I had the pleasure of first meeting Noelle Nasca at the Working Pit Bull Terrier Championship in 2012. Upon meeting Noelle, the first thing I noticed was how outgoing, friendly and down to earth she is. It is immediately clear when watching her interact with dogs that she is special. Her enthusiasm coupled with patience and consistency make every dog fall in love with her. Noelle is as real as it gets. I respect her immensely. Noelle is an accredited NADOI obedience trainer and the owner of The Barking Lot of WNY in Hamburg, NY. She has titled many dogs in a multitude of competitive dog sports including Obedience, Agility, Rally-O, Schutzhund, French Ring and Mondio Ring. She is also an advocate for the education, reality and responsible ownership of the American Pit Bull Terrier.
Can you give the readers a little background on yourself as it relates to your professional and competitive careers?
Well, I guess it's safe to say I've always been infatuated with dogs. At the ripe age of 5 years old, I had my own "dog walking " service... LOL... no kidding...I had approached at least half a dozen houses on the Westside of Buffalo where I grew up ...ringing the doorbell..."Hi, do you have a dog? If you do, I'll walk it for a quarter" hahaha!! I got THREE CLIENTS!! For real. Funnier still... I had two dogs of my own at home... but clearly, I needed MORE!
So... in my late teens, and then early 20's I took multiple obedience classes with the dog (s) I had then... I realized there was more than meets the eye with training. There were specialized skills and even competitions a dog and handler could train for and towards. It intrigued me. I began apprenticing /assisting in classes, which then grew into me instructing my own group classes and private lessons. I developed a curriculum based on my hands on experiences... books, videos, seminars/lectures, and observations of valued mentors I had. I was also, simultaneously training and then competing in Agility with my little APBT, Ruca... who by the way... ended up being FIRST IN THE NATION in her breed and height division according the AKC's Front and Finish Magazine. This was something I didn't even realize until another competitor told me..."Hey your dog ranked really well!" I was only out there hoping NOT to FAIL!! Never had I dreamed we would excel! At around the same time all this other stuff was happening... I was a young mother of two little girls, had my hard working/dog loving husband... our first home, which we bought "out in the country" which was the perfect set up to help the breed we had found ourselves so head over heels in LOVE WITH! We did a ton of charity/rescue work for Pit bulls in need. Whether they were seriously down on their luck in some dire straits or simply someone couldn't be responsible for the dog they got, I took them. UGH! For 12 years! I took in dog after dog. I spent my own money. I spent countless hours writing lectures and creating educational visuals and doing demonstrations to HELP RAISE AWARENESS about the APBT. I housed and cared for the dogs, made flyers and did meet and greets. I was obsessing over who would be the best home for this dog or that dog... crying in misery over the dogs I had to euthanize because I knew they weren't suited to be recirculated into our communities... I did the hard work. It was wonderful and it was heartbreaking. It was real. This was in the early to late 90's thru about 2005/6. My little girls grew up with countless Pit bulls. This was a gift. It shaped them and exposed them to the intricacies of human nature more than any other thing could. Living with and loving the underdog. It's hard to explain, but it taught them not to judge from someone else's perspective. It taught them to not read a book by its cover. It taught them to seek truth and to TELL THE TRUTH. It taught them to be realistic.
I love the breed for many reasons but, the way they helped us raise our girls is at the top of my list.
ANYWAY!! I had been so successful at "rehabbing" several "aggressive" (dog aggressive) Pit bulls that my name started to get around as someone who could be useful in the dog training world. I had developed relationships with the different vet hospitals around the county, and they all supported the work I was doing and really advocated for me even without me knowing. It was quite a lucky thing having the support and respect of the veterinary community. I’m still grateful 20 some years later.
I should include that I took it upon myself to become certified, or accredited through an entity/organization, so that my "worth" could be somehow measured to a standard. I wanted clients to know, I had worked hard to educate myself in the behavior and training arena, and that they were making a good choice if they selected me to help them with their dog. I chose to apply to NADOI (National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors) for my endorsement. It was an intense, extremely involved process of proving my knowledge and understanding pertaining to behavior and training of dogs. Not to mention, my skill level pertaining to instructing the HUMAN END of the leash! Becoming endorsed by NADOI was certainly a HIGHLIGHT FOR ME in my training career.
Well, during this time I was also busy with continuing to train dogs of MY OWN! With a growing affection for competitive based training as I mentioned, I did agility which later brought me to Competitive Obedience (which I absolutely LOVED!). I earned several CD's, two of which were with American Pit Bull Terriers and a CDX with a Staffordshire Bull Terrier. Multiple Rally titles with Pit Bulls and then THE FUN BEGAN!! I had the good fortune to get turned on to Schutzhund, oh God, there's no return from something so awakening and marvelous! It was like being NEW all over again! Training a dog is DRIVE? That was what magic is made of. The experience was like no other. Training with a Pit Bull, in protection, learning the ropes of bite-work, the precision in execution of Obedience, the natural, yet contrived work in tracking, it was all so fabulously exciting and rewarding and overwhelmingly gratifying.
So, I have been in this layer of my evolution for the past 10 years. Biting sports is where it's at for me. I love the intensity. The precision. The commitment. The strength. The courage. The dedication it takes to bring a dog through a demanding program like IPO or French Ring.
I've been fortunate enough to compete at the Regional AND National level with both the American Pit Bull Terrier as well as the Belgian Malinois. These sports and these dogs will keep me learning until the day I die. It is never ending, the quest to be better. The dogs will always motivate me to want to be better.
When did you realize you were good at dog training?
Honestly, I feel very comfortable with dogs and I feel more connected and progressive when training with dogs but I've never felt like I'm really very good at it, yet.
I hope someday I'll have that feeling but for now I'm gonna keep working hard.
What’s a criticism you’ve gotten that you found helpful?
I suppose it wasn't necessarily a criticism but more so a suggestion of broadening my scope. OPEN MY MIND and be willing to learn. ALWAYS. Even if information is out of my comfort zone or beyond my "norm", listen, learn, try, explore, don't be close minded. DOGS ARE UNIQUE. Dogs are individuals. You absolutely can NOT apply the same protocol or technique to every dog. Be willing to bend and adjust. You must if you wish to grow.
What do you feel is the most important skill a sport dog needs to know?
Oh gosh, one skill? Yikes, that's too much to ask to narrow down to ONE skill to be deemed the most important. It's like most things, it's a combination platter! LOTS AND LOTS goes in to the making of a sport dog.
- Easily motivated! FOOD and TOYS should pump them up! Movement and praise should excite them!
- Highly interested in INTERACTING with the handler! The human should be very important to the prospective sport dog.
- Curiosity and Bravery - a sport prospect should present with confidence and self-assuredness. He should be intrigued to explore and go beyond without fear. He should possess a natural desire to seek out novelty and confront it.
- Athletic (duh!)
- High interest for chasing and gripping. Prey drive should be strong, as well as a strong desire to possess the prey once he's caught it!
- Handler sensitivity. I like a dog who is mildly sensitive to his handler. If he is too sensitive, it can create frustrating challenges. If he is not sensitive at all it can make training a real drag.
Those are just a few things. It really is a culmination of characteristics within the dog. It's not just ONE thing.
How important is the bond between a dog and its trainer?
Training is ALL ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIP. THE END.
What are the most important qualities a championship quality dog must have in order to be successful?
DEDICATION / HIGH MOTIVATION
RELATIONSHIP WITH HANDLER
If you had to choose one thing that has been most instrumental to your dog’s success, what would it be?
It would be UNDERSTANDING the job in front of him. So, I guess the answer is CLEAR TRAINING. I mean, aside from what the dog brings naturally, good attitude, connection to handler, courageousness, good health, strong physically and mentally. High motivation to work and earn, all that is great, but without SOLID TRAINING, really good quality, CLEAR training, it's gonna be hard to excel at the upper levels or with strong competitors. So, get your training game on point.
How do you feel about the social media boom as it relates to dog training?
Hmmmm....double edged sword.
It's allowed SO MANY to be exposed to various training methods, different sports and activities, increasing awareness and interest. It's given a way to connect with like-minded dog fanciers and trainers which then gives way to blossoming friendships and training relationships and shared ideas which without the internet may never have been possible. I've met many great trainers and been connected with great dogs. Good Lord, I met my idol, Leri Hanson because of YouTube! We've become true friends and without the internet, I'm not sure that would have happened.
HOWEVER!! The vast exposure to specialized training and dog sports gives rise to armchair quarterbacks who will spew their opinion and "knowledge" out into the world when really they have little to ZERO experience on what they speak about. It can be hurtful and insulting to those who spend their lives dedicated to a craft which often takes decades to fully understand. Training is not something you can read about or watch on a video to understand it. Training has to BE DONE. YOU MUST PERFORM. YOU must get up, get out, get hurt, fall down, feel the failure, in order to experience the learning. The growth, the teamwork, the gratitude, the accomplishment, the joys of success. It's what you DO. Not what you hear or watch or think. It's what you DO!!
What initially attracted you to the American Pit Bull Terrier?
The structure. These tiny packages that nothing can stop.
The appearance, the most handsome, chiseled, stoic, attractive animal on the earth.
The smile. It's a tangible happiness and zest for life. It's a humorous friend, a forgiving soul.
The dedication. Whether their sights are set on climbing to the top of the roof, or sleeping in on a Sunday, they do it with commitment and heart. The Pit Bull is ALL IN, in ALL THEY DO.
I love them. I wish I were more like a Pit Bull in every way.
How did you choose your first American Pit Bull Terrier?
Whelp, she chose us! LOL!
My husband left to get gas on a Wednesday night like he always did, only this time, he returned with a little Brown with a Black Mask girl in the passenger' seat.
She had been hanging out at the gas station for over a month and a half. When Matt inquired what was up with her, they said the farmer across the street was threatening to shoot her since she'd been chasing his cows. With that, Matt invited her into the truck and she hoped right in and the rest is history!
Have you experienced any difficulties being an American Pit Bull Terrier owner?
I will always own an APBT. The greatness surely outweighs the struggle of owning this breed.
But the struggles are real. Discrimination happens. People pass judgement without ever setting eyes on our pets. They hear the words and have made a decision about what the dog is or isn't. It's remarkable and disappointing.
Our children had friends who weren’t allowed to play at our home because the parents heard we own American Pit Bull Terriers. Insurance decides whether or not they will provide us coverage based on the breed of dog we choose to love. Campgrounds and hotels won't grant our breed entrance. Boarding facilities, training schools, many place restrictions on allowances for American Pit Bull Terriers. I left a committee of an organization I was involved with, because of a strong emphasis on APBT breed profiling. Despicable, really.
People pass negative judgement and presumptuous attitudes on something I love so dearly, live so closely with, understand so deeply. I cannot HELP but to be offended. However, the life I've lived with the APBT has helped me learn that SOMETIMES I need to swallow my pride and allow people to have their opinions; as ridiculous as they may be. What's the saying? "You can't fix stupid."
How do you feel about rescue American Pit Bull Terriers as they relate to obedience and/or sport work?
Ya know for the longest time so many of our dogs were pit bulls out of a ditch somewhere. No joke! Our little Gas Station Pit Bull, Ruca who made a national ranking in her height and breed division for Novice Agility. My big Red boy, Diesel who took me places I never even knew existed before getting on that training journey with him, bringing me to Schutzhund, Mondio, Rally, the Working American Pit Bull Terrier Club Championship and so much more! Those dogs were spectacular. No debating that and who knows how they came to be.
I've never been one to study pedigrees. Honestly, I think it confuses me. It feels like Math and I'm terrible at Math. My brain starts to fog over and I lose concentration. What I spend MORE time obsessing on, is the actual dog I see in front of me. Truly, I LOVE a good lookin animal but the reality is, if it has the Strength of Character that I'm after it really doesn't much matter about much else. It could be purple, with a neck like a giraffe. So long as all its legs work and it's heart is driven, I'm willing to give 100% to reach some goals.
Oddly, nearly the last decade here, I've gone the route of getting puppies that are intentionally bred FOR SPECIFIC WORK. Sadly, these pups have matured out with health issues which create some serious limitations to move forward in the work I love. It's sad. We're striving so hard to reach a goal, doing these deliberate, calculated, thoughtful pairings and even with the BEST knowledge, the greatest care, so much experience and sincere want and desire attached, it's all still a gamble.
At the end of the day I may find the champion of my heart at the bottom of a dumpster, OR he may be skillfully produced and carefully placed through generation upon generation of blood, sweat and tears. You never know where you might find your super star!!
Do you feel the American Pit Bull Terrier should be encouraged as a family companion animal?
Oh boy. This is a hard one.
I think I've grown and changed a lot with my opinions of this breed over the years.
At first, I was operating from a young adult’s perspective. All things that go along with that, my mind set. YOUNG.
I was also operating from my limited experiences. Though, I may have believed I had a vast knowledge, because I was more saturated with the dogs than others may have been. The reality is, my scope or experience was still so small. My opinions and decisions about the breed were being formed by what I was seeing and experiencing.
Fast forward 20 years later and my eyes feel so much more WIDE awake.
While I can CLEARLY see the attributes and overwhelmingly endearing qualities about the breed that lend themselves to being absolute CHAMPION FAMILY COMPANIONS, I fear, the breed characteristics which fall in the category of difficulty OUTWEIGH the average families capability of being able to responsibly keep an APBT. I mean we see it over and over. The writing is on the wall. Irresponsibility of dog ownership results in headlines. Devastating events take place, with Pit Bull involved and why? Human expectation which is unrealistic for the dog they keep. 9 out of 10 times, I'd say it boils down to that.
People can't seem to be in reality of what is necessary when you keep an APBT. I could go on and on about why I think people choose to live in a fantasy, but instead of derailing this train I'll just keep it simple. Average, dog loving families, who just wanna hang out with their buddy, hit the dog park from time to time, take the dog to the beach, sit around at the campfire or family picnic, go to their kids sporting events; yeah, no. They're not prepared. I think the statistics are proving themselves. The APBT is better suited for the ENTHUSIAST. Someone who wishes to play to their dog's needs. Someone who can adjust and amend plans depending on what will pan out best for the dog. A lot of people aren't prepared for that. The American Pit Bull Terrier needs people who are prepared to WORK to keep the peace.
What do you see as the biggest issue holding the American Pit Bull Terrier back from being socially accepted by the general public?
Pick up a newspaper. Turn on the news.
The horrific stories of Pit Bull Dogs.
It's rampant. I can barely defend anymore. It cuts me to the core. Who lets this happen? Where do these dogs come from and HOW do they land in the hands of people who won't shoulder the rigors of responsible dog ownership? Who are these people who live in a fantasy about their dog's temperament?
Irresponsible people are the issue holding back the breed's acceptance, period.
Certainly that's a pretty broad statement. But, in a nutshell that's where the root of the problem lies.
How do American Pit Bull Terriers vary from the more traditional ‘working’ breeds in your opinion? Do you feel American Pit Bull Terriers are ‘different’ from other breeds in terms of liability/training/management/etc.?
Well, I suppose the MOST obvious glaring aspect of a good APBT which may likely be quite different than your traditional workers, (generally speaking) would be the dog aggression. In sport, we have to train with, travel with, hang out with, compete with, be on the field at the same time with OTHER DOGS! Having a breed whose priority is to confront and be combative with another dog is counterproductive for dog sport, (and for maintaining friendships...LOL). No one wants to feel unsafe in their training environment or have to be tense and on guard to keep their dog safe from training partners. No one wants their overnight room share at the hotel to turn into an emergency room, and NO ONE wants an accident on the trial field! Good God! The very LAST THING I would want, but the FIRST THING on my mind, when handling American Pit Bull Terriers is a Dog Fight. It's burned in my brain. It's a part of my existence. Where others can allow leniency and visitation and close proximity without much worry, I am in high diligence mode ALWAYS. Always aware of space, arousal level, focal points, the animation level of the other dog, etc. Training a dog to trial is no small feat. Training a Pit Bull to trial is a way of life… LOL.
I wouldn't consider myself an expert on this comparison that the question asks about, however, I have owned and trained to title both APBT and Belgian Malinois. I have also had the good fortune of being close and familiar with many other working dogs which are NOT APBT's by way of training in Club and having many friends in Sport who I've trained with so, I feel I can make a bit of an observation.
I've noticed that the retention of the herders has been VERY, VERY, HIGH. So, I mean, say, I teach my 4 month old Malinois puppy a skill in the kitchen and the next day, we go out to the park, and that skill is easily remembered and mastered in the new environment. With my APBT's; not so much. LOL. Much more effort from me to make the generalization of behavior reliability and understanding are needed. Weeks of repetitions may be necessary where, with the herder, perhaps only days. The Malinois are QUICK AS HELL to catch on, and have a VERY reliable retention rate. They learn it and remember it no matter the context or environment they are in. The Pit Bull, they need more repetitions to learn it and he needs more exposures with the repetitions in new environments to retain it and perform it reliably.
For me personally, gripping has been a strong desire in the APBT's I've had but their SPECIFIC STYLE of gripping is not typically ideal; in my opinion, generally speaking, Pit Bulls tend to be naturally chewy on the grip, they love to thrash while on the grip, they love to growl, and they love to take the equipment to the ground. These behaviors are not desirable in Bitework. In my experiences, I have had to work EXTRA to create calm/quiet gripping with the Pit Bulls. Much more than when working and developing the Malinois.
The APBT's also have a very strong desire to hold and not let go, which can lead to difficulty introducing and maintaining a clean "out." I have not personally had the same level of difficulty teaching an "out" to a herder like I do the Pit Bull. Perhaps, it's a training/teaching issue which I am lacking the skill, however, I happen to believe it's more so what the Pit Bull brings to the table naturally vs. the Herder.
I also have experienced them being just fine and dandy and comfortable with a half grip. Sure, they WILL go full, but if left to decide, half gripping is perfectly comfy for them. In contrast, I've noticed more of a tendency for the Herders to strive to be full, all on their own. THEY CARRY CALMLY, held up and quiet all on their own.
I've also felt that my APBT's have always been EXCEEDINGLY SOCIAL, to a fault. They teeter on wanting to break away from me to visit a bystander where I've NEVER HAD THAT WORRY with the Malinois.
OF COURSE, THESE ARE GENERALIZATIONS. There are always exceptions to the rule, but these are points spoken in general terms.
How would you compare a well-bred American Pit Bull Terrier to a well-bred Belgian Malinois?
Honestly our household was like, Pit Bull SNOB central. We didn't want it if it wasn't a Pit. LOL. I mean, we had our Staffy Bull (wonderful dog!) and our crazy Boston Terriers but if EVER propositioned to waiver away to something coated or out of "the family" shared gene pool we were like...UM.....NO.
Fast forward. I lost my competition dog Diesel, very unexpectedly and OUT OF THE BLUE. I was offered a very nice Malinois, just to have. Take her as a gift. My heart was broken and my dreams were shattered. My morale was LOW. The offer of this Malinois offered new hope, a way to continue, a dog to focus on, a way to continue, to pick up right where Diesel and I had left off. I had come to the decision I wanted her. It was my husband I had to convince. He watched her move, he watched her obsess, he watched her turn on and turn-off for the ball and the tug, he watched her take her first turn on the spring pole and he said "you need that dog" LOL!
Well that was the beginning of a NEW love affair. I had ALWAYS firmly believed that the American Pit Bull Terrier was the ONLY breed to be elevated and held on a pedestal. Now that spot would be halved and shared with this remarkably exceptional animal! Oh my God, the Belgian Malinois, are you kidding, they are phenomenal. DRIVEN (x100), athletic, determined, biddable, courageous, strong, sensible, comical. I mean, they're really UNREAL. I stand in awe of our dogs. DAILY.
I think a really nice specimen of American Pit Bull Terrier and a really nice specimen of Belgian Malinois share many of the same attributes.
The biggest difference I can PERSONALLY speak on is that the Malinois is MUCH MORE likely to be a home "protector". Their territorial / defensive reactivity is almost impossible to deny. Considering I am comfortable and familiar with dogs who do NOT alarm bark at the door, the on alert / never rest re-guarding intruders (um...visitors) is foreign to me. I LOVE AND CHERISH AND PRAISE our APBT's for being relaxed and inviting to visitors or deliveries. The Malinois need constant supervision and guidance in these instances to make appropriate choices.
They compare closely. Both have strong personalities. Both very driven, and committed to completing a task. Both are INSANELY athletic. Both obsessive with their motivation of interest! Both form and INTENSE bond with their people! Both have tremendous HEART and willingness to continue even under duress and challenge.
However, where the Pit Bull may give strangers the same gratuity as friends the Malinois may be suspicious. While the Pit Bull may need extra support to be defensive to "the man", the Malinois will likely bring a natural defensiveness.
They are BOTH breeds of CHOICE and honor in this household. I surely hope my life will allow me to have BOTH for many years to come. I respect and admire, and truly cherish each breed and stand in awe of their greatness and natural talent and gifts on a regular basis.
Your Belgian Malinois D’arcy is a very impressive dog. What have been some of your most difficult challenges with her and how were you able to overcome them?
Well, thank you! I'm super proud of this girl! I had never bred a litter of puppies before and deciding to have a litter of MALINOIS as a first try was kinda scary! LOL
Gosh, D'Arcy was really easy to plug into the training program. She was so biddable and eager. She enjoyed biting, has pretty strong food drive, and an overall confidence which made it easy to take her to new environments for training or exposure.
I really haven't had anything too terribly out of the ordinary with her other than usual training ups and downs. You know, introducing behaviors, creating reliability, testing the reliability under distractions.
Her mental stamina is high. Her athleticism is natural and strong and her drive to work is persistent.
She has had some trouble with the big jumps in French Ring. However, more so than a problem with her, I think it has been more a problem with me not having access to the jumps to expose her properly. So what happens is, when I get on a field with the regulation jumps, I'm eager to go big; too fast, too soon. That's not good for a dog's confidence. Hesitation and concern is what that approach has earned me, unfortunately. So I've had to spend time building her up and making her feel (or at least I'm in the process of trying!) invincible!
And now, in thinking a little further I have a bit of a struggle with her disengaging the decoy on the whistle! I suppose that's not a unique problem to work through! Most dogs who absolutely love the game have a problem practicing control in these high arousal situations. I'd be worried if she DIDN'T want to resist leaving the decoy! Haha! My efforts to help her work through the problem consist of making the expectations as CLEAR as possible. I try to break down what I'm looking for out of her into small, easy to recognize pieces. Practice those small pieces in situations which are simple enough for her to have a strong likelihood of success. Then bump up the challenge of the situation making it increasingly more complex until it resembles what the trial exercise will look like. Always with an eye on keeping her wins greater than her loses.
As far as day to day with this dog, HER BIGGEST personality trait which drives me bonkers is her ALARM BARKING at the door! She just CAN'T HELP herself. She barks and charges NO MATTER who it is! We constantly work on this, giving her alternative behaviors to perform instead of barking/charging. We scold her for the barking/charging. She just CAN'T HELP IT! She comes by it naturally, and we have to learn how to manage it!
In my experience, breed popularity tends to lead to an overall quality decline in the breed. Do you see this happening with the Belgian Malinois today?
ABSOLUTELY! I think it's already underway.
Makes me sad. Makes me defensive. Makes me frustrated. Makes me guarded and ON GUARD!
I often wonder why anyone not involved in sport work or true working dog efforts would EVER want a Malinois? Or why they should be ALLOWED to have a Malinois?
Mainstream ruins everything.
I imagine it’s inevitable that sometimes your work spills over into your personal life. How do you manage to maintain a proper work/life balance?
I'm beginning to learn how to manage my work schedule a little more efficiently. I had been feeling incredibly overwhelmed for a while there. Being at the shop each day for DayCare dogs, running the business, managing staff, teaching classes, doing private lessons, phone calls, emails, visitors, inquiries, inquiries, inquiries. It felt insurmountable for me at times and the truth is, often, all I REALLY wanna do is train my own dogs!! Training my own dogs is the inspiration I need to have regularly in order to feel the motivation to keep everything else moving along for everyone else. For the past few years, finding the balance of training my own dogs, and meeting the demands of the business have been an honest challenge. I think I'm coming into a stride where I'm figuring out a way to make both happen without so much fatigue! Fingers crossed. I want to be the best I can be for both efforts.
What are your short-term and/or long-terms goals?
My long and short term goals are to get an APBT that I can trial successfully in performance sport, either French Ring or Schutzhund.
That's basically been on my mind for nearly a decade.
If you had the power to change one thing that would improve the human/dog bond, what would it be?
In a nutshell?
Be in reality about what you have in your dog. What you have in YOU to offer. What you each NEED.
Be committed to being dependable for your dog. Be there. Make time. Understand who he is.
Being honest and reliable is where it's at.
If we could all do that, human to dog relationships would improve tremendously.
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