We Never Lose. We Either Win Or We Learn.

Axel 2014 National 2014 BOS a  Standing ringside in Belton, Texas, on the second day of the weekend, her words shocked me. I had no idea how to respond to her friendly, open face with bright, inquisitive eyes. Surely we were kindred spirits, agreeing on her assessment of the dog show experience. Why had she singled me out to offer an initiation into her club? Had one of our competitors sent her? What had I done to appear as she obviously saw me? I stared at her blankly, head swimming. I glanced at the people standing near me, searching for some back up. Somebody I could pull into the conversation to set her straight. I saw nobody. A cold clamminess enveloped me. I looked at my dog. He was watching me and I noticed he had shifted to stand between me and my tormentor. Breathe, damn it! Think, engage! All I could think about was the blinding rage that filled my head in Portland at the start of this season. This horrible season, now nearly over. Emotions I had pushed down after that first weekend to keep showing our dogs. In order to be in this building, standing outside this ring, trying to fight for what we wanted and believed should be ours.

Portland 2014 6  Seconds stretched by. I had to respond if only to regain control. She was only a human, not a gorgon turning me to stone. My words seemed hollow and far away, but I continued. A forced smile on my face, eyes neutral, trying to sound kind. “No”, I began,  “we don’t lose more than we win. If that were the case we would have quit years ago.” I was less numb. ” You have to believe in your dog and your ability to know how well he fits the standard. You have to project your faith in all that onto the judge. To win you must be honest about the dogs in the ring with you and the process, even if it seems the judge is not. And above all you have to see yourself as a winner. Always. Whether you walk out with a ribbon, or the right ribbon, or not.”  Portland 2014 26

Somehow, I was conscious again. The room seemed warmer, I saw my partner, my mom, looking at the dog and me from her seat at the ring, smiling. Not a loving motherly smile, but the strong confident smile of somebody who is probably the most competitive person I know.  I don’t know who that woman was or where she went. I wouldn’t have recognized her if she approached me again. Still struggling with why the event had occurred, I tried to focus on the show. We were not leaving this weekend like so many others, like the day before had gone. Like almost every weekend had gone for two and a half years. Clinging to our belief in ourselves and the quality of our dog, and the words of our breeders telling us our dog would be ready to win when he turned three, we had once again journeyed to the German Pinscher National. Trying to salvage something good out of this season.

Over the three years we’ve owned our German Pinscher we have been aware of how much we don’t know. In the words of our handler: I do nothing to make him stand out. Winning in dogs often comes down to what in other sports are called the intangibles.  The one with the shiniest coat or the best expression often beats out the ones with more breed type and better movement. In some breeds color is a big deal. From one year to the next judges seem to like different colors. You won two years ago with a black dog, now only reds get the pick. Height, like a pendulum, swings back and forth. All that’s missing is a clear interpretation of the written standard. With intangibles, you either feel really good about them or hopeless. In German Pinschers, where it’s difficult to define breed type, or find two or three dogs alike, wins are more often in the hands of those holding the lead than most of the working breeds. But there’s opportunity in that scenario, too. If a judge is waiting to be told which dog to pick, why not attempt to point them your way?  Axel 2014 National BOB

The first day of the National, we were summarily dismissed. Easy to pick the three handlers and fill in with dogs that bore some resemblance to theirs. Not knowing the working judges, we spent the night in the hotel full of depression and trying to think of a way to be a good sport and salvage some fun out of the weekend. Our life in dogs has not been a losing one. Doggedly, we hold onto the belief in what we have and how it’s shown. If working can get you there, we will do what it takes. But with our black and red dog none of the old formulas had worked.  A solid year of losing to a very nice dog, shown by a self-aggrandizing, fast talker, was sloughed off as our dog not being ready. Probably true. Toward the end of 2013, and the beginning of the 2014 show season, this fine dog was put away. It was time. We still lost on the rare occasion he was shown. By this time he was fat and bored,and we still could not make up any ground. Our handler gave me some ideas that helped, and I worked him in some classes. A little progress, but not enough. Now the first day in Texas had ended. So familiar, so expected.

DSC_9179a  I was never bullied in school. But I could spot the kids that were at risk on the first day. Demeanor, expression, clothing, body type. It was all there. Of course the bullied kids never saw themselves for what they were. It just got worse, year after year. They must have wondered, in their beds at night, why them. Now here I was. Some stranger spotting something that pegged me as a loser. A chronic failure. Accepting on some level, my position in the German Pinscher ring, at the end of the line. Always the one with the good-natured handshake for the winners. It had to stop. And it had to stop that second day, in that ring. Unaware of my pending mental crisis, my mom approached me. She had watched the class judging, seeing with her lifetime of experience what could be done. She whispered emphatically, referring to our most powerful intangible, “Give her the Carol Basler. You can get this.”  I entered the ring amid all the dog specials. The breed and best opposite winners from the day before looked good. Momentum and the fact they were from Texas on their sides. There were a few others deserving of wins, I thought. But why not us? This was German Pinschers. The most level playing field we’d ever shown in. Do it!

I applied a little pressure to make the cut. It felt good. I stacked our dog to show off what he had many of the others   DSC_9333adidn’t. Nearly all the dogs from the day before made the cut again. But so did we. She seemed to like our style of dog. We watched the bitch specials and tried to see what she was picking. The cut dogs and bitches re-entered the ring again.  I got a thumbs up from ringside and a couple of hand gestures known only to us. The judge was one who takes her time. Looking at the dogs again and again. Moving them. Mentally sorting them.   If you show your dogs often, or spend time ringside watching judges at work, you can see when things change. When the focus is narrowed to the few who will stay in the ring as everyone else files out.  I saw the judge’s eyes swing from someone down the line then back to my vicinity.  Who was it down the line: dog or bitch. I moved my dog toward the center of the ring slightly and snuck a look. It was a bitch. The red bitch that had been Best of Opposite the day before. It was an opening. Now who was the dog? My God, it was us! Back and forth we worked the judge. Both of us slightly aggressive, very emphatic, without saying a word, that our dog was the best. The bitch’s handler working the beautiful neck and breed type, I worked the topline and square proportions. With a gesture, it was over. We were Best Of Opposite Sex.  DSCN1058

Tough and strong, we worked together, building momentum through the rest of the weekend. We made the cut the following day and took home Best of Breed on the last day of the weekend. All the same dogs were there. To say I worked the judge on that last day was an understatement.  We went on to a group three and some very lukewarm congratulations from the other members of the working group. While I have mixed feelings about our group placement, it was the two awards at the breed level that will stay with me always.  I’d like to write that we went on to repeated success in our next shows. But we didn’t. We lost to two bitches, one with a dislocating elbow and the other that was fat and scared. But our dog was thin and I wasn’t the handler I had been in Texas. We will show on in 2015. Working on our dogs and on ourselves. Never losing. Either winning or learning. It’s the best we can do.  GCH Nevars Polaris Temerity Portland 2014

Like A Pine Forest

DSC_9221a I never saw Honour as an old dog. Staring out at the world from behind milky, clouded eyes. Walking slowly and unsteadily on her always tender feet,  would not suit her at any age. Even after she turned ten this year she remained young in my mind’s eye. Ten was just a number, a way to mark time in the life of a living thing. Never sick and always self-centered, Honour chose to live with Odebt. And she usually got her way.

DSC_8164a Honour was held out for color one whole show season.  But we continued to bring her along while we showed the other dogs. She barked and raved in her crate and spun and barked and raved some more. As bad as she was at DSC_9384ashows, she was inconsolable when we left her home.  On a whim, at the shows in Denver in February 2004, we paid a visit with her to the Dog Whisperer. What happened in the quiet, little booth made us mostly laugh not quite believing animals could communicate in such a way. After a few preliminaries the Whisperer asked Honour, without saying a word, a question we had long asked ourselves. Why she hated to be left home. Sitting smugly, we waited to hear the predictable answer of how she loved us and couldn’t stand to be away from us. What we heard brought us to tears.  The Whisperer told us Honour hated to stay at home because the dogs that stayed home went away and never came back.  It was true, though the Whisperer would have had no idea that it was. Dogs we no longer showed remained at home while we travelled to the next shows. They were eventually moved on to other homes. Better homes for them, where they could be the only dogs and have a family that would love them for themselves, not for what they won or how good a breeder they would become.  It was all a positive to us, but to Honour it meant the end of showing, the most important thing to her.  We never left her again. DSCN1225

When Honour became Odebt’s dog, with all her quirks and indomitable spirit, she was home.  Living at the little DSCN1271farm she had her dog friend, Satie, and the only person who ever mattered to her. That was all she required. She developed a whole repertoire of new behaviors. Strange things making sense only to her.  The morning after Thanksgiving Honour refused to come out of her crate. She lay still and curled up, seemingly cozy and happy and dead to the world. Sometime in the night her spirit left. She would never be old and sick and unable to bark madly, expressing her displeasure. She left us with the memories of a driven show dog, happy and unique. Honour’s death was convenient only to her.

DSCN1221 Entering the yard in a van full of dogs in mid-December, the burned out hulk of the box truck stood sentinel. Its blackened cab with the two seats and twisted steering wheel pointed across the field in the direction of the dirt road. The demise of the box truck was hastened by an onslaught of tumbleweeds of biblical proportion. Piling up against fences and buildings, choking roadside ditches and spilling over, blocking roads, the weeds blew in for several days. Whatever goes on underneath trucks and cars is a mystery to me. But I know a significant amount of heat is the result of the processes. Add brittle, oil-filled weeds and the combustible inevitability cannot be controlled.  Staring at the front passenger seat I could almost feel the vibration of the engine on our trip to Dallas last year. That last trip of the season had brought us points on our puppies and great memories to carry us through the winter until our new show season would DSCN1274begin.  Dallas was our season-ender this year, too. We jammed ourselves, gear and six dogs into the red mini-van this year. Without the box truck we were limited on space and left a few comforts at home. Weathering the worse ice storm Dallas had experienced since Super Bowl Sunday, 2007, we drove back and forth from the motel to the show every one of the four days of the circuit. The friends and dogs inside the venue helped us forget the weather and turn our energy to the competition. The loss of the truck altered our plans but not our purpose. DSCN1218

Loss is a part of showing dogs. Loss of dogs, people, reputation and motivation. Any one of these can be so devastating that moving on seems impossible.  Loss stifles creativity, a key element in breeding and training new dogs. In our time in dogs we have had many losses. We have had to compartmentalize these to continue in a sport we truly love. Beating back fear and dread with each breeding decision we continue to dream of producing dogs we are proud of, winning dogs that will live to contribute to our line or those of others. No dog or person passes out of our lives without making a mark. Sometimes the ones with the least obvious worth are the most affecting in death: Mr. Leonard, Honour, Tammi’s Blue and our three-day old puppy. Images you can’t shake, losses you can’t compartmentalize.

DSCN1209 Walking around the burned out truck, nestled in the choking tumbleweeds it was easy to recall all the failures of the past show season. How our breed seems to have changed into something farther from the written standard than at any time in my life. People breeding, showing and winning with dogs of a quality that would not have been competitive some years ago. We keep winning, too. As we always have. But each year we find it a little easier to not care who wins our National and a little harder to respect the judges. Each show season brings news of the deaths of old dog people. Skilled breeders, judges, club leaders and friends. You see their names in the front pages of dog show catalogs, but few will be remembered long. Partially because they were unwilling or unable to pass on their tremendous knowledge to enough people to make a difference.

A few miles from the burned out box truck is a pine forest that depends upon fire for the germination of its seeds. As the fire scorches each tree, the cones open, their seeds spilling onto the forest floor beneath them. DSCN1247 A new beginning from the devastation.  Every new show season is a chance to move ahead. We make the decision not to be defined by the disappointments and losses of the old season, even if they cannot be forgotten. It takes more courage to continue than to languish in grief or merely quit. We have reached a point of no return of sorts, with too much invested in our breed to not continue. The addition of our German Pinscher has helped us see shows through new eyes. While we mentor others in our breed, we in turn, are mentored by others. It is refreshing to be new in some aspect of showing. Always looking forward. Accepting the losses in the ring as DSCN1235learning experiences instead of evidence of something darker.

We never make a conscious decision to show dogs in the new season. It is something that just happens. A premium list comes in the mail, a dog friend calls excited about a new puppy to show and like all pain, the losses of the last season fade. And being Terrier people we never quit. And maybe, in the house just behind the burned out box truck, two dogs and a breeder make their own start to the new season in the best way of all.

One Good Day

DSC_8755aEtherial and serene they came. The Borzoi.  The early morning sun barely finding them.  By the time they reached the field in the walnut grove, on the far side of the ring, they were perfectly backlit.  Their white and red coats translucent. In the ring my black and red dog waited his turn to meet the judge.  Around us, other dogs watched their handlers’ faces, waiting for the subtle cues and movements that make up the dance between them.  My dog is young.  Not quite a puppy, but not nearly what he will be next year, or the year after, at this time.  He lacks body, ring experience, a great handler and for at least these shows, a stag red coat, but what he has is a little ring presence and his father’s signature pose: the Moltaz.

This was the fourth day of the five-day event at the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton, DSCN0255aCalifornia.  It is also called the Del Valle shows or the Harvest Moon Cluster, but to those of us who made the trip this year it was our showcase event:  The German Pinscher National.  A gathering of nearly fifty of our breed, mostly owner handled, all vying for a handful of placements.  This is one of the most level playing fields in the working group.  German Pinschers rank 137th on the AKC list of breeds by popularity.  Grouped in the bottom twenty percent of the AKC recognized breeds, they are the smallest of the dogs in the working group.  Only about three professional handlers consistently take on this breed and they are usually rewarded. The dogs are easily trainable, but hopelessly impulse ridden and usually ignored by group judges.

I stepped slightly forward, edging up the line. The wet grass and October air almost cold.  The sun began warming the ring and Rico grp 2our smooth-coated dogs.  How different this ring full of dogs than any other I have stood in before.  Usually, the specials ring at our more familiar National is fraught with tension.  Dogs and handlers jockeying for position. Amateur versus professional. Dog versus bitch. Haves versus the have-nots.  Old rivalries rekindled and intensified in the holding area and among those sitting ringside watching.  Hundreds of years of breed experience making notes in their catalogs and judging from the front row. Not so in this ring new to us. German PInschers have only been recognized 10 years in the AKC.  These breeders are new to the breed and to breeding in general. The lack of experience is readily apparent, but some are making progress. Fewer rolling toplines and wide fronts. Better temperaments, more uniformity in size. But plenty of room to improve.

DSC_8612a  My young dog shifted his stance and looked toward the far side of the ring. I shift my eyes from him to watch the dog three in front of us move.  He was powerful and confident but bounced as he moved.  His handler baited his head up too far, exposing his straight shoulders but highlighting his wonderful expression. He was black and red like us. Black was at a premium this year. Less than one-third of the entry wore the lustrous, dark coats that are so striking. I watched the judge’s hands as he evaluated the two dogs ahead of us. I could tell he was careful and tried to do his best.  I wondered if he re-read the standard in his motel room, as I did, the night before. If he studied the breed from ringside at previous shows in preparation for this assignment.  Does he care. Will his picks for the ribbons be dogs that all match either in color or style, or would he take a chance on an unknown, a black dog, maybe a young dog, maybe my young dog.

DSC_9040a  The German Pinscher standard is very nearly the same as the Doberman Pinscher standard. And some dogs have the look of a small Doberman. In the five days of these shows our dogs had their mouths examined four different ways. The standard has undergone a revision mostly to clarify the topline. Some judges on the weekend clearly used the old standard with its description of the topline as having a dip behind the withers and a slight rise over the loin.  The revised standard, since 2007, describes the topline as slightly sloping from the withers to the rear, extending through the well-muscled loin to the faintly curved croup. Would this judge know this.  My young dog has a dead level topline moving and though he has a slightly shorter than ideal upper arm he still has good side-gait. His head has great length, but lacks a little fill.  The red dog directly ahead of us was smaller and seemed nervous.  His handler at least as new to this ring as I am.  It is their turn now.

The sun rose higher but hung somewhere in the lower branches of the walnut trees.  The Borzoi were lost in the glare. The judge DSCN0187aallowed all the specials to enter the ring together, but excused the bitches. There were two professional handlers in the dog specials ring.  They don’t have the best dogs, but they get the most out of them. We are near the end of the dog line up. Behind us the dogs are waiting for the judge to finish this preliminary assessment. He will make his cut and move on to the bitches.  I am a competent handler in the Kerry ring. Sometimes too aggressive, and I have been known to push a judge a little too far. There is always excitement in the terrier rings. Control is at a minimum. It takes three to four times longer to get these dogs ready for the ring than to show them. Tradition is important. Easily half the 38 Terrier breeds hold their Nationals in a field in Montgomery County, PA every October. In mud, blistering heat and cool, crisp fall weather as many as 3000 Terriers assemble. While it’s true everybody is a neophyte at least once, it quickly becomes apparent you need to bring your A-game or don’t bother to come. I know every rill in the rings at Montgomery. It is our family reunion. In this ring in Del Valle, I feel as if I have married into a strange and foreign family. I am attending somebody else’s reunion and the few words of the new language I have learned are not enough.

Axel 2013 2 yrs  It is our turn. As the dog in front of us gaited away from the judge, we moved up. I stacked my boy, guiding him into the position that we have decided is best for him. He is steady on the exam, enduring the stranger pulling back his lips and opening his mouth when I whisper, “teeth”, to him. This trick taught to him by my mom. The judge smiles.  Watching the other handlers, I determined the best route away from the judge and back again.  I know to focus on a spot in the distance and not watch the dog as I move.  This will help him move straight.  I know the speed by feel. We lack the finesse to make the slight turn and perfect stack as we stop in front of the judge for the final moments before we are dismissed and circle the ring on our own.  The dog judging  finished and the judge surveyed his lineup .We were one of two or three black dogs before him. Now was our chance to stand out.

Every dog was stacked. The judge walked down the line pointing to dogs in front of us and behind us.  The sun was bright in the grove outside the ring. One black dog was pulled.  The remaining dogs are told to move around the ring together. This was our last chance to catch his eye. Loose lead, perfect speed, keep his head up, soft knees for me. We do our best. I got a thumbs up from ringside from our one woman fan club. Another day in the ring was over for us. But in dog shows it’s never really over until you walk out of the ring. The chosen ones were already relaxing, the steward gathered papers for the judge. Some judges, confident with their choices, never take that DSCN0051aone last look at the dogs not pointed out. They go through the motions, but it is just that. This judge seemed different. He scrutinized those of us remaining as if searching for the one or two he might have missed. The sun was clearing the trees and the reflection off theDSC_8687a white coated dogs was blinding. Shimmering.  The light in the grove caught my dog’s eye. He turned toward the open field, leaning over his front, squaring himself.  His neck elongated and his eyes narrowed into an intense stare. Scenting the air, strong and confident, like his sire:  He was doing the Moltaz.   I could not move the dog. All I could do was step behind him, holding the lead with a slight tension. The judge had looked past us. He would never see what I was seeing. Then he turned. For a few seconds the judge followed the gaze of the dog out into the open field beyond the grove.  The Borzoi had turned and moved off toward the main show grounds. The judge nodded at us and we joined the lineup of cut dogs.

DSCN0257a  We did not survive the second cut. No black dogs did. In the end the judge picked all red dogs and only one black bitch for his final placements. All were the same style, save the black bitch.  The skies poured rain the last day of the cluster and we finished out the weekend with a judge in an indoor ring who could barely be bothered to look at the dogs. It didn’t matter. The magic of the previous day never reappeared for us. But on that one good day, I like to think I caught a glimpse of what we could be.

One Third A Champion

  In the waning weekends of the 2012 show season we anxiously counted down the days.  Looking to salvage something from an abortive season fraught with disappointment and the lingering feelings that we no longer recognized our sport, we jumped at the chance to make one more show trip.  Enough clothing, food, bedding and hope for eight dogs outbound and eleven dogs inbound packed with prayers the dry weather would hold. While chatter on the social media sites centered around the upcoming Eukanuba show in Florida, our gypsy road show left Yoder, Colorado, on a Tuesday bound for Dallas.  We would go no further than those shows this season. Four shows in Florida held no interest for us this year. We knew the outcome already.  Instead, our destination held much more uncertainty.  The chance to be made a fool of in public in front of each other and our peers:  showing six month old puppies.  Six months and one day old.

  Only new owners, starry-eyed and giddy with the prospect of winning majors with raw recruits, show puppies this young.  Most reputable handlers discourage their clients from such folly and in fact, refuse to be seen in a sweepstakes ring at all.  Puppies and their hair-brained antics make them look bad.  Somebody might mistake them for amateurs.  Hooligan terrier puppies are probably the worst.  Fighting one minute with each other, the next with you and threatening to either bite or pee on the judge, most sane exhibitors leave them at home.  But, what fun would that be? Especially if the breeder/owner was a hander. Puppies level the playing field. Everybody is at a disadvantage.  A sort of gallows humor had descended upon both of us making this trip in the red box truck and its ironic Pawsatively Handling logo of a serene Pointer on the side. It was Pawsatively dog show suicide.  We could have hedged our bets by training our puppies.  A few handling classes or matches would have been prudent.  But, training in the ring has its own rewards, after all.

  This was my first trip in the box truck.  I liked the feel of riding in it immediately.  Sitting at the level of long haul truckers and FedEx drivers   initiated into a club known mostly from songs.  Sitting in my seat, fighting the arm rest for the seatbelt after every stop, I hoped the truckers thought I was capable of piloting this behemouth of a vehicle.  All the while being grateful I never actually had to work a shift behind the wheel. The red beast carried us across the plains of Colorado and Texas without incident. We stopped twice for a break for us and the dogs and three times to gas up. This was no quick event.  We set the Chihuahua pen up first. Buckie and Raisin handed out and placed inside their portable exercise yard.  The three puppies followed.  Each of us walking one at a time.  Hoping the third one would wait until one of us could get back for her.  The other dogs followed in an order based loosely on age and experience traveling in the truck and who would be faster than who.  We were on the road when we returned the last dog, usually Danny, to its crate.

  The Dallas Market Center is a big, clean, well-lit building.  We had 200 sq feet of grooming space and we barely fit.  The amazing thing about dog shows is that most people show as a hobby.  Hobbies should be calming, relaxing and generally easier than what most of us get paid to do during the week.  There was nothing easy about this weekend.  Three quarters of the first day we devoted to grooming the five Kerries we’d brought. Standing all day on the hard floor, the unloading, bathing, walking and more standing were taking their toll.  I could have entered a wet T-shirt contest by the time every dog was bathed.  My hair lacked any semblance of style and my pantyhose were wet to the knee. There was little time for personal rehab.  We had a deadline:  the North Dallas Terrier Club show and Sweepstakes, starting at 4:30.

  By the time the show started I was barely able to walk. We were all tired.  Too much work, too little food.  And finally the showing.  I was mainly responsible for one small bitch for this first show. Ultimately my mom’s pick from nine puppies, she looked almost benign sitting on her table.  All the dogs were ready and a pride and excitement replaced fatigue in the setup.  I was proud to be part of this machine.  At shows, you estimate when you will be in the ring.  The better an estimator you are, the less standing ringside you have to do.  Standing is a double-edged sword.  If you are young, are approaching middle age or even squarely middle-aged you can grab a ringside chair and sit, waiting for your turn.  But if you are on the back side of the best years of your life, ringside chairs are not your friend.  They look so pleasant.  Inviting almost.  They beckon you to linger on their curved DSCN0231a  metal seats and convince yourself you really aren’t that tired and you will be able to spring up and show your dog easily.  Well, as the rational part of your brain knows, you may never be able to get up. Your legs will cramp and the blood will pool in your calves and feet making it torture when you have to move again.  A crippling stiffness will invade your back and lower body.  I continue to learn this lesson every show season.  I have also learned that several Extra Strength Tylenol, taken about an hour before ring time, mitigates this somewhat.  But on this day it wasn’t enough. Looking wistfully at the chairs, I  remained standing.

  The steward called our breed to the ring. Shifting on my feet, I had managed to recirculate some of the pooling blood from my legs to the rest of my body and believed I might be able to hang in for a lap or two around the ring. I was too tired to care if our puppy made a fool of me.  If she raced around the ring on her hind legs or refused to stand for the judge.  One trip to training class does not a show dog make.  Sure, I was excited to show the little bitch. And there had been a little trash-talking in the box truck on the way out and in the set up about which of the three littermates would do the best.  Just good natured competition between friends and littermates. This first show weekend they would have to do it on their own. Training and real winning would come later.

We entered the ring and the puppy stood quietly where I stacked her. Standing was one thing moving was another.  In the dog show world, confidence is sometimes everything and that was the one thing our puppy had. She became the bitch we all fear.  Typee, cute and full of herself.  Many times we have stood behind such a phenom, graciously accepting our red, second place ribbon.  We have watched from ringside at our National while this same type of  puppy takes home the hardware. We have never owned that puppy and after such a long day I didn’t care who owned one. The judge asked us to go around. Our puppy took off like she was radio controlled, me racing after her. Reaching the end of the lead she never broke stride. I DSCN0080a  caught her midway down the far side of the ring, her front legs reaching, rear driving. My rear movement was not as smooth but I had no choice except to hold on and keep going. Maybe she had snuck out to training class by herself. Maybe she wanted to see me sweat as we returned to the ring for Winners Bitch comepetition, Best Of Breed competition and the Stud Dog class. The wait for the final competition of the day, Puppy Sweepstakes, seemed intentionally cruel. With no points at stake, why were we here.  Our puppies seemed ready to go another round even if we were dreaming of dinner so we stayed.  I’m sure more than just the puppy was laughing as I gasped my way through the Sweepstakes group. When we finished that first, interminable day, she had two points and a Puppy Sweepstakes  Group 2.

By the time we loaded the box truck for the trip home three days later, our puppy had a major and a total of five points.  She was one-third a champion and I knew we had a show dog.

He Is Not A Doberman

From the time I first saw them in the ring, I liked their look. At first glance, I admit, they appeared to be puppy Dobermans. All legs and bad toplines. Pulling away from the judge or snapping at him as he tried in vain to examine each dog. Still, there was something eye-catching about the sleek, lithe animals. Looking closer, it became clear these were not puppies at all. Their heads and bodies were markedly different from Dobermans. I checked the print out near the ring-gate and found out they were German Pinschers. In 2003 they were brand new to the AKC. From that show weekend on I occasionally watched them in the ring. There were often none entered.

In 2009, we travelled to Roswell, New Mexico, with our very young champion, Danny, looking for an outdoor show for practice before our annual trek to Montgomery County. There was a young woman there with two German Pinschers. They were not what I’d hoped them to be. Nothing seemed to have improved over what I’d seen years before. The breed has tremendous potential. They should be a sound, sturdy breed. Possessing proud bearing and a vigilant expression. It seems like an easy breed to “get it right”. Not like a Bassett Hound with it’s wrap-around front and dwarf proportions, or some of the giant breeds where joint disorders often prove to be their undoing. The German Pinscher is medium-sized and moderate in every way. A square breed, elegant and upstanding. Yet the breed continues to struggle with the basics of dog breeding. Handicapped by a limited gene pool, conscientious breeders had little choice but to import their foundation dogs from Europe, primarily Scandinavia, where presumably the breed was stronger.

Locating a German Pinscher breeder was easy via the Internet and the German Pinscher Club of America’s Website. Breeders are listed along with their websites. We looked for a breeder whose philosophy best matched ours. We found her. Lyn Stuby, Nevar German Pinschers, in Indiana. A no-nonsense woman who has done plenty of winning but seemed more concerned with health and conformation. She was having a litter in a month and she would keep us in mind for a show prospect. We had no idea.

August 17 was the day our puppy arrived. We had seen pictures of the puppies weekly and narrowed our choices to about three of the boys. The breeder picked the green puppy for us and it was just the one that had caught our eye. Funny how puppies are made. Innocent and beguiling, they give no clue about the evil that lurks inside. We picked him up in his puppy crate at the air cargo building. He had flown in the heat of the summer all that way. We cautiously opened the crate and pulled him out. Peyton donated his puppy lead, a thin leather line, for the cause and we had a new Bronco collar for the baby. He came out and was instantly our darling. Incredibly huge feet and big floppy ears made him irresistible. He was smooth and sleek and had a little belly and sweet, puppy breath. His crate was dry and he peed in the weeds outside the building on his leash like a pro. He was a dream.

Right away it started. “What a cute Doberman puppy, ” the little girl chirped when the puppy wandered over to greet her new Golden Retriever baby. We didn’t bother to correct her, after all she was just a child. Our puppy was called Polaris by his breeder so we went with that. A star name for the star we hoped he’d become. On the way home we stopped by the bulk mail center to show Polaris off to our friend who works there. The puppy was an immediate hit. Even a UPS driver held him and was fascinated by the little Doberman. We corrected him and passed on some breed information. We knew it would go over his head, but damn it, this puppy is not a Doberman.

Inevitably, like having a root canal, we took our puppy to conformation class. Several other would be handlers were standing in one corner by the benches with their new puppies. Used to seeing us with terriers they were curious. The AKC has made life miserable for people who pride themselves on knowing every recognized breed. More and more breeds are admitted every year. Many look so similar who can tell if that large white dog is a Cane Corso or the Dogo Argentino. Our conformation classmates stared at our serious puppy and kept glancing at our faces, and then each other, as if something was wrong. They asked his age a couple of times. Finally, it dawned on me. They wondered if we knew our Doberman puppy was hopelessly small for the breed. I tried to sound patient as I informed them he was a German Pinscher. Nobody knew what that was, but they seemed relieved we didn’t think he was a Doberman.

Since that day in August we have taken our puppy, now called Axel, to the German Pinscher National in St. Louis, a UKC show and of course the Kerry Blue National at Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. We could not have been more relieved when nobody at Montgomery called Axel a Doberman. However, more than one person asked me where the Standard Manchester ring was. I guess they didn’t notice our puppy didn’t have a tail.

Seeking refuge in the breed standards of the Doberman and the German Pinscher, there is little to help us out. The descriptions of both breeds are more than just similar. The same words are used in both standards. Amazingly, both breeds are even described as medium-sized. The real difference between the two breeds lies in the temperament. The German Pinscher standard calls for a dog that: has highly developed senses, intelligence, aptitude for training, fearlessness, and endurance. He is alert, vigilant, deliberate and watchful of strangers. He has fearless courage and tenacity if threatened. A very vivacious dog…. The Doberman standard calls for a dog that is: Energetic, watchful, determined, alert, fearless, loyal and obedient. While admittedly similar, the more reactive, prey driven German Pinscher, bred as a ratter, is a better fit for us than the more push button, traditional working dog temperament of the Doberman Pinscher.

We are looking forward to showing our puppy in February at the cluster of shows in Denver. We hope the judges will be less confused. We will go from the front of the line in the Terrier Group, to the back of the line in the Working Group. Though not a Doberman, I am training him to show like one since that may give us the best chance to be noticed in the ring. And to keep confusion about his breed to a minimum among the uninformed, we are thinking of having a T-shirt made with his picture and the words, “Proud to be a German Pinscher” on the back. We have to do something.