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.
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.