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What is this Working Dog Sport?

July 2007 Barker


Why would I want to make my dog vicious? Should we be training dogs to bite in today's litigious society? These are the types of questions that often get asked when I start to tell people about the sport I par-ticipate in with my dogs. One of the most common misconceptions about the sport of 'schutzhund' (german for 'protection dog') is that dogs that do protection work are vicious- in fact, this is far from the case. To be a successful schutzhund dog, a dog has to be stable, balanced in it's drives, and most importantly, under con-trol of it's handler. Also, schutzhund is not just about protection work- protection is only one of three phases of the sport.

So, what exactly is schutzhund? It is the canine triathalon, including tracking, obedience, and protec-tion. The sport was originally created in the early 1900's as a breeding soundness test for the German Shep-herd dog; each phase of the sport tests the dog for certain temperament characteristics that are essential in the make up of a good working dog. Tracking tests the dog's scenting ability, it's focus and concentration, as well as it's ability to problem solve. Obedience tests the dog's willingness to work for a human handler, it's train-ability & ability to follow direction. Protection tests the dog's courage and determination, as well as it's ability to function under stress, all while still being obedient to it's handler. The dog must complete all three phases in one day- which tests the dog's fitness, stamina and soundness- both physically and mentally. Being able to evaluate these traits is helpful to the breeder in breeding better working dogs- dogs that can suceed as police canines, search and rescue dogs, drug detection dogs, as well as dogs that have better aptitude for perform-ance events, such as obedience, tracking or agility.
Any dog (purebred or mixed breed) that can do the work can compete in schutzhund events, although the most commonly seen dogs in the sport are German Shepherd dogs, Belgian Malinois & Tervuren, Rott-weilers, Doberman Pinschers, Dutch Shepherds, Giant Schnauzers and American Pit Bull Terriers. Bouviers, Boxers and Airdale terriers are also occassionally seen, and I have also heard of Labrador retrievers, Border collies and Chesapeake Bay retrievers that have been titled in the sport.

Before a dog can compete for schutzhund titles, they must first pass the BH 'Begleithundprüfung' or 'traffic safety companion dog'. The BH is pass/fail, and consists of an obedience routine similar to AKC Nov-ice obedience, as well as a thorough temperament test. The obedience routine consists of heeling on and off leash with change of paces and a figure eight through a crowd, a sit out of motion, a down out of motion, a recall and an honor down. The temperament test is a variety of exercises that prove that the dog does not show uncalled for aggression towards people or other dogs.

Once the dog has passed the BH, it may compete for titles; Schutzhund 1, Schutzhund 2 and Schutz-hund 3. The Schutzhund 1 must be passed before the 2, and the 2 before the 3. They are abbreviated as SchH1, SchH2 & SchH3. Equivalent titles offered by different organizations are the VPG1-3 and the IPO1-3. Each title requires the dog successfully complete tracking, obedience and protection in the same day; each phase is scored on a 100 point scale with 70 points in each phase required to pass. At the SchH3 level the tracking is similar to a TD in age and distance, but with 4 corners and 3 articles. The obedience is all off leash and in-cludes heeling with changes of pace, halts, a figure eight through a crowd, a sit, down and stand out of mo-tion (the down and stand done at a fast pace), a retrieve on the flat, a retrieve over a 1 meter (39in) jump, a retrieve over a 6 foot A-frame, a send away with down across the length of the field and an honor down while another dog works. The protection exercises include a variety of 'police dog' situations where the dog must search for or apprehend a fleeing or attacking bad guy (called the 'helper'). The dog is only allowed to bite when the helper is fleeing or attacking, must release the bite sleeve on command, and be under handler con-trol at all times.

Interested in seeing schutzhund in action? Plan on coming to Sammmamish Kennel Club's July 11th meeting- we will be having a program on schutzhund and the Working Dog Sport- you'll have a chance to see dogs doing work in all three phases.

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