FAIRMONT, W.Va. —
Next week, thousands of dogs and their owners will arrive in Philadelphia for the Schutzhund World Championships.
Gribben discovered the sport 20 years ago, as he was starting a career in law enforcement, with a club called the West Virginia Canine College. A dog lover all his life - he had trained the family's Golden Retriever while in elementary school - Gribben and his Rottweiler, named Beck, completed two, three-month training programs with the club.
Gribben spent about 15 years in law enforcement before leaving to be closer to family, he said. Seven years ago he and his wife opened Creekside Kennels in Fairmont. In addition to Schutzhund, he helps dog owners train pets to correct behaviors such as lunging at people or barking at visitors to their home.
More recently Gribben and another trainer started the Mountaineer Schutzhund Club, organized under the American Schutzhund Clubs of America. As a titled club, they can bring in judges and hold trials.
It just so happened that a judge was visiting last Saturday, so they invited me out to check it out.
Dogs in competitions are judged on a 100-point scale in three phases - tracking, obedience and protection.
During tracking someone walks through an open field and drops items, which dogs will have to use their noses to follow. For obedience, dogs are tested in all of the basic commands: "fuss" (heel); "sitz" (sit); "bleib" (stay); "platz" (down); and "hier" (come).
“Why do you speak to the dogs in German?” I ask one of the dog owners who is sitting on a green plastic chair adjacent to the field, smoking a cigarette as he watches the competition. “Oh, I know, because they’re from Germany. It’s their native language, right?”