Pit Bulls and Pre-Teens

May 10, 2011  

Moose the therapy dog teaches that everyone is capable of change

By Angie Kline

I coordinate Future Generations, an after-school program for at-risk middle school aged children. I am constantly looking for enrichment activities and guest speakers, and I was equal parts thrilled and anxious when a pit bull therapy dog named Moose came in to meet the children.

I have been a dog person forever; but I have always favored small dogs, like my own Chihuahua, Bruiser.

Like many others, I had preconceived notions that pit bulls were mean dogs. In my mind I had portrayed Moose to be wearing a spiked collar and that he’d be pulling at the leash trying to break free.

In the past I had read some sensational headlines about dog fighting and professional football players, and all of this media attention had formed my previous impression of pit bulls.

To be honest, it was hard to imagine a pit bull having a warm and fuzzy time with our group. Although I was excited to have Moose visit, I was a bit nervous about how he’d interact, especially with loud, active teenagers.

Just like pit bulls, some at-risk children are misconceived as being predictably out of control and ready to fight.

During the initial Q&A session, Moose’s owner, Jasmine, asked the children about their impressions of pit bulls. They shared thoughts of the breed being tough and unpredictable. It was ironic to see really excited children next to a very calm animal. He didn’t act so tough. Moose was totally in control of his behavior, even when the environment was a chaotic.

His behavior was proof that he has been well trained.

It made me realize that the way a person trained their dog is critical to how they’ll behave long term.

The group learned about the proper way to approach a dog. They also learned what not to do if a dog displays threatening behavior, which was helpful and practical information.

How did this interaction change my impression of pit bulls?

Let’s just say I’m a work in progress. I may still hesitate and cross the street if I encounter a pit bull with my Bruiser. (I don’t totally trust my little Bruiser’s Super Dog Syndrome.)

But after meeting Moose, I have a better appreciation for the skilled work that it takes to retrain both pit bulls and people.

Through Moose, I have learned there are many similarities in my line of work at Future Generations and pit bull rehab. Just like pit bulls, some at-risk children are misconceived as being predictably out of control and ready to fight.

It is our challenge to show them better methods of problem solving and setting personal goals. With the children, there are constant opportunities to verbally lash out and fight their way out of situations, instead of negotiating and compromising.

Patience and training are vital components in what we do—just like pit bull rehab.

The youth learned about effective ways to train their dogs, and I learned that they’re essentially the same methods that a child needs as they are maturing.

Children and pit bulls both need boundaries, positive reinforcement and consistency.

After meeting Moose, I learned it’s not true when people say, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

Moose, a once cast-off dog from the Humane League, learned how to become a therapy dog to help people. It’s the same idea in my line of work with the children. They’re growing and maturing. They have the ability to change and learn new skill sets. Neither is incapable of change.

Just like Moose’s behavior was changed so he could become a therapy dog, our goal at Future Generations is to intervene when we see inappropriate behavior – like when we see a child submitting to peer pressure or becoming engaged in negative activities – so that the new ideas and skills we present will be ingrained into the adult they become.

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