Brutal training teaches dogs how to fight, experts say

Marques Phillips

As gruesome as dogfights can be, the training that got them there is no less brutal, experts say. 

Often, training an animal to fight involves pitiless techniques.

“When you see people walking a dog with a chain around its neck carrying a cinder block, they’re trying to make the dog bigger and stronger,” said Kathy Contino-

Turner, executive director of the Stevens-Swan Humane Society in Utica. 

Patty Ferreira, 41, of Middleville, works in a retail pet store and trains dogs for a living. She said people regularly ask her if her store sells steroids, spiked harnesses and other fight-training supplies. 

“Those things aren’t available in pet stores, but the people looking for them are criminals and they know how to get what they want,” Ferreira said. “The worst thing they could get in a pet store is vitamins to load a puppy up with proteins and try to make it get bigger.” 

Ferreira also said people starve dogs to make them more ill-tempered. Contino-Turner said she’s heard of people feeding dogs crushed glass in dog food to do the same. 

Utica animal control Officer Chris Collver said in nine years on the job, he’s seen just about everything when it comes to training methods. 

“There’s a lot of paraphernalia they use,” he said. “They use treadmills to build stamina. They put weights on the dogs’ necks.” 

There’s also something called a spring pole, which is a suspended spring with a bite surface attached. The dog jumps up and bites on the object hanging from the spring and is either dangling in the air or sometimes bouncing with the object in its mouth. 

The object is to exercise the dog and keep it occupied. However, Covell said he’s seen owners attach wood to the end of the spring to strengthen the dog’s jaw. 

“The fact that there are actually tools available to these criminals and there are magazines and suppliers that create these instruments of torture gives you an idea of how prevalent this is,” said Stephanie Bell, a senior cruelty caseworker with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which is based in Norfolk, Va. 

Ferreira can think of worse things to hang from a spring pole – live bait. 

“People attach live animals to spring poles to get the dog used to attacking,” she said. 

Bait dogs are usually smaller, weaker dogs fed to fighting dogs for practice or sparring. Contino-Turner said she suspects many bait dogs end up at the Humane Society if they’re not killed.