The following questions and answers will tell you more about Dog Sport (Schutzhund), including a little history, what kind of dogs participate in the sport, and whether or not they make good companion dogs (pets). You also will learn that Schutzhund is a sport anyone can do, even children, and details about the three phases of Schutzhund: Tracking, obedience and protection. Schutzhund has nothing to do with dog fighting and has nothing in common with the use of dogs for property protection, drug detection or law enforcement.
Schutzhund, also referred to as Dog Sport, is a judged triathlon for working dogs, including tracking, obedience and protection phases.
When you watch a Schutzhund dog track, you will see an exercise in obedience and precision in the use of the dog’s natural scenting ability.
To the casual observer, the smooth flow of a top-level Schutzhund obedience routine looks simple, but it is filled with complex challenges for the dog and involves a carefully constructed "dance" or interplay between the dog and the handler.
For many, the protection work is the most dramatic and exciting phase. Behind the drama lies systematic training to bring out the dog’s natural courage and enthusiasm, while instilling strong obedience and the ability to switch from engagement to release, and from courage to obedience, all in an instant, back and forth.
Please note: Schutzhund has nothing to do with dog-to-dog fighting and differs greatly from the training used to prepare personal or property protection dogs and police or drug detection dogs.
Near the beginning of the 20th century, Max von Stephanitz, a German cavalry officer, initiated a breeding program aimed at creating the ultimate working dog to serve mankind. To ensure that the breeding program would continue to produce healthy, strong and talented working dogs, von Stephanitz also created the original version of Schutzhund.
Schutzhund is open to dogs of any breed, but the training and competition requires specific qualities of temperament, desire to work and athletic ability. Generally speaking, Schutzhund dogs must be highly trainable with strong desire to please and play with the handler, possess excellent scenting ability, have a vigorous athletic body capable of running, biting and holding prey objects and jumping and show considerable courage and self-confidence. Since its beginning in the early 20th century, Schutzhund has evolved into an international dog sport in its own right, in which many working breeds participate, including German Shepherd Dogs, Boxers, American Bulldogs, Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, Giant Schnauzers and Belgian Malinois.
Schutzhund dogs work hard and play hard, which comes from the same high spirits that are the foundation of their working ability. Schutzhund dogs make excellent home companions (pets), but few of these dogs are content to wait around for their owners to find time for play or work. They will frequently push their handlers to take them out for some vigorous play with well-placed nose and head butts, stares, pacing and similar insistent prodding. While all dogs like to play, working dogs in particular crave interaction with their handlers in the same way they crave food or sleep. They have a particular love of toys, such as balls, tugs, sticks and other objects that can be chased and captured for a brisk game of tug-of-war. Add to these working drives the inherent intelligence, daring and creativity of working breeds, the results are a lot of potential entertainment and good times.
Breeding excellent working dogs capable of Schutzhund requires skill, experience and proven breeding stock that have demonstrated that they can achieve Schutzhund titles. There are many experienced and dedicated Schutzhund dog breeders in the United States, Western and Eastern Europe and throughout the world. Persons interested in obtaining a Schutzhund prospect should contact kennels that advertise in the Schutzhund magazines published by the organizations listed in our book (or on the Resources page of this website) and should also seek the advice of a Schutzhund club training director, competitor or senior member. Having a puppy tested or evaluated by an experienced training director or Schutzhund coach is strongly recommended.
Schutzhund is perhaps unique in today’s highly specialized sports world. There are few sports in which persons of modest means can train with and compete head-to-head with millionaires, but in Schutzhund it can be done on equal footing at even the highest levels. Unlike sports or shows involving horses (or even show dogs), the price of the highest quality working litter puppies and their upkeep are within reasonable budgets.
Properly instructed and well-prepared, responsible children can successfully train and compete in Schutzhund with vigorous, athletic and spirited dogs. A few children as young as 11 and 12 years old have competed at the highest levels, including national trials, with excellent scores. Other young people have trained and shown their beloved companions at many club trials.
Schutzhund is a training-intensive activity. Participants spend thousands of hours with their dogs and each other on the Schutzhund club training field and just a few minutes on each phase of a trial performance. It also is a group activity, with many active local clubs through the United States and in many other countries around the world. Even though there are many books and videos showing different training methods, Schutzhund by and large is an oral or apprenticeship tradition, with more experienced handlers, training directors and coaches teaching and assisting less experienced handlers train their dogs. As a result, club members often spend many hours working together to train and polish their dogs for competition. Schutzhund dogs can be trained and handled by children, teens and adults, thus making Schutzhund an excellent family activity.
Our book, The Sport of Schutzhund: A Photographic Essay, has many photographs that show what participants and observers will typically see in the sport. The book portrays the day-to-day activities of these outstanding working dogs and their hard-working trainers and handlers. As noted, there are many excellent books and videos exploring a number of effective methods and videos of top performances in national and world events that can be readily purchased.
Schutzhund tracking is an exercise in obedience and precision in the use of the dog’s unique natural talent for scent discrimination. Often referred to as "footstep tracking," this phase of the sport requires the dog to follow along the scent of the disturbance in grass, weeds or earth created by the footsteps of the tracklayer. The patterns are prescribed by the rulebook: three legs of at least 100 paces and two corners for Schutzhund I, three longer legs of at least 200 paces and two corners in Schutzhund II and four legs with three corners for Schutzhund III. In addition to accurately following the legs and navigating the corners, the dog will encounter two or more small man-made "articles" made of leather, wood, carpet or plastic. The dog must indicate the presence of the articles, typically by immediately lying down with the article directly in front of its nose and between its paws. As a further challenge, tracks are aged from 20 minutes to one hour, depending upon the level.
Tracking vividly demonstrates the inherent scenting ability of working dogs, who are able to discriminate the disturbed footsteps from the undisturbed natural terrain in a wide variety of terrain conditions -- even snow, rain and mud -- after considerable time has passed. It is widely recognized that this unique canine capacity is not only very powerful, but also operates by means that we mere humans cannot readily explain.
Scenting ability alone, however, will not carry a dog through even the shortest Schutzhund track. The Schutzhund tracking dog works at the end of a 33-foot leash (or, in some cases, off leash), far removed from the influence of the handler. The foundation of precision tracking is the dog’s motivation in obedience to follow the track accurately until all of the articles, corners and the end are found. This can be hard work, so a successful tracking performance displays the working dog’s obedience, work ethic, patient self-control and stamina.
Like all of Schutzhund, tracking must be done at the appointed time regardless of weather conditions or terrain. The impressive way in which a well-schooled, talented and highly motivated tracking dog calmly and persistently works along the track path under its own initiative is a joy to watch. To reach this point, the handler and dog must work through hundreds if not thousands of practice sessions under all kinds of conditions.
On paper, the diagram of a Schutzhund obedience performance looks simple, even elementary. The dog and handler go out, make a turn and go back, change speeds, make a couple more turns and another reversal of direction and then in and out of a group of four bystanders. Then follows a sit and down out of motion, a recall, a stand out of motion, another recall, three retrieves of a dumbbell on the flat, over a hurdle and up a scaling wall, all then followed by the very brief dramatic moments of a send away and down.
To the casual observer, the smooth flow of a top-level Schutzhund obedience performance looks routine, an exercise in simply following directions at the handler’s side. In fact, the finished Schutzhund obedience routine &ndash particularly the complex challenges of the Schutzhund III – involves a carefully constructed "dance" or interplay between the dog and the handler that must be built step by step from the basic component of heeling at the handler’s side through no less than about twenty separate maneuvers (depending upon how one counts them) that must be mastered.
Each maneuver challenges the dog to balance opposing forces, exercise self-control, remain at least highly motivated if not eager, learn a new task, focus intently on the handler, delay gratification, repeat precision moves, remember sequences, ignore distractions and use its natural athletic abilities. No wonder then that it takes a year or more, on the average, to bring the working dog from heeling to a successful Schutzhund I performance, and months more to master Schutzhund II and III obedience.
The hallmark of Schutzhund obedience is creating intense focus on and eager willingness for work for the handler. There are many methods, schools and theories regarding how to create focus and working drive. Also, the temperament, intelligence, drive and motivations characteristic of each dog varies widely. Nevertheless, the common goal is to build an intense, committed working relationship out of which the dog will eventually spare no effort to "dance" with its handler through the many individual steps of the obedience routine.
Not every dog, not even every dog from a working line litter, has the basic temperament and natural tools to master Schutzhund obedience. In fact, only a small percentage of individual dogs will be able to complete this training and earn their titles.
A key achievement of Schutzhund obedience is the focused, high energy, precise yet free-spirited heeling exhibited by a top-level working dog. Intense motivation to work and to earn a reward must be balanced with strong self-control (off leash), focus on the handler and discipline over long minutes of athletic activity. This integration of opposites -- such as the dog’s drive to earn reward against the control necessitated by the confinement of the permitted routine -- is one of the foundation principles of Schutzhund.
For many, the protection phase of the Schutzhund trial is the most dramatic and exciting. Paradoxically, the protection routines involve the most demanding test of the dog’s temperament and the handler’s careful preparation. Behind the drama lies a prolonged and challenging systematic training effort to bring out the dog’s natural courage and enthusiasm, while instilling the counterpoint of strong control and the flexibility of attitude on the part of the dog to switch from action to waiting, from engagement to release and from courage to obedience, all in an instant, back and forth throughout the routine.
Protection begins with a "search" for the "helper" (the dog and handler’s ritual opponent) through as series of wooden, canvas or plastic "blinds." The dog must methodically search each alternate blind, under full control but off leash and at top speed and energy. At the end of the search, the dog confronts the helper but may only bark. Then the dog must release itself and return to the handler in the "call back" on a single, brief command.
Next comes a ritual "escape" in which the dog must abandon the control and restraint imposed and within seconds engage and stop the fleeing helper. After that, the dog’s clarity of mind, flexibility and obedience is severely tested as it must alternately engage and release, engage and release the helper at the handler’s remote, brief command while the dog’s courage is challenged by "driving" against the dog yard after yard down the field accompanied by ritual slaps with a padded stick from the helper. A lesser dog than a top working dog would be unable to prevail without either breaking down and "running" from the confrontation or attacking without release.
Then the dog must show control in motion, as it escorts or "transports" the helper calmly at the handler’s side, then releasing again in an instant when the helper turns against them in a ritual attack. Finally, the dog must face the ultimate threat by running the length of the field in the "courage test" to engage the onrushing, shouting helper waiving the padded stick, followed again by the repeated release, re-attack, drive and release.
In short, a dog with grit and courage must time and time again face ritual confrontation while remaining willing to release the attacker repeatedly without losing control or losing ground. It should be emphasized that the ritual confrontation on the Schutzhund field is similar in appearance to, but is not the same as, the uses of dogs in law enforcement. Schutzhund is a routine involving control and release, while police work involves real fighting. Schutzhund also has nothing in common with the use of dogs for property protection or dog versus dog combat.
A fearful or insecure dog, or a dog that is blinded by aggressive impulses or an overwhelming desire to fight will not pass the protection test. Only the most secure and levelheaded dogs need apply for this demanding routine. In addition, the successful dog must be a top level athlete to survive the rigorous running, engaging by biting, holding on, jumping and strong, continuous barking.
As with show dogs, Schutzhund dogs are awarded the titles, not the handlers. Schutzhund I, II and III titles must be earned with passing scores (70 or 80 out of 100 possible points) in each of the three phases at the same trial. A basic obedience title (BH), an endurance test (AD) and individual titles in tracking, obedience or combined obedience and protection are also available. In order to compete at national and international trials, a dog much have at least one Schutzhund III title.
Local Schutzhund clubs may be found in all states in the US and in many other countries around the world. The Resources section of this site lists the primary national and international Schutzhund organizations, with which local Schutzhund clubs can affiliate. These sites provide links to the local clubs’ websites and also list local, regional, national and international events.
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