Schutzhund is a competitive dog sport that started in Germany at the turn of the 20th century. It was designed to evaluate a dog’s mental stability, courage and protective instinct as well as the ability to scent, willingness to do his job, and the ability to be trained.
The events in Schutzhund (tracking, protection and obedience) were developed by Max von Stephanitz, the German breeder responsible for creating the German Shepherd Dog. By the time the GSD had been developed, the job the breed was originally bred to do – herding – was on the decline in Germany. The German Shepherd has always been a versatile dog capable of doing far more than just herding, and von Stephanitz developed Schutzhund as a sport to maintain the working ability of the breed.
The German Shepherd Dog Club refined the sport in the 1920s to continue the quality of the breed. Other guardian breeds also excel in this intense competition, although most can’t meet the intense training and challenges of Schutzhund.
The German word Schutzhund means “protection or guardian” dog. When Schutzhund was first devised, it was used to select the highest quality German Shepherd dogs to mate. It was a way to evaluate mental and physical soundness, character, willingness to learn, and temperament. It wasn’t long, though, before breeders of working dogs like the Doberman, Rottweiler, Belgian Malinois and Giant Schnauzer began adopting Schutzhund to test their dogs.
Guarding dog breeds include flock guardians like the Anatolian Shepherd, Great Pyrenees and Komondor. Herding breeds include the Border Collie, Belgian Sheepdog and Australian Cattle Dog. Flock guardians and herding breeds make good watch dogs because they are alert and instinctively protective of the animals they watch over. However, flock guardian breeds are also independent thinkers accustomed to working on their own, and can be difficult to train. Breeds from the Mastiff family are also excellent dogs for protection and alerting their owners. However, Schutzhund is much more intensive training than the average pet goes through.
Dogs that excel in this sport need specific characteristics to be successful. Schutzhund uses the natural instincts of working dogs to get positive actions and reactions by understanding the individualism in each canine and help him reach his full potential as a well trained, socialized and obedient dog. The challenges of the sport are intense and rigorous, and many dogs fail to achieve even the first level of success in the sport.
The breeds that excel at Schutzhund are alert and prepared to react to a threat, whether it’s real or imagined, but they aren’t looking for a fight. They don’t react immediately and stand their ground watching and evaluating how crucial the threat is. If it’s determined to be an imagined threat, a well trained dog relaxes and backs down while remaining watchful. They are assertive without being overly aggressive, and are able to accept unfamiliar people without resorting to intimidation, especially when a person they don’t know is around their owner. Guard dogs are naturally aloof and wary of strangers, but that doesn’t mean the dog isn’t sociable.
The bond between handler and canine is an important aspect of Schutzhund training. Guardian dogs excel at this sport because they have mental ability and stability, confidence, fearlessness, physical size, willingness to work and a desire to please their owner. Guardian breeds do not rush into a fight, opting instead to size up a situation to determine if a threat is real or not. A properly trained dog that competes in Schutzhund is well socialized, reliable and obeys his owner, which makes him the perfect pet for the entire family. The dog is safe to be around other people and in different environments because his overall temperament has already been tested. These are dogs that trust in their owner’s judgment and obey without question.
Schutzhund has always been about the working ability and character of the German Shepherd dog. When the test was first designed, the only German Shepherds allowed to breed were those that successfully passed a herding or Schutzhund test. In Germany, it’s the working ability of the GSD that’s important, and dogs still have to pass either test before they are bred to ensure each generation carries on the proud and cherished legacy of the breed.
It’s important to remember Schutzhund is a sport with specific training that is different from the training received by canines used for protection, in law enforcement or the military. Any dog, including mixed breeds, can compete in Schutzhund, but it’s the guardian breeds that excel at this sport. Schutzhund is a team sport that showcases the importance of a solid bond and unwavering trust between human and dog.
Top photo by Renato Ganoza
Middle and bottom photos by Michael Hart
Read more articles by Linda Cole