I met Nick a little less than 2 years ago, during his first visit to NY. Super soft spoken, and calm, working dog after dog, and taking a long time to quietly speak to each handler. Then protection started, and Nick, still focused and composed with the handlers, connected with the dogs on a different level. It seemed when he worked them, they literally got on the same frequency, and spoke one language…The whole demeanor of that weekend was all about the dogs, not always the immediate results, but always dogs’ well-being in mind, and the joy of having a relationship and spending time together training. Since then, we talked a lot about the working dogs attributes, the maintenance and “off switch”, drives, balance, and course the importance of conditioning and injury prevention…
* You are considered a veteran in IGP, when did you get involved and how did it all start?
As a small child, I was asking my parents to get a dog, as I was always fascinated about them, but I had to wait until I was 11 years old to get my first dog. My first dog was a Labrador Retriever and I trained obedience with him in a club. It was in that club that I got in touch with the IGP program for the first time. At the age of 15, I got my first Rottweiler and started in the IGP program, and I started to do some helper work when I turned 16, and haven’t stopped since.
* That is almost 30 years in the sport! How many dogs have you competed with?
I competed with my Labrador in the obedience program.
I competed with 12 dogs in IGP. Including Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Malinois and a Doberman. As of now, I qualified and competed 15 times at world championships with 3 different breeds. I am 7 times Belgian IGP champion and 5 times Vice Belgian IGP champion so far.
6 of them I raised from a puppy to adult and brought them to trials.
*What qualities are must have’s for you in a dog?
I really enjoy the obedience the most. This shows so much of the relationship between the dog and then handler, and you have to be a good ‘team’ to show super obedience.
So very important for me is the drive and desire to work in a dog. I like a dog with good drives yet still in good balance. Many people see ‘nerves’ as ‘drive’ but there is a huge difference between that! In addition, the ‘natural grip’ is of course also very important! You can work on a grip, but nothing beats a ‘natural full, calm grip’! I think these qualities together with a good food drive is what I look for!
* As a helper and a coach at seminars in different parts of the world, what do you feel is the most common mistake most handlers make with their dogs? And what do you see as a common strong point that you like? What do you look for from the handlers when you work their dogs?
I think it is very hard to pick a ‘specific’ mistake or a to say a common strong point, as it is very different from place to place, but I think what I see many times is that the handlers don’t have a ‘plan’ about what steps to make to develop an exercise, so it feels like many times people skip some steps. This will make it very hard to fix things later, or people will keep on trying to fix stuff but will never succeed 100% because there is not enough foundation…
A common strong point is for sure that I often meet many the handlers who are highly motivated and listen and really try to understand the philosophy of dog training!
Most important for me is to see that the handlers are motivated to learn and do well and that they have fun!!
We all make ‘mistakes’ so I will (almost) always stay very calm and patient when a handler makes a mistake. Having fun in the dog sport is the main goal, so I love it when handlers show that!
* Like most of us in the sport, you also have a job. Describe your typical week with training. Tracking Obedience Protection. How do you fit in everything in your life and your schedule? Do you do any special conditioning in addition?
My schedule of training is a bit depending on my trials. In the preparation for a trial, I do 2 disciplines a day. Mostly I will add some condition training on the treadmill the days when I do my tracking. I start to prepare slowly for a trial several weeks before, but always in a calm and relaxed way. I don’t think it is good to ‘rush’ the dog the last few days before a trial, so I think it is better to start in time!
I mostly try to keep up this schedule but for sure I will take it a bit easier after a big trial or when there is no big trial coming up.
Conditioning training is a big part of my schedule as I do believe it is very important for the health of the dog and will help to perform better on the field!!!
*Do you have a special conditioning program for your dogs or is it just daily exercise?
I think it is a combination of both… By doing lots of training on the field, the dog is getting very well exercised, but it is a different condition you train. So besides all the running/exercise the dog is getting on the field, I will still do some extra conditioning program on the treadmill. The schedule I do on the treadmill is a bit depending on how I feel about the dog and think what he needs to work on most by analyzing his training sessions. Sessions on the DogRunner treadmill can go from running on a low speed for a longer time to build endurance, to working out an interval training with high and low speeds in combination with the incline function on the treadmill to help build strength.
* You designed and developed the DogRunner, which is pretty popular in Europe and now has come to the US. What made you do it? Tell me more about the treadmills and the company.
I am a big fan of the treadmills and realize very well how important the use of a treadmill is.
Training on a treadmill has so many advantages! It is the most safe way to train your dog because there is no chance for injuries like running into glass or getting under the bike or getting attacked by another dog or..
It is also the most controlled way of training because you can decide exactly how you want the dog to run, for how long, at what speed, at what level of incline, and the dog will only make ‘straight line movements’,what is absolute best and most safe!!!
I am running the company together with my business partner, Nikolas. He is also running his other business, Fitnessking. This is the biggest shop in fitness equipment in Benelux. Because of this cooperation, we have both sides in our company. Nikolas is having tons of experience about the technical part of the treadmills, and I have tons of experience about the ‘dog part’ and what the dogs need. This turned into a very successful combination.
The first goal we have is to develop treadmills that are safe for dogs and also have the right size for the dog and to provide veterinarians, physical therapists and trainers a treadmill that fulfills their needs.
For example, we made treadmills with a higher top speed, so people can train more intensive in case they want to.
Because of the possibilities the DogRunner treadmills are offering, and their quality, they are very popular with professionals and we even have several universities for veterinary medicine as customers!
We are still growing and working on new ideas.. One of them is for example the underwater treadmill and still some other plans are on the table…
*How often do you use the treadmill at home?
This depends a bit on my training schedule but for sure Itry to use it at least 3 to 4 times a week.
Sometimes it will be a very intensive training and sometimes it can be a relaxing training for a short time..
My dogs just love it so they are super happy and excited when they can get on the treadmill so many times they ‘ask’ to get on it!!!
* Do you feel the need for an IGP specific conditioning course for the people to understand conditioning better?
Absolutely!!! The conditioning course is the perfect place for people to get a better idea about what they can train and how to do it!!
I am sure handlers can prevent many injuries on their dogs by training them to exercise in a correct way!!! The condition of the dog will get better, the dog will get more muscles and this will protect him better from injuries during training and trials!
Less injuries is more fun and more training and less costs..so the investment in a treadmill in combination with the conditioning course and a balanced consistent exercise program will make the dogs and handlers more happy…and it will even save people money in the end!!!
Thank you for this interview, hope to train together soon!
You can purchase a Dog Runner Treadmill at our DogSports4u store here https://dogsports4u.com/collections/dogrunner