Erin O'Shea, Scientist & IGP Champion

July 19, 2023

 Erin O'Shea is an IGP competitor, former professor at Harvard University, and current President of Howard Hughes Medical Institute. She is a x2 WUSV World Universal Sieger Champion and x4 American national IGP champion with three separate dogs. Erin has a quiet, understated demeanor. She radiates an intense passion for life. Whether you consider academic, professional or dog sport achievement, Erin is one of the most accomplished people one will likely meet. Erin’s accademic and professional background focused on intellectual endevours are an fascinating contrast to the physical activity of dogs competing in bite sports (IGP). This unusual combination inspired me to write this story.

Erin O'Shea.230430._DSC0786.wErin O'Shea.230430._DSC0786.wErin O'Shea & Joker von der Beizjagd. 2023 AWDF National Championship, Little Rock, AR. Photographer

2023 AWDF IGP National Champions


For starters these are a few of the highlights over the last 12 years:

• 2011 1st Place GSDCA Universal Sieger National Championship w/ Zambo vom Reidschlurgi
• 2011 1st Place WUSV Universal Sieger World Championship w/ Zambo vom Reidschlurgi
• 2012 1st Place WUSV Universal Sieger World Championship w/ Zambo vom Reidschlurgi
• 2014 3rd Place WUSV Universal Sieger World Championship w/ Zambo vom Reidschlurgi
• 2016 1st Place GSDCA IGP National Championship with Jonboy Vikar
• 2018 1st Place USCA IGP National Championship with Vegas von der Burg Hinte
• 2019 18th Place WUSV with Vegas von der Burg Hinte
• 2023 1st Place AWDF IGP National Championship with Joker von der Beizjagd (BHOT)

Zambo vom Riedschlurgi

Erin grew up in a small town in upstate New York with German Shepherds as family companions. She left home to attend University, which kept her busy and unable to have a dog for a spell. Things changed in 2008 when she saw a working-line German Shepherd in the Denver airport, which rekindled her interest in dogs. Soon after, she bought her first German Shepherd, Zambo vom Riedschlurgi, a show line import puppy from Sabrina Hatfield. She trained Zambo from puppy to x2 WUSV Universal World Champion (2011-2012)! This is impressive, but doing so with a first dog and a show line makes this astonishing.

I am not a world-level competitor I cannot speak from personal experience of what it takes to be one. Through photography, however, I have had the privilege to spend considerable time with many of the most talented IGP competitors in the world and have found they share numerous traits. What may seem like luck from afar could not be further from reality. Natural talent will only take one so far. Talent with relentless hard work and resilience is a good foundation. Top competitors have exacting standards for their performance and expectations of their dogs and for themselves that most would not understand. When most competitors are done and say "good enough," is exactly the point at which the top flight performers are just getting warmed up. Rain or shine, dog sport is prioritized in their lives. The relationships between top competitors and their dogs inspire me profoundly. It also takes support of the best protection helpers which means traveling and sacrifices. These types of nuanced details are what I hoped to learn from Erin for this story, and I was not disappointed.

Erin first learned of dog sports through a coworker at her research laboratory who was training her German Shepherd Dog in Schutzhund. Erin looked into the sport and thought it could be an excellent way to train Zambo. She worked with Lance Woodley to advance Zambo to Schutzhund III. They did two local club trials in Germany where Zambo’s breeder lives. These trials qualified them to compete in the LG12 German regional championship. The performance revealed some issues with training. Zambo's breeder suggested that Erin look up T. Floyd in the U.S. for training help. T. Floyd is a multi-time national champion and has represented the USA in the world stage many time. His children are now national caliber IGP competitors.

One call and a good deal of persuasion later, T. Floyd agreed to evaluate Zambo and shortly after became their coach. The 5-hour commute to train with T. Floyd became their routine. This partnership proved to be a perfect dynamic. It led to numerous stunning achievements, first becoming the 2011 GSDCA Universal Sieger Championship and shortly after winning the 2011 WUSV Universal Sieger World Championship in Austria! Erin had to pinch herself as she stood on the #1 box next to IGP legends Jozef Adamuscin and Fritz Bieheler. This is an unimaginable achievement with a first IGP dog. They repeated the achievement at the WUSV Universal Sieger World Championship in Slovenia the following year.

Zambo's life off the field was living in the house and going to work with Erin. She was devastated when Zambo died at only eight years of age of hemangiosarcoma.

Johnboy Vikar

When Erin was ready to have another dog, she unsuccessfully tried to find another show-line German Shepherd like Zambo. She eventually decided to go with a working line suited to dog sports. She found Jonhboy Vikar, a young dog with an excellent foundation from Vit and Jana Glisnik in the Czech Republic. Erin trained with T. Floyd and then with Christian Mieck. Johnboy became GSDCA IGP National Champion before the age of three.

Vegas von der Burg Hinte

As Johnboy enjoyed success, Erin became enamored with Christian Meick's dog, Vegas von der Burg Hinte. Vegas had confidence, power, drive, and of course, excellent training from Christian. Christian earned 3rd place with Vegas at the German National IGP Championship (BSP). Vegas was only 2.5 years old then, and Christian agreed to let Erin take over training with Vegas. Christian stayed heavily involved in the training with both Erin and Vegas. As a team, they became the 2018 USCA IGP National Champions. The following year they placed 15th at the WUSV World Championship.

Gala von der Mohnwiese

Christian had started a super female, Gala von der Mohnwies. She had a terrific foundation in place when he sold her to Erin. Again, Christian stayed involved with the training, and together as a team, Erin trained Gala to IGP3.


Joker fon der Beizjagd

Gala bred to Vegas at the beginning of the pandemic. This was Erin's first breeding and produced her current competition dog Joker von der Beizjagd. COVID made it impossible to continue training with Christian, who lives in Germany, so she had to find another way. Erin discovered Canemo, a series of videos from Sarah Prelle and Marko Koskensalo, which teaches handlers how to train various parts of protection and obedience – from the puppy stage to adult. She started the Canemo system with Joker when he was eight weeks old. She then worked with Marko Koskensalo one weekend each month for essentially all of 2021 to train protection and some obedience. The Canemo system changed her approach to training. Instead of waiting for the dog to make a mistake then apply correction, the system shifts focus to elevating communication and utilizing and channeling the dogs emotions into the work. She also realized that dogs want to do right. When they don't, it is because they don't understand. Erin spent some time with T. Floyd and Mike Sweeney in preparation for the 2023 AWDF National Championship, working on small details. The hard work paid off, and Erin won her 4th National Championship and a spot on the USA FCI World Championship Team. She will be teamed with Sarah Prelle of the Canemo team, and Marko will be the team captain.

Erin's husband Doug

Top flight helper support has played an essential role in Erin's dog sports journey. However, no one has provided more encouragement and support for her passion than Doug. He has been there through all the travel, training, and trials. Doug is now training his own dog and doing well with Java, who is Joker's littermate. Erin and Doug are a loving couple who interact respectfully and share in each other's joy.

Professional Life

Erin is a scientist. She discovered a love of science after her first research experience as a freshman at Smith College. Captivated by the idea that there was so much we did not understand about the natural world. Her passion for science and research led to a Ph.D. in Chemistry at MIT and then to faculty positions, first at the University of California at San Francisco and then at Harvard. Erin is the President of Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the largest biomedical philanthropy in the U.S. They support scientists all over the U.S. at universities and research institutes, and they have a research campus in Ashburn, VA, where Erin has does much of her work.

Erin has found that the love for science and dog sports have similarities. First, the power of observation and experiments – to watch the response and behavior of the dog and try different ways of teaching and communicating. These are akin to experiments. Second, perseverance and resilience are critical in science and dog training. In science, one tests a hypotheses with experiments, often proving the models are wrong, requiring one to think up new models. This cycle and determination to discover are key to success. With dog training, we test the dog to find the problems; then, we must work to find a new way to train to resolve the issue. These parallels may be why Erin enjoys both as much as she does.

Erin lives at the extreme level of commitment, where few are brave enough to venture. She does this in both her profession and in dog sports. Erin finds balance by keeping life simple. She has only one hobby- dog sports. She expresses her passion for life through science, dogs sports, and time with her husband.

C Erin O'Shea.20181103_BrianAghajani_02914-2.wC Erin O'Shea.20181103_BrianAghajani_02914-2.wErin O'Shea & Vegas von der Burg Hinte IPO3. 2018 USCA GSD Naional IPO Champion. Pittsburg, PA. Brian Aghajani Photography Erin O'Shea.20181103_BrianAghajani_03111-2.wErin O'Shea.20181103_BrianAghajani_03111-2.wErin O'Shea & Vegas von der Burg Hinte IPO3. 2018 USCA GSD Naional IPO Champion. Pittsburg, PA. Brian Aghajani Photography Podium.181104.20181104_BrianAghajani_03225-2.wPodium.181104.20181104_BrianAghajani_03225-2.w11/4/2018 USCA GSD National IPO Championship. Pittsburgh, PA. Brian Aghajani Photography Podium.181104.20181104_BrianAghajani_03371-Edit.wPodium.181104.20181104_BrianAghajani_03371-Edit.w11/4/2018 USCA GSD National IPO Championship. Pittsburgh, PA. Brian Aghajani Photography Podium.181104.20181104_BrianAghajani_03410.wPodium.181104.20181104_BrianAghajani_03410.w11/4/2018 USCA GSD National IPO Championship. Pittsburgh, PA. Brian Aghajani Photography C Erin O'Shea.190331.20190331-762_7126.wC Erin O'Shea.190331.20190331-762_7126.wErin O'Shea & Vegas von der Burg Hinte. Make GSD IGP3. 2019 AWDF National IGP Championship in Littlerock, AR. Brian Aghajani Photography. C Erin O'Shea.190331.20190331-762_7339.wC Erin O'Shea.190331.20190331-762_7339.wErin O'Shea & Vegas von der Burg Hinte. Make GSD IGP3. 2019 AWDF National IGP Championship in Littlerock, AR. Brian Aghajani Photography. C Erin O'Shea.190331.20190331-762_8394.wC Erin O'Shea.190331.20190331-762_8394.wErin O'Shea & Vegas von der Burg Hinte. Make GSD IGP3. 2019 AWDF National IGP Championship in Littlerock, AR. Brian Aghajani Photography. C Erin O'Shea.190331.20190331-762_8409.wC Erin O'Shea.190331.20190331-762_8409.wErin O'Shea & Vegas von der Burg Hinte. Make GSD IGP3. 2019 AWDF National IGP Championship in Littlerock, AR. Brian Aghajani Photography. USA-3 * Erin O'Shea.191002.20191002-762_6073.wUSA-3 * Erin O'Shea.191002.20191002-762_6073.wErin O'Shea & Vegas von der Burg Hinte. Team USA-3. 2019 WUSV IGP World Championship in Modena, Italy. Brian Aghajani Photography. USA-3 * Erin O'Shea.191005.20191005-153_0618.wUSA-3 * Erin O'Shea.191005.20191005-153_0618.wErin O'Shea & Vegas von der Burg Hinte. Team USA-3. 2019 WUSV IGP World Championship in Modena, Italy. Brian Aghajani Photography. 1 People.191006.20191006-153_2534.w1 People.191006.20191006-153_2534.w2019 WUSV IGP World Championship in Modena, Italy. Brian Aghajani Photography. USA-3 * Erin O'Shea.191006.20191006-153_2790.wUSA-3 * Erin O'Shea.191006.20191006-153_2790.wErin O'Shea & Vegas von der Burg Hinte. Team USA-3. 2019 WUSV IGP World Championship in Modena, Italy. Brian Aghajani Photography. C Erin O'Shea.191102.20191102-762_0677.wC Erin O'Shea.191102.20191102-762_0677.wErin O'Shea & Vegas von der Burg Hinte. IPG3. Male GSD. 2019 USCA GSD National Championship. Pittsburgh, PA. Brian Aghajani Photography C Erin O'Shea.191102.20191102-762_2060.wC Erin O'Shea.191102.20191102-762_2060.wErin O'Shea & Vegas von der Burg Hinte. IPG3. Male GSD. 2019 USCA GSD National Championship. Pittsburgh, PA. Brian Aghajani Photography Erin O'Shea.230429._DSC1468.wErin O'Shea.230429._DSC1468.wErin O'Shea & Joker von der Beizjagd. 2023 AWDF National Championship, Little Rock, AR. Photographer: Brian Aghajani Erin O'Shea.230429._DSC1829.wErin O'Shea.230429._DSC1829.wErin O'Shea & Joker von der Beizjagd. 2023 AWDF National Championship, Little Rock, AR. Photographer: Brian Aghajani

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