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Canine Trauma

The German Sieger Show and Other SV
and SV-Style Shows

Fred Lanting

There are a number of differences between the way the GSDCA National Specialty is run and the methods employed in conducting the (World) Sieger Show in Germany and the SV-sanctioned Sieger Shows in other countries. Besides being international in scope, the Sieger Show is completely controlled by the SV, not some supra-organization such as the AKC. They therefore can set requirements that would not be allowed here in the US. The main judges are the same year after year, until new officers are elected. No one is allowed to judge any SV show, much less classes at the Sieger Show, until he has passed extensive training, an apprenticeship, and won the approval of officials in the organization. This main breed show is held in a different city in Germany each year.

AKC Ring Procedure Differences

The spectator or exhibitor who is used to only one type of dog show may want to know what is going on, and why, at another event. The best way is to find someone showing more than one dog and simply ask if he has a few minutes to explain the procedures to you. At an AKC or CKC all-breed show, there are generally a considerable number of constraints, mainly "Newtonian" (i.e., time and space). Judges are expected to process at least 25 dogs per hour, and when you include the shuffling of papers, checking armband numbers, waiting for dogs to enter and exit the rings, and the difficulty some exhibitors have in "setting up" their dogs, there is pitifully little time spent going over each entry. Of course, a good judge can spot a good dog right away, and both I and a German friend are fond of saying (only partially tongue-in-cheek) that we can see a dog jump out of a car trunk, jump right back in, and can tell you the quality level in that instant. But a very short time is not fair to the exhibitor or to the breed.

In such an AKC ring at an multi-breed show, there is another judge and another breed or group waiting for your space. And that is the other major constraint: the dogs have a very small ring at most of these shows, so even in a small class they can only take a few steps before they have to make a right-angle turn. It is not fair to exhibitors or good for the breed to judge them as little more than statues. Judges in such venues customarily run the class around once, then individually check teeth, testicles, and hopefully other aspects, then move the dog down and back, and around to the end. Some vary the method from here on, with the better ones either temporarily placing the dogs in a large class at the time they do the individual exams, others taking notes so they can call out the dogs in order of preference after the "individuals". Those who do neither risk forgetting which dogs had the bad mouths, insecure temperaments, and other problems, and such dogs are often given the top awards because of this or lack of concern about the breed. Many judges at these shows have been "given" the breed simply because they are licensed to judge others in the group, and have filled out the application forms and passed the quiz on the Standard. Most have never seen anything but the extreme American fad dogs and think that style is correct.

"The judging of the dog should throw light on his external features and his nature and - in certain circumstances - of his accomplishments."
--von Stephanitz

At the Sieger Show, all entrants in the Open Class (the Gebrauchshundklasse) are pre-screened by the judge the day before the extended gaiting, and then on the final day are admitted into the ring in order based on notes compiled in the preliminary standing exam. By that day, the judge has already put the entry numbers worn by the exhibitors into one or another column in his note pad, placing them in initial order of quality in either the V+, V, V-, SG+, SG, SG-, or other column, with the better of each group nearer the top and the poorer nearer the bottom of the columns. He will make minor changes in that line-up during the extended gaiting portion of his evaluation (at smaller shows, all this can be done on the same day). The entry is usually well over 100 in the Open Class, perhaps some 30 percent greater than a typical GSDCA National "Specials" class. These dogs also must have been surveyed, performed the courage test, be gun-sure, have a Schutzhund title, and have earned at least an SG (sehr gut) ranking at some previous competition such as one of the Landesgruppen "regional" shows. So, by the time the adult males enter the ring to be judged by the president of the SV (females are customarily judged by the chief Koermeister), their pedigrees and records are known to the judge.

Conversely, in AKC type shows the judge is not supposed to base his decision on anything other than what he sees in the ring on that day. This directive puts a terrible burden of dilemma on a judge who knows a certain dog is dysplastic, or of poor temperament, or produces very poorly, yet is under control and shows none of his problems on the day of the show. The previous-day initial look includes checking teeth, tattoos, and testicles, though sometimes with a big entry, a fellow judge will do this to save time.

Courage Test

"Judge not according to the appearance."
--John 7:24

On the day prior to being judged in the "show" ring, the adults must also pass the courage tests in a different field or arena, while the younger dogs are being judged by someone else in the conformation ring. Elements of Schutzhund training are used to test the Working Class dog's character and willingness to protect his handler. While the two walk down the field, an agitator jumps out from behind a blind making threatening gestures. The dog must attack, bite full and hard, and hold on until commanded by his handler to release. The villain used to go through the escape-turn-threaten routine a second time, from far away, and the dog had to pursue and again attack this stick-wielding agitator. (Note: SV rules as of 1997 were changed to eliminate running away from the dog, and now the second "bad guy" comes out of a blind at the other end of the field and runs menacingly at the dog.) The dog must work well in spite of the cheers and other noises made by the enthusiastic crowd, something he is possibly not used to in his first tests or at a trial with a small turnout.

"As soon as the judge enters the ring he must remember the breeding aim of the SV which is: the shepherd dog is a working dog!"
--von Stephanitz

SV-type Judging Procedures

The officiating judge has each dog stand in the same position while he evaluates it according to the Standard. One recently elected official of the SV even wants the dogs to "free-stack", which means just be walked into the pose or pose themselves, with no hand-stacking. In the typical AKC ring, dogs might be stacked in ridiculously exaggerated poses, but in German-style show, each dog is usually required to stand with the extended rear leg showing a vertical metatarsus, and the other rear leg just far enough forward so the toes are not further forward than the knee. Effective in 1997, the dog in Germany may not have substantial help in the stand for exam at either a show or a Körung. The "AKC dog" frequently is set up with one leg back so far that the knee is lower than the hock and the other is almost stepping on the front feet. This is to give a ski-slope topline that has long ago become perversely attractive to many fanciers who haven't been exposed to education or another world of dogs. If the dogs are all posed naturally, i.e., approximating how most GSDs would stack themselves, the judge is better able to see the lay and length of the croup and the actual construction of the topline, and get a better picture of how the dogs compare to each other as well as to the Standard.

In the German style ring, there is a tent in the middle for a table with the gun, pedigrees, score books, and other paraphernalia. The SV judge, sometimes in the shade of the tent, sometimes walking around in the very large ring while dogs are moving, takes notes and may make comments to assistants. And he may have questions about a particular dog's parents or scores. He has each dog moved individually, both down and back and a moderately fast lap around, and he makes his notes. After these "individuals", the dogs are called out to line up in that order. That's when the group gaiting starts, with handlers and dogs walking, not trotting, at first. Dogs may pace during the slow gaiting, something akin to sin in the AKC ring, but this is a natural gait, and it allows unhindered study of the back action, including any tendency to roll due to loose skin ligaments. Faster gaiting comes after the judge is initially satisfied with the placings at the slower speed. If there are further clues to the dogs' efficiency of movement, it may show up here. Judging Greyhounds in England many years ago taught me the value of walking dogs slowly to see many faults as well as strengths. In the large shows such as Sieger Shows, dogs in the open class are required to do fast gaiting off leash as well.

"Nobility of build guarantees the highest efficiency with the lowest consumption of energy."
--von Stephanitz

One important difference between "American" and "German" styles of conformation showing that you can hang on your wall is this: the American Standard and custom call for "covering the maximum amount of ground with the minimum number of steps", while the sense of the SV Standard is that the dog should cover the maximum amount of ground with the most efficiency and least effort. Subtle, but significant. The judge in any specialty ring has much more time to run the dogs than he would in an all-breed show environment, and he also has a larger ring. However, the tendency of handlers in an AKC-GSDCA specialty is to try to prevent their dogs from being "covered up" by the next dog running closely behind. This results in the circle becoming smaller and smaller (despite the judge possibly exclaiming, "Use the whole ring!"), and the effective ring size becomes little different from that of an all-breed show. The SV-style show has a large ring, sometimes as big as most of a football field, and there is an inner rope to prevent handlers from making the circle of oval smaller. As we learned in Kindergarten, we must "stay between the lines" at certain times in our lives.

The AKC judge customarily palpates as much as every square inch of each dog, and often checks the mouth himself because there are so many novices showing and so little time to wait for the exhibitor to show the dentition. The SV judge will sometimes push the tongue aside to check on the P-1s ("button premolars") but seldom gets any further into the dog's mouth, yet sees all the teeth compared to the typical AKC judge who looks at the incisors bite only, and then often forgets about it. The exhibitors in the German style ring are more able to show teeth, and the dogs are more prepared by practice. The testicles are checked (unless already done by an assistant), and other than that, all the judge needs to know about proportions, layback, upper arm, croup, and other features is observed during the stand and the gaiting. The breadth of forequarters and haunch will directly correlate with lengths and/or angles of the upper arm and croup, which are extremely important to structure and movement.

A group of four to six dogs at a time is double-checked for trueness in coming and going near the end of the gaiting. Approximately half a dozen at a time are also tested early for gunsureness with the pistol fired twice, more if the judge sees something suspicious. Obviously gun-shy dogs are put in the "insufficient" column of the judge's note pad at this time, and moved to the end of the class before much gaiting has gone on.

Some of the judging in the Open class is done off-leash at a fast trot in order for the judge to be sure he sees the movement free of any outside influence. In the US, show dogs are almost never trained to run or walk off-leash on a heel command and some are never seen in any posture other than straining against the leash, which can cover up or magnify faults, especially in the back and the front assembly. A dog that does not show the fault while pulling may suddenly be seen to "fall on its forehand" or land on its front legs with a noticeable loss in smoothness when trotting off-lead. In Germany, the off-leash trotting is often taken over by the owner or one who trained the dog for his Schutzhund titles, while another may do the on-leash work.

Ron Harris, the owner of the first American-bred VA male dog Lars Wilhendorf, summed up very well what the dog in the German-style show goes through compared to the little "stand and run around" exercise of the AKC ring. He wrote, "At our Sieger Show, in the space of several hours, the dogs must stand for examination, gait, heel, bite, 'out', pursue, bite and out again, and then gait again, on- and off-leash." I might add, "and demonstrate gunsureness".

Continued in Part 2.

Fred Lanting is the principal of "All Things Canine" Consulting, behavior analysis, evaluations, seminars, and lectures. He is the author of "The Total GSD" and "Canine Hip Dysplasia."

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