Three Days With Igor Lengvarsky

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Three Days With Igor Lengvarsky

What I learned from a 3-day seminar with Slovakian trainer, handler, international judge, and the newly appointed vice president of FCI effectively sums up what I’ve learned from my limited time in the sport of Schutzhund/IPO. Success is a matter of discipline, teamwork, patience, and a love of the process.

I am truly a newbie to the sport. In fact, I started only 6 months ago, after being welcomed with open arms by the founder and president of K9 Force Working Dog Club, Isabella Oxsengendler. Prior to this experience, my perception of the sport was filled with misconceptions and an extremely limited understanding of what it takes for a team – a dog and a handler – to achieve success.

Here, let me attempt to document some of my key insights and learnings to date, be it through my experience with the amazing and welcoming folks at K9 Force or the incredibly generous and talented Igor Lengvarsky.

What have I learned about the sport of Schutzhund/IPO in my short tenure?

1. This is a TEAM sport. The bond that exists between dog and handler must include a desire to please and a desire to work. But in the end, a good handler, not unlike any great coach, is responsible for getting the best out of their dog. This includes building confidence while also nurturing a dog’s nerves of steel and clear head. At the same time, the handler needs to empower the dog to challenge his/herself and solve problems in the absence of direction.

When done correctly, watching such a team is truly poetic. In order to bolster this confidence and independence, a unique approach to rearing a young dog is required. This is a period when fostering the right types of drives is key. Although, I’ve quickly come to realize that these traits are predominantly inherited, identified by great breeders and past down from generation to generation to be developed by great handlers.

But, the team aspect of this sport is not limited to dog and handler alone. Success requires the support and assistance of those with vast experience, serving as mentors, like Mr. Lengvarsky himself. In addition, helpers, the individuals who wear the bite sleeves, are critical to developing the fundamentals of bite work in a manner that builds the dog’s confidence and ensures his/her physical safety.

2. A love of the sport must be INHERENT. When my son, Jack, was 9 years old we started him in guitar lessons. Now, I was never very musically inclined, but my wife and her family have music in their bones. So, it seemed a natural progression to provide our son with more formal music instruction, but it quickly became forced. I’m sure you can picture it, getting Jack to practice was like pulling teeth and each week the approaching lesson would be greeted with more and more angst. Our son’s desire to play, at least the guitar, was clearly NOT inherent. It was forced and the result was a growing level of stress and anxiety.

Today, I relate the need for such inherent motivations in the pursuit of music, to a desire of both dog and handler to pursue the sport of Schutzhund/IPO. If these drives don’t come naturally, dogs become harder and harder to motivate, and young or inexperienced handlers eventually walk away. The road to success in this sport is NOT short. It’s long. The rewards are NOT grand. They’re modest. New dogs and new handlers are developed over years, learning new disciplines and fine tuning their skills, routines, and definitions of perfection along the way. Much like any highly tuned athlete, the finish line is often short on celebration and long in the areas of growth and development.

3. The future of the sport is dependent upon our ability to dismantle MISPERCEPTIONS. For example, what is the North American perception of a dog that jumps? A dog that barks? A dog that’s intact (not neutered or spayed)? A dog trained to bite? A dog not raised with the rules and expectations of a common family “pet”? What is the perception of a working dog? And what is our role in educating the public about this sport?

If I told someone that we were training police K9s, they would likely be more accepting. So the task before us is to chip away at the public perception of working dogs that these dogs are uncontrolled, unruly, and present a public “threat”. Instead, these are dogs bred and groomed since birth for this sport. These are dogs with tremendous drive, clear heads, nerves of steel, with a relentless desire to please their handler and a loyalty worth envy. These are some of the best trained and most highly tuned athletes I’ve ever seen.

But, beyond the common perception, these dogs are more often than not, still pets, part of a family. These dogs are loved. And these dogs offer tremendous potential, channeled through an unrelenting desire to work.

So, what did I witness during the seminar with Igor Lengvarsky?

I saw a coach, a handler, and a true sportsman, with a clear passion for getting the best out of dogs and handlers alike.

I saw a man, full of enthusiasm, working the puppies and encouraging us all to keep it fun and focused on the basics in each of the three disciplines that make up the sport (Tracking, Obedience, and Protection).

I saw a man who wasn’t racing to the finish line, but whose passion lies in the process.

(by Jason Orbaugh)

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