Tag Archives: Aja Harris

Nature VS Nurture: Puppy Socialization

When it comes to the question of “Nature VS Nurture” there’s no easy answer. The best answer is usually: BOTH. Dogs are born with an innate temperament, which is generally influenced by their breeding. We also influence how they respond to the world around them.

Quickly, let’s talk about temperament and learned behavior. Temperament is something your dog is born with. This cannot be changed, and is “the card they’re dealt.” Some dogs are naturally more outgoing, some dogs are naturally more fearful. This is normal, and important for you to be aware of, as knowing your pup and his tendencies will enable you to choose the best training and socialization path. Next, learned behavior is how we influence our dogs. This can be HUGE! Your puppy (and dog!) is constantly learning, and everything is training, whether you intend it to be, or not.

So, how can we best set our puppies up for success? Early socialization is key. Once your vet has cleared your pup to explore the world – go for it!! Get your pup to the park, take her to play dates, sign up for a training class. Learning from other dogs is super beneficial at this time. Go anywhere and everywhere with her! Thankfully, before your pup is ready for the world, there are some things you can do at home, too! Expose her to new textures – hard wood flooring, tile, carpet. Expose her to new scents – food, grass, flowers. Expose her to different chew items – tendons, pig ears, bones. This last one will be big as your pup starts teething, too! A great rule is 100 experiences in 100 days. Get creative, and have fun with it.

There’s no such thing as over socialization. Especially if you have a pup that’s less confident, you may be fighting against nature to help him out in this area. If you have a breed that has tendencies to guard, you’re going to have to work extra hard early to be sure those behaviors are kept in check. So. . .know the nature, provide the nurture, and enjoy your pup!

Have you had a behavioral problem that you don’t quite know how to resolve? We’re here and LOVE to help! Ask away, and your question may be featured in an upcoming newsletter!
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Popularity and Population Density of the “pit bull”


Photo courtesy of Bartlett Image.

With this recent Maryland ruling that “pit bull” dogs are inherently dangerous, it’s time to take a look at the popularity and population density of the breed. It’s absurd, even for owners of a docile dog of any breed, to think that there aren’t variations in the breed as well as responsibility in ownership. Because your dog does not bite, does not mean that other dogs haven’t. For the victims of dog bites, we are doing an injustice by thinking this way. Let’s take a look at some real information, instead.

I’m going to address a few breeds in particular for the simple reason that they have had marked increases in popularity over certain time frames, NOT because I believe that any other breed is better than the dogs addressed. It’s true that, as the population density of a particular breed goes up, the bite statistics go up. Let’s ignore the numerous reasons bite statistics are inaccurate, for now.

Right now on average, our local shelters have a 66% “pit bull” population versus all other breeds. (Based on five local area shelters. See breakdown at the end of article) The population density is higher the closer to the city, as one may expect. It is historically true for all dogs, that the higher the popularity of a breed, the higher the number of that breed in the shelter. 66% is probably a low estimate to the actual “pit bull” density in our area because two of the five shelters surveyed are limited admittance, and one specifically has a limited number of “pit bulls” allowed into the program. The population of “pit bull” type dogs has been significantly increasing over the last ten years or so. In fact, during the years of 1997-2007, the AKC Staffordshire Bull Terrier, a smaller relative of the UKC’s American Pit Bull Terrier, has seen a 69% AKC registration  increase. (http://www.akc.org/press_center/facts_stats.cfm?page=popular_pooches)

Just 20 years ago, in the 1990’s, “the years following the release of the second movie [101 Dalmatians], the Dalmatian breed suffered greatly at the hands of irresponsible breeders and inexperienced owners. . . Dalmatians were abandoned in large numbers by their original owners and left with animal shelters.” (http://aquariumcouncil.org/docs/library/2/Release_Nemo_FINAL.PDF)  This goes to show that the popularity of a breed will show in the shelters. Ten years following this, the“AKC registrations of Dalmatians decreased 90%.” . . .as did their numbers in the shelter. (http://www.akc.org/press_center/facts_stats.cfm?page=popular_pooches) If we go back 30 years, “The cocker spaniel was the most popular dog of the 1980s. It earned the No. 1 most registered dog breed spot from 1983 to 1990.” http://www.ehow.com/list_7738692_top-breeds-dogs-1980s.html#ixzz1uUGkPeNe During this same time frame, it was noted in a Palm Beach County Comparison of most severe bites by dog breed, that the Cocker Spaniel ranked #2 in 1988, during its reign of popularity. (http://www.nokillnow.com/DogBiteStudies.pdf) Is the Cocker Spaniel an “inherently dangerous” dog? I think not!

So, what’s the solution to the problem? (The problem being an over population of a specific breed, not a court ruling) Pet owners: Spay and Neuter your pets. Reputable breeders: Heavily screen potential new owners. Require spay/neuter contracts for pet dogs. Let’s address the over population and responsibility in ownership. It’s the only thing that’s going to save our dogs.

Statistics of “pit bull” density in 5 local shelters in Maryland:


Number of pit bulls/mixes- 196

Number of all other dogs- 102

Percentage of pit bulls/mixes in shelters- 66%

MD SPCA: 3300 Falls Rd., Baltimore, MD

Limited admittance shelter. Only selected dogs enter the program. Limited pit bulls allowed.

Number of pit bulls/mixes- 7

Number of all other dogs- 23

Percentage of pit bulls/mixes in shelter- 30% (As of 5/1/12)

Baltimore Humane: 1601 Nicodemus Rd., Reisterstown, MD

Limited admittance shelter.

Number of pit bulls/mixes- 31

Number of all other dogs- 6

Percentage of pit bulls/mixes in shelter- 84% (As of 5/1/12)

BARCS: 301 Stockholm St., Baltimore, MD

Open admittance shelter. City’s animal control drop.

Number of pit bulls/mixes- 135

Number of all other dogs- 41

Percentage of pit bulls/mixes in shelter- 77% (As of 5/2/12)

Harford County Humane Society: 2208 Connolly Rd., Fallston, MD

Open admittance shelter. Harford County’s animal control drop.

Number of pit bulls/mixes- 17

Number of all other dogs- 16

Percentage of pit bulls/mixes in shelter- 52% (As of 5/2/12)

Baltimore County Shelter: 13800 Manor Rd., Baldwin, MD

Open admittance shelter. Baltimore County’s animal control drop.

Number of pit bulls/mixes- 6

Number of all other dogs- 16

Percentage of pit bulls/mixes in shelter- 27% (As of 5/2/12)

Maryland Common Law Ruling: Inherently dangerous dogs

The Harris Crew

Photo courtesy of Bartlett Image.

Over the last 6 years that Mutt Magic Training has been in operation, I have been fighting against the stigma of being a “pit bull trainer.” In order to do so, I try to highlight as many other breeds as possible, and try to keep the business out of situations that may align us as such. At Mutt Magic, we are “dog trainers” and work with dog behavior. We do not discriminate on breed, and we enjoy working with all breeds, big and small!

All of that said, the time is appropriate for a statement to be made in regard to the recent Tracey v. Solesky appeal ruling, a case that has brought attention to the breed since 2007 because of a violent attack on two young boys. Most of the responses I’ve read so far have been from breed owners and are kneejerk reactions along the lines of “my dear sweet baby pet would never. . .” which is probably true. However, I’m going to address this as an individual who has been in the breed for going on 12 years. I own the breed, and I personally train and compete on a national level with these dogs. I have been running Mutt Magic for the past 6 years, and we certainly have our share of pit bulls and mixes come through our classes. We work with approximately 50 dogs per week, which include breeds of all varieties. I sit on the Board of Directors for The Working Pit Bull Terrier Club of America (WPBTCA) which hosts events throughout the year to showcase the amazing working abilities of these animals. Additionally, I sit on what was formerly Baltimore City’s Vicious Dog Hearing board. (Now the Animal Matters Hearing Panel) In fact, it was because of this court case that I applied to be on the Panel, back in 2007. My experience has a wide variety and I can truly say that I have seen the entire spectrum in regard to the breed. I can also say that I don’t believe this ruling will ultimately result in justice for the parties involved, but will rather pose severe injustice to responsible dog owners in the State of Maryland.

If by chance you’ve missed the recent news, the Tracey v. Solesky case was a civil lawsuit involving Dorothy Tracey, the landlord of 27-year-old dog owner. The dog in question violently attacked two young boys, Dominic and Scotty. It’s true that their lives will never be the same as a result of this. It’s true that they deserve justice. Period. End of statement. This recent ruling did not come to existence in regard to the responsibility of the dog owner; while that aspect makes my blood boil, I won’t touch on it. Rather, this ruling changes common law to determine responsibility of the landlord. (Yes, it changes liability for owners, too.) In the past, under common law, a landlord was only determined to be liable if the dog in question had been previously deemed dangerous. The case has reached the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, which has the authority to revise common law. Under interpretations of the common law as it was previously written, there was no basis for the landlord to be responsible in this case. As a result of this ruling, the common law has now been modified to state that dogs of specific breeds (pit bull-type) are automatically deemed dangerous, and liability claims may be made against the landlord, provided that there was knowledge of the dog at the property, without the need for the individual dog to be previously deemed dangerous, as is still the case with all other breeds of dogs. Directly from the opinion written by the court: “Because of its aggressive and vicious nature and its capability to inflict serious and sometimes fatal injuries, pit bulls and cross-bred pit bulls are inherently dangerous.”  (http://mdcourts.gov/opinions/coa/2012/53a11.pdf)

While reading through the opinion written by retired Judge Dale Cathell (specially assigned), it is very one-sided, and at times even paints a factually inaccurate picture of the breed.  It states that “over the last thirteen years, there have been no less than seven instances,” involving pit bulls. It doesn’t state how many incidents have involved other dogs. I’m sad to make this statement, but certainly there have been more than seven serious dog attacks in the state in the past thirteen years. Additionally, it uses incidents involving “bull terriers” and “terriers” in general to vilify the pit bull and to support the claim that pit bulls are inherently dangerous. A “Bull Terrier” is a breed of its own, and while I don’t intend to malign another breed in defense, it’s also not appropriate to use an incident involving another breed to malign the pit bull. Knowing that such a broad use of the “pit bull” breed has been used to make this determination should ultimately make us question the validity of the original statement that the breed is “inherently dangerous.”

The dissenting opinion has clearly done more balanced research on the breed(s) involved, and on dogs, in general. Written by Judge Clayton Greene, Jr, I think that his early question/answer in his dissent says it all: “What expert testimony or factual predicate is contained within this record to support a factual finding that pit bulls and mixed-breed pit bulls are inherently dangerous? I have considered the record and found no such factual predicate.” Additionally, he notes: “Succumbing to the allure of bad facts leads inevitably to the development of bad law.” YES!

There is no apparent definition of a pit bull written by the court in this ruling. The court only references “pit bull, or pit bull crosses.” What does that mean? The dissenting opinion notes that “According to some experts, there are more than twenty-five breeds of dogs commonly mistaken for pit bulls.” (To test this, I encourage everybody to visit this site: http://www.pitbullsontheweb.com/petbull/findpit.html.) In an attempt to get a clarification regarding the breeds that may be effected by this decision, Judge Greene also writes that pit bull is typically known as a “generic category encompassing the American Staffordshire Terrier, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and the American Pit Bull Terrier” And that, “Neither the American Kennel Club nor the United Kennel Club recognizes all three breeds, and the breed descriptions and standards provided by the two organizations differ.” Very true.

This is a very sad day for responsible pit bull owners everywhere, and this change in common law has serious effects on our rights as dog owners; rights that are afforded to owners of all other breeds. I will end the interpretation of what I’ve read here, and will leave you all with this information: The American Temperament Test Society (http://atts.org) tests breeds of dogs to determine stability in temperament based on a standardized test that is the same for all breeds. The American Pit Bull Terrier passes the test with a rate of 86.8%. According to the AKC, the top three most popular dogs in America for 2011 were the Labrador Retriever (passing ATTS tests at 92.3%), the German Shepherd Dog (passing ATTS tests at 84.6%), and the Beagle (passing ATTS tests at 80%). According to this, the “pit bull” has just as stable a temperament as the most popular dogs in the country. In the past, pit bulls have been known as “Nanny Dogs” and even “War Heroes.” In the past, German Shepherd Dogs, Rottweilers, and Dobermans have been under the spotlight as inherently dangerous dogs. Right now it’s the pit bull’s turn to be vilified. What breed will be next?

Please visit Mutt Magic online, at: www.muttmagic.com

Everyday dog needs

Some dogs are content with simple provisions of food, shelter, and our affection. Of course, these are the basic necessities of pet ownership. However, most dogs need more than this, and failure to provide the other essentials can make for not only an unhappy and disobedient dog, but a sad owner, too! If you’re the lucky one whose dog waits patiently by the door for you to get home, feed him, and give him a pat on the head, kudos. If not, please read on for important tips on how to fulfill another three of your dog’s needs to keep him well balanced in the home.

The number one thing that many dogs could use more of is exercise. Aside from keeping your dog trim, healthy, and in good shape, the appropriate amount of exercise can also keep behavioral issues from surfacing. A great example of this is Star, a now 6-year-old rescue dog that came into my home when she was 1.5-years-old. When she arrived, I was heavy into biking the dogs using a Springer. Star would get several 4 mile runs along side of my bike per week. Somehow, she was arriving home from her runs just as energized as when we left, however. As she was settling into her home here, she developed sores on her feet from chewing on them. After ruling out anything medical, I bumped up her exercise routine. Now, after her runs, we would play ball in the yard until she was visibly tired. Her sores healed and she was now a relaxed, happy dog. The 4 mile runs weren’t enough for the 1.5-year-old Star!! Thankfully for all of us, most dogs don’t need this excessive amount of exercise. Thankfully for me, the 6-year-old Star doesn’t need that much anymore, either! The sores on her feet are a great example of how an unfulfilled exercise need can manifest into a behavioral problem, however. Behavioral problems aren’t all like Star’s. Some dogs may bark, whine, fuss with housemates, chew, or otherwise be destructive around the house. Many of these behaviors can be corrected by more exercise.

The next need that dogs benefit from, is discipline. This is not to be read “punishment,” because discipline has a very different meaning. Most dogs, like people, don’t desire to be the leader. They are much more happy and content with structure, and being given a clear role in the household. If they are forced to take on this leadership role (even if it’s not intentional!) many problems can develop. Anxiety is one great example of many behavioral issues that can benefit from additional discipline. Anxiety  is something that is being seen more and more in our pet dogs. In fact, it is being seen to the extent that it is being medicated. Of course, there are dogs out there that are simply imbalanced. However, a lot of the anxiety cases that I see can be remedied with more discipline in the home! What exactly does this
mean? Beginning a “Nothing in life is free” (NILF) routine with your dog in the home is a great start. With this, your dog needs to earn everything that she gets. This means that in order to receive even the basics- food and affection, she must do something. The task and reward should be balanced. For example: sitting, waiting as a food bowl is placed on the ground, and giving attention, earns the ability to be released to eat a meal. Such strong discipline is not needed to earn a pat on the head. It is one of your dog’s basic needs, however, and discipline can fix certain behavioral issues.

The last need to be addressed (for now) is that of mental stimulation. Smart dogs get into trouble. It’s true!! If your dog is not being mentally challenged, he may decide to challenge himself, and that rarely ends with a happy owner. Some dogs need more stimulation than others. Thankfully, the range of options to entertain your dog is almost endless. A food or puzzle toy for your dog to work on while you’re away is a good idea for some, while other dogs may benefit more from the interaction they get with you in a training class. Some may need the interaction of a dog walker or daycare during the day. There are even dogs out there that will need to learn something new every week to keep them out of trouble. . .if you own one of these guys, you’ll know it! In these cases, you have the rare ability to get truly creative with entertaining your dog. If you run out of creative energy, picking up a “dog tricks” book can jump start you into a one-dog circus act that will surly keep your dog (and house guests) entertained.

As we all know, most of our relationships with our dogs are very complex in nature. I like to sum it up by my favorite quote, by an unknown author: “He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog. You are his life, his love, his leader. He will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of his heart. You owe it to him to be worthy of such devotion.” Often, it is a lack of one or more of the needs discussed that can lead to kinks in the relationship with our dogs. Thankfully, the fixes are within our abilities. Train safe, and be well.
Aja Harris


Mutt Magic Training