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An interview with the IFR World Champion 2014

You can either live a simple life or buy a rottweiler. 

Could you please introduce yourself? Who is Mari Kolkkala? What does she like? And what about her great dog Boxlee Hangman?

Mari Kolkkala is 37 years old, mother of a toddler, who lives with her husband in Virrat in Finland. I’m equable, down-to-earth and I have always liked it midst animals. When I was young I spent my free time at stables and after that came dogs. I don’t only train and compete with my dogs, but most of all they are part of my every day life. They live with us at house, so in addition to drives and working capabilities they must be able to live a normal life. In Boxlee Hangman, who we call Mali at home, all this is combined.


Why have you decided to have a rottweiler? Is Mali your first rottweiler or first dog? What do you appreciate at most about your dog? How would you describe your relationship between you and your dog?

Since I was a little girl I always wanted my own dog. At first I had no idea of the breed, as long as it would be big and black. During the years I got to know different kind of dogs and finally I chose a rottweiler. It’s a demanding breed which takes a lot but also gives a lot back. My first rottweiler came into house in 1999. Mali is my 4th rottweiler and he’s The One. My soulmate I didn’t even know existed before I met him. Mali is a very easy dog at home. You can take him where ever without any problem. He’s calm and his life is not easily shaken. Mali gets along with everybody and doesn’t make a big fuss of himself. He is always ready for an action but on the other hand even a long break from training won’t cause any problem. My toes won’t get cold as there’s always someone safely curled over them. When it’s time to train, you can see a totally different side of Mali. I have always been able to train whatever I have wanted with him and he is always willing to perform. Sometimes he has even too much drive and mood. The bigger the competition the greater the spirit is in Mali. His best character is that he always does it all with his whole heart and at the same time put his all into a game.


What does success at World Championship mean to you?

At last year’s World Championship I ruined Mali’s tracking because of my own anxiety. Our start time was advanced and on top of that I drew the first track of our group. I couldn’t keep my nerves under control and thus couldn’t support Mali during the tracking. It was annoying me for quite some time afterwards. I decided that in Switzerland I would enable Mali to perform all parts the way he really can. I was so happy when we did it! And what a fantastic feeling to realize we actually won Championship! There’s not enough words to describe how I felt. It was also great to see how warmly people congratulated me, even the ones I didn’t know. I’m also very happy that Team Finland won the team competition as we had such a super team! I´m proud to be one of them!


Is success important to you?

What matters to me is a teamwork with my dog. My aim is always to allow my dog to show his best capabilities. But of course I have this much competitiveness in me to hope that our results are enough for a success too.


Is your win going to influence your other plans in dog sport?

Last year we competed in Spain and now in Switzerland. Me and my husband had planned a break for 2015 and to participate only in few trials in Finland. However, winning IFR IPO Championship gave us the wild card to FCI IPO Championship next autumn. This is such a great and exceptional credit with a rottweiler that naturally we will change our plans. Luckily we already know the route to Switzerland!


What was your experience at this competition? Have you been for example more nervous than at the other trials?

All the arrangements worked very well and it was a pleasure to be a competitor at event this well organized. It’s always inspiring to see the best dogs and their handlers from all over the world competing against each other and especially when it’s all about rottweilers. I’m always a bundle of nerves when competing. Especially now when I hadn’t been able to train normally. Beginning of the summer was difficult because I was pregnant and then again there was a baby in the picture for rest of the summer. That’s why I hadn’t been able to train and polish our performance as much as I would have wished to do, so I had to count on the work I had done in the past with Mali. I felt this was not fair to Mali so I worried a lot. On the other hand having a baby with us at competition brought its own challenges. I wasn’t that nervous about the competition when I had to think about e.g. where and when I can nurse my son. Fortunately my husband was there and gave his support in everything.


What does it mean to you to participate in the IFR World Championship?

It’s always a great honor! We have seen very highly trained dogs in Finland lately so it’s already a merit to succeed so well in elimination that you’ll get in to Team Finland. I value IFR World Championship very higly and it’s inspiring to compete with the best from different countries. I’m very proud that Mali and I have now done it twice.


How is your dog enjoying the competitions comparing to normal training? Can you see any difference? Do you prepare yourself in different ways before the trials than you do in the normal days when you are not trialing?

As said I’m always very nervous before the trials. I can’t sleep well or eat before it’s our turn. I might actually become very cranky when I’m trying to concentrate. I go through all the parts in my head visualizing how I want them to look out. This is also my way to make sure I won’t forget something important. Mali is always keen to train but when we are at the competitions he rises to another level. The bigger the competition the greater is his willingness to star. We complete each other nicely. When the handler freezes the dog shines.


What are you getting out of dog sport?

Dogs are part of my everyday life and I couldn’t imagine a life without them. Dog sport is the way to work together with your dog and also experience emotions of  success. I have found some of my best friends within dog sport so I can say that it means a lot to me.


How long have you been involved in dog sport and what did you achieved with your dog/dogs? How many dogs did you already have?

I have started training dogs in 2000. My dogs have achieved the following titles: FIN TVA BH Wunderweiler Ofelia, FIN TVA BH Lemmenmäen Fiasko, TK3 BH Foda vom Schloss Hexental and IP3 JK2 TK1 BH MH Boxlee Hangman “Mali“. Unfortunately I had to let go one of my dogs already as a puppy because of health reasons. FIN TVA is the same as Finnish Obedience Champion. TK3 means that we achieved three First Prizes from Utility Class in Obedience. TK1 means three First Prizes from Novice Class. JK2 is Open Class in Finnish Tracking trial.


What does trialing require from the handler and the dog?

Both handler and dog must be skilled to be able to compete. I don’t participate in trials before I’m sure my dog has every opportunity to perform well. I don’t want to take my chance to go and see whether my dog happened to do something right today as it wouldn’t be fair to him. To succeed in trials a dog must be in good physical condition and well trained.  If a dog is not fit it increases the risk of injuries. And for sure the handler should also do exercise regularly... As said I always try to prepare so that my dog has all that it takes to do his best. I start training with a puppy bit by bit and make sure both correct technique and mood are there. Exercising builds base for a good physical condition. Besides that I take my dog to a massage and osteopath when needed. I’d rather prevent problems than treat them.


What does trialing brings you specifically?

For me it’s challenging myself. I worry a lot so when the trials take place I wish I would be somewhere else and question what’s the point in all this. On the other hand I want to show others what we have trained and bring out the best in my dog. I have absolutely magnificent dog at hand so I’m very happy we succeeded at Championship.


Do you have a method how to start and progress training with a young dog for dog sport?

I don’t have any specific training method but I always try to find the best methods for each dog. Most important is not to hurry and to proceed on dog’s terms. I won’t require anything from a dog before I’m sure I have taught it first. I train a puppy and a young dog at home and out on walks. Of course I train them in the field too but it’s not a must. Since the beginning it’s very important to me that the dog works in the right mood, it wants to work with me and do all that with joy. The same principle applies to tracking and bitework. I’m very lucky to be able to train with our helper Mikko Salmi. With Mikko we have brought Mali to his current level and there’s still a lot to do in the future...


Do you have some trick of your own? Something specific in the training for example. And if so, will you disclose it to us?

As said, no tricks. I try to be as fair as possible and train my dog well enough bringing also different distractions and challenges in the picture. I don’t demand too much from the dog but by working through challenges I can strengthen him in learning and building confidence. When training already a skilful dog I aim to train so that all three parts at trials are actually then very easy for him. And I really don’t participate in trials before there’s a realistic chance to breeze them through.


Could you tell us more about your trainings?

I train with food, a ball and a clicker. The main thing is to use a method which is best for the dog. The basics for every dog I teach with food. For me it’s easier to do technique that way, I can do several repetitions and the rewarding takes less time. Using a clicker is ideal to tell the dog the exact thing I want it to do and it quickens the learning. We have used a clicker both in obedience and in protection work, in tracking I use mainly food. While I teach a technique with a food I also play with the puppy by using a ball. Playing with a dog I build up our relationship and it also intensifies the right spirit. Bit by bit I start mixing all the rewarding methods and if a toy becomes better than a food then I start using it. With a skillful dog I use different rewarding methods and rewards based on what I want to strengthen.


What age of Mali have you started wit protection work?

Mali was 10 weeks old in his first protection training. As a puppy he mainly learnt how to play with a stranger and we concentrated in creating the right feeling while being in the training field. Of course you don’t have to start “training” with such a small puppy! With my previous dog we started after the baby teeth had fallen and it was early enough. When bearing in mind how important the control is I think it’s easiest to start with a youngster.


Have you ever been “outsmarted” by your dog on the trial?

Mali has a very good sense of humour. He is very playfull dog who can make up all kinds. Luckily nowadays Mali listens to me at trials. Only a year ago he amused the audience of Finnish breed Championship in send away. He turned heavily on right and I couldn’t see him anymore. When I commanded “down“ Mali appeared on top of wall ! Fortunately he didn’t obey immediately but climbed down first. :)


How would you motivate dog handlers to do the dog sport and to compete? Other people to have a rottweiler? :-)

You can either live a simple life or buy a rottweiler. ;-) Rottweiler is not the easiest breed. It takes patience and “black and white“ attitude to train a rottweiler. But at the same time rottweiler forgives the mistakes his trainer makes. Unfortunately there’s lots of differencies in rottweilers even in such a small country as Finland. But when you find the right one for yourself there’s no better dog! Dog sport is a great way to  achieve best possible harmony between yourself and a dog and succeed together. Training together makes a bond between the owner and the dog so it’s well worth all the trouble. For me the competitions are a way to present the skills and capabilites of my dog. What comes to breeding it’s very important that the dogs are not only lying on a sofa but we’ll get information about them.


What do you wish in the future with your dog? In the dog sport, in the normal life… What is important to you to be happy?

I wish health for my dog so that we can carry on training and living together for years. What comes to competitions, I have a few plans... Rottweiler IPO Championship in Finland and FCI IPO World Championship in Switzerland are my goal for next year. Another one is to perform so well in trials that Mali will get a title of Finnish Working Champion in IPO. Unfortunately the results made abroad won’t count. I’m also dreaming about participating in another trials than IPO but we’ll see if I have time for all this. And for sure IFR IPO Championship in Finland in 2016 will be one of our main goals in the future! However, what matters to me most is that Mali is well, enjoys being and training with me, is part of our everyday life and is magnificent himself.


What is your life motto?

I think I mentioned it already... You can either live a simple life or buy a rottweiler. ;-)

Thank you for the interview! :-)


Interview: Draha Mašková

Photo: Mari Kolkkala and Mario Montes Klaver