Canine Behavior/Pitty


My daughter moved back in and brought her pit bull mix puppy. He has mastered STAY and SIT.....and SPIT OUT THAT CAT!!!! He has put his mouth around my cats head in play. I have several pet cats.  He has grown up around he cats and still wants to play with them. Is there a chance he could hurt them? I realize you don't know his mannerisms but does his breed always hurt or kill cats? My first experience with a pit mix. He is a sweetheart and I allow him to put his large mouth around my hand and mouth my hand. He is still
learning. Thanks. (yes I fear pit bulls)

NO "breed" or breed type automatically "kills" cats.  Even sighthounds: bred to chase/kill small furry creatures, can live peacefully and happily with cats they have known (been habituated to) from early puppyhood.  In fact, I took a recently groomed female Rough Collie out of a high kill shelter (to rehabilitate and re-home eventually) and brought her into my household which had at least six other dogs and two cats.  NOT ONCE did she exhibit any aggression toward MY cats.  However, the first home that qualified for adoption had a neighbor whose cat jumped the fence and the Collie went after it and attempted to kill it.  This was an enormous surprise to me at the time but it certainly explained why she had been groomed carefully and then dumped on the streets of Valley Stream NY.

The Pit and its first generation mix is a "mouthy" dog.  I don't much like any dog putting its jaws around a cat's head BUT:  remember, both dam and sire (in some cases) pick up puppies with their mouths, often "discipline" them without killing or even minimally hurting them, etc.  If the CAT has not "taught" the dog that putting his jaws around her/his head is a NO NO (by hissing, turning to scratch), then the cat does not feel threatened.  The dog is more at risk actually since a cat can turn and scratch and blind a dog in one or both eyes in a second.

I say: begin to teach take it/leave it as seen below:

Rule of thumb: when you want to extinguish a behavior in the domestic dog (for the most part, does NOT pertain to pathological behavior OR aggression), you "capture" it.  This means: train the dog to DO it on command.  However, if you want to eliminate a behavior totally you do not "capture" it, you counter condition the dog.  In this case, you train the dog (teach the dog) to "leave it" for exceptional reward which starts with praise and, in ten seconds or less, ends with a piece of string cheese or chicken hot dog (string cheese can be cut into bite size pieces, put in a baggy, and carried around for an entire day).  SO: the dog learns "leave it" is HIGHLY rewarding BUT....because of the ten second delay between "leave" and food reward, the original behavior (mouthing the cat's head, ultimately; during training, dropping a stuffed squeaky toy WHICH YOU KEEP when training session is over) is not rewarded, rather the "leave it" is.

Training sessions should be FUN.  You should have a smile on your face, laugh when the dog is playing, keep it short, ask for "leave it" and immediately praise, then pop treat into mouth.  At random times you repeat this "game" until the dog begins to recognize the squeaky toy as the START of the game and appears "ready" to "play".  Now you are ready to move to the cats.  Whenever the dog takes a cat's head in his mouth, "leave it" needs to immediately result in the dog LOOKING AT YOU for "bridge" reward (praise) and food reward (within ten seconds of bridge reward.)  If he does NOT and ignores you, go back to stage one for another few days.

Let's try this over the next three weeks (end of February).  I'm going on vacation March 2 and will be back March 9.  Let me know before then, if you can, using FOLLOWUP feature, how this is working for you.

DO NOT allow this dog to "mouth" you for any reason at all.  When he DOES it, get up, turn your back for ten seconds, turn back to the dog, ask for "sit", praise and pet him, walk away.  He appears to not have full bite inhibition.  You might want to work on that, as well.

Don't fear your dog.  So far, nothing you describe causes me much concern. If he is well socialized and trained with positive reinforcement only and understands his "place" in social hierarchy, he can still be a wonderful companion.

Canine Behavior

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Jill Connor, Ph.D.


I have spent my entire professional life rehabilitating the behavior of the domestic dog and I can answer any question regarding any behavior problem in any breed dog. I have answered more than 5,000 QUESTIONS on this site in the past (almost) eight years. If you are a caring, committed owner and need advice, I'm here for you. I am personally acquainted with my colleagues (Turid Rugaas, Ian Dunbar, etc.) who were members of an elite group in EGroups that I founded: K9Shrinks. THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES for serious behavioral issues; not only is it unprofessional to offer same, it is also unethical. IF I ASK YOU SUBSEQUENT QUESTIONS, I NEED YOU TO INTERACT WITH ME. More information equals more credible answers and a more successful outcome. If you want ANSWERS THAT WORK, participate in any way I request. I'm quite committed to working on this site for YOUR benefit and the benefit of YOUR DOG. Help me in any way you can.


30 years of solving serious behavior problems in domestic dogs; expert in dog to human aggression; Internet columnist for for 5 years; former radio talk show host, WHPC.FM, Garden City, NY "Bite Back" (1995 through 2000). List owner, international animal behavior experts, Seminar leader: "Operant Conditioning and Learning"; "Aggression in The Domestic Dog"; "Solving Problem Behaviors" -- conducted for various training facilities on Long Island from 1993 through 2000. Former clinical director of "Behavioral Abnormalities" in conjunction with Mark Beckerman, DVM, Hempstead, New York.

Member, APDT (UK); Psychologists in Ethical Treatment with Animals

Harcourt Brace Learning Direct: "The Business of Dog Training" "The Fail Safe Dog: Brain Training, not Pain Training"

Ph.D., UC Berkeley

Past/Present Clients
Board of Directors: Northeast Dog Rescue Connection; The Dog Project; Sav-A-Dog Foundation; etc. Pro Bono counselor: Little Shelter Humane Society My practice is presently limited to forensics. I diagnose cause of dog bite, based upon testimony before the Court, for attorneys and insurance companies litigating dog bites, including fatal injuries. I also do pro bono work for bona fide rescue organizations, humane societies, et al, regarding such analysis in an effort to obtain release for dogs being held for death in municipal shelters in the US.

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