I first learned about Alessia and Hazel last year after their obedience routine caught the attention of my friend Leri Hansen at a PSA trial. After learning more about their story and following them on social media, I knew I needed to interview Alessia for Canine Athletes.
I am very excited to be able to interview you for Canine Athletes. It seems like you’ve been super busy this last year! Before we dive into that, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and of course Hazel the 'Craigslist Killa'!?
A little about myself and Hazel, I grew up in Santa Barbara, CA. My family is from Germany and I am a first generation American. I grew up riding horses & competing in hunter jumpers! Animals have always been a passion of mine, be it horses or dogs, but my true passion is pastry and I also own a business in my home town called ALESSIA Patisserie.
Hazel is a true OG haha, born and bred in Bakersfield, CA. I got her on a whim one day after work and it was the best split decision I’ve ever made. I got her as a pet, and didn’t know anything about the working dog work until she was about 4/5 months old.
Alessia & Hazel are proof that consistency & dedication pays off.
Can you give us some background on Hazel? What brought you two together? Is she an APBT x Bully mix? When you got her did you have plans to use her for competitive training? When did you start competitive training with her and what interested you in dog sports?
Craigslist brought Hazel and I together. I purchased her for $100 at 4 weeks old. She was a tiny bean, but the owner said she was 8 weeks old and ready to go home. So when I got there and saw her I knew even if I wasn’t keeping her I was going to take her regardless to get her out of that situation.
I had no intentions of doing any bite work or sport work with Hazel. I was one of those “it’s all how you raise them” pitbull rescue type people. I have another rescue pit at home who’s just a couch potato. I was scrolling YouTube one day when I came across bullet proof pitbulls & decided I wanted to see if Hazel would be into bite work.
The only person I could find at the time was an old police dog trainer who was more of the rip/yank and dominate type of trainer.
Fast forward 1 year, I attended a Sean Siggins seminar and he opened my eyes to the training I was receiving at the time. So I got to work on Instagram ( lol ) and came across Advanced Canine Systems (ACS) and scheduled a session. The rest is truly history. I couldn’t imagine where we’d be if I hadn’t found Joseph Cinnante at ACS.
Hazel is a 4.5 year old APBT x Bully mix.
What are Hazel’s best qualities? What does she struggle with?
Hazel's best quality is that she’s truly addicted to working. Some things might take longer because, you know, Pitbulls only have like 2 brain cells but she’s always game for anything we throw at her in terms of learning new skills. When she knows it’s time to train her eyes get wide and she’s just ready! Another one of my favorite qualities is that she’s just very acclimated to whatever we do. If it’s a chill day at home she’ll chill on her bed and snuggle, and if we’re out she’s ready, comfortable and happy no matter where we go.
Hazel's struggles in the past have been her love for biting decoys which we have been able to cap recently. Also, introducing new environmentals like unstable surfaces can be challenging for her.
What is Hazel's favorite pastime outside of dog sports?
Hazel's favorite past times are definitely chuck it and swimming at the beach. If I let her, she will go until she physically can’t anymore!
Hazel patiently waiting...
Can you tell us how you got into competitive dog training?
I got into PSA (Protection Sports Association) through Jared Wolf and his dog Thai. I joined the Facebook PSA group and the rest is history. When I first started training at ACS, Hazel had so many bad associations with bite work because of her first trainer that it didn’t look like she’d ever have what it took to compete. She was somewhat of a wreck to be honest. But with Joe, we went back to step 1. Baby, puppy stuff for a few months, and very slowly worked up to where we are now, which truly is incredible.
Hazel the craigslist killa doing her thing.
Do you have any mentors or people that influenced you inside of the dog world?
Inside of the dog world Joe is my biggest mentor. His ability to adapt to the dog is truly inspiring. It’s really something you have to witness to appreciate. With Hazel being a mix breed and not a malinois, a lot of trainers used to dogs bred specifically for the sport probably would have given up. There were a lot of times where we just had to go back to step 1, but Joe always found another way, a different introduction or method that would work for my specific dog. He truly does it for the dog.
What advice would you give to somebody just getting started in competitive dog sports?
The advice I would give and still give myself is to have patience, especially when you are doing a sport with an off-breed. It’s easy to get frustrated when things take longer, and are harder than if you had a dog like a malinois. However, to step onto the field with an off-breed and to be able to be competitive against the malinois and shepherds is another indescribable feeling.
Hazel focused and ready.
Can you talk about the importance of ‘the bond’ and how it relates to performance in competition? It seems to be an obvious competitive advantage for you and Hazel.
I personally am not the most exciting person. Joe often tells me to be more exciting. I think the fact that I’ve grown up with animals and have had animals my entire life is a benefit for my relationship with Hazel. There is just a standard I have when I live with my dogs. Hazel is a pet before she is a competition dog. The way we live our everyday life helps us on the field. I don’t put up with any crap, we have a lot of fun, and when we train she has so much hope that she’s always believing it’ll come. I also do a lot of training even when we’re at the beach, or on a walk. I’m always incorporating things and she’s always willing to perform whenever I ask. We have a good time, and we make it fun, so she’s always game.
Eyes always on the prize.
How important is nutrition to a performance animal? What do you feed Hazel and does her diet change during the off-season?
Hazel grew up on a homemade raw diet, but with my new business I haven’t had the time so she’s doing 50/50 kibble & raw, and she gets supplements daily. She also takes Adequan as a preventative which is something I also gave my horses for maintenance.
How important is physical conditioning for an IPO/Schutzhund dog?
Hazel stays active year round. In the off-season I’ll feed her more, but we generally stay very active. She’ll get more rest days, but physical health is important for her to be able to perform. I treat her like an athlete and she gets acupuncture among other things to make sure she’s physically fit and healthy.
Hazel showing off some of her winnings.
With the boom of social media, there seems to be a plethora of self-proclaimed experts giving out misinformation. What advice can you give people to decipher through the noise?
Instagram makes a lot of people look really good. We see a lot of dogs look phenomenal on social media yet lack luster in real life. When it comes to finding a trainer or group of people to work with I think it’s somewhat easy to tell who’s in it for the benefit of the dog and who’s in it for the clout. For me, I go where the drama isn’t. And that’s usually worked out really well. I’m just here to train my dog, and be around like minded individuals.
There are many who feel APBT's should not be used in protection sports. Their view is that the APBT has too much bad press and using them for protection sports further harms the breed's image. What are your thoughts on this?
Outside of training, what do you and Hazel like to do?
Hazel and I enjoy going to breweries ( haha ), hikes, beach adventures, playing with her selective group of dog friends, and finding the next best stick at the beach to throw.
What adventures or goals do you have for Hazel?
My goal for Hazel is to continue to do PSA and to at least complete our level 2 so she can be the first female pitbull to achieve that title. After that, we may do French Ring Sport for a while, and then focus on more real life personal protection dog (PPD) type stuff for fun.
The craigslist killa looking like a million dollars.
Some of the readers may not know, but you are an accomplished pastry chef and just recently opened your own Café in Santa Barbara, California named Alessia Patisserie Café. Tell us about this passion of yours and how difficult being an entrepreneur is, especially during a global pandemic.
My business has been a dream come true. We’ve been very lucky opening at the “tail-end” of Covid so it didn’t affect us much. Business has been booming, and I feel very fortunate to be in the position I am. Pastry has always been something that’s come natural to me. I struggled as a child in regular public school, I was always bored, so when I found pastry it really gave me a purpose.
What is your favorite guilty pleasure and what is Hazel's?
My favorite guilty pleasure is cookies and cream ice cream by far. I don’t feed Hazel human food often, but when I do it’s tortilla chips and she’ll go to the moon and back for one.