Canine Behavior/pit bulls

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Question
Jody

If you had grandchildren ages 6 and 9 who played in your unfenced yard and your next door neighbor with an unfenced yard told you he was getting a pit bull, would you be concerned? We do have the grandchildren and the neighbor. Thanks.

Mike

Answer
Thank you for your question. The reality here is that the breed of the dog is irrelevant to this question. I would not allow young children to play unattended in an unfenced area where an unsupervised dog could access them.

Pit-type dogs (the term Pit Bull refers to a group of several breeds, not one specific breed) actually score quite well on sociability assessments and are no more likely to bite than any other dog. The issue - like any breed - comes down to proper socialization and good, positive reinforcement based, force free training, and of course the dog's personality. All breeds of dogs will have individuals who love children, who are extremely tolerant of children's antics and would avoid hurting a child at all costs. And all breeds of dog will have some individuals who are fearful of children or who simply do not like children and would have a very low tolerance for sharing space.

As an example, my dogs are very well trained and love children and I have never left either of them (one is 35 lbs, the other 11 lbs) unattended with my nephews who are currently 11 and 7, but were 8 & 4 when they first started spending time with my dogs. It's just a safety issue. Children are unpredictable and tend to engage with dogs in ways that do not respect the dog's personal space (pulling ears, leaning on, grabbing toys from, chasing, pushing, etc.) and this can make dogs uncomfortable and feeling like they need to defend themselves. So, my rule is that I just don't leave children unsupervised in the same space as dogs. And when kids and dog are together, my role is making sure that the kids are not making the dog uncomfortable - redirecting the children to more appropriate behaviors and teaching them how to engage with the dog in ways that do not frighten or upset the dog.

In your case, I would either fence in my yard or discuss with the neighbor that they should really fence in their yard to make sure their dog stays safe and out of traffic. If these are not an option, then I would supervise the kids when they play outside. It's entirely possible that the neighbor's dog will be incredibly sweet and gentle and will love to engage with the kids. That's the hope. And in that case an adult in charge of the dog should be present when the dog is out and you should be present to supervise the kids. This would allow for more safe opportunities for kids and dog to socialize (active supervision as mentioned above, redirecting the kids to avoid doing things the dog would find upsetting and redirecting the dog to games that do not involve chasing the children).

If they get a dog who is not comfortable with children, then the kids simply cannot play outside when the dog is outside unsupervised.

And just to reiterate - the breed of the dog is not the reason for my recommendations. If this were a chihuahua, a Labrador or a Poodle, I'd be saying the same thing. No matter the breed, I would be saying the same thing.

Hopefully your neighbor is a responsible dog owner and will want to keep their new pet safe, and so will be providing a securely fencced area for the dog to spend outside time when unsupervised. Hopefully the dog will be one who loves children and who can spend time with your grandkids and everyone can have a safe and good time.

Please let me know if I can answer any further questions.

Jody, CPDT-KA, APDT
Worcest, MA Behavior Specialist
Masters candidate - Animals and Public Policy (Animal Behavior)
Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine
http://NutzAboutMutz.com

Canine Behavior

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Jody Epstein, CPDT- KA, APDT

Expertise

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 5 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. If you have potty training questions please first read my trio of blogs at http://CashewsCorner.wordpress.com/ 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.

Experience

I have been professionally modifying behavior and training obedience for 7 years. I have owned dogs my entire life. I have just changed the name of my business. It is no longer Good Dog! Dog Training. The new name is Nutz About Mutz!. If you see previous questions with the Good Dog! website information, that is my response.

Organizations
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
http://NutzAboutMutz.com ; http://CashewsCorner.wordpress.com ; Multiple articles in the local pet magazine Pet Press (found across Southern California)

Education/Credentials
I have a graduate education in animal behavior and learning. (While I completed my coursework and did the requisite research, I did not defend a dissertation. I am qualified, but not certified and so technically not a doctor. This is commonly referred to as Ph.D.-ABD which means All But Dissertation.) My educational focus was with non-human primates, but my personal interest is with domestic dogs and their relationships with humans and other animals. I continue to educate myself to canine-specific behavior through extensive reading, online interactive workshops, vidoes and attending canine behavior conferences.

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