Pit Bull Time Bomb

Earlier today I had to inform a client that I was not going to sit for her pit bulls again; that they made me too nervous. She was fine with that, but her attitude was that it was my problem, and frankly I think it was very much hers. Her opinion was that the dog was behaving agressively BECAUSE I was nervous, not the other way around.

I’m a professional pet sitter, have been for eight years. I grew up with large dogs. I am not afraid of dogs. Careful, yes, but not afraid. But the full-grown pit bull was locked in the back and barking like it was going to chew through the door to get to me when I first came in, and the half-grown puppy was doing the nervous growl/bark thing. When the client brought the older dog out, it continued to behave agressively, growling, barking, lunging at the leash, staring. The owner suggested that I be ‘firm’ with them. Riiiiight.

I’ve taken care of these dogs three times in the last year and they are getting worse, not better. I had to tell the client that she would have to find somebody else, because the grown pit bull is 100lbs of solid muscle with a bad attitude and if she went balistic on me I wouldn’t be able to control her. As politely as possible, of course.

It’s possible that I’ve developed a slight phobia about the breed, just because they are very strong and have that relentlessness bred into them, but I don’t think I’m wrong about these dogs being badly trained and badly socialized, and dangerous. Well-trained and socialized dogs do not bark and snarl at guests in the presence of their owners, and that flat agressive stare will cause me to say no to any dog larger than a terrier. That is not territoriality, that is dominance agression and I am not going to get into a dominance fight with a pit bull.

I think that if the owners don’t get them better trained, they will bite somebody sooner or later. Do you think I should have told the client so instead of letting her have the impression that I was just being a wuss? Do you think I was just letting the dog’s rep rattle me? I honestly don’t think I would have wanted to work with any dog behaving that way, except possible a Chihuahua.

Did you say this, right here? If not, as right as you may be, she’s likely to chalk it up to you letting the breed’s reputation get to you. And if you are right, that’s a grave danger.

I have to agree with you,XaMcQ. Someone who works with or lives with dogs over a long period of time develops an acute awareness of their body language. You should always trust your gut-feeling in these situations.

I agree. You did the right thing. I have enough dog experience to know that what you say is the truth. You were smart in letting her know you wouldn’t watch them and you are right in that they will probably bite someone someday. I hope it isn’t some innocent kid.

Yes, pit bulls get a bad rap but the underlying problem can usually be traced back to the owners and the way they train or don’t train them. And, of course, certain breeders who breed strictly for aggression.

I told her that because the dog was very large and strong, that I didn’t feel I could control it in an emergency. And that does have to do with the breed, but I feel like my reaction was to the behavior. I’ve cared for dogs as large as that and larger. German Shepards, Rottweilers, Chows, Dobbermans, etc. Even a few pit bull mixes who were just as strong but much friendlier.

I don’t think I’ve ever been afraid of a dog, but man, do I ever respect the hell out of my neighbor’s twin pit bulls. They are not mean, but they are extremely, well… determined. It would take a freight train to stop either one of them once he got going. If they were even a little bit aggressive, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere near either of them – and I kind of like the big ole bastards.

I don’t blame you in the least.

The only dogs I have a phobia about are pit bulls. I used to ride my bike a lot as a kid, and one afternoon there was a pitbull outside the house playing with a teenager. When I rode past, the pitbull started growling and chased after me, snapping at my heels and the back wheel of my bike. The kid stood there and laughed. :mad: I was probably ten, and when I got home I saw scrapes all over the back wheel from his teeth and paws grazing the rubber.

I volunteer at the local SPCA, and they will not adopt out purebred pitbulls. Theres too high an incidence of them biting people or other animals, even ‘nice’ pitbulls. I haven’t worked very long, but I have heard that you always know when they seized a bunch of pitbulls from a dogfighting ring, because they suddenly have hordes of people coming in looking to adopt a pitbull. A good fighting pitbull can fetch thousands of dollars if trained. There have also aparently been incidents in the past when they still adopted out purebred pitbulls, where nice dogs bit someone. In cases like that the SPCA can be held liable. Pitbull mixes on the other hand are fine, they go through the same test as all the other dogs and are adopted out.

You did the right thing, you’re a petsitter, not a behaviourist or the Dog Whisperer. If you’re unsure, it sounds like these dogs will pick up on it right away.
A well trained & socialised dog will not lunge, stare and posture in the presence of the owner. I wouldn’t let my dogs get away with that!
I say this as someone who has owned and rescued, and trained Rottweilers (including some pretty hard cases) for 20 years. Other dogs too; but I’ve had Rotties in my life for that long.
Forget the breed issue - a dog who acts in a dominant-aggressive manner like you describe needs some serious training and attitude adjustment. Come to think about it - it’s the owner who’s being a wuss by not taking charge of her dogs, not you!

I wouldn’t deal with any dog that acted that way, regardless of breed. My husband’s a letter carrier, and he’s had more problems with small dogs biting him, but it took a rabid Doberman to send him to the hospital. He broke its foreleg/hip, so it wasn’t a one-sided fight.

I have a friend who has an American Pink-Nosed Bull Terrier, and he is the absolute sweetest dog I’ve ever met. My friend says he actually fears what’d happen if a burglar ever broke in, because the dog is so friendly to anyone who’s already in the house (if the owner isn’t going “get him!”) as he expects they’re invited company, as well as anyone who the owner greets nicely. This dog should be trained to pick up on cues from the owner, and obviously isn’t getting the clue - either that, or the owner isn’t treating you as a welcome guest sufficiently to cue the dog.

Please understand that I wasn’t trying to imply that you did the wrong thing. On the contrary, I think that if you feel this dog is a menace then you’re dead on to not pet sit for her.

What I was trying to say was that it sounds like she will fail to get it unless you make it amazingly clear that it isn’t the breed, it’s the behaviour. This is a failing on her part, but comes from having so many people write the breed off while ignoring the behaviour. Unfortunately, a person who owns a breed with a reputation can’t afford such an attitude combined with such a spectacular lack of ability to read their dog, because that’s how reputations are made.

Here’s what I’m thinking. As an owner of a dog with a reputation, I’d take what you said in your OP very seriously, particularly as you work with dogs for a living. I wouldn’t necessarily take what you said in the quote box as an indication that there’s a behaviour problem with my dog. I might well take it as a lack of confidence on your part, and I’d accept that and move on to a new sitter.

I grew up with Rottweilers. I’ve experienced trainers and veterinarians (and other people who really should know that behaviour is what’s key) be very timid around my dogs. If all they tell me is that they don’t think they can control my dog, I might well think that’s on them. It would depend a great deal on factors like your body language, and other non-verbal cues. I also hope I’d be more receptive to my dog’s cues than this idiot, and pick up on what you’re really saying.

In the end I’m trying to answer the original question:

And what it comes down to is this. You need to decide if you’re the sort of person who would feel bad if this dog later attacked another sitter or anyone else. If so, you need to take it upon yourself to be much clearer with the owner about the threat her dog poses.

Your friend got taken. There’s no such thing :wink:

As for the OP, as much as I dearly love pits and other bull breeds, I wouldn’t have touched those dogs with anyone’s ten foot pole. I would, however, have made it very clear to the owner that it’s the dogs’ behavior and body language that makes it a downright dangerous situation for an outsider to be handling them, and NOT because of the breed or the size of the dogs. By telling her that it’s a “big dog” issue, you’re making yourself seem incompetant to other owners of large dogs. Since you noted that you’ve cared for other large breeds, I didn’t get the impression that you’re a little dog only kind of dog sitter.

I was a little worried that this thread was going to be one of those “ban the breed” threads and I am a firm believer in it not being a breed problem but an owner problem.

I think that for your own peace of mind you should probably have told her that you felt her dogs were too aggressive and needed some training. However, I don’t think she would have “got it” and done anything about it no matter what you said. It would only make you feel like you at least tried to do something if the dogs did hurt someone later.
I have no problem with the breed but anyone owning one (or any large breed with potential to cause harm) needs to know what they are doing training wise and they need to be careful. I have a pit bull/cattle dog mix. My cats actually beat up on her and chase her to her cage if they think she’s pestering them but I never leave her alone with the cats and I don’t trust her with other dogs until I can be certain she will get along with them and even then I won’t leave her alone with them (except for a greyhound we had at work, they loved each other). As for people she is very friendly and I don’t think she’d intentionally hurt anyone but she does like to torpedo into people in her exuberance and she’s got a 90 pound dogs strength compressed into a medium sized 55 pound dog - okay she’s a little fat but she’s on a diet. She does make a good watch dog when strangers come around, I don’t know if she would actually do anything to an intruder but jump on them but I always watch her closely if a stranger comes around.

I’m curious about the weight of the aggressive female. I’ve never heard of a pit bull weighing 100 lbs. The UKC standard is 50 - 60 lbs. You’re absolutely certain this is a pit bull you’re dealing with?

Many backyard breeders care nothing for standards and will breed anything to anything for money. I worked in a vet clinic for 2 years, and we would get people with their “king chows” (80 pound dogs) and “teacup chihuahuas” (3 pound dogs)all the time.

My brother has a black pug that’s too tall, weighs too much, and has a huge splotch of white on his chest. He still wants to breed him. “Because he’s got papers.” :rolleyes:

I don’t think I handled it at all well, darn it, but it was a little hard to think with the dog only a few feet away, growling and barking at me. I should have asked her to put the dog away, then asked her if it behaved like that for other visitors. There is a slight chance that the dog was reacting to the scent of other dogs on me, since pit bulls have a well-known agression to other dogs. But I don’t think so, seeing as the puppy was behaving with fear aggression. They are doing something wrong in the way they handle these dogs, I think. If I had been given a chance to discuss it, then I might have recommended she get a dog trainer in to help her, but I doubt she would have listened. It has been my experience that nobody wants your opinion when it comes to their pets or their children.

As for the size, maybe I’m overestimating it by twenty or so pounds, but the dog is large. She comes to about mid-thigh on me, and I’m 5’7". She’s wide through the hips and shoulders, with a head about the size of a soccor ball. She looks sort of like a cross between this and this.

No, no one reacts well to that kind of stress situation. I don’t at all blame you for taking the fastest route out. There’s a reason it’s called fight or flight.

While it’s true that few people want to hear that their pets or kids are problems, it’s also true that sometimes something needs to be said anyway. If only for your later sanity.

Good for you on drawing your line. You might consider trying to meet with this woman away from her dogs and tell her exactly why you feel you can’t control her dogs in an emergency. You and I both know that it’s not because these are large dogs, but she doesn’t. And she can’t know that unless you tell her. If you do tell her, and she chooses to ignore it, that’s her problem, and hopefully only her problem.

If they do not have a successful sit/stay/drop command they are doing something very wrong,* especially* with a large breed that has shown aggression towards humans.

Basic canine obedience teaches these commands. They are as much for the safety of the dog as they are for other dogs and people.

I took First Born Male Child to the animal shelter last weekend to look at dogs, see if there was anything there he was interested in adopting. It also opened his eyes about the responsibility of taking on a pet; he understands those animals are euthanized if no home can be found.

What struck me was the number of Pit Bulls there. I’d say more than half of the pens held Pits, many of them aggressive but not all of them. It was horribly depressing, and we both walked away from there unhappy.

There’s currently a huge about outlawing the breed altogether in our city. Fresno and San Francisco were both considering bans as well.

Debate. That would be huge debate.

Yeah, the number of pit bulls in any shelter is sad, but there’s also no doubt that any number of them could have been misidentified.

And that’s part of why breed specific legislation is such a bad idea.

“Hey, Pitt Bulls are illegal!”

“This isn’t a Pitt. It’s a boxer.”