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What Is Schutzhund Training?

Schutzhund training is a rigorous canine sport that involves training and evaluating dogs in three main areas: (1) Tracking,  (2) Obedience, and (3) Protection.

Schutzhund aims to foster and develop specific, desirable traits in dogs. These traits include intelligence, trainability, and ability to develop strong bonds with their handlers.

Further, Schutzhund training seeks to develop a keen sense of smell, a good attitude towards hard work, and a reliable instinct to protect.

German Shepherds and Schutzhund

The German Shepherd breed is deeply rooted in the history of Schutzhund training. While it began as a means to establish standards for the GSD, it is now an elite sport and various breeds participate.

However, it is no surprise that German Shepherds and other working and herding dogs are those that tend to excel in this sport.

Apart from being a working trial, Schutzhund training offers an incredibly rewarding means for dog owners to spend time and bond with their dogs.

From personal experience, the bond I have with Allie from training in Schutzhund and other sports is almost indescribable.  With my previous dog, we did basic obedience training, and don’t get me wrong I loved him just as much as Allie, but there is just a different type bond created with you do competitive sports with your dog.

History of Schutzhund

Why was Schutzhund created?

The histories of both Schutzhund and the German Shepherd Dog breed are deeply intertwined as Schutzhund was developed specifically for the breed.

German Shepherds were created originally for herding and guarding sheep.

As Europe was becoming more industrialized in the 18th century, the need for herding dogs began to wane. There was, however, a rising need for military and police dogs in the increasing number of urban areas. The German Shepherd was, of course, a good fit giving their drive and desire to work.

This interest in breeding dogs for law enforcement work and the rising popularity of purebred dog shows worried the creators of the breed.

They feared the possibility of creating aggressive and dangerous German Shepherds due to irresponsible breeders.  Couple that with the likelihood of overbreeding and breeding for form over function as some dog shows seem to encourage.

The creators of the breed wanted to safeguard the heritage and reputation of the German Shepherd Dog. They wanted to preserve the balance between aesthetics and working ability. And thus, Schutzhund was born.

Beginning of Schutzhund

Germany’s Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde (SV), or the German Shepherd Association founded in 1899, held the first Schutzhund trial in 1901 and soon adopted the test for assessing breeding stock.

Even today, German Shepherd puppies can only be registered with the SV if both sire and dam meet stringent requirements, including passing the Schutzhund test.

While Germany was the first to incorporate the Schutzhund test in its standards for the German Shepherd breed, other European countries soon followed. This adherence to strict standards explains why German Shepherds from Europe are generally considered to be of high quality.

Schutzhund in the United States

In the United States, the first Schutzhund trial officially sanctioned by the SV was held in 1969 in Los Angeles.

This was around the same time that the North American Schutzhund Association (NASA) was founded. NASA oversaw all official Schutzhund trials because the American Kennel Club (AKC) no longer wanted to participate in the sport.

As a response to AKC’s decision, the United Schutzhund Clubs of America (USCA) was formed.

In 1977, the USCA, then going by the initialism USA, held the first Schutzhund National Championship. From its beginnings with six full member clubs and seven affiliated clubs, the USCA has since grown to over 200 full member clubs today.

Now the premiere Schutzhund organization in the United States, the USCA holds multiple events year-round culminating in the National Championship held in November.

Schutzhund Titles Explained

In Schutzhund, there are three levels: IPO1, IPO2, and IPO3. IPO stands for “International Prüfungsordnung,” which loosely translates to “international examination regulations.”

Before a dog can enter the IPO trials, it must first gain the BH or Companion Dog title. BH stands for “Begleithundprüfung” which translates to “traffic-sure companion dog test.” To qualify, dogs must be at least 15 months old.

BH Title / Companion Dog Title

The trials for the BH title are meant to gauge a dog’s temperament. It is composed of 2 parts: (1) Part A – Traffic or Safety Test, and (2) Obedience.

BH Title – Part A – Traffic or Safety Test

This part of the BH title test aims to uncover how well a dog can keep composure amidst everyday, real-world situations. It typically checks for the following:

1) How a dog behaves around a group of people.

While the team (dog and handler) is loose-leash walking, they encounter a group of at least 6 people. The dog must be calm and indifferent even when a person approaches and interacts with the handler. The dog must also be able to follow the handler’s down or sit command.

2) How a dog behaves around bicyclists.

While the team is walking, a bicyclist passes them from behind, rings a bell, stops, and comes back to approach and interact with the handler. Throughout this time, the dog must be indifferent and must be able to follow the handler’s commands if there are any.

3) How a dog behaves around cars.

The team walks past parked cars and a car with a running engine. A car door is slammed shut and other traffic noises are made. Then, a car stops next to the team and a stranger interacts with the handler through a car window, as if asking for directions. Throughout this encounter, the dog must remain calm, be indifferent to the stranger, and follow its handler’s commands to sit or stay down.

4) How a dog behaves around joggers and inline skaters.

While the team is walking, joggers or skaters pass them from behind. Then, a runner passes them from the front. Throughout this encounter, the dog must be indifferent to passersby. The dog shouldn’t do anything to bother them and must be able to continue walking with the handler.

5) How a dog behaves with other dogs.

While the team is walking, another dog-and-handler team passes them. The other team then turns around and comes back. Throughout this encounter, the dog must be able to keep a neutral temper. The dog should also be able to follow its handler’s commands of heel, sit, or down.

6) How a dog behaves when tied to a post.

The handler ties the dog to a post located in an area with light pedestrian traffic. After the handler walks away and out of sight, another dog-and-handler team passes by. Throughout this encounter, the dog should let the other team pass without excessive barking, heavy leash pulling, or any other aggressive behavior.

BH Title – Part B – Obedience Test

The obedience test part of the BH title trial further gauges the dog’s temperament. It also tests how well the dog is able to follow commands and how eager it is to follow its handler.

The exercises involved in this part of the test include the following:

  • Heel while on leash (includes healing through a group of people)
  • Heel while off leash (includes healing through a group of people)
  • Sit out of motion
  • Down with recall
  • Long down with distraction

Once a dog has received the BH title, they are now qualified to move onto the main IPO titles (IPO 1, IPO 2, and IPO 3).

What is Schutzhund training

IPO Titles

IPO titles are gained across the three Schutzhund phases of Tracking, Obedience, and Protection.

To gain a title, a dog must pass the three phases in one trial. The judge may disqualify a dog at any time during the trial. Typically, this happens when the dog shows signs of aggression or fear.

The table below shows what’s involved in each of the Schutzhund titles:

PrerequisiteAt least 18 months old
+ BH title
At least 19 months old
+ IPO 1 title
At least 20 months old
+ IPO 1 & IPO 2 titles
Tracking- Follow track laid by handler at least 20 minutes earlier
- Track has 3 legs, 2 turns
- 2 objects must be found
- Objects are owned (scented) by handler
- Follow track laid by stranger at least 30 minutes earlier
- Track has 3 legs, 2 turns
- 2 objects must be found
- Objects are worn by tracklayer for at least 30 minutes to scent
- Follow track laid by stranger at least 60 minutes earlier
- Track has 5 legs, 4 turns
- 4 objects must be found
- Objects are worn by tracklayer for at least 30 minutes to scent
ObedienceBasic Demonstration:
- Off-leash heel
- Walking sit
- Walking down
- Long down (distracted)
- Send-out
Basic Retrieval:
- On the flat
- Over a hurdle
- Over a scaling wall
Intermediate Demonstration:
- Off-leash heel
- Walking sit
- Walking down
- Walking stand
- Long down (distracted)
- Send-out
Intermediate Retrieval:
- On the flat
- Over a hurdle
- Over a scaling wall
Advanced Demonstration:
- Off-leash heel
- Walking sit
- Walking/Running down
- Running stand
- Long down (distracted)
- Send-out
Intermediate Retrieval:
- On the flat
- Over a hurdle
- Over a scaling wall
Protection- Search 2 blinds
- Pass basic escape prevention, defense, & courage tests
- Demonstrate side transport
- Search 4 blinds
- Pass intermediate escape prevention, defense, & courage tests
- Demonstrate back transport
- Search 6 blinds
- Pass advanced escape prevention, defense & courage tests
- Demonstrate back transport

How to start Schutzhund training?

Are you and your dog interested in training and, perhaps, competing in Schutzhund?

Whether you want to participate seriously and vie for championships or just want to participate casually, Schutzhund training is a fun and rewarding activity.

Here are a few tips on how to get started with this wonderful sport.

Join a Schutzhund club or find a local trainer

Look for local Schutzhund club in your area.  This page on the USCA website is a good place to start if you are in the United States.

If there is more than one club in your area give each club a try and see which one you’re more comfortable with.

Finding a place that suits you and your dog’s personalities and training styles is important.  You want to be comfortable with wherever you train.

Additionally, you can also look locally for trainers who aren’t associated with the USCA but who train dogs for Schutzhund.  I happened to luck up that the trainer I took Allie to for regular obedience training as a puppy also trained for Schutzhund.  Ask around and do a local internet search I’m sure you will come up with options.

Find a mentor

Once you’ve chosen a club to join or a trainer to work with, it is helpful to find a knowledgeable person who is willing to mentor you as a beginner to Schutzhund.

For me, this person happened to also be our trainer.  But it could also be another more experienced owner who has trained in the sport for years.

There are often questions that arise and it was helpful to have someone to explain things to me or even to just talk about different hurdles or difficulties I was having in training.

Form a deeper bond with your dog

Schutzhund requires a deep bond between the handler and the dog. While the training process for Schutzhund alone will help you and your dog develop such a bond, its important that you don’t take that aspect of training for granted.

Knowing your dog through and through will help both of you perform to your fullest potentials.

For example, knowing that your dog is the most distracted by cats or people running past you will help you anticipate such scenarios and head off your dog’s reactions.

I knew that Allie had a tendency to attempt to chase cars on our walks.  Knowing that I knew it was something we needed to work on in training so she could make it past that portion of the BH successfully.

Patience and persistence

The training required for Schutzhund is rigorous and will require a tremendous amount of time and effort from you and your dog.

There will be times where you will want to give up; where you wonder if your dog will ever learn what you’re trying to teach them. However, if you’re patient and persistent, there will be more days where everything clicks and you and your dog are perfectly synced.

That triumphant feeling you get will melt all your previous frustrations. Just remember that the greater the effort you put in, the sweeter the reward will be.

My Introduction to Schutzhund

I had never even heard of Schutzhund before owning Allie, but I am so glad her trainer introduced me to it, it was truly an unforgettable experience.

I took Allie to a trainer in my area who trained German Shepherds for basic obedience training because she was driving me bananas.  I had no idea what to do with all her puppy energy, and regular puppy obedience classes weren’t cutting it for her.

She was very smart and learned basic commands effortlessly, but it was some of the behavioral aspects of owning a German Shepherd that I was not prepared for.  She pulled me down the street, she barked at anything that moved, she was chewing up everything in my house, she tried to chase cars…. you get the picture.

From our first visit, he was able to improve Allie’s behavior.  Of course, I immediately signed up for classes.  But it was during that initial visit when Allie was 3 months old, that he told me she would be a great fit for Schutzhund.

I was clueless of course!

I knew her parents were titled in Schutzhund but I honestly never knew what it was.

He explained some of the basics of Schutzhund to me, and then I went home and did a quick internet search to get a better idea of what this sport was all about.

A couple of months later, as Allie was approaching 6 months old and graduation from the puppy training class, he mentioned Schutzhund to me again.   He also said that I could stay and watch part of the Schutzhund class.

I watched part of the Schutzhund class and was intrigued but wasn’t fully sold, mostly because of the time commitment.  At the time I was a student and was working and I wasn’t sure I could commit to those lengthy classes.

What convinced me was Allie!

After one of her puppy classes, her trainer put her through a set of drills he started beginner dogs on with his Schutzhund class.

I was amazed!  Allie was a natural.  It was like she already knew a lot of what to do and she clearly had the drive.

Her trainer explained to me that with a dog like Allie she needed a job.  A regular walk wasn’t going to do it, and if she didn’t have an outlet it was common for behavioral problems to arise.

He told me I had a high drive German Shepherd who was bred to work, and I didn’t have to compete because just the training would be beneficial for Allie.  After seeing Allie’s ability, the decision was made, I knew I had to at least try Schutzhund for her sake.

So, after graduating from puppy class at 6 months old, Allie stated Schutzhund training every week.

At first, we were just training as an outlet and I had no plans to ever compete.  However, after working with her for some time, I decided to at least get her BH.  We both knew everything, why not!

She competed and won the high BH!

Schutzhund taught Allie discipline and obedience to a level I know I would have never attained on my own.  It taught me the joys of working with your dog and seeing them excel.  It taught us how to work as a team, and it created an incredible bond that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

I had absolutely no plans of entering the working dog world when I picked up Allie.  I didn’t pick her for her pedigree, I found a wonderful breeder who bred healthy GSD’s and that was enough for me.

Little did I know that I picked up a German Shepherd puppy who had the drive and ability to be a working dog superstar.

Final Thoughts

From winning the little competition they had at the end of one of her puppy obedience classes to attaining the high BH at her first Schutzhund trail to search and rescue, Allie has excelled at everything and Schutzhund opened up most of the doors to the things we have been able to do together.

If you have a have an energetic German Shepherd and are looking for an activity to do with your dog.  Consider Schutzhund!

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