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In affordable weekly classes, dogs at Los Angeles Responsible Pitbull Owners (LARPBO) learn skills to help them earn AKC titles.

When it comes to dealing with challenges, you can put the Los Angeles Responsible Pit Bull Owners’ (LARPBO) spirit and spunk right at the top of the list.

In late summer, the non-profit organization began reaching into its deep toolbox to enhance local attitudes toward a breed battling a longtime stigma of bark, bite, and ban.

LARPBO is highly visible in the community with low-cost public park training and education classes and neighborhood pack walks.

“While we advocate for bully dogs, we welcome all breeds,” says Sammi Maon, leadership team member.

Seeking to highlight the trainability of “pit-bull-type” dogs this year, LARPBO challenged its members several months ago to pursue American Kennel Club Trick Dog titles and Canine Good Citizen certifications while seeking to improve the public’s perception of the dog.

“This is a chance to let our pitties do the talking,” Maon explains.

More than 40 owner-dog teams have answered that call with resilience and resourcefulness, becoming public ambassadors for their mixed breeds in the process.

Makana’s “happy place” is with owner Sammi Maon. “Place” is a trick where the dog’s four paws are on an object.

Community Training Tools

This has been a balancing act of control and commitment for all involved while cementing a stronger bond with their dogs.

Howard Chen explains, “On our journey to obtain CGC and Novice Trick titles, with Shadow (an American Staffordshire Terrier mix) we learned a lot about our habits and what it took to fix the bad ones. By doing the Trick test, we discovered how to communicate effectively. Shadow was a rescue dog with zero direction when she came into our lives.”

With the COVID-19 lockdown, Shadow grew a bit scared and defensive around strangers. There was a time when she barely met anyone, and it quickly became apparent she needed both training and socializing. Hence, the 10-year-old LARPBO became the much-needed catalyst and 1½ years later Team Chen earned two titles.

LARPBO obedience classes and later the quest for the AKC certification and title, have helped instill trust and teamwork that was absent at the outset. “The more challenges I toss her way, the more fun she has with life,” Chen says. “Her ability to recall is probably the most useful tool in training. That bond when she knows if she comes back to me is important, for safety is our No. 1 concern for everyone around us.”

Shadow, owned by Howard Chen, poses with her Canine Good Citizen ribbon after earning the certification at a public park. The quick learner passed the test following only several weeks of Los Angeles Responsible Pit Bull Owners’ classes.

Changing Public Perception

Probably no one has been impacted more by the LARPBO and AKC offerings than Asha Leo, whose hometown is London, where Pirate’s breed (American Staffordshire Terrier mix), is banned.

The 3 ½ -year-old, 67-pound Pirate is her first dog. The dog had a rescue fail record when Leo brought him home at 7 months old. “He has never shown any signs of aggression,” she adds. “If anything, he loves people so much! And these titles are an incredible way of proving how capable my rescue is – the dog that no one wanted. Their loss!”

Pirate has several Canine Good Citizen and Trick titles and late last month the pair entered their first Barn Hunt, where they earned a RATI title (Instinct), the first of five Barn Hunt levels designed to test the dog’s ability to locate one or more rats contained within PVC tubes.  “Our years of training with LARPBO have prepared us well. In November we are doing Fast CAT and Coursing. Dog sports are very addictive once you start,” she smiles.

And if that isn’t enough, Pirate is a task-trained psychiatric service dog (PSD) companion for Leo, a sexual assault victim. A PSD’s job description is to mitigate her handler’s psychiatric disabilities. These include alerting before a panic attack, interrupting destructive behavior, deep pressure therapy, and waking its owner from a nightmare. A PSD is not an emotional support or therapy dog.

Leo disdains the public “aggressive, vicious monster” label put on pit bull-type dogs, adding “Working toward AKC titles is an incredible way to advocate for bully breeds. They offer an opportunity to demonstrate the intellect, athleticism, and trainability these dogs offer” on a public platform.”

Part of their acronym, RPBO, she emphasizes, clearly defines what CGC is all about – well-mannered and obedient pit bull-type dogs. “Whilst it is fun to train your dog, what we are trying to do is much more than dog sports. We are saving lives. Bully breeds are the most euthanized breeds in America. By changing perceptions we are helping dogs in need to find their forever homes.”

And a little notoriety, too. It seems that Pirate has 100,000 followers on Instagram.

Asha Leo and Pirate, an American Pit Bull Terrier/American Staffordshire Terrier mix, proudly show off their AKC Public Access Test (Canine Good Citizen Urban) ribbon after passing the test at a Los Angeles area outdoor mall. This required Pirate demonstrate all of his CGC skills but in a public setting.

Hooked on AKC Sports

Rachel Miro and 4-year-old, 53-pound Milo (a bully breed/Labrador Retriever mix) attended their first LARPBO classes in July and have already earned CGC and Novice Trick titles. “One day after class as we were watching others practice for the CGC test,” she recalls, “I was encouraged to do a test run by a friend and some trainers nearby. We went through all the drills and I was pleasantly surprised. From that point, we practiced nonstop until felt that we were ready. Milo always rises to the occasion, even when my faith in him is less than what he deserves.”

Like Leo, the driven Miro is hooked on AKC sports. Higher Trick and CGC titles are on their radar along with Rally and Agility.

“Working toward the gold standards of dog behavior,” says Miro, “is the best way to change the pit bull narrative. Pit bull-type dogs and their owners are held to a higher standard. We have an important responsibility to demonstrate that our breed is intelligent, trainable, and an amazing companion.”

The ambitious Miro/Milo undertaking boasts the rich tapestry of an inspiring adventure. She rescued him during a lonely period in her life in January 2019 and at that point, he was heartworm positive, emaciated, and a four-time rescue resident.

Rachel Miro and Milo relax at the Van Nuys Sherman Oaks Recreation Center in Southern California after earning their AKC Good Citizen and Novice Trick titles. Tests were conducted by the Los Angeles Responsible Pit Bull Owners.

A Lasting Bond

Pride and firm control transcend many of the first-time pit owners’ adventures.

After rescuing Dakota, a 78-pound American Staffordshire Terrier, in May 2020, Karyn Sutfin felt an immediate responsibility “to figure out who he was and how to best keep him safe and happy.” LARPBO in-person classes immediately became her top priority. Holding an AKC Canine Good Citizen title today is one means of reflecting that.

Maon, a 10-year LARPBO member and more recently an AKC CGC and Trick dog evaluator, notes how training for  the two AKC pursuits have established a stronger bond between her and Makana, 13-year-old Siberian Husky mix:

“While teaching Makana tricks, I slowly learned her language (facial expressions, vocalization, and body language). Gestures that were once meaningless to me, became apparent. What were once seemingly non-existent signals of bewilderment, discomfort, or stress, became obvious. Knowing them, I am able to respond better and advocate for her as necessary. I am sure she has a better read on me, too.”

When asked to offer up a few adjectives to best describe their “pit bull-type” mixes, the LARPBO members listed these: sassy, headstrong, diva, perceptive, quiet, aloof, wild, crazy, energized, healing, inspiring, demanding, smart, quirky, lovable, goofy, ravenous, mushy, affectionate and soulful.

Bottom line, concludes Maon, these AKC titles, while establishing a stronger bond and respect between owner and dog, help flip the negative pit public persona in a more positive direction. “We’re just one organization, but it’s a start,” she says.

All dogs, including mixed breed dogs, can earn titles and participate in AKC sports (other than conformation). Enroll your mixed breed as a Canine Partner to get started.

Related article: Rescue Dog Baloo Defies Stereotypes, Becomes Canine Athlete
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