I thought the Menlo Park Show on November 8-9, 1997 was an interesting show, and in my opinion, Herr Ernst Rueckert is an outstanding judge (more about that later). We had a lot of entries from faraway places and some not quite so far, but, still, perhaps half or more were out of the area as far as our club is concerned, so we got to see a lot of new dogs/new faces. For example, there were eight dogs from Wisconsin, and another group with their dogs from the distant East Coast. There was an incredible young bitch born in Denmark and owned by someone from Denmark. One exhibitor came up from Mexico with a couple of dogs.
Ernst Rueckert is a tough judge. But in my view he has an exceptionally good eye for what's right and what's wrong with a dog. I don't think he misses ANYTHING! My impression is that he is tough but fair. Those of us fortunate to be able to attend the seminar on Friday, November 7, saw plenty of examples of that as he tried to teach his audience of eager listeners something about each dog that was presented as an example. He didn't gloss over anything and he didn't pull any punches, and it's probably a good thing that dogs don't understand what is being said about them. One young female in particular would have had her self esteem severely crushed! After he found nearly everything wrong with her, he added that this was a dog that should not be bred. As it was, her owner headed down for San Diego for a second opinion! This was a dog with a VA sire, incidentally. But I don't mean to imply that he was being harsh in a mean-spirited way. He really seemed to be motivated by a honest desire to teach us how to better see the pluses and minuses of any dog's structure and gait.
I believe that this is a man who takes the show ratings seriously (just as he seems to take great pains to draw very complete pictures with words of the dogs he Breed Surveys). It seems that your dog won't get a V unless it *is* truly excellent. Nor an SG in the Youth and Young Dog classes; nor a VP in the puppy classes unless it's deserved. He was particularly tough in one of the puppy classes. Only one of 6 pups entered was granted a VP; the rest were given P.
And particularly tough in the 12-18 female class. This was a class of only four or five entries, and a well known and particularly nice young bitch was shown who has a long string of first place finishes under her belt here and in Germany. She led the class for most of the time, but in the end he put her in 3rd and gave her a G rating! I think the audience was as shocked as her owner. But as he told us "I know you are wondering why I put this exceptionally nice young bitch in 3rd place....." I can't repeat his words to you for fear of misquoting him, so I will just give you my interpretation of his remarks. I believe he decided to send a message to us here that oversize has become a significant issue with our German dogs, and that we had better start paying attention to this.
If a dog came into the ring and looked like it would rather be back in the crate, it was ALL over.... At his seminar, Herr Rueckert made the point over and over again that we can't just buy a dog and then compete. We must MAKE the dog also. That to be competitive a dog must have the training and conditioning of a professional athlete. And a very important part of that is for the dog to have a person that he is really attached to, so that he can feel and show his best in the ring. He made a big issue of this in the adult working male class, as Vrey von Dan Alhedy's Hoeve (a gorgeous Lasso Neuen Berg son, and the obvious winner on quality), just didn't have the will or the heart to move out. Herr Rueckert made a point of telling his audience that a dog can't have 3 people he doesn't know very well, (it appeared there were 3 people doubling this dog), that the dog must instead have one very special person. And he moved Vrey from first to second place. (BTW, his handlers said he was sick and not feeling well.) As an aside, I think he must have strong feelings about this from a kindness point of view as well. I remember watching him turn over a pedigree during the Breed Survey and take note of the many many changes of ownership for this particular dog, (I think there were at least six changes of owner) and he made it apparent to those of us around him that he didn't like to see this. He talked on another occasion about how he makes sure all the dogs he keeps have someone. He says it can't be him, because his job is to manage. But he makes sure that all his dogs do have someone to build a strong relationship with.
He also emphasized how important conditioning was in making the dog, and he did not mean just general endurance conditioning; he meant you needed to go beyond that and learn where your dog might need improvement and address those particular things in your conditioning program. In the seminar on Friday, he commented many times that a dog needed muscling here or developing there.
The third important thing that he emphasized is show training. This should be obvious to anyone watching a show. The dogs who are thoroughly show trained have a tremendous advantage over those who are indifferently trained or not trained. Each dog has the judge's attention for only a brief amount of time. If every time the judge looks at your dog and it doesn't look good - well it doesn't take much to figure out that he will go with the dog he can get a good look at - one whose structure is presented to the best advantage.
Incidentally, it was interesting to see how seriously he seemed to take his teaching role because he chose to illustrate this point during one of the classes. One smaller class of three younger males (I think the 12-18 month male class), had a male that he seemed to think was his best male, but it was not shown to best advantage. The owner was doubling the dog by running only 20 steps or so ahead of the dog on the outside of the ring, and the dog was not looking inside the ring toward the judge but outside the ring (not good!). So Rueckert left his spot in the center of the ring and walked over to the side of the ring and told the doubler that he should be opposite his dog for the doubling! Then, later, when the young 13 year old girl that was handling this dog stacked the dog, he came over to show her how it could be better done. This was a very nice American bred dog of good German pedigree, and he wound up beating two imported males handled by professionals.
I think that any time you have competitions (of any sort) where there is a ranking from best to worst, it is human nature that many will compete hard for that first place. It's probably also true that the more you pay for your dog, the more competitive you may be - and we are seeing some expensive dogs in our shows these days!!!! I think we are lucky that the German style shows offer two sorts of competition. The competition to be highest ranked, and the secondary competition for those highest ratings (V's in the working classes, SG's in the Youth and young Dog Classes, and VP's in the puppy classes). I think what we are seeing is better dogs; the competition is getting noticeably tougher. And so the better dogs of yesterday are now the so-so dogs of today, and they are finding themselves placed ever farther back in the rankings. Yet I still feel that there is just as much value in for that V rating as ever. And with a judge like Rueckert, when you get a V rating, you can feel your dog really deserves it.