Ringo - the First

By Miroslaw ("Mirek") Bednarski

How to describe friendship? How to describe a 10-year long emotional relationship between a growing teenager and a dog? In fact not a dog, but a mix, a hybrid, which could have developed a lot of unexpected features of character…

If you recollect your childhood as a happy period of your life then you know what I mean. And the childhood spent with a super dog stays in one’s memory forever. Lots of adventures, joyful incidents, the feeling of pride…. Hundreds of kilometers tramped together in Czech Republic, in the Moravia region, in Poland…. umpteen places which I would never dare visit on my own, even though I was a very dynamic child. All this, and even more, I experienced with Ringo. RINGO was the FIRST and in my memories will always remain the BEST. In fact I never analyzed his appearance, to me he was perfect the way he looked. When visiting The Border Guards Kennel in Budějovice in the Czech Republic I saw, of course, many other Czechoslovakian Wolfdogs. But these were the early stages of the breed development and there was still a far way and years of hard work ahead to reach the breed standard.

As far as I remember there was always a dog at my home, a black setter, Misiek. He didn’t have easy life. A family story says that I wanted to bite off his ear when I was a toddler, but I hope they just exaggerated.

We moved to Prague in 1967. I started attending the 3rd form of a Czech primary school. New language, new environment, the adaptation wasn’t easy for a child. At some point, when going through a phase of rejection, I delivered a true Polish chauvinism – everything Polish was good and best. But when mates at school wanted to pick on me they asked about hockey. At that time Czechoslovakia was a hockey power, while Polish hockey was disastrous. After some time I got what I had been asking for: older boys from the 9th form gave me such a beating that I hardly staggered home. My Dad did not ask any questions, but understood everything. I definitely needed support. I’d always wanted a dog, my own dog, just like most kids do. But after the incident at school, my dreams started becoming true. My Dad knew it wasn’t just any dog that I needed, but a really big, brave, loyal friend that would defend and protect me. Father started recognizing ‘the field’ and Colonel Hartl suggested a Czechoslovakian Wolfdog.

RingoThe agreement at home was simple: the dog would be mine and so the duties connected with him. If I didn’t look after him properly or missed my obligations, the dog would immediately be returned to the kennel. Very simple conditions and a fair deal. When my father brought Ringo home I was 10 and Ringo – 5 months. He wasn’t a little puppy, but rather a ‘dog youth’. The first moments were great, I remember my enthusiasm well since this was the most important experience of my childhood. Ringo immediately showed the full range of his abilities and made a pooh on the bed. On seeing this my Mum almost fainted, Dad was rather philosophical and I was naturally cleaning. A nice beginning! Mum threatened to get rid of all three of us: me, my Dad and Ringo, but with time things improved. I suppose she did not really believe I would manage the duties.

First things first, I started teaching Ringo cleanliness. Luckily, he quickly abandoned his kennel customs and got used to living in a flat. Our walks were fantastic, everybody envied me such a dog. My position among the Czech friends increased significantly. Cooking was the hardest thing – Ringo must have been a really tough guy if he survived on my diet and wasn’t sick. There were occasional damages. He was very consequent, if he did not like something he kept destroying it with incredible stubbornness. He hated the frame of the door pane and damaged it with passion – I remember endless repairs. But relatively soon he grew out of all these destructive instincts. He was kept busy and had no time for such nonsense.

He was sent for his first training in Budějovice when he was 9 months old. I was deprived of my dog’s company for three months, but I visited him every weekend. He was growing, and becoming nicer and nicer. On his return I had hard time because when giving commands, my child’s voice did not sound convincing to Ringo; I had to imitate a man’s voice which wasn’t easy. I never changed the Czech commands into Polish language, this was my trick. Only my sister and I spoke Czech language well, so the three of us with Ringo had our own “private world”, which was great. With basic commands the language didn’t really matter, but rather the tone of voice was important. Besides, Ringo perfectly reacted to visual commands and what was more, the distance did not really matter to him.

We lived on the ground floor and I still have no idea how he knew when I was supposed to come from school. I used to return at various hours, but he always seemed to know my schedule and waited for me on the window sill. When I was approaching he jumped out through the window and ran to meet me. We were always together, he accompanied me everywhere with one exception - school.

The second training also lasted three months and, according to Colonel Hartl’s suggestion, took place one year after the first one. Again I visited Ringo every Saturday, but this time it was much harder, we had already been very close and I missed him badly. I don’t remember the exact training methods but as far as I recollect the course was individually tailored for Ringo. The effects were incredible: perfect obedience, walking on a leash – what’s leash?, fetching things – we both enjoyed it, obstacles – only the really difficult ones, tracking - every scent, defence – only at a password invented by me and known just to Ringo, me, and the trainer. In fact I used it only once in his life, many years later and it worked!

Apart from all that – the dog had a really individual character: asked to jump over a fence? Why not, but only once. Asked again? What for, if easier to walk around…. Ringo did not question only the most basic commands, with all other ones - he preferred to try his own ways – he wanted to please his master as well as to use as little energy as possible and manifest his own will. I also had to undergo a special training – a kind of instructions on how to “use” the dog. Ringo could do really a lot and I had to learn how to make the best use of it.

What was really amazing, Ringo never needed any additional training, repetition or reinforcement. He just knew what he was supposed to know and that was it. I was sure he would always obey, though his enthusiasm would vary. I sometimes used to show off his skills in front of people and I was very proud of him. I never later taught him anything else which, from today’s perspective, could be called sensible or useful. I taught him to take off visitors hats, which once almost ended in taking off my aunt’s scalp (well, I exaggerate a bit). I also taught him something, which at that time I considered to be very useful – to lift girls’ skirts. No girl could ignore me in such circumstances- just a perfect method to pick up girls at that age.

All Ringo’s abilities and skills were kind of obvious for me. Only from today’s perspective and experience, after having trained other dogs, can I fully appreciate the quality and professionalism of the training received by Ringo in Budějovice. Jukro, my next czechoslovakian wolfdog had never reached such mastery although he completed three stages of training and I devoted him a lot of time and energy. He was just very good when compared to Ringo, who was excellent.

I had reasons to take pride in Ringo. People admired him, though at that time in Czechoslovakia he was officially considered to be a mix. But I knew he was exceptional!!! The crucial issue was that nobody had a dog like mine and nobody’s dog was better trained and more obedient. Even at that time I promoted the thesis that he took all his best characteristics after his wolf predecessors. There were thousands Alsatians around, but very few wolf hybrids. He had "Puvodu potomků křiženi nĕmeckého ovčáka a karpatského vlka”. It did sound impressive, even in Czech!

Ringo was fantastically socialised. Never had I any problems with other dogs. I suppose they were afraid of him, and he never initiated any “misunderstandings”.

Ringo had great pedagogical talents. He brought up and socialised my best friend’s Alsatian and taught him unbelievable amount of skills. It’s incredible how much the dog learnt just by observing and copying Ringo’s behaviour patterns. When we returned to Poland for good Ringo was four. He was in his best age, a well-balanced, reliable, predictable male dog. We lived in the centre of Warsaw, but there was a square courtyard among the blocks of flats. In the morning Ringo went out on his own for his toilet needs, quickly returned and waited for me to get ready for a longer walk. I wouldn’t risk letting out any other dog like that.

During holidays we travelled around Poland together with Ringo and my Czech friend, Peter. I felt I should visit the most attractive regions of my own country. Ringo used to sail with me, although a small sailing boat was not the most comfortable place for a big dog (see the photo). Running by the bike was, of course, a standard and we went skiing together, too. The only activity he did not enjoy was my horse-riding, somehow he could not understand why he had to follow the huge animal his master was sitting on. While roller-skating, he pulled me smoothly with even speed without getting off tracked. Poor Ringo had the most extravagant master who wanted to try everything, but he never protested.

Only once did I see my dog running like mad without listening to my commands. We were in Bialowieza Forest in the east of Poland. Things were different in those times and we were wandering freely in the wilderness, following animal paths, just worrying of how not to accidentally cross the border with the Soviet Union. Suddenly we heard a strange noise, but it did not disturb us – it was natural to hear all sorts of animal noises in the forest. It was Ringo who first identified the noise as real danger. By escaping he wanted to alert us, so we immediately climbed the trees. It was clear that thanks to Ringo we had narrowly avoided encounter with a wild bison! By provoking the bison and attracting his attention Ringo tried to lead him away form us at a safe distance. We waited on the trees until Ringo returned, which lasted quite a while.

Ringo loved going to the sea-side. Not only for swimming in the sea and running along the beach, which he really enjoyed but mainly for practising “extortion” . He had his favourite stands and kiosks selling sausages and fish. He ran towards them and ignoring the queue put his front paws on the counter. Then he looked deeply into the owners’ eyes and didn’t have to wait long before he was served with full approval of the queuing people. A real dog’s paradise: it wasn’t important if the food was good or not, but it was self-obtained! Everybody knew us and nobody protested because people considered it a kind of local entertainment or holiday attraction.

I always felt safe with him but at the same time I always knew that Ringo depended on me, I could not leave him. We could count on each other. My plans, trips, meetings and holidays were always arranged according to Ringo’s needs. The dog was first, everything else came next.

Ringo was very tolerant and loyal towards his ‘pack’, i.e. the rest of the family. He let children “torture” him, my little cousin, who could hardly walk rode on his back like on a pony holding his fur and they both seemed delighted. When I was a kid my parents must have felt quite relaxed. I was always with the dog, always watched and protected by Ringo. He would follow me into fire, as they say in Poland.

RingoI really don’t know who was the master in our small pack. At that time I thought it was me, but after years I realised that it was Ringo who was the more responsible of us two. He treated me like his pup that he had to look after; a ‘pup’ with all sorts of strange ideas! Ringo always first checked new situations and new places which according to his dog judgment could bring any risk for both of us. Like a true wolf, he was quite suspicious and approached new circumstances with caution and distrust. Definitely my dog emotionally matured much sooner than I did. I learn a lot from him. He taught me the rules and principles of functioning in natural environment. I learned how to assess various situations by observing him and reading his behaviour and his reactions. But what’s most important, he taught me responsibility. There were no such concepts as: “in a minute”, “later”, “tomorrow”, etc. The dog had his needs and requirements and I had to meet them here and now. The full care was on me and I could count on my parents’ help only sporadically, in real emergencies. It was a fantastic school of life.

My best fried left me suddenly, without any symptoms of illness or worse disposition. He just collapsed during a walk and died. The vet told me it was probably a heart attack. It was a life tragedy for me; despite the age it is always hard to part with a close friend. I got Ringo when I was a little boy and parted with him when I was 20 - the perfect 10 years of my life.

With no other dog have I ever had such a contact. Jukro was different probably also due to the different training he received. If I were to compare, Ringo was really intelligent while the next dogs - just smart.

But looking back.. I sometimes think that maybe it’s just our memories that create our ideals?

RINGO z Pohranični stráž F-3 born 16 January 1969,
Father: Odin z Pohranični stráž F-2 / Mother: Anka z Pohranični stráž
Breeder: Pohranični stráž

Owner: Miroslaw Bednarsk