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June 12, 2019

K9 Solutions Australia's Director and Trainer Ben Geurts writes about his recent experience at the inaugural K9SA Working Dog Symposium.

K9 Solutions Australia's inaugural Working Dog Symposium concluded late last week and what a week it was. To say we were happy with the result would be an understatement. To say we were happy with the participation and exchange of information throughout the week would be equally understated. Fourteen dogs participated and almost thirty working dog handlers or facilitators from the Australian Army, Royal Australian Air Force, Australian Federal Police, Western Australia Police Force and the Australian Border Force attended.

The results were nothing short of epic. The feedback from all participants was positive with most indicating that they cannot wait for next year's event! We're still thinking about that one.

The first day was spent in the classroom. Mark Wynn and Matt Broad from Boulder Creek Performance K9 kicked us off with some man hunting theory. A very informative lesson from two guys that have lived what they teach. Orlando Nunez then discussed odour detection, introducing some new and ground breaking techniques in his own laconic style.

I wrapped up the day discussing the Non Vactro Training System, including the pros and cons of a foundation of man focus in patrol type training and the Bellon's NePoPo (R) system. It was a long day of theory, however many questions were asked and answered by the well engaged audience and instructors. A good sign for things to come.

Day two we were out with the dogs and that's how things stayed for the remaining five days. Man hunting, odour detection (including vapour trailing), and the Non Vactro Training System covered in practical detail. The dogs, handlers and trainers improved throughout.

All instructors in attendance agreed that in all the years of being involved with working dogs, we have never seen a collectively stronger group of dogs assembled for a week’s training.

Highlights were numerous, however these are a few of my favourites....

Three puppies started the week lacking the confidence to push more than fifty metres away from their handlers during the man hunting. By weeks end most of these same puppies were out to over a 150 metres with a turn. K9SA’s Kuno and Dug were also champions with the trailing (I may be a little biased). All dogs made advances and Mark and Matt shared vital information, especially regarding operational line handling and problem solving on real tracks. The star was a chicken dancing man (who shall remain nameless) that ignited drive in a puppy that really was something to behold. I’m pretty sure Mark and Matt wanted to take him home to ignite their future puppies.

Orlando demonstrated in his typically pragmatic, keep it simple approach of how to teach vapour trailing. A young working dog picked this up quickly and it was very impressive to see him follow an odour trail after such a short time. The odour classes realised dramatic improvements in most dogs across the board. Orlando’s unassuming style is easy to understand and simplifies even the most complex applications of learning theory.

Mark's table was another highlight. This system of training contradicts ours to some extent but in the symposium spirit we opened ourselves up to learning as much as we possibly could. Young Django reaped the benefits of Mark’s experience almost immediately with an improved grip and channelling of drives. K9SA’s Kuno dominated. All present were impressed by the power and intensity of such a young dog. We are pretty sure he's a serial killer though....K9SA’s Dug also got a turn and turned some heads too. He's social but also a monster. Just how we like them!

In the Non Vactro Training System phase we were able to take dogs well beyond the handlers and even our own expectations. By week's end we were taking young dogs to ground for the first time, giving all dogs inside bites, doing civil hunt serials and plenty of muzzle fighting. The highlight was an inside bite session where all seven dogs displayed fighting spirit comparable to any dogs I have seen. Myself and Jase played decoy and fought the dogs until exhaustion...ours. The circle muzzle session was without doubt the best I have ever seen (I had front row seats to this one) with every single dog (seven in total) hitting centrally, high and hard.

K9SA’s Digger, Dave and Doza destroyed the man hunting. Going from no real understanding at the start to 100 metre off leash trails with a turn at the end of the week. It really was great to watch such young dogs grow in confidence and drive as Mark and Matt sprinkled their magic.

A truly great week! We are humbled by the attendance, participation and input from all. Thank you to everyone! In particular, a huge thank you to our host for allowing us the extreme privilege of training in this location with such professional dog handlers and trainers. Another massive thank you to our international trainers, Mark Wynn, Matt Broad and Orlando Nunez. Your knowledge, expertise and ability to practically apply and impart it are second to none. We couldn't have done it without you!

To the participants, thanks very much for your support, openness, and willingness to share your knowledge. Everyone in attendance learnt more than we could have ever hoped for, including us. I would also like to thank all the K9SA team behind the scenes that make everything come together, Lisa and Samantha for always keeping us in line and helping out with the dogs when needed, Desley for her expertise raising our puppies, Lee for all the symposium art work and media in general and everyone else who continually supports us!

Due to the sensitivity of the venue and some of the participants of the symposium, photos and videos are currently being vetted by the appropriate agencies and what survives will be published sometime in the future. Stay tuned.

Lastly, my thanks to Jase for bringing together what was the most professionally run dog training event I have ever been a part of! Great work mate!

Non Vactro.