American pit bull terriers have a lot going against them these days, but some people are figuring out ways to give them a better chance to live peaceful, happy lives. We have some passionate advocates for pit bulls here in Texas, and one of them is Julie Eskoff of Rancho Mondo Northwest Canine Resource Center.
Eskoff has adopted four pit bulls — Murphy, Jasmine, Pearl and Moby – and she will tell you all of their harrowing stories of previous abuse and difficulties in shelters. My human met three of the dogs, and they are amazing in their athleticism and general happiness. Moby even prances like a Lipizzan stallion! Eskoff’s kindness and sound training really made a difference for these four. Eskoff doesn’t keep these to herself but shares her skills with rescues and shelters to help prepare dogs like them for successful adoption. She also has ideas that could help pit bulls regain their place among America’s most respected dogs.
The main tool Eskoff uses with the pits is training. She started with Canine Good Citizen training, then Pearl and Moby trained to be therapy dogs. They both earned the “complex” rating from Pet Partners (which used to be Delta). That means they can work in any situation, including with children.
Eskoff helps other people train their pet pit bulls for work as therapy dogs. She even helped start a group called Pit Crew for human/pit bull therapy teams. In a couple of years she’ll be qualified to evaluate dogs for participation in Pet Partners.
She does a lot of volunteering with pit bulls and also has a reduced rate for working with shelters. She thinks one of the most important elements in the rehabilitation of the breed is to teach the dogs how to be by themselves and be quiet.
One of the keys to more harmonious living for pit bull terriers in rescue is placing them with knowledgeable fosters. “Train the fosters on how to truly make an adoptable dog,” Eskoff says.
Now that Eskoff has learned to teach K9 Nose Work, she gets the pitties into detection. Eskoff says that through a combination of training methods she’s “teaching dogs to cope.” And then some!
She takes dogs who have a bad reputation in the shelter or who have been mistreated by other humans and introduces them to K9 Nose Work for their mental health. Hunting for odors gives dogs an opportunity for critical thinking, an aspect of dog health that can be overlooked even in the best situations, let alone in shelters.
Eskoff tells the story of training a pit bull to stop reacting negatively to men using Nose Work techniques. She took clothing from men the dog was going to meet, mostly socks and underwear, and put the items together with food in boxes (which is the first stage in detection training). The dog was hunting for the men long before meeting them. When it did come time to meet the men, Eskoff had them sit down and offer the dog pets and treats. Before long, three men could take this formerly reactive pit bull for walks on a leash.
She introduced all of her pit bull rescues to Nose Work, and has had great results. Eskoff even has hopes that pit bulls will become professional detectives. However, she is having a hard time getting humans to take them seriously, no matter what great skills she has to show off in her dogs.
Murphy is so good at Nose Work that Eskoff is sure that he would make a great professional. The Nose Work training method is all positive, and that’s one of the reasons Eskoff thinks it’s so beneficial for pit bulls. Police and military training, however, still use a lot of aversive methods of training, and she doesn’t want to put her dogs through that. This means that Eskoff may need to start her own detection business to give pit bulls the opportunities she thinks they deserve. She has some experience with bedbug and termite detection, and her dogs all hunt for Nose Work’s signature scent of birch. Most of the work for detection dogs is in bombs and drugs, so she’s heading in that direction with them.
“I can’t get any explosives [for training],” Eskoff said. “But I’ll bet I could get my hands on some pot.”
If she does, it won’t be long before Murphy, Pearl, Moby and Jasmine will be locating it and alerting humans where the drugs are stashed.
With more and more people like Julie Eskoff devoting their energies to training and rehabilitating the bully breeds, more of the dogs have a chance to get adopted and live good lives.
All photos courtesy of Julie Eskoff.
Editor’s Note: Saturday, 27 October is National Pit Bull Awareness Day.