2009 USMRA National Championship at the Rose Palace, Texas
by Jeremy Norton & Terry Miller
Most attendees agree that this 3rd USMRA National Championship was a world-class event. The event was held in the covered arena at the San Antonio Rose Palace. The venue was beautiful, massive and spacious. Ample room for parking, playing, dog-breaking, and getting re-acquainted with friends. Inside the arena had plenty of seating and standing around the field. There was also plenty of food and drink provided by the Rose Palace who proved to be an excellent and attentive host. Lone Star Mondio club deserves much praise for arranging such a smooth, enjoyable trial. Any trial is a lot of work; a championship can be nerve-wracking. To the host club’s credit, the atmosphere was far more celebratory and welcoming than stressful or harried.
Terry: Lone Star also hosted our very first championship held at Triple Crown. They definitely stepped it up with class and comfort, showing their experience and hard work.
The Judge: Michel Boisseau of France is well educated and experienced in all the working dog sports providing him with a profound depth of knowledge and experience, as well as a wisdom and enjoyment of the sport’s purpose. He designed a fair, interesting trial routine for each level. He was on point throughout the weekend, noticing details small and large in each routine. He gave genuine, balanced feedback after each dog for the handler and spectators to hear. It was a pleasure and a great honor to spend the weekend with him.
Jeremy: Judge Boisseau is a great, generous, spirited man. He capered about the field in full cowboy regalia throughout the MR1: chaps, six guns, hat, and duster.
The Decoys: Their work was challenging, fair, and consistent. Kees Verbunt traveled from Belgium to work our championship; he endeared himself to the Texans as a decoy in a Lone Star trial last December. He is an experienced championship decoy and training decoy, having logged well over 100 trials in MR an BR. He is an active competitor as well, so he focuses on the details of training all aspects of the routine, not just the bitework. His good humor and broad dog knowledge were widely appreciated. His speed and humor were well matched by Jeremy Norton of Minnesota. Together using clever moves and speed to log meters away from even the fastest dogs. Brad Hardin of Oklahoma is one of our newer decoys working his first championship. He worked well with the judge and other decoys and we look forward to seeing more of his talent. Holding it all together for the handlers was our favorite deputy judge, Keith Jobe from Amarillo. He again proved a calm, wise presence on the field. He was consistent with each competitor, mindful of rules, and compassionate to the nerves of the handlers – an invaluable asset to the sport of Mondioring here in the USA.
The People: One of the best aspects of attending the championship are the bringing together of people who are normally scattered throughout the continent. They bring different training techniques, personalities, and many types of excellent dogs. Folks flew in from all over the states. Bob Dixon the Northeaster came from Maine bearing greetings from Mac McClusky, Jim Fortunato from Jersey with his nice young dog and his family, with Donna Matey and Jill Fryling road tripping it in the K9 Kruiser RV. Arizona, New Mexico, California were well represented, the various Texas clubs and dog enthusiasts, long-time Mondio participants and supporters, as well as friends and the curious. (Note: the curious implies those interested in dog sport, not the strange and weird to look at…) A strong Mexican and Mexican-American presence showed up, especially cheering local favorites Dave Kroyer and MR3 winner Pipin & Humberto Bobadilla. Michael Ellis brought his cool calm from San Francisco with his young dog Pi.
Terry: I drove down from Northern New Mexico for the first Championship and though I was not brave enough to enter this championship, I did volunteer to be the Chien Blanc or DIW (Dog in White) for MR2.
Jeremy: I’m the fool who drove solo from Minnesota to decoy and enter as MR1. Shrike needs work in his long down; he also needs help with grabbing the steering wheel and staying off the cell phone. Thus, I ended up doing most of the driving…
The Field: The theme was Wild Wild West! The field of play was sun and wind protected, and the pungency of a million roped steers did not prove the distraction many nervous handlers feared. The Rose Palace’s arena was rolled flat, hard and firm dirt.
Terry: I liked the surface, it was like a hard training mat, it felt hard, but when I fell, it did not hurt like I expected. It was a bit slick, my dog laid down a 6 foot skid trying to stop and return on the recall.
Jeremy: In golf terms, it was a fast green. My ancient ankles were a bit sore by the end of Sunday, but it was safe and level going. Judge Michel Boisseau (mercifully) decided not to use the full scope of the arena–even with his shortened field, there was ample room to move and play.
Ann Putegnat arranged for a full-fledged chuck wagon to occupy the near corner. In addition to the awesome aroma and wonderful old-west veracity, this campsite served as the scoring table, the handler check-in spot, and the Defense of Handler base camp. The folks who ran the wagon were wonderfully informative and good-spirited about all the weirdo dog people milling about their wagon. Befitting Texas and the Wild West theme, we had a longhorn moseying about the far corner, roped off in the VIP section (in Texas, they don’t use no velvet rope for the VIPs, they use sissel and hemp).
Jeremy: The bull had a funny name, a local sobriquet that irritated Oklahoma native Brad Hardin: Beevo the bull… All I heard him called was, ‘Careful, that’s one expensive bull!!!!!!!’
They built a non-denominational Indian campground in one corner, some old-timey outhouses, tumbleweeds, hay bales, and a haystack. The rest of the arena was open, wide and vast as the prairie. It was a nice blend of simple and tastefully/appropriately decorated. The challenge of the roofed stadium’s echoes, the myriad bovine and equine odors, hair, and scents (and droppings) were etched deep in the structure–not to mention the passel of wild feline that make the Palace their home. Yet none of the dogs were as distracted as one might have thought (or feared). And, yes, bucket upon bucket of cowboy sweat spilled on the turf–now sweetened with the delicate fragrance of a few earnest dog-wranglers.
Terry: As a crossover with an IPO3 dog that is new to this sport, I was not sure how a championship would affect Ibn (or me). The arena size and sounds did not seem to bother him, but all the excitement, people clapping and cheering (and jeering) after and during exercises – even on the field – really got him spun up, schutzhund trials are not so lively, or fun!
MR1: The judge set up a fair, straightforward test. Heeling through center of arena then over podium, send-out down center toward American flag. A cowboy boot used for the retrieve. Absence/long-down had the dog placed by the outhouses, handler walking away, then turned out of sight along the wall to stand behind the haystack; distraction was our ever-willing judge having a Wild West shootout (with whom? Ghosts of the Plains, perhaps). Positions were called while the handler was astride a saddle on the hay bales and food was tossed to the dog while facing the podium. Handlers had a choice of one jump; all choose the hurdle except the shepherd who did the palisade. All were nicely done.
Face attack was direct and clear; flee with bad guy running from the outhouse (ah, the old ‘Gee, Officer, I really have to pee’ routine).
For the Face attack, the dog is sent to engage the decoy from a distance of 30 meters with the decoy facing the dog and threatening him with a stick. The Flee requires the decoy to attempt an escape; he defends himself vigorously to test the dog’s grip and character. A gun is used and two shots are fired before the dog is recalled back by the handler. Belgian super decoy Kees Verbunt did the face and flee attacks for MR1.
The Defense of Handler tests the dog’s behavior under a variety of scenarios in which there is always a “friendly” decoy that shakes hands, and an aggressive decoy that attacks the handler. The difficulty created for the dog progresses at each level, but the aggression is always clear and evident and made by hitting the handler with both hands. One of the difficulties in this exercise is that the handler cannot talk to the dog; the dog must judge and act appropriately on his own. Full points are lost if the handler talks to dog after start of exercise, or if dog bites before the hit, if the dog abandons the handler, if the dog attacks a third person, or if he does not bite when the handler is hit. The dog must recognize friendly versus aggressive behavior without help from the handler. There was only one decoy for MR1 DOH. Brad Hardin enacted a chili tasting gone bad. Some chefs are poor sports.
Six MR1 dogs took to the field, with Keith Jobe and his new dog Leila handling Chien Blanc duties. Jill Fryling and her GSD Polar edged Dave Kroyer and Enoch for the Level One title. Both teams put in very strong performances, and their experience in trial and training proved the difference over the other teams. At the end of two days, Jill Fryling took home the high scoring HOT trophy, the High Scoring Alternate Breed (A GSD). Ann Putegnat and her young Mal Nacho took third place. Jeremy & Shrike, Jim Fortunato & Ava, and Lee Hendrix & Sassy gamely participated, had fun, and learned some good lessons for further preparation.
MR2: The obedience setup was much like MR1, with some subtle modifications. The retrieve item was a chewy rawhide bone, the send-away was still down center of field, but flag was moved off-center. Heeling was over the hay obstacle instead of the low podium. During absence the handler left the dog immediately at a perpendicular angle and then disappeared behind the out-houses to the haystack. Instead of one stalking shooter, there were two wild cowboys having a shootout. Chunks of meat were left along the path of the scent exercise to the tepee, along the retrieve and other paths. They were not hidden by ground cover and really showed up. At this level the handlers choose two jumps, all selected the hurdle and the palisade.
Terry: I have learned that the unexpected can and does happen at Mondioring trials, making this sport one of the most challenging to train. The little woods were placed inside the middle tepee. The search decoy was using a second tepee for hiding and smelling it up nicely. We watched as Michael placed his scented wood inside the tepee, returned to Pi who was watching and ready to go, cued for the search, looked up to send… then was delayed and had to wait as field help finished moving out of the way. The delay was long enough for Pi to start looking around, long enough to forget the cue. When Michael sent Pi – he ran right past the correct tepee and on to the further one with the yummy decoy scent, and seemed to forget all about those silly little woods. Delays can happen anytime, and they really can mess with concentration.
The protection exercises began with the face attack with accessories. In this case, two mid-sized laundry jugs with pebbles inside and three feet of caution tape attached. The dirt was hard packed and many dogs had trouble changing speed or direction quickly. Most every dog in the MR2 was held out for a few seconds by Jeremy. All five dogs valiantly faced the accessories and fought to get the decoy.
Defense of Handler came next. Handler and dog approached a cowboy sitting by the chuck wagon (sipping a Starbucks takeout cup of cowboy coffee…). He greeted them, offered each team something to drink and some tasty vittles. While they approached the campfire and cooking area, Jeremy’s eagle ears picked up the sound of rustlers, the scourge of the prairies. He sounded the alarm, hastened to the armory (judge’s table) to fetch his trusty rifle. Together with the dog team, he approached a suspicious haystack. He raised his rifle. He took aim. He saw his old Okie buddy Brad approaching. Alarm over, Jeremy introduced Brad to the dog team, then they returned to their meal. The handler was seated on a small bench and Jeremy walked over to the triangle to sound the dinner call. And then Brad attacked. All dogs bit clean.
Search and escort. Jeremy took refuge inside one of the teepees. Fortunately for the dogs, the selected hiding place was just beside the path the decoys took entering and leaving the field, so the scent was heavy. Dogs found the hiding place in record time. Three escape attempts: first in the open; second taken in the gap between the haystack and the wall; third taken along the line of hay bales.
Using an obstacle to slow the dog down in order to judge courage in face of threat increases the face attack difficulty. A line of hay-bales was used which are safe and useful throughout the trial in the different exercises. Kees did stick attack over obstacle. They all got him. Flee attack again came from beside the outhouses, with Brad running from the dogged dogs.
There were five MR2 entries. Michael Ellis and Pi Ld’Sol edged Lisa Maze and Villier the Chupaloup-a in a tiebreaker by having the higher score in accessories. Both performances were quite strong. Don Lee and Odin took third with a nice showing as well. Jim Hall and the crowd favorite Diablo and Risa Hunnicutt and ‘Cuda were great competitors. Terry Miller and Ibn (with relief work from Tim Bartlett and Loki for the attack with Baton) performed the Chien Blanc.
MR3: The obedience began with the food refusal was at presentation, but with additional pieces of food being tossed. The retrieve was a pair of boots tied together. The absence was a sit position inside the chuck wagon cooking area. The fire was cooking biscuits and gravy and a pair of wagoners danced to loud music in front of the dog. Change of positions had handler climb onto the buckboard of the chuck wagon. Never fear: the recall did not happen until the handler had climbed back down. The teams had more difficulty climbing in and out of the wagon then performing the positions correctly. Search for woods were in the farthest tepee. Past the one used for the MR2’s and the one used for hiding the decoy. At this level the dogs perform all the jumps, the hurdle, the palisade, and the long jump. They were all spectacular to watch.
The most difficult exercise to teach and the most impressive to watch is the Guard of Object. The dog is left with an object to guard while the handler leaves out of sight. The dog must work on his own to keep decoys from stealing the object. The dog may bite if the decoy is within a designated distance, but must let go and move back to the object once the decoy moves away. All dogs were in good form, stuffing the decoys’ attempts to snatch the saddle from the ground. Pipin, a 10 year old veteran, earned applause from Kees at the completion of his guard.
For attack with accessories, Kees decided to mess with Texas, using two not-even-ten-gallon cowboy hats as his accessory of choice. Points to the hearty Belgian for honoring the spirit of the trial’s theme. The hats, however, proved little deterrent for the MR3 dogs. By the end, the hats had more duct tape than straw holding them together. It was an interesting and spirited selection by a very experienced and savvy decoy. Jeremy worked the flee attacks. At level 3, the team must also do a version where the dog is recalled back to the handler just before touching the decoy. The handler does not know which of two flee exercises it to be stopped until a green flag is shown after the dog is sent after the running decoy.
Jeremy and Brad worked the Defense of Handler. The two decoys were chilling by the chuck wagon as the handler approached. Jeremy beckoned and energetically offered coffee, then a sidearm, to each handler. Realizing guns are not toys, Jeremy and the handler walked to the armory to secure the pistols, then headed toward the pasture for a horse ride (aka, walked across the dirt to the saddle on the hay bales). Oklahoma Brad sidled up to join the group. Introductions were made. Jeremy tested the steed, found it too wild to manage, and asked the handler to take a ride instead. As the handler mounted the saddle, Jeremy and Brad were behind straddling the hay bales. Jeremy ran forward to cheer on the rider, hootin’ and hollerin’ like a proper fool. Then Brad attacked. All dogs were prepared and none were tricked. Jeremy and dogs found the slick floor an added challenge, a fast surface for athletes to show their style.
Jeremy: One thing I’d like to add is about Pipin. Some of the Texas decoys that worked him previously mentioned he had a distinct loping attack, but that he accelerated fiercely to close and enter on the decoy. Watching him on the attacks, including as he came at me, it reminded me of Animal Planet, the way a predator pursues its prey. He was moving at a good pace, closing always, but loping and pacing, then, when it was too late for prey (i.e., the decoy, i.e., me) to escape, he kicked it up a gear and nailed his target. He is a very cool, and very smart, dog.
For the Search and Escort, the decoy hides on the field and the dog searches to find where he is hidden. When found, the dog must alert and hold the decoy in position until the handler approaches and commands the decoy to leave his hiding place. At this point the dog must “escort” the decoy, guarding him as close as possible so he cannot escape. Discipline and skill is demonstrated by guarding close and without biting during the guarding or escorts.
Some folks might quibble with the hiding place on safety grounds, but Kees and Judge Boisseau evaluated and discussed the placement–inside Beevo the Bull’s water trough. The dogs took a few extra spins of the area before discovering Kees – not thinking to look into the trough at first, but all scented him in due time. Loki leapt into the tub, guarding while prancing on Kees’ chest. The other dogs circled the tub and put their front paws on it. Kees used the time while he slowly (and safely) extricated himself from the tub to size up and set up each dog, managing to put the tub between himself and the dog each time. He stole at least eight meters from every dog. He might look like a Belgian Jack Black, but the husky kid can MOTOR!!!!! He dusted the dogs repeatedly, churning little footsteps carrying him swiftly across the prairie. He took his second escape in the open and then used the hay bales for his third, where, again, his skill and experience was undeniable: patience and duplicity served him well, allowing him to stymie each dog on the wrong side of the barrier as Kees positioned his body just right to gain those first crucial steps of separation, effectively convincing dogs they were leaning on his legs when they were really leaning on his arms.
Jeremy: It was a pleasure to watch Kees work, and he was generous with his advice and suggestions.
Donna handling Jackson: Once Jackson and I walked through the arena gates all the things that made the Championship exciting, the aroma of the Chuck Wagon’s wood burning stove, the energy of the place, the set up of the field, the spectators’ banter, and the sound of the air horns all vanished. In my mind, it was just me, Jackson, the deputy judge, and the judge. I was pleased with Jackson’s enthusiasm during the obedience and jumps. The 18 points lost in obedience were my fault, inflection errors on my commands. We had 380 points going into the bite work. The first exercise was the Guard of Object. Since I could not see Jackson as I huddled behind the hay bales, Keith gave me a play by play. Jackson was diligent and earned 29 out of 30. Good Dog! On the Face Attack Over Obstacle, Jeremy’s Mojo and Jackson’s over exuberance resulted in Jack returning on the third whistle, minus 10. Bad Dog! The Face Attack with Accessories and Defense of Handler were full points. In the Search and Escort, Jackson quickly found the decoy lying in the water trough. Just as quickly, Kees’ stole 20 points with his cunning and speed. Impressive! On the first Flee Attack, Jackson lost 10 points on the recall. My heartbreak came on the Stopped Flee when Jackson executed a perfect call off, got lost on his way back, and I gave a second whistle. I thought that would be a 5 point deduction. Instead, because Jackson was not within 5 meters of me, we lost 20 points! Trial and learn. I’ll never make that mistake again!
Jackson and Donna won the honor of 2009 USMRA MR3 Champion and took the Defense of Handler trophy, which was spectacular! The Highest Scoring MR3 team of the day was Humberto and Pipin (from Mexico). Pipin was awarded the Decoy’s choice award. Humberto and Pipin also earned highest multiple titled dog high score international team. Humberto is a true sportsman and they are a very accomplished team. Andrew handled our own veteran of many trials and many titles, Feist. It is always a pleasure to see this dog work.
Hat’s off to Ann Putegnat and LSMRC for hosting a fantastic USMRA Championship! To Judge Michel Boisseau who gave excellent critiques and a pleasure to be with on and off the field. To Kees Verbunt who brought his speed and incredibly generous nature. To our own USA decoys. Thank you to all three decoys who worked hard to provide a good challenge but kept the dogs safe for a successful championship, and to all those who worked so hard on the field and behind the scenes. It was an event to remember and look forward to hosting a world championship sometime in the future!
See Y’all again next year!