In recent years I have formed the opinion that field trials as we know them in Australia are not the means to improve our dogs or to build the numbers of people running GSPs in the field.
The opportunity to meet and compete under Dagmar Heydeck, now of Berlin, when she judged a Derby Trial (Natural Ability Test) in Queensland early this year, at the end of a two year stay in Australia, was the catalyst to my visiting Germany and attending the Kleemann Trial in October this year.
The following is my report on the trip and my impressions. For those who don’t know me, I am basically a hunter (when time allows). I have had an interest in the Shorthair since 1970 and I think I will always have one. However I also have Springer Spaniels and for rabbit shooting consider there to be no equal. I do not believe I am breed biased and enjoy a good one from any breed. I usually trial my dogs and judge Field Trials for both breeds and have judged the National Field Trial for Utility breeds of Gundogs twice.
Shorthairs from Germany;
A GSP in Germany today is not the same as a GSP from anywhere else in the world. In the last 50 years the type has diverged according to the hunting or show needs in each country. The German DK Club system has the objective of preserving the genetic pool and improving natural ability of pups for searching, pointing, nose, waterwork and tracking, independent of how their owner might train them later. Of course all GSPs around the world came originally from Germany, but in the fifty years since the Second World War, after which occupying soldiers found the breed and took them home to their countries, the breed has seen quite a few changes. The breeding in adopting countries has aimed for different objectives in that time In recent years a number of German dogs have been imported into various countries to give an injection of new blood to breeding programs. I am not a breeder but the ‘grapevine’ usually tells you about the impressions of a dog. I have gained the impression that ‘generally speaking’ the GSP establishment in a number of countries have poor opinions of the influence of these recent imports, though in Australia the early German imports gained strong reputations with hunters and triallers. However I have heard increasingly that “they are very hard, untrainable, noisy and with mouths like gin traps”. Such comments highlight the divergence – a silent dog would be deemed useless by most German hunters. There is one clear exception to the above view. I have become aware of various groups around the world, notably the NADKC (North American Deutsch Kurzhaar Club) now registering their dogs in Germany and testing their dogs according to the German system. They are very committed to the German versatile ideals even to the stage of flying themselves and their dogs to Germany to compete in the Kleemann and the IKP (International Kurzhaar Test). It is against this background that I attended the Kleemann Test of 2000 near Munich, held in conjunction with the 100 years celebration of the Bavarian DK club. Dr. Dagmar Heydeck was kind enough to be my guide for the visit.
Eighty-one dogs and bitches were entered for the test, which is held every second year. The Kleemann is considered the highest pinnacle of dog work for the DK in Germany and the stud dogs and key bitches for future are expected to pass this test with honour.
There were entries from Holland, Sweden, Italy, Slovakia, Austria 7 and notably 7 entries from USA. Spectators came from Australia, Argentina, Hawaii Korea, Sweden, USA, France, UK and notably a large group from South Africa.
The system for the German tests is interesting. It requires three judges to conduct tests on a maximum of 5 dogs in each group in one to two days of work on land and water. With eighty entries that means a minimum of 50 judges, who have to volunteer their time, money for accommodation and travel to assist in the process. All judges will have previously attended judges training courses and qualified to the appropriate level. To become a judge one must have handled a dog successfully in a VGP, be eligible to rent a hunting area (meaning that you must have passed the hunter’s exam after one year of lectures (with a shooting test). They also have to do 6 apprenticeships with a written report (2 VJP, 2 HZP and 2 VGP). To judge a Kleemann, your Club has to nominate you and of course only people are nominated who might be able, to the best knowledge of the Club, to judge appropriately.
It should also be remembered that every entry has to pre-qualify in a number of tests with a Prize 1 level pass. Getting to a Kleemann is the achievement of a lifetime for many. It is no mean feat to qualify for the Kleemann! Each qualifier will have been tested in quartering, pointing, retrieving from land and water, search in water, search in forest (altogether 24 different categories) including a 600 m blood track. The dog will have retrieved a wounded fox or hare over a kilometre, or tracked a blood track (1 km) that was laid the previous day. Each entry is truly a versatile dog (not a field trial specialist) and only the best will past the Kleemann Test.
The test consists of a conformation test at the outset. Every entry will have been previously graded at a club grading day by one of the breed’s conformation specialists. However as part of the Kleemann all entries must be re – assessed an up or downgraded where necessary. Three judges assess the dogs and three others assess the bitches, however all six come together to rank the top five dogs and bitches from within the animals grading V (Excellent) on the day. Only V and SG (Very Good) dogs can qualify for the Kleemann. Some dogs previously graded SG made V on the day and interestingly one dog, previously graded SG had to run the gauntlet of being reassessed at the end of the conformation judging to see if he was to be downgraded to G (Good). A downgrading would have meant immediate disqualification, however fortunately for the owner, the panel agreed to leave his grading at SG.
Those who know me will know I am hardly a fan of conformation shows, however I was interested to tune into some of the judging. My general impression was that there was uniformity of type with a general trend to them being bigger (dogs and bitches) than what I am accustomed to seeing in Australia. They were elegant to my eyes in the main but a number were heavier or thicker-set than I like in a dog in the field for quail hunting. There was a tendency to some of those taller types having less angulation, selection for taller frame often achieved from ‘straightening’ of the long bones.
Generally speaking though I would have taken most of the V dogs home if given half a chance, if my choice were to be based on conformation. However I noted a tendency to deep chests in some lines, not the type I prefer in a field dog.
That night, Day 1 was finalised with a friendly get – together over a meal and a drink at the test HQ, at the Olympic Shooting Centre from the Munich Olympic Games.
Field and Water Testing
Day 2 had an early start for the beginning of field and water testing of dogs and bitches. Sixteen groups of five dogs were assigned judges and stewards. Normally the landowner or hunter who rents the land where the field test is to be conducted accompanies. Spectators and participants had to quickly find the group leader and head off on a magical mystery tour to the fields where field-testing would take place.
Our group headed off to a 700ha-hunting lease on farmland 11kms north of the city of Munich. This was a fairly built up area with farms interspersed and woods but lots of through traffic on the roads. To demonstrate this I could have hailed the next passing taxi to take me back to our car from the paddock where we were working with the dogs. I was amazed at how near to the road handlers allowed their dogs to range. Roads are everywhere in Germany and people are used to work their dogs like that, that’s why obedience is life saving. The farmland included bare fallow paddocks, potatoes, cabbages, sugar beet, pasture for hay and maize with the corn on the cob. We shared the paddock with tractors ploughing and potato harvesters at various times. We started in the field at 9.00 am and continued through to 3 p.m. Our group consisted of only 4 dogs and they were in the field working in turn in front of the three judges for all that time bar a short lunch break.
The game was plentiful. In the open fallow and low crop paddocks there were hares everywhere, at the fringe of the maize there were pheasant and in the grasslands there were Partridge. Roe Deer were plentiful and their tracks cris–crossed every paddock and followed every track.
A flushed hare is a big temptation to chase for any dog but the number of hares evident here was going to be huge influence. The dogs ran singly through the field of sugar beet, brace work not part of the tests. As the second dog started to get into quite a nice quartering pattern he flushed a hare. Off went the hare and dog in hot pursuit. Two chases are allowable in the Kleemann before the dog is dropped. It quickly became clear that steadiness to flushing hares is paramount under these conditions. After the first flush the handlers were on top of their dogs with whistle and voice command, while the handlers in the gallery reinforced each command by the working dog by dropping their own dogs, accompanied by a sharp tug on the collar.
In the first few runs by the four dogs, hares were getting up everywhere. The dogs were pointing the hare but it seemed like only a second between the point and the flush and the handler whistling then the dog dropping. I sensed that by the way the dogs were working, that electric collars are now often used and some of the handlers confirmed this. A lot of the point, flush, drop happened at some distance from the handler and in most cases the handler could not have shot the game. Handlers carried a shotgun but not to shoot for a retrieve, only to test if the dog was steady to shot and not gun shy.
At one point as we approached a patch of about 1 hectare of crop, overgrown with a cover crop specifically planted for game, pheasant and deer were getting up in groups in front of the dogs. The flushing birds were landing 50 – 100m ahead in the crop and the deer clearing out for nearby woods. The field obedience of the participating dogs was generally impressive in this passage of work.
Overall, my assessment of the four dogs I saw in the fields was that their work was adequate on hare, but with the exception of one dog their work on birds was extremely poor. It should be noted that one of these four dogs was awarded a special prize (4h) for fieldwork. Given that this particular dog flagged on point and flushed pheasant and partridge running upwind I was left somewhat non- plussed at the announcement. None of the dogs I saw managed to point any of the coveys of partridge we saw. Why is this? The answer is simple. Most dogs don’t know partridges because they are very rare and their habitat is restricted to special areas. So it is difficult for me looking through Australian eyes not to criticise but I did not know all the factors. Under their conditions, when they send the dog into heavy cover they don’t know if he is pointing a pheasant or a fox, they can’t give a command and the dog has to flush the bird or animal on his own. Otherwise it would take ages until the dog came back. This is the common hunting practice so how could a dog discriminate between his everyday hunting and a Kleemann test?
Soft mouth is crucial in our trial dogs, but in Germany the dog can be expected to kill the wounded game before retrieving to the handler.
My impressions of the field work:
The fieldwork by the 4 (out of 81) dogs I saw was unimpressive. I saw none of the combination of quartering, nose, roading and game sense I know and love in the Shorthair in this country.
Hunting in Germany is so different to what it is in Australia and many other parts of the world where bird hunting is the primary role of the GSP. In Germany, bird hunting never was the primary role for a GSP! They were bred for versatility and because the traditional pointing breeds were too soft for hard water work in winter and everyday hunting under their conditions. It’s horses for courses and the hunting in Germany today has a lot of emphasis on work for the dog after the shot. More often they will use the dog hunting reed (for ducks and boar), heavy cover and forest. The GSP in Germany today is essentially a hunting companion and tracking dog, to retrieve shot or wounded game before it runs out of the small hunting areas and into neighbouring land where permission would have to be sought before entry to retrieve a wounded deer. Not all these aspects are tested for in the Kleemann.
Very few German hunters have the opportunity to let their dogs’ range out to full distance in open fields testing stamina and nose work. To see the dogs bursting coveys of partridges in the Kleemann was the evidence of how things are different there from here in Australia.
The Schausuche was held the day after the tests when all the dogs that pass the Kleemann and are awarded a KS (Kurzhaar Sieger) are run in pairs in open paddocks. The ultimate irony (from my point of view) was when one of these KS dogs busted a covey of about fifteen birds in front of a few hundred spectators who had gathered to see the top dogs run.
Another interesting comment from one of the participants in the test, that his dog had never actually pointed a partridge, all his hunting being on furred game and vermin.
Day 2 was finished by a dinner in a traditional Bavarian beer hall with traditional music and foods and of course many beers and Schnapps. About 650 people attended.
Horses for Courses
The German hunter needs a versatile dog that can hunt, point and retrieve but above all track wounded game. Red deer and wild boar are reaching pest proportions in Europe while wild game birds are on the decline. I’m sure every handler in the Kleemann would have loved the opportunity to run their dogs on the quail paddocks of Australia where in a good season we can fill our bag of quail any time we can find the time to go out, and for free!
In contrast I and many others hunting with GSP’s in the world want a dog to find feathered upland game, point it staunchly until I get to the find, flush on command. We also want it to retrieve fallen game with asoft mouth and perhaps in the evening hunt a few ducks on dams where a water retrieve is a possibility.
The German hunter could be within his rights to ask why we are not using traditional pointers and setters. It could be hard to argue! There are hunters in Australia and New Zealand who use their dogs on deer but they are in the minority.
Over the years I have heard much about the water work of the German dogs. The water work in this Kleemann did not impress me greatly. Granted it takes a deal of training but I was left with a feeling that all of my dogs would have achieved similar performance to what I saw there with a minimum of training. Unfortunately the water site for this particular Kleemann consisted of relatively small ponds surrounded by heavy undergrowth and reeds and the dogs were not able to show off their skills particularly well.
There are many positive aspects for us from studying and applying pats of the DK system. The strength in the DK system is by participating not by spectating. Handlers of all ages were there and it was impressive to see the number of elder people still committed, still participating as handlers and judges. The friendliness amongst judges, handlers and the interest of the judges to see how their competitors from the field performed at the water, under a different set of judges was impressive. Breeders are looking closely at the outcomes and have been watching their litters since the Derby and Solms tests when they were young.
The German dogs are largely very obedient in the presence of ground game. A pointing dog is totally constrained when a hare or deer is likely to burst from cover at any point. I wonder however what the effect of generations of electronic collar-trained dogs will do to inherent biddability and trainability if there is continued or more widespread use. The DK movement is alive and well in Germany and Austria and will continue. I’m not sure if we can say the same for adopting countries of the GSP.
I would not go to another Kleemann test. As I said it is really about participation and the spectator is not really catered for. Few people at the test speak English. Visitors are tolerated rather than catered for. You could go a long way to see very little and that’s assuming you found the meeting place in the morning, which was difficult. I suspect the field Trials for Continental (Utility) breeds of gundogs that are held in the other European countries mainly on partridge, might appeal to the Australian bird hunter more and top dogs performing in those trials would offer genetics more applicable to the type of hunting we do here. A world pointing championship for DK that was won by a French dog was held in Germany a fortnight before the Kleemann. By all accounts the trial was disappointing, held in fields of sugar beet. However news of an FCI pointing trial for Continental Utility Gundog breeds held in Holland just before the Kleemann, was said to be outstanding, according to one of the judges at the Kleemann who had also been judging there. I know the partridge trials in Spain are where I would like to get to some time in the future. It should also be remembered that these are not the top dogs in Germany merely the tops of the crop of the preceding two year’s training and qualifying. From this point of view, it is more likely to see top field dogs in an IKP (International test held every other year to the Kleemann) because they don’t need a VGP 1. Prize for qualification! Top field quality does not necessarily go hand in hand with top water quality from a German perspective. It has been seen many times that top field dogs are only reasonable for water work.
A Dog from Germany?
Would I import a dog from Germany? For me as a hunter I think my money would be better spent nearer to home from parents that I knew were close to my ideal. Being a buyer and not a breeder I would definitely look at the local dogs first because I don’t need the fresh blood Germany offers. How can you assess a German dog for Australian conditions? It is impossible. However committed GSP breeders will ignore this gene pool at their peril. The gene pool in Germany is huge and important. However they will have to conduct a deal of research before importing.
The German system of testing:
I think this is where we can learn. They test their dogs to a standard. They do not run trials to find a first, second and third with all the other dogs getting nothing. They are lenient (positive) in their judging. Judges are proactive in trying to help handler and dog reach the appropriate level or standard and not looking for ways to disqualify or drop the dog from the test. In today’s life with the huge costs of travelling to trials we are seeing no growth of our sport and no wonder! We need to select our dogs for our hunting as they do in Germany.
To criticise these DK dogs for their performance in the Kleemann, based on Australian hunting criteria would be crass, impudent and naïve. The German system is ideal for their hunting needs and it works and is successful. We cannot say the same here. In the main our show aficionados do not hunt and our field triallers do not show.
I believe that the divergence is because there are only winners, placegetters and losers in our system. In Germany nobody is a loser. They are not judged first, second or last, they are trying to attain a standard and to gain a pass. It takes a deal of time, training and expense to reach that standard but there is plenty help in the local DK clubs to get there.
My interpretation of the DK system and the test would have been very shallow without the opportunity to discuss every aspect with Dagmar Heydeck. This lady ‘knows her dogs’ and is a walking advert for what is so positive about the DK Club system. She was kind enough to comment constructively on this report and explain at length the background of the ‘German way’ where I did not understand it.