When I first got Mulder, he resembled a freight train on leash. He would pull strongly in all directions, scrambling wildly to get to where he wanted. For some semblance of control, I opted to introduce him to a prong collar. Prong collars are not for everyone, but they are not as scary as they look. They are safer than choke collars and are essentially self correcting collars. They can only tighten to a certain point (which is why you must size them correctly), and when a dog pulls on the leash the collar tightens. It’s a meaner looking martingale.
For those who think they’re painful: I encourage you to try one on yourself. Go to a pet store that sells them, put one on (I’ve done this) and check it out. With that being said, prong collars are not meant to be used as an everyday collar. Do not leave it on your dog unsupervised. It is not a magical fix and will not stop your dog from pulling. It is a training tool. As such, it requires – you know – training. They are not a long term solution.
Fast forward a few months and Mulder walks beautifully with the prong and I am transitioning him over to the flat collar. He no longer pulls and and is learning to heel. Our transitional collar is a flat nylon martingale. He used to have some reactivity on leash in regards to other dogs, and the nylon martingale is a gentle reminder. He’s improved in leaps and bounds: a few months ago he would strain on the leash, whimpers escalating to full blown barking if he was not able to immediately greet another dog in the vicinity. Now, he’ll walk by, interested but calm, and is progressing well with the cue “leave it”. We are slowly refining our skills, and he’s taking baby steps to heel and wait via voice command only.
Last Saturday, Jeff Daniel’s Jeeps hosted a fundraiser event that highlighted a few local rescues. Ben and I drove down with the dogs to check out the raffles. People brought all sorts of dogs (and then some – somebody brought goats) and it was the perfect socializing event for Mulder. For an hour he politely sniffed and tried to play with everyone. He listened well despite the distractions, and at one point he had a Great Dane sneak up on him. I’m not sure he knew what to do with a dog that big!
It’s hard to convey that Mulder is a friendly and happy little dog who is also very reserved. He’s like that coworker who will greet you warmly and chat about the weather – but two years later you realize that you don’t actually know who they are. People see the excited, affectionate side of him at home and ask “sooo how are you not bonded to him yet??”
What they don’t see are the shifty eyes that are softening but not totally soft yet. They don’t see the internal struggle of him wanting to be close to you but not really wanting to be pet. The tightening of his face when voices are raised – even when it’s Ben and I just laughing and carrying on. Praise and physical touch are not his main motivation yet – food is. While he loves meeting new people, he does not yet have the desire to please me yet. There has to be something in it for him, and it’s my job to find what motivates him.
He’s learning. He’s starting to check in on walks, to look up at me for direction. He’s beginning to react positively to praise. Hesitant tail wags are replaced with whipping tail flails, and at this point I would argue the most dangerous thing on a pit bull is their bony tail. Somehow, Mulder’s always seems to strike a knee cap or back of my thigh – and boom, a bruise!
Recall is going well, and we’re at about 95% success rate while on leash. The 25ft lunge line works well while hiking, but at home he sports the 50ft lead. It’s lightweight enough that he doesn’t notice, but it gives me peace of mind until I can trust him. Working with distractions has been the biggest hurdle, and I try to get him out a few nights a week to a busy park to practice ignoring distractions and focus on me. Mulder’s also starting to really play outside with me. Inside the house, he’ll play tug-of-war and gleefully bounce around with a toy. Up until now, he hasn’t shown any interest in toys when outside. He chased the tennis ball and brought it back. This is huge considering when I first got him he thought me throwing a ball meant he was going to be beaten. He would run off a few yards if he noticed you pick something up and raise your arm, and he’d flatten himself down and hide if you came at him with it.
I take him everywhere (even clothes shopping). We stopped at Cabela’s last night and at Old Navy to browse and grab some shoes. All these short, positive experiences out are helping to build confidence.