Interview with Dirk Vandecasteele, conformation and working judge :
Interview with Dirk Vandecasteele, conformation and working judge :
My name is Dirk Vandecasteele, I was born in Oostende (city on the coast of Belgium) 58 years ago. I am married to Kathleen Vos and we are the proud parents of our Sasha (18) and Luna (17). We live in Kermt, near Hasselt. I have graduated from the University of Brussels, and I am a full partner in a law firm, I specialize in commercial law, in particular corporation law and real estate.
First of all, thank you very much that you agreed to the interview and found time to answer my questions, I know that you are very busy, because you are the president of IFR – the International Federation of Rottweiler Friends. However, how did the Rottweiler come into your life?
Well, dogs have always been part of my family, although not Rottweilers. My grandfather was an active dog handler (Belgian Ring and Police dog training) with Malinois and during my childhood our family owned all sorts of dogs, from mongrel to Malinois, German Shepherd and Dobermann. So, I participated in shows and trials with several Dobermanns and after my studies, when my wife and me decided to get a dog, I wanted a Dobermann again. Kathleen didn’t, she wanted a Rottweiler. To discourage her, I took her to the training field of the Belgian Rottweiler Club on a freezing evening in 1993 to show her those “brute growling monsters” (I then thought they were), hoping to change her mind. But boy, I was wrong! Those “monsters” turned out to be warm and friendly, lovable dogs and what was amazing – and most important to me - they were working dogs! Kathleen was now definitely in love with the breed and did not even want to hear the word “Dobermann” again. As the man is the head of the family, the woman is the neck that bends the head, “alea iacta est” or in English “the die is cast”. The choice was made – a Rottweiler it would be! Little did we know at that time, how right our choice would be. :-) All our free time became largely devoted to our dogs but more than this, as we got to know more and more people and dogs from all over the world, we actively engaged ourselves with the breed.
Can you specify how active have you been in regard to the Rottweiler breed in Belgium?
Since 1996, I’m active in the Board of the Belgian Rottweiler Club and I was elected as its president in 2003. I have always been responsible for everything, including the organisation of our shows, IPO trials, breed suitability tests, writing the Belgian Rottweiler magazine, litter-controls, I have also been very active in the “battle” against anti-dog legislation, etc. In 2016 (and again in 2017 and 2019), after almost 10 years of vice-presidency, I was elected as President of the IFR.
What do you love about “Rotties”?
This is a very complex question, basically inviting me for a psychological self-analysis as it is my firm belief that one should not choose a breed for its external or aesthetic characteristics but only for its character. So I did not fall in love with the Rottweilers because of their look but because of their nature. This breed is pure and honest as all dogs are, but also totally fearless and steady. They are aware of their strength, they have a high threshold, but they are still always very attentive and even visible and tangible ready to act when necessary, willing to please but without servile submission. These dogs are very strong in body and especially in mind, self-conscious, self-assured and extremely determined in their attitude and work. The Rottweiler with a correct nature is a companion with a personality that not only deserves, but even demands respect. I have not found this same personality in the other breeds with which I have experience and for me this is the kind of dogs I love and suits me. As I’ve said before: owning and working a Rottweiler very quickly becomes not only a part of life, but even a way of life.
In addition to being the IFR president, you are also a show judge. When did you become a show judge and what were the conditions you had to meet?
I was appointed as an FCI conformation judge for the Rottweiler in 2001. In Belgium, to start the education to become a show judge, you need at least 6 years of successful breeding or showing the breed, thereafter to act at least 10 times as a ring steward or a secretary over a period of at least 3 years (believe me, this is not enough…). The series of classes organized by the National Kennel Club and given by very experienced judges follow subsequently. Then you have to pass examinations on regulations and of course on general cynology (anatomy, morphology and movement of dogs, genetics, health and character, knowledge of the breed standard(s), principles and techniques of judging, national and FCI show regulations etc.). Then you must pass a theoretical and practical exam on the Rottweiler breed and finally, to complete this education, you have to judge (as an apprentice national judge) first a national, and then an international show. This process is not short nor easy. To be honest, even all this is only the start of one’s true education as a judge, and it still does not make you a judge. For that, a lot more studying and a lot of experience in the ring is needed, including looking at other breeds to understand better the breed’s characteristics. I remember I was once talking to a Scandinavian judge who would that day judge the Flemish Cattle Dog without ever having seen one, just on the basis of the wording of the standard! How can one judge a breed without understanding the breed and its origin as a utility dog? I dare not only say that my judging has evolved a lot over the years, but I am still learning at every show I judge.
Every conformation judge prefers something else. What do you accentuate when you are judging?
Now you have me "on my horse". You state that every judge prefers something else – does it mean “one hundred judges = one hundred different Rottweiler breeds”? That is not acceptable and it is precisely what has led us to the present situation. The RTW breed standard had to be amended in hope that it will now explain better – even to specialist judges and to the breeders – what the Rottweiler should look like. There is only one Rottweiler, the one that is defined by the FCI breed standard No. 147. Judging the Rottweiler is not about what one “likes” or “prefers”. One’s personal preferences are just irrelevant as harmful when put into practice in the show ring and/or breeding. Dogs are awarded excellent evaluations and are, in other words, recommended to be used in breeding programs while they show traits that in reality strongly deviate from the breed’s definition. This does not only concern the head, but the whole body, including for instance the length of the hind legs, especially of the upper thigh that when is longer, may give the dog a more harmonious and more elegant profile and therefore an aesthetic beauty. However, that will change the breed typical gait and therefore harms its original utility. The results of these deviations based on personal preferences are seen worldwide and are devastating for the breed, not just for its conformation, but also its utility.
For me, the Rottweiler was not and is not meant to be beautiful in the esthetical sense. What makes a Rottweiler “beautiful”, and what is to be rewarded, are the qualities that enable him to do the work he was bred and kept for. The idea of “beauty” is a mere personal subjective thing that has to do with esthetical preferences, not with the objective ability to work. And that is the core of the Rottweiler’s origin and being. In other words, I expect a judge to evaluate the dogs in function of their conformation to the breed standard and thus the definition of a working dog: moving and not static.
A lot will of course depend on the background and education of the judge and therefore his/her view, understanding of and approach to the breed. I often ask myself how many of the nowadays young breeders, even young judges, have ever seen or known the Rottweiler before the evolution towards the “modern show-dog” started. A perfect example is the Rottweiler’s head. Some people defend the idea that the Rottweiler is a “head breed”, meaning a breed that should be judged with particular attention to the dog’s head. I do not agree! The Rottweiler was created, kept and bred for one reason: to work, more precisely to work as a cattle drover. I doubt that the details of the head were decisive selection criteria when creating/defining the breed. Does this mean that I find the head not important? Of course, the head is important, it is breed specific and gives identity to the breed and to the individual dog. But, in my opinion, the head should not be seen as the main or the most important part or characteristic of the breed and while we must emphasize the characteristics that define utility, there is no reason to put more emphasis on the head and/or its details than is called for by the breed standard.
The FCI recognizes more than 300 breeds and not only are all of them created and defined in function of their original utility, the FCI also demands its judges to judge them on the basis of their fitness for the original utility of the breed (www.fci.be: “Basic Statement for Show Judges. Dogs fit for their original function”.). The whole body of the Rottweiler, including its coat, has to be understood in this context. The breed standard has never demanded extreme features on the head, in fact it describes the head’s conformity in all its details, with the exception of the pigmentation of lips and gums, as only “moderate”. The “modern heads” with extreme features such as an extremely short muzzle, a too high steep stop and a dome-shaped deeply cloven skull are strange to the breed and must be seen as faulty. Not just because of cynologic reasons, but also because such features have a negative influence on the health and utility of the breed (Brachycephalic Airway Obstruction Syndrome – BOAS).
These traits entered the breed only because of personal preferences and are now threatening the Rottweiler’s conformation, health and utility. This is not acceptable. I do not consciously search for exaggerated or too strongly emphasized traits, but in particular only for those that enable the Rottweiler to do the work he was originally meant for: driving cattle while walking or trotting. These are after all the traits that were searched for and consolidated when the breed was created, they are the core, the very reason of existence and therefore the definition of the breed: a strong frame, a deep and wide roomy chest that allows heart, liver and lungs to function, a substance that delivers physical strength and commands respect but that still allows for agility, the bone strong and muscular enough to carry this substance enduringly over difficult terrain but not a goal on itself and without exaggeration. Angulations (defined by length of the bones and angle of shoulder blade and pelvis) and musculature that are conceived for a slow enduring trot and not the speed of the flock-circling sheep shepherd. A straight strong top line with a short deep loin to efficiently transfer the drive from hindquarters to the front, the upper-arm long and strong enough to absorb the shocks under the body’s weight, etc.
Thank you very much for your long answer, I think your point of view will be interesting for many RTW fans, owners, breeders and handlers. So, in your opinion, how has this breed developed when you look back?
The breed has changed in so many important ways. My personal experience goes back to the beginning of the 90´s. Not to be accused of romanticizing things, by the end of the nineties, we saw dogs that I even now consider to be the true representatives of the breed. Strong dogs (also in mind) but not exaggerated, with no extreme features. Dogs were not tested in the ring according to the judge’s preferences, but had to undergo a test of working dogs – a long and enduring gait. Nowadays, we can see extremes – extreme head shapes, extreme bones, extreme substances… Luckily, with the exception of what some kennels produce, such dogs are not in the majority. The majority of dogs I see today worldwide share similar faults: small dogs, long dogs (especially in the loins), short upper-arms, weak pasterns, long toes in front, too long and over-angulated hind quarters, narrow or V-shaped chests, flat thighs, too short open and soft coats… All those faults not only directly influence the correct type, but especially the gait and endurance of the dogs. And in general, the breed’s utility.
I dare even say that the number of dogs that still show a correct movement with a correct harmonious reach and drive allowing an endless enduring trot, which is after all the proof of correct structure, is very low! Judges, who allow the handlers to run their dogs at a speed that is totally uncalled for (in whatever utility context) while the dog is hung up in front to hide a lack of harmony between front and rear angulations, will not help to improve this at all. At the same time, we also see that the characteristics of the head evolved worldwide in the same direction – short muzzles, too steep stops and too high foreheads, deep grooves between the eyes and massive round dome-shaped skulls. How is this possible? Clearly, because not enough priority is given to the characteristics defining the fitness of the breed’s original utility and too much value is given to one’s own preferences. The quantity and speed with which these faults spread can only be explained by the existence of a too narrow gene pool: too many breeders worldwide are using the same dogs or bloodlines. Talking about gene pool, I recommend a booklet I wrote for the IFR: “A Layman´s Walk through Basic Canine Genetics…” to all lovers of Rottweilers. Its full text is available for free on the website www.ifrottweilerfriends.org.
Then, as the breed evolved more and more towards a breed of show dogs and pets, there is a loss of character. Many times I have judged dogs, also in champion class, with excellent physical conformation but they lacked the breed specific strong self-sure attitude that I look for. That was why I refused to award them the V-grading they usually obtain. This does not exactly make me popular in a more fashion-oriented show world, but I can live with that.
As you have mentioned, the breed standard was amended this year – why has it been modified and what is the main difference compared to the previous one?
The amended standard does not define a new breed or new characteristics, it only gives clarifications to the long known wanted and unwanted characteristics. Nothing more. These clarifications were needed to stop all too far-reaching permissiveness in judging and in breeding the Rottweiler and to correct the unwanted results of this. The amended standard does not bring a new definition of the breed. On the contrary, it confirms the breed in its type and details! The issue that made the most stir is that the standard now explicitly states that the ratio of the Rottweiler’s head is about 40:60 %, referring to the ratio of the length of the muzzle (nose – inner eye corner) and of the cranial region (inner eye corner – occipital protuberance) to the total length of the head. But this is not anything new, it is already known since 1981! Only it was never adopted in the standard and the mere mention of it in the ADRK-Lehrtafel proved not to be strong enough to educate or at least to convince people that this ratio defines an inextensible limit.
Let me assure you that if a muzzle measures only 40 % of the dog’s head, it is still a short muzzle and is shorter than the original Rottweiler’s definition! All the Facebook posts stating that this will change the Rottweiler’s head into the head of a Dobermann are just blatant nonsense spread by those who remain claiming that the breed can be defined by their own preferences. This must be stopped and now we have the instrument – the standard. There can be no more doubt or discussions. A muzzle that is shorter than 40 % of the total length of the head is too short and is a fault! No matter if you like it or not, we must realize that some muzzles are simply too short! However, it is not a disqualifying fault (only at the FCI shows and if the muzzle is so short that it threatens the dog's health), but it leaves the judge the freedom to evaluate the degree of deviation from the standard. This freedom is limited by the breed specific head shape and expression of the Rottweiler and by the awareness that the Rottweiler is a working breed whose healthy respiratory system is an essential condition to function in whatever utility context. As I have said above, bringing the head back to its original definition may indeed be a serious and an urgent necessity, but it is only a part of the challenges we face.
Who is the author of the new proposal? Has the IFR cooperated on it somehow?
No, there must not be any misunderstanding about this. Only the FCI-affiliated kennel club of a country of the breed’s origin is entitled to propose changes to the breed standard. In this case, this was done by VDH (Verband für das Deutsche Hundewesen), but the true author of the amendments is of course the ADRK. This is the prerogative of that country who now took up its responsibility and is fully supported in this by the IFR. The IFR itself is not the author of the changes.
What should we – owners, breeders, handlers and fans of this breed do to direct the breed´s development the right way?
I keep repeating myself. In my opinion, it is a question of first understanding the true nature of the breed and then showing the will to respect it and not to bend it into something the breed was not meant to be. The Rottweiler is a utility breed, created, bred and kept to work. It is indeed a very versatile breed, but it is not meant to be no more than a pet or a show dog. There is nothing wrong with keeping a Rottweiler as a pet. A social nature is a necessity for the Rottweiler and one of its characteristics. After all, the best working dog will always be a very social dog as he knows the difference between a threatening situation and one that is not threatening. It is also one of the goals of the IFR to ensure that the Rottweiler, without losing the characteristics of a utility dog, will always have its place in human society and it is not for nothing that it is mandatory for all Member Clubs to organize tests of social behaviour. But still, even if kept as a pet or as a show dog, the Rottweiler should not be bred to be nothing more than that. Apart from the exterior, also the correct nature and the underlying potential should be preserved to be put to use. Is it still possible to turn things back from where we are now and can we, e.g. fight the commercial powers that now take a free run with the breed? I don’t know but I do know that I will do all that I can to help the Rottweiler to be the breed it was always meant to be and I am honestly convinced that if all IFR Member Clubs take up their responsibility and comply with the IFR constitution then there is hope for this!
You are also a dog sport judge, if I am right. Dog sport and the Rottweilers – what is your opinion on that?
That is correct, I have been an IPO judge since 2001. I’ve trained my Dobermann and all our Rottweilers. I cannot imagine owning a dog without working with him. To be put to work touches the very core of the dog’s being, his reason of existence and his well-being. The Rottweiler is a utility breed that was created, kept and bred to be put to use. The Rottweiler’s body and mind are defined in that context, so for me, owning a Rottweiler with the strong breed typical character that I look for but not training with him is not an option. It would leave such a dog incomplete, unfulfilled and maybe even frustrated. Working with a dog, especially a dog with a strong personality, is a pleasure, extremely satisfying for both the handler and his/her dog and as I said, it quickly becomes a way of life. It is also the reason why at this moment, I do not own a dog because I just do not have the time to take him out for training at least five times a week. Not a day goes by without longing to handle a dog again, but I prefer not having a dog to having one that would live a senseless life in a kennel without being correctly trained or one that is bred to be a pet only and does not live up to my definition of a Rottweiler. This does not mean that a Rottweiler cannot be kept as a pet. He can, but in my opinion, he should not be bred to be no more than a pet, because even as a mere house-dog, he should have the nature and underlying potential to work.
I agree, of course, that the concept of a “working-dog” can cover many things and this is especially true for the Rottweiler who has proven to be a very versatile breed. I am therefore not claiming exclusivity for IPO work. Supported by the historical summary that preludes the FCI Rottweiler standard, I will always defend the perception that although the Rottweiler is an all-round working dog that can be put to a truly extremely versatile use, his physical characteristics, including his gait, are those of the cattle-drover. However, a dog with the physical characteristics of the Rottweiler but lacking its breed specific nature, does not answer to the definition of the breed as I understand it! The Rottweiler is and must remain a dog with a strong dominant character, a self-assured nature, a well-balanced nervous condition, but also with a sufficiently high stimulus threshold. It is my firm belief that we will only preserve these characteristics if we put emphasis on them in our breeding-programs, and thus in judging and breed-suitability tests.
I think that the IPO program (and the ZtP program), although certainly not without alternatives (!), offer a perfect instrument for this. IPO is a sport that will allow us to approach the general traits of the breed´s character. The program allows to test the dog on its aptitude of the complete working dog: overall high in confidence, a high tractability and an apparent will to please are tested during obedience phase. High drive, temperament, taxability and endurance to overcome a difficult track without support or interference of the handler have to be proved in tracking. And in protection, a dog has also to show a strong dominant reaction to menace always with the self-control and balance needed for an immediate change of drives as soon as the menace stops, thus proving that these drives do not affect the ability of the working dog to function in a socially acceptable manner.
This is the reason why I find it so important that the IFR supports the Rottweiler as a sporting dog and has decided that all its Member Clubs must mandatory organize breed suitability tests that include testing the breeding dogs on the presence of these traits. Believe me, what we do not emphasize in breeding, will be lost. …and once these traits are lost, the breed will be lost.
Did you practise any other canine sports with you dogs apart from IPO sport?
When I trained my Dobermann Pinschers (in the 1970´s), Schutzhund or IPO were primarily practised with German Shepherd Dogs only. We trained our dogs according to “CQN” rules, a Belgian program that was basically meant as a breed suitability test (including obedience and tracking or protection work), but could also be used for trials. With our Rottweilers however, I only trained IPO.
Which phase of IPO do you like the most, which one is closest to you?
I personally enjoy both tracking and protection work the most. The true nature of the dog is shown in these phases at its best and in its purest form without the predominant presence and interference of the handler. I would like to state that one can probably see more true nature of the dog when the dog is working on a difficult track than during protection work. Contrary to protection phase where the dog is helped by provocation/interaction by and with the helper and shows a lot of conditioned reactions, the dog is alone on the track and needs a strong character, endurance and intelligence to overcome difficulties on his own. I love to see a dog tracking intensively and with strong determination, even though it is less spectacular and it does not show the same basic instincts and strength that go along with protection work.
Do you remember anything that was difficult for you in dog training? Which motivation methods did you use most often in training?
First of all, I love training dogs but I do not claim to be a good trainer. The most difficult factor for me has always been to find the time. Some dog sport handlers I know take their dogs with them even to their work to be able to train every hour for a few minutes. I am self-employed, have a family and other responsibilities and so I have always had to improvise to make time.
I remember the “old days”. There is no denial that when the dog sport world accepted that the “good old methods” were mostly based on physical compulsion and that they did not bring us the results of motivational training (clicker, ball-droppers, etc.), dog sport changed tremendously. Our dogs who used to function by compulsion and showed stressful slow reluctant work, suddenly started to work fast, willingly and happily. With the modern methods, dogs learn much quicker, start at much younger age and they perform on a level that was previously inconceivable. In fact, when I first used a clicker myself, I could not even believe the almost immediate results of this.
Did the use of these new methods change the nature of the dogs?
I do think so. We started to look and breed for other natures then we did before and we no longer had to emphasize the hard character traits that we once thought to be proper and needed and that some people even now still refer to as to those of the “real dog”. I also think this was a necessity. We can’t long anymore – although I cannot deny, that I personally cherish my remembrance of these dogs – for the extremely strong natures that we knew some decades ago. We need to compromise but still, this may not imply the loss of breed specific traits. I think that the IPO program offers the perfect compromising solution for this.
What success – no matter if at the trials or shows – did you achieve with your dogs?
The most memorable and eye-catching results were of course those of our first Rottweiler who achieved 7 national titles, was twice FCI World Winner (show) and with whom I participated in the IFR World Championship Schutzhund 3 in Chicago in 1997. All our other dogs, with maybe one exception, were all very consistent show winners and all were trained in the IPO, too. Still, my deepest satisfaction was not experienced in the show ring or on the trial field, but while just enjoying our dogs at home or on the training field. As I’ve often said: “The most beautiful moment probably is when you take the lead from the rack, and you see the dog’s reaction on the promise of close action.”
Are you also an active breeder? How would you define a “good breeder”?
No, I am not. We do have a registered kennel name (von Fuchsschloss), but we are not breeders. We have bred only one litter and that was it. I’ve never felt that without breeding my life and experience with dogs would be less complete, maybe even to the contrary. Breeding a litter brings an immediate and tangible result and being very strict and demanding for myself and in some respects a perfectionist, I doubt that breeding would make my life easier. Breeding is an extreme challenge and I have an enormous respect for the “good breeders” who try to breed the correct Rottweiler, both in body and in mind as close as possible to the breed standard, and as faultless as possible. Such pups are not commercial goods but living personalities who the breeder cherishes and is proud of, no matter what results they obtain. A good breeder must be knowledgeable about the breed but more than this, he/she must understand the breed and respect it in its true standard, not the definition brought by commercial demands and/or faulty judging. I personally think that a good breeder should work with his/her dogs, maybe not with the highest ambitions, but to at least make sure of the presence and strength of the dog’s mental and typical drives, and so to be able to recognize and preserve these as an essential part of the Rottweiler’s standard. The breeder with a heart for the breed should also be aware of the danger brought by too much linebreeding, have knowledge of basic genetics and know that successful breeding, especially on the longer term, is much more than mating a champion male to a champion bitch.
What should a breeder and later a new owner be especially careful about regarding educating a Rottweiler puppy?
Well, especially if the pup has the correct strong character of the Rottweiler, there is one golden rule: “Be consistent!” What is allowed once, is always allowed. What is not allowed now, is never allowed. I think that when one lives by that rule with a Rottweiler, there should be no problems. A Rottie puppy needs a firm hand, not a hard hand. I personally always warn about what I call the “Walt Disney-syndrome”. In other words, about treating the dogs as if they were human. I love my dogs but I am very aware of the fact they are not human, and that their behaviour is not driven by thoughts but by instincts and natural behaviour, including dominance supported by physical strength. A 50-kilo dominant male, just like a 45-kilo dominant female, are very much aware of their physical strength and need to know – therefore be taught – their place in the family.
Who would you recommend to get a Rottie and who should not buy this breed?
This reminds me of a schoolteacher who once visited our home to meet our dogs. Before they entered the room, he said that he was experienced with this kind of dogs as he had owned a Labrador and “both breeds have after all the same kind of head”. He changed his mind quickly after meeting our Rottweilers, dogs with different heads and with something totally different in their heads than his Labrador. :-) He had no idea of the dominant physical and mental strength of the Rottweilers. I’ve said above, you must choose a breed because of its character, not its exterior. Each breed has its own nature and if you know yourself, you should know what breed you can and want to live with. Choosing a Rottweiler for the wrong reason will lead to unhappy and even twisted minds.
Back to the IFR, Dirk, if you do not mind. You were elected its President in 2016, 10 years of vice-president position preceded to that. Actually, when was the Federation founded? Were its beginnings difficult? What all did it take for the Federation to become known and respected all over the world?
I’ve been a member of the IFR Board since 2003, and I was its vice-president since 2006. I was elected as the IFR President in 2016 by an extraordinary Meeting of Delegates and then again in 2017 by the biennial Meeting of Delegates. The IFR was founded in 1969 by representatives of the Rottweiler Clubs from Germany, Denmark, England, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, Austria, Sweden, Switzerland and the USA. The reason for its foundation was clear. The Rottweiler, originally a German breed, was quickly spreading over the globe and there was a need to ensure the homogeneous worldwide preservation of its original characteristics (as a working dog). The Federation was founded with the best of intentions, but did not develop into an active Federation straight away. In fact, I remember the IFR that organized the Show, the World Championship and the administrative Meeting of Delegates only every three years! The Federation was totally inactive at that time and its Board was only empowered to see that every three years a Meeting of Delegates would be organized by a Member club, nothing more.
The Meetings of Delegates in Mexico City on 06-07/07/2006, in Diest (Belgium) on 21/05/2009, in Roudnice nad Labem (Czech Republic) on 14/05/2015 and in Serbia (Kragujevac) on 04/05/2017 brought changes to this. The amendments were made to the IFR constitution and I’m proud to have been instrumental in these successive changes. These amendments gave the IFR Board more powers, they also gave a clearer definition of the conditions for the IFR Membership, and they now prove to be elementary for the IFR’s future. The constitution now explicitly states that all Member Clubs must have breeding regulations which are mandatory for all their members, and must ensure that only physically, mentally and genetically healthy dogs who have proved to be within the standard, can be used for breeding. The awareness that we need an international cooperation is even more growing. As the Rottweiler now belongs to the world and dogs and genetics are freely exchanged, the world also realises that this brings risks and responsibilities which cannot be met on national levels. Only an international cooperation will preserve and ensure the breed’s conformity and its physical and genetic health.
What is the main mission of the Federation?
The IFR is a federation of Rottweiler Clubs who oblige themselves to strive for homogeneity in breeding and keeping the Rottweiler, so the breed will world-wide answer to the same definition (in body and mind) and will allow for a free exchange of genes/breeding dogs without the risk of harming the breed’s conformity or health. The IFR is not about participating in the World Championship and/or the World Show, but is basically about creating a global trustworthy and credible gene pool.
It is quite simple really: we all admire the quality of the German Rottweiler and agree that the German Rottweiler is bred on the criteria that define and preserve the breed. Well, then we must realize that German breeding is based on a long-term and strict control of all stud dogs and brood bitches with no exceptions, on their physical and genetic health and their physical and mental compliance with the breed’s definition, including the drives of the working dog. If we want to achieve the same conformity, if we want to have a world-wide homogeneous Rottweiler population, and if we want to make it possible that the German population can be bred to foreign dogs, then we must all do exactly the same what the breeders in Germany do. We need a strict testing for the same criteria:
• Health (for example: HD/ED)
• Compliance with the standard: physical + character
• Particular attention to social behaviour
In July 2018, the IFR organized a Meeting in Switzerland to give a clear definition of what those conditions are. We defined minimal criteria for all breeding regulations and a minimal content for all breed suitability tests, including both character tests and an appreciation of physical conformity. Not everybody will like this, but it is the firm intention to make sure that in the future, all IFR Member Clubs will indeed have breeding regulations to ensure that all their members will exclusively breed dogs who fulfil those minimal conditions concerning health, social behaviour and breed specific physical and mental traits. This is very ambitious but it is a necessity. For more details on this, I refer to the minutes of the Meeting as published on www.ifrottweilerfriends.org.
Next to this, the IFR supports the Rottweiler in dog sport, emphasizes the need for social behaviour and organises seminars for the judges and breed wardens. We recently decided on regulations regarding the minimum age of breeding dogs to prevent bitches being bred on their first heat. Additionally, not only the idea of recognizing the international breed suitability test of individual dogs is on the table, but with this also the idea of an international BST/ZtP test and the education and/or recognition of judges that are allowed to judge such test. Ambitious? Yes. Difficult? Yes. …but necessary. Facta non verba!
What are your goals you would like to achieve as the IFR president?
At my last election as president, I explained that it is my intention to finally get the IFR “back on the rails”, so the Federation can emancipate and finally actively work towards achieving its goals. Once this is done, others will have to pull the cart. As this work should have been done 40 years ago, it makes it all more difficult. However, I am very proud to say it seems that this Board is succeeding. It’s about teamwork and I have a great team by my side! The current Board is very active, much more than any other former Boards. We are determined to work hard to give the Federation its true place and meaning. The enthusiasm we are clearly spreading amongst the IFR Member Clubs and especially the atmosphere we experienced at the Meeting in Switzerland in July prove we chose the right way.
What is a prerequisite and a necessity for the Federation to function properly?
Difficult question. From a practical point of view, we need more and better communication amongst our Members. The IFR Board only communicates with the Delegates of the IFR Member Clubs and this is not always easy or quick. The IFR Board communicates via Skype and e-mail. This works fine but when you have to discuss things amongst more than 30 people, it becomes more difficult, especially if there are language barriers. I am convinced that all Member Clubs share the same love and enthusiasm for the breed. However, we need to talk to some of the Clubs even more about the enormous potential of an international cooperation and about the particular need for such cooperation. Nevertheless, we must not underestimate the impact of cultural and economic differences between countries. In some countries it is, e.g. not even possible to test for HD as the veterinarians have neither the knowledge nor the equipment for this. It is a challenge, but one that can and must be overcome.
How do you combine everything you do with your personal life? Have you ever had a day when you do not have to do anything and you just relax? Do you manage to do nothing?
I do not combine all this with my personal life, it is just part of my personal life and of myself. Do I still have free time? Of course, I do. But even then, all that touches the Rottweiler is always tangible present on the background. Can I imagine letting it all loose one day? Yes, and I am very aware that this is even a must, both for the good of myself and for the good of the organizations I lead. Therefore, when I achieve what I want to achieve one day – I mean getting the IFR locomotive back on the rails and see it moving forward, I will gladly let the reins to others. I’ll stick to judging as long as I have a feeling for the dogs and who knows, I may even find the time to have a dog myself again! :-)
What other hobbies, if any, do you have apart from the Rottweilers?
I have been enjoying riding my racing bike for long sportive rides for a few years. I usually ride alone, sometimes with a group. Riding a racing bike is really hard work, it hurts. …but I love it.
I cannot imagine you otherwise than with Kathleen by your side. It is probably just a rhetorical question, but does she “approve” all of your cynological activities? :-)
Oh yes, we share the passion for the breed and although we do not always agree, we respect our views. Her support is and has always been essential and sometimes also influential. :-)
Do you have any life motto?
Not really. Let’s do what we can as best as we can. …and just as is the case when riding a racing bike – giving it up en route is simply not an option, because it leaves you far from home. :-)
Dirk, thank you very much for this interview. I wish you a lot of energy in your future work and I really appreciate what you are doing for the Rottweilers. You have my deep admiration.
Edit: Eva Fiedlerová
Photo: Lucie Spálenková and author’s archive