We have an adult female pit bull who's always been very sweet. But lately we're noticing she's more protective and growly when strangers come around. We took her camping last weekend with some friends and she was obnoxious when their dogs came near her. We should have brought her to classes when she was younger, but we didn't; we just worked with her at home, where she was good. Now when she sees another dog she just freezes and stiffens up. You know she's about to explode any second, and then she's hard to stop. What can we do?
April in Bull River, MT
You have a problem brewing, no doubt about that. To really fix the problem, you'll have to do many things, like serious training, setting more boundaries for her at home, reinforcing your own leadership every way imaginable, exercising her more, and managing her social activities.
BUT...you need "first aid" now! Here's what I'd recommend to prevent those blow-ups which are nearly impossible to stop once they start: from now on, when you have her on a leash and are walking her around other dogs, watch her body language very carefully. When you see her "freeze up," immediately give her a good, firm, sideways leash correction and a verbal "LEAVE IT!" command. You will catch her off guard. She will look at you. Praise her at that moment for looking at you. You will have temporarily broken that electrical connection between her and the other dog. Now, keep it broken as you move on. Pretend to ignore the other dogs and walk away with confidence. If she knows YOU are confident, she will feel more comfortable too. You want a dog who shows calm submission to you, as you show calm assertion to her.
The best time to stop a dog fight is before it ever happens. To do that, you must be able to read your dog's body language and convince her that you can literally read her mind as well...which you really can! If she know that YOU, the LEADER, are watching her every moment and noting whether she's being naughty or nice, she'll stay on her toes trying to please you.