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“SO,” YOU MIGHT HEAR BOKER say to himself, “what’s on the agenda for today? Shooting an episode of my hit TV show ‘Person of Interest?’ A World Championship in tracking? Agility? Protection? Hanging out in Germantown with my co-star Lola hunting for our favorite blue balls?”

Boker’s close friend Lola might ask herself, “Am I on ‘The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon’ again tonight? I love the bit where I attack the dummy, although an agility competition might be fun too.”

Indeed, two of Columbia County’s residents are stars in many arenas.

Boker is a Belgian Malinois–a type of working dog similar to a German Shepherd. In the early 1900s, the sport then called “Schutzhund” and now known as IPO (Internationale Prüfungs-Ordnung or International trial rules) was developed as a test for breed conformity. Today, it is both a competitive sport and a test for many breeds of working dogs, used to identify traits like a strong desire to work, courage, intelligence, agility, trainability, a strong bond to the handler, a strong sense of smell, perseverance and a protective instinct. Dogs having these traits are often trained for police work, like tracking, drug searches and search and rescue.

Boker and his trainer/handler Fabian Robinson of Germantown won the five-day 2014 IPO World Championship held in Sweden–the first American dog and handler ever to do so–and the two will compete again this year in Switzerland.

Competition is just one of Boker’s gigs. Several years ago he auditioned for a one-time spot on “Person of Interest,” a science fiction crime drama TV series. Viewer reaction was so positive that Boker (known as Bear on the show) was kept on as a regular and given his own webpage on which he answers viewers’ questions. In his first episode, Bear was seen riding in a car, racing through city streets. The car, in actuality, was sitting on a flatbed truck moving through New York City at 2 a.m., with Mr. Robinson harnessed to the outside of the car giving the dog commands, an “exciting new challenge,” as Mr. Robinson put it.

When Boker has “downtime,” he visits with his owner, Brian Hamilton, in Virginia, often performing to raise money for rescue groups and other causes, such as autism.

Lola, also a Malinois, is owned, trained and handled by Mr. Robinson’s fiancé, Samantha Almeida. Lola shines in agility competition, in which she has received a number of significant awards, and she, too, has a media presence. She has appeared on “Person of Interest,” and she has a recurring role on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon,” faux wrestling with a dummy.

Mr. Robinson describes the Belgian Malinois as the “Ferrari of working dogs,” by which he means hard to own, tightly-wound, high-energy and a bit high-maintenance. The dogs are “on” day and night, and generally are not considered a house pet for that reason. By comparison, he considers the German Shepherd “mellow.” Yet, in the ring, Lola and Boker are so precise that their performances are actually “flashy,” as Mr. Robinson puts it, as their many YouTube videos illustrate.

Mr. Robinson and Ms. Almeida both grew up in upstate New York. He was a professional jockey for some years, until he “outgrew the sport,” literally. He received four years of schooling in dog training and handling in New York City, and Ms. Almeida was similarly schooled in Texas. They operated a business on Long Island until their desire for more land brought them to Germantown where they and their dogs enjoy a former horse farm. They operate K9 Team Training, where they offer everything from “doggy bootcamps” to less intense sessions for house pets and where they train working dogs for competition.

Their approach is to teach dogs to problem-solve. In nature, they note, animals learn through trial and error which behaviors bring rewards or, conversely, are to be avoided. Domestication has taken that thinking ability away from dogs. When dogs are trained to choose behaviors for themselves, as in nature, they will choose that conduct which brings a reward. Mr. Robinson believes that dogs thereby achieve greater freedom than when their owners are constantly tugging on their leashes or issuing commands.

Mr. Robinson likens it to human society, “where freedom is the product of having necessary and agreed rules that are obeyed.” Much as Ms. Almeida and Mr. Robinson believe that canine competitions should be fun and a challenge for the participating dogs, they believe that training should enable both dogs and their owners to enjoy better their time together. Judging from how Lola leaps into K9’s indoor training ring for a session, the strategy is working.





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