Meet Tiny!

In March of this year, a man was found shot to death in his home in West Philadelphia. When the police entered the house, they found what appeared to be a pitbull breeding operation. A female pitbull, protecting her puppies, lunged at one of the officers. He shot and killed her. Her litter of puppies, along with 2 male dogs and 4 female dogs were taken to the PSPCA. The 2 males were evaluated and it was determined that the big one (my boy) was most likely used for breeding because of his size. It was possible that he had been used in fights as well. Both males were treated for bite wounds and after further evaluation from a behaviorist, they were deemed adoptable. This is when I got my first look at Tiny. When I saw his picture on the PSPCA’s website, it was love at first sight! He has this massive head with a big Pie Face. He looks a little goofy though because he has no ears. We set up a meet and greet with our girls, Ginger (our 5 year old Bullmastiff) and Reese (our 1 year old Plott Hound). Everything went smoothly so we adopted him. All of the dogs were getting along great, but one day, Tiny attacked Ginger out of the blue. My husband, Dave, said Tiny had to go. I was crushed. How could he mess up his chance for a loving home? Luckily, Dave said we could foster him until a good home was found…we would just have to keep the dogs separated. Meanwhile, Tiny wiggled his way back into my heart. He’s just such a gentle giant around people. He and Reese, who is a ball of energy but very submissive, get along great. About 6 weeks later, I got an email from a lady who was interested in adopting Tiny. I was so sad and hoped that her adoption application wouldn’t go through, but it turned out that she was the perfect candidate. She owned her home, was there all day and had experience with pitbulls. My only concern was that she had a 6 month old baby. When she and her husband came to meet him, they instantly fell in love with him. The deal was sealed when Tiny gave their infant son a sniff and then laid down on the floor at his feet. So they took him home and I cried the rest of the weekend. But 3 days later, we got the call to come get him. He was too powerful on the leash, he barked non-stop and he was a little too interested in the baby. I knew when I realized he was coming home, I would never be able to say goodbye to him again so I had to find a training program that was the right fit. Everything that I researched brought me to Leerburg Kennels. Their method is based on the fact that dogs are pack animals and they depend on a strong pack leader (owner/trainer) to give them guidance and direction. The more I read, I KNEW this is how I wanted to train Tiny. Not only to be the great dog I know he already is, but to be the perfect PET…a loyal companion for our family. This blog is meant to hold me accountable for his training by making it public.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011


So much has happened in the last week.  Tiny has become a pro at DOWN in the back yard.  We’ve taken the command to the next step and we use it on our walks around the neighborhood.  He does fairly well with it; however he is still easily distracted by squirrels.  That boy LOVES him some squirrels.  HAHA!  As part of his training though, it’s important that he’s able to overcome his urge to chase them.  Instead of trying to have him ignore it, I just make him sit until the squirrel (or any other distraction) goes away or he is relaxed enough to proceed on our walk.  It works about 50% of the time.  Tiny seems comfortable with wearing his muzzle around the neighborhood too.  He is a still able to bark, yawn and most importantly pant.  He even figured out how to drink water while wearing it.  Some people just stare at him, but when approached by someone who is curious, I have him sit while I answer their questions.  The most frequent question is “Is he friendly?”  Yes he is.  “Why does he need the muzzle?”  He wears it for his protection.  There are a lot of dogs that run loose in our neighborhood and the muzzle takes Tiny out of the equation if one of them ends up coming home with a bite wound from an unknown dog.  Usually, the last question is “Can I pet him?”  Of course!  That’s what he’s been patiently waiting for while I’ve been answering your questions J
Memorial Day weekend was a milestone for our pack.  For the first time since Tiny went after Ginger back in March, they were all together.  Again, Tiny wore his muzzle with no signs of discomfort.  Reese and Ginger thought it was a little strange at first, but they soon got over it and they were hanging out in the back yard together all day Saturday and Sunday.  Monday was the first day that Tiny was allowed to hang out in the house without being in his crate.  As his pack leader, I still didn’t let him have the freedom of roaming around wherever he wanted to go.  He was tethered to me with a 6 ft. leash, but he didn’t seem to mind.  He was calm and in return Ginger and especially Reese were calm around him.  They were all so comfortable around each other, that they took a snooze right in the middle of the living room floor. 
We are seeing the positive effects of this method of training.  Some people have said, “It’s not fair.  You’re not treating him and the girls equally.”  My response is that he doesn’t seem to mind.  While my dogs may have different places in the pecking order, the bottom line is that they are all loved the same. 


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Tiny FINALLY learns DOWN command!

After hours of practicing....SUCCESS!   Thanks to those who emailed me with ideas.  Tiny is doing really well with DOWN.  I took him outside of the yard where there are more distractions and he continued to obey with little correction.  Everyday is such a joy to work with him.  Reese and Ginger even watch from the back door.  They look like his cheerleaders! Haha! :)  

Monday, May 23, 2011

"What became of your lamb, Clarice?"

Well, I have to say that as of today, I am really happy with the way Tiny is progressing.  He has “Sit” mastered.  I still have him sit before going through gates and doors and now before we go up or down stairs and before he eats.  If we see a dog or a squirrel on our walk, I have him sit until he relaxes enough to move forward.  Tiny has been wearing his muzzle for a few days now with no problems or issues.  I’m guessing it’s comfortable only because he doesn’t try to remove it.  He only wears it on walks.  It looks like something Hannibal Lechter would wear.  Don’t worry!!  He can still pant, drink, yawn and take treats without any problems.  I have to say…it’s kinda fun to walk around the neighborhood and see the reactions from people we pass.  Some people even cross the street!  Haha!  But I do feel safer with him wearing it…not because I’m afraid he’ll attack someone.  On the contrary…he’s a gentle giant.  I live in a neighborhood that has a lot of little dogs.  Most of the time, they are on leashes, but you never know when one may get out of the yard or run out the front door when their owner isn’t paying attention.  Tiny has a very high prey drive and if approached by a small dog, he would probably injure it (at the very least).  Having Tiny wear his muzzle while we are out and about is just erring on the side of caution. 
                The only problem we have run into is teaching Tiny “down”.  While having him sit, I hold my hand up and drop it straight down in front of him in hopes that he’ll drop his chest to the ground.  Instead, he thinks I’m trying to "shake paw".  I have provided the stinkiest meat as a reward, I have tried to urge him down by placing my hand on his shoulders, and we’ve tried to get him “down” while having his butt up against a wall.  Nothing…nada…zip!  If anyone has any suggestions, I’m all ears.  Until then, I’ll keep watching YouTube until I find the technique that works for him. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Bump in the Road

A few days ago we re-introduced the word “no” to Tiny.  This time being more firm and almost growling the word when he acted inappropriately .  Let’s face it…I was pretty much a push-over before.  I was able to use this new technique right off the bat when I went to put his harness on him to take him for a walk.  Tiny was in a playful mood and started jumping on me.  I gave a firm “NO” and he settled down enough to sit and let me get his harness on him.  As we started up the basement steps, he jumped on me again so I repeated the growling “NO”.  We repeated this 2 or 3 times until he realized that we were not going up those steps until he behaved.  Once it sunk in, he walked calmly behind me.  After we were outside, Tiny showed me that he retained his door/gate manners.  Because he started to show little signs of submission here and there, I decided to move forward with a reward system and alternate between food rewards and praise.  When he responds correctly to a command, I use the marker word “yes”.  My mantra was “Nothing for free”, so he had to earn every single reward…and he did!  The morning was a success! 
Then the rain moved in.  Tiny was in his crate a little longer than usual and when I let him out for his evening walk, he darted out like a rocket!!  OMG!  He was jumping and bouncing and I was so surprised that I had ZERO control over him.  He dragged me up the steps and through the house and out the back door.  I deserved it though.  I should have planned ahead for the rain and figured out something to do with him.  All I kept thinking was "What the hell?  I just ruined him!"  In that instant, I felt defeated and thought that maybe this approach just wasn't working.   Since it was still raining, he was only outside long enough to go to the bathroom.  I put a baby gate up in the kitchen doorway and let him hang out with me in the kitchen for a bit.  Thank goodness he hasn't figured out that he could most likely jump over the gate with no problem. 
The next day I chopped up some pork butt and took it with us on our walk.  It must have been just the right motivation, because when we reached a door or a gate, he sat without being asked.  Tiny was definitely a different dog from the day before.  I decided to take the "sit" command to a different level and add the element of distraction.  Up until this point, we had only worked on commands in the back yard.  My goal was for him to listen to me even if a dog was barking through the fence or if kids were playing on the corner.  Armed with the smelly ham, we started out of the back alley.  As soon as we turned the corner, a dog barked.  I instructed Tiny to sit and without hesitation, he SAT!  I couldn't believe it!  Any other time, he would have barked and pulled me in the direction of the dog.  He still seemed interested in the distraction, but it was as if he was waiting to see what I was going to do first.  After he sat, I waited a moment, then continued on our way.  Tiny remained relaxed and the rest of the walk went pretty much the same way.  I alternated between the pieces of ham and a scratch behind his ear as a reward.  Maybe it's working after all :D

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Tiny Learns Patience

Thursday brought more progress for Tiny. After he had breakfast in his crate, we went for a 45 minute walk...same rules as the day before. Complete silence and I pretended like I would rather be somewhere else. Did I mention how difficult this was to do? :D After our walk, he went back in his crate and I went to work. I ordered a wire basket muzzle for him to wear when we finally let him socialize with the girls, Ginger and Reese. My theory is that there's no sense in setting him up for failure so I went the extra mile mile and bought the one that he can drink and pant in with no problem. He'll even be able to take treats while wearing it. Of course, he'll look like Hannibal Lechter, but whatever it takes. Dave called to say that he let Tiny out of his cage at lunchtime. He mentioned that it's tough not giving him a scratch behind the ears, but he can see a difference in him. There was a certain calm about him within just 24 hours. When I got home, I fed him dinner in his crate and took him for another walk. We then spent 30 minutes on walking through gates and doors. The idea is that the pack leader (that would be me), always goes through the gate first, then the dog. This was a challenge at the back gate, because that's the one we go through to go on ours walks. But I have to hand it to Tiny. He's a fast learner. The first few times I would open the gate and if he started to go through first, I would shut the gate in his face. Within minutes, he was patiently waiting for me to go through first, then he would follow. By the end of our 30 minute session, he had it down pat. What was so amazing was that I never uttered a word to him. Afterwards, we hung out on the back patio. It was awesome to see the dog who looks terrifying, to just lounge out. He would occasionally lick my hand, which is a sign of submission. However trying to be a worthy pack leader, I had to ignore it. He seems to be catching on quickly so I'll be able to show him some affection soon. Cant wait! :)

Friday, May 13, 2011

Day One in the Do-Over

So, a couple of days ago, my son, Gunnar and I drive to Jersey City, NJ to pick up Tiny. I could not WAIT to see him, but I needed to establish myself as his pack leader right off the bat. Ed Frawley, the owner of Leerburg Kennels, says that when introducing (or in our case, re-introducing) a new dog into the home, you need to lay ‘groundwork’ to establish pack structure with adult dogs. This means Tiny was coming home but he was going to be the low man on the totem pole. His crate was moved to the basement where he would be isolated from the rest of the household. For the first few days, he would only have contact with Dave and me. He would eat and sleep in his crate and only be allowed in the rest of the house when he’s taken outside for exercise and walks. The plan is to walk him in the morning then he will be let out in the back yard around lunch time for an hour. When I get home, we’ll work on some training exercises then he’ll go for a walk before bedtime.
The key to this method is to be “aloof” as a pack leader would be. We’re to act as if he doesn’t even exist. Do you know how hard this is with a 70 lb pitbull that can melt your heart with the wag of his long skinny tail? When we pulled up to the house, I instructed Gunnar not to look at Tiny or acknowledge him in any way. I knocked on the door and there he was! Wagging his tail with a little high pitched whine and the biggest Pibble Smile you ever saw!!!! It was extremely difficult to act like I didn’t even care when what I really wanted to do was wrap my arms around that big ol’ head of his and tell him how much I missed him. But I pulled myself together and quietly slipped his harness on him and led him to the van. He jumped in the back seat like he had done so many times before and slept for most of the 2 hour ride home.
Once we were home, I put him in the back yard to do his business and then we went for a long walk. I could already tell that this process is going to work. I walked and made sure he stayed by my side. He saw a little dog across the street and pulled in its direction…I kept walking straight, ignoring it and him. One of the neighbor kids saw him and yelled “TINY”, but again, I pretended like I didn’t hear anything and kept walking. As we passed distraction after distraction and ignored every single one, the more relaxed Tiny became. Halfway into the walk, he was alert but stayed by my side and didn’t bolt in the direction of something that interested him. Once we were home, he had a big drink of water and I put him in his crate with a soup bone as a welcome home present. I didn’t hear a peep from him all night and it was hard not to keep checking on him. But I know deep down that the sacrifices now are going to be worth it in the end when he turns out to be an amazing and obedient dog.