Schutzhund is a German word meaning guard dog or protection dog. Schutzhund training refers to working with a dog to channel his guarding instinct. During this training, a dog will also learn to control natural behaviors and work as a team with his handler. American Schutzhund began in 1957 with a small group of German Shepherd Dog lovers in California. It was developed for breeders to measure their dog’s desire, ability and instinct to work. Though reticent to be associated with it in the beginning, in 2006 the American Kennel Club accepted the request made by four parent clubs – American Bouvier de Flandres Club, Doberman Pinscher Club of America, German Shepherd Dog Club of America and American Rottweiler Club – to approve the Working Dog Sport (WDS) program. The AKC describes the WDS program as “…a competitive AKC Performance Event designed to demonstrate the progress that has been made in breeding for the physical and mental abilities necessary for performing scent and protection work while maintaining a high level of control and a strong degree of obedience.”
Since the AKC’s WDS program was intended to exhibit the physical and mental abilities required for scent work and protection work, as well as a dog’s ability to maintain control and demonstrate obedience, Schutzhund training is comprised of three parts: obedience, tracking, and protection work. For the obedience part, the dog must learn a series of heeling exercises. There will be sounds of gunshots while heeling to ensure that the dog does not overreact to loud noises. There are field exercises with commands such as sit, down, stand and stay. The dog must have a solid recall and must be able to retrieve over various surfaces. For the tracking part, the dog must track on a natural surface, with turns in the track. The dog will be at the end of a thirty-foot lead, while the handler follows him. The tracking phase also includes a temperament test. This phase tests the dog’s willingness to work with a handler and his ability to follow a scent. For the protection part, the dog’s courage, strength, and agility will be tested. It is imperative that the dog be biddable enough to accept being controlled by his handler. The dog must search for and find a hidden person, then must guard the person while his handler approaches. The dog should pursue the person when he attempts to escape. He must stop the person from attacking his handler without hesitation and with a firm grip. The person will also attack the dog with a stick and he must grip the attacker’s arm and release the grip when instructed to do so. This part of the test is intended to ensure that the dog is brave, but not a public menace.
In order to compete in level one of a Schutzhund tests, dogs must be a minimum of fourteen months old. He will first pass a temperament test, then heel on and off leash, demonstrate sit/down/stay/go out, and will retrieve on the flat over a jump. He must be able to follow a track laid out by his handler and must also pass a protection test. For level two, the dog must be at least sixteen months old and have his level one title. He has to pass the same level one tests again, but they will be harder at this level. Plus, the retrieve will be over a six-foot, slanted wall. For level three, the dog must be at least eighteen months old and have passed its level one and two. The tests will be even more difficult than in the first two levels and they will be off leash.
Currently, the AKC recognizes titles by the initial four Parent Clubs that petitioned it (Bouvier de Flandres, Doberman Pinscher, German Shepherd Dog, and Rottweiler), plus the American Belgian Malinois Club and the Belgian Sheepdog Club of America. For more information, go to the American Kennel Club website at https://www.akc.org.
All photos courtesy of Konnie McCaffree.