Monday, June 16, 2008

The REAL interview! Mary Harwelik of Speaks Out...

What a treat! Mary Harwelik, Pit Bull advocate, trainer, expert, and founder of The REAL Pit Bull ( shares her story with Our Pack! She's pictured here with her AmStaff, Luca.

Our Pack: You're a respected Pit Bull advocate and trainer. How did you get involved in dog training?

Mary Harwelik: I grew up around dogs, cats and horses. Animals have always been 'my thing'. I started training dogs when I was 7 and went to my first dog training class and graduated at age 8 or 9. Everything snowballed from there, and I branched out to working with horses, got more of my own dogs, did some showing (horse and dog), and eventually decided I wanted to be a dog trainer. I apprenticed with several trainers, taught some classes, and took private clients.

OP: What kind of training methods do you use?

MH: Back then I did heavy-handed traditional training. Eventually I 'crossed over' to using positive methods when I hit a brick wall with my AmStaff's dog-aggression issues. It became very obvious to me that there were severe limitations with traditional dog training, and that the techniques were actually making my dog worse. I dived into the new literature that was coming out, went to school to learn more about psychology and learning theory, and over a period of time, switched over fully to positive methods.

OP: So what have you been up to since?

MH: I've been taking on clients of my own since about 1999 or 2000, and gradually as the rescues in my area became familiar with me, I started doing training, post-adoption counseling, and behavior consulting for several. Working with rescue and shelter dogs immediately hit me as 'my true calling', and remains the work I enjoy most. In 2006 I started Peaceable Canines which offers dog training and other services geared at educating people on the true nature of dogs, clicker training, and of course I specialize in Pit Bulls and shelter/rescue dogs. I teach classes and private training, do behavioral consulting as well as Pit Bull consulting, in central NJ. I am a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, or CPDT, through the Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers, as well as a Canine Good Citizen evaluator for the AKC. I also read like crazy and attend seminars - I am an info fiend! I am never satisfied with my level of knowledge, and always feel I have something more to learn.

OP: Wow! Sounds like your life has gone to the dogs. :) What would you say are your top priorities education-wise?

MH: I have two main missions in life: 1) to help end some nasty myths about dogs that lead to really unfair and severe treatment (like the 'dominance' myth, aggressive dogs need to be physically punished, positive methods only work on 'some dogs', pinch collars simulate a mother dog's teeth and 'don't hurt', etc) and 2) preach about Pit Bulls! I can do both through Peaceable Canines and I love it!

OP: So how did you end up specializing in Pit Bulls?

MH: My earliest memory of being aware of Pit Bulls was probably 18 years ago at a dog training class. One of the students had AmStaffs and a friend pointed out, "Those are Pit Bulls! They are so aggressive, with locking jaws!" and I remember thinking, "I can't believe they let those dogs in here!" as I grabbed my little terrier mix and pulled her close to me. I didn't think much about Pit Bulls for several years, but for some reason, one day, I sent for a magazine advertised in Dog World about the breed. To this day, I am not really sure what prompted me to do this. When I got the mag, it was one of those dog-fighter-in-disguise publications and I was HORRIFIED. I threw the magazine out. But something stayed with me, and I started doing more research. The more I read, the more enamored I became. And once I actually met some Pit Bulls, forget it, it was all over! I have officially been a Pit Bull addict since 1994 - I brought my first Pit Bull home in Sept, 1994. Pit Bulls have been The Only Thing That Matters to me ever since.

OP: They sure have a way of capturing your heart, don't they! But it must have been a long journey from buying that magazine to The Real Pit Bull - how did RPB evolve?

MH: I wasn't involved in Pit Bulls long before I realized just how confused the world was about the breed, and I started doing more research on BSL and figuring out how I could combat the fear mongering. I toyed with the idea of several organizations but they never got off the ground. When I got online in the mid to late 90's, I discovered a whole new world of Pit Bull people, fighters FOR the breed, and.....websites! It was such an education. And me being the writer and needing to speak my mind and my thoughts the way I do, thought that I could start a website about the breed with just some basic info and myth-debunking, that it would be fun and helpful, and leave it at that. I bought and called my site The Real Pit Bull, and started writing. And never stopped! 10 years or so later, the site has grown tremendously, and I've turned an informational website into a breed organization.

OP: Did you realize what an important resource it was going to become? How did creating RPB change your life personally?

MH: I started getting invited to host educational breed booths at fairs, get tons of calls/emails from owners and others looking for breed advice and behavioral help, reporters looking for info, and requests for behavioral evaluations. All because of the exposure I was getting through Without really specifically looking to turn RPB into an organization, something more than a website, it morphed into one on its own.

OP: RPB really has become an irreplaceable fixture in the Pit Bull community. I hope you have help running all this?

MH: RPB is run by me and my boyfriend Scott Amorski, and we have several volunteers. RPB does breed education, provides free informational materials on the breed, offers training and behavioral help, counseling, etc. Our newest offering is CGC testing for Pit Bulls done at no charge for shelter/rescue dogs. I hope to see RPB continue to grow and our services expand.

OP: That's fantastic! Our Pack is thrilled to highlight the awesome work you do. Thanks for sharing!
MH: This work is something I love doing and the breed means more to me than I could ever express. Thanks for letting me share about my work with the breed and talk about RPB!

To learn more about The Real Pit Bull and the services it offers, visit the website at: