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Balancing Schutzhund and Life - Part 2

2015 USA World Team for the WUSV. From L to R: Marty Segretto, Debbie Zappia, today's guests Laurie Coppola and Sean O'Kane, Beth Bradley, Jim Alloway, Dave Kroyer. Photo by Christina O'Kane.

Is there such a thing as "balance" with Schutzhund? This blog continues the discussion of integrating Schutzhund with work, family, and life, and features guests Sean O'Kane and Laurie Coppola. Both Sean and Laurie compete at the highest levels of Schutzhund/IPO while also raising families and working full-time in challenging careers. Their dedication and passion for the sport is inspiring to those wishing to trial in Schutzhund at any level. Thank you to both Sean and Laurie for taking time out of their very busy schedules to share their experiences with the Schutzhund life!


Pictured far left, with Michael Sweeney and Dave Kroyer

Occupation: Firefighter and Police Officer

Other activities/involvements: New father most importantly, assist with police k-9 training, and USCA Treasurer

Best known for: Being the 2nd best trainer in my family. My wife smokes me in dog knowledge, LOL.

Number of dogs actively training: One dog, Dexter, but I help with many other dogs as a helper and spotter.

Making the time to train: I work 24 hour shifts as a firefighter and only nights when I work as a police officer. So my days off during the day I try to fit in what I can. Before big events I normally take vacation time before the event as well to help prepare. I'm not much of a fan of winters so I don't tend to train a lot in the winter time to give my dog a break and to let me recharge from the long dog season the previous year. I will spend time conditioning and breaking areas of training down that need attention during this time also.

Time per week training in:

  • Tracking: before a big event I will track almost every day. But normally during the warmer months I try to track at least 2 to 3 times a week.

  • Obedience: always doing something with obedience breaking things down in areas I feel need improvement and making sure he is in good shape Even if it's just throwing a ball out into the water and letting him swim. So if I'm not at work I'm doing something with them each day. At least trying to.

  • Protection: before an event I work protection four or five days in a week but normally we will do protection maybe twice a week. But again I may break things down and run blinds or do some other conditioning without necessarily doing bite work.

Sean's Dexter vom Eisernen Kreuz with helper Michael Sweeney. Photo: Christina O'Kane.

Number of trials per year: I will show in at least 3 to 4 events in a year. I hope 3 anyway. One national event to make the qualification trial and then the qualification trial itself and then the world event and then next year's national

Advice for those looking to find that balance between Schutzhund and the rest of their life? To be at the top, there really isn't a balance. You have to sacrifice the normal life to train. You have to use all your vacation time to go to events and train. I can't remember the last time I traveled without my dogs. Maybe you feel like training your dog and the rest of your life need to be balanced, but I say if you want it bad enough, you work hard enough, and surround yourself with the right people, then balance can be achieved. You just have to want it bad enough to sacrifice.

[For those just starting out and looking to title a dog,], try to find someone that will mentor you. Finding the right person to help you learn IPO is your best chance at success. Learn from them and then start thinking more for yourself. I love what I learned from Gene England about dog training. The 3 F's. It has to be Fun, Firm, and Fair. You need to enjoy this with your dog. You have to be firm in the training but it doesn't work if you’re not fair to your dog at the same time.

Can you share a little bit more about balancing being a new dad and your Schutzhund passion? Being a new dad has changed the dynamic of training. Luckily it's winter now and I can enjoy more time with my son, but when he was first born and only 8 weeks old, we went to Germany along with my wife to compete in the WUSV. He will grow up in this culture and I hope one day it will be something we can do together. For me it's a family affair. My wife and I train, and Connor is loved by many in our club. They help us by holding him or will watch him while he is sleeping so we get a set in of training. It takes a village to raise a kid and I'm just lucky to have the people at OG Indianapolis there to support us.



Occupation: Pediatric Intensive Care Registered Nurse in a Level 1 Trauma center

Other activities/involvements: I breed under the Rennbahn K9 kennel name. I generally have one litter a year, sometimes less. I am also a full time grad student in a Nurse Practitioner program and mom to 3 teenage boys, as well as the training director of USCA member club Northeast K9, and a Director At Large for USCA.

Best known for: Breaking bones that require surgery to put them back together, LOL.

Number of dogs actively training: I am currently training 5 dogs. All of BHOT dogs, 3 are IPO3 and I have already taken to the nationals, then I have a young IPO1 female and a year old puppy I am just starting. All of the dogs I am training have been born in my house. They are all family dogs that sleep on the bed(s) at night.

Making the time to train: I don't train as much as others do. I work full time, go to school full time, and have 3 teenage boys so there is not a lot of time left over. I generally will try to train each dog at least 2-3 days a week, but generally in very short 5-7 minute sessions. I track twice a week and get protection maybe 5-7 times a month on average. The older (more experienced dogs get less work and the puppies get worked in obedience twice a day for their meals.)

Time per week training in:

  • Tracking: 2x weekly from April-Nov - no tracking from Nov-April due to snow

  • Obedience: Older dogs get OB 2-3x a week, younger dogs do obedience twice daily for their meals

  • Protection: On average I get about 5-7 sessions of protection a month

Number of trials per year: I generally will enter 2 dogs into all of the national championships and I usually enter 1-2 dogs in the regional championship, and I have been at the Quali [WUSV World Qualifier Trial] for the past 3 or so years, then the young dogs get club trials so I'd say maybe 10 trials a year. I also try to get all of their show ratings and Koer's as well.

Advice for those looking to find that balance between Schutzhund and the rest of their life? Don't kill yourself trying to work your dog for 2 hours. If you spend 5-7 minutes twice a day breaking down exercises and working them until they are perfect, you'll get it done! Seriously...5-7 minutes once or twice a day can get you pretty far. Our club tracks as a group so the dogs see a "trial-like" experience every week, and that can take time. I also like to remind people that when trying to balance LIFE with Schutzhund there WILL be days when we are just not in the right frame of mind to train. Maybe it was a bad day in the office, or we just woke up on the wrong side of the bed, whatever it is...if you're not in the right frame of mind, then SKIP the training. Dogs are very adept at reading us, and if I start with a foul mood my dog is going to know it and the training will just go downhill from there. The NUMBER ONE piece of advice I can give someone is to HAVE FUN, and ENJOY the ride!

Laurie with Dasko von der Rennbahn. Photo: Brian Aghajani, Courtesy of Laurie Coppola.

Thanks again to Sean and Laurie for their candid interviews!


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