I Had A Dream, by Don Harrison
The Time: A Wednesday evening in 1994 after training about 9.30 pm.
The Place; The Black Horse Hotel Clifton. Brighouse
Jim Jackson and me were having one of our deep and meaningful conversations about this wonderful sport we had taken up, when Jim as he often does, dropped a comment out of the blue, “When we get to the World Championships.”
You have to remember, that this was ten years ago. Most of us were still working either dogs that had moved over from working trials, or discarded breed dogs, which, by the way were much better than we gave them credit for; and the chances of quarantine going was just so much pie in the sky. So to come out with such a statement, was similar to Jules Verne talking about putting men on the moon, we all know how far that got him. I can still remember saying to Jim, “We have absolutely no chance of competing at the worlds but I would give my right arm to be able to compete at such an event”.
There were many more deep and meaningful conversations with Jim still talking about ‘The World’s’ and going over the same ground, and me discarding it as so much rubbish. Then suddenly, in 2000 quarantine was abolished and we were able to send a team I think it was to Belgium. How I wished that I could go. Unfortunately, my dog was too old and not pass ported. The team was therefore made up of handlers who had had the foresight to have their dogs pass ported. I can still remember I was so desperate to go that I spent many many hours on the telephone to my friend and fellow club member, Pat Woods, who I knew was more than a little anxious about going to ‘The Worlds’, pleading with her to allow me to take her dog, in place of her. It was not to be. Pat wanted to go herself and who can blame her?
In 2001 we were unable to send a team, as the venue was outside the EU.
Then in 2002 we sent a team to Austria; unfortunately my present dog was too young and not qualified. So another year passed and we are all another year older.
2003 arrived. The selection trials had been a huge success and the successful competitors are off to Italy .My dog was still not qualified. Then, in November 2003 we managed to qualify Sch 3. Now the way was open. I would be entering the 2004 Qualifiers.
We trained hard in all three phases, through out the winter months. However my hopes that Gus, who had always been a very giddy, but biddable dog, would start to mature as he approached three years old, were not to be and, whilst he is a super dog with a joy for life, his very nature was to be a problem during the Protection Phase, in particular. Whilst he was very fast into the grip his guarding and barking in the blind was a problem, which we seemed unable to overcome. Undaunted, we kept training. His tracking was starting to look good, his obedience needed to be much calmer and less enthusiastic. I knew by now that he would not be able to achieve the qualifying criteria of an average of 180 over two trials, as he just was not strong enough in the Protection Phase,
But as they say,” Nothing ventured nothing gained.” So even though I knew we had little or no chance of being successful and making ‘The Team,’ we entered Derwent the first of the Qualifiers.
Training was going according to plan, and then, on the Friday, the day prior to the trial, we were doing a training track on winter wheat, when suddenly the dog decided not to indicate articles, and to coin a phrase we have all used, “Something He Has Never Done Before”. Too late to do anything about it now, consequently the following day at the trial, we missed two articles, and that, combined with a indifferent track, was the first step on the way to a
Non- qualifier. Sure enough, on the following day a non-qualifying obedience round made the dream of going to the World Championship seem further away then ever.
We now had approximately a month to try and put right our mistakes before the second qualifier at Severnside. The days went by quickly and, in training Gus were looking good in certainly in Phases A&B. Whilst his protection was OK, he was not, in my mind capable of achieving the allusive 90 points required in the Protection Phase. The tracking land at Severnside is invariably, very good and we managed a score of 93, Gus indicating all three articles correctly, without any sign of his previous article problem. I must be getting his training correct.
With a score of 92 in the Obedience Phase, things seemed to be falling into place. In the Protection Phase GUS worked really well finishing with 88 points giving us a total of 273 points, which meant that in order to qualify for the team, Gus needed to repeat a similar performance in phases A&B. Only this time we needed a 92 in protection to make the team. This was a virtually unattainable score for Gus. Don’t misunderstand me I am not criticising the dog, but we are all only capable of achieving certain levels, and any dog can only give of his best, and that is all we ask of them. So my dream of going to ‘The Worlds’ was even further away.
The next qualifier was to be in Scotland, approximately four weeks later. So back to the drawing board, training hard. Sent my entry in, looking forward to the trial. Then suddenly one week before the event, I was struck down with influenza. I took to my bed, hoping upon hope that I would still be able to make the trial. On the Thursday before the trial, I had to accept that I would not be fit enough to compete This was a bitter blow, even though I knew it was very unlikely that I would achieve the qualifying score. I really enjoy competing in the big events; it never fails to give me a buzz.
There was now only one qualifying trial left. This was to be ‘The National,’ the really big event held in Bradford. So, again back to the drawing board, training hard in all three phases. At a risk of repeating myself, Schutzhund is a three-phase sport and to succeed you need to train hard for all phases. As they say I digress. So it was tracking nearly every day, obedience most days, protection training at the ‘White Rose’ every Wednesday and Sunday, then on Saturday travelling over the South Cheshire, to train with Chris Bows.
Suddenly the National was upon us. Tracking was to be on the Daresbury estate, in Cheshire, where conditions are invariably ideal. The judge for this event was Dieter Schmale, a very knowledgeable and well-respected SV judge. As tracking conditions were ideal, I was hoping for a cracking score, as Gus had been tracking really well in training. Whilst we managed an 88 and a grading of ‘Good’, Gus did not really apply himself, tracking with a high nose for most of the track. However, he again indicated all three articles correctly, so I seemed to have solved that problem.
Now onto Phase Two the obedience round. As I had a relatively good obedience score at the Severnside Trial earlier in the year, I had continued with the same method of training hoping we could repeat a similar performance and obtain a good score. Alas, it was not to be, our obedience round was abysmal. Gus seemed to be in totally the wrong drive, lacking in attention through out all the Obedience Phase, so obviously I was getting his training wrong, but that is another story. We finished the round with a lowly 80 points.
Now there was only The Protection Phase to go, which was really academic, as I have said from the beginning, Gus is not a 92-point dog, which was what we needed to qualify.
First the hide search. Gus seemed confused and went round the A frame. Finally I managed to gain control and the dog searched the blinds, found the helper in blind six, hesitated a moment then started to bark, not good you understand but he barked relatively well. From then on, he seemed to go up a gear, the callout was good, and all the grips were fast and firm. All the outs were clean, the guarding quite intense and the control was good. So I was expecting a score of around 86-88.However, Dieter had slightly different thoughts, and after a very comprehensive critique, announced an unbelievable 92 points
I will remember that moment for the rest of my life. The stadium erupted, with applause and we were on our way to the World Championships. A dream comes true. Nothing can stop me now.
The final icing on the cake was that I was going to Holland with teammates who I had known for many years. So things were looking really good. This is not the end of the story but only the beginning. I am not going to dwell too much on the next three months, other than to say that Richard, Chris, and myself met three times every week to train together. We had a few hiccups, in that Jet, Richard’s dog was suffering with a recurring leg infection, which certainly hampered her training, One Saturday whilst training at the South Cheshire Club, I fell awkwardly and fractured my right shoulder. Incidentally it is still giving me problems but that is by the way. As I have said nothing was going to stop me going to Holland.
October 2nd arrived. The alarm went off, it was 3.30am. A quick brew, exercise the dog and we are off, full of excitement. Pat Woods who was the team Captain, Richard James, Chris Bows, and Alan Woods and me, all left our respective homes at similar times, as we had arranged to meet up at various points en route to Harwich. Our convoy arrived at the port in good time to exercise the dogs and embark. At this point I would like mention Stenna Ferries, who had given us a fifty % discount on the crossing.
We arrived in Holland around midday. Setting off, in convoy to our host Club at Druten, where we would be training for the next four days, led by our intrepid Team Captain Pat ‘She who must be obeyed’ Woods. After about a two and half hour drive and a few wrong turns, we arrived at the Druten Schuthzhund Club. To be greeted be Dougie Bannerman and ‘Limp along’ Dorothy, who had come over a few days earlier, and had been staying with Ad Van Ypren, who had been so kind as to offer us all the facilities of his club. The kindness, help, and practical advice we received, whilst training here was second to none, we were treated like kings. We were given a superb meal on Saturday evening and all the beer you could drink, in fact, I think, my fellow teammates drank the club dry. As for me, I did not touch a drop, preferring to keep myself like a coiled spring! On Saturday night, we stayed at a hotel near to the club. Sunday morning dawned bright a clear as they say, apart from my teammates’ eyes! We arrived at the club where the Ladies of the club already had prepared breakfast for us. Afterwards we drove to some tracking land, which, we had never seen the like of before, acres upon acres of lush pasture. I had always understood as Holland is such small country, tracking land was at a premium. Honestly, I have never seen as much grass in one area before. After a successful mornings tracking we returned to the club for lunch and further training. On the Sunday evening we travelled back to what was to be our hotel for the rest of the time in Holland. Again the convoy was led by our captain Pat ‘The cyclist friend’ Woods. This by the way is a little team joke, which would take too long to explain. Whilst on subject of Pat I would, on behalf of the team like to thank her for all her efforts. As team captain she got little thanks for what is a very difficult job. The hotel she arranged was superb, the rates for the rooms were brilliant considering it was five star accommodation, the dog exercise area was more than adequate, she got us all to the stadium every day on time, and she accompanied every competitor to the tracking land, again, ensuring that we all arrived in good time, along with our host of supporters, many of whom were staying in the same hotel, which meant that every evening, we dined and drank and talked our selves silly. I didn’t drink, of course, it was only the others!
The next three days were taken up with registration and training at the stadium also travelling back to Druten for further help and training. Arno, who was the club helper, took time off work to be at the club on every occasion, and actually came to stadium for a full day just to help us during our training time on the field.
On the Wednesday evening all teams and their supporters gathered in a gigantic marquee ready for the draw. I don’t know how many people there were in the Marquee but I would hazard a guess at well over 1500. The noise and the atmosphere were electric. To see all of the well-known names that we have only read about in past was amazing. Here we were mingling with them all; the repartee between all the teams was unbelievable. The organisers of this event have to be congratulated as every thing went like clockwork precision.
All the 8 teams had tables with nameplates on. We were sharing a table with the Dutch team, which of course led to a fair amount of friendly banter. The system for the draw was that, as each team was called out they went on stage and were presented by the genial host for evening; it felt like being on some game show. Whilst on stage, each team member chose an engraved granite trophy, under which there was written a number; this number then was read out. Immediately your working times were flashed onto an electronic screen. So, by the end of the evening each competitor knew exactly what day and what time each of the phases was to be worked.
It was amazing. All 130 competitors were exactly to time through out the four days of the trial. What it meant was, that if you wanted to watch any particular competitor you could check the catalogue for their times of working. Believe me no one arrived late. Perhaps we should bring more formality into our own trials? Over the four days each competitor worked one phase a day, that meant of course that we all had one day free and, for the most part we could watch each other’s performance, except, I think on one day, when my tracking time overlapped with Chris’s obedience, though never at any time was any competitor left without support. No matter at what time they were on, our enthusiastic band of followers supported us all.
Probably our best phase over the trial was the tracking. Yes conditions were ideal. Don’t forget though, that to get to ‘The Worlds’, each and every competitor had put in probably years of tracking training to achieve that standard. Dougie and I managed 98 points, Richard 95 points, Chris was a little unlucky, had a little difficulty with the start finishing with 90 points. Even with excellent tracking conditions, many competitors had various difficulties including missed articles unfortunately; Pauline Nye was not allowed to track owing to her disqualification in the protection phase. I don’t know the reason for this; it seems to be something peculiar to ‘The World Championships’ and, unfortunately it is the luck of the draw as to whether your protection came before or after your track.
In the obedience phase, we all failed to reach our full potential. Chris obtained the best obedience of us all with 82 points, followed by Richard on 81 points, both these dogs as we know are capable of much higher scores, Pauline and me were down on mid and low 70s Again disappointing scores. I know Dougie was devastated with his 65 points. All the dogs have put in much better scores in our home trials. None of us would try to make excuses, other than to say that the atmosphere in the stadium was something that we can never hope to reproduce hear at home. Though I am confident that as successive teams go to ‘TheWorlds’ they will benefit from our experience and their scores will improve.
Onto The Protection Phase where Chris came into his own with a cracking 90 points. At this level of competition, this was a belting score. Dougie came next, with 85 another good score.
Richard and I managed a bare qualifying score in the low 70’s. In fairness to Richard, his dog was still struggling with an injury and this certainly affected her performance.
So we finished the week with 3 qualifiers. With a little more luck it could have been 5 qualifiers, but as we say, “That’s dogs!”
To compete at ‘The World Championships’ is something that every one who is involved in Schutzhund should try and experience at least once. To enter the stadium for the final parade, to hear the cheers of our supporters, which could be heard above all others was so emotional it will never be forgotten.
I have fulfilled my dream.
Due to personal circumstances and the location of ‘The World Championships’ in future years it is very unlikely I will be able to compete again at that level. Perhaps I could fulfil another dream and win ‘The British Nationals’
NB I would just like to remind everyone that this article was written 6 years ago and I am no longer involved in the sport. I would like to say to all competitors if you do get the opportunity to compete in the world championships take it with both hands. The experience is unforgettable. By the way I never did win The National
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