If you have a pit or staffie who has problems, this blog post is for you. Every day I have dog owners contact me with “Pit-esque” dogs who need help. Most of them were recently adopted and brought into Canada from states like Georgia and Florida. The new owners are trying to do their best for the dog, but they don’t understand the basics when it comes to owning an easily aroused dog. Ok, some of these dogs are what I call frumpalumps. They are essentially dogs that are super chill, easy-going, and rarely have issues.
I don’t see those dogs often, but they are common which is great! They just don’t come in for training for obvious reasons. What I see is insane, off the wall, nut jobs. These dogs I call the Dope seekers or dope addicts. These dogs are very easily overstimulated. The moment they walk out the front door, they are scanning for something to fixate on. They are pulling like a freight train, and losing their minds when they see dogs, animals, and sometimes people too. While most of these dogs look aggressive, most of them are not aggressive in the sense that they don’t usually have the intention to hurt dogs, animals or people. These dog owners need to understand what their dog is before they can fix the problem. Their dog is a dopamine junkie.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter (think of it as a hormone) and dopamine activates the pleasure-seeking cortex in the dog’s mind. Coupled with that, dopamine is extremely addictive. Humans create dopamine too. When you scroll up or down on Instagram, you are releasing a small amount of dopamine, that’s why you keep doing it 100 times a day. Your dog is like that, times 10,000. They are so addicted to dopamine, that little sounds will spark them off. While sounds will cause them to flare up, it’s visual triggers that set these dogs off the most. Excessively Dilated pupils are an easy way to spot these dogs. I was going to post some videos of dogs that I worked in the past, but having done that before, I get a lot of hate mail and nasty comments, so you’ll have to use your imagination today. So if it’s not aggression what is it?
Your dog is constantly looking for a higher level of dopamine. Less interesting things like napping don’t provide any dopamine release for them while going for walks produces a lot. Seeing other dogs gives a huge release, and fighting gives the biggest release possible. Playing with another dog only gives 100/100, but fighting gives 120/100. Barking and lunging at another dog while on a walk gets them 95/100. The pleasure they feel from the dopamine release keeps them wanting more and more and more. And often these dogs get into fights not because they are aggressive, it’s because they don’t present themselves well to other dogs, or they will seek to fight in a way to get that higher high. Dopamine causes your dog to have tunnel vision. They can’t think clearly when overwhelmed by dopamine and they can get themselves into trouble very easily. They don’t care about anything apart from more dopamine. So, what’s to be done about your little problem child? Well, first of all, stop giving them what they want all of the time. If you have a fenced-in yard, don’t run them for 15 minutes to make them tired, all that you are doing is creating a triathlete. Chasing a ball produces that same dopamine response. Your dog should be doing low arousal things, not high arousal things.
Work them mentally, not physically. Start forcing them to walk down the sidewalk without acting like a serial murderer. Use something like a properly fitted prong collar, and don’t give them 6 feet on the leash to pull you around. Make yourself the jealous boyfriend/girlfriend. Don’t let them focus on dogs, people, etc. Make them look at you, and get the walk calm. No off-leash unless your dogs can stay calm and not chase things, and no off-leash if they have a history of getting into dog fights. Don’t let your dog be a freak of nature when people come to the door. Put a leash on them and make them calm down before they can say hello to guests. No running to the door barking their heads off. That’s dopamine. Don’t give your dog freedom they have not earned, which means, if your dog gets into fights with other dogs because he runs at them as fast as he possibly can and body checks them, don’t let your dog off-leash, even in secluded areas. That will have to be earned back after significant training.
Owning one of these dogs is a responsibility. Some of them are not easy to handle for an average dog owner. They can be incredible dogs, I get that, I know hundreds who are perfect dogs, but they can also be a huge liability if not handled properly. If you need help with your problem dog, give me a shout, I help dog owners like you every day.