What is Schutzhund?
The literal translation from German to English of the word “Schutzhund” is “protection” or “guardian” dog, but that’s really quite misleading. To help acquaint you with this complicated, three level, three phase dog sport, we offer the following simple and condensed explanation of Schutzhund rules, regulations, and the point system used.
Schutzhund originated in Germany as a breeding suitability test for the German shepherd dog and was quickly adopted for use by other working breeds such as the Malinois and Rottweiler. It provided breeders with a method to evaluate temperament, character, trainability, willingness and mental and physical soundness and to select and use only the highest quality dogs for breeding programs. Today, German shepherd dogs in Germany may not be bred without aquiring Schutzhund titles, a breed survey, a conformation rating, hip (spine and elbow) xrays and a certificate of endurance.
In response to political forces in Germany, in 2004 the Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde (SV) and the Deutscher Hundesportverein (DHV) made substantial changes to Schutzhund. The DHV adopted the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI) rules that govern IPO titles, so that at least on paper the SV and DHV gave up control of the sport to the FCI. The DHV changed the name of the titles from “SchH” (Schutzhund) to “VPG” (Vielseitigkeitsprüfung für Gebrauchshunde which roughly translates Versatility examination for working dogs). The SV has retained the “SchH” title names, but otherwise conforms to the DHV/FCI rules.
In addition to its value as a breeding tool, Schutzhund is also an exciting sport and training challenge. It can be described as “stylized police dog training” and is the foundation training many of the imported police dogs receive before they go on to specialized training for the street.
Schutzhund offers three levels of titles, and there are three phases to each title. One must obtain a passing score in all three phases at one trial in order to obtain a title and be able to advance to the next training level. The titles are:
SchH 1 (novice)
SchH 2 (intermediate)
SchH 3 (advanced)
Two advanced tracking degrees are also offered: FH and FH2.
To obtain a title, the dog and handler must pass three distinct phases at a trial: tracking, obedience, and protection.
Phase A: Tracking
In this phase, the dog must draw from inherited abilities by using his nose to find a person’s track and discover articles that have been dropped along the way. Unlike search & rescue where the dog relies primarily on “air-scenting”, Schutzhund tracking is very focused on the footsteps, and is scored largely on the precision of the dog’s performance. Depending upon the title sought, tracks will vary in length, shape and age. Tracking is usually done in dirt or on grass. A perfect score is 100 points, with a minimum of 70 needed to pass.
Phase B: Obedience
The obedience phase showcases the dog’s inherent joy in the work balanced with precision and control. The exercises include heeling on and off leash, walking through a group of people, sit, down and/or stand while moving, recall, a 10+ minute long down while another dog is working on the field, retrieving, and jumping. Two shots are fired from a blank gun during the heeling and long down, and the dog must not react adversely. A set pattern is demonstrated by the handler from memory (unlike AKC obedience, where the judge calls the pattern for you). A perfect score is 100 points, with 70 needed to pass.
Phase C: Protection
This phase of Schutzhund training is the strongest test of the dog’s basic temperament and character, with the emphasis on control. It should not be confused with guard or “attack” dog or personal protection training. A dog competing in the sport of Schutzhund must show courage without viciousness. He is rated on self-confidence, ability to work under pressure, toughness and resilience, steadfast nerves, well-balanced drives and willingness to take directions and be responsive to the handler. Obedience and control are demonstrated throughout the protection phase through off-lead exercises and through guarding without biting. The “bad guy” or “helper” as he is known in the sport always wears protective pants and a special sleeve with a burlap cover. The dog is allowed to bite this sleeve and he must bite this in the correct manner. On command, the dog MUST release the bite — the ultimate in control criteria. A dog will fail if it does not release the bite when commanded to do so. A perfect score is 100 points, with 80 points needed to pass.
Throughout all three phases the dog’s temperament is constantly being evaluated by the judge. Aggressive dogs and those that lack obedience and control will be failed for faulty temperament.
Putting it all together
Schutzhund is a wonderful sport. It is fun for the dog and trainer, it’s challenging and it’s rewarding. Where else in the dog sport world must the dog prove himself in three dramatically different phases in one day?
But more than a sport, the schutzhund evaluation is the best way we have of testing a dog’s temperament. There’s plenty else we can tell about a dog off the trial field too — for instance, aversion to slick surfaces, dog aggression, gunshyness and other temperament and character faults that degrade working ability — but it’s the best tool we have to evaluate breeding stock if we’re honest with ourselves about what we see.
The true temperament test of Schutzhund isn’t (or shouldn’t be) about points or how tough or extreme the dog is — it’s about how well the dog puts it all together.
On trial day, the dog (theoretically) will demonstrate his level of training, his guideablity, self-confidence, courage, sovereignty, nerve soundness, etc., to an impartial evaluator on a strange field with a strange helper. He should be committed to the track (which is a highly stylized exercise); he should be joyful but precise and controlled in the obedience; and he should be confident, active, powerful yet obedient in the protection.
By the time the dog gets to the trial field, especially by SchH3, there have been countless hours of training, repetition, stress, problem solving, handler mistakes, etc. The dog has had to learn to control his drives and urges through obedience. A dog who comes out strong and full of himself, shows joy in the work yet is still controlled and precise… is awesome. That’s working temperament.