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Katya Davydenko — Training working dogs

Ekaterina Davydenko of Site Infrastructure & Programs Software loves all breeds of dogs but was drawn to working dogs.
April 24, 2019
  • Katya Davydenko
  • Katya Davydenko
  • Katya Davydenko
  • Katya Davydenko
  • Katya Davydenko
“There’s nothing quite like being a team, you and your dog. During a competition, you can really feel how well your dog is doing—you know at a deep level what his or her capabilities are. That connection—it’s very satisfying.”

Training working dogs

Ekaterina Davydenko of Site Infrastructure & Programs Software (SAE-3) and her Belgian Malinois “Sparkles” take to an auxiliary field off Overlook Park in White Rock, New Mexico. Using inflections in her voice, Katya commands Sparkles to sit, drop down on all fours, and walk alongside her while on and off a leash. Thinking everything is a game, Sparkles complies, his ears up and tail swinging from side to side. Katya then begins to teach her dog more advanced tasks, such as seeking out and retrieving objects and tracking a scented trail that is at least 20 minutes old.

Katya Davydenko
Katya Davydenko and Sparkles.

“I’ve always loved the company of dogs, ever since I was a little girl,” says Katya with a smile. “Dogs, they just have such a special bond with us. It’s a trust I would say is not the same as that between two people—it’s a much deeper connection. Dogs want so much to please you, and that makes you want to please them, too.”

A fascination with dog training

Sparkles performs a “bite and hold” designed to subdue a threat.

Although she loves all breeds of dogs, Katya was drawn to working dogs. Working dogs are canines that have been bred not simply as pets but as animals that can help and support their human companions.

Working dogs go far back in history, with Roman soldiers using them to pull carts and Arctic tribes using canine teams to pull sleds across snow. The utility of working dogs knows no bounds, as dogs today are used to control livestock on ranches, help with military and police operations, guide the visually impaired and provide cheer and support for those confined to hospitals and retirement facilities.

“A coworker of mine is actually a founder of the Endeavor Working Dog Club, and she was responsible for me beginning my journey in training working dogs,” says Katya. “I remember she had a bunch of pictures in her office of such training, and I was, ‘Wow, what is this?’ In response, she invited me out to Overlook Park to watch dog training first hand, and from that point on I became a regular participant.”

Katya learned all about the dog-training sport originally known as Schuthund (German meaning “protection dog”), which today is known as IGP (German for Internationale Gebrauchshund Pruefung, which means “International Working Dog Test”). Katya has trained two dogs in this type of training, Max (a Doberman-Boxer mix who is now retired) and Sparkles.

“The idea behind IGP is to maintain a working skill set for all breeds of working dogs, although originally Schuthund was primarily for the German Sheppard breed,” says Katya. “There are judged competitions where trainer and dog are put through a variety of challenges to obtain a certain degree, or rank, of trained proficiency.”

IGP titles consist of BH (basic training that demonstrates simple obedience and good temperament), IGP 1 (intermediate obedience, basic tracking and basic protection), IGP II (advanced obedience and intermediate tracking and protection) and IGP III (advanced obedience, tracking and protection, a combination that beautifully illustrates a partnership between human and dog).

“I successfully competed with my dog Max for several years, but he got too old for competition, so now he’s retired,” Katya says with a laugh. “I am now competing with my new dog, Sparkles. We participated in an April 2019 competition, but Sparkles did not pass the tracking portion. So, training continues—it truly never ends, actually.”

Giving dogs a helping hand

Katya trained dogs like Dallas to increase their chances of adoption.

From early 2013 to late 2015, Katya volunteered at the Los Alamos Animal Shelter. As a fledgling dog trainer, she wanted to try her hand at training other breeds of dogs other than working dogs. Katya spend her lunch hours working with all kinds of dogs, teaching them basic obedience and socializing them so they were not wary of human contact.

“Many of the dogs at the shelter, they’ve had some difficult experiences,” Katya explains. “My goal was to make them more adaptable, social, so it would be easier to find them good homes. It’s interesting that it was much easier to work with high-energy dogs than it was for those who were shy or had shut down and just wanted to be left alone. Reaching these withdrawn dogs and making them social again—it was a satisfying and great experience for me.”

Ekaterina Davydenko works for the Site Infrastructure & Programs Software group (SAE-3).


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the Employee Spotlight articles are solely those of the featured employees and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Los Alamos National Laboratory.