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It’s A Dog’s Life

And though it took awhile, now this adopted Altadena Pit Bull is enjoying every minute of it

Taking any animal into your life requires a leap of faith. Taking in a stray Pit Bull with behavior problems, that can be more of a pole vault.

Last July, Altadena resident Susan Campisi fostered the beautiful but fearful, abandoned Pit Bull she named Louise. We wrote about it . The relationship was supposed to be a temporary one, but obviously, after a year, they're together for the long haul.

And Louise most especially wouldn’t have it any other way.

We checked in with Susan to see what a difference a stable home environment and consistent, constant training can make in a dog’s life.

Q:  Can you compare the Louise of last year with the Louise today?

A: Oh gosh. Last year, at first, Louise was even afraid of me. And when she finally got over that, she was still afraid of the world. Of leaving the house, meeting the world. And today, well, she loves to go on walks, meet new people, see new things. She's trusting, secure.

Q:  What has made the difference?

A: Constant exposure to life on the outside, through neighborhood walks, obedience classes. You can’t just leave a dog in the backyard and expect it to learn trust and good behavior on its own.

What has made the biggest difference in Louise’s personality is training – rewards-based training. I can’t say enough about rewards-based training, particularly with pit bulls, who are so smart and eager to please.

Q: Rewards-based training is offering a treat in exchange for a certain behavior?

A: Yes, but not only treats in terms of food. Trainers call it the “Nothing in Life is Free” program. For example, if Louise wants to go for a walk, then she has to sit quietly first. If she wants a bone, then she knows she first has to go to her bed a lie down. If she wants  attention, again, she has to sit quietly. That type of thing.

Not only does this improve a dog’s behavior, but it keeps a smart dog engaged, interested, and out of mischief.

Oh, and when walking, the dog collar to use is very important. No choke chains or anything with prongs. With Louise, I use either a Gentle Leader or an Easy Walk Harness.

Q: When did you decide to keep Louise, permanently?

A: I didn’t. I mean, it just seemed to happen, gradually. I just stopped looking for another home, primarily because I didn’t have confidence she’d find the right one. Even though I know if I had kept looking, eventually we would have found the right owner.

So, when I wasn’t looking, one day it seems, Louise was here to stay.

Q:  You mean, she adopted you?

A: Hah! Yes, I guess you could say it was Louise who adopted me.

Nico July 25, 2012 at 05:50 PM
My neighbor had a large male unneutered pit bull show up in his yard. Are these ladies from a rescue group? He needs to find a home for it.
Susan Campisi July 25, 2012 at 05:51 PM
Thanks for writing about Louise, Karin. I call her the pretty pittie with the pink snout. It's been so rewarding to see her transform from a fearful dog to a loving, trusting, happy companion. I'm glad she adopted me!
Leslie Aitken July 25, 2012 at 07:09 PM
Sounds like Susan and Louise both won! How wonderful that Louise found someone with the patience to be a perfect owner for a pit bull. Without proper training, they can "get away" from you, and they will test often to see if they might be able to be pack leader. But once they understand how they fit in.......they are wonderful loving pets.
Elizabeth Wagner July 25, 2012 at 07:57 PM
So pleased to see Louise and her wonderful human, Susan, featured in here! Susan is a gem and so what doggie wouldn't want to adopt her! (I noticed there was no mention of handsome Tommy in here.....:another gem of a dog, thanks to Susan's heart.
Karin Bugge July 25, 2012 at 09:49 PM
Hi Nico. No, Susan just happened upon Louise one day. Or maybe, Louise just happened upon Susan. I have heard very good things about the Brittany Foundation (http://brittanyfoundationonline.org/); perhaps they can advise your neighbor.
Nico July 25, 2012 at 11:39 PM
Thanks Karin, I will share the link with him!
Susan Campisi July 26, 2012 at 01:23 AM
Leslie, it does take patience to train a pit bull (any dog, really), but they learn quickly. It's amazing how fast my other pit mix, who had *major* issues, transformed into a great dog with consistent, daily training based on rewards. I hope more people will consider using rewards-based training with their pit bulls. And daily walks! Pitties love to be out in the world showing off their humans.
Susan Campisi July 26, 2012 at 03:12 PM
Nico, here's another rescue group for your neighbor: http://karmarescue.org/

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