Mack Studies for the CGC – Part I

September 21, 2011  

We follow a pit bull as he prepares to take his Canine Good Citizen test

By Allison Johnson

Week one of our Canine Good Citizen (CGC) class was interesting and a challenge. The class was full, with about 20 dogs, and it was held outside. I could tell right away that Mack was going to have a hard time focusing on me with so many things going on around him. I had no idea that he would react the way he did though.

The instructor told everyone to practice loose leash walking in a circle, and Mack completely lost it. Growling and lunging at the other dogs near him, he was making a royal scene. I could see the fur along his spine standing up and the fear on the faces of the other students. I was mortified; this was my good boy, the star pupil in both of his previous obedience classes, and suddenly he was acting like some wild beast.

Mack was the only pit bull in a class of mostly little dogs, and I was sure that the other dog guardians were all looking at us in judgment and fear. They must be assuming that he was a typical, “aggressive” pit bull, and that upset me. My goal was for him to earn his CGC so that anyone who saw him would see that pit bulls are good dogs, not the wild monsters that so many people wrongly imagine.

I pulled him from the circle into a grassy area to calm him down, but I was too upset to hide my feelings from him or the other people there. The other dogs were walking as the instructor came towards us. Assuming she would ask us to leave, I fought back the tears as I began to gather my things, and I gave Mack an “at least we tried” look.

She asked, “Can I borrow your dog?”

I was shocked! The instructor was smiling and rubbing Mack’s ears! She wasn’t asking us to leave or even frowning in disapproval. Silently I handed his leash to her, as a rush of emotions overwhelmed me. I watched in awe as she took him, “rooin” loudly and lunging, into the middle of the circle. To look at her face, you would think she led a calm, well-behaved dog. He lunged and growled at her old lab, there for demonstration. The lab just remained where she was, looking at him as thought he was a fly buzzing around her head.

The instructor put a gentle leader on Mack, which made him wriggle and thrash even more. I was almost in tears as I watched my baby boy make a spectacle of himself from the grass 20 feet away. The trainer was calm, and within less than 10 minutes, so was he. As she patiently calmed him down, she explained firmly to the whole class that this behavior should not be surprising or frightening, but actually was as should be expected. He was afraid and over-stimulated, she explained. She went on to say that he was reacting out of fear, not out of aggression. She reiterated that many, many times: that he was not dangerous – he was just overwhelmed.

Only after an older lady with a Yorkshire Terrier asked did she mention that he was a pit bull. She told the class that one of the best dogs she had ever had was a pit bull and that there is no breed that is better with children. As he calmed down, I relaxed, and I think everyone in the class did too. He began to take treats and to ignore all the other dogs, including Callie, the old lab that he had been lunging at just moments before.

Mack performed all of his basic obedience skills, impressing the other dog owners, and his tail went back to its normal, wagging state. The trainer pointed this out to show them that he was calm and felt safe. She joined the walking circle with him to demonstrate the change in his demeanor, and he fell in with the line with only a few woofs and “roos” along the way. The class visited a grassy area for some social time, and she returned him to me. I took his leash, still feeling very emotional, and I thanked her.

The trainer reassured me that his behavior was really quite common and asked me if we were going to try for his CGC. I asked her if she thought he could do it and she replied, “He’s a pit bull. He can do anything.” I felt a rush of relief and I got choked up as I looked down at my best friend, sorry he had ever been misunderstood, but hopeful that, together, we could make it better.

As the class was ending and people start to leave, I hung back from the group to keep him from being overwhelmed again. Sure that everyone was still afraid of him, I didn’t want to make the others uncomfortable. But as people walked by, a few stopped to smile at us both. An older woman leading a little poodle mix stopped to talk to us. “Don’t you go quitting on us,” she said with a smile. She told me how impressed she was that he had calmed down so quickly and thanked me for bringing him because he was such a good example. She asked me to please, please come back next week. I felt so much better. The woman with the Yorkshire Terrier smiled at us as she walked to her car, told us that we handled the situation very well and told Mack what a pretty boy he was. A couple with a Rottweiler came over to tell us their experience with their German Shorthaired Pointer. He had had fear aggression problems, and they said that Mack had responded much more quickly to efforts to calm him than their dog ever had. They encouraged us to stick with it.

As I put him in the car, I felt calmer and more confident that we could do it. I knew that we were welcome and wanted in the class. The instructor stopped as she was leaving to tell Mack he was awesome and good. I could see him smiling bigger as she praised him.

If our instructor hadn’t been so patient and understanding of the breed, there is a good chance I would have lost my confidence and given up. Mack is 2 ½ years old and has been through two obedience classes. He had never acted aggressively before that day. My reaction was rooted in shock and fear that I had let him down. My goal in training him is to show people how wonderful the breed is and that pit bulls can be well behaved if they are understood by a patient and persistent human. When he reacted to the other dogs as he did, I was afraid that I had failed to break the stereotype. Thankfully, there was someone there to step in and help. Mack and I are looking forward to a better class next week, and I am working on staying calm and unruffled, especially when Mack is reacting in fear.

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Comments

24 Responses to “Mack Studies for the CGC – Part I”
  1. Good story; this made me think about what happened to me last night while walking my babies. They love to see other dogs and are socialized (not as much as I would like). While walking them last night there was a woman standing in off to the side of the sidewalk; as usual I try not to avoid anyone but reassure them (1) I have control over my dogs and (2) they are like any other breed they love attention and people. It was dark and my eyes were still trying to focus and at the last minute I saw this minute dog running out of nowhere which startled both dogs and I lost it. The woman tried to play it cool by saying my dogs were pretty but I could see her backing away as Krusher & Sasha were goign for her dog; like you I felt defeated because they are awesome and love to play with other dogs but out of concerned for the other party it’s hard for them to understand that only because they are pitbulls. Thanks for sharing

    • StubbyDog says:

      @theprettychic Thank you. And we’re sure you are not alone in the reaction you received, however, because your dogs are such good ambassadors for pit bulls, they will quickly change peoples’ minds. (and Mack is quite a handsome boy)

    • AndyWhiteman says:

      @theprettychic I have noticed that most people are smart enough to stay away from Pit Bulls or any large dog for that matter. My procedure is to not approach any dog but allow the dog to approach if in a friendly manner since I don’t want to appear to be the aggressor. My last dog, Hank, was an Australian Cattle Dog and possibly part Pit Bull. I was walking Hank when a man asked if he could pet Hank. I gave permission and the next thing I knew was that Hank jumped back almost knocking me over. The man had kissed Hank! Hank didn’t know how to react except to escape from that idiot.

  2. By the way Mack is very handsome

  3. Iluvmypibble says:

    Mack is beautiful and that trainer is fabulous. And she is right, ha can do anything. Stick with it, you can both do this!!! My pitbull, Savannah, got her Canine Good Citizen cert at a dog festival (with over 500 people there) on her first try with no prep. Talk about shocked. Mack can do this, and so can you!!! Good for you 🙂

  4. AndyWhiteman says:

    I am surprised the trainer did so well with Mack. Red Dogg, a Vizsla/Pit Bull was attacked by another dog while walking with me and didn’t defend herself. I had no problem until after I had her spayed and then the fear aggression popped up. I think part of the issue is I am afraid she will attack another dog and she senses it. All works well if I see the dog first and give Red Dogg a “SIT-STAY,” command. That establishes my control but it only works if I see the dog before she does.

    I took her to a trainer who identified fear-agression and shocked her so much that she would turn on me stand on her hind legs, jumping, barking, and air biting at me. The trainer wanted to sell more lessons but he was making her worse. I felt I was wasting time and money. I sure wish that a trainer like the one who handled Mack was in the Kansas City area.

    • StubbyDog says:

      @AndyWhiteman A good trainer is so important and you should never settle if you feel a particular trainer isn’t right for you. Please check other resources to help find a trainer that can help you and Red Dogg. Possibly check with a pit bull rescue organization for a recommendation of a trainer in your area. Good luck.

      • AndyWhiteman says:

        From my experience it seems I need a trainer with specific experience in fear aggression and not just “a trainer.” Being disabled scheduling is very difficult for me.

        • JoanMurphySnow says:

          Andy It is true.I found A trainer here in the Atlanta area who is a dog behaviourist and who has a great deal of experience with Pit bulls.This guy loves the breed and is an advocate for them doing all kinds of community work.He is working some magic on my dogs!I hope you find someone like B.I found him through a recommendation of a Pit bull rescue group. Good Luck!

        • NME_2_BYBs says:

          Andy, you need to find a CPDT or CDBC positive trainer. Shocking a dog with fear aggression is a horrible, inhumane thing to do, as your poor dog demonstrated for you. A legitimate trainer would work with both of you to set up a desensitization/counter-conditioning protocol to address these issues. Here is an excellent article that discusses dog reactivity- http://www.peaceablepaws.com/articles.php?subaction=showfull&id=1282177726&archive=&start_from=&ucat=1&type=Pat

          A quote: “Old-fashioned training methods that advocate the use of pain and force to dominate the dog and suppress unwanted behaviors are not appropriate in general, and are particularly inappropriate with aggression-related behaviors. They’re likely to worsen the behavior — give the dog an escalated negative association with the presence of other dogs.”

        • StubbyDog says:

          @NME_2_BYBs this is very true, also, your dog maybe fearful dominant and not fear aggressive, the two are often confused. Many times a fearful dog will react in the offense, thus labeling him as aggressive, which probably is not the case. Best of luck Andy.

        • AndyWhiteman says:

          Thanks for the info. I didn’t recognize the issue was fear. A vet told me that a female will sometimes become aggressive towards dogs after spaying. The trainer diagnose fear aggression after he provoked her into trying to bite him. I didn’t see Red Dogg attempt to bite but he claimed she made an attempt.

    • @AndyWhiteman not sure if you’re willing to travel but there’s a guy name Mr. K9; he’s based out of Chicago, IL he offers FREE evaluations and FREE training to those that live in the area. He has an awesome video on youtube displaying his training techniques with the dogs & trainers. The setting is at a very busy park. Here’s his number (708) 799-0999 and the website http://www.mrk9.net or .com. I was thinking about sending dogs to him but the drive was a bit much and I didn’t want to leave them (that is an option for you). I spoke with Mr. K9 on a few times. Prayerfully this helps

      • AndyWhiteman says:

        @theprettychic Thanks for the link. I bookmarked it. I am disabled and rarely travel because it costs at least $200 per day (gas and 2 days of motel charges for late check out since I sleep days) to drive anywhere. I wish there was someone with his qualifications in the Kansas City area. I inquired once and was told there is no certification for trainers. There should be a certification and directory of dog trainers. There is no good way to find a trainer since anyone can claim to be a dog trainer and not know what they are doing! The last trainer shocked Red Dogg for what he perceived as any disobedience. This “trainer” said he shocked his own dogs from a remote location. He spent entire sessions teaching her to do tricks that were totally useless that I felt was a waste of money. I think it was his way of making more money.

        • NME_2_BYBs says:

          @AndyWhiteman There are certifications for dog trainers- it is a self-regulating profession. You won’t find a licensed dog trainer, since no governing body oversees the profession, but you will find regulating bodies and certifications. The Association of Pet Dog Trainers is a highly respected organization, with dog trainer listings available on their website http://www.apdt.com/

        • AndyWhiteman says:

          Thanks, I went to and bookmarked that website. I will call one who certifies CGC. Hopefully she will be someone who can deal with these issues. @NME_2_BYBs

        • AndyWhiteman says:

          @NME_2_BYBs

          Thanks, I went to and bookmarked that website. I will call one who certifies CGC. Hopefully she will be someone who can deal with these issues.

        • @AndyWhiteman here are a few sites that might help you http://westwoodanimalhospital.com they have a behavorialist on site

          http://training.godsy.com

          http://www.forthedogstraining.com

          if all else fails try contact Cesar Milan

        • AndyWhiteman says:

          @theprettychic@theprettychic Thanks for the links. I have bookmarked them. One is local, one appears to be local, and one appears to be out yonder. One of the local ones appears to be extremely expensive. I may have trouble scheduling since I don’t function days but I will start calling around. The article that lead to this thread seemed to imply that one session resolved the problem. I wonder is it is a one session thing or if it requires numerous sessions? Red Dogg has learned some basic commands but sometimes is reluctant to COME unless I get angry or if realizes she will be left out. Some commands such as exiting a car are forgotten if she is not in the car for a long period of time. When I realize that has happened we get back in STAY and repeat the exit on command.

        • NME_2_BYBs says:

          @AndyWhiteman@theprettychic Behavioral issues are not something anyone can truly solve with a waive of the hand, or neatly wrap up by the end of a heavily-edited reality television show. Mack’s issues were not SOLVED by the end of the class, they simply found the proper way to manage them in order to begin teaching him how he should react to the situation.

          Think of it this way- if a child starts freaking out in class for one reason or another, and the teacher manages to calm them down and get them to do their work, that doesn’t mean that the child will never ever have another problem, or act out, or be distracted, or even that the issues that caused the first outburst have been resolved. It just means that the very first step has been taken to begin to address the problem, and everyone has a better idea of how to proceed.

          A positive trainer will be able to help you with following cues as well. Many of them do home visits and travel for clients.

        • AndyWhiteman says:

          I strongly suspected that Mack’s issue was not resolved with one session. I suspect that I am somewhat responsible because Red Dogg is somewhat of a service dog and her desire is to protect and/or comfort me. Anytime I read on the net about an abused dog in need of rescue I am so upset with emotion that she is by my side. If I sneeze or clear my throat, she is immediately there. Since I have a fear that she will attack dogs she may be picking up on my fear and protecting me. (I have a medical issue and Hank, the dog before her, would detect it and alert 6 hours before I had a problem.) My fear will not end until I can trust her around dogs so we may be fighting a revolving battle. One thing I noticed was at her last vet exam, the vet called her and she ignored him. Apparently she will answer to only one person.

  5. AngelaHandley says:

    I have a SBT and have been wanting to put him in a CGC class but have been afraid to do so because of his reaction to other dogs. This story is very reassuring that there is hope. Thank you for sharing.

  6. AllisonJohnson says:

    Thanks to all who have read and commented. I’m glad to share this journey. Also, I want to emphasize that Mack’s issues were NOT instantly resolved because of this session, but the fact that the trainer knew what to do and taught me what to do made a huge difference in our next session.