The Sport of Schutzhund

In 1903 the father of the German Shepherd, Max von Stephanitz, fearing the decline of the use of the dog on farms and the increased practice of breeding for “looks”, developed a group of tests designed to evaluate the Character, Structure and Mental Stability of the German Shepherd. He called these tests schutzhund (literally translated means Protection Dog), and they have evolved into the comprehensive sport of Schutzhund. Schutzhund tests the dogs in three areas - Tracking, Obedience and Protection and also at three different skill levels, with each level placing greater physical and mental demand on the dog/handler teams. The Levels are Schutzhund– I (beginner), II (Intermediate) and III (Master).

No Schutzhund work begins without hours and hours of training in Obedience and most dog/handler teams work with a Master Trainer 2 to 3 times a week as well as daily practices on their own, to prepare for the entrance test. The B-Title (Begleithund – meaning Companion Dog) is mandatory before any dog can enter an actual Schutzhund Trial. This test is a combination of Novice Obedience and a Temperament test. The exercises for the B-Title includes healing on and off lead, with the added distraction of gunfire, a recall (from the down position), and a long down. These exercises are done from memory, as the dog/handler team must do them as designed by the Judge with no verbal help from the Judge. In addition, the long down is done on the same field while a second dog/handler team goes through their routine as designed by the Judge. These exercises test the stability, concentration and training of the dog. The dog/handler team must pass this Obedience phase before moving on to the temperament phase. The Temperament phases tests the same Obedience skills, but under conditions simulating the real world, including weaving around crowds of people, vehicle traffic and passing bicycles. This phase emphasizes control. At the end of this phase the Judge announces the scores and those that pass this test can move on to the Schutzhund trial work.

A Schutzhund trial is usually conducted on a field about the size of a soccer filed and is limited to 12 participants. The day begins with the Tracking Phase.

Tracking is designed to test the dog’s endurance, trainability and scenting abilities on a clean track. Air-scenting, as is common in Search and Rescue work, is a disqualifying technique. Tracks are commonly laid on plowed fields, pastures, forest floors and are aged from thirty minutes to several hours (depending on the dog’s trial level). The dog must locate 2 to 4 articles along the track to earn up to 100 points in this phase.

The Obedience phase follows the Tracking and the routines for this phase vary in degree of difficulty depending on the trial level of the dog. Some of the more advanced drills include jumping a 39 inch hurdle, climbing a five or six foot A-frame, dumbbell retrieval and a long send-out. At the end of the Obedience phase the Judge announces the team scores and a detailed critique of the teams’ performance.

The final segment of a Schutzhund Trial is the most controversial and misunderstood aspect of the sport – the Protection Phase. Many people are uncomfortable around the sport of Schutzhund and Schutzhund dogs because they perceive them to be vicious and mean. In fact, a dog that is truly vicious or shy does not have the mental stability to compete in this sport and would break down in training long before they trained in the Protection phase. An inappropriately aggressive or shy dog lacks the confidence and stable nerves to handle the stress of a Schutzhund trial.

The Protection Phase tests the bond between the Handler and the dog. A dog that is properly trained will never bite the “helper” (the person in the protective suit) if there is not perceived threat or if the Handler tells it not to. Additionally, when a dog is permitted to take the bite necessary in this phase, it must release that bite immediately when told to do so by the Handler. The control of the dog is the most important aspect of this phase. The dog is directed when to bite and when to release and must do so at the command of the Handler – this dog should continue to display courage without viciousness toward the helper when the Handler perceives that the threat is ended.

Each Phase of a Schutzhund trial is scored 0-100 points and each phase must be passed with a score of 75 or higher to earn a Schutzhund Title.

Some of the breeds commonly seen working in the sport of Schutzhund are German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Dobermans, Belgian Malinois, Bouviers and Giant Schnauzers. These larger working breeds generally demonstrate the size and drive necessary to succeed in the sport. However, some mix-breed dogs and medium sized dogs also compete in this sport, of which the Standard Schnauzer would be included.

The Standard Schnauzer’s history makes it an ideal candidate for this sport for it is a guard dog, herder and all-around family companion. Each of the schutzhund tests requires a courageous, stable, and mentally tough canine. Additionally, the drive and agility of the Standard Schnauzer makes it a fun dog to train in this sport, as most take to Obedience and Tracking with ease and the Protection phase, if trained properly, is a great game in which they can use their entire body and teeth to play without fear of harming the human in the big stuffed suit.

The key to success with a Standard Schnauzer in Schutzhund is finding a good Schutzhund club who’s Master Trainer understands this breed, its drive, and its desire to protect and please it’s human and will work the dog up through kind and steady training to whatever level the Handler and Dog together can master.