Free Pit Bull Training Aims to Improve Perception of Breed

By Carla Zanoni | September 3, 2011 4:19pm

WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — Pit bulls, widely known for their history as fighting dogs, have earned a bad reputation in many communities.

But one group is hoping to set the record straight on the dogs’ temperament and help owners train their pooches to be “ambassadors of the breed” in Northern Manhattan.

Tricks for Pits, a free dog training class being offered in Fort Tryon Park on Sunday, Sept. 4, is sponsored by the nonprofit group Bully Project, founded by husband and wife pit lovers Kelly and Lee Nadel.

The couple has fostered more than 45 pit bull mixes in the city over the past seven years and wanted to do something to help the breed after Kelly saw the amount of pit bulls abandoned under her watch at city shelters and adoption centers.

“We felt if we could get to the source instead of just dealing with the symptoms, we could prevent dogs from dying,” she said.

“When we first adopted our pit bull we could not find one training location that would let us do a class,” said Kelly, who used to volunteer at Animal Care & Control and volunteered at Animal Haven in SoHo. “Providing outlets for pittie owners to do fun, competitive, engaging and interesting classes will help create a bond between dog & owner.”

Through her work in the shelter, Kelly realized that although adoption and fostering is great way to care for these often misunderstood dogs, it is limited in its scope.

“With the crisis that NYC is in [regarding the number of pit bulls that are put down], we cannot adopt our way out of it,” she said.

Instead, the group focuses on “prevention, education, community building and empathy development” through its programming, she said.

Tricks for Pits classes help owners deal with issues like dog-to-dog reactivity or aggression, dog fighting and aggression, as well as basic training techniques. For many owners the classes represent the first time they have engaged in formal training with their pets.

“We use a completely non-judgmental approach. Any issue you are facing we will help you work with it,” Kelly said.

In addition to obedience classes, such as Sunday’s Tricks for Pits events, the group also gives out free leashes and collars, vet services and hosts educational talks and community days, where residents can meet pit bull owners and their pups in fun settings.

“We can prevent dogs from ending up in the shelter system, and ultimately we can show how great bully breeds are,” Kelly said.

The group first met with more than 10 dogs and their owners on Aug. 21 near the dog run in Fort Tryon Park and plan to hold additional classes throughout the year.

“We have lots of pit bulls and pit bull-like dogs from all different backgrounds — from young kids to families and they often get a bad reputation,” said Jennifer Bristol, a dog enthusiast and spokeswoman for Tricks for Pits, who lives in Washington Heights. She helped lead the August training session and will be working with the Bully Project to launch more events in Washington Heights and Inwood.

“Having these pitty families walking away with the tools to showcase how great these dogs can be is a start at showing by example.”

Tricks for Pits will take place on Sunday, Sept. 4, 10 to 11:30 a.m. at the Radiator sculpture beside the Sir Williams dog run in Fort Tryon Park. Owners are asked to bring treats for their dogs to enjoy and to bring their pets on a leash, but not a retractable "Flexi Leash."