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Canine Behavior/Pitbull behavior neighbor's


QUESTION: Last week, at night around 10 pm or so, I went outside, into the hall, to get ready to put my trash out.  At that moment, the apartment across from me , the door opened.  There was a black pitbull, lunging towards me, as a little girl is straining to hold him back.  He was barking aggressively,and looked plenty mean, as if he was ready to attack. He was also snarling and showing his teeth. I was in shock, and said, What the ???, and ran back into my apartment .  There was only a few feet between me and the pitbull.

Based on what I saw, it does not seem like the animal is "socialized" to interact with people.  I was a previous owner of dobermans and a chow chow, and neither acted like that around people.

I came extremely close to a pitbull attack in the past, when the owner let her four pitbulls loose at a different location. In the parking lot, I was holding a paper grocery bag in my arms, and they circled around me. They all were barking at me. I screamed at the top of my lungs, "Get back," and only then did the owner call them away from me, though she had to come and take the most aggressive dog, that would not allow me to enter my rented townhouse.  I nearly had a heart attack, as my pressure rose so high, that I experienced a bloody nose, when I walked in to my place.  One of my family members was walking her Corgi, when a Pitbull attacked and injured her small dog, unprovoked.  Her dog needed medical care.

The point of bringing up past experiences, is because many states now consider the Pitbull to be dangerous by breed.  On, the Pitbull is listed as the top lethal dog, with consistently the most maulings, injuries and deaths, to humans and other animals as pets.  Some of these lethal injuries happened within 5 to 10 seconds.  There are reports of Pitbulls killing their owners, and even one story when the owner was sleeping. Pitbulls are now banned or their are laws specific to them, in over 700 U.S. cities.  There are now Pitbull bans and specific ordinances in over a dozen states, including Florida. The reason people fear this specific breed of dog, is because of its large jaw, and that it has a reputation for causing maximum damage, and does not let go.  

I therefore feel I have no defense against this animal, and even the owners of the Pitbull struggle to hold him back, when he lunges.
This building is mostly made up of women, and at least six small dogs as pets.  I was told that the lease only allows for dogs under twenty pounds. I am not the only one concerned about this dog's "potential" to attack.  I am friendly with another tenant. She has a small dog.  She also said she observed another neighbor with a small dog, and the Pitbull started lunging towards it when the owner was walking it. She is concerned about the safety factor.

I have not been myself since my encounter with the dog , experiencing anxiety.  I am constantly fearful of coming and going into my apartment, wondering if the door will open, if the dog will be coming out, or ready to be walked.  Or if he will get away from his owners. Would you consider the dog's  behavior to be predictable at best?

I am an average woman, that would have no defense against this Pitbull that seems unsocialized, and should not have to fear the potential "What if scenario."  The dog seems threatened by me, because he is protecting his territory, while I am the one experiencing the threat, because he is only a few feet away.  In the interest of the safety of myself, should I carry something for protection? Should I expect this dog to be consistently aggressive ?

ANSWER: Thank you for your question. I'm so sorry that you have had some really unpleasant experiences with large and unruly dogs. Those experiences have clearly affected you deeply and I can understand that. Large dogs, especially those who are actively threatening, can be extremely intimidating.

To answer your main question, if I were living in your situation, I would carry a product called Spray Shield.

It's a citronella spray contained in a canister that looks very much like Pepper Spray. It can be used to slow down, distract or stop a charging dog. I like citronella better than pepper spray because inevitably, there will be some blow back and you don't want to get pepper spray in your own face. Also, pepper spray can linger in the air in an enclosed space for quite a while and someone else walking down the hall just a few minutes after you've sprayed (if you have to spray) could get a face full and then have to deal with the effects of pepper spray.

I also know some people who carry those collapsible umbrellas that can open with the press of a button (leave the strap undone). This is great defense because the sudden movement of it extending toward the dog, and then the "explosion" of fabric opening outward can scare the dog back, providing you an opportunity to escape. And also, the open umbrella creates a bit of a barrier to help you keep the dog at a distance until you can safely extricate yourself from the situation. But... you shouldn't have to live in that kind of fear.

I would speak to the landlord about a dog who is large and not under good control. I would say this no matter the breed or breed type. Any dog, of any size, can be out of control and all of them have teeth. In fact, the breeds most likely to display human-directed aggression (toward owners or strangers) is the chihuahua and the dachshund.

So, if I were in your living situation, I'd speak to the landlord and request that they ask the other tenant to get some positive, force-free training for their large dog in order for them to help the dog feel safer in that environment so s/he no longer feels threatened at people walking through the hall. Or to at least create more control for the owners. If the landlord refuses, or if the tenants don't make the effort to address the situation, then I would contact the local animal control and report that this is an issue and you feel your safety is at risk. They can speak to the owners and provide a warning, and if action isn't taken on the part of the owner to address the matter, the dog can be confiscated and the owners fined.

While I have your attention, I did want to chat a little about breed specific legislation and the misconception that "pit bulls" are the most dangerous dog out there.

Breed specific legislation does reduce the prevalence of a specific breed in a specific location. But it also impacts all dogs who even remotely look like they might possibly have a drop of that breed in their system. And humans are notorious for misidentifying dog breeds.

There is no actual breed called "Pit Bull." The Pit Bull refers to at least 3 different breeds of dogs (Staffordshire Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier and the Pit Bull Terrier) that were originally bred to participate in dog fights that occurred in pits - hence "pit bulls". And there are at least another dozen breeds that are frequently misidentified and lumped into that umbrella term for breed.

Often if a dog bites, it will automatically be labeled a 'pit bull' due to breed bias. I've known instances where pure bred dogs that were misidentified were in fact: golden retrievers, labradors, german shepherds, dobermans, jack russell terriers, mastiffs, rottweilers, chows, etc.

In a study that looked at dog bite related fatalities between 2006 and 2011, they looked at 256 cases. In only 17% had the breeds been accurately identified and validated. I share this because there is a great deal of personal bias from those observing or involved that goes into labeling the breed of the dog and we are often mistaken. Even professionals have a very hard time identifying mix breed dogs (link above).

I bring this up only because there is a misconception that the so-called 'pit bull' is responsible for far more bites than any other breed and therefore this breed (which is actually a group of at least 3 separate breeds) is more dangerous than other breeds. In fact, these breeds are more prone to dog-directed aggression. But they tend to score quite high on sociability with humans. Of course, there are individuals who may be 'wired wrong' and are truly dangerous - but that's true of any breed, just like it is in humans. It's important that we don't get caught up labeling an entire breed based on the behavior of a very small percentage of that breed as a whole.

BSL has outlawed various breeds at different times in our history. Before pit bulls it was Chows, before that German Shepherds and Rottweilers.... The real problem with BSL is that it creates a false sense of safety and people don't give as much attention to making sure dogs of other breeds are being handled correctly and socialized well to their environments because they're not listed as potentially dangerous. But the truth is that all dogs have the potential to bite and while we can't ignore genetics (pit bull types were bred to be dog-aggressive, not human-aggressive), a great deal of their behavior is determined by how they're treated. And many cities have found that BSL doesn't lower overall incidents of bites, rather it just shifts to the next most popular dog in the area.

Of the dozens of Michael Vic "pit bull" dogs that were rescued from his fighting ring, only a couple were euthanized due to severe injuries. The rest went through re-socialization and behavior modification and were placed in family homes. Several became therapy dogs because even after all the abuse they suffered, they were able to rebound and show their true colors, which is quite human-social.

American Veterinary Medical Association on BSL and Dog Bite Risk

Again... to your specific situation and your question, you should not have to live in fear for your safety, no matter the breed of dog living across the hall. Speak to your landlord and/or call your local animal control to see if they can help to make the situation better. Carry some Spray Shield with you. Carry a collapsible umbrella that can open with the press of a button.  These are precautions you can take until the situation is addressed satisfactorily.

The rest I share because I understand your level of fear and anxiety due to previous experiences you've had. I would just hate for you to lump an entire breed (3 or 4 breeds, really) into one group when really, so many of them are the sweetest, kindest individuals you'll ever meet. Also because if you hold on to such intense fear of the breed at large, then any dog that even remotely resembles that look can trigger your anxiety and get your adrenalin and cortisol levels (stress hormones which dogs can smell) through the roof, then your own anxiety may actually increase the anxiety of the dog and prompt them to act defensively. That in no way is to suggest that you're responsible for the behavior of the dog, only that when a dog senses a great deal of fear or anxiety, their own anxiety levels may rise and then they begin to react rather than think - much like humans when we are panicked.

I hope this proves helpful both for your current situation as well as for how you view dogs of certain appearances overall. Please take the time to read some of the recent research I linked to and maybe even some of the research those studies cite. You may find your opinion begin to evolve a bit on this subject.

I wish you the best of luck. Please feel free to follow up if I can be of further assistance in your current predicament.

Los Angeles Behavior Specialist

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: One quick thing.  I am starting to see that the owner may be leaving the child (age 9 or 10) alone with the dog during the night.  And if this is the case, then it was the child that made the decision to open the door that night.  If that is the case, what do you think of leaving the very young child alone to control the dog ?

If that is the case, there are two separate issues there.
First is the issue of leaving a child unattended who is not really old enough to be unattended for long periods late at night. That is an issue for Child Protective Services and is outside my wheelhouse.

Secondly is the issue of leaving any individual incapable of maintaining proper control in charge of a large, strong and unruly dog who has the potential (or likelihood) to cause damage to property or persons or other animals. I would say this if it were an 80-year-old person needing a walker or a middle-aged person with mobility issues or mental capacity issues as well - just to name a couple of other situations that also pose a threat. This puts the person "in charge" in danger as well as anyone else who comes into contact with that dog.

In one of the links I provided you in my original reply, it talks about the most common circumstances in which bites occur - and near the top of the list was having nobody around who was capable of actually maintaining control of the dog in question.

If I were in your situation, I might try to have a casual conversation with the child or other friendly tenants in that unit before rushing to call CPS. I'd want to know if the child really was alone in the apartment, or if she had just decided the dog needed to potty and so decided to take her/him out, or if an adult in the apartment (or even older teenager) had instructed her to take the dog out. If there was someone else present, then the conversation turns simply to the child's inability to properly control the dog when the dog is overly excited (we want to be kind to the neighbor so they're more likely to hear what we have to say, rather than shut down and tune us out). Suggesting that an adult either take the dog or accompany the child to ensure everyone's safety - especially the child's - would be the first step at that point.

If the child was in fact alone in the apartment at that hour and is often and/or is meant to be alone for several hours, then that would turn off the conversation for me and I'd ask CPS if they are concerned about that situation and then let them look into it to determine if the child is being put at undue risk. But as I said, that's how I would address this as a concerned citizen. I have no education in social work. I don't know what the rules are (and I expect they vary from state to state and even city to city) regarding how long children of different ages can be alone, and at what time of day or night that is allowed. That part of this is well outside my knowledge base and skill set, so I'd have to speak with CPS and let them make the decision if it needs to be investigated or not.

I hope this helps. Please feel free to provide a followup to let me know how it turns out.

Los Angeles Behavior Specialist

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Jody Epstein, MS, CPDT-KA


IF YOU BELIEVE YOUR DOG IS ILL OR INJURED, PLEASE CONTACT YOUR LOCAL VETERINARIAN IMMEDIATELY. THIS IS NOT THE FORUM TO ADDRESS URGENT MEDICAL ISSUES. I AM NOT A LICENSED VET AND HAVE NO DIAGNOSTIC SKILLS. ***I have been answering questions on All Experts for over 8 years now. I enjoy being able to offer assistance in this forum. I do need to be clear, though. If you’re looking for free advice about a specific behavior question, you MUST submit your question to me via All Experts. If you bypass All Experts and write to me directly through my website, I will ask you to submit via All Experts. On the flip side, if you’re local to Los Angeles and you wish to speak to me privately about an in person consultation, please go through my website. I appreciate your assistance in keeping my volunteer work on the volunteer site.*** I can answer questions about the following canine behavior issues: obedience, timid/fearful & fear-based aggression, nuisance behaviors, families that are expanding with either new human or new animal members and many other issues. If you have potty training questions please first read my trio of blogs at If you still have questions after reading the blogs you can post your specific questions here. PLEASE be as specific as possible when asking a question. Give me a detailed example of the situation - dog's behavior, body language, circumstances surrounding the issue, what the consequences are (another dog's response, your response), etc. I can only provide insight if I can get a picture of the whole scenario. If I ask for further details, please provide them. In person I would normally observe for at least 90 minutes to assess the situation and the dynamics before offering tools and suggestions to modify it. In writing it is ever so much more difficult. Thank you for your participation in the process.


I have been a professional obedience trainer for 9 years, and specializing in behavior modification for 8 years. I have owned dogs my entire life. I own my own dog training and behavior modification business called Nutz About Mutz.

I am a Certified Profession Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA), #2133301 ; I am a member in good standing with the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT), #77763 ; I am an AKC certified Canine Good Citizen evaluator (CGC), #71253

Publications ; ; Multiple articles in the local pet magazine Pet Press (found across Southern California)

I have a masters degree (MS) in Animals and Public Policy, with a minor in Animal Behavior, from Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. I also have 3 years of graduate education in Animal Behavior and Learning from UM-Missoula and UL-Lafayette. I continue to educate myself to canine-specific behavior through extensive reading, online interactive workshops, vidoes and attending canine behavior conferences, workshops and seminars. Beginning in March, 2017, I will be the Behavior & Training Manager at Second Chance Center for Animals in Flagstaff, AZ.

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