German Shepherd Dog
2006 Sieger Show Impressions
by Fred Lanting
Anniversaries are devices used to commemorate events such as birthdates and weddings, or other specific and meaningful dates on History’s calendar. My first tour of Europe was 20 years prior to this report being written; for most of the years since, I have been attending the annual Sieger Show (Bundessiegerzuchtschau) in Germany. After the first, I found that there were many people who wanted to go, but were afraid to try because they spoke no German and the territory was unfamiliar.
It became my happy custom to act as guide and translator (although my German is rudimentary and self-taught, I get by quite well) and in the succeeding years I became very familiar with the geography, culture, and points of interest. As an SV judge and schutzhund trainer, I also developed friendships with both the Zucht- (breed) and Leistungs- (trial) judges, and have been able to line up visits with them and many other breeders and clubs. So it developed, rather quickly, that I was leading tours that included historic and scenic sights, training clubs, and breeders’ and judges’ homes. You can find my “Impressions” articles about previous years’ shows on SiriusDog.com and other websites.
This year, with the show in Oberhausen, not very far from Germany’s western border, I offered a tour of the fascinating Netherlands (Holland) with its windmills, wooden shoes, canals, boats, bicycles, and unique culture. As usual, I would be away during my wife’s birthday anniversary, and this year also during the 5th anniversary of the infamous 9-11 attack on America by Islamist extremists. When the twin towers, the Pentagon, and the Pennsylvania crashes occurred, my 2001 tour group had just ended a circuit and were noisily and happily walking into the hotel lobby for the last (we thought) night. Everyone else was ready to go home to their several countries, and I was to spend a week in Europe with friends before meeting another group that was scheduled to fly in for the BSP (Bundessiegerprüfung or national schutzhund championship trials) in another part of Germany.
We were hushed up by hand gestures and “Shhh!” by the hotel staff who were glued to the TV set in the lobby. Not long before, the 9-11 plane-bombs had snuffed out thousands of lives, and the pictures now coming in were heartbreaking. We all thought at first that it was a movie, since the commentary was in rapid German, but like a ton weight lowered onto each one of us, the depressing realization caused shock and tears among the group that had been laughing mere minutes earlier. Air traffic would not resume for a few days, and the hotel owners helped my group find accommodations until they could reschedule flights. I cannot imagine an air trip in early September that would not include the shadow of those terrible events of 2001.
The 2006 show in Oberhausen was certainly not as large as the SV’s 100th Anniversary show in Karlsruhe back in 1999, when massive publicity and encouragement brought 50,000 people into the stadium, but the Sieger Show is still the world’s largest single-breed event. It is getting more difficult every year to secure the venue. After all, a contract for dozens of soccer games per year is more lucrative than a single weekend of dog shows. Stadiums are smaller and in towns that are not as convenient to get to, or to park and find lodging in. Still, I have been able to find nice country hotels with the best rates, and by pro-rating rental-car costs, my tours have always been more economical than others, including doing it on your own, and in spite of the higher cost of Euros and considerable inflation. With fuel at more than $7 a gallon, it is wise to share the vehicle.
My group this year included a few who have been with me in the past, but for most of the people, it was their first Sieger Show experience. And for some of them, their first trip abroad. We met at the Amsterdam airport and spent much of the first day in that busting city, one that can be seen easily on foot. Some of the group went through the Anne Frank house (she was the epitome of courage and the example of how Dutchmen hid Jews from the Nazis, until her family was found and taken away; she died days before the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp was liberated).
After a night in a delightful village east of the city, we drove to the southeastern corner of the Netherlands, where it is a stone’s throw to Luxembourg, France, Belgium, and Germany. We met with noted trainer Koos Haasing of the Tiekerhook working-lines kennel, and played with his latest pups. That evening we watched schutzhund and breed-ring training at a VDH club field less than an hour further.
The next day we were royally entertained at Karthago kennel in Erkelenz, Germany, where Artur and Ursula Kemmer fed us traditional and delicious “eisbein” (ham hocks) before showing us a couple of their youngsters. Kemmer bred the BSP Sieger of 1993, a dog named Okar, that I liked a lot. Neither of them speaks any English — only rapid-fire German, but between me and one of my group (a Dutchman from Hawaii) we were able to communicate and act as conduits to the rest of my party.
Three days of the show followed, which I shall briefly describe in a moment hence. After the weekend, on Sunday night, we enjoyed visiting the Pfalzerheide kennel near Goch, on the road toward Holland. They have some attractive brood bitches, two of which were in whelp; they were also offering for sale a magnificent Nero Nobachtal son (SchH-3) with a low-ZW hip rating, a great advantage to complement his terrific pigment, size, and temperament. (He was sold shortly afterwards.)
On Monday the caravan stopped first for photos at Arnhem, at the site of the WW2 battle that was the subject of the excellent movie, “A Bridge Too Far”. It was here that the British glider crews and paratroopers held off the Nazi forces long enough to allow other Allied units further away to make gains in the war. Next stop was the traditional village of Staphorst, where decorated bicycles, old-style dress, wooden shoes, and thatched barns attached to green- or blue-trimmed houses keep history alive. Driving northwest from there, we arrived at Emmen in time to be given a special inspection tour of a working windmill, arranged by a friend of mine who lives in a nearby town. After that, we drove north to Exloo and stood in the middle of a crowd of a couple hundred milling sheep that were being told by the shepherds’ dogs to stay together while grazing.
Tuesday morning we took some pictures at the authentic, undisturbed ice-age dolmens that the Dutch call “hunnebedden”. These are rocks balanced on other rocks (like a roofed and much smaller version of the more famous and later Stonehenge) that served as shelters from wild animals as well as birthing and dying ceremonies for the prehistoric inhabitants of so much of Europe.
That afternoon, the group got a deeper sense of the once-independent land of Friesland that in early centuries A.D., included the islands and coastal provinces reaching from what is now northwestern Holland through coastal Germany into southwestern Denmark. Even today, the now-smaller Friesland has its own flag, language, and (to a great extent) identifiable physical features of the people. The breed of cow that some people call “Holstein”, after the German portion of this stretch of land and seacoast, but which is more properly called Frisian cattle, has long been the heart and soul of the economy in the region, with fishing and sailing coming close behind. The fame of Dutch milk, butter, and especially cheese comes largely from this cow, so it is no surprise that one of the landmarks in Friesland’s capital city of Leeuwarden is a life-size statue of such a cow.
Not far from that park and canal area is the famous “leaning tower of Leeuwarden”, and across town is the Fries Museum. Here, we saw the 7-foot-long, 14.5-lb. sword of one of my ancestors Great Pier, who died in 1520 after a hard life of farming, fishing, and fighting. He was a man of outstanding height who revenged his community on the northern shores of the Zuider Zee that had been pillaged and burned by South-Hollanders. He organized a small “navy”, capturing the invaders, tying their wrists and feet together, and throwing them overboard in great numbers.
In the evening, we watched the somewhat less-fierce but still very formidable bitework of dogs in the club at Sneek. One of the club members, Herbie Willems, was persuaded to part with one of his high-energy Czech-lines working-dog pup who will now live in Nova Scotia. A second pup was sold the next day to another member of my group.
Workum, where we stayed overnight, has a 3-person Delftware factory that we visited, and a shop where many of us ate the raw (but marinated) herring that is a traditional and unbelievably delicious snack, eaten by holding high the beheaded and gutted six-inch fish by the tail fin, and lowering it into your mouth. In nearby Hindeloopen, the group saw the locally-famous ornate style of painting wooden items from furniture to shoes, tables to toys. There were also crooked buildings and, a few steps away, a forest of sailboat masts in the harbor. Halfway through this last tour day, and getting closer to Amsterdam, we met with Herbie again, this time at a KNPV (Dutch Police Dog club) and watched dogs flying through the air in a great, amazing show of agility and drive in the bitework. It was an exciting climax to more than a week of dog performances mixed with sightseeing and camaraderie. If you are seriously interested in joining next year, just get in touch with me.
Thursday was the day most of the day most of the group flew home to England, Trinidad, Canada, and the USA. A couple of the group had to leave the party right after the show. For the first two-thirds, this was my biggest group ever, starting with 15, then 17 during the show weekend, and finally ending up with 10 at the end. As always, it was international and multi-cultural in flavor. After the tour, I remained in Europe a few more days in order to participate in a weekend series of cynological seminars hosted by the Boerboel Club of Belgium. This is a mastiff-bulldog type of breed developed in South Africa. I had two presentations and listened to others on dermatology, population genetics, breed characteristics, and more.
And now for the show itself, and my impressions of the state of the breed today. Of course, this excludes the dwindling percentages of “Alsatians” in the UK and the population of non-Standard AKC-type GSDs in the USA and Canada. Only the international type appears in the Sieger Show, as indeed it does in the great majority of countries in the world.
When we speak of “Type”, we usually refer to the phenotypic picture of the dog. At this largest of shows, more than at any other show, the uniformity, the resemblance, is astonishing to those who have not attended before. Scores of dogs in the ring look like cookie-cutter duplicates, and only the educated eye can see the small differences.
It is in the vital area of character where many of our decisions are made as to which dogs we’d like to see in our own pedigrees. Therefore, I stress the importance of watching the courage tests on the first day. Friday is a very long day — usually eleven hours of evaluating the dogs’ performance. Dogs 24 months and over must pass that test before being allowed to go to the other ring for the individuals exams when they get a preliminary placing in the line-up of 150 or so dogs in that class (each sex). The courage test (now euphemistically being called “test of instinctive behavior” to be politically correct and keep the politicians off the backs of true dog people) involves two excerpts from the schutzhund/IPO routine: one is heeling to the blind and defending the handler from a “surprise” attack; the other is the “long attack” to repel a stick-wielding intruder charging at the team from the far end of the arena.
By close observation (after instruction and practice!), one can see how confident the dogs are, how convincing the bites. Thus, regardless of the test judge’s description as “pronounced”, “sufficient”, or failing, the spectators can see for themselves the strength of character in their next dog’s parents or grandparents. Hesitancy, half-bites, determination, and other characteristics are there for the viewing. There are always a handful of really good-working dogs, though, the best-trained and best-biting usually being those of the working lines who are trying to earn “points” toward the Universal Sieger designation, a combination of high placings in national trials and a V rating in the Sieger Show. This year the best performance in males was that of Nando vom Haus Vortkamp, ZW 93, a very dark sable sired by Buster vom Adelmannsfelder. All that needs to be said is “Wow!!!!!!” Best performance of the day.
If you read my “Impressions” of previous years’ shows on such sites as SiriusDog.com, you can get a fuller picture. This year, I’d first like to concentrate on one reason we continue to see a wide gulf between simple beauty and working-dog temperament as envisioned and preached by von Stephanitz, the breed’s founder. A key fault in the scheduling and operation of the Sieger Show (and other smaller shows, for that matter) lies in the fact that the breed judge does not see what we see on Friday or at schutzhund trials. A dog comes to him in a distant field, after the Schutzdienst (courage-test) without any commentary from that judge, so all he sees is the anatomy. What would be so much better for the breed and the show is if he could see, at least, the performance of the dogs he and others have been putting up at the spring and summer shows.
Some of the upsets come about on that crucial first day of the Sieger Show. Dogs who we might wager on being high-VA sometimes don’t make it past the TSB test on Friday. Some fail, even with three tries, to keep heeling until the “bad guy” jumps out from behind the blind. Some fail to engage or do so most unconvincingly.
This year, for example, at least half of the progeny of the new Sieger Zamp Thermodos failed to give any admirable performance in the defense attacks. You’ll remember that Zamp himself did poorly in this test in 2004, getting only a Vorhanden-sufficient, which meant that if he had run around the show ring, he could’ve only gotten a Very Good (SG), and not an Excellent (V) rating. Breeding shows, and the progeny reflected his weakness in this respect. But as I said, the breed judge (Heinz Scheerer) did not see those dogs. Zamp was not quite convincing this year, either, though far better than in the past.
Still, to name such a dog Sieger (world winner) means that there is something wrong with this picture. By using only half the available data, any scheme to improve anything in the world is doomed to failure or limited success. In this case, we are widening the gap between the “pretty dog” and the “real dog”. We really should be trying to unify the breed and create one GSD Type with plenty of genetic diversity. The opposite is happening.
Most of the top dogs of 2006 have either no clear record of producing GSD character, or a poor record. Since most people use dogs based on their V or VA ratings, and most puppy buyers do not attend each year’s courage test, even that relatively easy minimum standard, seen for oneself, is overlooked.
VA2 Quantum Arminius (Zamp’s sire, and no more convincing in the bitework) offers no advantage that I can see. Others have what he offers, without the drawbacks of slight temperament and pigmentation weaknesses. VA3 Orbit Huhnegrab, bred by the judge (could be why he wasn’t Sieger; it could also be blamed on entering very few shows during the season because he lives in Great Britain) had more uniform progeny, and very acceptable courage test performance; it’s too bad that none in his large progeny class were over 24 months and doing the bitework. Maybe next year, under a different judge. The other Orbit, that I like a lot, is Orbit Tronje, who also had a nice progeny class but did not compete himself. This year’s VA3 dog possibly gets most of his movement quality from his dam’s side, but he does have an illustrious sire, double-Sieger Yasko. Orbit almost did not make it to the big ring this year, because he did not “out” with three commands, until the last split-second as the judge was starting to raise his hand to tell the handler to take the dog off. Lucky dog!
VA4 Pakros did not look very brave, but it’s traditionally hard to deny the son of a former Sieger (Bax, in this case) a spot in the VA line-up. The Hill son VA5 Dux Cuatro Flores did much better, but VA6 Quenn Löher Weg disappointed most of the folks watching in the stands. This is the dog that phenotypically resembles his father’s Ulk-Ursus somewhat heavy body style.
The Yak Frankengold sons V6 Idol and VA7 Odin Holtkämper Hof were impressive, carrying on the tradition of character from Yak’s great sire, Hoss Lärchenhain, again strengthening my opinion that Hoss-Yak “blood” should be used more. These are dogs and bloodlines that deserve to leapfrog to the top of the standings. But now that Yak (and Hoss?) went to China, that decision will fall to succeeding generations and future judges. The SV website listed Riska as the dam of both Idol and Odin, but the catalog (and pedigreedatabase) say Ginga is the dam of Idol. Pedigreedatabase says that Ginga is the grandmother of Riska. Sister Raica is the dam of the nice Zamp sons V15 Negus and V24 Naxos, and this R litter has several illustrious dogs in their pedigree, which should not be lost: Iwan Lechtal, Don OsterbergerLand, Fando Sudblick, Lord Georg-Viktor-Turm, and Don Lennefetal. V32 Ilbo Holtkämper See (Yak again) is another example of the superior breeding skill of Hermann Niedergassel of Bielefeld
VA8 Vegas du Haut Mansard was acceptable in the test and beautiful in the ring, but a danger flag might be raised when one considers that his brother Vadim only got a Vorhanden, and I already mentioned the hesitancy I have in waving the flag for their sire Pakros, when it comes to convincing bitework.
There were only eight VA awards, which makes sense, given the number of dogs entered, and the slim depth of the “cream of the crop” in the “total dog” picture. The substantial and handsome Esko son, V1 Bravos Steffen Haus (not the same dog we knew several years ago although somehow he has the same name!), V2 Janos Noriswand (Yasko again), and V3 Quantum Fiemereck (Rocky Haus Tepferd) comported themselves very well. As did V4 Lorenzo Isadora (Drago Pallas Athena, son of Romeo), although he did not bite in 2005; this nice dog has a ZW of 68. It was good to see Ando Altenberger Land represented by the Rocky son, as Ando has very valuable genetic and phenotypic diversity to offer. It was doubly nice for me, to see this Quantum doing well, as I have a half-brother at home. Ando, Orbit Tronje, and Timo Berrekasten (through such good dogs as V55 Arex Herbramer-Wald) are being neglected to the detriment of things we need, such as great shoulder opening, courage, and gait. But mostly, the simple fact that by concentrating most of the lines on Yasko, Larus, and a handful of other closely related dogs, we are shooting ourselves in the foot, genetically speaking. Even those who do not want the working-line dogs in the show ring should realize that we’ve narrowed the gene pool far too much. V29 Benny Haus Pe-Ja has many BSP dogs on his father’s side.
V5 Yimmy Contra (Larus) lacked training and possibly confidence, as he was nibbling on the sleeve. V7 Nando della Valcuvia was not very serious. Several VA or potential VA dogs failed the courage test. Nando Gollerweiher failed to release his grip, but perhaps it’s just as well that his sire Yello St.Michaelsberg was not represented in the top spots, as most of his sons were disappointing in the test. Exceptions, however, include the marvelous work of V22 Tiras vom Roten Feld. I would like to meet their mother, Sindy. Karat's Yoker, a dog many people had high hopes for in the past few years, noticeably failed his courage test, and Karat’s Ulk slipped back from last year’s V1 to this year’s V18; I predict that this marks his retirement from the show ring. Breeder Jimmy Rasmussen is not having a good year. Brothers Solo (Vorhanden in the courage test) and Sammo Team Fiemereck (absent) are two Nero sons that disappoint in that field, although they are beautiful anatomically.
Look for V8 Dux Jabora (Esko grandson with motherline to Japan Sieger Dorian Yohaness Berg) next year. This is a very promising dog from Holland with some very nice pups on the ground. A few respectable Nero Nöbachtal sons such as V25 Maestro Osterberger-Land, V26 Teejay Wilhendorf (John Henkel of the USA), and V33 Yambo Radsieksbeeke, owned by my acquaintance Werner Plöger in Detmold, are redeeming Nero’s tarnished name. That dog, before being sold in disgrace and for mega-money to the Far East, had his elbows operated on before the owners could prove that (if!) they were normal. A dark cloud of suspicion rightly remains over such actions. My tour group had opportunity to examine another Nero son, in the back yard of some really nice people named Francis & Ferdi van de Kruisweg, who were housing him for the Winnloh kennels. This SchH-3 dog, named Emilio, a magnificent animal in all respects, was shortly after our visit sold to an American on the West Coast.
Much information can be gleaned from watching the courage tests with an eye to who the dogs’ fathers are, then combining those pictures with what you see in the progeny groups. Notable examples of such stud-dog value included Orbit Huhnegrab, Yak Frankengold, Idol Holtkämper Hof, Hill Farbenspiel, Dux de Cuatro Flores, Orbit Tronje, and Kliff Trollbachtal. These showed considerable uniformity in structure, and good TSB (courage and control) as a rule. Judge Heinz Scheerer praised the Hill vom Farbenspiel line as becoming a valuable bloodline for the breed. New Sieger Zamp did not show as much uniformity in his offspring, and many seemed to have steep croups. Quantum Arminius's progeny has light pigment and were not very uniform. Pakros's offspring lacked uniformity, too, although color was better. Quenn Löher Weg produced a number of white-blaze chests. Bravos Steffenhaus progeny showed light pigment, but that is to be expected from an Esko son. All things must be considered in balance, so if you have an Esko type, you need to concentrate on mating such a dog to one with a history of dark pigment and convincing self-confidence.
We cannot forget the females, even though they have a smaller impact on the breed’s population genetics, due to males contributing their alleles up to 70 times a year more often. Although bitches have far less impact on the breed, due to fewer offspring than males are responsible for, there were a few outstanding examples. It was unfortunate that the Swedish bitch “Space Geanie” got an SG-1 (the only SG) instead of V-126, because she did truly great work on Friday and should be recognized for that quality.
My choice for Siegerin (again, as last year) was Shalome von Oasis, a fantastic bitch with terrific bitework & gait, bred by Alfons Roerkohl. She was “pulled” (excused from competing in the gaiting evaluation) this year, probably because her owner felt she did not have a chance to be chosen for top spot. This happens with a lot of good dogs — people want the crowd to see the character, but do not want a lower than desired placement, so they persuade the veterinarian or other official to grant them an excuse from gait competition. The VA-1 Siegerin Xara Agilofinger richly deserved such an honor, and Lothar Quoll must find it hard to drink his beer with such a big smile on his face! VA2 Chakira Osterberger Land and a daughter of the late Kliff v Trollbachtal, VA8 Oduscha Team Fiemereck (had been rumored to be likely Siegerin for 2006) were also notable for their spectacular flying attacks as well as their beauty. The prolific breeder Richard Brauch showed his V37 Quenda Elzmündungsraum (a daughter of Boss E., who failed the courage test in 2004) and she did well in both the conformation competition as well as the TSB.
I was impressed by the beauty of the Dutch-bred VA3 Yasmin Nieuwlandshof, and Helmut Buss’ V3 Boogie Ochsentor.
Usually in these annual reports, I write something about the up-and-coming dogs who placed high in the 12-18 and 18-24-month classes. Yet, anyone who is familiar with what I call “the succession system”, without even knowing the winners’ names, can just as easily predict who will get the top V and a couple of VA spots the following year — they are the young dogs who get the first two placings in each of these two classes in the year. There are few surprises, then, for those who watch the news or take notes during the previous year’s show. Still, the spectacle, the electric energy in the air, the drama of doing the TSB test well or not, the impact of a field whose perimeter is full of beautiful dogs, the international flavor of the game — these are excellent reasons for attending the Sieger Show in Germany, the birthplace of the breed. But keep an eye out for the Zamp son V43 Vito Farbenspiel, to see if he again does a good TSB and moves up in the rankings. His mother is a Yasko daughter (there he is again!) and a Natz Steigerhof granddaughter.
Of course, I also strongly believe that as long as you are going to Europe, you should see some of the country, with its cultural and scenic attractions, and meet some of the breeders and perhaps visit training clubs, the way my groups do every year. I try to offer a blend of showdogs, working-line dogs, breeder visits, and dinners at training clubs where we can also see various techniques. Many times, someone in my group ends up buying a puppy from someone we visit or get an introduction to.