FCI IGP World Champion Vika Bezus about training, choosing puppies and her worst moments during the World Championship

Do you train your dogs separately for military service? Or do you cover sport and service in one training? 

Each dog has its own narrow specialization. But they all need to follow commands. Therefore, discipline comes first: both at home and at work. And there are other elements in my sport training that I need to cover during training for service as well. How the training is set up, really depends on the underlying goal. 

If your goal is to end up on the the podium of the IGP world championship, then you need to work every day, make as few mistakes as possible in training and you will get closer to your goal in small steps. It is tedious and hard work. 

Work in the service on the other hand requires different skills. What you don’t need is the picture of a dog with perfect focus. It is not important how fast a dog takes a position, nobody asks for happiness in the eyes. But all specialties we have in service (searching for people or explosives for example) are extremely demanding. Sometimes things get very risky and one mistake can cost your own or someone else's life. 

If you were to demand from your dog the preciseness and expression asked for in sports and the demands from the service at once, the dog’s work would turn out to be mediocre. And if in sports mediocrity is penalized with points, then in life a mistake can be fatal. Our (service) dogs all have an IGP base (the most difficult sport standard). In the process of training, we determine the particular strengths and weaknesses of the dog. This is very important for possible breeding activities. But having a base and being the best are two different things.

What do you pay attention for when choosing a puppy for sport versus military? If you could choose any dog you wanted, would it be the same for the purposes of military and the purposes of sport. Or would you chose different dogs? 

For me, a good dog is a good dog. Therefore, the best dog for sports would equal the best dog in service. In my opinion, a GOOD dog that is successful in IGP sports can handle any service, but not every dog that successfully fulfills its task in the service can be equally successful in IGP.

Can sport handlers and K9 handlers learn something from each other? What benefits can one bring to the other? 

Of course. Sharing experiences is always useful. And we need to learn from the best.  Are there K9 handler statistics? Who evaluates the quality of their work? Where can you see their work? This information is usually unknown to the average sportsman. At a minimum, we should organize training sessions, for example in nosework/tracking. Sport and K9 handlers could share the techniques they use in training.

In your experience, how many dogs with the Police or military in Ukraine come from private breeders? At what age do they recruit their dogs? Do they have their own breeding program or did they have it in the past? 

I cannot answer for the police. But in the Ukrainian military, there are no breeding activities. All dogs come from private breeders. 

Were you nervous at the World Championship – it was your first time. And did you notice that this translated over to Blicka? 

I can't say that I wasn't nervous at all, but with the war also came that my attitude towards some things changed radically. If you saw the video of our Protection, you will have noticed that I even forgot the routine. This was due to lack of training, my nerves and many other things. Right before tracking, I actually locked Blicka up in the car and forgot my keys in there. I had to break the window to prevent her from suffocating because it was very hot. This didn’t help in calming me down. 

What I was not worried or nervous about was my score. Normally, I go over A, B and C and determine if I am satisfied with my work and the work of the dog. Obviously, I was more than satisfied with the dog's work and not always satisfied with mine. But we work as a team and where one makes a mistake, the other compensates for this mistake.

Is Blicka a special or do you think you could be this successful again with another dog? How much is genetics and how much is training in your eyes? 

Of course, Blicka is special! I don't know any other dog this devoted to work after a long time with proper training. She is like a universal soldier: a sport dog, a military dog, a nanny for my child and a pet. I always gave my best to work with her, even when the circumstances were difficult. And she always exceeded my expectations. 

Unfortunately, I will not know soon whether I am able to achieve high results with another dog. My young German Shepherd died. The GSD was completely different compared with Blicka. But my training methods also worked on her. I see genetics as a possibility, a perspective. It’s the handler who can reveal this potential. 

 Which is your favorite: A, B or C? 

My favorite is Obedience. It requires the most from the handler, his skill, endurance in training. In Obedience you show the relationship between you and your dog. If you dog is confident and it your dog trusts you. Of course this plays in a role in A and C also – but the dog’s instincts and drive overrule some of it. I don't have one favorite exercise. But I interacting with my dog. It really is magic when the two of you can build the perfect workout picture just through your interaction.

What is your opinion of tracking? I imagine that in real life you would never ask a dog to show the search behavior that we ask from our dogs. Does it make sense in your opinion?

I am not a scientist; I will only share my personal experience with working dogs and my opinion may well bw faulty. IGP tracking is not natural for a dog. In my entire life, I have never seen a service or hunting dog that would naturally keep his nose down the entire time and sniff out each and every step. But this is exactly the requirement by the IGP rules. In IGP, I don't see any binding to an individual scent. 

Personally, I treat tracking as an element of obedience. I teach the dog a certain behavior, a technique of sniffing the trail and indicating the article.

Do your dogs have a clear schedule (when and how much) - walks, training, feeding? 

I feed my dogs very frequently, by the hour, until they are about 4 months. My basic training is based on food motivation. My dogs eat during training or communication with me. I don’t have a set schedule of walks or physical activity. Prior to the birth of my child, my everyday life was completely unpredictable. I was called into service at any given time. For a certain and long period in my life, I was sleep deprived because I chose training my dog over sleeping. 

How often do you train your dogs and how long is a single training (off-season and when preparing for competitions)?

 The activities with my dogs don’t correlate with the sport season. But of course, the sport season brings with it pleasant weather where I like to spend more time outside. The off-season is winter and I prefer the warmth, under a blanket. For me, dogsport is my passion. I train when I have free time and want to train. Only when I am following a certain goal, I set up a plan. I actually need a goal in order to come up with a training plan. But everything depends on the individual dog.

 Do you prepare the dog for work? Do you have a ritual or do you warm up your dog? 

 Of course! Warm-up is a must. At least minimal, if there is no time for it. And rituals... As I already said, our life is unpredictable. For example, I was alone at each competition Blicka participated in. There was no one to help me with a warm up, take me to the start or give valuable advice. But I prepared for this and built my training in a way that I would not depend on anyone and would always be ready to work.

 Do you have "lazy" days when you allow yourself to cancel training and simply do nothing? 

Of course!!! Sometimes I even say to myself "no more dogs" in the house. The birth of my child and the war canceled my active training life for a couple of years. You can afford to be lazy if the dog’s basic training - 2-3 years of the dog's life - was flawless.

 In your opinion, what is most important in achieving high results - genetics, personal characteristics of the dog, or training? 

Everything affects a high result. Personally, I put genetics at the top of this pyramid. But genetics is a potential with which a person must be able to work.

Do you play with your dogs? What games? 

I don’t just play. For us, training is our game. I build the training in a way that the dog likes it and wants to train. When we are not training, we just spend time together: we walk in the forest, ride a bike, swim...

Do you teach some silly commands? 

My dogs know silly commands (bunny, turn, snake, etc.). It happens that these are the tricks I use to warm up my dogs before training.  

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