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.
A Brief History of Schutzhund
Schutzhund has its beginnings with the very origin of the German Shepherd Dog as a breed, and the two cannot be separated. The founders of the German Shepherd Dog began with herding stock and sought to create a versatile, utilitarian animal that was a canine 'Jack-of-all-trades'. With the industrialization of Europe, herding dogs, while still a valuable part of life in many areas, were becoming less common. However, there was huge interest in dogs for military and law enforcement work. The German shepherd was ideal for this type of endeavor but, wisely so, the founders of the breed saw potential trouble on the horizon. They felt that breeding of dogs specifically for police and military work by less knowledgeable individuals and without a set of standards for quality control could take the dogs to the extreme, and create unstable, dangerous animals. Likewise, there was the potential to go the other way. Purebred dog ownership and dog shows were already popular, and many people had much ego, money and reputation staked on the ability of their kennels to produce show winning purebred dogs. Many breeds had already suffered from over breeding and breeding strictly for fancy looks, and the founders did not want to see the heritage of the great German dogs destroyed in favor of trophies. So they designed the schutzhund test to maintain the working ability of the breed, and keep balance between form and function.
The first schutzhund trial was held in Germany in 1901. The purpose of this trial was to emphasize the correct working temperament and ability in the German Shepherd Dog breed, and to evaluate potential breeding stock to ensure that they possessed, and thus were most likely to pass on, the traits that make the German Shepherd Dog the incredible breed that it is. Good nerves, sound temperament, self confidence, utility, courage, willingness to work, scenting ability, physical soundness, trainability - all of these are characteristics which the breed's founders strove to develop and wanted to maintain, and all are tested by the schutzhund exam.
The German Shepherd Dog club of Germany, the Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde (SV) was founded by the breed's creator, Capt. Max von Stephanitz, and adopted the schutzhund test as an evaluation for breeding stock. Even today in Germany only puppies from breedings in which both the sire and the dam have passed the tests and achieved a schutzhund or herding title, in addition to passing an endurance test and receiving a conformation rating and breed survey, can be registered with the SV, and be truly considered German Shepherd Dogs. Over the years, much of Europe adopted these same standards, which are still in place today and are probably the single greatest contributor to the high quality of the German Shepherd Dogs from Europe. Many breeders outside of Europe have chosen to follow the example of the SV, and still utilize schutzhund for its original purpose: to preserve the German shepherd as a working dog.
When the German Shepherd Dog first came to North America after World War I, schutzhund did not come with it. It was not introduced on this side of the ocean until the 1970s, when a German immigrant set up the first schutzhund club in the United States. It did not take long for schutzhund to spread across North America. Today it is enjoyed by millions of people from all walks of life across the world. It is a fun and rewarding activity for dog and handler to enjoy together, and offers dog owners the opportunity to train their dogs and compete with each other for recognition of their ability to train and their dog's ability and willingness to learn. While schutzhund has evolved into a highly competitive international sport, with local, regional, national and international level competitions held every year throughout the world, most people involved in the sport do so on a hobby level. They enjoy training and building a strong bond with their dog as well as enjoying the company of fellow dog fanciers with similar interests.
Today, dogs of various breeds compete in schutzhund and many other breed clubs have since adopted standards similar to the SV for evaluating breed worthiness in their dogs. It is not uncommon to see Dobermans, Rottweilers, Giant Schnauzers, Boxers, Belgian Malinios, Bouviers, Dutch Shepherds, American Staffordshire Terriers and many other working and herding breeds at schutzhund competitions. However, German Shepherd Dogs remain by far the most common breed involved in schutzhund and the sport remains an important part of the breed's heritage and future.
The Schutzhund Titles
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 accuracy 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. The obedience exam involves two heeling exercises, on-lead and off-lead, the sit and down out of motion, recall with front sit, 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.