INTRODUCTION TO THE SCHUTZHUND SPORT - part1 (for part2, please click here)

As the last century drew to a close, the industrial revolution was in the process of changing a centuries old way of life throughout Europe, altering the very fabric of society. In many different regions, diverse groups of men realized that the indigenous working dogs of the farmer, drover and stockman were in imminent danger of being lost forever because of the rapid modernization of agrarian life. Separately and in small groups they sought to gather together and preserve the various regional working types and form them into breeds. Their legacy to us is the German Shepherd, the Rottweiler, the Bouvier des Flandres and the other herding and working breeds as we know them today.

Since the primary objective of these men was the preservation of the working heritage, it is not surprising that as they created their various organizations and evolved formal standards a number of working trial systems were devised. The primary purpose of these trials was to serve as a gauge of working character so as to facilitate the identification of animals suitable for consideration as breeding stock. In this way, the working trial served the purification of the soul just as the conformation show served to consolidate correct, uniform physical structure. The sporting aspect drew in many who enjoyed the training and then the competitive nature of the trial itself. It would seem that the desire to go out and see whose horse is faster or whose dog is stronger, quicker and more courageous is as old as the domestication process itself.

Among the earliest systems was that devised by the creators of the German Shepherd Dog, that is, the Schutzhund (protection dog) trial. Others include the KNPV competition (the Dutch Police Trials) and the Ring Sport of Belgium, which date from the same era. For a variety of reasons, including the early and strong popularity of the Shepherd, the Schutzhund trial has become predominant, and is rapidly evolving as the primary arena in which the protective heritage breeds demonstrate their working character and the quality of their training. This trend is strong in Europe beyond Germany and its scope is in fact world wide. The predominant rules are those of the VDH (the West German kennel club) although there is a slightly different FCI (The World canine organization) version.

Although Schutzhund competition is usually open to any dog capable of the work, the primary interest is among the fanciers of the protective heritage breeds such as the Doberman Pincher, Boxier, German Shepherd, Giant Schnauzer, Bouvier des Flandres and the Rottweiler. Patterns in Europe and America vary, with the Boxier for instance being very active in Germany but virtually never seen in North American competition.

A review of the objectives of training and working trial systems in general serves as an effective introduction to a discussion of the Schutzhund sport in particular. These include:

There are three progressively more difficult levels of competition that lead to the Schutzhund titles I through III. Many dogs go on to compete repetitively at the Schutzhund III level in order to achieve the highest possible score and to qualify for participation in various annual championship events. There is also an advanced tracking title and a number of other specialized degrees.

Among the factors contributing to the usefulness of the dog is his incredibly sensitive nose, which makes the sense of smell so totally superior to that of a human being that a dog virtually lives in another world. The olfactory sensitivity adds another dimension, a further capability, to the human/canine team. The dog can locate a lost child, detect the presence of narcotics or warn of a hidden adversary in time to save a life.

Tracking is thus an integral facet of the program in order to measure and enhance this most useful faculty. The test is conducted in an open field where a person walks a prescribed route several hundred yards long and drops a number of articles, such as a glove, which the dog must locate. Elementary level tracks are laid by the handler, more advanced competition uses a different person. The track is often laid in a plowed field rather than one with vegetation or in a pasture.

The track is aged for a period according to the title being sought (20 minutes to an hour) after which the dog is taken to the marked starting point and sent out, usually on a line. (The handler has the option of sending his dog off lead, but I have never seen this done.) It is necessary to stay ten meters behind the dog except when he picks up a dropped article or indicates its presence by laying down or sitting. The difficulty of a particular track is dependent on the nature of the vegetation and the weather. Damp, cool, still conditions are generally the most favorable. Early in the morning is often the best time of day.

The obedience exercises require the dog to heel at the handler's side on a route with turns, changes of pace and distractions such as gun shots and a group of milling persons. The dog must be left in the down, sitting and standing positions and come when called. Objects thrown by the handler are to be retrieved on command. This is done "on the flat" and over a one meter barrier. The dog must go out away from the handler and then down on command. The gun sure AKC obedience competitor at the CDX level will find the Schutzhund I obedience routine familiar, the only additional exercise being the go out which is introduced at the Utility level under the AKC system.

A fundamentally different character of Schutzhund obedience is due to the arena, that is, the fact that it is conducted in an open field rather than a small, confined ring. This is a significant consideration for the team with a large dog, which is at a substantial disadvantage in the typical cramped AKC ring. Within broad limits the handler has much latitude to adapt the size and order of the heeling pattern to his own dog. That a beast heels a couple of inches ahead or behind or sits slightly crooked is not of earth shaking consequence, for the purpose is to demonstrate control, cooperation and working willingness rather than to turn the dog into an ultra precise heeling machine.

The protection exercises involve a number of simulated attacks by a human adversary who wears padded leather pants and a padded sleeve which the dog bites. (In Schutzhund the dog is trained to bite only the sleeve; in other forms of competition he is encouraged to bite either an arm or a leg or go directly to the body. The agitator's protective equipment is substantially different in such instances.) Once on the sleeve, the agitator will strike the dog with a bamboo stick to establish the willingness to persist in the face of a counter attack. The dog is trained to respond to an active aggressor, and that when the helper stands still he is to watch and bark but may not bite. Control and discipline are recognized as essential attributes of the well trained dog. The purpose of the protection program is not to produce a weapon that will automatically attack at the least excuse, but rather a dog who will respond to a direct threat in the appropriate manner.

Although tracking, obedience and protection are the three phrases of the program, the divisions are more apparent than real, for each facet of the training must contribute in harmony to the balanced whole, result in a fundamentally sound dog, or they mean nothing. In a correct program there is tremendous synergism, the lessons of one phase positively reinforcing those of the others. The tracking builds confidence and initiative that carries over as an alert, positive attitude in the obedience. Obedience teaches discipline and responsiveness to the handler, which reinforces the precision necessary for high tracking scores and paves the way for the control aspects of the protection work. And the enthusiasm of most dogs for the man work carries them through the long haul, provides the spark that makes training day the best part of the dog's life. The very best Schutzhund program does not train tracking, obedience and protection, it does not even consider the dog as a whole and train him, rather it trains the team, the dog and his leader together.

The trial generally starts with the tracking early in the morning, since that is the most favorable time for the dog to track, and because there is a long day's work ahead if there is a full slate of ten or twelve dogs. The judge begins by assigning track layers and supervising the laying of the tracks. Each team in turn reports and is sent out to attempt their track.

The judge will often conduct a preliminary temperament test in which he will purposely pressure the dog, perhaps by walking between him and his handler and pushing him with his knee. The dog who shows a fearful or inappropriately aggressive reaction is excused on the spot. It is the judge's right and obligation to devise whatever tests he believes to be necessary to establish the stability of each dog as they progress through the day. It is necessary that Schutzhund judge have significant latitude in conducting the trial in that his duties are by far the most difficult and serious one can take on in the entire scope of canine affairs. Put quite simply, the future of the working heritage is in his hands each time he steps on the field.

When two dogs have completed their track, the judge will in the presence of the handler and his dog, and any others who care to listen, give a brief critique of the performance and announce the scores. A primary purpose of this is education, as the judge will often not only point why he has taken points away, but go on to suggest improvements in training approach to correct the problems. Teaching is in fact the essence of the judge's role, and a trial conducted by a good one is an educational encounter as well.

The judge's critique does a great deal to enhance the spirit of fair play and sportsmanship, for the audience may find out what he has seen that was not apparent from their vantage point. They will often find out that they noted a detail that he in fact missed, for no man can see everything when there are two dogs and two handlers on the field, often widely separated. The noted judge Jean-Claude Balu makes a point that bears repeating: it is the judge's responsibility to score according to what he actually sees and hears, that while he will on occasion know that something has occurred when his vision was blocked or his attention diverted he must not deduct points. It is important that those in the audience be aware of this distinction.

There is no doubt that the necessity of giving a critique and announcing scores immediately after the exercise puts pressure on a judge, as there is no such thing as having a ring steward post the scores and being long gone before anyone knows what went down.

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of Schutzhund competition is not that the dog must track, execute the obedience exercises and show protective capability. Rather the real challenge is that each of these three must be done successfully on the same day in order to earn a title. It would be much easier if you could get the beast up for tracking next week, pass the obedience after a couple of tries next spring and then worry about the protection work! The comprehensiveness of the test is the essence of its validity, for the dog who attains the degree under a competent judge is in most instances a legitimate working dog. An occasional unsure dog may have a lucky day and get through, and judges, being human, are on occasion too lenient. There are of course distinctions in that some pass without a high score or are not able to attain a higher title.

(Articles written by: Jim Engel Copyright 1993)

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