I drove around to the back entrance of the Wienerau Kennels. The narrow, bumpy dirt road lined with tall trees and lush vegetation suddenly widened to allow parking for a few cars. As I walked to the gate I was greeted by four of the most beautiful Shepherds I have ever seen. This growling, barking, raised-hackled welcoming committee was composed of none other that the Sieger, The Siegerin, the V4 and the V23 dogs at this year’s Sieger Show.
I was almost tempted to put a finger through the fence so that "Vanta," the crazier one of the bunch (as confessed by her own breeder), could give me a lingering reminder of my experience and a possible scar I could tell my grandchildren about. But my better sense and the timely arrival of Mr. Martin shook me out of my momentary insanity.
The Wienerau Legacy From the time I was very young I read and heard about the grandeur of the Wienerau dogs. Much of the breeding in Germany is currently based on two pillars of the modern lines: Canto and Quanto Wienerau. These and a long line of other top winners and producers walked the green grasses and played as puppies among the abundant bushes and trees which dot the landscape of the legendary kennel. Stepping into that arena sent chills up my spine, but my rush of emotions was quickly brought to earth by the calm and unassuming presence of Mr. Martin, his wife, his son and of course the aforementioned "welcoming committee," which by now had settled into those all-important "doggie-duties" of smelling my clothes, laying in the sun, and picking on each other.
The calmness and silence of that lazy autumn afternoon in Viernheim drastically contrasted with the hustle and bustle of four days ago when the 1992 Sieger Show was getting underway in Dusseldorf. Eighteen hundred dogs and seventy thousand cheering fans and fervent owners served as a backdrop for one of the most memorable of events.
Reddened, swollen skin and a patch covering a puncture wound in Walter Martins arm was testimony of the fierce competition and "fighting drive" of the owners during the running of the classes.
RC: "What happened to your arm?"
WM: "During the working females class in Dusseldorf I climbed up the fence to get Vanta’s attention. It had these sharp points on top. I had not seen them, and I jumped on and I yelled ‘Vanta!’ and I accidentally stabbed my arm with them."
A Hearty laugh over the incident was a clear indication that the pain was a small price to pay for someone who describes
himself as a fighter.
RC:" A couple of years ago you said that would probably be your last Sieger Show, that it was time for the younger people to do it."
WM: "Yes…I said that because I like to come from behind. I am a fighter, I never quit. You have to understand how things are in Germany; it is better if people are not expecting certain things from you. Then I come out strong with very good dogs. I like it that way." (Laugh).
And what a time to be at Wienerau because come out strong they did. No one in the history of German Shepherds has
received the coveted titles of Sieger and Siegerin in the same year. If you add to this the titles of V4, V23, SG6, SG7 in males and youth Siegerin, and V5 in females then you have the ingredients of greatness that can only be matched by the top recognition given to a breeder: That of top kennel which, needless to say, also went to Wienerau. The Wienerau Kennel Group At the beginning of the Kennel groups, Wienerau was first in the original catalog order. After a few times around the stadium Mr. Ernest Beck sent Wildsteigerland kennels in front.
RC: "What did you think when Dr. Beck sent Wildsteigerland in front?
WM: "Just for fun."
RC: "Did you think it was going to end up that way?"
WM: "No, no this was for show, for the public, so they can get the applause."
RC: When you came from behind?"
WM: "Yeah, yeah (laughing) it was not so bad…it worked well."
Two days before the interview I was sitting in the hotel room going through the history books on Sieger Shows. Somehow I had just assumed that such an important contributor to the breed had to have several Siegers over the years…but in my mind I could not remember any. The research confirmed my suspicions. This was the first time a Wienerau dog had received the top honor. Then a thought came to my mind, something I had heard long ago I don’t know where or from whom, but which was ingrained in my memory forever: "I am not impressed" someone said "with the breeder who on the first or second litter ends up with some champions due to luck or having enough money to buy some good dogs. I am more impressed with the true breeder who has goals and works towards them in a systematic fashion and after 10 years he begins to produce exactly what he wants in a consistent fashion, and establishes a type that everyone can recognize."
The crowning moment for this master breeder did not come after 10 years. Or, for that matter, after 20, 30, or 40. It took 50 years for Walter Martin to see a lifetime of devotion be universally rewarded not with one, but with three Sieger and Siegerin titles in the same year—an accomplishment worthy of the Guinness Book of World Records.
RC: "When did you start in the breed?"
WM: "I came to the dogs when I was ten years old. I bought a puppy in 1942 during World War II, from a restaurant near our home. I kept this dog until 1950 when I left home to go away to school. Back then I did obedience only, but in obedience everything hangs on the points and I got a bit frustrated. When I came back home three years later I started going to the shows and handling dogs. I bought a male here and a male there without very good results until one day my father told me: ‘When you want to have a chance in dogs you must breed, and you must breed with the right female."
RC: "But your father was not a breeder."
WM: "No, he was a Soccer player. He was interested in animals, but every animal was the same for him, he just loved animals in general. In 1957 I bought a female for 250DM, including Schutzhund 1."
RC: "Oh Yeah? Not any more huh?" (Laughs)
WM: "I started to train this female for SchH 2 and SchH 3, and at that time she was the only female at the shows with a SchH 3. I bred her to a very good dog name Gero. He was the son of a very famous VA dog Casar vd Malmannsheid, VA for nine years. Gero was not the same quality as the father, however." At this point in the conversation Zamb decided to come up on the bench where I was sitting and drinking a very thick German cup of good coffee. Walter Martin interrupted his recollection and commented "This dog just cannot sleep on the floor."
WM: "From this breeding we got our first litter, the "A" litter Wienerau. The bests dog from that litter was named Asso. My brother (Mr. Herman Martin, current president of the SV) handled him quite successfully. He came in second in Karlsruhe in 1969." "Sometime later I went to a symposium with a very famous judge from Germany. He did a seminar and gave speeches about breeding and so on. At that event I saw a female. She was large and had extreme movement, but she was quite immature. At only 19 months she had no underchest, but she had a SchH3. This famous man critiqued her as being a female not worthy of breeding because of the lack of substance and so on. But, I kept going around looking at her, and I bought this female right then. Her name was Berta (vom Lorscher Sand), a daughter of the 1955 Sieger Alf Nordfelsen. And this female is the mother of all the dogs which are now coming from the Wienerau line."
RC: "Which dogs came out of this female?"
WM: "Out of the first litter with Berta I had two females. One went to Ernie Loeb in the United States. It was the first dog I sold to the U.S.A. The other female which I kept, Was the mother of the 1961 SG1 Sieger Elch Wienerau.
( here i'm finding an error in the story, possibly in the translation or language barrier by RC, as the mother of Elch is Berta. His Sire VA Casar vd Malmannsheid)
"In the litter after that came Dixie Wienerau. dob 9.9.69 Dixie in combination with Jalk Fohlenbrunnen gave me the "L" litter Wienerau, and all the dogs that have the colors you see today in my kennel (deep mahogany red and black) come from Liane. Liane was Canto Wienerau’s mother. And Canto was the product of an inbreeding 2,2 on Dixie. At that time this close breeding was allowed." after reviewing the canto pedigree i don't see a 2,2 on Dixie. perhaps again a misunderstanding in the translation by RC? see Canto's Pedigree
RC: "So although we always speak of the Canto and Quanto ‘lines’ they were really from the same line."
WM: "Absolutely. They were the product of close breeding. In those times we had the situation where two prominent sires were responsible for the betterment of the breed. One, however, excelled in producing males, and the other females. Quanto was the smaller dog but with the better head, he produced the males. Canto was perhaps the nicer dog but did not have the head, he gave the breed many very nice females."
RC: "It seems like presently we are facing the same situation."
WM: "Yes we are! You see everything comes back! Now we have another pair of sires Quando and Uran. From the combination of Quando and his sister Quana come all the nice males with the beautiful heads, where Uran (responding more to the Canto type) is producing the nicer females."
RC: Every few years you have a sire that makes an outstanding contribution to the breed. Where do you think the next male will come from?"
WM: "The next big sire in Germany with great genetic potential to raise the breed again, believe me, will come only from Zamb Wienerau or from Jeck Noricum (both sons of Odin Tannenmeise, who is a son of Quando Arminius)—only from these two dogs, not from any other. Never. Never"
Zamb’s Progeny Group On Saturday morning large crowds gathered early at the Stadium to watch the most important part of the Sieger Show: The presentation of the progeny groups. The fate of the Sieger is greatly decided by this event. A good sieger is expected to present a very large and convincing group of sons and daughters. He must prove to the world that he is capable of contributing excellent quality to the breed and that his type and genetic power is expressed through its offspring. Zamb did just that. The group was very uniform in type: large, powerful males with very expressive, masculine heads. The females were also very powerful without lacking elegance and femininity. Above all, they all had the Wienerau trademark: the red mahogany colours coming through in a great number of Zamb’s progeny.
Walter Martin is very proud of the colour on his dogs. He jokingly comments: "The Italians tell me ‘Walter Martin has una maquina d pintura (a spray-paint machine)’ and I tell the ‘Yes, but only for me’" as he laughs out loud.
RC: "When did you realize that Zamb would be such a good dog?"
Mrs. Martin: "You know, it wasn’t until he was one year old. Walter sold him as a three month old puppy."
WM: "Yes, I sold him. I said the dog was too quiet so I sold him to Italy, but I made a contract by which I would have the right to purchase the dog back at one year. Exactly at one year they came with the dog at 6:00 A.M. to our backyard door. I got up and came to see the dog and said "oh my god." I purchased him for much money…much, much money. And then my wife took Zamb to the training field and he bit immediately. He was young and out of coat because he came from Naples in the south of Italy. Later on we showed him for the first time in Ulm and he came in second. A man came to me later and told me ‘this dog will be a great performer at the shows.’ We showed him again under Ernest Beck and he put a little dog in front of Zamb. No one could understand. Finally at the Sieger Show he took the Young dog title. From that moment on he kept going up and up."
RC: "Do you believe that Zamb will continue the Quando Arminius line?"
WM: "Yes, but I also believe he responds more to the Ica Wienerau type rather than the Quando type, although my brother will surely claim differently." (laughs)
RC: "So what is more important, the bloodline or the type?"
WM: "No, no the bloodline is most important. Blood is the juice of life."
RC: "When you are going to combine bloodlines, what do you take into account?"
WM: "We do not have many lines in Germany. We have basically two main lines. So when Germans complain that we must have a new bloodline I tell them ‘Number one, we must know the name of this new bloodline, and number two, we must improve the breed by using it.’ If this ‘new line’ has the power of improving the breed we will see it in its results, right?"
RC: "Take us through your mental process as you make the decision of choosing breeding partners."
WM: "I will give you an example. Vanta (the Siegerin) will come in season in a couple of weeks, so now I have to make up my mind. I must look for a dog with a similar type to Vanta’s, with three quarters of the same blood but with one part being completely different, without Rolf, or in other words, without Canto or Quanto. This I still have to decide. This decision is not so easy."
"Also, you cannot always breed very good character together, if you only breed dogs with nice, easygoing dispositions, after three generations you get only dogs that are so nice and kind and so quiet and perfect that they never like to work and never like to run in the shows."
RC: "So what do you do to improve character?"
WM: "Every third generation you must bring in an absolute "idiot." (Laughs.) Yes, one with very quick blood, a wild one. This is very good for the working aspect of the Shepherd. In obedience you see dogs placed on a down and when the handler says "come," it takes them half an hour to stand up."
RC: "So, are you at the point now when you must look for an "idiot?"
WM: "Yes, but with Vanta I am fine because she inherited the spirit from Xaver Arminius. He was the crazy one, always the "gangster", and Vanta is quite this way. I cannot leave her out of the kennel and have you come in. She will bite you immediately. She protects the car and the house."
RC: "So you don’t know yet who you will breed her to?"
WM: " I must look in the Breed Survey Book for the right dog."
RC: "But he must be of the same type?"
WM: "I can only create the Wienerau type, that is my job. I cannot make another type. Mercedes must build
Mercedes-looking cars, and BMW the BMW type."
RC: " What do you expect from Zamb now?"
WM: "From Zamb I only want females. And Tony, I love Tony. He is very special. He would like to kill everybody. When he was six months old I would take him to walk on the leash and he would approach me. So I started taking food with me and when someone would come up I would say ‘come feed my dog pleas.’ After one week, when he would see someone approaching he would start looking to see what they had in their pockets to give him. He never tried to bite anyone anymore."
RC: "Finally, what would you advise someone who is starting to breed and wants to do things right?"
WM: "I must tell the people you must buy from a very, very good leader, from a very, very good father and a very, very good mother the worst female puppy—the worst female puppy. And do you know why? Because nobody give you the best, so you can only have the worst, but this dog has the same blood as the others. Then breed this female to the best line and the best dog possible and select the one with the best character and anatomy."
"You must be very careful though that you do not fall into the trap of selecting dogs on the bases of performance only. You may have two dogs, one has the best genes for working but has a very bad trainer, the other one may have very bad genes for working but has a very excellent trainer. Which one gets the highest points?"
RC: "The second one."
WM: "Of course. So the second dog comes into the breed and the better dog is gone. This is a mistake that we must be aware of. The breed is built from good genes, not from good training."
At this point other people arrived for a visit. We walked outside and were greeted by the newest generation of Wienerau puppies. "This is my next Sieger," Mr. Martin said jovially, pointing to a large three-month old male puppy with a very large head and heavy bone, and of course , the typical Wienerau colour.
The puppy looked at me with a very intense, curious stare. Behind that typical innocent pair of raised eyebrows I could see that oblivious attitude of all dogs: completely unaware of their worth and their importance. A thought came to mind If these dogs knew the royal position they enjoy as leaders of the breed worldwide, would they act any differently than any other dog in the world? The answer came loud and clear and synthesized probably the bests impression I retain from the entire experience: Why should they? The Martin family surely doesn’t seem to be affected by it.
Driving out of the kennel I turned and passed through the front gate. A very old and very small metal sign about 6" x 12" hung from the gate. It read: "Zwinger von der Wienerau." Such an understatement of greatness made me realize what true breeders are all about: Not ostentatious display, but great love for the breed, great loyalty to their friends, and great pride in work well done.