Wednesday, August 20, 2014

"Von wem haben sie gelernt?" From whom have you learned?

"….Molosser Magazin(e) which first appeared in 1981, was the provocative and courageous brainchild of Christofer Habig, an internationally renowned judge, who specializes in the Molosser breeds.  Dedicated to promoting the documented history of the molosser breeds, MM went above and beyond the ordinary aspirations of most publications.  It was relentless… its presentation of historical documentation; relentless in promoting ethical breeding; relentless in speaking out against abuses, even when it represented political suicide to do so; in short, MM was a publication unquestionably dedicated to the preservation and welfare of the molosser breeds…."

                                            ---- Oft quoted description found on the Internet of 
                                                             Christofer Habig's now defunct but famous 
                                                                                Molosser Magazin, by Kim Slater

When one reflects upon their life, one usually can look back and name a certain person or persons who played key roles in shaping their beliefs, values, ethics and standards, which perhaps played a strong role in who they eventually became as a person.

In my life, I've been graced to have several people who served as mentors or role models to me in different phases of my life.

Fresh out of High School and kicking around a Southern California Junior College studying Geology, my passion was road racing bicycles European style - replete with my 'starter' bike, a bright red French Peugot, then graduating to a very pricy black, full Campagnolo Super Record decked out Italian hand made Colnago - one fellow racer and trainer stood out as a mentor to me: Jim Meyers, then a Senior, former Olympic team cyclist member - inspired me to reach for unthinkable goals.  A rank novice, I went on to place sixth in a California state road race, and second in some big criteriums against more seasoned racers than I.  I received an invite to the Colorado Olympic training center where the then famous and legendary "Eddy B." coached the US team.   Had I not suffered a broken left arm in a horrendous crash, then racing against Connie Carpenter, who went on to win the first Women's Olympic Cycling event in Los Angeles, no telling where I could have ended up in that pursuit.

Not long afterwards, my life found me earning a living off the backs of horses, not bicycles, as I bounced around the West hard scrabbling jobs on ranches big and small.  Under the unforgiving, tough yet compassionate and true guidance of cattle ranching legend Tom Marvel and his family of Battle Mountain, Nevada, in the final halcyon days of their huge ranching empire, I earned my stripes riding 50 mile circles on the desert rounding up cattle, getting bucked off of colts and broncs, and learning the true meaning of independence, integrity and hard work's pay offs.  I paid dangerous, harsh, hard dues.  I suffered no fools, took no prisoners, gave little damn of what people thought of me (traits I carry on to this day), and usually pushed myself beyond reason.  I respected reason, knowledge and experience when I saw it, and expected respect in return.

During the better part of the 1980's when I was ranching, I also raised working cattle dogs - mostly the then rare Catahoula Leopard Dog.  I wrote an article about them in the June 1987 issue of Dog World.

Sometime during this period, I became aware of a magazine out of Germany called Molosser Magazin.  I ordered my first copy from Germany; it was expensive, and came painstakingly slow.  Once I had my hands on it, however, I knew I had stumbled upon the Holy Grail of all that was Dog Related.  I could not put it down, and ordered more back issues - my biggest regret is that I never ordered all the back issues.  I read what I had, again and again.

The editor and publisher, Christofer Habig, was at the time a Political Science professor at the University of Duisberg, Germany, and this magazine was his personal hobby and passion.  He was, indeed, as cited in the quote at the beginning of this blog post, relentless in his pursuit of honesty, transparency and integrity in breeding Molosser breeds.  I became convinced I had to know this man, and more than that, perhaps even meet him in person.

The opportunity soon conveniently arose, as if on predestined cue.  Not content to merely read his resounding articles and editorials in MM, I wrote him directly.  It so happened he was coming to the US in June of 1987 to judge the second American IMF Supermatch in New Jersey!  I flew back there for the show, no small feat for me at the time.  We met, albeit briefly, in the sweltering heat of a Newark summer.  He asked me to contribute to MM by writing an article on Catahoulas; I was beside myself with the offer and of course, obliged.

For months following this we exchanged many many letters, discussing everything from dogs to philosophy to the meaning of life…..his brilliance, worldly knowledge and relentless dedication to integrity in all things dogs, captivated and motivated me.  But later that year, he ended his great magazine endeavor to 'take a break' and married (a very lucky) Austrian woman and started a family.  He later became Vice President of the FCI and the head of Deutsche Bank.  No small potatoes there.
He still judges now and then when his schedule permits.

I can only look back and realize how lucky I was to have met him and known Habig.  He taught me so much.  He taught me not to compromise in terms of ethics and principle.  To always push for the truth, for integrity, quality and honesty.  

To that end I too, have committed what one could call "political suicide" in the LGD world.  I've been booted off and kicked out of just about every Livestock Guardian Dog and Spanish Mastiff online forum that exists; I have the unnerving tendency to speak the truth no matter who it may offend; to question the questionable and not sit back and remain mum and be, as we Americans refer to as, "Politically Correct".  I am not afraid to call fakirs out on the carpet, or point fingers at puppy mills and unethical breeders.  I take a stand and stick to it.  I also can admit when I make a mistake - something few self crowned "LGD experts" seem to be willing to do.  

Where most people cower and shake, I on the other hand, have turned into the Dirty Harry of the LGD world. Packing verbal .44's,  in just five years, I have earned a reputation for being steely of eye, firm of handshake, and no taker of prisoners or sufferer of fools, arrogant cads or shifty people who are most at home in a gutter or the shadows in the dog world.  People either love me or hate me.  There is rarely anyone sitting on the fence.

But I realize my fortune in choosing a man of Habig's stature and ethics to be my mentor.  It has not always been an easy road to follow, but I can sleep at night.

I learned from Christofer Habig.  From whom have you learned?

From his 2/86 Molosser Magazin issue, a few lines from his editorial titled "Von web haven sie gelearnt?"

"Molossers……are a very special and difficult subject because, due to a stormy history, there are great variations of type in all our breeds….What we need to do, therefore, in order to participate in the well-being of our dogs, is to learn to recognize quality… order to recognize quality, you need a trained eye.

(You may remark or realize what he says here has also been said on this blog previously in my post called Transparency and my post on Mediocrity.  If you have not read those posts yet, read them now.)

Habig continues:

"….In an ideal world a two-way communication would have already been set up between those who are keen and anxious to learn and those who have knowledge and information to impart.  Alas, Utopia is still a long way off, because, on the one hand, very few people really bother to seek knowledge or widen their perspectives, while, on the other hand, not all those who have the knowledge are will ing to share it, and some even jealously guard their precious and hard-won knowledge like some alchemist's secret stone.  It seems to me that this problem is to be found in the world-wide scene of Molosser breeding, no matter to which of our breeds nor to which country one refers."

Truer words never spoken - and thus spoken in 1986, and still, true today!  In the LGD world in particular, and in America, the Spanish Mastiff 'crowd' - no truer, cutting words could be applied.  How many of you have sat endlessly on LGD online forums tiring of the same braggarts with little experience who's mission in life seems to be to lord it over those who know less or who might challenge their precious corner of expertise (assuming you can even refer to it as such)?  

Habig goes on, and closes with "….There are, indeed, many roads to Heaven - it doesn't matter which one you choose but at least get started!  Look for qualified teachers in Molossers and train your eye!"

So….who are you learning from about Spanish Mastiffs and other LGD breeds?  Braggarts?  Johnny come latelys with no real experience or field knowledge, who have learned everything they know out of books or Internet sources?  Pompous know it alls?  Mercenaries cashing in for a quick dollar off the fad of LGDs?  Inhumane puppy millers, show ribbon collectors and fakes?  Careless stockmen who won't handle, feed or care for the LGDs they use like castaway tools?  

Or are you listening and learning from honest people with honest, real world credentials, who truly love their dogs, strive for a deeper understanding of them, treat them with respect and compassion that they deserve, and who refuse to sell out their principles and ethics?

It is a choice only you can make.  

A bad teacher will produce a bad student.  Just ask Mr. Miyagi.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

"Show Me Wax On, Wax Off…….."

“Show Me Wax On, Wax Off..........”

I raised dogs (Collies and Shelties) as a kid in school.  In the 1980's I ran and raised working cattle dogs of many breeds.  In 2009, I began with LGDs.

As I have spent several years now living with a huge pack of Livestock Guardian Dogs, raising them, training them, working them, as one of their own, I have come to realize many things. I have come to realize that not a day goes by where I do not learn something. I open myself up to learning. I try not to judge. I remain pliable, and willing to bend, like a willow in the wind.

Owning, raising and running Livestock Guardian Dogs is very much like what Mr. Miyagi teaches Daniel in the movie The Karate Kid. Respect. Patience. Dedication. Focus. Right action and intent. Compassion. These dogs were never meant to be used as disposable tools that are barely touched or engaged with, and it is sad and unfortunate that many misguided people in America have done just that with LGDs. But you do not have to be one of them. You can break away from that mindset, and use and enjoy these dogs to their fullest potential.

Sometimes to learn how to best use these great dogs so that they can best help you and your livestock, you must first empty your mind, and clear it of all your preconceived notions so that new knowledge can come in. These dogs are not like non-LGD dogs. So you must toss out what you think you know about dogs. Sometimes, the more you think you know, you soon discover you know nothing. Sometimes, assumptions are all wrong. Your ego about how much you think you know, or your desire to always be right, is best left at the door. In the LGD world you will find many people who are self-professed ‘experts’ who always must be right. These people’s experiences become extremely limited, because they soon shut off the ability for new information and experiences to learn from. They stagnate and become stuck in theories and endless debates over things that really do not matter with these dogs.

When you enter into a relationship with an LGD, it is like making the bonsai trees Mr. Miyagi so carefully and tenderly created in The Karate Kid. Snip here, prune there, encourage this, water, talk to it, think good things. In time, a miniature, beautiful tree takes shape. Just like the team you will create with yourself and your LGDs, it takes time, patience, more time, more patience. Learning to watch your dogs, read their body language, understand what they are telling you, takes effort, but can be done. Dogs are pack animals and thrive in a pack, and live like a large family unit this way. You must be part of that unit to fully enjoy the benefits of these dogs. And, you work at it, and you must want to do it. There will be much sanding of floors, painting of walls, wax on and wax off. But suddenly it will all come together, just like it did for Daniel in the movie (watch the short You Tube clip in the link above). The lights come on. Suddenly, it dawns on you. Ah......this is what this all was for.

But don’t think you’re done learning. Your path has just begun. As Mr. Miyagi quips to Daniel at the end of the video: “Come back tomorrow.”