Barbara Szoblik Cieśla – POLAND
As for me, a dog is a member of my family. Although I decided to have a Malinois because of sport, I can imagine my life without training, but not without a dog.
Barbara Szoblik-Cieśla, Polish Vice World Champion of the 2023 FMBB IGP World Championship, with her dog Darek (Dark Belrott), won the highest score in IGP protection on the day of her birthday. She couldn’t have wished for a better gift.
I.N.: Apart from getting the highest score in the history of Poland at the IGP FMBB 2023 Belgian Shepherd World Championships, you also won the title for the best IGP protection in the world. Please tell us how was your path to the top of the IGP sport.
B.S.C.: My beginnings are the times of primary school when I trained my mixed breed dog Atos using the book “Amateur dog training” by Antoni Brzezich and Henryk Lisiecki. Then came Matra, a female in type cane corso. With Matra, I did the first basic course, and the protection course in a dog training school. After half a year I went to a training camp for the first time, where I saw sports training. That’s how it started. I already knew that my next dog would be a Belgian Shepherd Malinois.
Axel Marshall Dogs came to me when he was about nine months old, and we immediately started training towards – then still named – IPO.
Throughout Axel’s career, I tried to develop myself during training and seminars with Polish and foreign trainers. Axel opened the way to my first takeoffs. Thanks to him, I had the opportunity to gain experience at great competitions such as the Polish Championships or FMBB.
The experience gained with Axel contributed to later successes with another dog.
So advice for people just starting – do not be afraid to start, and do not be discouraged if something does not work out in the competition. Develop yourself, go to seminars, and learn from the best ones. Learn as much as possible, and it will be paid off in the future.
Buying a new dog after the first failure, that’s not the solution. Very often the dogs are not the problem, but the handlers.
I.N.: Are there people who have had a special influence on your success?
B.S.C.: My development as a handler or competitor has certainly been influenced by many people over the years.
But without any doubt, I owe the greatest development to Jany Bohm. Not only did he lead my dog Dark as a helper, but above all he shaped me as a handler and a competitor.
He believed in us from the very beginning, and I can always count on him. I wish everyone to find a person on their way who will be not only a trainer in dog sports but also a friend because it’s not that easy, especially in the long run.
I.N.: Which of the three IGP disciplines is your favorite, and which one is the last close to you?
B.S.C.: When it comes to training, I like tracking the most, especially when counting just me and my dog. It relaxes me: peace and contact with nature. I like to watch how the dog uses its natural abilities and solves problems on the track.
But as much as the tracking, I like the protection. Especially with a young dog, where I can work on certain elements, developing drives myself or ‘picking’ obedience in protection. The effects and progress are visible very quickly.
Obedience is not my favorite part of IGP but it doesn’t mean that I don’t like it or not enjoy it. Simply obedience requires the handler to show a lot of emotions, and therefore I have some limitations here resulting from my character. Nevertheless, I am constantly working on myself to become a better handler.
I.N.: How has IGP sport affected your life?
B.S.C.: Oh, IGP has had a huge impact on my life. I will not deceive anyone if I say that my life is set up for dogs and training. However, I believe that if you want to do something professionally, there is no other choice – training once a week will get us nowhere. The fact is that I do not deal with dogs professionally – although I have a lot of support from my employer, who bravely endures my trips to training or competitions and supports me in my passion.
My standard week is professional work, and after work, I alternate between tracking and obedience training. We usually spend weekends actively and on training. In addition, there are trips to protection training where I drive about 450 km one way.
Holidays on the beach on a lounger – forget it, I can’t remember the last time I was on a holiday not related to dogs. A car – of course, one adapted for dogs.
And although it sounds terrible, I like it very much and I wouldn’t change a thing. The IGP made me a more open person. I constantly have the opportunity to meet new, wonderful people and new places.
I.N.: What is the most important thing for you in a team of humans and dogs?
B.S.C.: As for me, a dog is a member of my family. Although I decided to have a Malinois because of sport, I can imagine my life without training, but not without a dog.
My dogs live with me at home, we share the same bed, and we laze together on the couch or actively spend time on walks.
It will not be a big abuse if I say that I treat them a bit like my own children (although I am far from humanizing a dog) 😉 So the most important thing for me is that they are happy and can fulfill themselves in their canine way, according to their needs resulting from, for example, race. We enjoy spending time together.
I.N.: What mistakes do you think guides make most often at competitions? Tell us what ways you have to avoid them.
B.S.C.: A common mistake – in my opinion – is that the handlers in training focus mainly on learning individual exercises, such as sit, down, etc., and forget that the dog’s takeoff starts already at the moment of waiting to enter the field. Although the dog heels beautifully at the leg during training, the problems start when it comes to the judge, and then the whole performance is even worse. So remember always to look holistically when preparing your dog for the competition.
I.N.: What is your opinion on how our sport has changed over the years? Is that a good direction for change?
B.S.C.: Over the last few years, it is rare to meet dogs that work under the pressure of the handler, without pleasure. The image of a dog from a military drill has become a thing of the past. And that’s great because it’s all about making work a pleasure for the dog and showing it during the work. However, I do not like the trend of underestimating the level of selection of dogs, such as the recently introduced ban on the use of the stick in competitions. Especially in the top class, and I’m afraid this will lead to a deterioration in the breeding quality of working dogs over the years.
I.N.: Let’s go back to FMBB 2023. Certainly, the organization and form of this world championship differed from the standards known from previous years. In your opinion, could “unusual” situations, which most dogs and their handlers could not deal with during training, contribute to the selection of the best dogs? However, did the amount and quality of distractions limit the dog’s ability to show its actual skills?
B.S.C.: I don’t think that the place of the championships and the arrangement of the rings with the given disciplines affected the results or the work of the dogs in any way. Any championship is associated with far greater distractions than those dogs experience in training. Regardless of whether we are talking about a football stadium or a field fenced with sheaves of straw. After all, FMBB competitors are the elite that represents a given country, so such trifles as people at the “field” should not be a problem for them.
Another issue is whether it is appropriate to organize competitions with the rank of the FMBB World Championships of Belgian Shepherd in such conditions … but I leave it to everyone to judge individually.
I.N.: The IGP sport requires great condition from the dog. Looking at Darek always impresses with his fantastic form. Will you tell us how you do it, what do you put the most emphasis on?
B.S.C.: My system is trivial and does not fit into the current fashion of treadmills, physio, etc. Dark does not do anything extraordinary. Long walks, chasing a ball or playing are his main activities throughout the year. In the summer, when the heat is unbearable, swimming comes in, which he loves.
In addition, I always feed my dog high-quality food, which is the basis of good shape, and I periodically use supplements to help build muscle mass, and during hot training days – dog isotonic, after training for faster regeneration.
So I think it’s nothing extraordinary, and whoever knows my dog will confirm that he can’t complain about the lack of muscles and form.
I.N.: What do you think about the Youngstars initiative launched this year by the international K9-and-Sport program?
B.S.C.: I think it is a great initiative that gives a lot of opportunities for young people to develop. Especially since seminars and training are often expensive and difficult for young people to afford. By investing in young people, we are investing in the future of dog sports.
I.N.: You’ll probably have a little rest now after an intense period of training and competition. What are your sports plans and goals? The short and long-term ones?
B.S.C.: The goal is simple – just continue to enjoy working with my dog. I think that, if we enjoy something and we do our best for our passion, success will come by itself. Just wait a moment.
Basia, thank you for the emotions that you and Darek give us, and for the pride we experience when we see you on the podium. I wish you and Darek a lot of joy in everyday life and we all keep our fingers crossed for your successes in the upcoming competitions.
Barbara Szoblik-Cieśla was interviewed by Irena Narożnowska, ambassador of K9-and-Sport Poland