school!

Pit bulls are incredibly intelligent dogs that love bonding to their people and learning new tricks.  Often, if they are not given things to do, they will entertain themselves, which never ends well!  Training classes are an excellent way to ensure you have a well-behaved dog that is appropriate to take in public and do fun things with, as well as an awesome way to bond with your dog.  Make sure you find a place that uses only force-free training methods.  If your dog has behavioral issues already, using punishment can temporarily suppress the behavior, but it may backfire in the long run when the behavior rears its ugly head again, worse than before.  Teach your dog with fun and treats – we want our dogs to WANT to work with us, not be afraid NOT to work with us.

Thou shalt not take your pit bull to doggy daycares or dog parks

Many pit bulls are great with other dogs.  However, daycares and dog parks are filled with unruly, rude dogs.  Why expose your dog to that?  And though many pit bulls won’t start a fight, many will happily join in should a scuffle ensue.  And guess whose dog gets blamed then?  The pit bull is always the easy scapegoat, whether they were responsible or not.  And on the other hand, many of us have dogs that are very well-behaved on leash but would happily start a rumble just for the sake of fun.  Which dog do you have?  Are you willing to bet your dog’s life (or another dog’s life?) that your dog won’t start/finish something?  Another thing to keep in mind is that often our dogs are really great with other dogs when they are younger, but as they begin going through sexual or social maturity, their tolerance may drop.  I remember clearly the day Inara “turned on.”  I’m lucky she didn’t kill another dog.  It’s not worth the risk.  It’s JUST. NOT. WORTH. IT.  Find a doggy friend and do playdates one-on-one in a safely enclosed area.

Thou shalt feed a good diet

Due to rampant overbreeding that is more concerned with color and head size than with health and temperament, many pit bulls these days have horrible skin issues.  Many of these can be alleviated by feeding a high-quality, single protein kibble.  I advocate for a raw diet, though I realize that is not for everybody.  Another benefit of feeding a high quality diet is that you end up feeding less of it because there are no fillers.  And do you know what feeding less food means?  Less poop!  You may also want to consider adding supplements such as fish oil, probiotics if your dog is gassy (though often a diet change can fix this), and other things to aid in joint and skin health.  Talk to your vet or local natural pet store owner about options.

Along with diet, I’m going to add in here how crucial it is to keep your pit bull at a healthy weight.  Your dog should have a nice tucked up belly, and when you look down from above them, you should see a clearly defined waist.  They should have good muscle tone.  Many people claim their fat dogs are “all muscle.”  MUSCLE DOESN’T JIGGLE, my friends.  With as prone to joint/CCL issues as our dogs are, it behooves us to keep them fit and trim and muscular.  These dogs are natural athletes – help them be so safely!

Thou shalt not leave your pit bull unsupervised with children or other animals

As stated above, many pit bulls are great with other dogs.  Many, such as Inara, happily live with cats and/or other critters.  And the vast majority are fantastic with people and children.  However, it is recommended that you never leave your pit bull unsupervised with other animals, even those they happily live with.  I can tell you many a story of pit bulls who happily grew up and lived with other dogs or cats for years, until one day there was a vicious fight and people came home to massive bloodshed.  Or came home to a dead cat.  Dogs are impulsive creatures and sometimes they do stupid things, such as decide that THIS PARTICULAR PIECE OF FUZZ needs to be guarded from their housemates.  All it takes is one time to come home to a seriously injured or killed pet.  One time.

Happy family, but Inara is still always crated when I leave.

Regarding children, most of our dogs love kids.  However, many of our dogs (I’m looking at you, Inara!) don’t know their own strength, are rude, and will accidentally knock children over in their exuberance to greet them and play with them.  Also, very much like dogs, children are impulsive and often do stupid things.  They need to be monitored to ensure they are not doing things that could make your dog uncomfortable or frightened.  We cannot expect our dogs to be saints.  They are living creatures that feel fear and pain and will defend themselves.

Thou shalt always set your dog up to succeed

So often when we get a dog, we envision all the fun things we will do with them – doggy sports, festivals, outdoor eateries, parties, etc.  All the fun things!  But dogs are individuals, and just as some people are not social butterflies, neither are some dogs.  Learn about canine body language so you can see the subtle signs that your dog is uncomfortable.  Then, LISTEN TO THOSE SIGNS.  Dogs (in general) display many signals before they progress to actual biting.  The problem is that people either ignore or don’t understand those signals.  If your dog is not 100% thrilled meeting new people and being in loud places, don’t take them to a noisy festival.  If your dog is hesitant about people coming in the house, put them in a closed room with a tasty treat when guests come over.  If your dog isn’t fond of other dogs, engaging in sports that require many dogs out and moving at once isn’t fair to your dog.  None of these make your dog a bad dog.  Work with your dog, and do some training to help them learn to be more comfortable, but ALWAYS respect their needs and boundaries.

Thou shalt not deny the history of the APBT

Many people want to claim that pit bulls were only used for farm work and never bred for combat with other dogs.  But they earned their name, American PIT Bull Terrier, by pit fights with other dogs.  They were bred for tenacity and a never quit attitude.  Though pit fighting is obviously a horrid “sport,” it helped create the amazing dogs we love today.  Their compact, muscular bodies.  Their willingness to try anything.  Their tolerance of most handling.  It also means that many of them still carry those genetics that make them want to tangle with other dogs.  Just because dog aggression isn’t being actively bred FOR these days (in most cases), it’s also not actively being bred AGAINST.

Also, just a note:  Pit bulls were never called the nanny dog.  I’m not sure where this myth originated, but it doesn’t help us be good advocates for our dogs when we make up things like this.  Our dogs are awesome as is – why do we need to make up stupid, false titles for them?

Thou shalt treat your pit bull as a beloved member of the family

This one doesn’t really need an explanation, does it?  These dogs love us – let’s treat them the same way, shall we?

Boarding A Raw-Fed Dog

Boarding A Raw-Fed Dog

Finding a reputable boarding facility you trust with your dog is difficult even in the most “normal” of situations.  We all love our dogs and want them treated with the same care and respect we give them.  But if you are a raw feeder, you may find extra difficulties in finding an appropriate place to board.

Things To Ask About

Are they able and willing? Many boarding facilities have not been approached about boarding a raw-fed dog before, so you may need to do some education.  You will want to verify they have enough freezer/refrigerator space for your dog’s meals.  Many do not have full-size refrigerators and that can immediately knock 100_4553them out of the running, especially if it will be for more than an overnight.  Some people are just very squeamish about raw meat or the idea of raw-feeding so they may just flat-out refuse.

What are their vaccination requirements?  Many raw-feeders practice a reduced vaccination schedule, while many boarding facilities require increased vaccinations such as proof of a bordatella vacc within the past six months.  You will need to be upfront and honest about whatever vaccinations you do or do not have administered to your dog and see if they are willing to work with you.  Some facilities will accept proof of titer levels for the main vaccinations, but you may not be able to get around the bordatella requirements.  You need to determine if you are willing to give that for the sake of boarding, or continue looking.

Will they supervise meals?  Even experienced raw-fed dogs should be supervised while eating.  All it takes is a second for a dog to inhale too much food and start choking.  I’m sure most of us have been there and had that momentary panic!  Usually dogs can hork it back up of their own volition (and then promptly re-eat it, because dogs are gross!), but I know I’ve had to assist once with Inara when she choked.  You want to make sure that the kennel is willing to hang out for a few minutes and monitor your dog’s meals.  Many kennels don’t have time to do this, so it’s important to ask and emphasize the importance of it.

Are they willing to dole out supplements?  I know that Inara’s meals take longer to prepare due to all the supplements I give her.  If you give your dog a lot of supplements, especially some that require mixing or careful measuring of powders, you need to find out if the kennel is willing to do supplement prep for your dog’s meals.

Reasonable Accommodations

As you are requesting a lot of extra work above and beyond what boarding facilities generally offer, it is reasonable to offer to make things as easy as possible for the kennel.  Here are some ideas that you can and should offer to do:

  • Pre-portioned meals: Instead of expecting the kennel to divvy up and weigh out your dog’s meal portions, have them all separated and pre-bagged.  This enables the kennel to simply thaw the bag, open it, and dump it out.
  • Have some pre-thawed:  If you are going to be gone for any length of time, you will be providing most of the meals already frozen.  However, make sure you have at least one or two thawed and ready to go so the kennel doesn’t need to make an effort to get them thawed in time for a meal.
  • Have supplements bagged individually: Along with pre-portioned meals, have supplements pre-portioned so they can just dump and go.  Alternately, if your dog can skip supplements while you’re gone, that may be easiest.  Especially if they require special mixing with hot water and stirring/preparation.
  • Provide less complex meals: Instead of sending time-intensive meals that your dog would labor over for quite some time (thoroughly enjoying him/herself though!), send meals that your dog can eat more quickly.  Minimal bone or softer, easily consumed bones.  Since you are requesting that the kennel supervise meals, help them out by ensuring they are not out of commission with your dog for an hour.

No Luck?

If you are unable to find a facility that will accommodate your requests, that you are comfortable using, AND that you can afford (boarding is expensive!), you might want to consider bringing in a house sitter.  These are a great option, and what I do now for Inara and the cats.  Get referrals from friends and make sure you are 100% comfortable with them having free access to your house.

What issues have you run into when finding a boarding facility, and how did you resolve them?  Tell us!

Be Your Dog’s Advocate

Be Your Dog’s Advocate

Facebook’s “On This Day” feature can sometimes be good for a laugh when you look back and see how much you might have changed in the past few years, both in appearance and personality.  However, sometimes it can bring back some very unpleasant memories.  Over Christmas, I was getting some of those unpleasant memories rehashed.

Two years ago, end-of-December 2013, Inara became incredibly ill.  It started slowly, with some vomiting, slight lethargy, and reluctance to eat.  Before this time, Inara had refused a meal once in her life.  Once.  And she’d had a partial impaction.  She doesn’t miss meals.  So I ended up taking Inara to the e-vet one night after she’d refused a meal and vomited several times.  Because she’s had a partial impaction before, I immediately asked about x-rays.  The e-vet said bloodwork would be a better use of my money (even though I clearly said up front that money was no issue).   The e-vet didn’t feel anything during palpations, and the bloodwork was only slightly “off,” so he figured it was just an upset tummy and we got sent home with a lot of meds and recommendations to feed Pepcid with meals for a while.

For several days, she seemed improved a little.  She began eating some and vomiting less, and her energy slightly increased.  But then she started going downhill again.  I was in a tough spot at this point because I was in between vets.  So I went to a vet that has a great reputation and accepts walk-in clients.  I requested a specific vet who works there but didn’t get her.  So the vet walks into the room and because it was a new person, Inara got perkier and wigglier.  Not anywhere near her normal “OMG there’s a new person who is going to touch me so I’m going to snap in half by wriggling so hard” self, but energetic enough that most people would think she was fine.  So not only did I have to explain Inara’s symptoms, but also try to convince this vet that this was not full energy by Inara standards.  I again suggested x-rays and/or bloodwork and was blown off.  We left with more antibiotics.

Gaunt, mid-issue.
Gaunt face, mid-issue.

Once again, Inara was fine for several days and then she started drinking excessively.  She is a dog that will happily stay in bed for 24 hours if I don’t drag her out to go pee, but now she was waking me up 1-2 times a night to race her outside to pee.  Worried about a UTI from all her antibiotics, we went back to the walk-in vet.  Once again, I requested a specific vet but we got the same vet from last time.  Inara is generally between 50-52 lbs, but at this point she had lost 4 lbs in 10 days.  Almost 10% of her body weight in 10 days.  Once again, no x-rays or bloodwork, even though I requested them.  Just more antibiotics in case she had a UTI, even though her urine specimen showed no issues.

Just a few days later we were back at the walk-in vet.  Inara’s vomiting had returned and she was obviously in pain, hunched, lethargic, and not eating at all.  Her face had sunk in.  I was a wreck.  I was watching my dog die and couldn’t get answers.  This time at the vet, I got the owner.  He took one glance at Inara, listened to my (crying) story and pleas for help, and said, “I’m not going to waste any time looking at her.  She needs to see a specialist.”  We got an appointment with the internal medicine specialist the following day.

At this point, Inara was down 6 pounds in 2 1/2 weeks.  More than 10% of her body weight was gone.  As a dog that carries minimal extra body fat, she was gaunt.  The internal medicine specialist had zero bedside manner, but he listened, took notes, looked at Inara’s prior vet records, and truly seemed to believe this was serious.  He said he wanted to do a x-rays or an ultrasound and then do any necessary surgery.  I had to leave Inara there, with this specialist I’d butted heads with, honestly not knowing if I would see Inara alive again.  It was truly serious.  Thank god my best friend had gone with me because I was a sobbing mess walking out that door, walking away from my dog.

I waited by my phone, answering calls of people checking on me but holding my breath to see the specialist’s number pop up.  And then it did.  The specialist said he’d seen something on the x-rays in Inara’s abdomen, and he wasn’t sure what it was.  He wanted to try getting it out via endoscopy instead of opening her up.  He said he would call after the endoscopy, or after the surgery if the endoscope couldn’t get it out.  There are no words to describe that wait – was Inara in surgery?  Had he gotten the item?  Was she going to make it?  I burst into tears when the phone rang, not knowing if I was going to get good news or bad news.

IMG_1989IMG_1988It was good.  The specialist had managed to get a large piece of sharp metal out of Inara’s stomach via endoscope, no surgery necessary.  I could pick her up in a couple hours.

From our best guesses, Inara had ingested a piece of lead shot from her venison.  Though all of her venison is bow-killed, this deer must have been shot before and survived.  So she had a large piece of lead bouncing around her belly for about three weeks.

1497713_679546675399251_1070701466_n (1)
The specialist’s clinic posted this on their FB page – Inara during her endoscopy, being very well cared for.
Bruised little leg, post-IV.

After that was removed, Inara had an amazingly quick recovery.  Within a couple days she was back to being bouncy and playful and happy to eat.  Her bloodwork follow-ups showed she did have some lead poisoning going on, so that was monitored and never caused her any further issues.

So what’s the point of me telling this story?  Simply this – be an advocate for your dog.  It kills me to know that Inara’s issues could have been resolved that first night when I took her to the e-vet if I had just pushed harder for x-rays.  But it’s normal for us to quiet down and not push when the professionals are telling us something isn’t necessary.  So many people complain about the price of veterinary care that often vets do everything they can to keep from running tests that might be “unnecessary.”  Even though at every vet appointment I emphasized I didn’t care about cost, I just wanted answers, I was still told, “no, that’s not necessary yet.  Let’s wait and see.”  Only it WAS necessary.  Inara nearly died.  My dog nearly DIED because I didn’t push hard enough when I was blown off.

Obviously it is important that you find a vet you trust and establish a good working relationship before something arises.  But you also need to do your own homework and listen to your gut.  Nobody knows your dog like you do.  You are the only one who knows all those little quirks, or different degrees of excitement or tiredness that might indicate an issue.  Don’t be afraid to push and demand specific tests.  What is more important, the e-vet thinking you’re a nice person, or your dog’s life?

Sick Inara vs. Healthy Inara
Sick Inara vs. Healthy Inara

Dear “normal dog” owners…

Dear “normal dog” owners…

An event last night prompted this.  Not a huge, catastrophic event.  Just something small and annoying that is happening more frequently.  Inara and I were out for a walk with some friends and their dogs.  We were getting ready for our final lap around the park when a woman with two German Shepherds unhooked their leashes and started throwing a ball for them.  Hardly a crisis, the dogs seemed very well-mannered and focused on their ball.  The problem was that this was in an on-leash only park.  Inara started barking because, though she’s come so very far, two large sprinting dogs is still too much for her.  So we had to cut our walk short.  As I dragged Inara back to my car, I called across the park to remind the woman that leashes are required.  I found out later from my walking buddies that after I left, she told them that apparently her dogs weren’t the issue – mine was the one acting aggressive.  Hence, this letter:

Dear “normal dog” owners,

As somebody who doesn’t own a reactive dog, I understand that you don’t get why your well-behaved dogs can’t be allowed to run free.  I mean, they’re not hurting anybody, right?  I’m not going to lie, I’m sometimes jealous of people like you who can let their dogs run and play off leash.  The problem isn’t that your dogs are running off leash.  The problem is that they are running off leash in an area designated as on-leash only.

For those of us with reactive dogs, these leash-required areas are sometimes the only place we can safely walk our dogs.  Neighborhoods can be scary because of off-leash dogs in yards.  Dog parks are obviously out of the question.  So a lovely park, in my neighborhood, that requires leashes on dogs?  Perfect!

But when you bring your off leash dogs into what is supposed to be my dog’s safe haven, even though they are well-behaved, it can push her past her threshold and set her training back.  We’ve worked very hard, and the fact that she can happily and calmly walk within a group of (leashed) dogs is still mind-blowingly awesome to me.  So it’s incredibly frustrating when I have to cut my walk with friends short because you are thoughtlessly letting your dogs run free and it’s getting my dog worked up beyond fixing, to the point that she looks like the bad guy in the situation.

I’m simply asking that you have some consideration for those of us who cannot utilize the many dog parks and open areas where dogs are SUPPOSED to run off leash.  Please let us keep our on-leash areas safe for our reactive, leash-required dogs.  Someday, if you have a reactive dog, you’ll understand.


The owner of a “special needs” dog


Just A Good Day

This is not going to be a deep and meaningful blog posting today.  Sorry (or you’re welcome, whichever!).  I just had a really good day today and wanted to share.

Started with brunch with a friend.  She came over and I cooked (scary, trust me).  I didn’t burn the house down, but more importantly, Inara was pretty damned good.  I had my friend armed with treats before she even came through the door, and having those tossed on the floor really helped Inara keep her feet on the floor where they belong.  She settled pretty quickly, which was great.

After my friend left, me, Inara & Mal just lounged around a little bit, relaxing.  The weather was gorgeous – sunny and mid-60’s.  Doors and windows were open.  Beautiful.  So all three of us just snuggled on the couch:

Lounging together on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Lounging together on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Later in the afternoon, Inara and I met up with a friend and her dog for a walk.  We tried doing some BAT with Inara and her dog, but Inara was so blase about her that we couldn’t really do anything.  Which is exactly the point!  So we said, “forget it!” and just did our walk.  We walked for two hours.  Inara was a dream.  I think she was enjoying the fresh warm air as much as I was.

Ignoring our walking buddy!
Ignoring our walking buddy!

So we walked for about two hours, at which point I was whupped.  Too much fresh air!  So we came home and I crashed on the couch after pulling Inara’s bed into the patch of sunshine on the floor for her.  But Malcolm beat her to the punch and made himself comfy before she could.

Mal getting comfy on Inara's bed.
Mal getting comfy on Inara’s bed.

Poor Inara just stood there for a couple minutes, looking dejectedly between her bed and me.  And then she very gently stepped onto the bed and Malcolm looked up, gave her a little “mrrrow” and put his head back down.  At which point I grabbed my phone to get video:

I loved this.  She was so gentle, and there isn’t a doubt in my mind that if Mal had stayed there, she would have just curled up around him.  At which point I would have died of joy overload.  Anyway, after that little flash of “awwww!”, I had ANOTHER one – Mal got back onto the bed and curled up beside Inara!

Holy cripes.  Too much cuteness.  Oxytocin overload!
Holy cripes. Too much cuteness. Oxytocin overload!

Yep, I swooned a little.  They stayed like that for over an hour.  It was really fantastic.  Mal’s been with us for about 3 months now and he’s really starting to come out of his shell, and Inara just really seems to enjoy him.

So yeah, just an all-around good day.  I hope you all had good, relaxing Sundays as well.