Taking on Tucker

November 12, 2012  

The author shares her experience rehabbing a pit bull after mistreatment from those who sought him for all the wrong reasons

By Sara Caller

This story starts in the winter of last year, when I moved into a lovely new apartment for one very important reason: no breed restrictions and no size requirements. In a town like Dallas, Texas, that is almost unheard of. I found it thanks to a couple I knew from work who had just moved in and were looking to adopt a pit bull puppy. I moved in so that I could foster pit bulls and I told them I would help them find the perfect pet.

There is a certain amount of bragging rights in the South that can be claimed by owning a pit bull, and this couple was very specific about how they wanted their new dog to look. And while I disagreed with their emphasis on aesthetic, I agreed to help them find a dog to adopt.

Just a week later, the rescue I was hoping to foster for, Dog Star Rescue, had a beautiful puppy come up for adoption by the name of Tucker. A stray from a neighboring city, Tucker was gorgeous with blue steel and white fur, big blue-green eyes and long legs. I showed my new neighbors a picture of him, and they fell in love.

The next week, Tucker moved in. The new happy family lived just across the hall, and I invited the rambunctious pup over often to play with my 3-year-old Catahoula/pit bull rescue, Sookie. They bonded quickly, and soon Tucker was spending part of every day with us. I tried to gently council his new parents on how to train him, but I did my best not to be overbearing, even when their lack of interest in training him became worrisome.

Not a Family Member

Tucker’s family kept him in a crate for the better part of each day, yelled at him constantly and never put him on a leash outside. They never touched him except when they wanted to play, and they always played rough. Jumping and biting where encouraged during playtime and then punished severely the rest of the time. When I had him in my home, I did my best to teach him basic obedience including down, sit, stay and bed. However, without those commands being reinforced at home, it was practically pointless.

As Tucker got bigger and bigger, his behavior got worse and more often than not, his destructive energy was unleashed in my house, not his. I quickly realized that Tucker was not a pet or child to my neighbors. He was a “fad” dog. Purse pups and pocket dogs were the fad dogs of the 1990s. In this day and age, pit bulls have taken that spot largely in part (I think) to all the television shows and publicity surrounding them.

Rehabbing Tucker

Long story short, Tucker ended up being “dumped” on me by his now separated parents, and while I was happy to take in my “godson,” he came with a lot of baggage. The worst was the chewing. I can only akin it to pica in humans. Tucker would chew and swallow anything. This came from a nervous compulsion caused by not nearly enough play time and social interaction, not to mention the constant negative reinforcement through yelling and being penned up.

Tucker was also very aggressive toward outside dogs. His former owners had tried to force him to go to the dog park multiple times, and the extreme fear he felt each time he was helplessly surrounded by a large pack of larger dogs left him scarred. He was also not fully potty trained and going on 6 – 7 months old. The worst problem was his issue with food and water. He was only given a little water at a time so he didn’t “make a mess” and as a result was water-aggressive. He was given only one paltry cup of food a day and as a result was underweight and food aggressive. The problems seemed endless, but I knew that underneath there was a wonderful, well-adjusted dog that just needed a chance to shine.

Tucker is almost a year old now and a totally different dog. No aggression with food, water or toys, no nervous toy and blanket eating, and his aggression is limited to strange large male dogs, something we’re continuously working on. At first he wouldn’t come when called, respond to commands, or walk on a leash. Now he does all three beautifully and even lifts his front paws one at a time so I can put his halter on. In short, he is a fantastic dog and could have been from the start. I’m afraid this fad culture is affecting more pit bulls than anyone realizes.

I had another foster dog I named Evie who was beyond gorgeous, but also had seriously behavior problems. She had been adopted from a shelter for a single day twice because she was so pretty, but they weren’t willing to deal with her issues when they got her home. If you foster or rescue, please be wary of people who want a “pretty” dog, or who have very specific aesthetics in mind. Also be aware that when you get a rescue with issues like these, there may be a history involved that you hadn’t considered.

As simple as it sounds, the key with Tucker was time, love and trust. Maybe that’s the key with your rescued “fad” dog too.

Update: Sara tells us that Tucker is now totally over his fear of strange dogs and plays ay least twice a week at the local dog park.

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9 Responses to “Taking on Tucker”
  1. JeneenBurns says:

    All dogs need careful training. Glad this one got it. Most dogs in shelters are there because the original owners did not know this or care enough to train and/or provide activity to active dogs.

    • StubbyDog says:

      Agreed, it’s so nice Sara took the time needed to make Tucker an exceptional dog, and live up to his potential.

  2. ae4livef says:

    Touching rescue story. Many tx Sara for being there for Tucker and Evie, for showing them human love and compassion. I myself know people who buys, adopts, owns canines just for their looks or it is the trend. And yes, at the end, poor dogs suffer the consequences they end up at shelters or worst. People never learn what a true dog lover/owner means. Hugs to Tucker and Evie and their buddies for endless happy tails!

  3. Geebop says:

    I completely disagree that pit bulls are suffering from being a “fad” dog in the way chihuahuas or purse dogs have. A type of dog who is banned in cities and municipalities across the country, who is barred from all types of businesses, discriminated against at every turn, and judged by every person they encounter is not suffering from being a “fad.”
    I welcome the day when pit bulls could be considered too popular for their own good. But until they stop being incredibly difficult to adopt out, are no longer euthanized because of discriminatory shelter policies, aren’t slandered in the media and urban myths, and people stop giving me the stink eye or jumping into traffic just because my dog who looks a certain way, we aren’t there.
    Perhaps one could argue that what is becoming a “fad” is advocating for pit bulls. Even, then, bring it on! I’m not going to complain if someone donates to a pit bull rescue or corrects a misconception, even if they’re only doing it because they saw their friends do it. Pit bulls don’t need to be hidden away as an obscure, in-crowd, acquired taste, they need help!
    Also, negative reinforcement is when an aversive stimulus is removed from an environment in order to increase the likelihood of a behavior being repeated.

  4. DianaJones says:

    I agree that the pitties could be seen as fad dogs. Whether from the negative stereotype that they are “tough dogs” for tough asshats to show off, or whether they are a fad because so much has been done to demystify them as great dogs so they are in the media in a more positive light. I have seen people only want a pit, regardless if this is the kind of dog to fit their lifestyle and personality, to parade them around on the end of a leash. People still don’t get that dogs are a lot of responsibility, require time and money and a willingness to work with their pups A LOT. I left out the most important part–love and commitment. If you don’t have that, get a pet rock and leave the living, breathing dogs to people who actually give a sh** about the animal and not just how they look attached to the leash or in the christmas card photo. I am venting a bit as this has happened recently to a friend for mine where the folks wanted a pit bull for a family dog (read: vanity dog), and nearly ruined a dogs life. Aaaarrggghhhh. Said pup is safe and is getting the love and attention she needs. Regardless of breed, people need to step up and recognize the hard work and attention owning any animal requires, especially a canine. And in this day and age, if you are responsible you realize that if you choose a pit bull type dog then you have to work extra hard to ensure your dog is exemplary to stop perpetuating the negative stereotypes.
    Sara, Tucker is so lucky to have you, and I bet you feel that you are lucky to have Tucker. Adversity that we deal with head on brings out the best in us, and clearly you put your shoulder to the grindstone and worked hard with Tucker. Sounds like he is a happy and well rounded ambasadog.

  5. My Two Pitties says:

    Great story and I’m glad to see it has a happy ending! I have a sort of opposite story to this one. My dogs regularly play with a pit mix at the park whose owner once wanted a big, tough, “cool” looking pit bull. When he met someone in a parking lot trying to sell 2 pit bull puppies out of a box, he offered to buy one, but he only had 10 dollars on him(the guy was asking for 100). The guy let him have one and he looked at the beautiful, stocky male puppy and then at the skinny, scrawny funny-looking female one and he took the female because “she looked like she needed him.” He spoils her rotten, but in a good way. She spends hours a day at the park with her dog friends, she graduated from obedience school, she sleeps in his bed and eat the most expensive treats in the store(even though he works a minimum wage job). She has grown up to be a super cute pudgy white thing who may or may not have any pit bull in her at all, but her owner thinks she’s the best. I always liked his story:)
    I get it what you are saying about pit bulls being a “fad” dog. I once took care of a 6-month-old pit bull pup who sounded a lot like this one. Her owner showed up with all this designer “stuff” for the dog in matching pink leopard print and she instructed me to feed her tons of food because she needed to get bigger. She turned out to have a lot of behavior problems and was really sick from her diet. I got to spend a month working with her and she was really coming around, but her owner picked her up and seemed mad that I had changed her diet and tried to tell her what we were working on. I’ll never know what became of her, but it seems she should have gotten a “handbag dog” in the first place:(

    • StubbyDog says:

      Sad that people can’t see dogs as just dogs that need love, guidance, structure and socialization, not an accessory to make up for our inadequacies. Thanks for sharing, we enjoyed the first story.

  6. Shaninphxaz says:

    It is sad that so many people adopt dogs and expect the dog to know how to behave. they aren’t robots. They are living, feeling beings. Even my parents did this. I kept emphasizing how important it is to exercise and train and finally they got it. Now their boxer pit mix is a well-behaved dog. I always knew she had it in her! I emphasize “don’t complain – train!