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The Pit Bull Training Team's Summer in the City

Chicago youth working to end dogfighting

The Humane Society of the United States

  • Felony the pit bull

    Felony is making good progress. Jeff Jenkins

  • Larry and Blue

    Larry and Blue bring lots of energy to class. Jeff Jenkins

  • Law the pit bull

    Law has grown considerably since puppyhood. Jeff Jenkins

  • Justin and Buck

    Justin and Buck joined the PBTT through word of mouth. Jeff Jenkins

  • Jermaine and Black

    Jermaine's homework with Black paid off. Jeff Jenkins

  • Big Bo the pit bull

    Big Bo became more confident and less aggressive. Jeff Jenkins

End Dogfighting in Chicago gives would-be fighting dogs and their people a much more constructive alternative: agility training and positive reinforcement on the Pit Bull Training Team. Jeff Jenkins, lead trainer on the Pit Bull Training Team, shares highlights from the current session.

August 12, 2009

The final class of the first session on the south side of Chicago was nothing short of extraordinary. There are two reasons for this, in particular.

First, the great work by the dogs and their owners, both at home and in class, has been nothing short of inspiring to everyone involved in the End Dogfighting campaign. Second, the number of new dogs and people who show up each week looking for help shows us how great the need is in Englewood. Knowing this makes our work all the more fulfilling.

Raymond and Rocky

Raymond and Rocky continued to lead the way, tearing up the agility course and finishing with extended, steady "sit-stays." Rocky remains so good with his sit-stays, not even flinching while I continued to dream up new ways to try to distract him. Instead, he stayed devotedly focused on Raymond and their task at hand.

Even as I danced around Rocky, banging the steel water bowls together, he wouldn't budge. For the next training session, Raymond's Rocky will be a prime candidate for his Canine Good Citizen certificate—an impressive accomplishment for any dog.

Jermaine and Black

Jermaine and Black had a breakthrough class this week. From the moment they entered class Black ready to go—but this time he was ready to go to work on his obedience and agility, not at fighting the other dogs.

Black's new attitude shows me that clearly, Jermaine has been doing his homework and is really taking his relationship with Black seriously.

These two had a class for the record books: Black made it through the entire agility course several times with impressive focus and energy.

To finish things off, he held his "down-stay" perfectly in a tight circle of dogs, not the least distracted by those whom he once considered his former foes.

This handsome dog now has an impressive personality to match his good looks.

Curtis and Felony

Curtis and Felony are also getting close to being ready to take the Canine Good Citizen test.

Curtis continues to impress us with both his dog handling skills and his people skills. He is as good in class as he is on the streets as an Antii-Dogfighting Advocate.

Larry and Blue

Larry and Blue once again brought their signature positive energy for the final class. Larry was so excited that at one point he leapt over the high jump during the agility course and left Blue in the dust!

Blue responded to Larry's enthusiasm whole-heartedly, tacking the course with all the energy he had in his body, still a young pup. He leapt over the obstacles with as much ease as any of the larger, more mature dogs.

These two are also on their way to getting their Canine Good Citizen Certificate. Blue just needs to mature a bit more; at this point he is only 6 months old but already working extremely well, especially for his age.

Big Bo

Big Bo had his best class by far this week. With each run through the agility course, he enjoyed himself more and more to the point where he was barely even noticing the other dogs—the same dogs that he once wanted nothing more than to lunge at and fight.

As Big Bo's confidence rises, his aggression level—towards both people and other dogs—drops dramatically! Funny how it works out that way with dogs.

The turnout this inaugural session exceeded my expectations. I chalk that up to the amazing recruiting work done by our Anti-Dogfighting Advocates, who hit the streets tirelessly to reach out to those most at risk.

Hats off to ADAs Mike, Curtis, and, of course, Tio Hardiman! They're the key to the success of our whole campaign.

As we finished up our incredible first session on the south side of Chicago, I'm proud to say that this campaign is making a difference. The need for this kind of class is so great in this area that I can say without a doubt that we've made big differences in the lives of many dogs and their people across Englewood—with more to come.

July 15, 2009

The weather was back on track, and after being indoors last week, it was good to get back outside and get the dogs moving and grooving in the parking lot.

I arrived a few minutes before class and was greeted by Tio, Big Mike, and every team member and their dogs lined up and ready to go. This gives you an idea of how seriously everyone takes these classes—and this is happening in the community that many believe is ground zero for dogfighting in Chicago!

Rocky and Raymond

Rocky and Raymond continued to set the bar high, moving through the agility course with ease and finishing with a clean, solid "stay" on the box. I challenged Raymond to really work Rocky this week on the stay command, and he clearly did. Raymond did a terrific job in keeping Rocky focused on him and not on the other dogs.

By the end of class Raymond had Rocky in a sit-stay on the box while Big Bo, another large, unneutered male pit bull walked around him in circles—something that would've been unthinkable just a few weeks ago. Following the exercise Raymond, dropped down and smothered Rocky with praise; this too would have been unimaginable a few weeks ago.

Curitis, Felony, and Chunk

Curtis and his two dogs, Felony and Chunk, continued their steady climb up the ladder of progress. Felony, in particular, had a great week. Curtis has really found his rhythm with his leash handling and is able to communicate very clearly what he wants and Felony is responding great.

I always tell them dog handling is like ballroom dancing, you need to lead cleanly and confidently, and manipulating the leash is part of the dance. Initially they think I'm nuts, and then one day it clicks for them. Well, last night Curtis and Felony lit up the dance floor.

Larry and Blue

Larry and Blue were back with their trademark energy. I am not sure who has more fun in class, Blue or Larry. Either way, they definitely made some progress from the previous week.

Larry told me he had worked Blue all week in the park, and it showed. This week, Blue managed to get through a good portion of the agility course and finish with a poised and patient "sit" on top of the box.

We're making great progress with some of the more dangerous dogs we've ever had in class, and much of the credit goes to Sean. For Big Bo, being in close proximity to all the other dogs in the class was definitely a challenge.

Fortunately, Sean was on hand to help Bo's owner out. On more than a few occasions, Bo's owner missed the signs that Bo was getting ready to go after another dog, but Sean intervened just in time.

We let Big Bo's owner know that waiting until Bo lunges is too late. He needs to be refocused and redirected before he makes his move. The agility course really helped Bo calm down and start to enjoy himself; it was then that he forgot about the other dogs and just had fun with his owner and Sean.

I've said it before, but it deserves repeating: In this environment, credibility is key—and Sean has it.

We finished class with a sight never seen in Englewood before: ten dogs holding sit-stays with their owners at their sides praising them, while a skinny white dude and two of Curtis' kids ran around the parking lot making as much noise as they could.

July 8, 2009

The weather did not cooperate this week in Englewood and forced us to hold class indoors for the first time. This turned out to be a good test. Outside in a big parking lot with plenty of room to move is one thing; inside with much less real estate to maneuver on forced everyone to be on their toes.

Our working space inside the center is just down the hall from the entrance. This makes some of our most challenging moments those that happen when entering and exiting the classroom. Two hyped-up dogs meeting face to face in the hallway upon arrival would not be the way to start class. I'm happy to report that our team passed the test with flying colors.

Rocky and Raymond

Let's start with Rocky and Raymond, who are quickly establishing themselves as the team to beat. On the first week of class, having Rocky in a room filled with dogs would have been chaos.

But just four weeks later, Rocky has didn't even try to make a move towards another dog, thanks to the work Raymond is doing both in class and at home.

On the agility course, Rocky is fearless. The running joke is that Rocky laughs at me when he leaps over the equipment, as if daring me to build something new and more challenging. Raymond did a great job of keeping Rocky's eyes on the prize the whole time and away from the glares of some of the other dominant male pit bulls in the room. The bond that is growing between these two is loving, respectful, and based on Raymond being a firm, fair, and fun leader. It is really great to watch.

Curtis, Chunk, and Felony

Curtis and his two dogs, Felony and Chunk, had solid classes as well. These two dogs couldn't be more different in personality, and Curtis does a great job in tailoring his methods to each dog.

Chunk is content to lie down and wait for the class and the treats to come to him. Curtis does a nice job motivating Chunk and not losing his patience or getting discouraged at Chunk's low-key demeanor. For many of these guys who want instant results and a hard, tough dog right off the bat, this isn't an easy concept to convey.

Felony, on the other hand, is the natural athlete and really shines with the agility. The challenge with her is to keep her focused on the task at hand and not the other dogs. Again Curtis adjusts his methods to suit her personality and keeps her in check without being too heavy-handed. Curtis has also stepped in to fill the ADA role vacated by Ernest and is proving invaluable.

Larry and Blue

Blue, a five-month-old male pit bull owned by a young man named Larry, is a terrific new addition to class. Blue is a bundle of energy with absolutely no training. I thought his head was going to explode when he walked into the room full of dogs. While he didn't show aggression, he was just completely overwhelmed by the sight of so many other dogs. Larry was open-minded and eager to learn.

By the end of class, Blue had calmed down enough to make it over a few jumps and even managed to hold a sit for a few seconds. If Larry stays consistent, Blue will be an exceptional dog. I hope he does, because Blue is a good looking blue pit bull—very much prized on the streets right now.

Big Bo

Last but not least was Big Bo. If you remember, last week Bo did his best to leave an impression on Sean...with his teeth. Once the weather gave way, Sean worked Bo outside with his owners until the room was clear. Then we brought Bo inside to make the rounds of the room with just one small puppy in the corner. Bo's attitude this week was much better—he may have entertained the idea of biting Sean, but he didn't act on it.

Sean hit the nail on the head when he told Bo's owners that Bo is the most dangerous dog in class: Not only will he go after other dogs, but people are fair game as well. Because Sean has the creds to back up his words, they resonated with Bo's owners, and it was clear that they have made some positive changes with Bo at home.

July 7, 2009

When we launched the Pit Bull Training Team in Englewood I was bracing myself for a long, slow build to a full class. I was wrong.

Four weeks into class, we are at capacity. I attribute this to a few factors: First—the outstanding work of our Anti-Dogfighting Advocates Mike and Ernest, led by Tio. Second—the overwhelming need for a program like this in a community such as Englewood.

This week I had some help from our Austin team. Anti-Dogfighting Advocates Sean and Anthony came down to Englewood to see firsthand how things are progressing. In a matter of moments, they were knee deep in pit bulls.

Sean and Jigga

Sean started out by running his dog Jigga through some obedience and agility to inspire the teams down in Englewood. This went a long way in reinforcing what we have been saying about consistent, positive training as the key to a solid, stable dog. The fact that Jigga is the poster dog for impressive-looking pit bulls was not lost on our Southside audience, either: we heard lots of "holy s***, look at that dog!"

The Taylor Family's "Big Bo"

After an impressive demo, Sean jumped in and helped with the training as well. He was lucky enough to score Big Bo. Big Bo is a 7-month old male pit bull owned by the Taylor family. Bo showed up last week and let us know right away that both dogs and people were fair game in his mind.

Bo's aggressive behavior stems from his lack of socialization. He has had very little if any interaction with people or dogs outside his home. Bo is the classic case of a well-bred dog who, because of his environment, has become a "fear biter." At 7 months old and already easily 65 pounds, this is a desperate situation.

Sean did a masterful job of working with Bo in a firm, upbeat manner: emphasizing positive training methods, communicating with the family in a way they understood and respected, all while avoiding the lunging jaws of Bo. By the end of class, Bo was walking alongside Sean with a bit of a tail wag and feeling much safer than when he showed up.

Anthony and The Group

Anthony focused on getting the new teams signed up and fitted for collars and leashes—no easy task when you are talking about highly aggressive dogs (both human and dog-aggressive) sporting tow chains, extension cords and various other completely inappropriate "leashes"—not to mention bringing the owners up to speed on the rules for a safe, productive training session.

Anthony's calm energy, dog knowledge and street savvy went a long way in helping keep the peace and making this training session extremely productive.

July 1, 2009

Before I jump into the highlights of the training I want to mention an incident that took place in Englewood during class not far from our training location: A young girl and her father were washing the family's pit bulls on the side of their home when a van pulled up, the doors swung open, and whoever was inside opened fire. The father was injured and his nine-year-old daughter was killed. Two young men, ages 19 and 17, who live just two blocks away from the victims, are being held in connection with this shooting.

I mention this story to give folks who are not familiar with Englewood some context as to the challenges people face living in this neighborhood. I don't think anyone reading this update would consider washing your dog with your daughter a life-threatening activity. The sad fact is that in Englewood, it is.

Curtis, Chunk and Felony

It was a hot evening in Chicago but training was at capacity once again. Curtis and his two dogs, Chunk and Felony, were back and in great spirits. Felony is a stone cold athlete who tears up the agility course. Her focus this week shifted dramatically from the other dogs to her handler. This change, along with her athletic ability, made her a real standout in class.

Chunk is mellower, although I don't anticipate this will last long. At some point in the near future, Chunk will figure out he is on his way to becoming a big, strong pit bull. Curtis is forced to work Chunk differently than Felony, with a much softer touch and at a much slower pace.

I assured him that this is the way to go, to take your time and not push too hard. Chunk is saying, "show me," not "make me." So far, so good. It is also going a long way with the younger guys to see Curtis—who is older and a real leader—on the ground with treats in hand encouraging Chunk to hop over the short jump. I am impressed with Curtis.

Devonte and Lady Love

Big Mike, our lead Anti-Dogfighting Advocate in Englewood, delivered another prime candidate this week. His name is Devonte, and his dog is Lady Love. Lady Love is a 4-month-old female with a big chip on her shoulder. She was ready to go with just about every dog in the place.

Clearly, Lady Love has been bumped or rolled, as she was all too game to start a fight. She had no visible signs of abuse but was far too aggressive for her age. By the end of class, she had calmed down a great deal and was starting to have fun. Her owner, Devonte, stepped up his game as well. In this case, I think the owner will be more of a challenge than the dog.

June 17, 2009

The turnout this week in Englewood was big. We had a dozen dogs and as many owners showing up to take part in the training. Thanks to the work of our ADAs—Big Mike, Ernest and Tio—the word is getting out.

If you own a pit bull in Englewood, the place to be on Wednesday nights is the Liberation Christian Center, home to the Pit Bull Training Team.

Daniel and Honey; Ziggy and Chi-Chi

Two of our repeat customers from last week were Honey and Chi-Chi, owned by two of our youngest team members, 14-year-old Daniel and 15-year-old Ziggy. I referred to them often as shining examples of what can be accomplished with these great dogs in just a few weeks.

It was hard to tell who was having more fun, the owners or the dogs. All four left with smiles on their faces and a sense of accomplishment.

This is how we change the culture of pit bull ownership—by engaging these young men early and setting them on the right path now, rather than later.

Curtis and Mimi, Chunk and Felony

Another great addition to our Englewood PBTT this week was Curtis, his two sons, and their three pit bulls: Mimi, Chunk and Felony.

Mimi is an intense five-year-old female who spent most of the class looking for trouble. At only six months old, her two male pups, Chunk and Felony, had a much better outlook on life.

By the end of class, both pups were ripping through the agility course with tails wagging and wide grins.

I had a funny exchange with Curtis and one of his sons when they first arrived. I asked Curtis' son for his dog's name, and he told me it was "Miss Demeanor." Looking over at his son as if he had just mispronounced his own name, Curtis said, "No it ain't; his name is Felony!"

Curtis and his family will be a great resource for the campaign. Curtis is well connected in the pit bull community in Englewood and was impressed with the Pit Bull Training Team.

He really stepped up in class, and it had an obvious influence on the younger guys. We hope to further our relationship with Curtis and reach people who might otherwise not be willing to give us a chance.

Lee and Snoop

The most challenging dog this week was two-year-old Snoop. His owner Lee had his hands full all night.

If it moved, Snoop wanted to attack it: dogs, kids, bikes, cars—and most of all me.

Lee kept his patience and even managed to get a bit of the agility course done once everyone else left.

We spoke with Lee after class and encouraged him to stick with the program. Lee assured us he would be back next week and thanked us many times for bringing the program to Englewood.

Jay and Red

Red is a rock solid, one-year-old male pit bull, and he and Jay look at first glance to be every bit the high-risk team. Jay was a bit cautious at first, not quite sure what to make of the whole scene.

But by the end of class, much to Jay's surprise, he and Red were moving through the agility course without Red lunging at the other dogs.

They have a long road ahead of them but it was a great first day, and I'm particularly glad our ADAs reached out and delivered Red and Jay to us.

Our audience in Englewood is growing, even attracting dogs and owners from outside the neighborhood. I anticipate that it will only get bigger each week, which is, of course, our ultimate goal.

June 9, 2009

The Pit Bull Training Team expanded to the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago, where a November 2008 dogfighting bust found more than 50 people, including a pregnant woman and several juveniles, crammed into a basement watching two dogs tear each other apart.

To appreciate the challenges we face in Englewood, you need only drive along Ashland Avenue from the north side of Chicago to the south side, where we train. The north side is a thriving artery; the south side is block after block of urban decay.

Thanks to the relationship Tio forged with Bishop James Dukes, we set up shop at the Liberation Christian Center. Tio secured two top-notch Anti-Dogfighting Advocates, Michael Nash and Ernest Fox, both men with deep roots in Englewood who are committed to the cause. For our first session they delivered four dogs and their people, all ideal candidates for the PBTT.

Ziggy and Chi-Chi

Our first team was Ziggy and his female pit bull. Chi-Chi had just come out of heat but luckily had not been bred. We began the conversation about spay/neuter with Ziggy, and he stayed for training. In fact, he seemed open to the idea, especially sweetened with free vaccinations and microchipping.

Once Ziggy started praising Chi-Chi from the heart and leading in a clear, upbeat manner, Chi-Chi responded. By the end of class, Chi-Chi and Ziggy performed a clean sit followed by two jumps, the A-frame, around the cone, two more jumps and a clean sit to finish. The others were amazed. Ziggy and Chi-Chi left feeling great about their accomplishments.

Daniel and Foxy

Daniel was obviously having a hard time feeding five-month-old Foxy enough. Despite this challenge, the two of them had an inspiring class. Foxy had the time of her life running through the course. Daniel's skeptical stare gave way to a broad grin that better fit his 14-year-old face.

After training, the ADAs gave them a ride home along with a 40-pound bag of dog food.

Alexander and Moses

While the other dogs were working, Moses and Alex stayed out of sight. Moses is a year-old, highly aggressive male. He has spent most of his life in the house or, occasionally, the yard at night. Alex did everything we asked of him and he kept a great attitude.

Moses had moments where he connected with Alex and executed the task at hand. He also had many more moments at the end of the leash looking for something to bite. If we can keep Alex engaged and coming to training consistently, we can have a positive effect where one is desperately needed.

Rodney and Dino

Rodney is a bit older than the other guys in the program and much firmer with his dog, Dino. We talked about proper handling and I suggested he ease a bit on Dino. Dino had zero socialization and had to be kept clear of any other dogs. During the training, Dino tried more than once to bite me. Of all the participants, Rodney had the hardest time reaching out to his dog in a positive manner. Once Dino calmed down he worked well.

The trick here will be getting Rodney to look hard at his relationship with his dog and make some changes.

I am filled with hope and determination for our session in Englewood. I am also thankful for our ADAs, Big Mike and Ernest, and our relationship with Bishop Dukes.

May 30, 2009

All of our regulars plus eight new dogs attended in the Austin neighborhood. We'll get the newcomers enrolled.

Julian and Lady

Julian and his dog Lady came in early to get some training before the room filled up. Not only is Lady a quick learner, but she's also the very first dog in our classes to be spayed. It's a big deal because the idea of having your dog spayed or neutered is an unpopular one on the west side. We hope that Lady's spaying will help with her aggression, as she's still too dog-aggressive to be fully integrated into the class. Until then, we'll continue to train early and bring her along.

Charles and Hennessey

Hennessy and his owner Charles (who, by the way, is Julian's cousin) continued to impress us this week. Charles has a good feel for dog training. He moves with authority and maintains an upbeat attitude, and Hennessy picks up on this. They're a real joy to watch, as Hennessy moves alongside his owner all the while looking up at him, his big floppy ears bouncing. If they stick with it, the Canine Good Citizen certification is well within reach for these two.

Ness and Edmundo were back with us this week, and they had their best training day by far. A few weeks ago, Ness was deathly afraid of the box we use to start all the agility work. After several weeks of Edmundo sitting on the box, feeding Ness treats, Ness finally overcame his fear. Now, Ness hops right up onto the box, rips through the entire course, and finishes back on the box. He holds a sit-stay up there as well, while Edmundo stands several feet away at the end of the leash and all the rest of the dogs parade right past him. We've been working Ness extra hard and giving Edmundo plenty of homework, because he and his wife are expecting their first child in October.

Anthony and Tyson

With each passing week, Tyson gets more comfortable and less aggressive. Tyson is always a challenge: One moment he's lunging at the end of his leash at another dog (and he really means it), and the next moment he's trying to climb up into your lap. Slow and steady with this guy; I can't afford to lose any more shirts to Tyson.

DeeShawn and China

The highlight for me this week was China and DeeShawn. China really lit it up, tearing through the agility course, holding a sit-stay on top of the box under heavy distraction, and finishing with a long distance, off-leash recall the entire length of the room. DeeShawn has exceeded my expectations and become a true leader in class. His style is quiet and understated; he lets his dog's obedience work do all the talking—and she talks loud.

May 23, 2009

The last two weeks have been quite busy. With the warm weather, the number of people and dogs showing up for training is on the rise. While we're are doing our best to keep up with the demand, the reality is we don't have room for all the dogs who show up. We fit in as many as we can without sacrificing safety or the quality of training. For those left, we stay in touch, provide services as needed (food, vaccinations, etc.) and put them on the list for next session.

Because our current group of dogs has been progressing so well, we were able to add a few new dogs into class. A few weeks ago, throwing a new dog into the mix was out of the question; total chaos would have followed. But now as the dogs are more focused and having fun, a new face is no big deal.

Del, Heaven and Law

Del was back with his two dogs, Heaven and Law. Law has finally reached the age where he can participate in class, so Andrea stepped in and ran him through his paces. Law was quite a sight, tackling the small jumps and the horizontal ladder. His head and paws are already fully-grown, while his body is true to his five months of age.

Del is so proud of his dogs that he brought his partner Jymara and their two kids, Jamere and Tatumn, to class. Little 18-month-old Jamere served as my official distraction, tossing balls and dancing around the room with me as the dogs held their sit-stays.

Terrence and Beast

Terrence and his dog seven-month-old dog, Beast, were the first new team to join us this week. Beast's name is fitting—not so much because of her temperament, but because of her size. For the first 15 minutes, Beast was a bit wild, but she settled down soon enough. Terrence did a great job on his first day in class. He was eager and excited, and Beast picked up on his positive energy. By the end of class, Beast was managing several jumps and the A-frame with ease. These two are a great addition.

Charles and Henessey

Our second new team to join us this week was Charles and Henessy, a six-month-old male pit. For the last two weeks, the pair have been hanging around in the waiting area hoping for a spot in class, with Henessy barking at anything that moved.

This week their persistence paid off. I can't say enough about how well Hennessy did on day one. Once he figured out that no harm was going to come to him in class, he focused right in and calmed right down. Hennessy lit it up after that—jumps, A-frames, sit-stays on the box...you name it, he did it. Charles took to heart what we said about making training fun. These two had a blast and they made great progress—a terrific first day.

Beyonce; Mike and Blood

Beyonce was up to her usual tricks, tearing up the agility course and doing off-lash recalls across the room while everyone else held down-stays. She should be ready for her Canine Good Citizenship test soon.

Blood was back after a two-week absence and couldn't wait to hit the course. He looked great, and Mike was glad to get him back into class. According to Mike, Blood starts bouncing around the car when they get within a few blocks of the center. Oh, Blood also packed on about ten pounds of muscle.

Mike and Tyson; Willie D. and Petey

Tyson and Petey, two of our more challenging dogs, had solid classes this week as well. Both of these dogs are highly dog-aggressive, so we tried something new with them. In order to keep them focused on the task at hand as opposed to eyeing each other, we had them work at the same time. For the most part, both dogs kept their eyes on the prize—A-frames, jumps, tunnels and treats—instead of each other.

Julian and Lady

Lady, a new, seven-month-old female on the team will get spayed June 9 free of charge, thanks to PAWS here in Chicago. It has been a long road to getting just one of these young men to see the wisdom of this procedure. There are several other team members that are on the edge, so with luck this will be the nudge they need to help make spay/neuter an accepted practice on the west side.

May 2, 2009

Last week's class started off as quiet and calm as I can remember any class starting. This week we more than made up for that.

Justin and Buck

Del, who is a bright spot in this session, sent us Justin and his dog Buck. The old adage that the best advertising is word of mouth comes to mind in this case. Justin has the same positive energy that Del has, but the main difference between them is in the dogs. While Del's dogs are reasonably well-socialized, Justin's dog Buck is not. Justin normally walks Buck at night to avoid other dogs and the unwanted challenges to fight that come along with owning a dog like Buck on the west side.

Buck tips the scales at a good 95 pounds. After a quick intro, it was clear that Buck needed some solo training time. Justin and Buck waited patiently outside until the room was clear. By the end of our half-hour session, Buck was tackling the A frame and jumps with ease. Justin said he was shocked that Buck could do it. I wasn't—Buck could pick up the A-frame in his mouth and clear the jumps with ease if he wanted to. Justin and Buck are ideal candidates for this program. They will take a lot of individual time, but the rewards will be worth it.

Jonathan and Blackie

Blackie, a six-month old male pit who came to the final class of the last session, also joined us this week. In the few weeks that I didn't see Blackie, he grew quite a bit and got much more aggressive. His owner Jonathan stopped taking him out because of his aggression, and his aggression was growing because he had stopped going on walks—classic. Jonathan spent a good deal of time working Blackie slowly into the group, and by the end of class he was able to sit in the room without barking and lunging at everything that moved. I anticipate Blackie will progress quickly because of his youth.

Marvin and Bruno were back with a guest: Marvin's younger brother, Peanut. Bruno has put on some weight and looked better, with a lot more energy. Early on in class Marvin had a hard time keeping Bruno focused. Using a ball to pull Bruno's focus worked great as long as no dogs were moving, but once a dog started the agility course, Bruno would go after him. So we placed Bruno on a box and had Marvin fill his pockets with delightfully smelly fish-and-venison treats. Any time a dog moved, Marvin pulled out a few treats and Bruno forgot about the other dog. By the end of class Bruno was calm, well fed and tired from running the agility course.

The challenge will be to keep Bruno progressing outside of the training center. We'll follow up with Marvin during the week to make sure all is well. Bruno will take to the training as well as any dog; it is the reality of the world that he and Marvin live in that most concerns me.

Anthony and Tyson

Anthony and Tyson were also in class after missing last week. Anthony has some challenges going on in his life, so getting him and Tyson to class is no small feat. We made an effort to keep in contact during the week, and it paid off with them showing up right on time.

The eerie calm that Tyson had since joining us last session abruptly ended. I've seen this behavior before in dogs: Once they get comfortable in a new environment, their true colors emerge. Tyson was colorful; in fact, I told Anthony he owes me a new shirt! Tyson is an intact high drive male, and he is either going to get training and socialization and live a productive life, or he is going to be a liability on a leash. I vote for the training part. We will continue to reach out to Anthony and Tyson and keep them engaged.

Erik and Macho

Then Macho made his grand entrance. He was much better than last week—not that he would be welcomed in any other training class, but for us it was a big improvement.Erik worked hard and Macho made steady gains. Of all the new dogs, Macho is without a doubt the most intense. Erik has his hands full but so far he has shown great commitment. I have faith in these two.

We'll continue our work in the Austin neighborhood and set up shop on the south side in Englewood.

April 25, 2009

Class number two started out quiet on the west side this week. The weather was very warm and the dogs were feeling the heat. Two of our new dogs, Bruno and Tyson, were unable to attend. This helped lower the volume a good deal. I have to give credit to the owners Anthony and Marvin because they both contacted me and let me know their situations well before class. We also set up a meeting mid-week so we could all check in.

Del, Heaven, and Law

Del and his two pits, Heaven and Law, were right on time; actually, they were early, which I really like. Heaven picked up right where she left off last week. She also added a much higher jump to her repertoire and some terrific control work under heavy distractions.

We had quite a few visitors this week, and I managed to convince one of them to sit in a chair as I wheeled him around the room, weaving in between the dogs and making all kinds of noise. Heaven never broke; she just looked at me curiously and looked up at Del for praise and an occasional treat.

Del's other dog, Law, was handled by Andrea again this week. Law strutted around the room with a ball in his mouth and managed the little jump to wild cheering from the crowd. We are encouraging Del to take his time with Law, not to push too hard too early. We see the negative results of a lot of heavy-handed training in the world we move in, so we always make it a point to stress patience with the young dogs.

Peanut and Tiger

Peanut and Tiger made some terrific progress this week. Peanut is starting to find his voice in class. Last session he was very quiet and prone to leaning on the wall and staring at the floor. This week he had a little spring in his step and even cracked a smile at a few of my bad jokes. Tiger picked up on this and really started to enjoy the work. Tiger is also starting to put on some weight, which he really needed to do. We have been supplying Peanut with food for Tiger, and it is making a big difference.

Inell and Cherrie

Inell's dog Cherrie (who is about the cutest dog I have ever seen) was back again this week and got up the courage to join class for the first time. For the past few weeks she had been huddled next to her owner's feet just watching. Again we told Inell not to rush it.

Cherrie would let us know when she was ready to participate, and she did. Before long, our assistant trainer Jonathan was running her around the room while all the other dogs were in sit-stays, and he even had her fetching. As she gains confidence, her training should progress really well.

The first class of the day ended as quietly as it started. It was a combination of the hot weather and the group dynamic: calm.

We cleared the room, and the next class was underway. Many words could describe the second class of the day; calm would most definitely not be one of them.

Erik and Macho

Macho and Erik showed up eager to train. The heat slowed Erik down a bit, but not Macho. He stormed into the room and started looking for trouble. The first dog he spotted was Nino; a large, un-neutered male like himself, and the fireworks began. I reminded Erik, "The more aggressive Macho gets, the calmer you get."

After twenty minutes of moving about the room in a calm controlled manner Macho started to settle down. We got to a point where Macho and Nino could move through the room, with jumps, A-frames, tunnels, and sit-stays and not go after each other. Eventually we had Nino on top of the small box in a sit-stay and Macho walking right by without incident.

Then Erik took over, and Macho kept his cool with him at the end of the leash as well. It got to the point that I had to cut Erik off—no more jumps; class is over. He and his dog were really enjoying themselves together. It will take some time with Macho—he is the real deal—but I have great hope because Erik is really committed.

Anthony and Nino

Nino and Anthony also had a breakthrough day. Nino, as he matures, is showing some signs of dog aggression. When Anthony first rescued him, he was an abused, frightened, little dog. Now he's a big, strong, confident male—and he has just realized he doesn't have to run and hide when other dogs look his way. Of course we don't want him going in the opposite direction—running at other dogs—either.

Each time Macho walked by and eyeballed Nino, Anthony pulled Nino's focus with a ball, which Nino loves, or a treat. After a few passes, we got to the point where Nino was much more focused on Anthony than on Macho. This also calmed Macho down, as he did not feel threatened by Nino. I reminded Anthony that sometimes the harder your dog goes, the softer you need to go to counter him.

You can't out-muscle Nino at the size and strength he is now. Nino finished things off by whipping through the entire agility course and holding a sit-stay on the box. I did my best to get him to break, but to no avail; Nino held his ground like a champ. It was a great day for Nino and Anthony.

Just as we were wrapping things up we got a visit from Kofi and his owner, Mark (an old friend of Tio). Kofi is one of the biggest pits to walk through the door on the west side. Tipping the scales at a solid 100+ pounds, he made quite an impression. He could move too, handling three jumps and the A-frame with ease. Kofi will be helping us recruit down in Englewood when we expand to the south side of Chicago, in Englewood, in the coming weeks. Englewood was in the news last November for a dogfighting bust in a basement (with over 50 people in attendance, including teenagers and a pregnant woman), so we are anxious to get going down there.

April 18, 2009

Springtime arrived in Chicago just in time for the new session of the Pit Bull Training Team.

The anti-dogfighting advocates (ADAs) and I were busy over the two-week break hitting the streets and recruiting new members. We pulled in several young men and their dogs who are tailor-made for our program. A sure sign that someone needs the team is when his dog is wearing enough steel chain to tow a bus. This week we could have pulled several buses with what these dogs were wearing.

We fitted all the new team members for training collars and new leashes and gave them the rules and regs.

We had a great turnout from our current dogs and owners as well. The combination of new and returning teams paid off as the new guys could see firsthand the benefits of the program. I can preach at them til I'm blue in the face, but when they see Jigga rip through the obstacle course off leash and finish with a lightning quick recall while they can barely hold their dogs on the leash, I can shut up.

Del, Heaven, and Law

A young man named Del joined us this week on his 23rd birthday. He owns two dogs and brought them both to class. Heaven is a 20-month old female who is built low and rock solid. His other pit is a four-month old male named Law. Del worked Heaven in class and Andrea, one of our apprentice trainers, wrangled Law. Del had a very positive way about him and clearly has some experience with pits. Heaven really took to class, flying over jumps and hitting her mark on top of the box with a clean sit. Del and his dogs had a great time.

Erik &Macho

Erik and his dog Macho, an eight-month old male, were much more of a challenge. When I met them outside on the street before class, Macho was excited but appropriate with me. I asked Erik if Macho was good with other dogs, he said he thought so.

We entered the facility and Erik got to see a side of Macho that he did not know existed.

Once Macho saw the other pit bulls, all hell broke loose. Erik did his best to calm his dog down, but after 15 minutes he was at his wits' end and his arms were probably getting tired holding the leash. I started to work Macho and he showed some promise, hopping over jumps with ease and calming down a bit, even taking some treats. After ten minutes or so, Macho decided the obedience stuff wasn't for him anymore and he went after me. We worked through this and finished on a high note. Erik was looking forward to next week. I will say that Macho is quite a bit of dog in a tight little package.

Marvin and Bruno

Marvin and his dog Bruno joined us this session. In fact, they spent several hours walking the streets with us a few days before class, spreading the good word. This young man is exactly our target audience: He cares a great deal for this dog who is deeply attached to him, but it was clear he was never given the tools to raise, train and care for his dog.

Bruno was an eight-month old male, un-neutered, like every dog we see. He was calm and focused and had terrific ball drive while he and Marvin played around as we set up for training. I picked him up early in my truck to make sure he was able to attend class. The calm disappeared the moment another dog walked into the room. Bruno showed serious aggression any time he caught sight of another dog.

Marvin and Bruno stuck it out the entire class, taking frequent breaks to step outside and cool down. I drove them both home and Bruno fell asleep in my lap.

With the snow gone and the sun shining, it should be standing room only from here on out.

Panting for more? Get the details about Jeff Jenkins and the End Dogfighting series of programs, or scan Jeff's journal from the previous session.

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