Case Study - Brutus

 

Manor APBTBreed: American Pit Bull Terrier

From: Manor

 

Brutus had been found on the side of a road in Manor, skinny and neglected. When he was brought to the vet, he was estimated to be around six months old. His previous owners never came forward and so the family that found him decided to keep him. At first he was very quiet and afraid. He was particularly skittish around most men, although befriended the family's teenaged boy, Anthony. Several months later, he was beginning to show very startling behavior. Not only was he becoming aggressive towards other dogs, but to his new owners as well. He was possessive of Anthony, occasionally growling if someone else would come near the boy inside the house. Twice he snapped at someone who he felt was too close to "his person". He showed all sorts of other dominant traits as well, such as putting his feet on his owners and not allowing them to move. He was clearly ruling the household completely, and had everyone else in fear.
During the evaluation and subsequent training, we began to see many ways in which his dominant behavior was being fostered. He was allowed to sleep on the bed and leap up onto furniture whenever he wanted, for example. While ok for some dogs, this is not suggested for dogs who show any sort of aggression or dominance. One of the first things we suggested was to no longer allow this and we created a plan to work on this new rule in a safe way. We also began to enforce mandatory crate time so he had a place to go which was not on top of the furniture. The crate is not only a safe place for both him and his owners, but one way in which his owners could begin to take their power back.
We created a whole new set of rules which was strict, yet fair. For example, he would only be given his food if he was sitting politely. He was not given full access to the dozens of toys in the house, instead he had to earn them. When walking on leash, he was not allowed to pull or walk in front of his owners. These are only some of the new rules that were put into place. While they may sound extreme, they were created for the safety of the family and for the mental well-being of Brutus.
As a ten month old unaltered male, it was also clear that Brutus was beginning to go through the challenge-phase that most intact males experience. The testosterone was not helping this problem at all, and it was decided that he would be neutered. While we knew that neutering would not completely solve the problem, it would be a step in the right direction. We also changed his food to a higher quality brand, knowing that cheap food can also factor in to all sorts of behavior problems.
In the past, the only exercise that Brutus has been getting was the toss of a ball in the front yard. We switched him over to daily structured walks, focused on improving the relationship between him and his family to one which was more focused on respect. In the beginning, we knew that it would be too much to allow the walks to take place out on the dirt roads of Manor. Because of his aggression with other dogs, and because he could still overpower his owners, it was safer for the walks to take place on their own fenced property. He would be allowed to walk "in public" later on, but first we needed to build a foundation.
Finally, and most importantly, Brutus was enrolled in one of our obedience programs. We feel that obedience is the number one factor when working with aggression, especially in dogs who have never before been given rules. Brutus was a challenging dog to work with as he was extremely unprepared to give up any of his power at first. As time went by and he was beginning to develop trust in his trainer, he began to "get it". As a dog who had many issues with fear (almost certainly from whatever life he had lived before he was rescued), he needed to understand that people could be trusted, but that they couldn't be dominated. After many sessions of obedience, we transferred the training knowledge over to his owners so that they could begin working with him as well. This was very important because he needed to learn to listen to them as well, and not just the trainer. As they practiced, after a few sessions they began to notice a change in his behavior. He was listening to them much more, both in training and in the house. He even began to do sit-stays in his yard while other dogs would walk quietly past his fence!
Today, Brutus is much more mindful of his position in the family. He no longer shows possessive behavior around Anthony and he no longer "rules the roost". Because he now knows what is expected of him, he is a calmer and happier dog as well. His owners will still need to continue to practice obedience with him in order to prevent any back-sliding, but now they are no longer scared and confused as they once were.