Schutzhund (german for protection dog) is a dog sport that was developed in Germany in the early 1900s to test whether German Shepherd Dogs act and perform in the manner that the breed was intended, rather than simply evaluating a dog's appearance. Today, many breeds other than German Shepherds can compete in Schutzhund, but it is a demanding test for any dog and few of them can pass this kind of test.
Schutzhund (German for "protection dog") tests dogs of all breeds for the traits necessary for police-type work. Dogs that pass Schutzhund tests should be suitable for a wide variety of tasks: police work, specific odor detection, search and rescue, and many others. The purpose of Schutzhund is to identify dogs that have or do not have the character traits required for these demanding jobs. Some of those traits are:
Schutzhund training tests these traits. It also tests physical traits such as strength, endurance, agility, and scenting ability. The goal of Schutzhund is to illuminate the character of a dog through training. Breeders can use this insight to determine how and whether to use the dog in producing the next generation of working dogs.
The Schutzhund test has changed over the years. Modern Schutzhund consists of three phases: tracking, obedience, and protection. A dog must pass all three phases in one trial to be awarded a schutzhund title. Each phase is judged on a 100-point scale. The minimum passing score is 70 for the tracking and obedience phases and 80 for the protection phase. At any time the judge may dismiss a dog for showing poor temperament, including fear or aggression.
The tracking phase tests not only the dogs scenting ability, but also its mental soundness and physical endurance. In the tracking phase, a track layer walks across a field, dropping several small articles along the way. After a period of time, the dog is directed to follow the track while being followed by the handler on a 33 foot leash. When the dog finds each article he indicates it, usually by lying down with the article between his front paws. The dog is scored on how intently and carefully he follows the track and indicates the articles. The length, complexity, number of articles, and age of the track varies for each title.
In the protection phase, the judge has an assistant, called the "decoy", who helps him test the dog's courage to protect himself and his handler and his ability to be controlled while doing so. The decoy wears a heavily padded sleeve on one arm. There are several blinds, placed where the decoy can hide, on the field. The dog is directed to search the blinds for the decoy. When he finds the decoy, he indicates this by barking. The dog must guard the decoy to prevent him from moving until recalled by his handler. There follows a series of exercises similar to police work where the handler searches the decoy and transports him to the judge. At specified points, the decoy either attacks the dog or the handler or attempts to escape. The dog must stop the attack or the escape by biting the padded sleeve. When the attack or escape stops, the dog is commanded to "out," or release the sleeve. The dog must out or he is dismissed. At all times the dog must show the courage to engage the decoy and the temperament to obey his handler while in this high state of drive. Again, the dog must show enthusiasm. A dog that shows fear, lack of control, or inappropriate aggression is dismissed.
A recent innovation in providing information on Schutzhund training is the development of video tapes and DVDs. As with books, all videos and DVDs are not created equal. Viewers must exercise discretion when considering the techniques shown in videos. Just because a technique appears in a video (or book) does not mean that it is a good idea or that many Schutzhund trainers use it. There is a diversity of opinion on how to train Schutzhund dogs. This is reflected in the many conflicting opinions presented in the various videos.
The best source of training information is a good Schutzhund club. The overwhelming majority of Schutzhund training is done by owner/handlers at local clubs. There are very few clubs in the US, making books and videos a vital source of information in that country. In the US, most clubs are affiliated with United Schutzhund Clubs of America (USA), Deutscher Verband der Gebrauchshundsportvereine (DVG), or German Shepherd Dog Club of America-Working Dog Association (GSDCA-WDA). Schutzhund clubs tend to be small, 20 or less members, because there is a limit to the number of dogs that can be trained in one session. Clubs often provide only limited formal assistance with tracking and obedience. To a certain extent, the clubs exist to provide the specialized resources needed to train the protection phase. However, a legitimate club will not permit a member to train only protection. Usually the more experienced members are willing to help the novice with tracking and obedience, though this is typically somewhat informal in the US.
Another function of Schutzhund clubs is to identify dogs that should not be trained in Schutzhund. Schutzhund is a challenging test of a dog's character, and not every dog, or even every GSD, is up to the challenge. The training director of the club has a responsibility to the dog, handler, club, and society to constantly evaluate every dog and to decline to train any dog with questionable character or working ability. Training a dog that does not really want to work is stressful and frustrating for all parties involved.
Schutzhund clubs regularly hold public trials, providing the opportunity for dogs to earn titles and for handlers to assess their training progress. A tiny number of dedicated handlers have trained their dogs to title readiness strictly from books and videos. This is unlikely to succeed in most cases, because it is almost impossible to train the protection phase without a helper. A good club should be considered a necessity for Schutzhund training.
The largest Schutzhund organization in the US is the United Schutzhund Clubs of America, called USA. In spite of its name, USA is a German Shepherd Dog breed club, but sponsors all-breed Schutzhund clubs and trials. The Working Dog Association is a branch of another GSD breed club, the German Shepherd Dog Club of America, which also sponsors clubs and trials. There are a small number of DVG clubs in the United States, various other breed organizations that are involved in Schutzhund, and the American Working Dog Federation(AWDF), which is an umbrella organization. This barely scratches the surface.