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Hey,

Sorry for the long comments but I wanted to reach out to the community about a particular problem I’m having with my pup. I debated about posting in the First Timer's forum but this seems like a trickier issue.

I have a 7mo male pitbull that I’m self training. As a first time dog owner I’m aware that I dove into the deep end with a pitbull and a puppy first time around but I’m willing to work at it. He’s a good dog generally, has a bit of Seperation Anxiety, but otherwise a lovable fairly obedient and responsive pup. Occasionally though when we’re on walks or just hanging out in the yard, something (pent up energy, frustration at being leashed…idk) sets him off and he goes into this sort of manic frenzy, running circles around me at full speed, then coming in, jumping, snarling, and biting.

These outbursts only last 5-10 seconds and I’m aware that he isn’t “attacking” me, but the leaping and biting is aggressive enough to pierce clothing, and bruise or break the skin. That combined with the snarling make this an extremely confrontational moment. Afterwards though he settles right down and is fine. It just feels like a temporary emotional outburst. These moments usually occur after he’s gotten worked up by other dogs, people, or activity that he sees during our walk, but is restrained from interacting with. It literally feels like he's just had enough of being leashed, and restrained, and just kind of goes into temporary revolt fueled by all that pent of energy.

As I understand it, the thing to do is remain calm. I can usually tell the moment before he goes off, and when I have him in his harness I can hold him away from me until he settles, at which point I pet him and give him a treat for calming down. The problem though is, while I’ve learned to contain these outbursts if I have him on a leash, I he isn’t it’s much harder, and it is extremely difficult to remain composed when he’s exhibiting aggressive, borderline dangerous behavior against my person. It feels like a betrayal of sorts, rebellious, as he temporarily “turns” on me, and as a result I get very angry. As much as I want to be patient and teach him, my anger is more a defensive reflex at being “attacked”. Dealing with hyperactivity is one thing, jumping alone wouldn’t be a big deal, but actually growling and biting is a more immediate problem that I feel like needs to be sternly addressed.

I know I need to figure out the cause but regardless of what it is this is completely unacceptable behavior as it poses a (minor) threat to myself, to say nothing for the embarrassment of the spectacle and how it must look to anyone who happens to see (some people are already wary of pitfalls. And in these moments it looks like he’s completely out of control). This also makes me a bit tentative with him around people (though I think the socialization actually curbs this behavior). I don’t mind being patient and working through behavior but when it’s outright aggression, I feel like it needs to be shut down pretty quickly.

I feel like he needs to get a clear message that certain behaviors are absolutely unacceptable. Problem is I don’t really have a good way to quickly and effectively chastise him in these situations. I’ve reprimanded him pretty harshly at times, but I feel like he still doesn’t “get it” and that I’d have to really escalate the punishment before he would. I’m cautious though that additional aggression against him may only result in further outbursts and bad behavior. My thinking as far as punishment goes is that if he’s supposed to respect me as the “alpha” there should be a pretty clear consequence for aggression directed at me.

Being a pitbull I try to give him good excersize and keep him stimulated throughout the day. I work from home, so I’m around but have to ignore him for periods of time to work. We go for two 45-1hr walks pretty much everyday, with occasional yard time in between. I also try to interact with him at various intervals throughout the day, and he has chewy and noise toys that can keep him occupied on his own.

I assume this behavior stems from pent up energy and limited socializing. I have recently signed him up with a local fenced in dog park so hopefully interacting with more people and dogs more frequently will help him become better adjusted. I want to understand the cause and deal with it properly but like I said when the behavior is aggressive it’s difficult to not to become angry and become emotionally removed from him for long periods of time following these outbursts. I’m disappointed, as I’ve become increasingly frustrated with these tantrums and emotionally removed from him on general.

Anyway, sorry again for the lengthy post. Has anyone else gone through this? Any advice is appreciated.
 

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Puppies frequently have "zoomies" (running, jumping, nipping outbursts) and pit bulls tend to be physically demonstrative dogs. It sounds pretty normal to me, the way you've described it. It's not aggression towards you or confrontational---just energy coming through in a burst of craziness. Growling/snarling is not a bad thing, in any context. When playing, it's just like a human saying "I'm gonna get you" or something similar, when serious, it's a warning before the dog really escalates. So you don't want to punish/discourage growling at all.

Please throw out any ideas of being "pack leader" or anything involving dominance/"respect"/alpha. This has been repeatedly disproven and leads to a poor relationship with your dog. Just work on bonding and training. Training is about consistency, reinforcement, and repetition, it has nothing to do with whether the dog thinks you're "dominant". I don't have the links for further info available but I'm sure someone else will post them if you want to read more :).

Make sure he gets lots of exercise and mental stimulation, and keep training for incompatible behaviors (if he is doing a sit, down, leave it, etc., he can't be jumping and biting). He's in that challenging teenage stage so just keep working with him. He'll mature eventually.

ETA: after reading it again, you said he redirects on you when frustrated with not being able to get to other dogs. This could be puppy zoomies, but could also be reactivity. You may want to read up on reactivity just in case.

Also, be aware that pit bulls are frequently not the sort of dog you want to take to a dog park. Even if he isn't dog aggressive, sometimes dogs get into fights and he will always be blamed if that happens :/. And some pit bulls do end up being dog aggressive even with proper socialization. Just be really careful with that.
 

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Without seeing the behavior it is really hard to say for certain but what you are describing sounds a lot like "puppy zoomies" which is not aggression at all but overstimulated play and possibly a bit of redirected frustration. He is a puppy and he doesn't know how to play correctly yet, he gets excited and he plays rough. Pit bulls do tend to have a very physical play style, as his primary (or only) playmate he wants to play with you and does not know that he cannot. Try to think of it not in terms of him being aggressive, attacking you or betraying you but simply in terms of teaching him what you would rather he did. Think of him like an overstimulated toddler. When he gets super rambunctious simply put him in a "time out" until he is ready to play calmly again. This will help him to calm down and learn what type of play you enjoy, whether that is fetch, tug, flirt pole, or even a bit of rough housing without teeth. When he gets "crazy" in the home you can pick him up, put him in his crate and give him a little quiet time. Probably 5-10minutes will be enough for him to calm down but you may find these crazy times are actually times when he is needing a nap (this is true with little kids too). When he is out on walks you may want to turn away from him and stand very still until he has stopped or end your walk and go inside (depending on where you are and what you are doing).

I personally am not a huge dog park fan. I certainly do not advise taking a bully breed puppy to a dog park as his primary means of socialization. My advise would be to enroll him in a puppy socialization class or basic obedience class where he can socialize in a controlled setting and with a professional trainer present. From there you may want to set up playdates with friends you make in class or with friends you know who have well mannered/socialized adult dogs or even puppies. Puppies learn social skills from well mannered adult dogs but a dog park tends to be a free for all and there is no telling what types of dogs will be there. If something should go wrong your dog will get blamed, doesn't matter who is at fault.

ETA: I see Willowy responded as I was typing and I agree. I also reread and see that your dog is possibly redirecting after seeing other dogs, another good reason to skip the dog parks and look into classes instead. Not a good idea to take a possibly reactive dog into a dog park.
 

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Thanks Willowy,

I'm glad to hear this is somewhat normal.

It can be confusing though as there is a lot of contradictory info out there. Being the alpha for instance, I don't want my dog to be afraid of me obviously but I've heard that term used in reference to owning multiple dogs as a way of maintain the pecking order. But again maybe that's just with multiple dogs.

My biggest issue with this is that I don't have an unlimited number of shirts to see punctured in the name of training and when he biting hard enough to bruise/break skin is a difficult behavior to just tolerate which is why I was wondering about discouragement techniques. When he's calm, the few times he may bite, he does so with noticeable care. He knows not to actually "bite" which is why the more aggressive ones are a bit irksome. Do you know of any techniques for sending a clear "no" message. Saying it does nothing in these situations. I've heard of using a spray bottle but that's equally disputed.

Thanks again!
 

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I have 5 dogs, I assure you "being the alpha" is not a thing even in multiple dog households. I don't need to "establish pecking order" my dogs know I'm not a dog. I have hands, I walk upright and I have all of the food. Cesar Milan is pretty much the only one still beating that horse.

He won't stop when you say "No" because he isn't human and has no idea what "no" means. The best way to send a clear "cease and desist" message is to end all interaction and put him in time out as soon as he begins the biting. However if all you are doing is trying to end the behavior you will not get what you want. You need to teach him what you want him to do instead. If he is actually redirecting because of reactivity you need to deal with the reactivity. If he is just having "zoomies" then you need to teach him self control, help him calm down and teach him how to play appropriately (by rewarding him when he plays the way you want and playing with him not just walking him). If you can't do this on your own you need to get with a trainer or behaviorist. This is not something we can help you discern by a description on the internet.

ETA: A couple of links
http://drsophiayin.com/philosophy/dominance?/dominance.php
http://www.whole-dog-journal.com/issues/14_12/features/Alpha-Dogs_20416-1.html?s=ShareASale
http://www.dogstardaily.com/training/misconceptions-mythical-alpha-dog
http://avsabonline.org/uploads/position_statements/dominance_statement.pdf
http://www.davemech.org/news.html
 
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