Performadog Interviews Charlotte Priest, Life, Dogs and Training.

Good Morning Charlotte and thank you for this interview. 

Tell us about your background, your love and life in general.

I grew up in a small family in Melbourne before moving further out with my partner Graham to the Whittlesea/Kinglake area where we’ve been for the past 22 years.

We work together (mostly well) and run a mechanic shop locally which is crazy busy and takes up much of our time. We’re fortunate enough to live on acreage also so if we’re not at work, then we are working on the property in between training dogs.

I love where we live and that there is no commute now, it takes away a lot of the stress each day and allows you to just get straight into it and turn off at the end.

We also enjoy a bit of water skiing when we can and enjoy Lake Eildon and Nagambie.

Tell us about how you made the decision to get into the dog world?

Growing up I always wanted a dog, I loved them.  My parents didn’t really like dogs, so I had to work hard at getting one. She was an adult Springer Spaniel with no training and a healthy appetite for wandering and pleasing herself.

I commenced basic obedience from day one with her with little knowledge, and we each learnt a fair amount of what not to do. I think it’s fair to say that she had a few tricks in her repertoire, but her recall was rather a weak point!

After getting this dog, I was hooked and she was the start of many more years with dogs.

Although I loved most dogs, in general, I was particularly taken with the guardian breeds and favoured the German Shepherd dog overall.

Several years after the spaniel arrived, and I met Graham, he piqued my interest in the Dobermann, a breed which was to enter and leave our lives together over the coming years.

We made our first purchase of a Dobermann together after scouring the Yellow Pages and settling on a local breeder – Kris from Von Forell Kennels.

Von Forell Xena (Rahn) arrived home on the same day I had my first dog, the spaniel, put to sleep at my parent’s place. She was 18 yrs old.

Rahn was the first of many Dobermanns in our household, and she was also responsible for getting me into dog sports.

Such dogs bring a lot of energy to the table. I liked the idea of channelling this into behaviours and using the qualities genetically gifted to the dog to produce high-level obedience that both handler and dog enjoy. The sport of IGP virtually demanded this and was, as such, very enticing.

You have been involved in the working dog scene for quite a while, how long has it been?

I started back in 1999 ( my goodness!) with Rahn and then we purchased another Von Forell Dobermann so it continued from there. I had a break of several years while I got into horse riding and thought I’d enjoy that for a while but then came back to the dog world and haven’t left.

Tell us about the dogs you have had?

After working with a few dogs, some suitable some not, I was given the opportunity by Kris to purchase Agassi Von Schwarzhund, a Stormfront Brawnson, grandson GSD from New Zealand.

He came over with some basic training in place, and I continued to work with Kris alongside fellow Sport-dog enthusiasts from there.

He was a nice dog and he taught me a lot about dog behaviour and how to adapt training to suit different temperaments.

This time was a real eye-opener for me as I realised just how much time and commitment the sport takes when you’re trying to live an average life of full-time work and commuting (back then we ran another mechanic shop in Preston)

I failed my first BH with Agassi; I didn’t think I would so it was a bit of a leveller for me first up. We passed a few months later, but that thought of how wrong it can go on the day has never left me. 

From there I had a few more Dobermanns, some Malinois and once again found myself with a German Shepherd.

You were part of a syndicate to breed some working Malinois, how did that work out?

During my early time in the world of dog sports there were many spectacular dogs overseas competing. I’d pour over videos with my fellow teammate and friend Simon Damevski looking at the different qualities of these dogs and what made them work as well as they did.

The Belgian Shepherd Malinois were relatively new in Australia at this time, and we felt we could improve on the gene pool and quality of dogs available here. The footage we viewed of many Mals overseas was awe-inspiring, and we were excited to get those sort of dogs in the competition ring here. After much research, namely from Simon, we imported two bitches, one pregnant to two dogs via AI and commenced our short-lived breeding program.

After obtaining litters from both bitches that were rather mediocre in our eyes, we were somewhat deflated and, although perseverance may have meant success, we halted future operations at that point.

The Malinois, today in Australia, is a wonderful breed for the sport and other applications. I think, however, that true to type ones are rather few and far between and possibly not as prevalent as they were years ago. I do love seeing a good one around the traps though.

Your current dog is a German Shepherd from Von Forell, can you tell us about him?

Upon my return to the world of dogs I was once again given the opportunity by Kris and his breeding program to work with Von Forell Kaine (Django) a 3yr old GSD. Django, or Jang, as I call him has been my fellow training partner and headache for the last three years and, together with Kris’s help and also my fellow Sports enthusiasts and friends, we have achieved IGP 2 with some good and bad performances ( the day can still always go wrong). 

Jang is the best dog I’ve worked with so far. He is nicely balanced with a sound temperament. He keeps me thinking often outside the square with his learning and is not as forgiving as Agassi perhaps was but, nevertheless, gives me the chance to enjoy the sport for what it is and brings a beautiful working drive to the table. He has come a long, long way with Kris’s guidance and fortunately, the headaches are less frequent now.

You have done quite well with Django competitively, what are your other plans with him?

Jang is now 6yrs old, and I realise that he hasn’t got a long competition life ahead of him. It is a demanding sport on their bodies. The fitness required, both physically and mentally and the lifestyle can be quite demanding on them, but it is hard to retire them and say the fun is over.

I will aim for IGP 3 on him around Easter time then, all going well, I would like to compete with him at the 2020 Nationals in NSW. He will then most likely hang up his collar and enjoy a more relaxed life that I think he has earnt.

It appears that you have a competitive edge, why do you think that is the case?

I grew up with 2 brothers. I was always competitive, we all largely were for some reason. My parents weren’t particularly so I don’t know why we were.

I was in a running team, a swimming team then moved to competitive cycling for a number of years before the dogs. Graham raced for many years in the bike scene also,  we still keep very much in the loop with what’s happening in the cycling world and we enjoy watching it when we can.

What has been the most challenging part of your journey?

That’s easy…. my dog. It’s always the dog’s fault, right?

Is there anything that you’d like to impart to our readers?

Always keep an open mind when it comes to training. Everyone has ideas and many are good enough for the table. Someone watching can always see a lot more than the handler and although you know your dog there may be an element that you’re missing that someone else is picking up on.

I won’t say stick at it. I think you will anyway. Yes there’s sessions that you’d rather forget but we’re all half mad doing this sport anyway so you’ll always get something from it!!

You are a member of the Melbourne Sport Dog Club, tell us about your experience.

Our Club is fantastic! There is a vast mixture of personalities, ages, and dogs, and yet we all work. We are highly supportive of one another, and because we train so regularly with each other, we are very up to speed on where everyone is at which is very helpful and encouraging. I really look forward to training with them, always!

You recently competed in a competition, how did that go?

That was our IGP 2 trial. Jang went well, there were some good and bad points and I always come away with much to work on.

I think he enjoyed his tracking a little too much and his enthusiasm cost us somewhat. This enthusiasm was sustained well into OB and again cost us points. He managed to pull himself together in the final phase which we both quite enjoyed.

I get very nervous, he doesn’t, we’re not always good together haha.

Due to your longevity in the dog world have you noticed much change in the way of breeding results and training?

Yes and no. I have seen some changes in breeding results, some good some bad. I think that high drive levels are more consistent now within the working lines however this also brings its own set of complications to the forefront. It is evident to me that nerve solidity is still in question in many dogs. It can be masked by high drive and good training these days but you often see it in the Character Phase and it still costs combinations dearly.

Training is aimed much more now maintaining the attitude of the dog. As such it is much more balanced and working with an even-keeled intense dog you can get some excellent results. I love the training we do currently, it is ever changing and dynamic on the spot. The proof is in the dogs’ work and the enthusiasm they have to do it.

We would be interested in the difference between your original views and current views on dogs, training and how community perception has altered since your introduction.

When I first started, one of my dogs was what I believed to be quite a serious dog. He was indeed serious but it was many years before I looked at him for what it really was and saw the elements of fear in him that made him that way. Sure he’d work OK but he was somewhat volatile in situations that he didn’t need to be that way in and it made me see very clearly what I do and don’t want in a dog for the sport.

Today my desire is for an open dog, I love intense drive but clarity through good nerve resulting in a strong character that is a formidable opponent when required. Training should simply compliment these traits and shape the behaviours around them.

The future of the sport is an unknown and stands on fragile ground given the somewhat increasingly oppressive nature of dog ownership today as oppose to when I first got into it. Dogs in sports such as this have to, by the sheer nature of the sport, be good-natured and not nervous and, as such, are good examples to have around when discussing the sport to those who are not across it. We as handlers are highly in tune to our dogs and educated on training principles, but it isn’t always easy imparting this knowledge. 

There are limitations and restrictions to everything, and this game is no different. I try to keep my eye on the ball and not get lost in the politics. We have a lot of well-spoken, professional people in our industry that enjoy it for what it is; I enjoy working with these people and listening to their views. You can have some great conversations that leave food for thought for days.

Who are your mentors?

Well they are my mentors and also my friends;

Plain and simple Kris – he is always ready to train, advise, and help. I can call him with problem that’s got me stumped and he’ll throw a heap of solutions at me while being open to any ideas myself or anyone else may have. His passion is infectious and has a knowledge base beyond comprehension when it comes to dogs (and other worldly issues for that matter!) I value his presence and  input immensely. Incidentally his two new books are scheduled for release soon I am told but that has been a mission in itself.  

My team mates – We go to trials together even if we’re not competing, we train whenever and wherever. We laugh and cry over our dogs and have formed great friendships that I treasure. We all trialled last year in Adelaide, it was a fantastic few days spent with fabulous people.

My partner Graham – Both coming from competitive cycling backgrounds he understands the intense commitment I have to this sport and the time it takes to get there. He lets me do my thing and works around me and my schedule without (too many) complaints. He loves the dogs but I don’t think he’ll ever get into the sport. I think he’s happy for me to have that stress!

Where do you see yourself going in the future?

I will continue with the sport because, quite simply,  I love it. Sure, there’s cold, dark mornings with missed articles, obedience fails and forgettable character work but then there are those days where you work in sync with your dog, anticipate behaviours, time it correctly and produce a beautiful picture. Mix in the laughs you have with your teammates on the same path, and there’s not much more that I’d ask for.

Thanks for the chat x

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