Schutzhund Training

Schutzhund training can be a little scary to the uninitiated. From the outside the dog sport tends to look rough and the dogs involved can look menacing. For those familiar with Schutzhund training the sport is about raising obedient, confident dogs.

The sport began in Germany in the 1900s as a means of finding the best working dogs among different generations of herding dogs. Only the most loyal and obedient dogs could be trusted with the task, as a dog with a bad temper or lack of control could easily kill a few sheep and destroy a sheep herder’s livelihood.

Captain Max von Stephanitz developed a training and testing regime he called Schutzhund training to identify the dogs most suited to the training style working dogs needed to develop their skills.

Today there aren’t many independent shepherds trending their flocks, but Schutzhund training is making a come back. It has two popular streams: raising dogs for various types of skilled work, and sport.

There’s a reason your mind immediately jumps to a picture of a German Shepherd when you hear the words police dog. That’s because they, along with Doberman Pinschers, Rottweilers, Boxers and Airedale Terriers, are breads that excel at Schutzhund training. The training is also used for stunt dogs, search and rescue dogs and odour detection dogs.

Not all people who enjoy Schutzhund training are raising the future police dogs of the world. Many enjoy it as a sport.

The sport and it’s training regime, is divided into three main areas: obedience, protection and tracking.

Obedience in Schutzhund training is not your average “Sit, boy”. You can think of it more like extreme heeling. This phase of the training demonstrates the dog’s willingness to obey no matter what the situation. Dogs must heel despite the presence of large groups of people or the firing of a gun. They are tasked to retrieve an object thrown over a one metre jump or a six foot wall and return it immediately.

Tracking is exactly what it sounds like. The dogs must follow a scent over various types of surface, from ground to grass to water, find objects and demonstrate a single minded commitment alongside unfailing accuracy.

Protection is the part of Schutzhund training that the casual observer might find scary.

It tests the dog’s physical strength, agility and courage. It can involve tracking, locating and guarding a human decoy until the handler asks it to stand down. If the decoy tries to escape (which he certainly will in a Schutzhund training demonstration) the dog must pursue and corner the decoy without causing him harm. If the decoy threatens either the dog or his handler the dog must attack fully and without a moment of doubt. All bites must be placed on the padded sleeve of the decoy and the dog must halt his attack the second his handler gives the command.

That last area of Schutzhund training, protection, is what makes this training ideal for dogs engaged in police work. When police want to restrain a dangerous criminal, just the sight of a police animal with such control might be enough to defuse the situation before it escalates. On the other hand, police officers don’t want their animals to rip the perp to bits and end up with a lawsuit on their hands.

Schutzhund training competitions have three levels: SH1, SH2 and SH3. Each is more difficult than the one before it. Many dogs cannot participate above SH1 because they are not capable of the intense focus required. There are other side branches of competition including Advanced Tracking (FH 1 and FH2), Endurance Certificates and Police Dog Training.

If Schutzhund training interests you, you might want to think about raising a puppy specifically to train. Pedigree is a very important factor in whether your puppy will mature to be a good Schutzhund training animal. Work with reputable breeders to select a puppy and if possible, meet the parents first. If you are truly interested in competition ask what levels the breeding dogs have cleared.

Many Schutzhund training breeders breed dogs specially for police forces. These dogs come from exceptional stock and will be more expensive than your average family German Shepherd.

It’s not distrustful to ask a breeder for his or her qualifications, or to ask to see the breed certificates of the parent dogs. Think of it as doing your research to ensure you get what you pay for.

When you take your puppy home the most important think to do is to make sure he’s content in his surroundings. This means socializing him with your home, neighbourhood and city and the various types of people in it. A wary dog is a liability and won’t be welcomed into any Schutzhund training association.

Take an obedience class with your puppy and learn how to use a clicker. A clicker is a hand-held device often used in Schutzhund training in place of verbal cues. You must have a solid understanding of how to use it before your puppy can even begin to learn.

Find a Schutzhund training group or association you feel comfortable with. Meet some of the other owners and find out what brought them to Schutzhund training and why they continue.

Above all, Schutzhund training should be fun for both you and your dog, no matter what level you compete in, or whether you choose to compete at all. You can’t raise a focused determined dog without first having a happy, loving puppy who enjoys spending time with you.

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