Hard work and good breeding make this Weimaraner No. 1

THE CANINE'S A CHAMP

May 08, 1994|By Christopher Gaul

Jazz is home!

Our other three Weimaraners are running around the living room, barking, wagging tails furiously as they watch from the living-room picture window while Jazz excitedly drags me up the driveway to the house.

It is always like this when Jazz returns from the dog-show circuit for a few, all-too-brief days. He struts into the house. I follow, carrying the trophies and the purple and gold ribbons that are the symbols of his most recent victories.

The other dogs sniff him, absorbing the smells of his adventures and travels. Jazz and his brother, Rocky, circle each other, hackles up, tails rigidly erect -- a posturing ritual of male dogs. But, in their case, it is bravado, not aggression. Within 15 minutes, the two are lying together on a living-room couch, Jazz resting his head on his brother's rump. Their mother, Fleur, and Cita, a young, beautiful Weimaraner we acquired to breed to Jazz, lie on another couch watching the boys.

Lying together on the cushions, the dogs seem more like relaxed kids than bearers of a legacy. They are the Gray Ghosts of Weimar. That's a sobriquet derived from their silvery gray color and their origin in Germany, where, in the early 1800s, Weimaraners were first bred by the noble families of Weimar to hunt big game and, later, small animals and birds.

The breeders wanted a hunting dog of endurance, determination, loyalty and devotion, one that could cover ground in the field with a floating, easy power of movement. They got that and more than they bargained for: The Weimaraner is a wonderfully proficient hunter, and when it's not in the field is much of the time at its owner's side, on his couch, in his bed.

In a few days, Jazz will be gone again, so this time at home is particularly precious. We spoil him terribly. He plays with the other dogs, retrieves sticks from Middle River near our home, sits on the front seat of the car during our neighborhood errands -- all the things he did before he became a show-ring hotshot. He's usually away three to four days a week -- sometimes longer -- at dog shows where he is achieving star status. When he's on the road, Jazz is No. 1 in his breed in America.

FOR THE GOOD OF THE BREED

To get to be No. 1, a purebred dog must not only look good but have fine bloodlines, a distinguished family name. Jazz, whose formal name is Champion Gaul's Jazz V. Reiteralm, has that: His mother, Fleur, is a champion; his father, Champion Arco, was bred in Germany.

Owners and breeders constantly work at improving the physical and temperamental traits of the 148 different breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club, so a dog show is not just a beauty contest. It is an arena in which quality wins. Participating isn't easy. It's a lot of work, time and expense.

To be exhibited in these shows, a purebred dog must meet standards that define the physical and psychological characteristics that the breed ideally should possess. For a Weimaraner, this includes standards for the dog's height (25 inches to 27 inches at the shoulder for a male), coat (short and distinctly gray, not blue or black), bone structure, gait and temperament (friendly, fearless, alert and obedient).

A show judge picks the dog he or she believes best meets those standards on that day in that ring. In winning, a dog acquires points. It takes 15 points to be a champion Weimaraner, and this process often takes a year, sometimes two. The owners do this for the prestige: There's no money in winning championship status. The payoff is in the breeding.

Jazz earned his champion points in three consecutive weekends of shows in Massachusetts in June 1991.

Now I can keep Jazz at home with me for good, I thought then. But Pam, my wife, and my Weimaraner-owning friends had other ideas:

"You've got to 'special' him," they insisted. "He's one of the best dogs this breed has seen in a long time. He needs to be a special for the good of the breed."

In show terms, a special is a champion dog good enough to compete against other champions in his breed. For a shot at making the top 10, Jazz would have to be campaigned: exhibited all over the country in 100 or more shows in a year by a full-time, professional dog handler. It is a dauntingly expensive proposition: a minimum of $15,000 for that one year. But, beyond the intimidating expense of it all, I was stunned by the realization that Jazz would have to go away. The travel and logistics usually require that the dog live with its handler during the campaign period.

I would not agree to it. I could not hear of being without Jazz for so long. How will he fare without me? This wasn't what I'd bargained for; he's my dog and I want him home.

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