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Ask Dr. Houpt.

Q Vincent, our son's American pit bull terrier, has been in our care for one year while our son is serving a long military term in lraq. Vincent has shown signs of anxiety toward other animals to the point of engaging in a dog fight that left the other dog seriously injured. Just the sight of another dog sends him into a frenzy. We have had personal trainers and have also tried group training sessions. The group trainer asked us not to come back because Vincent was too disruptive to the group and would bark and curdle for the entire hour of training. The personal trainer just gave up.


Vincent loves people; and baby strollers and kids on bikes or roller skates do not bother him. He has never shown signs of aggression toward humans. He is fed a good brand of organic dog food and rarely has an accident in the house. Vincent is trained to sit, stand, down, look at me and many other commands. Our question pertains to his reaction to other animals (any ground-dwelling animal) and all the liability that brings into the house with a pit bull. Can you help?

A You are a very good mother to take on your son's dog while he is serving our country. It is too bad that Vincent is such a problem in public. Interdog aggression can be very difficult to manage the problem, not "cure" it. To change his frantic behaviour at the site of another dog, I would advise you to start at the beginning and recondition Vincent to respond differently to other dogs. It is important to minimize his contact with anything that produces this unwanted behaviour so that he may begin learning a new way to react.


Before beginning any exercises involving other dogs, it is important that Vinvent be under direct physical control and perhaps be trained to accept a head halter or basket muzzle. This will keep the handlers and both dogs safe. When you are out on walks, it is important never to allow Vincent to get upset over the presence of another dog, simply turn away or leave the area. When he is calm again, turn around and walk back toward the dog. Begin with the other dog far away and across the street. Once Vincent is able to remain calm with other dogs across the street, you may very slowly decrease the space between them. Avoid reprimands, leash pulling or leash tightening as these behaviors my only increase Vincent's arousal and result in aggressive or anxious behavior. Head halters such as the Gentle Leader are a great way to assert control over him without much pulling and fighting.

You want to encourage a calm, related state and reinforce it often. You can use treats--small pieces of hot dog or cheese are tasty choices. Whenever you see another dog, quickly pop a treat into Vincent's mouth. Begin when the other dog is far away, and then turn Vincent around so he doesn't make more eye contact with the other dog. Do this with as many dogs as possible so that Vincent begins to think that other dogs mean good things and are not a challenge. It's also important to remember that dogs with a history of interdog aggression are rarely "cured," and although they may tolerate the presence of another dog from a distance or on a leash, they should never be let loose in dog parks or brought into the presence of many dogs.

Katherine A. Houpt, VMD, PhD, Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Behaviorists

Send your behavior or health questions to: Dr. Houpt, Box 7,. Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, Ithaca, New York 14853-6401.

We regret that we cannot respond to individual inquiries about canine health or behavior matters.
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Title Annotation:aggressive pit bulls
Publication:Dog Watch
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2008
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