The Germans call it “hundesport”, dog sport. For generations, people from Europe and North America have been drawn into this unique idea of participating in an active sport with a dog. Schutzhund offers this in a way that no other sport can. It is outdoors. It is physical. It is mental. The demands are great, but the sport also offers competition and new friendships. In short, it is what all recreational sports should first be: good exercise, fun and full of rewards.
Schutzhund started at the beginning of this century as a test for working dogs. Its initial purpose was to determine which dogs could be used for breeding and which had true working ability. The growing demand for working dogs made more sophisticated tests and training necessary. These dogs were needed for police training, border patrol, customs, military and herding. As these tests evolved, more people participated just for the sheer enjoyment of seeing if their personal dogs could be trained as effectively as these “professional dogs”. Now, over sixty years after the first formal Schutzhund rules were introduced, tens of thousands of people participate in the sport each year.
Schutzhund tests three specific areas of a dog’s training and behavior. The first, tracking, requires the dog to track footsteps over mixed terrain, change direction and show absolute accuracy and commitment to finding the track. It must also find dropped articles and indicate their locations to the handler. Often this is done under less than ideal circumstances with difficult cover, bad weather conditions and an aged track. Many find tracking to be the most satisfying experience in training, when only the handler and dog are working together. It is certainly the most peaceful part of Schutzhund.
The second phase is obedience. Those who are familiar with AKC obedience will feel more comfortable in this area, as many of the exercises are similar to those in Open and Utility. There is heeling, both on and off lead. The sit, down and stand are also done, except when the dog is moving. But Schutzhund applies its own style to this work. Instead of a forty foot ring, the handler and dog work on a soccer sized trial field. Some exercises require the dog to work under the noise of a firing gun. In addition to the normal dumbbell retrieval, the dog must retrieve over a one meter jump and a six foot wall. Down stays and a long send away conclude the test.
The final test is the most misunderstood by the general public. This is protection. The most important point to understand when watching a protection routine, is the relationship between dog and handler. The dog must never bite the trial helper, unless either the dog or the handler is attacked. Then it must attack fully and without hesitation. But here the real difference becomes apparent. The dog must stop biting on the command of the handler and guard the trial helper without further aggression. Often people confuse Schutzhund protection training with police dog or personal protection work. The Schutzhund dog is capable of the feats of never being aggressive except under those specific situations it is trained to face, and even then it must always be under the absolute control of the handler.
The above tests are difficult enough, but to make it even more demanding, they all happen in one day during competitions that are held all over the country. These trials are held by local clubs or in regional and national championships. Each dog is judged by a complex point system that then determines the winner of the trial.
When a dog successfully completes the first trial, it is awarded a title of Schutzhund I. It can then progress to Schutzhund II and, the ultimate, Schutzhund III. Each level makes ever greater demands on the dog and training in all three areas. Any Schutzhunder will tell you that a high scoring Schutzhund III dog is the ultimate working dog: one in a thousand of all working dogs.
In addition to the Schutzhund I, II and III titles, other titles in advanced tracking, temperament tests, police training and agility work are awarded.
Today, Schutzhund is more than the small group that started in Germany so long ago. Its organizations have several hundred thousand members, scattered across Europe, North America and several other continents.
*Schutzhund has been changed to VPG (in German- Vielseitigkeitspruefung für Gebrauchshunde) which roughly translates into ‘versatility test for working dogs.’