….And now my chessie friends let me take you on a Bavarian adventure….
Last Friday morning I left my home at the ungodly hour of four thirty in the morning to catch a ‘red-eye’ flight to Munich. I was travelling alone and dogless to attend an International Chessie Weekend. This was my first ever trip to Germany. Many thoughts raced through my head as the plane headed East. I really did not know what to expect. Facebook had initially piqued my interest in this event. Many of the chessies I had become familiar with through looking at photos would be there. What would the dogs be like? Should I have brushed up on my school german? Should I have packed my wellies?
The weekend had been arranged by an enterprising group of people from both Germany and Austria. There was much to look forward to. Friday was a day of meeting and greeting involving some light training in obedience and gundog work. A WD, WDX and WDQ were scheduled for Saturday with Mr and Mrs K Lindstrom from Sweden to judge. Sunday was the show specialty with world renowned breed specialist Mrs Betsy Horn Humer and her Husband Rupert from the USA. With over seventy chessies entered it was truly going to be a meeting of the nations.
I was collected from the airport by Judy Sichler and her guest for the weekend Mrs Janet Morris. I have, of course, known Janet since I first became invoved with Chessies as she bred our boy ‘Chester’. Judy also owns a young bitch that was bred by Janet, Penrose New Penny, who won Best of Breed at the World Dog Show this year.
Once clear of the Munich traffic we headed South onto the Autobahn. My first surprise of the weekend was that cars can actually travel at two hundred km per hour without taking off !!!. Anyway, it turned out these European drivers are fairly competent at driving these speeds so I soon relaxed (a bit…) and we chatted about dogs and what we were likely to see in the coming days.
When we turned off the main road and the car wound its way up a single track through thick deciduous forest I started to feel we were truly in Bavaria as I had imagined it to be. The trees gave way every now and then to reveal small fields with cattle grazing. On and on we travelled taking us further away from civilisation and deeper into the woods. Then ahead of us, in the clearing, appeared the most charming wooden framed house complete with timber barn and outbuildings. We had reached our destination and base for the weekend’s events. A great expanse of green pasture rolled away in front, stretching into the distance where a boundary of thick mixed wood forest stood. This was backed again by magnificent mountains. Incorporated in the outbuildings was a small bar and coffee shop, where an endless supply of cakes, snacks, hot coffee and other beverages were available at all times.
A lot of thought and attention to detail had gone into planning even the finer details of the weekend. We were introduced to the very amiable Florian, our host for the weekend. Nothing was too much trouble. He truly embodied Bavarian hospitality. My attention was immediately drawn to the beautiful blue check cravats that each committee member wore with their own unique logo of a chessie carrying a pretzel. Each evening meal was planned around a different theme and based on site which would keep everyone together and offer opportunities to meet new people. As a foreigner attending with very little knowledge of the native language I have to commend the huge effort by everyone we met to try to converse in English. I know it made all of us English speakers feel immediately included but I also enjoyed the chance to practice the German that I had not used in over twenty years and was delighted to find that by the end of the weekend I could understand some parts of conversation.
People and dogs were mingling and as everyone gathered for lunch there was a real sense of excitement in the air. Even the light rain that had started to fall, couldn’t put a dampner on things although I knew then I should have brought my wellies…
After lunch dog owners had a variety of training agendas to choose from. Ursula Moillet took a group of novice and young dogs to do some basic gundog training. Betsy took anyone that was interested in doing some rally obedience and Gerlinde Boross took a group that wanted to give their dogs some experience on retrieving game in preparation for the following day’s WD. As observers, Janet, Judy and I chose to follow the last group.
As the rain got heavier, we settled ourselves under some tall conifers at the edge of the grass. Janet supplied me with a pair of over-trousers and opened her pop-up catering shop. So with a hot cup of tea in one hand and biscuit in the other we were ready to watch the dogs.
It soon became apparent to me that the dogs were different from what I was used to seeing in the UK. Most of the handlers were novice or they were hunters and this was their dogs first time competing in a situation involving other dogs and distractions. The dogs’ gundog work was very raw but their focus on their owners was incredible. There was an interesting combination of steady but keen dogs, and although handlling at a distance was sometimes a problem there was no doubt that these dogs had a desire to retrieve and work. Sometimes they did not mark well and cast around more than would be acceptable in the UK but my understanding is that in many tests on the continent a dog is given a lot more leeway to hunt than we are now allowed to do in the UK and Ireland. Once the pick up was complete they returned smartly to their handler and presented the bird with precision then sat by their handler ready to go again. One dog , in particular, caught my eye that afternoon – Curt- only a year old but the potential almost made my eyes water…
As the evening drew in we made our way back to the welcome warmth of the bar. The evening’s entertainment was centered around a barbeque. It was a wonderful chance to meet and talk with some of the owners of the dogs I had seen train earlier that afternoon. Once everyone was settled and fed we all piled into the little room adjoining the bar and Betsy presented a seminar on the Chesapeake Bay Retriever breed standard. It had been a few years since I’d had the opportunity to attend one but every time I do so I learn something new. Each time something else sticks in my mind which hopefully will carry me forward in my knowledge of the breed.
The long day was taking its toll and bed now beckoned. Gerlinde loaded us into her van, set her GPS and we headed towards our lodgings.
Saturday dawned brighter and with the promise of some drier weather. After a light breakfast we headed back towards Florian’s place. Our route this morning took us away from main roads, through tiny hamlets nestled among the hills. With the mountains again in the background it really was chocolate box scenery.
The entry for the WD was over twenty dogs so after a quick cup of coffee all competitors, judges and observers made our way across the fields for the start of the first test. For the next couple of hours I was able to become completely engrossed in watching the dogs work and taking photos.
Unusually on Saturday there were two Curly Coated retrievers and two Labradors competing. To those of you reading who are not involved in chessies you may well wonder what was so unusual about this. Well the WD/ WDX /WDQ are run under the auspices of the American Chesapeake Club and were designed to encourage the working side in our breed. I enjoyed watching how the other breeds fared with the challenges of working more on their own inititive and less on the whistle. It certainly levels the playing field among the retriever breeds.
Now there are many times when those of us who compete with dogs have been in a postion where our dog fails to understand what we want it to achieve. It is usually something simple. Something that they have done many times before and normally at a point in the competition that is crucial to how both you and your dog finish. It is at these times, I think , the truly great dog handlers excel. Midway through the WDX competition on Saturday this very situation occurred.
The water retrieve was run on a pond set in the middle of the wood. Being the time of year it is, Autumn, the surface of the pond was covered with leaves of all colours. Added to this was the fact that the pond was heavily stocked with fish who didn’t appreciate the disturbance of their habitat and regularly popped up to investigate. What appeared to be a straight forward double mark on water held many tempatations and diversions for many of the young dogs.
The young black curly coat took her place at the edge of the pond. She watched and marked both birds thrown but just as she was about to be cast a fish jumped to her right. The WDX is the most difficult of the three levels as the marks are longer but once the dog is cast you cannot help them. They are expected to mark and remember. She ran the bank towards the area where the fish had risen. Still unsure her owner took her back. The judges allowed for the diversion and she cast her dog again. At this stage the young dog had lost her mark as the bird was hidden in the shade of the overhanging trees. She was going to fail. Most handlers would, at this point, either give up or bully their dog to the retrieve. Although all of us know better. Nerves take over. Neither course of action will help the confidence of a young dog. Silence surrounded the pond. We had watched this young dog throughout the morning and I don’t think anyone wanted to see her go out. Then her handler did a wonderful thing. She knew she was out of the competition but she wanted her young dog to succeed. She had every confidence in her dog’s ability. So she called her to her side. Everything about her body language told her dog that it was going to be okay. She, the handler, would show her what to do. She stroked her, played with her and settled her again. Then cast with a more definite tone and the little black dog launched herself into the water. She was off and as everyone held their breath she took the line with ease to the bird and made her way back, delivering to hand beautifully. A ripple of applause broke out from the gallery. It is a moment I hope I’ll remember when teaching my young dogs in the future.
Dusk was falling when we made our way back once again to the little bar and were greeted with smells of sizzling roast pork. The day had been a good one. Conversation bubbled out around the farmyard , log fires burned, musicians in traditional dress played well in to the evening and a clear sky promised an even better day for tomorrow.
At last the sun shone to show off the best of the Bavarian countryside. The cold nights were bringing out the best in the autumn colours on the trees. The show specialty was the final event of the weekend. Held outdoors, which I always think shows chessies to their best advantage. Many of the dogs I had watched compete over the previous two days were also entered on this day. So it was interesting to see how their working ability might transfer to the show ring. One thing I did notice was that those dogs that showed drive, pace and a good work ethic also showed this attitude inside the ring. They may not always have had the strongest conformation but their personality showed through.
I am delighted to announce that my good friend Gerlinde won Best in Show with her boy Nico who I shared a room with for three nights!!
I had much time to think back on the weekend as I waited in Munich airport for my flight home. It was an experience I am so glad I did not miss out on. I had travelled with the faint hope that I might see something different to what I am used to seeing in this part of Europe. I met some wonderful people and dogs. What I set out to look for I think I might just have found…..