Working with Pit Bull dogs can be a rewarding and exciting endeavor! However, one should take into consideration the many problems that may develop, when working with these muscular animals. SAFETY FIRST should be the motto for every dog volunteer working at the local shelter.
Most likely, animal shelter programs have a volunteer training program, but often do not include training for working with Pit Bull dogs. This is scary because a Pit Bull dog is a SPECIAL DOG. Those who lack experience in working with these dogs, should spend a little time in learning about their history, breeding trends and "everything they can find out" about Pit Bull dogs. For example, some dog owners do not know that a Pit Bull may dig under the fence and get away; especially those shelter volunteers that leave a dog outside for a prolonged time. Later they discover, the dog is missing-- from a play pen or enclosed area.
Some Pit Bulls are extremely strong and muscular, and the volunteer finds out, they cannot handle the dog; thus making an unsuccessful attempt at walking the dog with volunteer frustration. Then staff may complain that, "The volunteer cannot handle the dog," thus hurting the Pit Bull's chance of getting dog walks, and getting outside. OFTEN, staff may be using the wrong dog collar, contributing to pulling and bad walking for the dog and volunteer. It is suggested that dog walkers learn all about the different harnesses and neck collars that may be used for Pit Bulls and other strong breeds.
Working with Pit Bulls may also be a "status symbol" of a tough-guy mentality, where only certain individuals can work with the dogs. However, this is not true and one can often spot a ninety pound college girl walking a hundred pound dog, with no problem-- due to her training and experience with strong dogs. They are just like regular dogs, but one must be prepared to take on the challenges of the breed.
A good walking shoe is important for Pit Bull dog walkers and a good leash. It is imperative that serious dog workers get good shoes for stable walking and safety. Often, people have falls on the ice or on leaves, when a Pit Bull is pulling the walker or "bolts" at a squirrel or other dog outside.
Carrying a cell phone is important with the shelter telephone number, as dogs can sometimes get away from the walker, and you don't want the dog to become a stray. Included are aggression issues (against other dogs, etc. which is possible) and sometimes a dog walker may have to call the shelter to get help. Once I was with a Pit Bull on a pet therapy visit, and the dog began growling at children-- so I immediately removed the dog and took him back to the kennel. YOU MUST BE PREPARED FOR ANYTHING.
On one occasion I was surprised by a Pit Bull that began fighting me on the leash and tried to back out of his collar! He was growling and meant business, so I calmly led him back to the kennel, but you must be prepared for anything and have an escape route or plan of action, for YOU and THE DOG. Often, people do not understand the strength of the dogs and they find they are not developing good walking skills. Patience and experience are the key. A shelter volunteer should walk MANY DOGS and MANY BREEDS, to get the feel for all dogs and how Pit Bulls fit in the total canine picture.
Carry some dog treats with you, as this may help the dog and you become well "bonded" during a few walks, he won't forget you! Often, treats can be used to have the dog avoid another dog confrontation; and he will concentrate on the treats until you can move the dog safely from the area, and away from other dogs.
Also important, is LOVE for THE DOGS! The Pit Bull dog is like all dogs, he can tell if you are serious and willing to be his friend. Talk gently to the dog and introduce yourself before entering the cage. One must be willing to learn and have a gentle attitude when working with Pit Bull dogs. The dogs are very intelligent and know WHO LIKES THEM.
Another pointer, is to develop good working relationships with kennel staff and management. Incredible opportunities can arise for dog volunteers to: become dog bathers, grooming helpers, dog adoption volunteers, human resource volunteers, medication / veterinary assistants, dog transporters, event coordinators,etc. These positions are very good for advancing a resume and learning new skills.
When they know you are a Pit Bull Volunteer, the shelter will be very happy. You are promoting a good dog breed, and also protecting the public-- as to not have stray Pit Bulls on the street. If you can handle the nice dogs, they will respect you and you will get the respect from all the dog professionals!
Before judging that Pit Bulls are dangerous or scary to work with, one should investigate the breed and first work with the Pit Bull puppies, then move on to the adult dogs-- including exposing oneself to all the dog breeds available! Remember that safety is first, for you and the dog, and to learn everything you can about the Pit Bull dog. A good rule of advice is, if you don't know anything about Pit Bulls, you should LEARN about them. These are just a few pointers for volunteering with dogs at the shelter.
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