Every dog has its day.
At the Mid America Brace Gundog Federation Derby Nationals, Toppe’s Tail Wagging Tiz finished as the top dog.
Using her natural instincts, she scurried through a field at the Elkhart County Beagle Club and went straight to a rabbit. In the end, the judges awarded her first place out of 118 dogs.
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The large trophy she earned wasn’t enough. She also brought home a show trophy and a first-place trophy in her class among 27 entries, a red collar and a 50-pound bag of Purina dog food. Six more bags of dog food are on the way.
“I’m tickled to death I won the field. Then I go show her and she won the show,” said her owner, Dan Toppe of Crothersville. “I don’t know how to describe it. It’s awesome. It’s just satisfying. You do all of this work with her. You think, ‘Man, it all came together.’ She has been in trials, I got picked up and it just wasn’t her day. But this time, she shined.”
Toppe, 63, said he had rabbit dogs growing up but didn’t start dog trailing until the 1990s. He got away from it once his children became involved in sports but restarted in 2016. He had retired from Midwest Environmental Services Inc. in Brownstown after working there for seven years and previously worked for Big Red in Seymour for 26 years.
He said he didn’t get heavily involved in competitions until shortly after Tiz was born July 2, 2017. At just 4½ months old, she started running after rabbits.
“A buddy of mine kept saying, ‘She’s tough. You’re going to have fun with her,’” Toppe said.
Several times a week, he took dogs to the Silver Creek Beagle Club near Henryville, which has 150 acres of running ground. He also had them compete in trials throughout the year.
All of that paid off as five of the six dogs from Toppe’s Follow Me Ruby litter qualified for nationals. That’s Tiz’s mother.
Tiz was in the lead for the consistency award until it came time for nationals when another dog had a 25-21 edge in points. The winner, though, wasn’t determined until nationals was over because points could be earned by placing in the top five.
“The only way I could have won my consistency award for Tiz, I have to win the nationals, and the other dog here can’t place. I said, ‘Well, that ain’t going to happen.’ In my mind, I thought, ‘I ain’t going to win this,’” Toppe said.
Lo and behold, Tiz won the trial in the field and show and was the grand final winner in the derby trials, which is for dogs younger than 2.
There were two female classes: 13 inches and 15 inches.
In Tiz’s class, 15 inches, three dogs ran at a time for nine rounds. Rabbits were placed on the ground in a 40-acre enclosure, and the dogs had to find them.
“You lead your dogs out there, and they will tell you to cast your dogs, so you just let all three dogs loose, and they call it a gallery,” Toppe said.
“The two judges, they try to follow those dogs, and they judge on line ability, they keep the line and they slot up,” he said. “You don’t want a dog racing around to get the front and take off and run the rabbit and lose it, and then they’ve got to come back and find it. You want a dog that holds the line.”
They judge on each dog’s performance.
“If you’re running a rabbit and you drop it and they don’t find it, you’re done. You don’t even get judged,” Toppe said.
The top six dogs moved on to the high brace. The top two dogs square off, and if second place wins, the other dog drops out of the running for the title. Then the third- and fourth-place dogs go head to head, followed by the fifth- and sixth-place dogs.
“A defeated dog can’t come back and win,” Toppe said. “One of these (lower-placed) dogs could work its way up, but none of them did. They all stayed the same. I stayed high dog the rest of the day. I was a nervous wreck because I knew anything could happen.”
Toppe was proud of Tiz’s showing.
“The other dogs, the scent, they could not smell it. She could,” he said. “It was the best she has ever run. They call it like the blueprint. She knew where that rabbit went. She just stayed right on it.”
Showing a dog involves placing it on a table and making sure its head head and tail are up and legs are are straight with the back legs out a little bit.
“She stands real good,” Toppe said of Tiz.
Tiz was then announced as the grand final winner, and Ruby was named Dam of the Year.
Toppe said he and his friends who went with him were shocked.
“I’m running against guys that have got 26, 30, 40 dogs. Some of them do it for a living, and I’m just a little guy here. I’m just doing it on the side,” Toppe said. “In derby stuff, this is the ultimate. This is what you work for. I knew (Tiz) could do it. I didn’t know she would take everything. I knew she could place if she had her day, and she had her day. It was no question she was high dog. It was awesome.”
He also considered it a big accomplishment because he wasn’t sure how Tiz would do after traveling to Elkhart in a borrowed dog trailer for nearly four hours and having to stay in it overnight with other dogs.
“I’m thinking she’s going to be flat, and son, she came out smokin’,” Toppe said. “I had to pinch myself. I thought, ‘I’m dreaming. This is the nationals. There are dog handlers that have never done this, and here, I’m this little peon.’ I still don’t believe it.”
Tiz’s accomplishments were real.
“That dog has got such a personality,” Toppe said. “When you go out there, her and her mom in a pin together, to feed them, clean up and sit down and pet her, she has to get on my lap and she doesn’t want her mom getting to me. She wants all of the attention. It’s just like she’s a little kid. But when she hits the ground, it’s all business.”
Toppe said Tiz will be featured in Hounds and Hunting magazine. Then at the Mid America Brace Gundog Federation banquet July 20 at the Silver Creek Beagle Club, Toppe will receive a jacket and a plaque for Tiz’s win and a jacket for Ruby winning Dam of the Year.
Since Tiz will turn 2 on July 2, she will move up to the all-age licensed trials. She will aim for three license wins and 120 points to be a field champion.
Toppe said he believes Tiz is up for the challenge.
“That’s what everybody works for,” he said. “That’s as high as you can go.”