Pitbull Training and Socialization: What You Need to Know

Pitbulls can be friendly and social dogs with the right approach to training and socialization. Let’s learn more about keeping aggression at bay when raising a pitbull.

Dec 3, 2023byLisa Szymanski
pitbull training socialization what you need to know

Training the tenacious and powerful pitbull differs slightly from training your average dog. They have immense strength, and they’re known to push the boundaries if you give them enough leeway, so firm and consistent leadership is a must. Every pitbull is unique in their own right so personality should always be considered. You’ll find confident dogs that are eager to learn while others are shy when introduced to strangers. If you’re welcoming a pitbull into your life, let’s look at pitbull training and socialization and what you need to know.

The Importance of Temperament

man wearing tan jacket hugging black pitbull
Pitbulls with a good nature are easy to train.

In spite of their rather negative reputation, pitbulls have one of the most stable temperaments of most dog breeds. This is, however, dependent on the bloodline and the training of the dog. Poorly bred pitbulls, or “backyard breeding,” means that breeders don’t select dogs that are friendly, healthy, and exceptional.

The first step to raising a balanced American pitbull terrier is to find puppies or adult dogs from reputable breeders. A trusted breeder chooses dogs without a history of aggression. If you want to rescue a bully breed, the shelter should provide details of the dog’s personality and behavior. Spend some time with the pitbull before adoption to get an idea of their temperament, so you won’t be surprised by their difficult behavior. Look for playfulness, natural curiosity, friendliness, and the absence of extreme shyness or fearfulness.

Why Pitbulls Always Need Socialization

pitbull playing with a bulldog
A social pitbull is friendly and playful.

There are many qualities about pitbulls that make them one of the best canine companions in the world. I’ve spent years working with rescue pitbulls and have one of my own, and I know they are sweet, loyal, and brave. But there’s no denying the pitbull’s history as a fighting dog. They certainly have the potential to do more damage than most breeds, but this doesn’t mean that they’re all dangerous. A well-socialized pitbull that responds to your obedience commands is great with other dogs and very friendly when meeting new people.

They can get along with cats and even birds when introduced to them at a young age and when properly trained. Socialization is imperative and should be an ongoing activity with your pitbull throughout the course of their lives. As you introduce them to other animals and people in a safe and controlled environment, the more they overcome fear and anxiety. The goal is to prevent any triggers for aggression by training them to get used to new things.

How to Socialize Pitbull Puppies

young pitbull puppy panting and happy
Sticking to training your pitbull puppy can raise a well-adjusted dog.

When introducing your pitbull puppy or young pitbull to a new pet or strangers, you should always make it a fun and relaxed experience. Whether you want them to make new friends at a dog park or they’re meeting a cat for the first time, there should be no signs of stress or anxiety. Keep your puppy on a leash if you’re in an unfamiliar environment, and if they pull back or hesitate when you introduce another dog, don’t force them to continue with the session. Allow them to explore at their own pace, and praise them when they’re behaving well. Confident puppies might get a little unruly, so reign them in with a firm “no” and stop any signs of nipping or biting.

Getting Your Pitbull to Listen to You

blue pitbull with white chest wearing a harness
Pitbulls are intelligent and eager to learn.

Pitbulls have tons of energy! These dogs can swim, play ball, and tug of war for hours, and fortunately, it’s the answer to getting them to listen to you. Bully breeds can be extremely strong-willed, so they don’t always listen to you. Training a pitbull requires consistency and strong leadership. If you implement a rule like no jumping on the sofa and then allow them to jump on it, they get confused. It’s hard to train pitbulls with pent-up energy, so a long walk, running with your dog, or playtime before training is a good idea. Teach them basic commands such as sit and stay, and positively reinforce with the odd treat and lots of praise. They should be taught to respond to their names and not to dart off or spontaneously run out of the gate. Once you’ve mastered the basics, you’ll feel more confident in your ability to control their behavior whether at home or while on a walk.

Special Considerations when Training Your Pitbull

brown pitbull walking with black harness and leash
Walks and play time are excellent ways to manage pitbulls.

Pitbulls are incredibly smart dogs, so once you’ve got their attention, and that means expending their energy, they should learn tricks and commands quickly. Because of their strength and endurance, always teach your dog to walk on lead without tugging, jumping, or pulling. Don’t let them pull you through the door at the start of your walk. Get them to sit, make eye contact, and then gracefully walk out the door. This way, you’re already in control at the start of the walk and there’s less risk of being pulled off your feet!

Pitbulls tend to run after smaller animals, such as squirrels and cats, that they aren’t socialized with because of their prey drive. One way to curb this drive is to keep them stimulated with chew toys or regular participation in dog sports. Pitbulls do well in weight-pulling activities, flyball, and agility. Despite their reputation, if you’re willing to put in the work, a pitbull can provide years of love and joy as a devoted companion.

Lisa Szymanski
byLisa Szymanski

Lisa is a wildlife enthusiast who enjoys hiking and gardening and has four years of experience volunteering at pet shelters. She is the proud mom of two dogs, a Pitbull named Ragnar, a Boerboel named Blueberry, and four feisty chickens, or as she calls them, the \"queens of the yard,\" Goldie, Gray, Peaches, and Brownie.