By Jim Nowlan
Sharon Columbus, of rural Toulon, and her German Shepherd, and Fulvio Zerla, of Toulon, and his Malinois (Belgian Shepherd), recently passed rigorous obedience trials held by the Peoria Police and Working Dogs Association at their training site near Dunlap.
The News caught up with Fulvio, who gave us a run-down on what was involved.
“The trials included both leash and off-leash activities for the owner and his or her companion dog,” said Fulvio. His Malinois is named Audi, who was rescued from a shelter in Quincy, where the animal otherwise most likely would have been euthanized.
Fulvio and wife Debbie Franklin have long been active supporters of the “no kill” Kewanee Animal Shelter, and they encourage readers to be supportive as well.
“The Kewanee Animal Shelter, on the east side of Kewanee, is a wonderful place,” declared Fulvio. The shelter is operated under the auspices of the Henry County Humane Society and derives almost all its revenues from contributions from the public.
Fulvio described the obedience trials: “Two dogs are tested at the same time. One dog is walked to the side of the trial field where the dog is ordered to lie down and is left off leash to watch the other dog perform.
“The well-trained dog performing must obey his owner’s commands and not be distracted by other dogs, people, cars or noises.
“In the first part of the trial, owner and dog perform a routine of exercises on leash that includes walking around four people. Then the dog is taken off the leash and the same exercises are performed.
“Next, the dog is directed to lie down while the owner moves away 30 paces. Under recall the dog must run to the owner, sit in front of him/her and, as ordered, circle behind the back and sit at the left of the owner ready for the next command.
At this point the dogs switch places and the performer becomes the watcher and vice versa.
“In the second part of the trial, all dogs undergoing testing, on leash following the owners, must stay calm and undistracted by a person approaching on a bike and another person on a motor vehicle.
“Later, the dogs on leash are left unattended and must not be provoked by an unknown person walking a dog in front of them.”
Both Fulvio and Sharon and their dogs passed with flying colors. Indeed, Sharon was given the award for “best of show” at the trials.
Mike West of Princeville guided Fulvio to train Audi
Fulvio said Audi had apparently had “a hard life.”
Fulvio and Debbie built a large fenced-off area near his home on the southwest side of Toulon. He tried several trainers before finding Mike West, of Princeville, a former K-9 Unit leader with the Peoria Police Department. Mike continues to train dogs for drugs and explosives searches.
For a year and a half, Mike worked with Fulvio and Audi about once a week. In addition, Fulvio worked with Audi twice a day, for 30 minutes or more each time for about a month before the trial.
“The key is to build rapport between owner and animal, to build a partnership.
“The dog must look up at you all the time.
“Another dog owner that participated in the trial said ‘your dog loves you,’ which was gratifying,” noted Fulvio.
Fulvio said that Audi has all the good traits of a Malinois. “She is very smart and intuitive and very trainable.”
Malinois are a bit smaller than German Shepherds; Audi is 69 pounds.
“The Peoria Police have recently switched to Malinois from German Shepherds,” Fulvio noted.
By Jim Nowlan