About Schutzhund?

What is Schutzhund?

Schutzhund is a German word meaning “protection dog”, but there’s a lot more to it than that. Originally developed as a means of testing potential breeding stock, it has evolved into a sport that can be enjoyed on a variety of levels from hobby to international competition. As dog sports go, Schutzhund is without a doubt one of the most exciting and challenging. It is also one of the most rewarding. Above all, it is a team sport; the team of dog and handler. The two must work together, and perform in harmony. When done well, it is beautiful to watch and the bond between dog and handler is clear for all to see and many to envy.

Schutzhund training involves three phases: tracking, obedience and protection. When put together, the great effort involved in obtaining a Schutzhund title, and the challenges which accompany this training, make for an obedient, stable, useful and well rounded companion and create an incredible bond between dog and handler. Schutzhund by necessity involves stringent tests of the dog’s temperament, nerve, and overall willingness to work, and by any definition a Schutzhund trained dog is a well trained dog. As such, these dogs are safe, happy, and obedient with great self confidence, mental stability and a willingness to please the handler. These are the traits which make the German Shepherd Dog one of the most versatile breeds in existence, and which are still highly valued by professional trainers, law enforcement officers and families wanting an outstanding companion.

Schutzhund is a German word meaning “protection dog”, but there’s a lot more to it than that. Originally developed as a means of testing potential breeding stock, it has evolved into a sport that can be enjoyed on a variety of levels from hobby to international competition. As dog sports go, Schutzhund is without a doubt one of the most exciting and challenging. It is also one of the most rewarding. Above all, it is a team sport; the team of dog and handler. The two must work together, and perform in harmony. When done well, it is beautiful to watch and the bond between dog and handler is clear for all to see and many to envy.

Schutzhund training involves three phases: tracking, obedience and protection. When put together, the great effort involved in obtaining a Schutzhund title, and the challenges which accompany this training, make for an obedient, stable, useful and well rounded companion and create an incredible bond between dog and handler. Schutzhund by necessity involves stringent tests of the dog’s temperament, nerve, and overall willingness to work, and by any definition a Schutzhund trained dog is a well trained dog. As such, these dogs are safe, happy, and obedient with great self confidence, mental stability and a willingness to please the handler. These are the traits which make the German Shepherd Dog one of the most versatile breeds in existence, and which are still highly valued by professional trainers, law enforcement officers and families wanting an outstanding companion.


Three Phases of Schutzhund:

Schutzhund involves three phases: Tracking, Obedience and Protection. Each phase has specific tasks or exercises that the dog and handler must perform, and each phase is graded on a point system with a maximum score of 100 points in each phase. A dog and handler team must score a minimum number of points in each phase (70 in obedience and tracking, 80 in protection) in order to pass and earn a title. And all this must be done at the same trial on the same day. There are 3 levels of Schutzhund titles: SchH1, SchH2 and SchH3. Each title is progressively more difficult to accomplish as the individual exercises become harder and the overall level of performance required increases. The SchH3 is the highest level.

Prior to trailing for a Schutzhund title, all dogs must pass the BH, or companion dog test. The BH is graded pass/fail and includes an obedience test as well as a temperament test. To those familiar with AKC titles, one could say the BH is similar to a CD and CGC combined. The obedience exam involves two heeling exercises, on-lead and off-lead, the sit and down out of motion, recall with front sit and finish, and long down under distraction. The temperament portion of the exam evaluates the dog’s traffic sureness, and general approachability and safety. The dog must not show nervousness, fear, shyness or aggression when approached by friendly strangers, other dogs, bicyclists, joggers and the like. Nor may the dog exhibit insecurity or anxiety when left alone in the presence of strangers when the handler goes out of sight for a few minutes. All of these tests are designed to ensure that the dog is safe and reliable and has the proper basic temperament for work, prior to continuing training and trailing for Schutzhund titles.

TRACKING – PHASE “A”

The tracking phase begins with a temperament test during which the judge evaluates the dog’s general temperament, including his behavior to a crowd of strangers. A shy or aggressive dog is dismissed from the field, and is unable to proceed and attempt to achieve a Schutzhund title at that trial. Tracks are laid at the very start of the trial, under the careful eye of the judge. In the SchH1 level, the dog’s handler lays the track, and at the SchH2 and SchH3 levels the tracks are laid by a stranger. Tracks are normally laid on a natural surface, such as dirt or grass, and the tracklayer is to walk at a normal pace. The length, complexity and difficulty of the track, as well as how long the track has aged and the number of articles which the dog must indicate, depends on the title level.

The tracking itself involves the handler following behind the dog at the end of a 10-meter line, as the dog scents and follows the track. The track includes several turns, as well as man-made articles left on the track by the tracklayer. The dog must scent out and follow the track from start to finish on his own. Help from the handler after the initial command to track at the beginning of the track and after each article indication, is faulty and results in a point deduction. The dog must be methodical and accurate in his work, remaining on the track during both turns and straights, and must indicate the articles dropped by the tracklayer, usually by lying down with the article between his front paws.

The tracking phase is designed to test the dog’s trainability and ability to scent, his mental focus and concentration, his problem solving skills, and his ability to work independently for a prolonged period of time at a very specific and detailed task without influence or encouragement from his handler.

OBEDIENCE – PHASE “B”

The obedience phase is very similar to AKC obedience trials, and includes a variety of heeling and field exercises. Unlike in AKC style trials, hand signals are prohibited and the dog must respond to voice command alone. Schutzhund obedience also includes a gunshot test to evaluate the dog’s nerves and sound sensitivity. Dogs that demonstrate gun-shyness, often an indicator of weak character and nerves, are dismissed from the trial.

Heeling is all done off leash, both in the open field and weaving through a group of people. The dog must also perform “out of motion” exercises, in which the heeling dog is commanded to sit, down, and stand while the handler continues to move. Here the dog is required to immediately stop his forward movement and obey the command to sit, down or stand, despite his handler continuing to walk. Recalls are performed as well, and the dog must return to the handler quickly and happily and sit in front, and then to return to heel position at the handler’s left upon command.

The dog must then perform a series of retrieves, using wooden dumbbells of various weights, on flat ground, over a 1-meter hurdle and over a 6-foot slanted climbing wall. The final exercise is the “send away” where the dog must at the handler’s command run quickly straight away from the handler in the direction the handler indicates, and then lie down immediately with a second command from the handler.

Each dog must also do a long down at one end of the field, with the handler several meters away or, in the case of SchH3, completely out of sight. The dog must remain unmoving in the down position for several minutes, despite distractions, while another dog and handler team performs their heeling and field exercises not far away.

The obedience phase tests the dog’s temperament, nerves, drive, control, trainability and willingness to work with the handler and take direction from the handler despite distraction, commotion and the presence of other dogs working nearby. It also evaluates the dog’s overall physical ability, structural soundness and athleticism.

PROTECTION – PHASE “C”

The protection test of Schutzhund is very similar to that used for police dogs. All bites are on a padded sleeve worn by a specially trained person called the “Helper”. Contrary to what many people believe, a SchH dog is not merely playing a game of tug-of-war with the Helper, using the sleeve as a toy. In correct SchH training and competition the dog views the helper as a threat and opponent, and the sleeve an extension of the Helper. The sleeve is simply a necessary piece of protective gear and biting only the sleeve is one of the rules of combat. Dogs will be disqualified for biting the Helper anywhere but on the sleeve. In all exercises, the handler’s control of the dog is absolutely essential and is judged mercilessly…. so much so that many seasoned Schutzhund enthusiasts jokingly refer to protection as “obedience under extreme stress”.

The protection phase begins with the dog performing a search, directed by the handler, of several hiding places looking for the Helper. When the dog finds the Helper he must guard the Helper by barking until the handler arrives. Here the dog is not permitted to bite or touch the Helper, as the Helper is behaving in a neutral, unthreatening manner. When the Helper attempts to escape, the dog must pursue, catch and hold firmly. The dog is expected to protect the handler when the Helper attempts to attack the handler, and to engage without hesitation when sent across the field to apprehend the Helper that is charging and threatening the handler and dog with a stick. When the dog engages the Helper, the Helper fights back against the dog, including hitting the dog with a padded stick.

The dog must engage without pause, with bites that are full and firm and the grip on the sleeve must be calm. The dog must not show any fear, nervousness or hesitation at any time, including when the Helper counterattacks and fights the dog, hitting the dog with a padded stick. During the entire protection phase, the dog must remain in the handler’s control, respond quickly and correctly to commands, and disengage immediately when the Helper ceases to resist, or the dog is commanded to do so by the handler. During guards, and the transport exercises where handler and dog escort the Helper to the judge, the dog is to remain focused on the Helper and ready to react, but must not bother the Helper in any way.

The protection phase evaluates the dog’s physical and mental prowess by testing his courage, nerve, fighting instinct, ability to deal with conflict and pressure, hardness, and willingness to protect. Even more importantly it tests the dog’s self control, overall temperament, willingness to take direction and follow the handler’s commands, and his ability to remain clear headed and obedient even under extreme stress. When appropriate, the dog must engage his opponent with strength, determination and aggression, but he must also refrain from engaging when inappropriate, and must disengage immediately at his handler’s command. Dogs that are dangerously aggressive, out of control, or are lacking in nerve, courage and self confidence do not do well in the protection phase.