Pit Bull Informational Pages
by Diane Jessup 

PIT BULL SPORTS!

 

Easily the world's most versatile dog breed.
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Owning a pit bull opens up a wide range of sports and activities which you and your dog can play at. Even though the pit bull was bred with baiting and fighting in mind, bulldogs have traditionally been utilitarian working dogs, useful around farms and homes. While a friendly, confident breed, many are natural guardian dogs, keeping loved ones safe without excessive aggression. The bulldog's athletic body, keen intelligence and legendary tenacity make him capable of amazing feats of strength, endurance and grit just not seen in other breeds.

Its important to find a sport or activity which both you and your dog enjoy. Some dogs are naturally better at some activities than others. For instance, some dogs are extremely avid on the springpole while others refuse to mouth it. Some enjoy weight pulling while other dogs dislike it intensely. The challenge is to expose your dog to all the activities available in your area and see which appeals to you both - after all, you are partners!

SEARCH AND RESCUE (SAR)

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Kristine Crawford and SAR Dog "Dakota" getting ready to take off in a helicopter.

 

 

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SAR Dog "Dakota" is a specialist in forensic evidence detection. She has been used on such high profile cases as California's Lacy Peterson case and the search for the remains of the astronauts of the Challenger disaster.

 

 

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An extraordinary pit bull, Puller was trained for schutzhund as well as being a certified Search & Rescue dog.

 

Multiple pit bulls have excelled at this important and interesting activity. Snowball was a cadaver recovery dog in Arkansas, Puller was a successful SAR dog in Virginia, Dakota, Cheyenne and Tahoe are currently working in California - and there have been others.

SAR is an exacting hobby, and requires lots of money, lots of time, lots of slogging through tough terrain, and more importantly it requires exceptionally dedicated dogs and people. To learn more about the use of pit bulls in search & rescue, visit Kris Crawford's outstanding site at: www.forpitssake.org

Below is a portion of a news article describing Crawford's thoughts on why bulldogs are so suitable for SAR.

Woman Casts Pit Bulls in a New Light
David Read - Tracy Press

Kris Crawford believes that pit bulls have gotten a bad rap. She is an Operations Lieutenant for the Alameda County Sheriff Search and Rescue Squad and has trained her pit bulls to be search and rescue dogs for the unit. Crawford said that the same qualities that breeders want to cultivate in pit bulls for them to be successful in illegal dog fights -- namely courage, strength, dedication, intelligence and agility -- are invaluable in search and rescue work. "They also don't give up," Crawford said. "When you are out all night looking for a lost 5-year old, you want a dog that doesn't quit."

Her devotion to the maligned breed is attracting some attention. The cable channel Animal Planet met her on Wednesday morning at Old River Veterinary clinic here in Tracy, to profile her for a "Pet Story", a show that documents unique relationships between pets and their owners. A former resident of Tracy, Crawford now lives in Castro Valley but still uses Old River for veterinary services.

One of Crawford's pit bull dogs, "Dakota", has been on some high-profile searches. Last year, Dakota assisted police in the search for the body of toddler Luis Sanchez, who police believe was buried on the outskirts of Tracy almost two years ago. Dakota also helped in the search for Laci Peterson, and Crawford and Dakota were also called to Texas to search for the remains of the crew members of the space shuttle Columbia after it burned up on re-entry earlier this year.

"They have an incredible desire to please their owners," Crawford said. "They will do their best at whatever their owners tell or train them to do. Unfortunately, they are the most abused breed in the world right now because a lot of owners use them for illegal purposes such as dog fighting, which is illegal in most states."

"I use only positive means of training," Crawford said. "I've never had to resort to using force when working with this breed, even those that had come from violent pasts." Crawford spends a lot of time helping those who have adopted pit bulls train them to be good canine citizens.

SERVICE DOG FOR THE DISABLED

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A pit bull service dog assists this young man who lost both his legs. No other breed offers such strong, stable ability in such a compact package. With the help of his dog this man attends college and cares for his wife and young child, however, he has faced discrimination because of his service dog's breed.

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Hearing Dog "Max" who works for
owner T. Houson, Ph.D.


Pit bulls have been used as service dogs for the physically challenged for over two decades now. They work as hearing assistant dogs, physical assistant dogs, and in a variety of other capacities. They offer stability, strength and a willing nature, all necessary for the serious task of service dog. For information on service dogs, contact The Delta Society.

Breed specific legislation (BSL) poses huge problems for responsible owners of service dogs of a variety of breeds. Many have faced housing and insurance discrimination.

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RING SPORT

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Here is Boldog Dirk, who has earned the French Ring "Brevet" title before starting his schutzhund career.

 

 

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Boldog Grip, SchH I, WDS, with handler Diane Jessup practice the "Defense of Handler" exercise. The dog watches closely as the "bad guy" shakes hands with her owner. Later, when the bad guy approaches from behind, the dog will flip around and heel backwards, keeping her eye on the decoy. When the decoy attempts to attack her owner, the dog will attack while a gun is fired.

 

 

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Ring sport requires superb control over the dog, as obedience and bitework are intermixed, and the dog is worked without collar or leash. Her Dirk and Diane practice heeling.

 

 

There are a number of people who object to the training of bulldogs in any form of "bitework", and I certainly respect this mindset and even share it when it comes to "guard" training and training which focuses on "defense" drives. I find however, that without exception, these same people have no real knowledge of sanctioned dog sports like ring and schutzhund. Because true bulldogs are friendly and outgoing - lacking the suspicion and overt aggression needed for a true "guard" dog - I myself find the promotion and sale of pit bulls as "guard" or "protection" dogs to be reprehensible. Without doubt it supports the breeding of incorrect and unsound bulldogs. On the other hand, I whole heartedly support the exhibition of properly (and humanely) trained pit bulls in bona fide working dog trials. These trials showcase a dog's courage, control and stability and never fail to showcase the breed in a very positive light. Working off lead (at all times) the dog/handler teams competing in Mondio or French ring trials are confronted with a variety of situations which test the dog's obedience and judgment. Years of training are required to bring a dog to trial day, and the best dogs are trained in "prey" drive instead of "defense" drive, making them safe companions. Sport dogs see the decoy's suit more as a big "reward" for correct behavior than as a human which is to be bitten. Sport dogs should never be trained with pain, or force, as these methods can and do produce dangerous animals. Methods which employ force and pain are never necessary with a game, sound, well bred bulldog.

Over the past three decades I have competed in a wide variety of dog sport. In my opinion ring sport is, without doubt, the most challenging. The amount of control needed and the judgment exhibited by the dog at the higher levels is impressive to say the least. Ring sport was developed in France, and variations on the sport developed in the Low Countries. Like schutzhund, ring was developed as a test for utilitarian dogs of the type used for police work. In ring the dogs work off-lead, without so much as a collar on. The dog works through all phases at one time, agility, obedience and the bite-work, resulting in the dog spending up to 30 minutes on the field, continuously working. The order of the exercises is never the same but selected by draw in random order. Food is left on the field to distract the working dog.

There are aspects of ring sport which put the bulldog at a disadvantage when competing against sheepdogs like shepherds and malinois. The sport requires the dog, at times, to bite and then quickly release and retreat - something no true bulldog is willing to do. Also, biting the leg, which is considered preferable, takes more training for a bulldog who will naturally shun the extremities in favor of the more "courageous" bites to the body. A bulldog is bred to grip the head of its prey - whereas a sheepdog nips the legs. Therefore sheepdog breeds have a natural advantage in this regard. As well, the jumps are extreme, and the longer legged Malinois (for which the sport was developed) also has an advantage coping with the agility phase.

I believe Ring sport will continue to grow in popularity as more and more people discover this challenging and exciting sport. However, the infighting and nasty politics on the local and national level is a very real threat to the growth and health of ring in this country. Ring trainers must drop petty differences and work together to ensure the future of this sport. Another very real detriment to the sport are those few decoys, (so far I have found them only in Western Canada) who are so terrified of pit bulls that they treat them with prejudice. The last serious obstacle keeping ring from taking its place as the premier working dog sport in America is a stubborn desire to cling to French nonsense concerning which breeds can enter, and the restrictions on altered dogs! This is sport guys! Let the BEST DOG WIN! The francophile attitude of many participants is a bit hard to take at times too! (If you are ever over come by the nausea which follows exposure to a hard-core frankophile, click here!) :)

The national organization in the US for this sport is North American Ring Association (NARA).

SCHUTZHUND (VPG)

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Dirk does some "guarding" during a trial. He earned Highest Scoring Dog in Protection on 04.07.06 with 97 points while earning his SchH (VPG) I.

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Bandog Grip, SchH I, WDS, takes a
direct hit at a trial on the courage test.

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Bandog Dread, SchH III, IPO III, stops the bad guy on a Schutzhund escape exercise. His average bitework score while earning his titles was 96.

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A young Boldog Havoc learning to take the scent at the start of a track. Tracking is one of the three phases of schutzhund.

Recently the Germans changed the name of "schutzhund" to "VPG". "Schutzhund" means "guard dog" and concern over public perception caused them to change the name to Vielseitigkeitspruefung fur Gebrauchshunde which which roughly translates into "versatility test for working dogs".

This German sport developed at the turn of the century as a breeding suitability test for German shepherd dogs, but other breeds have competed with great success. In the US, there are two national organizations which sanction schutzhund (SchH) trials. The United Schutzhund Clubs of America (USA), despite its sport orientated sounding name, is strictly a German shepherd breed club. USA happens to allow some other breeds to compete in its trials (but not at the very top championship level). Pit bulls competing in USA trials will be called Am Staffs or mixedbreeds. The other national organization club offering schutzhund trials is the DVG (abbreviation for a hellish and long German name) and they allow all breeds to compete. I compete in DVG.

Schutzhund trials test the dog in three areas, tracking, obedience and man-work. While I have competed and enjoyed SchH for over 30 years, I have always had the complaint that SchH is very German - repetitive, boring and unimaginative! The obedience routine is nothing more than a heeling marathon, and the bite work is variations on one or two components of protection work. Also, because of the hard, rigid sleeve and the long distances involved in the attacks, many more dogs are injured in schutzhund than in ring sport.

Click here to see a video of Boldog Yeller, 7 years old, doing The Courage Test while earning his Schutzhund I title.

On trial day, dogs compete in tracking, obedience and man-work. Now schutzhund clubs offer tracking only and obedience only titles, which is great for owners of rescue dogs since papers are not needed!

Schutzhund has been well thought out, and provides breeders and trainers a great way of seeing a dog's useful drives at work. Anyone interested in well rounded dogs would do well to look into this sport. However, titling a dog in schutzhund takes a tremendous amount of commitment and determination on the part of the handler.

I think it is well worth it!

WEIGHT PULLING

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"Herbie", of pure Sorrells' bloodline, is a pull dog to contend with in highly competitive Region 2. Owner, Stan Hiller.

 

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Boldog Grip, SchH I, WDS, (52 lbs) earned her IWPA Working Dog Superior by pulling 1930 / 1930 / 2070 lbs. Poisoned half way through the season and knocked out for months, she still managed to earn the silver medal for the IWPA's largest region. Good girl!

 

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Rescue dog Echo Kennel's Ariel, WDS pulled for five years in Region 2. She is a gold, silver and bronze medalist for the region. Owner, Heather Leu.

Weight pulling, done well, is a fantastic outlet for the competitive spirit of bulldogs and their owners. In the winner's circle, the pit bull's will to win and desire to please has catapulted the breed over traditional Northern breeds bred for sledge pulling!

Several organizations hold weight pulls open to pit bulls. But only the International Weight Pull Association (IWPA) and the American Pull Alliance (APA) allow ALL pit bulls (meaning rescue dogs, mixed breeds and other animals without registration papers) to compete. The United Kennel Club, the Continental Kennel Club, National Kennel Club, AAPBA and the American Dog Breeder's Association all offer weight pulls, but dogs must be registered with their organization. In some they cannot even be spayed or neutered.

IWPA trials are well thought out with safety factors like no pulls during the summer heat, and a minimum age of 12 months for pulling dogs. In my opinion, all the other organizations leave much to be desired. Some offer very "easy" titles (some you can earn at just one pull), some allow handlers to continue to pull dogs, over and over, that want to quit. Most allow "baiting" which is unsafe, some even allow young puppies and adolescent dogs to pull, which is completely irresponsible and shows no regard for the safety and health of the animals.

At an IWPA pull, each dog is harnessed and hooked to a cart (or sled in the snow) upon which increasing increments of weight are added. Each dog has 60 seconds to pull the load 16 feet without the handler touching the dog or crossing a line which is in front of the dog. Dogs cannot be "baited". The dog that pulls the most weight across the line (in the fastest time in case of a tie) wins. Dogs can earn three titles, the Working Dog (WD) for pulling 12 times their body weight at four different pulls. The Working Dog Excellent (WDX) for pulling 18 times their body weight at four different pulls, and the Working Dog Superior (WDS) for pulling 23 times their body weight at three different pulls. Dogs can also compete for regional and national ranking.

Some organizations allow the dog to pull on a platform of carpet, while the cart rides on metal rails. This allows for much higher weights than when the cart and dog are on the same surface. Because each pull offers a different surface and conditions, pull weights cannot be compared from pull to pull.

A game pit bull loves to work, and will do so without any force.


AGILITY

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The fastest growing dog sport! Lots of fun for those with bulldogs that can remain under control off lead around other dogs. There are several national organizations which sanction trials.

For information, click on the links to find out which organization offers what you are looking for.

Dogs compete based on their shoulder height, and most organizations offer three levels of competition. Handlers direct their dogs to climb over, weave around, jump over or climb through obstacles on a course which is timed. Dogs are off-lead and excited, and other dogs are all around the ring, so you can see that only well directed and trained dogs would be feasible for this sport. Many pit bulls and staffie bulls are currently competing at national levels. This is a great sport for those who are really intune with their dogs. Click here for a list of clubs, and for information on a great agility magazine, check out:The Clean Run.

TRACKING/TRAILING

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Success! Boldog Havoc at 4 months of age, finds the article at the end of the track! Timefor praise and treats.

 

 

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Bandog Dread and I, back in the day! Dread earned the AKC "Tracking Dog" title (with an ILP) as well as his SchH III.

Tracking is different from search and rescue. In SAR, the dog runs trying to pick up the scent of a human being blown on the wind. In tracking, the dog follows the actuall footsteps of the person. Trailing dogs follow a combination of both the footstep scent and the airborne scent.

Tracking tests are available through schutzhund clubs, and are open to any pit bull, purebred or not, registered or not. The AKC offers tracking tests, but they are only open to AKC registered American Staffordshire terriers, or rescued pit bulls which get an "ILP" to compete as an Am Staff.

In schutzhund tracking, dogs are scored not on how well and how quickly they complete the track overall, but rather on how meticulously they keep their noses to each footstep, and how slowly and calmly they move down the track. It is more difficult to get a dog to do this than you might think, for it goes against their nature. At an AKC trial, the dog simply passes or fails.

There are several levels of tracking tests offered by both schutzhund clubs and the AKC. The new "Variable Surface Track" offered by the AKC is challenging indeed.

Tracks are aged anywhere from 30 minutes to four or five hours, depending on the degree of difficulty. They range in distance from a couple hundred yards to nearly a mile. The dogs must follow the trail accurately, and locate articles dropped by the track layer along the way.

 

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