In honor of Pit Bull Awareness Month, Pit Bull Rescue Central's volunteers are sharing the stories of how their pit bulls became part of their families. PBRC envisions a compassionate world where pit bulls and pit bull mixes reside in responsible, loving homes and where their honor and positive image is restored and preserved.
Building a resume for difficult dogs, by Juli Goodrich
In September 2004, I decided that my husband had proven himself responsible enough for his OWN dog. We already had Lita, a spayed 3-year-old pit bull, but I was also getting tired of only getting to walk her for rainy potty walks… So I began researching getting a second pit bull. I found PBRC and signed up for Pitbull-L, the email list that would become my number-one resource and community for many years. I began to search for the rescue dog of my husband’s dreams. He wanted a large, black or dark brindle, male pit bull. We were both shocked and bothered by the fact that our local shelter had a 100% euthanasia policy on pit bulls. My eyes began gradually opening to the problems for pit bulls in my area.
I didn’t want try housetraining a puppy in our tiny 2nd story apartment. I searched and searched and found some local rescues, but they didn’t have dogs that appealed to my husband. I mentioned to my carpool coworker that I was searching, and she got excited. We just HAD to meet her friend’s dog! She was going to have puppies in a couple of weeks, and the friend hadn’t sold any of them. It was an accidental breeding, of course.
After a week of pestering I finally agreed to meet the mother dog. I told my husband that I didn’t want to buy a puppy, but we needed to go meet this dog to keep the peace. She opened the door, and a warm white cannonball hit my hubby in the chest! Down he went, and spent the next half hour on the receiving end of the most enthusiastic face-washing either one of us had ever seen. I was told that Layla was so gentle and calm that the little 7-year-old girl could walk her easily, very smart and biddable, knew lots of tricks and housetrained really fast. My husband was smitten, already half in love with the mother dog. I reiterated my desire to rescue not buy and our need for a male to be most compatible with our Lita girl.
Not 3 days later, my coworker came bursting into my office. The landlord of the home the little white dog lived in had not known there were any pets in the home, and the owners were going to have to get rid of most of their dogs. The following day, she told me her friend had brought Layla into the vet to see how many puppies they were going to have, so they could decide if they were going to keep her. They were shocked to find out she wasn’t actually pregnant. Her body had gotten just enough hormones to go into a false pregnancy. The shelter where they planned to take all of the extra dogs had a 100% euthanasia policy on pit bulls. So, we got a crate and I told my coworker to tell her friend we would take Layla on October 1st.
Over the next few weeks, we realized that the only thing true that we had been told about this little dog was that she was a white female pit bull! She had no manners, no training, and wasn’t housebroken. She hid socks and fish food in our couch for the babies her body told her were coming. She was also only 6 months old. (This is why Layla’s honorary birthday is 4/1, she was the biggest April Fools’ joke ever played on us…)
Civilizing Layla has been a labor of love the past 10 years.
Layla is my living resume for difficult dogs. People who see her for the first time want her, people who know her are glad they can leave her when they go home. She is a dog of many opinions. She will converse with us, in grunts, with appropriate pauses and eye contact. She will not tolerate rudeness nor excessive confidence in another dog.
She thinks new people are awesome, and her favorite people get treated to a special wriggling, leaping, grunting, licking white whirlwind focused on them. She will leap over the back of the couch to lick someone, but doesn’t even try to leap a baby gate. She will go under a fence, but never over. Her favorite (though contentious!) sleeping place is with her head on my pillow, snoring loudly in my ears. She doesn’t see the point of most toys, but has a love affair with a mighty tuff pig, nearly the same size as herself!
Layla is also a resource guarder, with food aggression. Layla’s food aggression has been a challenge for us. But she is tremendously predictable, which is the only reason we can maintain all 3 dogs and the cat.
We started by teaching her to go to her crate at mealtimes…which she now uses, by the way, to try and manipulate us into extra mealtimes! Layla being a pig in her soul, took to this idea with impressive enthusiasm, learning even to pull an unlatched crate door open and put herself away faster. She will, once inside, protect her crate from any of the other pets. This includes our cat. Layla must be crated with space, and preferably not looking directly at one of the other dogs, or she can terrorize them into refusing their own food. But if I put a cat carrier in her crate’s place, she will try to get in. Failing that, she goes for the nearest crate, and puts herself in there.
Once Layla is in her crate, we can proceed with feeding the dogs, and she will stay in there. She has learned that attempting to leave the crate means she won’t be fed. We no longer have to latch the door for mealtime, but she does require a mat in front of her crate to sop up the dribble, as she hangs her head out just a little the better to eyeball the procedure.
The other important thing that we have taught her is that people control food. This has been a long term project, with lots of tweaking, and will continue to be a project for Layla’s whole life.
She has had several serious incidents with Lita over the years. When I make mistakes, like moving her crate just before mealtime, or forgetting to get her indoors before opening the food bin, she fights with Lita. Lita’s forelegs are crossed with scars, but there have actually not been very many incidents considering how long she’s been with us, and most of those happened either during a time when I was injured or immediately after a move, when her crate placement wasn’t set in her mind. After any altercation, we separate the dogs until everyone is healed and all stitches have come out. Then, we begin a slow program of reintroductions. We have come to accept, that as Lita ages and Layla’s triggers more apparent that a day will probably come where we must keep them completely separated for Lita’s safety.
Her resource guarding is mostly managed through small things. I don’t hand toys out to the dogs without having a toy for everyone. We manage her play with other dogs very tightly, she’s not allowed to get possessive over a toy, or it goes away. She gets called out of play constantly, to break her attention and focus, and to bring her back into focus on us. We don’t have toys out when she meets a new dog. Toys that she gets possessive at all over are put away for a while.
Layla is calming down as she ages, but she remains a character, a live wire, and a test of my will. She is also funny, charming, and a class-A clown.
She has raised 6 foster puppies and is my right hand in teaching them bite inhibition, good manners, and her whole cadre of tricks. Her last puppy is our own Andre, the foster puppy we kept, in part because he is happy as her minion. The attached LitanLayla5 is of the girls and their first foster puppy.
... And then there's Andre....
My husband and I, and our 2 female pit bulls, began fostering for a local rescue group shortly after the younger one joined our family. We had been researching before adopting her, and once we understood how difficult pit bulls in our area had it, we wanted to help. After fostering 2 wonderful dogs who had unfortunate personality clashes with our youngest, we took a hiatus for a few years. I continued to volunteer for the rescue, and was very excited to learn about a partnership with a local shelter. After 20 years of a 100% euthanasia policy, the shelter agreed to allow stray pit bulls a chance at adoption! We all began spending a lot of time getting ready, training, and being trained for the project. The first weekend of the program I spent the morning in the kennels, talking with the staff and the public visitors, about the program and the breed. Just at the end of the day, I got a call from our president, asking me if we could possibly foster a puppy, just for a little while. A young couple had brought in an 8-week-old puppy because they had learned that the female was pregnant, and despite being counseled that as an owner-surrendered dog the tiny puppy would be destroyed, they signed him over. Now, the staff was by and large excited about the opportunity to adopt out dogs that many of them had loved and cared for but been unable to adopt out, and conspired to keep the little fella out of the system, and tucked him away in the cat room. They grabbed our volunteer, and demanded that we find a way to get him safe. I used all of my wifely wiles, and in a bargain that lasted for nearly 10 years, my husband agreed to fostering if he got to name the pups. Brady Bam Quinn was our first foster puppy, and his forever family, which now includes 2 children who adore him, still send us updates.
Several puppies later, we had finalized the adoption of one I thought we would never find a home perfect for, and taken our traditional month-long break. I had told my foster coordinator that I wanted the Mary Poppins of puppies—practically perfect in every way. She texted me back and told me she had JUST the right one for us. We drove down and picked him up from our president’s workplace on Tuesday night. She had noticed he had a runny nose, but upper respiratory infections are common in the shelters, so we have a policy of just monitoring. On the way home, we discussed a name for him. Based on the size of his feet, we thought he was going to be as big as our previous little black foster puppy, who weighs 100+ lbs now, so we named him Andre, for Andre the Giant. My friend, being told his name, said” Oh! He does look like a seal!”. Then she told us about a movie she’d seen about a seal named Andre. The name fit. He still looks like a seal and his coat color is called seal!
When I get a new puppy, I bring it to work when I can, for socialization and to avoid pushing the limits of potty training! So the first day after we brought him home, I took him into the office with me. I realized quickly that he was off. He was displaying low energy, excessively tired for his age, and not very interested in food. His symptoms were too strong for over the counter treatment, so we made an appointment for the vet, and got him in the next day. They prescribed antibiotics and cough syrup. Getting pills into puppies is old hat, and I wasn’t worried about medicating him. However, he didn’t want to take the medicines. He started refusing everything we could think of to get his medicine into him. His little body was burning up, his weight was dropping, and his coughing was so horrible. That Monday night was one of the most horrible nights of my life, and I know it was the worst birthday my husband has ever had. In desperation, I used a turkey baster to feed wet food and chicken broth. Tuesday morning I got him to the vet the minute they were open. I cried for days at the drop of a hat, as I learned that the shelter had a distemper outbreak, and that he had pneumonia, and so much more. I called the vet daily, and for a full week, the reports were all the same. He’s on an IV medication, and is hanging in there. Finally, his tests came back negative for distemper, and I could breathe a bit. Then I started getting reports of his cough improving, and eventually, after nearly 2 weeks, he consented to eat on his own. I drove down to the vet’s office and picked him up, bawling the whole way! Literally down to skin and bones, still coughing and very snotty, Andre was a pretty pathetic little guy. I got permission to bring him to work with me, so I could feed him 3 times a day to get his weight up to healthy, and he came into work with me nearly every day for 6 months.
After such a dramatic first few weeks, the rescue agreed to hold off on listing him for adoption. I wanted to get to know him healthy before trying to match him to a new family. Once he was listed, there were a few people interested but nothing really clicked, and I just didn’t feel right about letting him go. We discussed it one day, and realized Andre was already home. He adores my cranky younger female pit bull, and spends an inordinate amount of time expressing his undying devotion. He thinks my 13 year old pit bull is a puppy, and, since she agrees with his age assessment they have a splendid time wrestling like littermates! He thinks the sun rises & sets on my whim, and my husband is the coolest guy ever. He’s the only dog we’ve ever had that loves my cat.
He loves many people, and enjoys doing events with me, as an alumni for the rescue…. but you only get 1 chance to make a good impression. People who pat him on the head to start with get a disgusted look, he walks to someone who knows how to properly pat a dog, and he solicits attention while looking pointedly at the patter. Scratch his butt, stroke his shoulders or chest, and you have a friend for life.
Andre is extremely sensitive by nature. Any handling and training has to be done hands-off and with only rewards-based techniques. He’s got the fastest shut-down I have ever seen, and this has done wonders for my handling skills!
Helping him learn confidence has been my joy! We work on building his confidence by playing games with things that make him nervous. He’s an avid disc-chaser, so he’s done lots of events with a disc in his mouth, like a pacifier. He’s confident in my ability and desire to protect him, so I am his security-human, which is something I work to protect.
He’s not a morning dog, and since I am not a morning human, he occasionally feels too emo to get out of bed without me, even with the other dogs going out for potty and breakfast time. My husband, used to our less-sensitive girls, tried to evict him from the bed, and got pee on our bed, his socks, the carpet, and in a trail down the hallway for his pains (yelling at Andre also results in puddles). Andre was nervous about slipping on the floors when we moved into our home, and for weeks we had to install a slip-proof rug down the length of the hallway and lure him out of our room with treats. He peed in our bedroom, after slipping halfway down the hall, and running back to the security of our room.
After his time at the vet clinic, it was impossible to trim his nails, as he’d be literally screaming and thrashing so hard we worried about him hurting himself. His nails are hard and black, and so I decided to teach him to handle his own pedicures. He uses a scratchboard for his front paws, and we’ve finally gotten to where I can trim his dewclaws.
Andre loves kiddie pools, and “swims” in puddles, lying down & rolling to get wet all over, then paddling with his front paws. He plays happily with toys by himself, if he can’t lure anyone else into the game, he loves wrestling giant ropes. He wanted tug of war games to continue after he yanked the toy away, and taught himself to bring it back. Now, he will put toys in your hand to play…or your mouth if you don’t make eye contact fast enough.
>His blend of smart and sensitive makes him fun, but challenging! He's high octane, a perpetual wiggle machine, and the best snuggler when he's tired.