The international magazine for and about working and sporting dogs -- and the people who love them.
got back from Germany on Wednesday, September 16. It was a fabulous couple of months that I'll remember for the rest of my life! I'm in love with Germany, especially the region where I lived while I was there. It's deep in Southern Germany, adjoining the Swiss and Austrian borders, and is called the Allga"u (that's "a" with an umlaut, pronounced as though it were spelled Allgoy). It's a dairy farming area characterized by low population and huge and very beautiful expanses of meadow interspersed with woodland. These beautiful vistas are backed up by wooded alps in the near distance and the "real" Alps, with their rugged naked peaks just beyond. Gorgeous!
The huge farmhouses/barns with their similar multistory rectangular style and all red roofs were widely spaced, the cows few and far between, and the small hamlets and towns, with houses clustered closely together, were charming and photogenic beyond belief with flowers spilling from window boxes and/or flower gardens everywhere. Whether in the Allga"u or beyond, the larger towns and cities I visited were incredibly picturesque, characterized by old and very distinctive buildings, many dating from the 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th centuries! I loved the old walled city of Rothenberg on the Tauber River and Altstadt Nurnberg, both of which are unbeatable for giving one a real feel for the past.
I could picture myself living there if it weren't for the language barrier. Not many in the region where I was staying were English speaking. However, I must say I did really well with my limited German from a functional point of view - shopping, traveling, inquiring and so on were not a problem. But I felt a real sense of frustration when socializing with the people I met - (and the strongest desire to keep studying up on my German) - as the language barrier was very real. Still, it's amazing how much one can do when both sides are willing to struggle along, but it gets old real fast!
The dogs made the long flight with absolutely clean kennels and absolutely no stress from traveling. I was so proud of them.
We quickly found a dog club. Fina and I were "adopted" by two young members of this very nearby club. They were determined to help us get to a "B" while I was there, but their trial came only 3 weeks after I arrived, and though we ALMOST were ready, it just wasn't in the cards. As well, Fina started losing all her energy around that time, and I had to quit training (more about that later).
I also brought Diva, just a baby of 4 months when I arrived. I think she must have been the most traveled young dog in Germany at the time, as she covered the country from as far north as Frankfurt and Nurnberg, to as far east as Waidhaus on the Czech border (she got closer to the Czech Republic than I did as she jumped in a creek where Germany was on one shore and the Czech Republic was on the other, something I wasn't about to do!), And she was in France to the east and Austria and Switzerland to the south and nearly everywhere in between. She's sort of the "bull in the china shop" type, but she was really very very good all things considered.
Fina is more of a "lady", and she and I easily managed dining every morning and night at the hotel where we were staying in Nurnberg, as well as several round trips on the U-Bahn (subway), which we took to visit the "Altstadt" area of Nurnberg. Fina even managed to maintain her composure and manage her tail while I went nuts over the beautiful china at the Villeroy and Boch store in Altstadt Nurnberg (and yes, I did buy some!). She made friends with the proprietors of the Mephisto shop where I dawdled for an hour trying to find the right shoe (Mephisto's sell there for HALF what they do in the US). She also handles automatic doors, elevators, long flights of stairs, and anything else you can toss at her. I'm in love with this wonderful dog.
Both Diva and Fina "wowed" some people at the club where I was trying. I train the heel starting very young. I use food and no leash and I get the most incredible focus, attention, precision and speed you can imagine. Diva was exceptionally good even at the tender age of 4 months, and I definitely got noticed the first time we did our practice routine on the club field! When I came off the field with Diva, I was "assaulted" by a tiny woman, probably about 90 pounds and probably about 65 or 70 years old. She waved her finger in my face and with her voice raised at me she lectured me in this crazy German they speak in that region of Germany. I didn't have a CLUE what she was saying at first. Finally figured out that she was telling me that someone would steal my dog from me if I continued with this stupid food training! Well, I was a bit intimidated, I admit! But the next time I was there, I brought out my food anyway. The good part of all this is that the two of us became quite friendly. Nobody seems to like her because she is so OPINIONATED, but we became quite good friends, and though she couldn't speak a word of English, we managed quite a lot of conversation. I think she warmed to me because Diva and Fina were both so admirable in their work, and she knew I was working hard, as she would see me at the club during the day when I would go there to practice, and so I think she knew I wasn't a crazy American flake.
I think I was kinda interesting with my food/toy/noleash motivational training techniques as they would all watch me. Thank goodness the dogs were worth watching (they really were!). Perhaps I made a tiny impression on these all traditional "jerk and praise" trainers.
Mornings were fun! Every morning I would get up around 6:30/7:00 am and head for one of "my" two lakes. I say "my" lakes because I discovered that if I got up early enough the dogs and I would have the entire lake and surroundings to ourselves (well, except for weekends). One lake was part of a Naturschutzgebiet (Nature Protection Area) and had a host of bird life, most notably a mated pair of swans who were raising four half grown chicks; the other lake had some fairly forbidding signs and an iron gate which temporarily intimidated me, but since everyone ignored the signs, I did too! And I quit worrying about the sign when I translated it - camping and fires verboten - and noted that everyone ignored that too!
Beyond this forbidding gate was a small lake that attracted throngs of people on the weekends for swimming and picnicing. And yes camping and fires as well! But the weekday mornings were ours. I would often think "they gave a lake and nobody came!". So I would throw the kong on a rope into the water for each dog for at least a half hour every morning, and then each would get a walk until the major dripping was over with and then we would make the 6-8 minute walk back to the car. The other lake was about the same except it had a shorter walk back to the car. It was a lot of work to do two dogs separately every morning, but since Diva threatened to drown Fina, going for her neck instead of the kong when they were together and chasing the kongs, I had no choice!
All this regular swimming and daily training worked great - that is until Fina got sick.
Yes, Fina got sick :(. I didn't realize it at first. I thought perhaps I was overtraining and she was tired. She is an absolute FANATIC for the kong, and when she swims after the kong, she is expending EVERYTHING she has to get to it - which led me to false assumption, that she was just tired. So I backed off swimming and training for several days. but it didn't seem to make any difference. Although she would swim after the kong as though her life depended on it, the rest of the time she was obviously not herself. Diva, who was getting the same exercise as Fina, was gaining in energy, so I began to think I ought to take Fina to a vet. But it was still so VAGUE, and she still went nuts for the kong, so in the end I worried, but I didn't make the effort to find a vet.
Instead, I entered her in a show at Gross Zimmern. We had already gone to three shows, including the Austrian Sieger Show, and gotten a feel for the competition, and I was eager to see how well Fina could compete with the good dogs over there. I lucked out and fell into a terrific handler, and though Fina was only half herself, and it was nearly 100 degrees, we came in 4th in very tough competition. Gunther Bauer was the judge, and he afterwards said that it was a very good place in a tough class, as did several others who noticed Fina for the first time. Fina earned me a nice trophy for her placing, which pleased me until I had to find a place for it in my suitcase to get it home - but that's a whole other story!
Incidentally, Fina's father, Lasso, was shown at this show and, as I've noticed before, it isn't until it comes time for the fast gaiting that you really see why he was Sieger, as he puts together this incredible picture of speed and fluid movement. As usual, he left me with goosebumps. Still, there were rumors that he would not be running at the Sieger Show.
The following day Fina went to the vet. This was the Monday before the Sieger Show, which was to begin on Friday. Fortunately, the vet spoke a little English and so I spoke slowly and carefully, telling him that I was sorry I didn't have anything more specific, but explaining the situation and telling him that something was definitely wrong. He quickly discovered that she had a lot of pain on abdominal palpation. The blood test revealed an elevation of BUN. So I was told that her kidneys were the problem and the Sieger Show was definitely off for her. He prescribed some special food which turned out to be Hill's K/D. Yuck, said Fina. She ate the first meal, but wouldn't touch a bite after that.
I had a choice at this point to board both of my dogs in Waidhaus, and to enjoy the Sieger Show free of doggie responsibilities. But I thought it might stress Fina to be left with strangers when she was ill, and I would be too far away to respond if something worsened, so I opted to board Diva for a week and take Fina with me to the Sieger show. I was resigned to not showing her; glad even, as I really wanted to be able to see everything.
We arrived in Nurnberg on Wednesday afternoon and almost immediately discovered that we could take the U-Bahn to downtown Altstadt Nurnberg. We went there twice - what an incredible place... I loved the experience of taking Fina with me on the subway! She dined at the hotel with me that night (and joined us for breakfast and dinner every day we were there). The Germans are so much cooler about this dog thing than we Americans!
Thursday Fina seemed quite a bit better. On Friday, the day she was to be presented for the Standing Exam, she seemed even better. It didn't take much nudging from my friends to push me into a decision to show her. I knew I'd probably never have another opportunity like this to be in Germany with a good dog, and to have the experience of showing a dog at the Sieger Show, so, even though I was still ambivalent about it, I took the plunge and turned in my registration package and got her entry number. We now had an appointment at 12:30 in the Jugendklasse Hundinin ring for the Standmusterung.
My handler was there on time and he took her from me and I was left only with butterflies. I waited her turn, watching a lot of individual exams ahead of her, and at one point I saw one dog make a short practice run up the far side of the ring and I got all excited wondering which young bitch had that spectacular side gait. And then I saw it was my handler on the end of the leash and it was my Fina who looked so spectacular! At this point, the butterflies threatened to overwhelm me!
Well, the stand went really well, but the gaiting was a a bit of a flop. Fina ran the first leg of the ring quite nicely, but when she turned the corner she was lured out of her beautiful gait into that awful hopping gallop by some woman who was waving a ball on a long rope and calling "Fina"! I couldn't believe it! She was right about where I was trying to double my own dog - on the opposite side of the ring from Fina - and she nearly hit me in the head swinging the ball on the rope as I ran along that edge of the ring oblivious to all but my dog. Yet I have no idea in the world who this person was and why she was calling "Fina". I assume it was a crazy coincidence, and she had a dog somewhere by that name, but it still doesn't make a lot of sense to me. My handler was furious!
In spite of that (and in spite of other disadvantages - that we didn't yet have an a-stamp on the pedigree and we didn't have the requisite three shows before the Sieger Show under our belts), Fina got called out in 128th position. There were over 400 entered in this class, approximately 270 actually showed, so in spite of her poor showing in the stand and other disadvantages as noted above, she still was called out in a respectable position, well within the first half of dog's entered, and I like to think she would have bettered that position during the gaiting.
But that was not to be. That evening she had no energy at all. While she did eat that night, she refused to eat or drink the next morning, and I was pretty sure we wouldn't be showing.
I spent most of the morning wandering among the groups as they gathered for the Progeny groups. This is a fascinating place to be. There were many signs on long posts everywhere, Lasso, Vando, Yasko, Sa"mmo, Ulk, Jeck, Flick, Quartz, etc. etc. The signs were leaned up along the fences, spaced around 10-15 feet apart, and all the dogs that were the children of a particular sire gathered around the appropriate sign. Big boxes were often part of the scene. They held the matching sport suits that every handler in the progeny group was to wear. Fina was automatically entered in Lasso's progeny group, and I eventually presented my authorization and received a suit. Lasso was one of the last groups to go in, so I had plenty of time to get a good close up look at lots of the males and their progeny.
One of my favorite groups was that of Vando Moorbeck. I was really taken with his powerful build, harmony of line, good pigment; it was obvious that his progeny very much resembled him. I had not been familiar with him before I spotted him, and was pleased that he wound up in the V-1 position.
I also came upon another male I greatly admired who turned out to be Neptun von Bad Boll. Another male of outstanding masculinity, very good color, very good harmony of line. Unfortunately, not a future suitor for Fina, as his mother is a Lasso daughter.
Another of my favorites was Hobby vom Gletschertopf. He, too, has an abundance of masculinity and exceptionally good color. He is known as a color improver, which you can easily see in his daughters, who typically have minimal sabling down their backs and very good color and pigment. He is also known to be a good producer of good character, and working ability.
Of course, I liked Lasso's progeny group :) :) :).
There were many other wonderful dogs to see, but the ones I've mentioned were my favorites.
After the progeny groups had done their exhibition in the stadium, which took all morning, I fully faced the reality that Fina could not be shown for her scheduled appearance for gaiting. She was now walking at my side on a slack leash with her head down, not at all the normally vivacious Fina. She had refused any water since the night before, she had thrown up a thick gelatinous clump of fluid after retching mightily for 5 minutes, poor thing, and I couldn't imagine her standing up to the gaiting phase. So I was now faced with figuring out how to get her officially excused.
Thanks to Heinz Madzen (Thanks, Heinz!), who did a little legwork for me, I found out where I had to present her for the vet excuse. This took quite a chunk of time and extracted another 70 DM from me. Yes, it cost 70 DM to get properly excused - ouch. Added to the 322 DM the vet on Monday had charged me, there was now a huge 400 DM dent in my vacation budget...
By this time, it was quite late in the day. I'd been at the show for two days, and I hadn't had a second to shop at all the tempting booths! So I spent an hour or so making the rounds. Met the fellows that designed and sell Windogs and made the arrangements to get my upgrade. Found that vendor that makes the one-of-a-kind leashes that are available only once a year at the Sieger Show (thanks again, Heinz!). And passed up dozens of tempting items because I was now so short of money, and no one takes Visa cards. This was probably for the best, as my suitcases were an absolute nightmare to pack with the extra things I would accumulate while in Germany, but I confess I absolutely LUSTED after some of the Shepherd metalwork that was available - GSD heads to bolt into the front grill of the auto, or gaiting GSD's to use for house or the gate or the wall. There were tons of sport suits to look at, dozens of vendors with the usual leashes, collars, toys. A vendor selling t-shirts etc with - would you believe - AKC Shepherd images (Kathy, where WERE you???). The SV Shop was a must visit. I did buy some decals and patches there that I couldn't resist....
The next day was Sunday. All the best dogs and bitches in the Jugend and Junghund classes were being judged simultaneously in the morning. Which one to watch? I picked the Jugend females, the class that Fina would have been in. There were many beautiful bitches, but the winning bitch was a real knockout, an Ursus von Batu daughter who animated her absolutely gorgeous structure and stunning black and red pigment with a clearly outstanding temperament. I can't wait to see her as an adult....
Finally, what everyone is waiting for... the final judging of the adult Working Females and Adult Working Males. The stadium is huge. The ring surrounded a regulation soccer field and one can't hope to pick out details on the far side of the ring, or even the sides, without binoculars, as the Stadium is so big! I had found a place on the stairs (as the seating was already taken by the time I got there). I was sitting on what would have been the 50 yard line on a football field, but down fairly low, and with only a narrow window to clearly see the dogs, as the trophy tables were obscuring my view of the dogs, so I couldn't get a really good look at them as they came along the near side of the ring. I couldn't read numbers without my binoculars either on 3 sides of the ring, and when the dogs were running in front of me, their handlers were in profile and I couldn't read numbers then with or without binoculars! All this is to say, I really had a hard time finding dogs I was interested in watching and identifying dogs that caught my eye during the gaiting. I MUCH prefer going to the regular shows where you can pick a good spot along ringside, and really SEE the dogs.
Nevertheless, I wouldn't have missed it for the world. I was overwhelmed emotionally several times by just the fact of being there! It was a spectacle I had longed to see for too many years to admit in public and I was finally there!
The Adult Working Females came in first, led by Anschie von der Magistrale, who immediately captured my wholehearted enthusiasm because she animated her beautiful structure with a "notice me" enthusiasm and proud attitude and stole the show for me. Rikkor von Bad Boll was similar in that he had a visible "attitude" that made him stand out. Of course, the males behind Rikkor were noteworthy as well, but he had a little of that extra bloom that is so attractive and that I think OUGHT to be associated with being a Sieger or Siegerin.
It was disappointing to me that Lasso didn't run, but apparently the stigma associated with his sale and the uncertain mess that has followed may have been somewhat damaging, and he was apparently viewed as having had his day in the sun with a VA4 and a VA1 in Germany, and two VA1's in the U.S. I understand that Shanto's Xano and Hobby von Gletschertopf were not shown either because they were warned that they would be embarrassed by losing ground in their placements from the previous year. It is also rumored that Karly von Arminius was told to stay home, but his owner defied the "order" and is said to have replied something to the effect that no one tells him who he can or cannot show. And Karly was VA2. So it's all very puzzling. I guess I have a bit of a problem with this - I just can't quite adjust to the fact that the highest level placings are so prejudged...
A couple of things I can't resist mentioning... These last two classes were, frankly, a teensy bit of a disappointment to me. There was little sense of excitement; it was almost as if the first 20 or 30 or 40 dogs had been prejudged and that what was taking place before my eyes was an exhibition rather than a contest. I don't recall that any of the first 20 dogs or bitches ever gained or lost a spot during the gaitwork. In fact, I don't recall that ANY of the dogs or bitches wound up in a different order than the call out order (though I really shouldn't say this, as in that huge Stadium I could easily have missed dozens of changes in position!). In any case, I SUSPECT that a good deal of prejudging goes on based on merit observed in shows prior to the Sieger Show and who knows what else may play a part...and I'd love to know more about this....
The closing ceremonies were absolutely spectacular. The whole soccer field was covered with people and dogs and flags and banners and kennel groups and music.... Again, a very emotional experience for me.
After it was all over, I did manage to rush over to the Windogs vendor and pick up my update for Windogs, and I found my Royal Canine vendor - some one I had met at my first show in Ingolstadt - where I bought some much needed dog food, and discovered that he had terrific leashes at a good price. This last minute rush to this vendor led to my second great experience with trust while I was in Germany. I asked this vendor whether he would be at a show somewhere before I had to leave, as I didn't have enough money to buy what I wanted at the moment. Instead, he asked me to pick out what I wanted and send him the money... I still can hardly believe there are people like this left in the world! I walked away with around 150 DM worth of leashes and equipment and could easily have left it at that. Of course, I rushed to the bank as soon as I returned to home base and arranged to transfer the funds to his account. To make it an extra special experience, the banker decided to charge me only 5 DM for the service instead of 10...
This was the second time during my trip that trust was an issue. At the second show I attended, in Bad Boll, I found a sport suit I really liked, but it wasn't available at the show in my size. The vendor told me he would mail me a suit in the correct size. I gave him my 90 DM cash for the suit, failing completely to ask him for his card or a receipt. I got the suit in the mail the following week, just as promised!
The Sieger Show experience finally ended - as all good things inevitably do - with crowds of people streaming away, vendors busily packing up, trucks hauling stuff away. It was really hard to leave, my mind crowded with experiences, and wondering if I'd ever be lucky enough to get there again.
One thing for sure, I don't think I'll ever enter a dog in the Sieger Show again! Oh, to be sure, it was really really exciting to have Fina entered and to have the experience of being one of the competitors (even though there wasn't a sense of completion because of Fina's illness). But there were tons of distracting and time consuming doggie-related chores, both routine and related to the logistics of showing, and even doggie pee breaks seemed to take forever to do because it was such a HUGE spread out environment. The new Stadium was at one end, the old Stadium (made infamous by Hitler, incidentally) was a long walk in another direction, parking in yet another direction....and so on. So I feel I spent almost as much time WALKING as I did in watching the dogs - in short I feel I missed WAY too much in the way of seeing the dogs, the people and the show....and so the NEXT time I go to a Sieger Show it will be without any doggie responsibilities.
Now it was time to leave the Sieger Show behind and to look forward to my last three weeks in Germany. Fina was better on Sunday and clearly better on Monday, so that was good! Next I had to retrieve the amazing Diva from Waidhaus, where she had been boarded. I say "amazing" because the little puppy I had brought with me had been growing like a WEED since she arrived in Germany. And no soft stemmed weed was she - so hard and firm that petting her felt more like I was touching the side of a tree trunk, rather than a soft and pliable puppy. Whew, I'll be wondering how big she will grow - no doubt about it!
The last three plus weeks are a sort of blur as I tried to cram in everything I could before I had to return home. Regardless of what tourist junket I would have in mind, every morning always belonged to the dogs...
We found another WONDERFUL place for our morning walks, this one farther away, but well worth the 15 minute drive to get there. I have Elsa, the tiny lady that berated me so strongly on my first day at the club, to thank for this wonderful tip. This new place turned out to have 13 different hiking routes to choose from! Every one was sort of a circle and most took about 45 minutes to walk. The territory was GORGEOUS, moving from huge stretches of meadow to dark heavily forested areas of closely spaced conifers (you can imagine how Grimm's Fairy Tales came about while walking though these areas!). Well there were no dangerous fairy tale ogres lurking behind dark trees, but there were the very tall Jaeger chairs here and there, so I assume the Jaeger's could become modern day ogres if they decided to shoot dogs instead of wild prey! Fortunately, I never saw anyone sitting in the tall chairs. In fact, I only rarely saw anyone else there, though I'm sure going very early had something to do with that...
Fina and Diva had the best times in the meadows. They would run and run and RUN. And then suddenly stop and put their noses to the ground to check for the burrowing pests that inhabit the meadows. There were many of them, as evidenced by their frequent small dirt islands in the sea of meadow grasses, and Fina had a fetish for trying to dig them out, so I had to keep an eye on her for that. The forested areas had them both a little subdued, just like I felt, but with heads alertly up and watching, and noses using airscenting rather than groundscenting to gather information. No wonder Walter Martin recommended doing show training in the forests!
Fina was clearly better by now, gaining back the weight she had lost and the energy she had lost, so I decided to enter her in another show. This was a lot of fun to look forward to because it involved driving to Weil am Rhein, which is located in farthest southwestern corner of Germany, right at the border of Switzerland and France. It turned out to be faster/easier to make the trip by going south at Bregenz, which is on the east end of the Bodensee, and then going west into Switzerland and picking up a Swiss autobahn rather than taking the slower scenic route through the many small towns along the northern edge of the Bodensee.
So I got to see a small slice of Switzerland, though admittedly not the truly scenic parts. Our route took us through St. Gallien and past (but not into) Zurich and then headed us back in a northernly direction toward Basel and then back into Germany. At the end of the day, there was the Rhine! So the dogs and I spend several hours running along the banks of the Rhine and savoring the beauty of this very well known river. This is another very beautiful area of Germany, with a very different look and feel from the Allga"u, as it is dominated by deciduous shrubs and trees. I would love to see this area in the fall, the impending signs of which I had noticed creeping in since late August, as I suspect it would rival the fall foliage displays for which the Eastern U.S. is famous.
We got to see a little of France in the evenings, but in both cases, could hardly wait to get back to Germany, with its comforting signs at every intersection. We had gone into France in the late afternoon on Saturday, our day of arrival, hoping to find a place to enjoy a taste of the famous French cuisine. Instead we were a little unnerved by the look and feel of Saint Louis; right or wrong, we just had the feeling that it wasn't entirely safe to walk the streets there. When we tried to retrace our steps home we got hopelessly lost at one intersection. We tried three wrong directions before we came up with the one that took us back over the Rhine - what a relief to be back in Germany!
I refused to be unnerved, so the next evening, after the show in Weil, we headed into France again. The mission was the same, to sample some of the famous French cuisine. We wound up in Colmar, a beautiful city of many government buildings of attractive architecture, and then we stumbled into sight of an old town area that looked super! We found a place to park and strolled back into a time of cobbled streets and historic old buildings, wonderfully interesting shops (all closed) and incredible restaurants (all closed!). It was Sunday evening, and though there were plenty of strollers, NONE of the restaurants were open . We were forced to settle for a drink and a snack at an outdoor bar/restaurant. We were lucky they took our German marks or we would have gone hungry!
I definitely look forward to the day of the Euro dollar (Jan 1999). Not to mention the more widespread acceptance of charge cards. It was not all that inconvenient to exchange money, but it was costly, and we were always faced with not knowing how much we would need in the way of Austrian, Swiss or French money, and then being reluctant to pay the cost of changing the excess back to Marks when we returned to Germany. So we didn't exchange our money. We spent German marks in Austria, German marks in Switzerland and German marks in France. The exchange rates were clearly off the top of the payee's head in these circumstances, and we never wanted to figure out by how much we might have been "taken". But it was probably less than had we made a guess at how much we would need, and then had to change any excess back to German marks again. What a pain! But on to Fina's last show in Germany...!
Sunday morning arrived - a beautiful day - and it was time to check into the show at Weil. A great parking place out of the sun was a good beginning. But...Fina's handler was late arriving at the show....uh oh.... The two 9-12 puppy classes had now been judged, and still no handler! Fina's class, 12-18 month females, was already in the ring and warming up. Normally, warmups are really informal, and the judge is absent or busy with something else. But, just my luck, the judge was really looking at this class, and everyone was working at making their dog look it's best. Around and around they went while the judge continued to look. Meanwhile, I waited and fretted and, finally, agonized about what to do on the sidelines. Ten more minutes went by. Finally, I decided to aproach someone that I thought I had seen doing some handling at another show. She referred me to someone else. No, he didn't speak English, but eventually I understood that he would first look at my dog, and if she looked okay, he would show her for me. Good!
I hurried like crazy to get Fina. He liked her at first sight...now there was no question that he would show her for me as he grabbed the number from me and started putting it on (please hurry, the class seemed well underway!). Just then, my friend rushed up and breathlessly said "Resi's here".
Damn - now I was caught in the middle of a huge dilemma - should I dismiss my newly found handler and tell him my handler had arrived? I really didn't want to at this point, but I felt I had no choice, because the handler I had prearranged was a sort of "friend". So my newly found handler good naturedly pulled off the number that he had just donned, and I waited for my handler to show. And I waited and I waited and I waited! Another 10 minutes went by. I was by now getting really mad; as my friend Jim will tell you, I do not wait patiently. Fina's class was by this time well along in the individual exams. In a few minutes it would be too late to bring her into the ring. Was I second guessing my decision to dismiss my newly found handler? You bet!
Finally, she's there - all smiles - leaving me struggling mightily to hide my annoyance! It was a cliff-hanger, as Fina is rushed in just in time to be the last dog examined for the individual exam. Her solo gaiting goes about like the Sieger show, (no, worse!), but for different reasons. Fina is feeling really good by now, as far as I can tell completely back to her usual very energetic self. She has had no opportunity for a warmup prior to the standing exam, and so she is as fresh and full of energy as a horse on a brisk morning, and she looks like one as she hops/gallops the ENTIRE way around the ring during her individual exam. Damn again!
Of course, it's partly my fault - when she was about to start her run around the ring, she was looking backwards and about to sniff the ground, so I called her. Big mistake... My small and relatively inexperienced handler was not strong enough by half to stand a chance of managing my very strong Fina. At this point, I figure Fina is doomed to be called out in last place :(.
Fortunately, we did better than this (don't ask me how...) as we are called out in fourth place (whew!). Meanwhile, the handler that was GOING to show Fina for me was giving my handler a whole bunch of advice about how to have better managed her individual exam, and then he took me on as his next pupil...! When I wasn't going by too fast on my doubling mission, he made sure I was ideally positioned for doubling my dog. Communication was by touch and gesture and smile, as the language barrier would have made words too slow, and I am very grateful to this wonderful fellow for taking such an interest in Fina's success.
Fina did well enough during the gaiting phase to maintain our position and so we finished fourth, for which I am entirely grateful under the circumstances! Fina also earned another nice trophy and I had a great time....!
This show was billed as an "internationale Zucht- und Nachwuchsschau" because it was so close to Switzerland and France (Dreilaendereck), but, really, the entry was lower compared to the other shows we attended, and probably because it was only two weeks after the Sieger Show, the big name dogs seemed to have stayed at home. Nevertheless, Fina was beaten by 3 very good Rikkor von Bad Boll daughters, Wilson Agrigento put on a good show winning the adult working male class, the top V bitches were very nice, and I especially liked the winner of the Junghundklasse Rueden, a Hobby son called Lando vom Zirndorfer Gauner.
Here, as at the other shows I attended, there were a few differences versus the U.S. First of all, the cost of entering a dog was dirt cheap - 20 DM per class (except for the Sieger Show)! So this was hardly the barrier to participation that it is in the U.S. The puppy classes are for 9-12 month dogs only, (which really makes a lot more sense). The classes do run in the typical sequence that we are familiar with, that is, youngest classes first, but there were always at least two rings going, and I sometimes felt like I was channel-switching, as I would move between the rings to see what was happening.
The thing that most surprised me was that the Germans seem far less formal about ring procedure than has been my experience at U.S. shows. For example, the regular show classes in Germany began with the standing examination, whereas in the U.S. they seem to begin by bringing all the dogs into the ring in catalog order and having a few go rounds before starting the individual exams. My experience with Fina's class above was a total exception, even in the judge's other classes at that show.
In Germany, no one showed up in catalog order for the stand either; the competitors seemed to just "drop in" informally for their turn whenever they felt like it, in any sequence. And any one or more handlers might decide to make practice runs around the ring while the judge was involved with the individual standing exam of another entry. I thought this was much more efficient for competitors and more interesting for spectators.
As always, this show ended with everyone sitting around the clubhouse and on the outside picnic benches doing postmortems. Drinks flowed freely and a party atmosphere prevailed. This was always the moment when I so keenly felt the isolation of the language barrier. As always, I vowed to myself to be better prepared for the next time....
We had decided to stay an extra day and take a long route home by driving north into the Black Forest region for some sightseeing. It was a beautiful region, well worth seeing, but for me it didn't quite match the beauty of the Allga"u. The Allga"u had by now truly become "Home Sweet Home"!
But not for much longer ...only one more week remained of my stay in Germany......
Even after a weary day of traveling home, we couldn't resist stopping at the Wangen club for Monday night show training. This is a regular happening year round at this GSD club, and everyone spends a couple of hours gaiting and stacking their dogs. There are a number of very good dogs there, including the very handsome Hobby vom Gletschertopf, and yet Fina was greatly admired every time I went there, (and elsewhere, I might add), and I am proud to have been able to come to Germany with a better than just "respectable" dog. (Thank you, Malka, for coming across this wonderful dog!) I've been told over and over that if Fina were properly show trained and conditioned, she would win in Germany. An impossible dream...but it does my heart good to know that I'm not the only one who thinks Fina is special!
Monday evening show training at the club is also a great night for gossiping, as everyone stays and talks dogs well into the night. It's very social; drinks are available as well as dinners. These are the moments when I so wished I had studied my German a little more! As I said earlier, my German is functional for the necessities, but it's a long way from good enough to carry on a social conversation. Fragments of understandable phrases would drift past my ears, just enough to know how much I was missing, but hardly enough to say I understood what was being said. Very frustrating! Again, I vowed to learn more German so that on my next visit I can be much more socially interactive as well!
The weather turned really cold on my last full week in Germany. Mornings were around 4 or 5 degrees centigrade and it often didn't warm up to more than 9 or 10 degrees during the day. Brrr! Then it started to rain. Day after day of cold hard rain. Was this to make it easier for me to leave this beautiful area???
I finally began to look forward to getting home. Somehow I managed to pack everything into my suitcases, which now had to accomodate all my new found spoils. It wasn't easy; I had to start over a couple of times! They now weighed a ton besides. The real fun came when we had to repack our small Opal Vectra for the run back to the airport in Frankfurt - around a 4-5 hour drive. Back again to what worked the first time: Dismantling the 500 crate and nesting the top in the bottom and putting the 400 crate inside, hen Diva inside the 400, then finding the right spot to stuff two very large suitcases, two medium suitcases, and two duffels, while leaving a tiny space for Fina to inhabit. I still can't believe the car didn't groan! I wish I had taken a picture of this packed little wagon, but it was raining too hard!
We were lucky to have found a place to stay in Frankfurt - some major week long event had all the hotel rooms taken, and the afternoon we arrived we were told they fielded at least 50 phone calls requesting rooms that weren't available - Whew! This was the very comfortable Hotel Tanne, located just a few convenient kilometers from the airport. It was also a great place to stay with the dogs as there was a long walking/bike path just around the corner. And I finally got to hear news in the English language again, as this hotel had CNN and NBC - what luxury to hear English again - even if most of it concerned Clinton!
Well, it's been almost two weeks since I'm back. I'm over my jet lag and I'm over the cold I caught from my seat companion between Frankfurt and Chicago, and there's nothing left now but the memories. And they are such good ones! The beautiful scenery, the unforgettable architecture of the old buildings and towns, the immense amount of open space in a heavily populated country, the great secondary roads for incredibly scenic driving. Green grass everywhere, and the absence of foxtails! The bakeries and the incredibly delicious breads! The ability to take dogs most anywhere, the many dog clubs to choose from, the choice of dog shows within driving distance nearly every weekend, opportunities to see the "great" ones, and the "up and comers", and to talk with people "in the know".
I'll also miss the many language inspired laughs! Every time I see an Autobahn exit sign (Ausfahrt). Every time we would screw up our faces to practice umlaut o's and umlaut u's, or try to pronounce funny sounding place names. And we laughed nearly every time we would find ourselves trying to figure out where to sneak in somewhere and dispose of our considerable paper garbage, absolutely mystified about what Germans did with THEIR paper garbage (there was no garbage service for anything but food garbage where we were living).
But I am glad to get back to our more service oriented culture. Where you don't have to bring your own bags and bag your own purchases. Where there are drinking fountains and water served in restaurants (you wouldn't believe how hard it is to get drinking water from the tap in Germany, as apparently NO ONE drinks the water except yours truly and the dogs....). Where stores, banks and post offices stay open between noon and 2 pm and most stores are also open all day Saturdays and Sundays, and merchants take credit cards. Where you don't have to think about how expensive it is to make one short phone call. Where there are ziplock bags, and large refrigerators, and washing machines that don't take two to three full hours per load. And let's not forget the luxury of soft toilet paper :) :).
But the best thing about being back may be the familiar sounds and ease of communication in one's native language!
Now it's time to get back to the training field....