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Performadog Interviews Sue Kawecki, Life, Dogs and Training.

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


I studied to be a medical scientist and majored in haematology and serology. I also did a second major in biochemistry. I worked till I was 70 when I decided to retire as the brain doesn’t work the same when you are older in such a stressful job. I was also a volunteer for palliative care, and the associated “Kids grieve too” for many years.


My first love is music, and I appeared in many shows for 25 years until again I decided I was “getting too long in the tooth”. I have continued to choir for nearly 20 years now, which is a lot of fun because of the variety of music we sing.


I also enjoy line dancing 2 or 3 times a week, which I have done for nearly 20 years. I was born and bred on the Mornington Peninsula and still live here. I have been married for 50 years and have two sons and two grandsons, who are young adults and a delight.


I also have a passion for gardening, which is probably why our ¾ block is almost all garden!


Q Tell us about how you decided to get into the dog world.


When I took my son to the open day at the vet school in Werribee, there was a group from the western branch German shepherd Dog club doing a

demonstration, and I said to Matt when I get my next shepherd I’m going to train and compete in obedience. I had competed in squash and netball to my late 40’s. I thought all shepherds would want to work, but I realized that wasn’t true with the first shepherd I tried to train, but my next shepherd was a star in ANKC obedience and tracking.


Q. You have been involved in the working dog scene for quite a while. How long has it been?


I first got involved in about 2007 when I thought I might do some Schutzhund style of tracking with my nine-year-old german shepherd. He was too old to do the character work or the jumping required in obedience. I did my first BH with him about four months later and with a day’s notice.


Q. Tell us about the dogs you have had.


I have had 7 German shepherds with two at a time except for my first one and when I had three (not a good idea). All my dogs have been house dogs except for my first one. The first two, Mouschka and Tara, were just pets with house manners as I had never heard of competing in any shape or form, except for sheepdog trials. I was also busy running a family household, working many varied shifts and playing Sport. 


Jessie, my third shepherd was a great pet, never barked, unless someone came to the house, but very protective of me but a lousy working dog (as I found out) as she had no play drive, which I didn’t realize initially was important. Nimmo, my first male, was my soul dog. He was a very sound temperament with plenty of play drive, and we were very successful in ANKC obedience and tracking. 


He was an obedience and tracking champion and came third out of 10 in the “top dog competition” in 2005 when there were at least half a dozen emergencies. He also was the first German shepherd to go into “the responsible pet program” in the primary schools. He was put through much more extensive testing than any of the other breeds experienced, and they couldn’t fault him. He worked in the program for six years till he was nearly 12 years old. Nimmo died a couple of months before he turned 15. 


Rixe, my next shepherd was 13 months when I bought her. I got her because I wanted to train and compete in the other phases of the Schutzhund sport. Unfortunately, she was gun shy, so I had to wait till they removed the gun from the BH before I could compete with her. She also was diagnosed with spondylitis at two years old, so the Schutzhund obedience and character work were out of the question. 


I competed in a couple of Schutzhund tracks with her and then decided to do ANKC obedience and tracking. She completed her tracking champion title very quickly, and she was earning her open obedience title when she was struck down with a rare type of Aspergillus in her spine and kidneys and died a painful death at four and a half years. 


I also did the Responsible Pet Education with her. Because I wanted to compete in Schutzhund and Rixe was gun shy I got another 7-month-old male Hero, much against my husband’s wishes! He was a show line shepherd, which the club I was involved with, wasn’t happy about. He had great play drive, but his temperament couldn’t handle the pressure that the trainers at the time put him under in the character work. He also sustained a couple of injuries which meant he couldn’t compete in the Schutzhund obedience. 


He managed to achieve his second level in the character work, with the help of Kris Kotsopoulos but broken down before he could compete in level three of the character work. Hero did manage to achieve his FH in tracking and his tracking champion title in ANKC very quickly. 


He also achieved his starters title in Freestyle dog dancing, his Novice trick title and his Odour Recognition Test before he broke down. He died at the beginning of 2020 a couple of months off twelve years. Then we have Monti.   


Q. Your current dog is a German shepherd from Von Forell. Can you tell us about her?


Monti is an excellent German shepherd. She has a very stable temperament, which means she is not bothered by people or other dogs, so she can focus on whatever work she is doing with me completely. She also has excellent food drive and enormous play drive, so her trainability is excellent. Even after exercising for an hour, tracking and some obedience as soon as she gets home, the first thing she wants to do is play with me again all day if she can!  


Q. What improvements would you like to see in the Sport in Australia?


I would like to see the Sport recognized in all the states of Australia, but unfortunately, I don’t see it happen in the near future. Also, because it is such a demanding sport, there are very few participants, and the legislation in Victoria has to be changed or amended to allow the Sport to be legal. The powers that be aren’t going to put the time into making the changes as they are looking at it as getting supporting votes for the changes. 


So having a handful of people doing the Sport isn’t going to be enough for them to make an effort to put the time in to do the changes. I went three times with a couple of other people to try and procure the changes, and that was the feeling I got. The advertising image of a dog barring his fangs also does not sit well with Jo Blow of the public. A picture of a dog tracking or doing obedience would be much more appropriate, in my opinion. There has to be more cooperation with the other sports dog clubs in the country, but I feel that it is starting to happen with the changing of the guard.


Q. Why do you like training dogs?


Good question. Sometimes I wonder myself. Probably because I have a competitive nature and my body wasn’t able to continue competing in Sport I happened on seeing another way to challenge myself and German shepherds are the only dogs I could ever have. I can’t pursue my hobbies without a goal except for line dancing. I would get bored otherwise.


Q. You have done very well with your dogs competitively. What are your other plans for the future?


I was hoping to compete at the highest level with Monti this year but because of the covid lockdown that hasn’t been possible. I hope I can compete early next year as Monti has an underlying right abductor injury from earlier last year. Which has to be monitored and being such a physical sport for the dogs I’m not sure when it might cause a severe liability.


I then want to compete in Freestyle dog dancing and Heelwork to music with Monti where I think she will go very well. I have already done training in these areas. I might also do FH and ANKC tracking with her. I also want to get another German shepherd, after the IPO trial, hopefully from Kris. 


Not sure what sex yet but leaning towards a female who I would like to do a BH with, maybe IPO obedience and tracking and dog dancing.


Q. It appears that you have a competitive edge. Why do you think that is the case?


That was the cue I was placed in when my personality was being mapped out. There has to be a purpose to what I am doing. I can’t do something like training a dog without a goal, which in this case is to test how good I am.


Q. What has been the most challenging part of your journey?


Probably the distance I have to travel in this state to compete and to get some help where necessary.


Q. Is there anything you would like to impart to our readers?


Try to have fun with your dogs. It isn’t always easy, especially when you have a goal and a time limit in mind. Many times we can feel frustrated because we are human, but instead of blaming the dog, we should try and look at our training techniques, and in most cases, we are the ones at fault. Dogs can make mistakes, but so do we. Also, try to keep an open mind as many roads lead to Rome and we can pick up different ways to do the same behaviour that might suit you and your dog better than the one you were using. We should never think we know it all.


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


I’m not into breeding so don’t feel I am competent to comment on this subject except to say that in the case of German shepherds there seem to be more working line shepherds being bred. This might have been the case before, and I was just not aware. The people breeding show line shepherds have done the breed a terrible miss justice, and hopefully, they see the error of their ways before the dogs are completely cactus. I would never repurchase a show line shepherd as there is no way they can do what their classification requires and that is work!


Training methods have certainly changed from twenty-odd years ago when it was all pull and jerk. The introduction of markers, such as clickers and a modern approach, has undoubtedly made the exercises much more apparent for the dog and hopefully the handlers. Also, the invitation of international trainers to conduct seminars in all different aspects of dog training has been a bonus.


Q. Who are your mentors?


In recent times Uta Bindels from Germany has been a strong mentor in tracking and obedience even though at times she would think me a poor student! She first introduced the concept of using a clicker as a marker in training when she gave a seminar in Queensland around 2009, and which I have continued to use. She has conducted three more seminars since in Victoria.


Also, Kris Kotsopoulos has been a true mentor, especially in the field of character work. He is a real thinker, and I believe he tries to work out a solution to each of the individual dog’s problem. No dog is perfect, just like us, so they need different strategies to the central theme to get the best out of them, and that is what Kris tries to do.


Thank you, Sue, for giving us your time, and we look forward to catching up on your progress. 


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