By Jessica Lovell
A group of starved, abused pit bulls seized from a dog fighting ring might seem like a lost cause to some, but local dog trainer Jason Shute didn’t think so.
Shute recently returned from the Philippines, where he spent six weeks with 54 fighting pit bulls, working to turn them into family dogs.The dogs were in terrible condition,” says Shute. “They were heavily scarred and injured from fighting – emotionally as well as physically.”
The dogs had come from a dog-fighting syndicate busted by police, he says.
“Some of the local animal welfare officials had suggested that all the animals be destroyed,” says Shute, explaining that there was concern the animals were beyond rehabilitation because of their psychological and physical injuries.
An group called Island Rescue Organization intervened, hoping to rehabilitate the dogs.
“That’s what I was able to help them with,” says Shute.
In Guelph, Shute has been running his own dog-training business – Shute Balanced Dog Training – for about seven years. But he has also done some dog training in the Philippines, a country he visits regularly for martial arts training.
Filipino martial arts is another vocation of Shute’s. He teaches it at Caissie Karate studio in town.
His recent trip to the Philippines was planned so he could get a black belt certification, but the rescue organization got in touch to ask for his help before he’d even set out. “They weren’t entirely sure how to proceed with the training,” says Shute. They needed his expertise in behaviour rehabilitation as well as basic obedience.
“A lot of these dogs have dog aggression issues,” he says, noting also that “they haven’t had a lot of positive human interaction.”
It was a daunting task that Shute volunteered for, involving both building trusting relationships between the dogs and humans, and between the dogs and other dogs and animals.
“It involves a lot of on-leash time with the dogs,” he says.
Six dogs a day
He worked with about six dogs each day for about six weeks, doing simple things like walking them through villages to expose them to other people and animals.
“There were a lot of dogs, and often I was the only guy working with the dogs,” Shute says.
The training involves a great deal of subtlety, knowing the early signs of aggression and correcting the behaviour before it escalates, he says. Of course, it also involves rewarding acceptable behaviour, he says. Getting positive behaviour out of the dogs was not as difficult as one might expect.
“They’re a very misunderstood breed,” says Shute of the pit bulls.
He had a mind to bring a couple of the rescued animals home with him, but Ontario law prohibits importing pit bulls – a law that Shute seems to think is uncalled for.
“Labs bite more people than pit bulls do in a year,” he says.
While the dogs, particularly those trained for fighting, might be aggressive toward other dogs, they are not bred to be aggressive toward humans at all, he says.
In the Philippines, the dogs Shute trained showed affection toward people, licking their faces and obviously craving human attention and affection, he says.
About half a dozen of them were adopted out to families while Shute was still there. The rest are “works in progress,” he says.
“They are all going to be going through training, and the hope is for all of them to be adopted out eventually to local families in the Philippines,” he says.
It will be no small task for the Island Rescue Organization, which Shute says is working on a shoestring. The organization is also working against difficult odds.
Shute says it’s Koreans rather than Filipinos who run the dog-fighting rings, streaming video to the Internet where other Koreans place bets.
While the Philippines has introduced an animal cruelty law, fines are insignificant when compared with the gambling income generated by dog fighting, says Shute.
The sweetest dogs
Still, he feels the work that he did with them was worthwhile. “The progress that I made with these dogs was incredible,” he says. “They were just the sweetest dogs.”