It is National Pitbull Awareness Day today and I couldn’t let this pass by without a bit of a blog post.
I am a huge fan of Pitbull type dogs, I think they are incredibly loyal, can be amazing athletes (or amazing couch potatoes depending on the ‘style’), are fantastic thinkers, have such gregarious personalities, are very trusting, can be very diligent workers, are often very tolerant, and are fantastic snugglers. There is a lot to love about Pitbull type dogs but they are not the dog for everyone and that’s where I think many people get into trouble.
But that is not the case for the Pitbull and family that I really want to talk about today. I could think of no better way to celebrate National Pitbull Awareness Day than to celebrate an amazing Pitbull that I have been lucky enough to know and see blossom.
I have met hundreds and hundreds of Pitbull type dogs in my work at WPHS and I have met many amazing dogs and handlers who are just fantastic teams, but one absolutely stands out to me.
I first met Gracie and her parents about this time last year. They were enrolled in an Adult Basic 1 class at WPHS. During orientation I can recall Gracie’s mom pretty clearly and I remember that the big piece of information I took away from what she had to say was that they didn’t really know Gracie that well. They were definitely concerned, tense and worried about the situation they found themselves in (being new, at the time, “foster” parents to a dog) but were also clearly interested in doing their best for her.
Their first class did little, I feared, to assuage their fears about their dog. Gracie was at a learning station behind a barrier (as were most dogs in this particular class) and was a nervous wreck. I recall her pacing, panting, refusing treats the first little bit, jumping up on the barrier to see out, and being completely unable to pay attention to her handlers (it didn’t help that class had 4 other reactive dogs in class). I remember going to their corner and trying my best to calm down Gracie’s mom and dad. Instead of fighting for her attention and stressing out about performing behaviors, I remember I told her mom to just sit on the ground with her and give her some long slow petting to try and soothe her and calm her down. I very clearly remember telling her mom that, “Her job today is to learn how to relax here a little bit. Don’t worry about the obedience, just get her to relax and eat.”
I remember at the end of the class just hoping that they would come back to class… I know it can be incredibly disheartening for people when it’s so hard for them and their dog. I saw quite a bit of success during that first class actually–there were moments that I looked over the barrier to find Gracie laying in her mom’s lap totally chilled out! Well, her mom did come back to the next class, and the next, and the next. Gracie made huge strides in this basic class with both her comfort level and her ability to think and work in the environment. At the end of the class, Gracie worked almost the entire class without pacing, panting, or getting worked up–an amazing feat.
Since that first class, Gracie has completed a reactive dog class, another adult basic 1 class, a bully ambassador class, and my Mind Your Manners class (at least). She is a completely different dog from the one I met this time last year and she continues to amaze me.
She is everything that a Pitbull should be. She absolutely has a heart of gold and is ridiculously loving! After all the classes, she’s learned how to relax and can frog-leg lay down (totally stretched out) almost anywhere and has an amazingly infectious smile. I don’t think she’s ever met a stranger (but she’s also incredibly relaxed meeting new people so she’s not over the top) and is continuing to win over new friends. She’s made massive strides with feeling comfortable around other dogs and she is now quite tolerant of rude doggie greeters and can be friendly with appropriate doggies.
She is a true ambassador of the breed and I can honestly say that if I knew someone who hated Pitbulls, I’d introduce them to Gracie because I’m pretty sure she could break down any Pitbull hater with her laid back personality and infectious smile. I cannot not smile when I think about this goofy girl. I also cannot believe it has only been a year, she seems like a completely different dog and would probably be unrecognizable to people who only knew her back then. Her journey has been guided by some of the most dedicated pet parents I know and they deserve a huge amount of credit for her success–I mean, they have taken more classes with her in the last year than I’ve taken in the last two years with my own dogs!
I have no doubt she’ll be able to boast a CGC certificate and BA, MA, PhD. degrees from various testing programs in short order. And that is saying a lot when it comes to this girl who had quite a rough start to life. The fact that she can overcome such difficulties is just one more feature that I see in a lot of Pitbull type dogs–while they are not perfect and aren’t right for every home, they can be extremely forgiving when it comes to overcoming neglectful beginnings.
I cannot help but think of one of my most favorite Dr. Seuss books, “Oh The Places You’ll Go” when I think about Ms. Gracie…
… You’ll get mixed up, of course,
as you already know.
You’ll get mixed up
with many strange birds as you go.
So be sure when you step.
Step with care and great tact
and remember that Life’s
a Great Balancing Act.
Just never foget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.
And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)
KID, YOU’LL MOVE MOUNTAINS!
be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray
or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea,
You’re off the Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!