All about the sport of Schutzhund or Protection
Schutzhund is a sport that dates back over 120 years and developed to compete with your dog that has been bred to protect you and your property. It was created in Germany as a way to exhibit excellent handling skills in tracking, obedience, and protection. This style of training is intense and is done with very specific breeds that have been conditioned for this type of work and those that excel in high prey drive and pack drives.
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Protection training is offered through Alaska Dog Works with a heavy focus on obedience structure. Years ago, at our facility in Denver Colorado we were in the development stage of putting together a Schutzhund Club for participants to train and hone their skills and to eventually qualify for competitions.
WHAT IS Schutzhund?
Otherwise known as IGP or Utility Dog Trials, Schutzhund, is a dog sport that tests a dog’s tracking, obedience, and protection skills, and evaluates if a dog has the appropriate traits and characteristics of a good working dog. It was developed in Germany in the early 1900s as a suitability test for German Shepherds, but soon became the model for training and evaluating all five of the German protection breeds, which included Boxer, Dobermann, Giant Schnauzer, and Rottweiler. Though any breed of dog can participate, today the sport is dominated by German Shepherds and the closely related Belgian Malinois breed. Dog owners and handlers participate in Schutzhund clubs as a group activity for training the dogs, and clubs sponsor trials to test the dogs and award titles. The best dogs can qualify to participate in national and international level championships.
As I mentioned earlier, traits are important and taken seriously in this sport.
Schutzhund tests dogs for the traits necessary for police-type work. Dogs trained in Schutzhund are suitable for a wide variety of working tasks: police work, specific odor detection, search and rescue, and many others. The purpose of Schutzhund is to identify dogs that have, or do not have, the character traits required for these demanding jobs such as a strong desire to work, courage, intelligence, trainability, strong bond to the handler, perseverance, protective instinct, and a good sense of smell. Schutzhund also tests for physical traits such as strength, endurance, agility, and scenting ability. The goal of Schutzhund is to illuminate the character and ability of a dog through training. Breeders can use this insight to determine how and whether to use the dog in producing the next generation of working dogs.
The German Shepherd was developed from working herding dogs around 1900 as an all-around working dog. Within a few years it was clear that the dogs were losing their working ability. Schutzhund was developed at this time as a test of working ability for German Shepherds. Only German Shepherds that had passed a Schutzhund test or a herding test were allowed to breed and thus have their progeny registered as German Shepherd Dogs. This is true in Germany to this day. It is only by testing the working ability of every generation that the strong working characteristics of the GSD have been maintained.
Today, any breed can participate in the sport, though some breed clubs run trials for just their single-breed members. The intermediate and advanced levels of the sport and the top titles are dominated by German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois, with Dobermans, Rottweilers, and Bouvier des Flandres also quite successful. At the beginning levels such as BH level (Companion Dog test) and OB (Obedience), a wide variety of breeds and sizes participate.
Personally I would choose a Belgian Malinois to perform and train with for Schutzhund Sport, I find the breed full of energy, eager to please, and constantly in motion, ready to learn and be challenged.
Schutzhund training, like the sport itself, has evolved over the years. Schutzhund is very much a hands-on sport. Though there are theory and techniques about training dogs, most of the training is done in clubs among other people and dogs. In a club environment, handlers and their dogs gather to practice techniques with the club equipment and experienced handlers in bite suits, called “decoys.” Decoys have their own training and certification processes, and a good decoy is important in training your dog.
A reliable source for training information is a good Schutzhund club. The overwhelming majority of Schutzhund training is done by owner/handlers at local clubs. There are very few clubs in the US, making books and videos a vital source of information in that country. In the US, most clubs are affiliated with the American Working Dog Federation (AWDF), United States Boxer Association (USBA), American Working Malinois Association (AWMA), United Schutzhund Clubs of America (USA), Deutscher Verband der Gebrauchshundsportvereine (DVG), or German Shepherd Dog Club of America-Working Dog Association (GSDCA-WDA). Schutzhund clubs tend to be small, 20 or fewer members, because there is a limit to the number of dogs that can be trained in one session. Clubs often provide only limited formal assistance with tracking and obedience. To a certain extent, the clubs exist to provide the specialized resources needed to train the protection phase. However, a legitimate club will not permit a member to train only protection. Usually the more experienced members are willing to help the novice with tracking and obedience, though this is typically somewhat informal in the U.S.
Another function of Schutzhund clubs is to identify dogs that should not be trained in Schutzhund. Schutzhund is a challenging test of a dog’s character, and not every dog, or even every GSD, is up to the challenge. The training director of the club has a responsibility to the dog, handler, club, and society to constantly evaluate every dog and to decline to train any dog with questionable character or working ability. Training a dog that does not really want to work is stressful and frustrating for all parties involved.
Schutzhund clubs regularly hold public trials, providing the opportunity for dogs to earn titles and for handlers to assess their training progress. A tiny number of dedicated handlers have trained their dogs to title readiness strictly from books and videos. This is unlikely to succeed in most cases, because it is almost impossible to train the protection phase without a helper. A good club should be considered a necessity for Schutzhund training.
Any training program should start at puppyhood, foundational obedience with an emphasis on Utility Sport/Schutzhund training includes teaching the pup to locate items, place various materials in its mouth early on and DO NOT Inhibit the bite instinct. Practice On/OFF commands early and often, encourage barking and growling with your OFF command as well.
Intermediate training should include confidence building exercises using elevated platforms, reactivity to objects/people etc. at a varying distance, continuation of foundational obedience with a Canine Good Citizen emphasis at this stage to properly teach the dog friend and foe.
Advanced training should include and emphasis on On/Off, recall, off lead exercises, introduction to seek bark and hold exercises, and some bite work.
Any protection program should begin at puppyhood and develop over the course of two years and beyond.