The pictures are finally out so I can finally post about the United Doberman Club Breed Survey, judged by Ray Carlisle and hosted by the New Age Tri-State Doberman Club in Warwick, NY.
It was (as always, with me it seems) an adventure all around! Firstly it's important to note that the Breed Survey was my ultimate goal with Nadia this year. I would have also gone to Europe to try for the ZTP, but that didn't work out due to us only getting our BH very late in the season. Besides, the UDC Breed Survey is actually more difficult in the Advanced form than the ZTP because it requires at least one successful out on either of the two bites. Also if I am not mistaken the dog cannot get stick hits while being driven in the ZTP, but it can in the BSA. So, point being the BSA was the ultimate/hardest goal I had set for ourselves this year.
We had a couple of set backs. Our regular helper tore his ACL at the end of August during the German Shepherd Breed Survey, and so our less experienced helper had to tag in starting September. He's also a police officer and has a whacky schedule at times so he isn't always available. I think my last actual protection training session was probably 2 or 3 weeks out from the Breed Survey - which was fine because the session went so well, she gave me an out while on the helper on a single command for the 2nd time in her life so we gave her a reward bite and cut the session short. I wanted that to be the last thing in her mind, and hoped it would be sufficient. Ideally I would need two outs, one for each bite, but I could still pass with just one.
In my enthusiasm to promote the breed and knowing my two friends, fellow dobe owner and fellow club members are both committed to breeding - one of them having bred her first litter this Summer, I managed to convince them to sign up for the Breed Survey Basic (BSB) as it doesn't contain any bitework, the protection part is much more like the WAE. And since neither of them had dogs with a WAE yet it seemed relevant - plus I really found the conformation portion useful and interesting from a breeding perspective, particularly as they have European imports and one of them is open to American line males, it might open her more doors to have an official written evaluation from an AKC judge.
My friends drove down on the Saturday to stay in a motel overnight.
I, being certifiably insane, decided to get up at 2 am to make the 6 hour drive in the morning and go directly to the training club. I tried going to bed at around 9:30-10:00 pm, put on Our Planet to try and let Attenborough's voice lull me to sleep. But I was too wired. Nadia absolutely loved the program though I hadn't seen her this interested in the tv in a while. I dozed a little before a 12:30 am call from a distressed friend woke me up. I talked to her for a while until she was safely home. At that point I figured I may as well just leave now.
So off we went in the dark, just Nadia and I as we had done so many times before. It was 2 am by the time we hit the border, which means it was empty but for another car before us. We crossed without incident, I was relieved to be on the other side, seems like the fates were smiling down upon us... I was belting along to "Into the Unknown" from Frozen 2 (... which I saw the Thursday before, on the day it came out).
Soon, I was driving into freezing rain. And my windshield wipers really weren't up to the task. I sparingly kept using my anti-freeze hoping to see anything. The freezing rain eventually gave way to rain, before giving way to sleet! Oh but was that the end of it? Absolutely not. Blizzard like conditions were upon us, and due to it being in the middle of the night early on a Sunday the roads weren't cleared off. I could also sense that crusty mixture of ice and snow covering the road and any deviation the wrong way was a death trap. I didn't stop, just kept going, I had left with a full tank of gas and knew I would make it to my destination without needing to stop. The snow seemed endless, though it finally gave way... to fog. A fog so thick you couldn't see more than 5 feet ahead. Eventually the fog dissipated and there was nothing left but the darkness of a cloudy night, light drizzling - HOLY CRAP THERE'S AN ANIMAL ON THE ROAD.
Luckily, I was paying attention, (to be fair I'm sure driving through various manner of storm-like conditions and inclement weather got my adrenaline pumping and I was hyper vigilant) I did see the rabbit far enough ahead to slow down and stop, without hurting him or causing an accident. I guess the universe was still testing me.
Sometime around 7:30 am I finally pulled in to the club's parking lot. I expected to be the first one there. It was drizzling lightly and I took Nadia out to give her a chance to relieve herself. I also texted my mother to let her know I had arrived in one piece. She asked me how the drive went, and I told her the best way to describe would be the lyrics from the song "Odyssey (modern)", which I love and have been listening to pretty much since we started training IGP this past winter as it is part of the soundtrack to Assassin's Creed: Odyssey one of my all time favourite games. "Through storms we'll ride, and battles fought under a raging sky, through watchful eyes..."
Little did I know.
Of course, as fellow doberman people I'm sure you're wondering about the rain, and if at this point it was still raining, and would the breed survey still happen? Yes. Not only was it still raining but as we drew closer to the start, the rain was coming down progressively harder. I mean it was so bad that it's no exaggeration to say the weather became an additional test of resilience for all the participants both human and dogs alike.
At the start during the first BSB I think to myself "maybe the rain will let up, please let the rain let up". You see, I've worked Nadia in light and normal rain without incident. But the last time I worked her in protection under heavy rain it was too much to ask of her at the time. Bless her heart she really tried that day, she stayed engaged with the decoy but it was too much adversity and she couldn't stay focused on biting. So rain was the one thing I was afraid of - I would've taken snow over rain. But as the dogs go one by one, the rain only gets increasingly intense. Nadia was last to go as the BSBs went first and they were all female, then the BSAs go, with males first and females second. There was one other female entered but the owner had not sent in the mandatory health tests so they decided not to show up.
I start to think that I've just driven 6 hours in those conditions for nothing. I tell my friends about my concern they tell me to stop worrying that I shouldn't think this way. I try to remind myself that miracles happen - and I'm wearing my lucky Wonder Woman shirt. Rain can stop as suddenly as it starts right? I get even more anxious by how cold it is - so cold in fact Nadia who is normally very tolerant was shivering in her crate in the car. I sigh, start the car to warm her up so at least she'll have a little more zest by the time we go. But I knew right from the get go that the BSA itself would be a lot to ask, and with the freezing temperature and pouring rain, it was a mightily tall ask.
The rain didn't stop. As the last dog before Nadia walks onto the field I go to my car. The skies opened wide and I couldn't see through my car window. I start talking to Nadia, and tell her that no matter what happens today she is a GOOD girl, and I am so proud of where she's gotten, and dang what a trooper she is to get up with me at 1 am, spend 6:30 hours driving, and another several hours in the crate all morning (since we were last to go). I tell her that I know I am asking a lot out of her and that given the conditions today, it would be ok if she couldn't do it, I'd understand if it was too much. Instead of despairing though, I put on some music, two key tracks for me. No Man's Land from the Wonder Woman score, and Show Yourself from Frozen 2, to try and reset my mind frame. Show yourself
I'm no longer trembling
Here I am
I've come so far
As I'm making a fool of myself singing along in my car I can feel my own determination and resolve resurge. Show yourself
Step into the power
Into something new
At this point I'm pumped again. I get out of the car, grab one of Nadia's flat collars and her fur-saver, I give her a little pep talk and say we are gonna go out there and do our best... and so it begins.
The conformation portion was a bit of a disaster, but then again it was for all the dogs. With the cold and the rain most of them wouldn't stack for the life of them (even the Confo Chs!) and were all pretty much roaching in spite of being under a tent. The striding was embarrassing, yet in spite of these ridiculous conditions and Nadia telling me very clearly that rain was not part of the deal when she said she wanted to be a show dog, I did manage to get her striding nicely enough for Ray to qualify her movement as free-flowing.
He told me that the white on her chest was a very serious fault. Her markings could be a little darker. But he really liked her bend of stifle and her rear, adequate croup and tail set. He really liked her head - found her to have very nice parallel planes, correct underjaw, perfect scissor bite, no missing teeth (and an extra molar!). He found her to be rough over shoulder and straight in front (we been knew), lovely tight cat feet. Adequate spring of rib, and depth of brisket. Found her to be short and square. They sticked her at 26.5 inches (although I suspect this is not entirely accurate as Nadia was not standing properly) high and and 26.5 inches in length of body (although again it was hard to get the right measures on the dogs because they were not cooperating with the weather). He gave her a Good overall rating for conformation which had me a little disappointed, I thought he did not like her much, as I was hoping for at least a Very Good. A later conversation with him would show me I was wrong, but we'll get back to that.
Once the conformation evaluation and rating was over we moved on to the temperament portion. Most of it went by in a blur. Nadia was not her usual self. The time spent in the crate, plus the weather meant she was bouncing like a kangaroo, grabbing her leash to play tug. She was crazy excited, but at least she was happy, and as per usual was pretty unflappable about the group, umbrellas, jug of rocks etc. Gun shots, what gun shots? Jogger? Nothing to see here. This part is a bit of a blur for me it went by so fast.
My first concern was the tie out. She is usually okay about being left alone and tied out but she doesn't love it, and I knew she would not be happy about it with the rain in particular. Halfway to the blind and she was throwing an absolute fit. I think this may be the only time she's ever barked at me in such a way that I'm almost certain she was calling me a bitch
as in "Mom you bitch get back here! How dare you leave me alone in the cold and the rain, what betrayal is this!?"
I looked through the peep hole in the blind to see if she'd settle but I eventually kinda just groaned and turned my back to it waiting for it to pass. The good thing is everyone was really amused, I don't think another dog kicked up quite the fuss that Nadia did, but several of the other dogs had let their handlers know what they thought of being left tied out in the cold rain. I was worried it would cost us. Apparently she must have responded well to Ray approaching her because she quieted a little and they eventually hailed me to go and collect her.
Now... the moment I had been so anxious about. The protection portion. I listened carefully to the judge's instructions and I turned to Nadia, giving her the kind of pep talk she knew meant business. "All right! Are you ready bubs? Are you gonna get the bad guy? YEAH YOU'RE GONNA GET THE BAD GUY, YOU'RE GONNA BEAT HIM UP, GET 'EM GIRL!"
At this point she knows what's up - we start walking down the field and the helper jumps out of the blind. I let go of the leash and hold my breath - and watch intently as Nadia runs to him and leaps up to bite him. I watch as he drives her - something she has never experienced before - and hangs on. She did slip off towards the end but she popped right back on, on her own, without any help from me (although she went for the elbow). Moment of truth now - the out. I called out "Aus" and again held my breath... to watch my dog transition. Now, we haven't really introduced guards yet and they weren't necessary but it was interesting to watch what she would do. She did what many would call a silent guard. That is to say she stayed right by the helper staring him down until I could collect her.
By then I was really happy already with what she had given me there that day, but it wasn't over. The moment of truth - the courage test/long bite. From a very long distance, one she hasn't ever done this at before. But I was confident now, and I could feel her full of fire and fight. I also suspected she would do well here precisely because of the distance. She's a dog who loves to run and use her speed. I watched in slow motion, thinking of the No Man's Land scene where instead of facing gunfire, the dobes were facing rain drops. She was off like a bullet, straight and true to the helper like an arrow, fearlessly leaping into her fight. And then she gave me the greatest gift of all - another out on command! Her 4th time ever outing while in conflict. And she naturally transitioned to a hold and bark guard this time.
Nadia was soaked to the bone at this point, slick as a seal really and I didn't care about the results, didn't care if we passed or what the rating would be. The only thing that mattered to me in that instant was that I had asked and my dog had answered, brilliantly. All that mattered to me was that in the face of adversity I needed a miracle, and all along that miracle had been riding with me through the storm sleeping in the back of a beat up 2005 Toyota Sienna. My little Wonder Woman had done it again. I've always said that she's got a huge heart and a lot of try - she proved that yet again when it mattered most under difficult circumstances.
Battles fought under a raging sky indeed- I wrote back to my mum to tell her how prophetic those words had been. And "through watchful eyes" of a legendary judge.
In the end Nadia received an overall temperament rating of Excellent - aka "1". Her bite was described as full and calm. And all her temperament attributes were scored as "high" including her fighting spirit, her courage, her hardness, her protective instincts, etc.
She also received an "a" for her health tests since I handed in Hips, vWD, Thyroid, Eyes and Cardio (both an echo and a holter) and I even gave them other tests for record keeping.
Nadia now has a BSA G1a to her name.
I cried three times on the drive from Warwick to Cape Cod (where I have been for the last week, visiting for Thanksgiving and taking a well deserved vacation, going for long walks in the woods with Nadia. Best way to end our year/season). I've been floating on cloud nine still in absolute disbelief that it happened, that we succeeded. We've truly come so far. From being kicked out of the Ring Club because she 'just didn't want it bad enough' and being told we 'wouldn't get very far, she might not ever bite a full sleeve' to charging down full tilt at new helper, on a new field, in relentless rain and giving a full quiet bite, fearlessly... For as long as she lives this dog does not owe me a single thing more. Which is great because we can continue on our journey together and learn many things, but now there is no more pressure to prove anything. If she stops having fun then we will stop. But I am now incredibly excited for what the future holds because I'm done doubting myself and I'm done doubting her. Our hard work is paying off, my patience has been rewarded.
In total 9 dogs were entered, 7 dogs actually participated (2 were pulled because of missing health tests) and 6 passed with one held back (he will be allowed to re-attempt after a 3 month wait period, provided another survey is organised). Nadia was the only bitch to try for the Advanced and held her own with the boys.
I will talk about my encounter with the legendary Ray Carlisle in a follow up post as it merits its own instalment.