German Shepherd Dogs and Schutzhund – Part 1 (Overview)
Schutzhund is a German dog sport that was created as a breed worthiness test to help keep working ability in the German Shepherd breed. Schutzhund (SchH) consists of three phases – tracking, obedience, and protection.
A dog must first earn a BH title before moving onto the SchH titles. A BH title is a basic obedience and temperament test. The dog must do heeling on and off the lead, sit and down out of motion, recall and a long down. After the obedience portion, the dog is put through a basic temperament test involving various people, other dogs, vehicles, bicycles, etc… For first time handlers, there is also a short written test.
Once the dog passes his BH, he can move onto his SchH titles. The SchH1 is the basic first title you can earn. Next is the SchH2 title which is more advanced in all three phases. Lastly, you have the SchH3 title which is even more advanced and is considered the competition level.
In Germany, the SV (German Shepherd Dog Club of Germany) requires that each and every dog has a working title before he or she is bred. Schutzhund is the most common working title accepted for breeding. Since SchH was developed for the German Shepherd Dog breed, many feel that it is the best test to evaluated working ability.
Today, many people still use SchH as a breed worthiness test to help evaluate breeding dogs. It is also used as a competition locally, regionally, nationally and internationally.
German Shepherd Dogs and Schutzhund – Part 2 (Tracking)
As we discussed in Part 1 of this article series, tracking is the first phase that a dog must complete earning a Schutzhund title. The purpose of tracking is to help evaluate the dogs scenting ability, his ability to problem solve and work on his own at a distance from the handler. The dog must be at the end of a 33-foot lead and must follow the track closely with his nose down to the ground. There is a short temperament test before the tracking phase in which the dog must be presented to the judge to confirm the tattoo/microchip number and the dog must show no signs of shyness or unsoundness. The dog and handler team must achieve a score of 70 out of 100 to pass track.
For the SchH1 title, the dog must follow a track that is laid by his handler and aged for 20 minutes. On this track, there will be two turns and two articles which the dog must indicate. The SchH2 track is similar in that it also has two turns and two articles, however, there are some differences. For the SchH2 title, the track is laid by a stranger instead of the handler. The track is also longer in length and aged for approximately 30 minutes before the dog and handler team can begin. Once the dog makes it to the SchH3 level the tracking becomes more difficult. The track at this level is also laid by a stranger and becomes even longer in length. It includes four turns, three articles and must age for 50 minutes.
An “article” as mentioned above is a small 1” x 3” piece of leather, carpet or wood that has been dropped along the track by the track layer. The dog must indicate these articles by stopping and either laying down, sitting or standing. Once the dog indicates, the handler approached to retrieve the article.
Tracking comes very naturally to most dogs as they enjoy using their nose. It can be fun for you and your German Shepherd as well as a great bonding experience. If you live in the Akron area you may have a hard time finding fields to track in. However, you can use parks, schoolyards, soccer or baseball fields or any other large patch of grass!
German Shepherd Dogs and Schutzhund – Part 3 (Obedience)
In the obedience phase of Schutzhund, the judge wants to see a dog that is happy to be on the field and upbeat with his tail wagging. With the intense routine required of the dog, it is important to maintain the balance of correctness as well as joy in the work. During the obedience phase of a trial, two dog and handler teams will enter the field at the same time and report into the judge. One team will go through the obedience routine while the other team does the long down exercise on the side of the field. Here again, the dog and handler team must earn 70 points out of 100 to pass this part of the trial.
For the SchH1 obedience routine, the dog must do a heeling pattern. It includes left, right and about turns as well as heeling at a fast, slow and normal pace. Also included in the heeling pattern is the group exercise in which the dog and handler must heel through and around a group of four people on the field. There is also a sit out of motion and a down out of motion with a recall. Next are the three retrieving exercises. The dog must retrieve a dumbbell thrown straight out on the flat ground, then over a one-meter high jump, lastly over a six foot “a frame” wall. The last exercise is called the send out. In this exercise, the dog and handler team are heeling upfield when the handler gives the dog a command to “go out”. At this point, the dog must run forward leaving the handler and only stop when given a command to down. Once the obedience routine is complete, the teams switch; with the dog that just finished now going to the long down position.
When you move on to the SchH2 obedience, the only main difference is that you add a walking stand. The walking stand is similar to the sit or down out of motion, except the dog must stand as you give the command and continue walking forward. The handler must also use a larger dumbbell when doing the retrieve on flat.
Once you make it to the SchH3 level the routine becomes a bit more advanced. This routine is like the SchH2 with three major differences. For the down and stand out of motion with recall exercises, you will now run instead of walk. On the flat retrieve, the handler must use an even larger dumbbell.
Schutzhund obedience can be very mentally and physically demanding on the dog as well as the handler. Unlike tracking, the obedience routine can be practiced just about anywhere. The Akron area has several pet stores that allow dogs to come inside with their owners. Once your dog knows the basics, this is a great place to work on obedience under distraction.
German Shepherd Dogs and Schutzhund – Part 4 (Protection)
Protection is the most exciting phase of Schutzhund for most people to watch. It is also the most misunderstood part of the sport. Many people have misconceptions about training dogs in protection work. It is not about making dogs mean or training attack dogs. SchH protection work is very much about control and obedience. Any dog that has teeth can bite, here we are teaching the dogs when to bite. A well trained SchH dog is actually much safer and more reliable than an untrained dog.
SchH dogs are trained to only bite the sleeve on the helper’s arm. They are also trained to only bite in a controlled environment on the SchH field. During the protection phase, the handler must be able to maintain control over the dog. If the dog is out of control, he will be excused from the field and fail the trial.
This phase is very important to help test the courage and character of the dog for breeding purposes. A dog with weak nerves or lacking in courage will have a hard time passing this phase. When used correctly, this phase of the SchH trial helps us to weed these weak and lacking dogs out of the gene pool.
In the protection phase, the dog must search a series of blinds to find the helper (the person who wears the sleeve and protective gear). Once the dog finds the helper in the last blind, he must do a bark and hold until given another command by the handler. Then the dog does an escape bite where he must stop the helper from running away. All levels also include the courage test as the last exercise for the team. The courage test (also called the long bite) takes place with the dog at one end of the field and the helper at the other end. On the judge’s cue, the helper begins running towards the dog and handler team in a menacing manner. The handler sends the dog to stop the helper and they meet midfield. This is usually a crowd favorite especially when the dog goes full speed towards the helper. Once the routine is over, the dog and handler team must transport the helper to the judge and report out.
After each phase at a SchH trial, the judge gives the score and a detailed critique of each dog and handler team. Unlike tracking and obedience, in order to move to the next level, the team must earn 80 out of 100 points in protection.