What does it take to compete at the World Championships?

I’ve asked myself that a couple of times in the past – a rather interesting theoretical question but one that I hadn’t really thought would be of pressing importance. Well, ok, one that I had hoped would become of pressing importance, but maybe in a couple of years time.

But that wasn’t to be. Instead, my wife had the temerity to trial her dog, Bodeus, at the WUSV qualifier in Stirling. Worse still, she had the audacity to qualify for the 5th position on the UK’s WUSV team for Bratislava. What had been an interesting theoretical question had a very sudden and very real need for an answer.

So, what does it take to compete at the World Championships? Well, as a grocery list, I would recommend the following: 1 dog – trained, 1 helper with passport, 1 Renault estate car (with pod on top, of course to carry all the stuff that won’t fit in the car), 1 500 crate, 1 air ticket to the United States (return), 1 air ticket from Frankfurt to London (return), 1 spare cam belt for a Renault estate car, 1 satellite navigation system, hotel reservations, and 2 weeks off from work. It may be best to start from the beginning …

In the beginning – well, ok, we’ll skip the bit about the Earth cooling and the dinosaurs – there was Bodeus (aka, Galon vom Drackland) who was the pet pick of a litter near Cleveland, Ohio. I can still remember those first words from the his breeder to my wife Louise “This one is yours!” After a few tears, a life long partnership was formed. One that lead to Bratislava this year.

Skipping ahead a bit, past a couple of thousand hours of tracking, a few more of obedience, and a fair number of escape bites, Lou and Bodeus made the Team (in case you are interested, in my experience, it is definitely spelled with a capital “T”) and we received the “letter”. Now, we NEEDED a plan (and that word was ALL in capitals! not to mention being paired with a couple of other words that also involve capitals). What the he@! are we going to do?

In less than 24 hours from the day we received “the letter”, we had a hotel (the Best Western in Bratislava), we knew where the stadium was (ignoring the fact that the roads had been redone over the past year – way to go Google), and we had a Plan. Let’s skip ahead a bit more and see how it worked.

Saturday, September 1, 2007 (t-34 days – and no, I am not joking, 34 days): How long does it take to drive to Frankfurt? Ok, it’s only 450 miles give or take – a friend of mine swore that he could do it in 5 hours. Reality, it took about 8 hours – the only saving grace was splitting the drive with a stop-over in Mons (excellent Ibis there with good parking and, of course, they allow dogs in the room!).

Monday, September 3, 2007 (t-32 days and counting): What do you mean, there is not a reservation for the dogs on the flight? A quick (that would be 3 weeks) jaunt over to Dallas to train a bit with a friend (who happens to have started Bodeus in protection 6 years ago) was quickly becoming the most stressful 15 minutes in my life – and that is a statement. Thank goodness for reasonable people behind a counter at check-in for Lufthansa – especially in the face of 180 pounds worth of German Shepherds (one of our other dogs was also going along for a ride), 250 pounds worth of stressed American (oh, what fun!), 2 gigantic suitcases and 2 500 crates. We were ok, there was space for the dogs!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007 (t-8 days and still counting): Back to Frankfurt for me from London and Lou from Dallas. After a brief ride on the Ibiza party-bus from the Ibis Frankfurt Airport to the Arrivals area (nothing like club music at 7:00 in the morning), I realized that Germany is 1 hour ahead of London – that meant it was 8:00 o’clock and I was 1 hour late. Luckily, Lou was also running late because a vet at Arrivals had a strop at her because there wasn’t 3 inches of space over the top of the dogs ears (do you realize how tall the crate would need to be to achieve this goal?). Lucky me.

We collected the car from airport parking – I did indeed remember where I left the ticket – picked up the dogs and we were on the road (again). From Frankfurt to Bratislava, it is 501 miles. We made it 474 miles until disaster struck. The Renault stopped – it couldn’t make 1 more mile. Then, it started raining, we had to get the dogs into a tow truck (excellent socialization does have a place when trying to get to the World Championships), then we waited for a couple of hours in Vienna for a cab (after walking to McDonalds – I am American), and finally, one snotty cab ride to Bratislava, where Tom Tom triumphed in finding our hotel! What a day …

Thursday, September 27, 2007 (t-7 days and too tired to count anymore): Ok, I’ll keep this simple, just a word to the wise / a warning if you will … the Renault dealership in Vienna does NOT take credit cards – not Mastercard, not Visa, not AMEX, nothing. That’s a problem unless you are carrying a ton of cash just in case your car blows up. But, in the end (thanks to AA), we made it. Oh, we need to add that to the list – you need AA to get to the World Championships.

Friday, September 28, 2007 (t-6 days and counting again): Finally, a bit of dog training – we will run a track! But there isn’t any “official” tracking yet (too early) – where? Well, there was very nice looking plough in Austria just across the border … You can see where this is going – let’s just say, the Austrian border patrol were very nice but it is a bit scary to see 10 teenagers jumping out of a troop carrier (I kid you not) with automatic machine guns just as Lou, our friend Randall (read as “Training Director”), and Bodeus are reaching the second article. Ok – I have passports and a spare dog which has decided to bark now – oh, joy! The leaders English is excellent and after watching Bodeus finish a very nice track, he politely gave the passports back and said “Have a good day.” We had a very good day.

Saturday, September 29, 2007 (t-5 days and getting tired of counting – are we there yet?): Some more dog training – today, it’s tracking and then we are going to find the host hotel and do some obedience. We tracked in Austria again (and yes, we were again visited by the border patrol – much nicer this time though with fewer guns). Then, we were relying on the sat nav (called Simon to his friends) to find the host hotel. It turned out to be quite nice but a bit out of the way. On the upside, it had a park with a football field!

Obedience, here we come. Some heeling, a bit of drive work, some retrieves and then, we learned a bit of German. Ok, we didn’t learn the words but the intent was very clear – no dogs allowed on the pitch. Luckily, we were done anyway.

Saturday night, Henriette Bohnstedt (Beckenberry’s Jaeger) came into town along with Paul Flanagan (competing for the Irish team). Through a bit of wheeling/dealing, we had the opportunity to get a bit of protection in at the local fire station. This turned out to be a great opportunity to get a quick bite or two in. On the other hand, the drive out to theirhotel was like a trip through Beirut – we made it out (in the daylight) but the trip back to our hotel was a bit stressful.

Sunday, September 30, 2007 (t-4 days and counting nervously): More tracking but we need a different substrate – no more plough. Ok, how about some mustard greens in the middle of a windfarm. Not bad at all! We also took the opportunity to take a look at the stadium. Not bad.

Monday – Tuesday … getting closer now! A bit of training and a lot of waiting. We did a bit of sight-seeing to pass the time. The Roman ruins just across the Austrian border at Carnuntum were amazing.

Wednesday, October 3 (t-1 day – DRAW NIGHT): It has all gotten real now. The lights go down, a bit of Slovakian folk music, and the first teams approach the stage to start the draw. The wine is flowing and you can feel the tension in the air. Maybe I should have included an air sickness bag on the list of things you need to get to the World Championships. No, we make it through without the bag. Lou drew number 91 which means we start tomorrow afternoon at 4:00 pm with obedience. The nerves are going like nothing else.

Thursday, October 4 (D-DAY!! or is it V-DAY – I don’t know): Henriette started the UK team out right with a 94 in protection (she was the 4th dog on!). Outstanding and very encouraging for everyone. As the day wears on, you can feel the seconds ticking by in your soul.

Finally, it is time. Lou takes the field with Bodeus and it is worth all the work – 6 years of training – mud, muck, time, effort, and it all comes to this moment. Heel work is fine and the sit is a bit slow. Then the fun starts. There is enthusiasm which is good but a solid collision at the end of the recall is a bit too much. But that is nothing next to the speed after the stand … and the lack of ABS. Bodeus goes racing past Lou, then comes back around for a perfect front. All said, 80 points but with moments of brilliance. Lou managed to throw the dumbbell clean over the jump and wall and is amazed to find that she enjoyed being on the field – I loved watching her and was impressed at her composure.

Friday – Sunday: Lou and the other members of the team compete over the course of the next two days (by luck of the draw, everyone is done by Saturday night). The team has done very well and the effort/training is evident in each phase. It has been an honor to be here and a part of such a group.

The UK was represented this year by:

  • Thomas Nye (Asko van Het Berghuis: 99-74-93 = 266). Thomas and Asko turned in the best performance for the UK at this year’s WUSV. Under tough conditions, Asko’s track was exemplary. In addition, Thomas and Asko’s protection round showed both strength and control.
  • Chris Bows (Robbosline Arnie: 92-87-78 = 257). Chris and Arnie have become a regular contender at the higher levels over the last several years. At this year’s WUSV, the team once more showed consistent, high performance overcoming an injury shortly before competing.
  • Dorothee Luking (Randolfield Firecracker: 79-85-83 = 247). Dorothee and her dog Firecracker gave an excellent performance as the youngest dog representing the UK showing poise and presence not normally seen in young dogs. In particular, the teams obedience was well done.
  • Louise Jollyman (Galon vom Drackland a.k.a. Bodeus: 70-80-73 = 223). After much hard work and effort, a qualifying score at the WUSV was the goal and achieved handily. Few will soon forget Bodeus’ energetic recalls or final monumental effort in the track.
  • Henriette Bohnstedt (Beckenberry Jaeger: 5-87-94 = NQ). Fate, cruel fate indeed. After putting together one of the nicest protections rounds paired with a clean obedience, the team was ambushed by an extremely difficult track (keep in mind, at the 2006 WUSV, the team put up 98 points in tracking). Setting aside the track, the team made a very impressive 9 point improvement in both protection and obedience.

Thanks go to our team captains Eric and Tim and everyone else who was there to lend a hand, shoulder and other much needed support – you know who you are!

By: Martin Barrow