Check out some of STSK9 and Nino Drowaert's interviews, news broadcasts, articles and speaking engagements below!
Live Interview Replays
Robert Cabral & Nino Drowaert
The Future of Dog Training
Florian Schneider & Nino Droweart
Larry Khron & Nino Drowaert
Obedience & E- Collar Talk
Maligator Mom (Kay Overlund) & Nino Drowaert
Elitism in Working Dog Circles
Larry Khron & Nino Drowaert
Becky Annah & Nino Drowaert
Markers & Priorities
Tank Mosley & Nino Drowaert
Talent Connects Acquired Competencies
Too Easy it Gets Too Boring
Television news station visits and interviews Nino after he forms his new company STSK9.
Police University Interview
Inside Look at Selection and Training
International Association of Canine Professionals 2022 Conference
Guest Speaker Nino Drowaert
Trainer vs. Coach (excerpt)
In the News
HONDENSPORT & SPORTHONDEN
Interview with a prominent Dutch working dog magazine
Nino, is interviewed about the innovations he has made in the dog training industry and his police k9 instructor career.
Follow up with Nino Drowaert
From policeman to freestyler
It has been nine years since we spoke with Nino Drowaert for an interview in Hondensport & Sport-honden. At the time, he was a police dog handler and instructor with a lot of ambition within his own force and the Belgian police landscape. Nino was a very motivated dog handler who understood all too well that dog sports and police dogs not only complement but also reinforce one another. He had the opportunity to lead the dog team in the largest police force in Belgium. (Note: Brussels is the largest city in Belgium with the most inhabitants. However, the city is divided into several police zones, unlike Antwerp, which has a single force with more than 2000 police officers). Some readers may perhaps recognize Nino from his spectacular films on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube or his own website. Nino has also taken a new and different path, and we are all too eager to learn more about this decision. Unlike 9 years ago, Axel Van der Borght was not physically present on behalf of Hondensport & Sporthonden, instead attending via Zoom. It goes without saying that Covid-19 has wreaked havoc and disrupted our daily lives. 'The times they are a-changin', as was once sung by Bob Dylan. A lot has changed for Nino, too.
Nino, What has changed for you throughout the past nine years?
Nino: "A lot. When it comes to my work with the Belgian police, the most important thing was receiving my instructor diploma. After that, my corps gave me the confidence to breathe new life into the dog team. My supervisor was not very familiar with the matter and was not afraid to admit that. An important realization to me was that the force could do with a more proactive stance.
A lot is expected of a dog handler in Belgium. Usually, he or she has to buy their own dog and train it, provide a kennel and car-compatible dog cage… I didn't think that was as it should be. Everything could have been a lot more professional in terms of nutrition, reimbursements, purchasing policy, material and training.
There was ample room for improvement, and at the police, such processes may take a very long time. We did not rush into any decisions and did a lot of research. For example, we went to visit our colleagues from Rotterdam/Rijmond to learn from them. We were received very warmly and collegiately by them. On the basis of that preliminary investigation, we have developed a team based on Antwerp’s example.
We were eventually able to turn a stagnant dog team into a truly competent tour de force. A change which I deem to be important is parting ways with clubs, which I did 7 years ago. This enabled me to better reflect on myself and my occupation, particularly regarding dog training I actively avoid pigeonholing, and I had grown somewhat exhausted with how clubs typically operate. Most people are very partial to programs and patterns, sometimes to their own detriment. That’s what inspired me to become a 'freestyler', as I prefer to call myself. In addition, many other things have happened as well. I became a father, I travelled a lot, and learned many new things."
You call yourself a 'freestyler'. What does that mean?
Nino: "I've always followed all dog sports. And I've trained combinations of things I loved, that appealed to me. I'm not too fond of imposed rules. By training so zealously, I have evolved in such a way that my movements are synchronized with that of my dog. In my world, my imagination is boundless. I noticed from the movies I posted that many people liked freestyle movies the most. Much more than the movies about classic training such as conventional retrieval exercises. People were also very surprised to learn that I did those freestyle exercises with my certified patrol dog. They seemed to love it. I no longer had to stick to the established program of a competitive sport, which was very liberating to say the least.
I was no longer limited in my inspiration and fantasy. Not by the program of the Belgian ring, nor by the program of the police dog. This gives my dog a sense of freedom that is very powerful and dynamic, but nonetheless in sync with myself. That is something you don’t typically see in the ring, for example. I am particularly successful in the USA because there are fewer clubs and decoys in a country much larger than ours. By learning from my methods, they are able to get started themselves. I am an inspiration and example to many, and that is a great honor to me. Yes, I'm quite proud of that."
Could you make Freestyling a new sport or discipline?
Nino: "Dog sports consists only of successive exercises that rarely deviate from a pattern and rules. These exercises are validated by a judge who will judge the order on the basis of imposed criteria. There is no room whatsoever to get creative with the imposed exercises for the participant or the judge. Freestyling, on the other hand, is all about your imagination and creativity while training your dog. For example, you can demonstrate very technical exercises in a completely arbitrary order. The focus is on a smooth and powerful presentation in which the “flow” is especially remarkable and unique, creating completely new movements and a captivating dynamic between you and your dog.
The purpose of this is to inspire and encourage other trainers to try new things and techniques. During my training camps, I have students compete against each other, and imitate each other's “freestyle” routine as closely as possible. In the final round, we look for the most original or best “flow”. The other students indicate their favorite or winner by giving them the loudest applause. In doing so, each student can take pride in their own talents, and that of their dogs. Isn’t that great? I would very much like to become a pioneer in order to popularize the freestyle sport on a worldwide basis".
You took the plunge to leave the police force temporarily, or maybe even forever. What convinced you to take that step?
Nino: "That's a good question. I was already working on an official sideline in 2016 under the name STSK9. I had just toured the USA and Canada. That was a fantastic experience. I remember that shortly after that trip, I began contemplating my decisions while I was working on a patrol in Antwerp. I began to think that coaching may truly be my passion. It was a dream that I had been pursuing for a long time, and I believed that I should take my chances.
I then began working on the idea that I had been thinking about for 10 years prior. I wanted to make it a reality, not merely a dream. As a result, I began writing and soon ended up creating Ultimate Control®. A unique training system for dogs".
Do you miss your police work?
Nino: "Very occasionally. When I see something on the news where a dog can make a difference That’s when I miss being on duty with my dog by my side. I always imagine what I would have done with my dog in that moment. In that sense, I miss being able to witness how much dogs can truly do for society".
What have you learned from those years as a dog handler, instructor and team leader with the Antwerp dog team?
Nino: "The moment you become an instructor, it is expected of you that you have the expertise to guide a team toward a certain result. The most important thing in coaching is not always the expertise or the technical training, It’s also the human side of the job. You must be able to work with people. You are appointed as a coach and an instructor. However, that new dog handler you’re training cannot choose you as a partner. Practically speaking, you’re only a functional coach.
However, you need to be more than a functional instructor. That is sometimes overlooked. People are always fixated on results and assessments, but that creates a fixed mindset, so to speak. The police thinks too much about the result of training. It is forgotten that obtaining a license only marks the beginning. Even though one is officially certified as a handler then, and the dog as a patrol dog. I have seriously underestimated training, coaching, evaluating and working operationally with a service dog myself, and it is actually almost an impossible combination of duties to uphold. That’s where mea culpa kicks in if you will.
Is working with a police dog as fun and exciting as we believe it is?
Nino: "It's not at all like what the television or internet will have you believe. The highlights of a dog handler after 10 years can only be expressed in a few minutes. So as a dog handler, you have to be very realistic about that. Otherwise, you will be in for disappointment.
There are many fun sides to working with a dog in the police force. These highlights are what appeal to and encourage most to-be dog handlers. But if one actually gets involved in an incident, their dream job may turn out to be a nightmare. Because this is where real danger and subsequently stress come into play. It often comes down to whether you also have other competencies than just being able to train a dog well. Competencies that every police officer should possess. Handlers sometimes get into trouble, for example, legal issues, because they have not used their dog correctly. This means that one’s analytical capacity must be very strong.
What advice would you give to a young police officer who is showing an interest in becoming a police dog handler?
Nino: "Development in different skills. One must know how to work in a small team, and recognize which interpersonal skills are involved. They must ask themselves what they can contribute to such a team. They must also be willing to learn constantly. Your time does not just consist of carrying out assignments with the dog. Try to develop all the skills that influence the quality of your work with the dog."
You are also a dog sport enthusiast. Do you see big differences between the world of dog sports and the world of police dogs?
Nino: "Yes, it is. There are big differences. Both in Belgium and everywhere else in the world. You might even say that the police has actually become a dog sport in itself. Unfortunately, police officers often forget the link with dog sports. For many police officers, dog sport is almost unspeakable. People look at it with condescension. However, police dogs also don't always show the level of proficiency that they are paid for. That is a truism, one which I am all too familiar with.
Let me give you an example. We see enough videos on YouTube or Facebook of dogs that do not let go of their target or are used incorrectly. This does not always paint a favorable picture of the police and their dogs. Unfortunately, you will find more of such clips on YouTube than videos where the work is done correctly. This is very disheartening, in my opinion.. In stressful situations, you often lose access to recently learned skills and you are limited, as it were, in your ability to deploy your talent. That's been scientifically proven."
Do you see major differences between dog handlers in Belgium and in other countries?
Nino: "From Australia to America, almost all police dog handlers have an identical mindset. Technique is not important to them, nor detail. But they underestimate that being a dog handler is a very difficult profession because it requires so many different competencies. Using all your competencies simultaneously requires talent. That is very often overlooked. It is not true that you can become a competent dog handler through training alone."
You have done your best to influence the development of the patrol dog in Belgium. Have you been able to set anything in motion?
Nino: "I think so, eventually. It was frustrating at times; one step forward and then two back, on more than one occasion. It has been a slow process with the police, I will say. But I persisted. When I was an instructor, I certainly had more influence on that. Nonetheless, we have been able to make the instructor training process longer and more practical. I also contributed to training the first dynamic explosives detection dog in Belgium, here in the Antwerp police zone."
Could you tell us more about this?
Nino: "In 2017 I went on a work trip to New York City and London to see how an explosives detection dog is deployed within the local police. I also looked into what added value such a dog could bring to our corps. A dynamic dog is able to detect a scent from a moving source. The dog can then locate the source. In the context of Vapor Wake dogs, as they are called there, I went to the USA. Based on my report, the police zone had eventually decided to follow this example in Antwerp. I had nothing to do with the actual performance. I only had an advisory role."
Do you also have experience with detection dogs?
Nino: "I have no practical experience with detection dogs, though I do know how a dog thinks and works. Throughout the years, I have met many specialized people who are very passionate about this matter, with whom I have had fascinating and insightful conversations. The USA is very active in this area. NYC alone, to give you an example, has 37 operational explosives detection dogs. This regards only the local police of the city, and does not take into account the federal dogs that are also on standby in the city.
In total, there were at least 50 teams working in the city that never sleeps. We do not have that level of presence and expertise in Belgium. Think about it, what if that dynamic dog sits down with a person to point out explosives? We really should have known such things. Teaching a dog a scent is something that we are also able to do here. There is a lot more to it, and our colleagues in the United States have more experience in that regard."
You weren't in favor of dual-purpose dogs if I recall correctly. Is that still the case, or have you changed your mind?
Nino: "Yes, you could say that I’ve changed my mind. Partly because of my workshop in Australia in the RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force). That was a great honor, I should say. They had attack dogs that could detect explosives in addition to detecting human presence. I have thoroughly considered their perspective and changed my stance on dual-purpose dogs as a result. Because of this, I am now well aware of the value that such a dog can have. Not every dog is capable of being a dual-purpose dog, of course; the dog in question must be able to handle it.
What does an ideal dog team look like for you? What expectations should such a team meet?
Nino: "I would map out all the competencies for such a team. People who want to be part of such a team must understand their own roles,, as well as that of their dogs. This plan would include a trajectory for both the dog and the handler. To match the right dog with the right handler. In a team, everyone has their own talents that we will develop further, the dogs are no exceptions to this principle".
You are a strong and driven trainer. Is there a possibility that you will demand too much from colleagues who are less passionate, less talented or less hard-working?
Nino: "I'm too demanding. I once assumed that if you had the discipline and worked hard enough, results would naturally follow. If you don't have the talent to learn something quickly, it takes a lot of energy. I didn't understand that people who were passionate lost so much energy. That might have been a big mistake. I wish I had realized that at the time. In that aspect, I have evolved quite a lot as a trainer. I've learned a lot, but I’ve also done my homework. Doing your best doesn’t always translate into achieving the best possible results when you lack the necessary talent, I am well aware of that now".
What do you believe is something in which you can still develop a lot, and what are your strongest points as a trainer?
Nino: "I've already thought a lot about that myself, actually. I have strong analytical skills. I quickly and thoroughly analyze what is happening in front of my eyes. And I can quickly find a solution without thinking much about it. I also have a lot of imagination, and a good sense of synchronicity. Unfortunately, I have little patience. I tend to be in a rush, and that is a downside. The more talented a dog is, the more energetic I will be. My talent is limited if a dog is less driven."
Which discipline do you like the most? The Belgian ring, or police work? Perhaps something else?
Nino: "I still like the Belgian ring the most. It is demanding in all aspects. For example the jumps (are the highest), bites are (the strongest), The environment is always distinctive, in at least one way or another. There is a lot variation in the exercises, attributes etc. I appreciate the raw talent that a dog must have to compete in this program. That said, I still prefer to do my own freestyle exercises".
Do you still have ambitions to participate in competitions?
Nino: Coaching is my greatest priority right now. I have never had the need for validation by an inspector. I don't need to have upwards of 300 points. If I am not content with my dog’s attitude despite scoring the maximum amount of points, then I will not be entirely satisfied. That said, I really enjoy the process. So there is certainly a chance that I will take up that challenge again in the future."
We now also know you under the name STSK9. Could you introduce that name to the readers? What does the abbreviation stand for, and what is the idea behind it?
Nino: "STSK9 = Specialized Training Services. The idea behind it is a thorough philosophy: being able to coach techniques to people within a given discipline".
What is the greater purpose of STSK9? What makes STSK9 different?
Nino: "The evolution of dog (sports) training has stagnated still when it comes to innovation and creativity. In any other training (top-class sport) environment, innovation and multi-disciplinarity can no longer be ignored to get to the ‘high performances'. In dog sports, however, people continue to hold on to the notion that 'the best performer (or champion)' is also 'the best trainer/coach'. The methods which have assisted ‘the champion’ in achieving the dog’s performance are held as an indisputable golden standard in regard to training processes, without any critical questioning to speak of.
You hardly see academic and multidisciplinary collaborations emerging. It is always only about skill development of the dog and the development of (mechanical) tools for support. But also always from the same single-minded vision/approach: focus on the dog. Although it is established from practice that the handler has the most important part in the development process of the dog, it is by no means known how to do this from a scientific and coaching approach. And if we then go one step further, and see how talent development is situated in this story, then it becomes very quiet in dog (sports) training country…
Talent development? Whose? From the dog? And what is that 'talent development of the dog'? And if you think you already know, 'how do you do that'? And above all: what does it get us?"
You have developed your own method that you call UltimateControl. Could you briefly describe that system?
Nino: "It's a paradox, really. It's impossible to have ultimate control over a living being. Such a thing doesn’t exist. A dog can have so much energy. That's the hardest thing to control, and thus the challenge. How can we convert that energy to help us in our endeavors? I have divided this concept into 5 pillars:
- Pillar 1 is Drive, or Energy
- Pillar 2 is movement: this is the most difficult aspect, both handler and dog
- Pillar 3 is Visuals: full control over the dog's head, what the dog is looking at
- Pillar 4 is Vocals: can you always ‘activate’ or ‘deactivate’ a dog?
- Pillar 5 is grip: everything that has to do with a dog's mouth (holding, biting, releasing etc.), full control over what a dog can do with its mouth
Control over these five Pillars is by definition UltimateControl".
How did you end up with this exact system?
Nino: "The traditional techniques are always accompanied by pressure. A battle against these tremendous urges, if you will. Initially, most people are happy with those urges. Soon, it becomes a nightmare, and people will begin to battle these urges. But I don't think that way. Rather, I want to learn how I can deal with these urges. can handle urges". A win-win situation, really, for both the handler and the dog. I want to express all the talents of a dog. I don't want a dog to become a slave to me. It should be able to do it on its own initiative, so that it may demonstrate all its talents without me pressuring it to do so. In that sense, I develop talents in a way that does not involve coercion and pressure".
What role do tools play in your training? Which ones do you use?
Nino: "Tools are subordinate to talent. Talent comes first. The more talented a dog is, the more drive, the more potential, the more you will have to use your own talents and perhaps even tools. This demands a spectrum of know-how, skill and attitude. I myself use a variety of tools, but with the necessary know-how and technique to properly apply them. Allow me to give you an example. We have 3 Pomeranians at home. Should I use an e-collar here? No, because that is not appropriate with this particular breed. Their urges compared to that of a Shepherd are more limited. The more limited a dog’s talents, the more limited the trainer's talents should be.
So it's not a yes or no. It's not black or white. I understand people who say that an e-collar should be possible. But I am more nuanced. Manufacturers themselves make the mistake of praising it to make things stop, correct. I believe it should be just the opposite. If you don't have the skills to use those tools, you can predict that problems will arise. So I use the e-collar to communicate even better with a dog."
What role do third parties play with you? Team members and decoys/helpers, as an example?
Nino: "When we are talking about a competition, that is very important. In that scenario, you have a collection of team members around you who also have highly developed talents in order to achieve a distinctive result".
When it comes to packing, when do you start practicing this with the dog? What conditions do you set to get started?
Nino: "From the moment the puppy is brought to its home. The conditions are that it is interested in exercise. It must show an interest in motor skills, through food for example. I then adjust the training based on each puppy's talents and skills."
You sometimes get criticism stating that your training is almost like a circus performance; Just to be clear: we do not share that opinion ourselves. But what is your response to that criticism?
Nino: "It is a double-edged sword, really. I think that this reaction signifies a lack of insight and respect. That one can teach a dog things outside of what he must know for the sport or the police is apparently not very well understood. I do not understand why a dog that can do more than what its program demands is seen in a negative light. On the other hand, I think that is a compliment. The tricks that dogs perform in the circus are very difficult. In that sense, the critics who believe that what I do is only a circus act thus compliment me, albeit not intentionally. They acknowledge that it takes a lot of work to do what I do. In any case, It will certainly never stop me from trying new things".
You have also capitalized on webinars and online courses. How exactly does that work?
Nino: "I have thrown all my concepts into different themes. Each webinar lasts 4-5 hours. It is either live or recorded. I use PowerPoints and instructional videos, including those of students. To prove not only that I am capable, but also that there are students that can show us exceptionally mesmerizing things. I sometimes invite guests, too. So you could say that I give theory lessons, but not in a traditional manner".
Do online courses have as much value as their in-person counterparts?
Nino: "There are people I've never met and who still achieve fantastic results. One of my best students lives in Canada and follows my system in its entirety. Technically speaking, I coach remotely, and that works very well. I myself am also surprised by this. Initially, I was rather skeptical about online lessons. But as time passed, I have come to find that it works very well. You have a greater reach with these online courses all over the world. Not everyone has the luxury that we have in Belgium, the Netherlands , Germany or France, where there are many clubs within a close proximity. I currently have 56,000 followers on Facebook. With that in mind, I own what is presumably the most followed page in the world concerning a single working dog trainer. Others big names include Ivan Balabanov, Michael Ellis and Bart Bellon. The reason why I have more followers is the fact that I appeal to a wider audience."
We understand that you work with professor Marc Debisschop What is his role in your story?
Nino: "Marc has developed a tool to assess talents, and that tool has been scientifically validated. Marc is a pioneer in talent development and is also a dog athlete himself, as well as a fan of the IGP. My story concerns skill development and talents. Coincidentally, that was Marc’s core business. Marc quickly saw parallels between us. He analyzed my talent. Thanks to him, I learned for the first time what exactly my talents were. I didn't know that about myself. I did however know that I had a lot of passion and discipline.
Together we wrote STS Masterview. A program which Marc had already developed for professionals, students, kids and top athletes. Using Marc’s prior expertise, we developed an equivalent for trainers and dogs. I think it is quite a unique concept, really. We map the talents of the dog; you could say that we scan the dog, as it were. We then proceed to ‘scan’ the handler. That is actually Marc's expertise. We then determine whether there is a match. Based on the results, we create a comprehensive plan. We emphasize not on the weaknesses, but rather the strengths. That is a major influence that Marc had, and still has on my approach. Strengths give us energy, weaknesses deprive us of it.
Because of the latter, people can give up because a certain skill does not suit them, for example. And we want to avoid that. I think STSK9 is the first firm in the dog world to externally engage a consultant to provide such scientific support. Marc's psychometric instrument is the only scientifically validated instrument in the world that can decouple talent from energy. Talent is not necessarily something that gives you energy. That's a misconception."
‘Healthy minds live in healthy bodies’ seems to apply to dogs, too. What do you do to get and keep your dogs in peak shape?
Nino: "Exercise is the main competence, and to achieve that you need high-quality means to encourage the dog do what it needs to. You are what you eat, as they say. That is why I consciously choose DUCK frozen food. For the best possible results, you must choose the best available products. I am now sponsored by DUCK, but I have been feeding this food for much longer. Over the years, I have become acquainted with many different products. Well, DUCK makes a world of difference for me. there are still too many trainers who think they can succeed with cheap, less qualitative food".
Text: Axel Van der Borght
Photos: D. Sebastien - WPS oneshotK9, Nino Drowaert archive