By Dr. David Landau
What began as a small competition between German Shepherds from a few national clubs in central and western Europe in 1975 in Salzburg, Austria has grown into a World Championship that attracts dog/handler teams from every populated continent. This year, from Oct. 17-20, the best working German Shepherds from 30 or more different countries from all over the world will compete for the title of World Champion, and the countries they represent will vie for the Team Championship amongst the 86 Member Clubs in the World Union of German Shepherd Dog Clubs, the WUSV. This 2013 World Championship is being hosted by the German Shepherd Dog Club of America Inc. and the German Shepherd Dog Club of America-Working Dog Association Inc.
This working dog competition will be in the IPO sport (the International Working Test) that is sometimes called the “decathlon for dogs”. The dogs must compete in three very different phases, and the medals are determined by the total score from all three phases. In phase A, Tracking, the dogs must follow a 800 pace track with four 90 deg. turns. Three different articles are dropped on the track, and the track is aged at least 60 minutes before the dog may begin to track with the Handler following at the end of a 33 foot leash. The dog is scored upon how intensively and how precisely it follows the track and indicates the articles. A maximum of 100 points is possible in Phase A.
Phase B is obedience, the “discipline of the kings”. The obedience phase takes place on a football size field, and the dog is always off-leash. In addition to heeling exercises there are walking sit, running down and running stand exercises plus a variety of retrieve exercises. The retrieves include bringing back a 4-1/2 lb dumbbell, retrieving a 1.4 lb dumbbell over a 39’’ hurdle, and retrieving a 1.4 lb dumbbell over a 6’ high scaling wall. The dog is scored on “joy of working”, attentiveness to the handler, and overall speed and correctness in the performance of the exercises. A maximum of 100 points is possible in obedience.
Phase C is protection. A man (the Helper) wearing protective clothing and a padded sleeve plays the role of a “bad guy” in testing the dog’s instincts and courage while the Handler must demonstrate total control of the dog. First the dog must search a number of hiding places, or “blinds”, to find a motionless Helper, and then guard and bark to “warn” the Handler. Then a series of different “scripted” exercises follow in which the Helper either attempts to escape or to attack, and the dog must protect the Handler by gripping the sleeve and controlling the Helper. When the Helper stops struggling, the dog should release the sleeve upon the Handler’s command and then guard the Helper until the Handler approaches and “escorts” the Helper to the Judge. This phase is also worth 100 points. If the dog refuses to grip the sleeve when the Helper becomes aggressive, the dog fails. If the dog grips anyplace other than the sleeve, the dog fails. If the dog refuses to release the sleeve when the Handler gives the command to release the sleeve, the dog fails. Courage is important, but so is control!
Good breeding is important to produce dogs that have the instincts, speed, power, and endurance to compete at this level. The dogs and Handlers in the competition have trained for many hours and in many different conditions. They travel hundreds of miles each week, rain or shine, to find tracking grounds or to work with good protection Helpers. Some have to brave Artic cold during part of the year while others face the sweltering temperatures summer in the American south or the Brazilian latitudes. Then, they must participate in a national championship just to qualify to represent their country at the WUSV Championship. The dogs must be kept in top physical condition, and the Handlers must juggle jobs, family, and training as they strive to wring the final few fractions of a point out of their performance.
Obedience and protection will be in the PPL stadium just a few miles south of Philadelphia Airport. Tracking will take place outside of the urban Philadelphia area and mini-busses will take spectators to the tracking fields. If past history is any guide, there will be many exciting performances but the winner will not be determined until the last day of competition. While the Germans, who invented the sport, usually do quite well, there are often surprises. In 2009 a slight young woman from a kibbutz in Israel won the individual World Championship. In Denmark in 2006, the United States took the Team Championship. So plan to be at PPL stadium, or out in the tracking fields, from Thursday to Sunday, Oct. 17-20, 2013 for the WUSV Championship.
Note: The best German Shepherd dogs in the world will come from more than 30 countries. Mark your calendars, October 17 -20, 2013. PPL Park (Stadium), just minutes from the Philadelphia airport.
If you can’t come, we understand. Buy a $20 ticket for a veteran, wounded warrior, police or fireman and we the GSDCA will deliver it.