German Shepherd Dog
2004 Sieger Show Tour
by Rebecca Wong
Fred Lanting's 2004 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.
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
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
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.
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.
Sunday: the Finals
On Sunday, we hurried back to show to grab good seats in the stadium where the finals of each class were held. The finals of the youth classes featured both sexes gaiting simultaneously on their separate halves of the stadium field. In the middle of the field, dogs from each ring often had to gait side by side, going in opposite directions. Surprisingly, most of the young dogs did not seem to be bothered by this. While we watched the dogs, Fred pointed out some of the exceptional ones and answered questions about the strong and weak points of different dogs.
Sieger show gaiting is done over far longer distances than at AKC shows. After the completion of the 12-18 month and 18-24 month classes, the rings were reconfigured into one large ring taking up about ¾ of the soccer field for the Working Class females. The ring further expanded to the full length and width of the field for the Working Class male gaiting. Like their dogs, the handlers need to be in good physical condition.
All of the 80 or so finalists in the class were present for the initial and final evaluations. Dogs were divided into groups of six for their gaiting. They walked on lead, trotted while pulling on lead, and then took a very fast trot around the ring off -lead while their handlers ran besides them. The small group gaiting closed with a short “down and back” pattern so the judge could once more examine the dogs coming and going.
Typically the dog’s schutzhund trainer would replace the primary handler for off-lead fast trot. Many dogs got very excited at the sight of their trainers coming towards them, some with a toy in hand. The off-lead sprint was fascinating since the handlers had to stay in their assigned positions even though dog and handler teams moved at different speeds. Opportunities for gamesmanship abounded. Some trainers helped their dogs with a discreetly held toy, which was the only time I saw any “baiting” going on in the ring. Last year a dog was moved down a few positions after his handler bounced a ball during the free heel. That is a no-no! The free heel can even be too exciting for the human half of the team; the handler of Larus v.Batu, tossed his toy in the air before the rest of the group behind them had a chance to slow down. In another group, a handler fell, at the end of his exercise, and the handlers following behind, tripped over him. Although things often looked dicey for a second or two, that was the only collision that occurred.
There was a bit of stir when the open male class came in lead by Hill, followed by Larus. Larus was widely expected to win Sieger this year. Fred speculated that Hill’s position was recognition of a good showing by his progeny group and Hill’s individual exam. Some discussion ensued about how the breeder of one of the most likely contenders for Sieger could be judging the class. The apparent conflict of interest is less disturbing to the Germans than to Americans and Larus had been placed high at other shows under other judges. The top dogs at Sieger show are so closely matched that any of them could win and strong arguments could be made for all.
As the gaiting progressed, dogs were slightly moved up or down in the rankings as their movement were evaluated. The crowd roared its approval when Larus was moved to the front of the class. Larus held his top position and became this year’s Sieger.
The Kennel Groups were the final class of the day. Kennel groups consist of 5 or more dogs bred by the same kennel and judged for uniformity. Unlike the progeny groups, the dogs need not be related in any particular way. Although I find total uniformity to be a bit eerie, I can only admire the dedication and discipline required to achieve it.
The closing ceremonies had an Olympic theme with children carrying the many flags of the nations represented in the show and a symphonic band. At the close of the formal festivities, a large crowd formed down on the field to congratulate the winners at the end of the formal festivities.
On the road: Alsace, France
On Monday, we checked out of the Erbprinzenhof hotel, picked up two diesel powered automobiles: a Volkswagen Transporter van and a Skoda (Czech) station wagon. Heading out of Karlsruhe on the Autobahn, we exited and crossed the Rhine into France. Finding parking in Strasbourg was tough since all the parking garages that were built too low for our van. Fred got the attention of a police car and asked for directions. The French-speaking officers were kind enough to guide us to a parking garage that could accommodate the van. After parking, we set off on foot looking for the great Notre Dame Cathedral of Strasbourg and a college student volunteered to accompany us for a few blocks to get us squared away. Stopping for lunch at a tavern, we got to sample some Alsatian specialties, which seemed very German.
Some memorable sights in Strasbourg were the merry-go-round; the awe-inspiring cathedral, hundreds of years in the making; and the canals that crisscross the old city and its ancient walls. Outside the cathedral, we got a lesson in how to deal with persistent beggars. Heading back to the cars, we got a taste of the Little France neighborhood, an odd name unless you recall that Strasbourg had changed hands between France and Germany several times. The group kept breaking apart as members succumbed to the temptation of proffered free samples from the many delightful bakeries on our route.
Leaving Strasbourg, we drove through the countryside of Alsace and saw vineyards on the hillsides and the occasional castle. Stopping in charming Colmar we wandered through the old town and found the picturesque retail store for one of the local wineries. Some of us almost never made it past the parking lot because we discovered a high-tech public pay toilet that begged to be explored.
Next stop was Freiburg in the Black Forest. We walked through the historic old town of Freiburg with cobblestone streets and open gutters filled with running mountain-spring water. There was some quick souvenir shopping and sight seeing. At the back of the Freiburg cathedral we saw a startling photograph: the cathedral surrounded by rubble! The quaint old town district had been lovingly rebuilt after the war.
We gathered the group together and headed off to Bollenbach, a Black Forest village. We spent the next two nights at the Kreuz guesthouse attached to a working farm. We enjoyed one of the best meals of the trip that night in their dining room and their homemade ice cream sundaes were an unexpected treat.
The Black Forest
Early risers got to explore the village of Bollenbach that could serve as a location for a remake of the movie “Heidi”. The houses were a mixture of traditional homes and newer houses that still maintained the Black Forest character of the village. There was a simple fountain in the village center for thirsty travelers and their animals. The village’s simple war memorial reminded me of my own town’s Vietnam memorial.
Our first stop was the Freilicht Black Forest Museum, a “living” museum of traditional German homes and workshops; some dating from the year 1190 and moved to this location from all over the Black Forest. There I investigated a thatched roof close-up and found the carved stone shrines that once marked the roadsides of the Black Forest fascinating. We enjoyed some of the plums picked for visitors and then it was off to the kennels!
A warm welcome, complete with wine and refreshments awaited us at the home of Hermann and Giselle Biel and their home-based Schornfelsen kennel. Herman showed us his handsome young male, Diego and then we went to their immaculate kennel to see puppies! Hermann had a litter of little fuzz-balls sired by VA3 Erasamus and everyone’s heart melted. Those who hadn’t even thought of finding for a dog on this trip found themselves suddenly reconsidering! Four of the puppies were purchased by members of the tour.
Hermann and Gisele volunteered to guide us to the next kennel high in the hills and then to our luncheon at a resort tucked away down a long winding mountain road. It was hard to tear ourselves away from such kind hosts. The final stop of the day was the Von der Ernetranch kennel of Klaus and Frank Kubczak, a very professional, modern, family operation with about 15 kennel runs and a small, well lighted training field. We got back to the guesthouse around 11 PM and enjoyed some German beer before going to bed.
The Arkanum and Trienzbachtal Kennels
On our final day of the tour, we stopped to say auf wiedersahn to the Biels and headed off to Robert Lang’s Arkanum kennel, a clean, professional establishment in an agricultural area away from the Lang home. Robert explained in English how he and his father got into breeding. As a young lad, he finally was given a long awaited GSD and then took the dog to the local training club. The members of the club sent Robert home to get his father because he was still a bit too small to handle the dog. He and his father enjoyed dogs together as a hobby then Robert struck off on his own. Two young teens, Robert’s son and the son of his trainer, handled several dogs for us. We then drove to the home of Robert’s trainer partner to see his V13 Zello. I enjoyed meeting Zello and the opportunity to see what a modern German subdivision looks like.
Our last kennel visit was to the famed Trienzbachtal kennel of Leopold Bucher, breeder of five Siegerins and several VA dogs. The kennel was in an outbuilding next to the Bucher home and the property felt like it was or had been a farm. Leopold released some of his females for us to see including the splendid V73 Wende. The gals ran free in the yard under Leopold’s voice command and stayed in the half of the yard away from the road. Frau Bucher served us tea and cake while Leopold let us study at some his pedigrees and answered questions about his kennel.
We set off for the Frankfurt area through the Neckar river valley and caught a glimpse of Heidelberg. After a final dinner together, we said farewell to Fred and the folks leaving from Stuttgart. In the morning, we shared cabs to the airport, said one last farewell and returned home. As fitting for a tour organized by email on the Internet, after we got home everyone swapped photos via email or Internet photo websites!
Fred Lanting will be leading more non-profit, expertly guided tours of the Sieger Show and surrounding Europe in 2005 and 2006. The 2005 tour will feature Bavaria and Austria; the 2006 tour will include the northern Rhine and Holland. Fred may consider a trip to the Bundessiegerprufung, the SV Schutzhund and Agility Championship if there is enough interest.
Additional chatty descriptions of this tour can be read on Rebecca Wong’s website, http://kaneonapua.home.comcast.net/ (*Sorry website URL has moved or changed*)