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Schutzhund Training for Beginners – Everything You Need to Know!

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Schutzhund Training for Beginners - 3 Fast Steps to Success in Obedience, Tracking and Protection dog sports. How to find a Schutzhund training club near you. And why genetics is crucial to the performance of the best working dogs.

What is Schutzhund?

schutzhund protection training

The fascinating dog sport of Schutzhund is not widely known. Germans also call it hundesport – hunde meaning dog. The word “Schutzhund also means “protection dog” in German.

Dog lovers have always been drawn to participate in sports with their dogs, so the activity has become quite popular among dog fanciers, especially in Europe and America. It is becoming an increasingly popular dog sport in Australia. Schutzhund Training offers this sort of participation, unlike any other sport. It is an outdoor sport that requires mental and physical effort. 

Although Schutzhund is a demanding sport, it also provides companionship, competition, and new friendships. The sport is, in essence, everything that recreational sports should be: enjoyable, great exercise, and loaded with benefits.

History of Schutzhund Training

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Schutzhund Training started in nineteenth-century Europe, when it was used as a test for working dogs like German Shepherds. In the early 1900’s Max von Stephanitz broke the training down into three areas to include obedience, tracking and protection. The test helped breeders distinguish between breeding dogs and dogs that had true working dog potential.

During this period, there was a great demand for working dogs – dogs that were extensively used for military and police work, herding, patrolling, and customs.

This led to the development of more stringent tests and canine training for them. 

As the tests evolved, more and more people wanted to enrol their pet dogs in them to see if their beloved pooches had the inherent ability to function as working dogs. A working aptitude evaluation tests the temperament of the dog and doesn’t require the dog to have had any prior dog training.

There is believed to be a strong genetic component to what makes a successful Schutzhund competition dog. Experienced breeders and owners often refer to poor working dogs as being weak-nerved or having low drive. In contrast, the best working dogs have strong nerves and a high working drive or motivation for work. Weak-nerved dogs are more quick to react and can be prone to behaviour problems like reactivity.

Schutzhund Today

schutzhund puppy training

Today, almost sixty-five years after it was first established, nearly ten thousand dog owners participate in Schutzhund annually. 

It has also come a long way since a small group in Germany started it. Today, Schutzhund organisations have several thousand members scattered across Europe, North America, and several other continents. Schutzhund Australia was formed in 2005 and dog training clubs can be found in most states of Australia today.

Components of Schutzhund Training

Schutzhund Training competitions test dogs in the following three areas:

Tracking Dog Training

schutzhund

In this phase, the dogs are expected to track footsteps over mixed terrain, change direction, and show absolute accuracy and commitment to track. 

Participating dogs also need to find dropped objects and indicate their locations to their handlers. Poor weather, an aged track, and challenging cover make things extremely difficult in this phase.

Obedience Dog Training

schutzhund training dog

This is Schutzhund’s second phase and may be common ground for dogs that are proficient in ANKC obedience. 

Many Schutzhund obedience exercises are similar to the AKC’s obedience training. Dogs are tested on the ‘heel’ command, – both on and off-leash. 

There are other obedience commands like sit, down, stand, stay etc. However, Schutzhund adds complexity to these basic tasks. For example, the dog and its handler work in a soccer-size training arena instead of a forty-foot ring.

Also, dogs are required to work under the noise of firing guns. They also need to retrieve a dumbbell over a one-meter jump and a 6-foot wall, instead of the simple dumbbell retrieval.

Protection Dog Training

schutzhund club Australia

This is Schutzhund’s final phase and also the most “misunderstood” by the general public. It helps test the relationship between the dog and its handler.

The dog must never bite the trial helper unless either the dog or the handler is attacked. If attacked, then the dog must fully counterattack without hesitation.

At the same time, it must stop attacking as soon as the handler gives the command to stop. It must continue guarding the trial helper, but without aggression.

People often think that Schutzhund protection is only for police dogs or personal protection dogs. That isn’t the case at all. A Schutzhund dog is capable of all these feats without aggression and only when a specific situation arises. And despite the circumstances, the dog should always be under the control of its handler.

What Makes Schutzhund so Complex?

schutzhund dog training

The reason behind Schutzhund’s complexity is that a dog has to complete all of the above three phases in a single day. The working dogs that compete in Schutzhund training are required to show incredible self-control amid a range of distractions. They need to be able to think and problem solve under pressure and therefore require skilled training and sound genetics in order to complete their job.

Additionally, the contest is held across the nation, and national and regional championships as well as local clubs may judge it. 

Furthermore, each dog is evaluated using a sophisticated rating system, which ultimately determines the trial’s winner. 

Levels and Titles in Schutzhund Training

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Once a dog has completed the first trial of Schutzhund, it is awarded the title of Schutzhund I. It can then progress to Schutzhund II and, ultimately, level III. Each level puts a greater demand on the dog. 

A high-scoring level III Schutzhund dog is the ultimate working dog – it is one in a thousand of all working dogs.

Schutzhund Training and Testing also has other titles, including advanced tracking, temperament tests, police training, and agility.

FAQs – Schutzhund Training

What kind of dog is a Schutzhund?

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A Schutzhund dog is usually a reference to the German Shepherd, for which the Schutzhund training was originally developed in Germany. 
However, other dog breeds like Belgian Malinois, Boxers, Doberman Pinschers, etc. have also shown an aptitude for it.

Are Schutzhund dogs good family pets?

Yes. Schutzhund dogs often live with their handler’s family, which may include kids and other non-protection dogs and house pets. However, some working Schutzhund dogs may need some desensitisation and a trial period before they adjust to the new lifestyle.

What is Schutzhund called now?

At one point, Schutzhund was changed to VPG for Vielzeititkeitspruefung fur Gebrauchshunde. It roughly translates to Versatility Test for Working Dogs. In Europe and America, it is now called “Internationale Gebrauchshund Pruefung,” or IGP.

How do I train my dog to be a Schutzhund?

The first step in training your dog to be a Schutzhund is to join your local Schutzhund dog training club. Here you will learn about the sport from people who actively compete with their own dogs and understand the rules and can create a Schutzhund Training strategy for you and your dog.
Take time to find the perfect puppy for Schutzhund. It is well known among experienced trainers that working dogs must have sound temperament genetics or they will struggle to learn the skills (obedience, tracking and protection) and to be able to execute them in a high-pressure environment.

Can any dog learn Schutzhund?

While any dog can learn Schutzhund Training, not all dogs will excel in this field. Some dogs have a much lower motivation to learn behaviours and trainers can struggle to identify rewards that can be used to reward new behaviours. A working line Shepherd for example might be motivated by food, toys, chase etc while a Tibetan Mastiff just wants to guard its territory and isn’t interested in anything you have to offer it.
Therefore, Schutzhund requires sound genetics and skilled training if you’re wanting to compete. Obtaining a puppy from a reputable breeder who is known for producing Schutzhund or working dog champions is key. They will understand the importance of canine genetics and provide the best training and puppy rearing. This helps to ensure their puppies are mentally and physically sound and up to the task.

What dog breeds are good for Schutzhund?

Schutzhund training was originally developed for German Shepherds but other dog breeds have proven themselves to be champion working dogs. These include the Belgian Shepherd, Belgian Malinois, Belgian Tervueren, Boxer, Rottweiler, Dobermann, Dutch Shepherd, Giant Schnauzer, Briard, Bouvier de Flandres etc.

Will a Schutzhund dog protect you?

A Schutzhund-trained dog should be able to attack when given the command and should also release when their owner gives another command. The protection phase of the Schutzhund training requires that the dog only attack when the owner or the dog is physically attacked by the ‘helper’. Therefore, a Schutzhund-trained dog should be able to protect their owner.

Is Schutzhund expensive?

A well-bred and fully trained Schutzhund dog can cost $50,000-$100,000. Breeders of the best working dogs in the world spend thousands of dollars to obtain the best genetics and any Schutzhund training that is required can also be expensive.
In Australia there are a limited number of Schutzhund training clubs and it can be an expensive sport to be involved in as special equipment and skills are required to teach it.

What age can you start Schutzhund?

Schutzhund Training can commence as early as 8 weeks of age and the best working dog breeders will start training their puppies in life skills from birth. Therefore, the earlier training is started, the greater the likelihood that a dog will become a Schutzhund champion.

How to Get into Schutzhund for Beginners?

To start Schutzhund training your dog or puppy, join your local Schutzhund club. They will have regular (usually weekly) group training sessions and can guide you through the steps you’ll need to take to train your dog. There are three components to Schutzhund training, they are obedience, tracking and protection.
You’ll also need to consider if your dog has the temperament traits that are required to excel in Schutzhund. Dogs that have a very low threshold before reacting to environmental stimuli and behaviour problems like reactivity and low impulse control, will struggle in Schutzhund.

Conclusion

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Schutzhund training is growing in popularity among dog owners who want a reliable family companion and protector. This dog sport is both a science and an art – it relies on sculpting the behaviours a dog inherits from its ancestors using dog training techniques that have been developed over many generations. In the words of von Stephanitz in the 1920’s, “This training, then, must in addition tone down what is superfluous, strengthen what is weak and guide what is erring into the right path.”

References:

Planet Dog – A Doglopedia

Schutzhund Theory and Training Methods (Barwig and Hiliard) 1991.

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Hi! I’m Tres! I’m passionate about dog behaviour and training. My dog training methods are effective for all breeds and goals. I have trained dogs for protection, obedience, manners, loose leash walking, crate training and have solved common behaviour problems such as reactivity, barking, separation anxiety and more. Let’s connect, sign up to my free newsletter (above) for helpful tips and upcoming training events.
dog trainer Sydney
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Hi! I’m Tres! I’m passionate about dog behaviour and training. My dog training methods are effective for all breeds and goals. I have trained dogs for protection, obedience, manners, loose leash walking, crate training and have solved common behaviour problems such as reactivity, barking, separation anxiety and more. Let’s connect, sign up to my free newsletter (above) for helpful tips and upcoming training events.
dog trainer Sydney

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