Help Me Be a Better Owner to the Dog I Just Rescued

I recently adopted a Pit Bull and need some help with the basics. Share your expertise!


Editor’s Note: Mandy Stadtmiller is the deputy editor at Dogster’s sister SAY Media site, This article first ran on xoJane, but we’re rerunning it (with permission!) so you readers can comment on it. Please note that the opinions expressed below are just the author’s and not necessarily Dogster’s.

Getting my dog Sam (I rescued him from death row recently) is turning out to be the best decision I’ve ever made. My bosses Emily and Jane have noticed I’m happier, and I feel connected to joy and playfulness and unconditional love in a way that I haven’t felt since I was a kid.

Just the other day, in fact, I had two incredibly vivid sensory memory experiences (where a smell conjures up a very specific, acute memory in your mind) involving my childhood. The first was when I was taking a picture with Jane, and I said, “You smell like scratch ‘n’ sniff stickers I had when I was a kid. Like a bubblegum one. I used to have an album filled with them, and the most special ones were stickers I won from the library’s summer reading contest.”

Then Jane climbed on top of a shelf to take a picture, and I remembered when I was a little girl, and I used to jump from the top of my dresser (which was filled with about a thousand different “collections” including coasters, snow globes, and miniature cars) and onto my bed. I finally got in trouble for this practice when I tore the curtains down with me.

So the joyfulness of walking Sam around the city has been a fascinating experience. It’s that same sense of innocence and connectedness, seeing how he stops to be fascinated by a super interesting branch or some particularly excellent-smelling potted plant reminds me of the wonders that are around me constantly. Cliche, I know, but most cliches are pretty powerful, I find.

There’s something about discovering New York with a dog that is different than discovering it on your own. Every store window is a treasure trove. (Sam is a big fan of clean, crisp brands like Pottery Barn and Banana Republic.) Every old lady and doorman is a new friend to wag his tail toward.

But I know I have a lot to learn and improve on. For instance, he loves to jump up on me — and others. I’ve experienced him doing this when we are in the middle of the crosswalk and then it just kind of looks like this 6’2″ blonde chick is dancing in the middle of an intersection with a 50-pound Pit Bull. No big deal.

I’ve tried kind of pushing his nose down gently with my hand or placing my hands on his paws to show that being down is the way to be. Not in the middle of the intersection, obviously, but when we’re in a safer place.

And then there’s how he acts with certain strangers. He does not ever bite, but he wants to play and so every once in a while (I’d say it’s one stranger out of 10), he darts out and scares a pedestrian who wasn’t expecting a dog to suddenly be making a go at his or her leg. I jerk on the leash firmly; I want to cure him of this habit.

Granted, I know a lot of problems will be solved when he is finally neutered. (He can’t be neutered for at least a week until he recovers from his course of doxycycline, to cure him of kennel cough, and he can safely go under anesthesia.) I’ve been told he’ll be way less aggro, which is nice (although I can’t help but feel a little guilty that I’ll be effectively removing his manhood, but yes, I know it’s necessary and important and critical to animal control).

But in the interim, I’m wondering how to discipline him without being an awful mean dog owner. I’ve said “NO!” in a stern voice, but I don’t know that it is sticking. And do you think I should let him jump on me when we’re home alone? I know that he’s just excited, but I suppose I’ll be perpetually covered in little Sam love bruises if I don’t completely dissuade him from the practice. Maybe the answer is dog obedience training, when I can afford to take a course with him, but if anyone has any tips for now, I would really love them!

Also, is there a way that I can encourage him to go potty when he’s outside, even when he doesn’t feel like going or the patch of dirt doesn’t have that particular ambience he’s looking for in a pee? He’s basically trained but he’s had two small, neat accidents (a poop left very tidily for me, and a pee on his little play-pad). I feel like since I’m taking him out three times a day, if I were to encourage him to go every time I take him out, then these accidents could be avoided.

And what is the best, health-boosting way to feed a dog? I’ve just been using Purina from the corner bodega, but is there a brand that is particularly excellent for Pit Bulls? I’ve heard they have sensitive digestive systems, and I want to do what I can to help him be as healthy as possible.

Lastly, I found a woman who’s a dog walker in Chelsea I think I’m going to start using to take him out a few times a day when I can’t get away from work (I can’t take him to doggy day care until he’s fully better), but when he’s home in my place, are there any particular toys or a DVD I could put on TV that would keep him happier and occupied?

Right now his favorite toy is this soft fuzzy playhouse overflowing with little chipmunks that he pulls out of the holes. I’ve got to be honest, if I were a dog, I’d be pretty into it, too. Also he’s very adept at removing a toothpaste tube from its container and helpfully giving it some little Sammy bite marks, which I enjoyed as a stamp of his approval on my dental hygiene.

Thank you for any suggestions you may have! And thank you for your support on my adoption. I was truly overwhelmed by all of the lovely comments on my first post about Sam, and it really warms my heart. Speaking of which, the medium-sized guy has been sleeping next to me every night, and rests his head on my chest every time I lay down on my bed.

I’m so in love.

Photo Credits: Top Pittie puppy photo via Shutterstock; all others by Mandy.

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