The German Shepherd Dog was developed as a working breed. Without serious testing a breed’s working abilities diminish over time. Historically, this is why only GSDs that had passed a Schutzhund test were allowed to breed. This is true in Germany to this day. It is only by testing the working ability of every generation that the strong working characteristics of the GSD have been maintained.
The rules of a Schutzhund trial are such that, along with good trainability, other important qualities of the dog’s character are tested. These qualities are:
Eagerness to work
Steadiness of character
Capacity to form a strong bond with the handler
Perseverance and endurance
The German Shepherd Dog is the leading and most capable breed in Schutzhund competition today. After all, this sport was originally developed for this breed. Nevertheless, other breeds such as Belgian Malinois, Rottweiler, Doberman, Giant Schnauzer, and some others participate too. Other programs that are similar to Schutzhund are IPO, IWR, SVV, etc.
There are three levels of difficulty in Schutzhund: I, II, and III, with III being the most difficult. Prior to proceeding to the first level, SchH I, a dog must pass the BH (Begleithunde - Ger.)
. The BH consists of a temperament test and an obedience test. During the temperament test, the dog’s behavior is evaluated under distractions including automobile traffic, joggers, and bikers passing by, a group of people crowding the dog, another dog walking by with the owner out of sight, etc. This assures that nervous, shy, or aggressive dogs are excluded from competition and from breeding. This also ensures that the tested dog possesses a stable, healthy temperament and is not a danger to humans.
A Schutzhund trial or competition consists of three parts - Tracking, Obedience, and Protection, regardless of the level. In each part the dog starts with 100 points, and points are deducted for every mistake or imperfection in the dog’s performance. A dog must earn at least 70 points in EACH part of the Schutzhund trail in order to pass. At any time the judge may dismiss a dog for showing poor temperament, including fear or excessive aggression.
The best way to familiarize yourself with Schutzhund is to attend a Schutzhund trial or competition. Regional, and especially National, events attract thousands of fans and spectators each year. You will be able to see the best dogs in the country perform and will get an idea of what is expected of the dog and its handler. Most people attending the trial will be happy to answer any of your questions concerning the sport. At the end of each team’s (dog & handler) performance the judge announces their score and explains where and why certain points were taken off, if any. A perfect score (100) is not very common.
The next step would be to find a good Schutzhund club in your area. Every Schutzhund Club has its own philosophy, goals, and training methods, which may be quite different from club to club. Some clubs train on the highest level for world competition and don’t like to bother with novices, other clubs train only occasionally and their main goal is to have a good time while training. Before you make the decision to become a member of a club, it is a good idea to attend several training sessions first and see how the members train their dogs, how they train novice dogs and handlers, what is the general atmosphere of the club, etc. If you feel comfortable with these aspects, you may consider becoming a member of this club. If there are several Schutzhund clubs in your area, it is best to visit them all and to choose the one that is most suitable for you. Happy training!
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