German Shepherd Dog
2004 Sieger Show Impressions
by Fred Lanting
It was another great show, another great tour, and another wonderful group that I conducted to see the biggest breed show in the world, followed by sightseeing and breeder visits. This year, with the show again in Karlsruhe, we also had the opportunity to tour a little of France, sample the wines of Alsace, and see the birthplace of the sculptor of the Statue of Liberty.
The show itself, a 3-day affair and this year with about 2,200 GSDs, is the experience of a lifetime for many fanciers. A few join my guided tour group (the only non-profit one going) again, but most are first-timers; many additionally are novices in both European travel and in the breed, so everybody gains a great deal. The relative uniformity of the international-style GSD (which by definition excludes most of the “Alsatians” and “AKC-types”) is marvelous to behold. The novice finds it hard to tell them apart until someone points out subtle differences.
If you are not a GSD person, know there is a courage test, something that is required to pass before admittance into the conformation competition for dogs and bitches over 24 months of age. Incidentally, dogs are strictly limited to the classes comprising their ages. There are no other class divisions except for the small (age-separated, again) herding-titled dogs. The 24-months and up classes require a Schutzhund title or equivalent, and the HGH dogs also have elements of protection in those herding titles, so such things as courage and gunsureness/strong nerves are constantly being selected for this way.
Dogs get to the top VA (excellent-select) category by doing well in the previous year’s younger classes at the Sieger Show, and by doing a lot of winning during the spring and summer leading up to the big show. They have to prove themselves many times, not just fly in and make a single flash-in-the-pan appearance. Another usual prerequisite is showing a good progeny class. If the young adult has no progeny on the ground or has not produced anything notable yet, it is highly unlikely he will get a top berth in the V categories at the Sieger Show.
One of the very important parts of the show for the breeder and buyer is held on the first day, Friday. Last year at Ulm (where it will be again in 2005), we had the good fortune to be able to see both the females and the males do their courage test qualifications for entry into the conformation ring. The fields are separated by a canvas fence so the dogs cannot see the “helper” (agitator) work going on in the other field; at Karlsruhe, there is only a low earthen stepped bank to sit on, so observers cannot see both at once, either. It is by close observation of the dogs’ performance that many breeding decisions are formed or reversed.
This year, the 12-18 month classes were in fields far removed from the 18-24-month animals, so it was difficult to watch them both. However, my people got the opportunity to see many of the future years’ stars in these four classes. I spent much of Saturday looking at the older males judged by Chief SV Körmeister Heinz Scheerer. After his work, I chatted in the ring with him and brought him up to date on the Ando daughter I had titled, and who had impressed him so much with her bitework when he did her breed survey.
Also on Saturday is the important Progeny Class competition, with a chance to see very large collections of offspring from each of many popular studs. One can gain some general impressions on how well dogs reproduce themselves with various bitches.
Sunday is the “Big Day” when the top 70 or 80 or so “Working Class” of each sex come in for the final competition. That’s 24-months and older, with titles, almost all IPO or SchH (now being called VPG), and who have “made the cut”. The lower 150 or so have been already ranked on Saturday and can relax in their trailers. The process of walking, running, off-leash fast running, and group down-and-back enables the judges to shuffle some around to make sure every dog is where it belongs in their sight. It’s a beautiful vista, looking down on the spectacle, and I make sure the novices in my group don’t miss much in regard to anatomy and movement. Everybody has binoculars and a catalog, and can follow the action. Other Sunday events are the presentation of the top 20 in each of the other age groups (all dogs at a Sieger Show are over 12 months), the kennel groups, and special awards.
The tour begins! After the show each year, I take my people to see the countryside, get a taste of European country life, history, scenery, and introduce them to breeders and judges. Following the show weekend, we started off after Frühstuck (the hearty wake-up meal usual on the continent, but nothing like the weak excuse for a meal that Americans call a “continental breakfast”) at our hotel in Karlsruhe, and drove our three vehicles over the Rhine (Rhein) into France, then south into the province of Alsace. This area has been claimed successively many times by Germany and France, so there are signs of both languages and cultures there. It is an area of fine white wines and great cuisine. A stop in Strasbourg gave all the group a taste of French city life as well as those incomparable croissants. Historic cathedrals in Europe were generally spared the destruction of WW-2 bombing raids, especially outside German borders, and are always included on my tours.
Next was the fantastically colorful town of Colmar further to the south, the birthplace of Bartholdi, the sculptor of the Statue of Liberty, perhaps France’s last gesture of thanks to the U.S. Window boxes of flowers were everywhere, and multi-colored tile roofs of ancient buildings echoed their splendor. Crossing the river again, we drove to Freiburg and looked around the main square and the shops. Unfortunately, we arrived after 5pm when the tall church with the 500-ton bell had closed to tourists for the evening. So, after some shopping for Black Forest memorabilia, we headed north to the rural beauty of Bollenbach and the friendly hospitality of the innkeepers as well as a local breeder of great excellence.
Our first visit that evening and again the next morning was to Hermann Beil’s Schornfelsen kennel. His is an immaculate home operation with few dogs but high quality. This year the sale of four puppies resulted from these introductions, one Schornfelsen litter being sired by Erasmus (who I think has a good chance of being Sieger next year) and out of a daughter of the great Jango Fürstenberg. We later visited Leopold Bucher’s famous Trienzbachtal kennel, home of many Siegerins and VA dogs over the years.
Also on that trip we toured the up-and-coming Arkanum kennel run by Robert Lang, and a couple moreThe kennel facility is a model of cleanliness and healthy atmosphere. Down the lane from Lang’s place is what’s left of the monumentally famous Pelztierfarm kennel, but the owner is languishing in a rest home and does not know anybody or anything. Presumably it’s Altzheimer’s. I was too late to touch bases with that breeder of the great Mutz, one of the pillars of the breed. The last kennel of the day was seen at night, but many nice dogs were brought out for us to look at. This was one of the sources for dogs my friend and our traveling companion Ahmed Virk uses to procure dogs for the Pakistan Air Force and Army, so they were happy to show us what they had.
For those interested in joining us next year, here are some answers to commonly-asked questions. Each person makes his own plane reservations, and we meet at an airport of my choice, although this year for various reasons it was better that we “rail” into Karlsruhe and not start paying for rental vans until Monday. Each is responsible for his own food, hotel bills, and admission. I rent the vehicles, enlist a driver or two, reserve hotels at the best prices and locations, and arrange introductions and sights of interest and historical significance. Each year the show is held in a different place from the previous year, but many are returned to, so I try to vary the tours so that repeat group members do not have exactly the same experience. For example, in 2005 we will all fly to Munich and we will see some different castles and additional breeders. If you want your well-behaved teen to have a better education and a better chance to grow up by interacting with adults than is possible in school for a couple of weeks, there are always plenty of mature members of the group to help keep an eye on him/her, so feel safe in sending your youngster if you can’t get off work yourself. E-mail me and start planning!
Bavaria in 2005 or Holland after the 2006 show in Dusseldorf. This is always an experience that will be relished by all dog lovers, regardless of breed, and there are enough other diversions to occupy the non-doggy spouse or friend who’d like to see part of Europe under experienced tutelage and guidance.