by Rebecca Wong
The 2004 Lanting Sieger Show Tour was wonderful experience. We had a group of great dog people, great bonhomie and we learned a great deal from traveling together. Born in Hawaii, I left the islands at age 20 and I never saw much reason to vacation anywhere else! Going to Europe was a something totally different for this “newbie” GSD owner. I had a blast on the trip and learned `way more than I thought I would.
Trains, planes and automobiles
Karlsruhe, the site of the 2004 Sieger Show is located between the Stuttgart and Frankfurt airports and not particularly close to either. Most of the other Sieger show sites are located near only one airport so the group meets up at the airport after flying in on their own. Tour participants purchase their own tickets to Germany and try to find the lowest fare available. Fred and a quarter of the group flew into Stuttgart and the rest went to Frankfort. Fred organized us prior to departure so those arriving at about the same time would meet up and take the train together to Karlsruhe. We also exchanged emails with clues on how to identify each other at the airport.
Four of us arrived at Frankfurt on Thursday morning so we found each other and then followed the signs to the train station. The station ticket office looked like a small travel agency. The English-speaking agent was very helpful and she sold us a discount group ticket since there were four of us traveling together so we only paid €20 (euro) each for the one-way ticket to Karlsruhe.
The German public transportation system is a marvel! I am glad we took the train instead of renting a car. The state-of-the-art train station at the airport and the beautiful high-speed train were amazing. We took a cab from the train station to the hotel. We easily could have saved €14 cab fare by taking one of the many modern trolleys that ran past the station because train tickets allow you to transfer to local public transit for no additional fare.
Karlsruhe: the Radial City
We received a pleasant welcome at the Erbprinzenhof hotel (where Fred always puts his group when the show is there) located above a newsstand and a clothing store. Room keys in hand, we went to our rooms and took a much-needed afternoon nap. A great tolling of the bells from a nearby church awakened most of the sleepers so the whole group assembled for the first time. We dined indoors in a German pub at the nearby Europaplatz (plaza) and got acquainted with each other. After dinner we spent a bit of time wandering through Karlsruhe’s thriving, clean downtown.
The hotel guest rooms were small by American standards but they were comfortable and I enjoyed the clean lines of the room’s modern décor. The plumbing was a bit different from what we have in America but it was easy to figure out. Our sleep disrupted by the time difference but I was so excited about going to the Sieger show that I didn’t notice.
Karlsruhe (Karl’s Rest) is so named because Magrave (Prince) Karl-Wilhelm of Baden, dozed off there while hunting and decided to relocate his capital to that very peaceful spot some 300 years ago. The Magrave chose an innovative design for his Schloss (often translated as castle) and his new city. Instead of a castle, he built a baroque palace surrounded by gardens and open woodland instead of fortifications. The layout of Karlsuhe is quite radical: the boulevards curve in concentric circles around the Schloss and other thoroughfares radiate from the Schloss like the spokes of a wheel. Pierre L’Enfant was so inspired by Karlsruhe that he incorporated some of its design into his plan for Washington, D.C. Today, the Schloss is a large multi-use woodland park with museums, restaurants, fountains, state of the art playgrounds, ball fields and a small passenger railway. We saw people and families of all ages riding their bikes through the park including many young adults towing their toddlers in bike trailers. I was particularly thrilled to see senior couples biking together.
The Wildpark Stadion, site of the Sieger show was diagonally across the Schloss from our hotel. On our walk to the stadium, we passed through downtown Karlsruhe, the formal gardens of the Schloss complete with statues and fountains, and then through the wooded areas surrounding the stadium. It took about ½ hour to walk there and it was a great way to start the day.
Our hosts at the hotels provided us with a hearty breakfast. In Karlsruhe we got fruit, granola, yogurt, hardboiled eggs, assorted breads and some good quality cold cuts in addition to juices, tea and regular coffee. Decaffeinated coffee was rarely found in our travels. Fred advised us to make a sandwich to bring with us to the show to avoid the high prices and long lines at the concession stands. The Erbprinzenhof hotel also sold Coke in reusable bottles from the front desk: that was a blast from the past!
Friday: The Courage Tests:
On Friday, we left bright and early at 7 AM, bought our 3-day tickets at the stadium gate and once inside, our show catalogs. On Friday, the main event is the Courage Tests for the Working Class (dogs over 24 months of age with schutzhund or herding titles) of both sexes. The first exercise of the courage test is the surprise attack from the blind, consisting of an off-lead heel up to the front of blind with a concealed agitator. The agitator attacks as the dogs and handler approached the blind. The dog should respond to the attack with a strong bite on the agitator’s bite-sleeve. The release of the bite-sleeve is very important: dogs should release when the agitator stops resisting; if that doesn’t happen, the dog is commanded by the handler to out. A handler has three attempts to get the dog to release with the out command. The exercise also tests obedience: dogs that can not heel far enough before leaving to seek the agitator have to restart the exercise and only three attempts are allowed to perform the heeling correctly.
Fred explained that the bite at the blind is the more difficult of the two exercises. Because of their training, the dogs know the agitator will be coming but they have only a few strides to prepare themselves for the bite. Dogs struggling with control have a harder time concentrating on heeling when the agitator is so close.
If the team successfully completed the first exercise, they moved to the far end of the field for the long distance attack. A second agitator comes charging towards the team and the dog is commanded to attack, running roughly 50 yards across down the field to get their bite. After the completion of the courage test, the dogs were sent off to individual conformation exams.
The staging area outside of the courage test ring was lively. Waiting dogs were warmed-up by helpers wearing bite sleeves with lots of whip cracking. Traffic was heavy near the staging area, so I did not linger too long. It would have been interesting follow the ways different dogs were the warmed up.
The number of different problems encountered during the courage test gave me a true appreciation of how demanding bitework is. Handlers had three attempts to free heel their dog to the blind. Some of teams needed all three and some could have used more. Many dogs were slow to release the bite sleeve and dogs often that took nippy re-bites after the initial release. A few dogs had problems making a firm bite or failed to take a bite.
Three ratings are given in the courage test: Failed, Sufficient and Pronounced. Dogs with a rating of Failed are eliminated from the show. A dog is required to earn a rating of Pronounced in order to be eligible for a V (excellent) or VA (excellent-select) rating. The highest possible show rating for a dog earning Sufficient in the courage test is SG (very good). The courage test judge was lenient; many dogs were given a rating of Pronounced when their performance merited a Sufficient.
Fred was able to predict which dogs would have difficulty based on their behavior as they entered the ring and waited their turn. A dog should stride right in and appear to be thinking, “Where is the guy I am supposed to bite?” A dog exhibiting displacement [or avoidance] behavior: sniffing the ground, lip licking or inattentively looking away prior to starting the test, was a very good indicator that the test would not go smoothly.
Interestingly, dogs that were slinking during their free heel to the blind performed well in the test although it certainly looked odd. Fred explained that these dogs really wanted at the sleeve but had been trained forcefully not to break out of the heel. These dogs, struggling to restrain themselves, slink like a big cat stalking its prey while trying to maintain heel position with their handler!
In retrospect, watching the Sieger Show Courage Tests is a lot like watching the Army-Navy Football game. The [playing od] football may not be the greatest but the men and women on the field and in the stands are the finest that our nation has to offer.
Shopping at the Show:
A large vendor area ringed half way around the outside of the stadium and many accepted major American credit cards. There were about 20 different booths selling show supplies, dog training toys and Schutzhund equipment. The dog food companies with booths at the show were all new to me. Surprisingly there wasn’t as much GSD clothing for sale as I had expected. One clothing vender that caught my eye was Stick In (www.stickin.de) that featured embroidered GSD designs on their clothing. I purchased a sweatshirt with a large embroidered GSD leaping across the back; it was quite the hit when I wore it to training class at home.
Videos and DVDs taken at the Sieger and other shows were available for purchase. Another booth was selling software for a comprehensive GSD pedigree database. Now available in English, the Sieger Show yearbooks published by Foto Urma (www.fotourma.com ) were for sale around €60. The yearbooks print all the evaluations of the dogs exhibited in the show and most include a photo of the dog. The SV show records are amazingly comprehensive and detailed so each edition of the book is rather hefty. Every dog in the show that completes judging receives a placement and an evaluation. All dogs entered in the show are noted: the dogs who received an excuse from the show vet are listed and the dogs who failed the Courage Test are listed with a code explaining why they failed. There are also ads for kennels, action photos of the dogs in the conformation ring and casual photos of people at the show. Some of the books from previous years were still available.
In Germany most exhibitors come to shows in cars or small station wagons usually towing their dogs in a trailer. Several of these aluminum trailers with built-in, ventilated kennels and storage areas for supplies were on display. Slant front aluminum kennels, designed to fit in the hatch of a station wagon are another popular way to transport dogs.
Saturday: The Progeny Groups and the Youth Classes:
On Saturday, the day started with the Progeny Groups. I was flabbergasted by how much uniformity there was in the small early Progeny Groups. Fred just smiled, saying the groups would be getting even better as the class progressed and they did! After getting over the fact that the Germans cherish the concept of the “cookie cutter” breeding, I began to appreciate how useful the Progeny Groups are. Although, the sire of the group may not be present at the show, all of the progeny in the group must be entered in the Sieger show. Obviously, the offspring are a highly select subset of a sire’s total offspring. Despite the exclusivity of the group, the many qualities that could be inherited from a sire were there for discernment.
The progeny groups are not ranked after the judging but a large impressive group will advance the standing of a sire entered in the show. Larus v. Batu’s group was huge! The group nearly formed a complete circle around the outside of the stadium soccer field! Most of the Larus’ offspring were under 2 years of age. I personally preferred Hill v. Farbenspiel’s group, which featured older dogs that looked more finished and pleasing to my eye.
I left the show after the progeny group to do a little shopping at Karlsruhe’s Marketplatz (Market Square). A delightful department store on the plaza made me feel like I was stepping back into my favorite long gone, downtown department store back home. On my way back to the show, the amazing children’s playground in the Schloss beckoned and if no one had been looking, I would have tried some of the equipment out.
Back at the show, it took some effort to find the tour group who were watching the 18-24 month class in the fields outside the stadium. The crowd was 4 or 5 deep along the fences bordering the field. Keeping one eye on the double-handlers charging around the rings, I searched the crowd for familiar faces. German double handlers are a courageous lot; dodging trees and wandering spectators, they ran tirelessly, calling their dogs and sounding their horns.
At the conclusion of the 18-24 month class, we returned to the hotel and regrouped for a delightful dinner at an Indian restaurant. Some friends of Fred from Malaysia, Pakistan, and India joined us. I learned how difficult it is to keep dogs in Islamic countries such as Pakistan and Malaysia, let alone breed them because dogs are considered to be ritually unclean and Malaysia has strict regulations on dog ownership.