It is not the critic who counts;
not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena,
whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood;
who strives valiantly;
who errs and comes short again and again;
who knows great enthusiasms,
the great devotions;
who spends himself in a worthy cause;
who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement,
and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly
so that his place shall never be with those timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. -Theodore Roosevelt
NARA is an organization where passionate people with working dogs come together to showcase their training of these incredible dogs and decoys. Oh and another fascinating element of this sport is that men and women compete side by side, equally. Go ladies!
“The North American Ring sport Association (N.A.R.A.) is the governing organization and maintains a liaison with the parent French organization which operates under the auspices of the S.C.C. (Societe Centrale Canine), the French equivalent of the AKC. Titles earned here are recognized internationally. Recognized trials are now offered in several countries, including Mexico, Canada and other places.” (http://www.ringsport.org/index.php?pg=ringsport)
For the lay person, this dog sport has 4 levels of achievement tests which involve scoring by a judge that results in a point accumulation for placement at the end of the competition. There is a succession of levels each dog and handler must work through during their years of participation in this sport. Those levels are Breve, Ring 1, Ring 2, and Ring 3. Ring three is the top level. Achievement of each level requires successful completion of a variety tests of obedience, jumps, protection work, decoy work, attacks, and other exercises. My favorite part of the competition is the guard of an object, usually a basket. The dog must utilize his/her intense guarding instinct on their own. The handler is not visible and leaves the dog in a down stay next to the basket with the command “Guard!”. In comes the decoy whose soul goal is to steal the basket from the dog who has to make a multitude of decisions during this exercise. The NARA website describes this exercise as follows,
“Probably the best-known Ring exercise is the GUARD OF OBJECT. Here the handler leaves his dog alone with a large basket to guard from the decoy’s attempts to steal it. The dog must stay with the object and only bite the decoy when the decoy comes within one meter of the object. When the decoy is bitten, he pauses as still as possible, for 5 seconds, after which he tries to go away from the object. The dog must automatically let go his bite within one meter and return to the object. This is the most advanced, complex and difficult exercise to teach the dog. It requires so much self control from the dog, yet at the same time so much drive to bite. The balance in training is supremely difficult to achieve, especially considering that the decoy is watching for any weak spots in the training, any slight lapses of vigilance, hesitations in the dog’s decision making, etc., in order to steal the object. From the decoy’s point of view it is a real test of his skills…his ability to read the dog, his knowledge of training techniques, his speed, his subtlety. It would be easier for him if he simply were allowed to try to lure the dog away from the object by begging to be bitten, but he is not permitted to do that. He must honestly try to take the object, either with his hand or his foot.” (http://www.ringsport.org/index.php?pg=ringsport Chris Redenbach and Lesli Taylor 6/28/2000)
The breeds participating at this past weekend’s event were Dutch Shepherds, Belgian Malinois, or a mixed cross of these two breeds. (NARA Authorized Breeds consist of any registered dog, registered by a nationally recognized breed registry. Males must be sexually intact.NARA also authorizes “Blue” dogs to compete. A “Blue” dog is any unregistered dog and/or a male dog that is sexually not intact.) These breeds are part of the herding genre of the canine world. They are incredible tough, fast, strong, agile, and pretty much “super dogs”. These breeds are often used as military working dogs (MWDs) and as members of local police forces. They are very dedicated to their handlers – instinctively protective, driven, and have one of the most powerful bites in the canine world with a range of a force bite between 195 pounds (Malinois) and up to 600 pounds (Doberman). (http://dogs.lovetoknow.com/wiki/Which_Dog_Breed_Has_the_Strongest_Jaw) Now you put a human on the other end of that bite power with an oncoming freight train force behind it and you’ve got a brave decoy at the receiving end of that energy force. Decoys are the “Michelin Men” (though I do hear that there are women decoys in French Ring sport) inside the typically french linen bite suits crazy enough to endure the power of these dogs. Often you hear the grunts of these brave few who bear the brunt of the sport on their arms, hands, legs, and sometimes… their crotches. Power to the protective value of “a cup” in that region – personally if it were me in that suit and I was a guy I’d want my cup made of cushioned wrought iron!
The Judge for the 2013 NARA Championships was Michele Valdon, flown in from France.
There is true beauty in this sport on so many levels. There is the bond between handler and dog, a dedication to the well being of the animals that participate, the strength of the decoys as they push these dogs to drive harder, faster, and with extreme finesse. There is the dedication to a set of rules and protocol. It’s a formal celebration of the relationship between human and dog and also a spotlight on that amazing abilities that result from consistent training and dedication of all those who participate from the judges, to the decoys, the handlers, the dogs, and the breeders who wish to ensure that the right dog ends up with the right handler/guardian. There is an intricate dance that happens on the French Ring field that is majestic, dangerous, powerful and the combination of those elements make this a beautiful and striking sport…
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