Schutzhund and the German Shepherd Dog


In an effort to keep the German Shepherd Dog following down the path that Captain von Stephanitz had laid out for the breed, the Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde (Society for the German Shepherd Dog), most often simply known at the SV, was founded in 1899. This governing body would oversee the future of the breed, and ensure adherence to the Captain’s primary goals- the breed some of the best working dogs. The breed standard was laid out and later elaborated on in a book published by the Captain himself titled The German Shepherd in Word and Picture. This written work, still highly coveted by breeders and enthusiasts today, laid out everything Captain von Stephanitz knew and desired for his breed, including breeding, training, raising, kenneling, and the importance of form and function. In his later years the Captain made a request of the German Shepherd community, and that was to, “Take this trouble for me; make sure my shepherd dog remains a working dog, for I have struggled all my life long for that aim.”

The SV set up requirements for the breeding of German Shepherd Dogs, and first and foremost on that list, was the requirement of titles for all breeding stock. A puppy from parents that did not meet the breeding requirements are not granted full registration papers. In this way the SV hoped to ensure the quality and continuation of the breed.

In modern German Shepherd Dog breeding, a dog must have a KKL rating, obtained during a ‘breed survey,’ in order to be bred and produce puppies that are able to be registered as purebred German Shepherd Dogs within the SV. The breed survey is the last step in a long line of tests to ensure the dog is breeding quality and that breeding that dog will be an asset and produce an improvement in the breed. The very first title a dog must achieve is a minimum of a Schutzhund 1 title. This important first requirement illustrates how important the working aspect of the German Shepherd Dog’s breed standard is. As Max von Stephanitz said, “Utility is the true criterion of beauty.” Once a Schutzhund title is achieved, the dog can then be entered in conformation shows. In German-style conformation shows, ratings are given to each dog independent of what they place in their classes. Every dog gets the rating the judge feels that dog deserves, regardless of what other dogs are competing against it that day. For a dog to be considered for breeding, it must be awarded at least a rating of G- ‘good.’ A dog can also score higher- SG- very good, or V- excellent. Anything below a rating of ‘good’ does not qualify a dog for breeding. A conformation title alone is not enough, under Captain von Stephnitz rules, to qualify a dog as suitable for breeding. As he once said, “Breeding worth and Exhibition worth are two fundamentally different things which need not have anything to do with each other; and further, an Exhibition award must never be taken as a judgment of Breeding value but only, and this too with reservations, as an opinion that a dog might possibly be suitable for breeding.”

Dogs wishing to be breed surveyed must also pass an “AD” endurance test, consisting of a run of 20 kilometers (approx. 12.5 miles) at a pace of around 12 – 15 kph (7.5 – 9.5 mph). The dogs run this test next to the handler, who rides a bicycle. A dog that consistently falls behind is removed from the test. After the first 5 kilometers (8 miles) the dogs are given a 15 minute rest period while each dog is checked by the judge for fatigue. Dogs that are removed from the test due to sore feet, fatigue, falling behind, or not having the ability to finish the test are given a ‘not passed’ rating and do not receive their AD award.

In addition to the temperament, working ability, conformation, and endurance requirements, the SV also takes the health of the dogs very seriously. At some point in the young dog’s life, the owner must also x-ray the dog’s hips and present the x-rays to the SV for inspection. A dog showing no signs of hip dysplasia is given an “a” stamp on their pedigree. A dog without an “a” stamp cannot be bred.

Once all the requirements have been met and the dog has a minimum of a Schutzhund 1 title, a minimum of a G conformation rating, an AD endurance award, an “a” stamp certification for their hips, and is at least 2 years old, they can be brought before a Koermerister for their official Koerung, also called a breed survey.

Similarly, a dog can fulfill his endurance and working requirements by completing a “HGH” title, which is a German-style sheep herding competition. In a HGH (pronounced ha-gee-ha), the dogs trainability, working ability, obedience, temperament, and endurance are all tested as part of the test while the dog, in tandem with an second dog that is not being judged, moves a flock of 300+ sheep through the required exercises. (But more on this particular sport in a later post).

The Koermeister is presented each dog individually after a gunshot and bite work test. The Koermeister will have received copies of the dogs Schutzhund title, AD test (waived in breed surveys for dogs over 6 years of age), conformation title, registration certificate and 3 generation pedigree (with “a” stamp on it) prior to the breed survey. The judge will go over each dog individually, inspect their paperwork, and place them into one of three categories- KKL1, KKL2, or Not Suitable for Breeding. A KKL1 means recommended for breeding, while a KKL2 means suitable for breeding. A dog can be re-presented to the same Koermeister the following year and try for an upgrade from a KKL2 to a KKL1. The dog can also be downgraded on a subsequent inspection but this is rare. The original survey is good for two years, after which the dog must be represented for another breed survey. The second time the dog is breed surveyed the rating is good for the remainder of the dog’s life.

If you are lucky, after all that work, you’re left with a litter of cute, fluffy little German Shepherd Dogs that you can start the whole process over with! While Schutzhund and the entire process was primarily developed for the German Shepherd Dog, that’s not to say that many other breeds don’t compete and excel at the sport today. Dobermans, Rottweilers, Boerboels, Dutch Shepherds, all types of Belgium Shepherds, Mastiffs, Bully breeds, even Standard Poodles, Airedales, mixed breeds, and several famous Jack Russel Terriers have all competed in the sport of Schutzhund. While some Schutzhund trials are designated for one breed, many club level trials are open to all breeds and mixes. Like many other dog sports, not every dog is suited for the sport, but for dogs that are suited and enjoy the work, Schutzhund is open to them.

Schutzhund: A Brief History


Schutzhund- the triathlon for the working dog. A trust test of one’s character. Courage and obedience under stress. Schutzhund is not a sport for the faint-of-heart, but rather the ultimate test of one’s mettle. What is Schutzhund? Where, and more importantly why, did it originate? And who is crazy enough to compete in this demanding sport?

Schutzhund, which is German for protection dog, is as old as the breed it was designed to protect- the German Shepherd Dog. To understand Schutzhund, and the origins of the German Shepherd Dog, one must travel back to the late 1800s and meet the founder of this noble breed- Captain Max von Stephanitz. A German Cavalry officer, Captain von Stephanitz also spent time serving at the Berlin Veterinary College. When he started his own dog breeding program using the knowledge he had learned about form, function, movement and breeding, his goal was to create the ‘ultimate’ working dog- a true blend of loyalty, courage, stamina, intelligence, and a dog that not only excelled at any task put to it, but also one that truly enjoyed the work. Not the best at any one thing, but second best at everything.

For his foundation stock the Captain turned toward the best working dogs of his time and his area- a regional breed of mixed ancestry known simply as “The German Shepherd’s Dogs,” hence why the breed name, to this day, still includes the word “dog” at the end. These dogs were bred for herding and protection of the German shepherd’s flocks, and Captain von Stephanitz greatly admired their intelligence and work aptitude. He purchased his first dog from a local shepherd, named him Horand von Grafrath, and set about creating a standardization, what was often referred to as his ‘grand design’ of what he was trying to produce in his dogs.

In addition to his exacting breed standard, Captain von Stephanitz wanted to be sure these dogs could work- what good is a good-looking dog if it can’t do the job placed before it? German Shepherd Dogs were to be a working dog first and foremost. As the Captain once wrote, “The most striking feature of the correctly bred German Shepherd are firmness of nerves, attentiveness, unshockability, tractability, watchfulness, reliability and incorruptibility together with courage, fighting tenacity, and hardness.” As none of these desirable traits were something that could be judged in a dog show ring by simply looking at the dog, a way to test the potential breeding stock of future generations needed to be developed.

A 3 phase test was developed, one that would test a variety of traits but that boiled down to three basic things- the dog’s ability to work on his own, the dog’s ability to work for his handler, and the dog’s ability to work under stress. These three tests would be turned into the three phases of Schutzhund that we know today- tracking, obedience, and protection. These would be the tests placed on any dog that would be a breeding prospect, and although some minor changes have been made, over 100 years later these trials still stand as the truest test of a dog’s working ability and are fundamental in the breeding of future generations of German Shepherd Dogs. As Captain von Stephanitz said, “The breeding of shepherd dogs must be the breeding of working dogs, this must always be the aim or we shall cease to produce working dogs.”

So what is Schutzhund? Often hailed as the triathlon for the working dog, or 3-day eventing for the dog world (although most trials do not take place over 3 days), Schutzhund is, quite simply, a 3 phase sport consisting of tracking, obedience and protection phases. There are 3 different levels of Schutzhund, starting with the basic Schutzhund 1 title, and progressing through to the more demanding Schutzhund 3 title.

Prior to any dog’s ability to enter a Schutzhund trial, they must first pass what is known at the Begleithund, or “BH” test. A simple obedience routine done on the Schutzhund field in the presence of the judge and an honor dog, the handler must prove that his dog is under his control both on and off leash. The BH consists of the dog moving with the handler at heel position around the field, through right angles and groups of people, and at slow, normal and fast speeds. A gun shot is fired and the dog must not react to the sudden loud noise. The dog must demonstrate the ability to ‘sit’ and ‘down’ in motion, where the handler does not stop walking but commands the dog to both sit, and then later to down, and the dog must comply and stay rather than continue to walk next to the handler. Finally, the dog must demonstrate a firm recall to the handler. Once the routine is over, the team will switch with the honor dog on the side of the field, and will demonstrate the dog’s ability to stay in a long down while another dog performs their obedience routine on the field. Off-field exercises for the temperament portion of the test include the dog heeling calmly while a car, a jogger, and a biker pass, going past other dogs, and allowing a group of people to walk up to the handler and converge on the team. The final test involves the handler tying out the dog and disappearing from sight. While the handler is gone, another dog will be walked past and the testing dog must not act aggressively, whine, cry and must remain quiet while the handler is gone. While not an obedience title, the BH routine proves to a judge that the dog is trained and under control and enables the dog to enter future trials to compete for Schutzhund titles.

Schutzhund 1 titles, abbreviated SchH1 (and sometimes IPO1, if following International Trial Rules) are awarded after a dog proves his/her ability to track a handler-laid track that is 20 minutes old, 300-400 paces long and includes two right angle turns and two articles which must be properly indicated. The dog may be tracked on a 10 meter lead or may complete the track off-leash. The obedience routine for a Schutzhund 1 is similar to the BH except performed completely off-leash, and also includes a retrieve both on the flat, over a hurdle, and over the scaling wall (a.k.a. an A-frame), as well as a send-out, where the handler commands the dog to run forward away from them until given the command to down. The protection phase includes the blind search- where the dog must search through all 6 blinds on the field until they find the “helper” who is wearing the bite sleeve. The dog must bark and hold until the handler arrives, then the dog must leave the helper on command of the handler. The dog must also demonstrate the ability to prevent the escape of the helper without being given a command- when the handler is not looking the helper will try to run and the dog must chase and apprehend the helper by biting the bite sleeve. The dog must “out” the sleeve immediately when given the command to release the sleeve. The final test is the courage test, where the helper will run threateningly toward the team from the end of the field and, on the judge’s command, the handler will send the dog. The dog must make contact with the helper by biting the bite sleeve, and the helper will ‘drive’ the dog, by moving forward and delivering two hits on the back with a padded stick to ensure the dog has the courage to maintain the bite when threatened. When the helper stops the dog must properly release when given an ‘out’ command. The handler takes the stick away from the handler then, with the dog between them, the handler will ‘transport’ the helper to the judge. During this walk the dog is not allowed to make any more contact with the helper.

For a Schutzhund 2 title, abbreviated as SchH2/IPO2, the requirements get a bit more difficult. The track is increased to 400 to 500 paces long, 30 minutes old, laid by a stranger, with two articles that must be indicated. The obedience phase includes everything from the Schutzhund 1 routine with the addition of a stand in motion exercise where the dog is told to stand and must stop and stand while the handler continues to move forward without a break in pace. The retrieving dumbbells in each level of Schutzhund increase in weight and size for the retrieve on the flat exercise. The protection phase also has some additions which include an exercise known as the ‘back transport.’ Similar to the transport exercise in phase 1, the helper walks in front while the handler and dog walk behind the helper, ‘transporting’ him to another location on the field. At the judges signal the helper turns to attack the handler and the dog must defend the handler without being commanded to.

Schutzhund 3, abbreviated SchH3/IPO3 is the highest level title attainable for all 3 phases combined. The Schutzhund 3 track is 800-1000 paces long, laid by a stranger, aged for 50 minutes, with four right-angle turns and 3 articles which must be indicated. In the obedience phase the sit, down and stand in motion are now down at a running pace rather than a walking pace, and the long down is done with the handler out of sight hiding within the blind. The protection phase includes everything from a Schutzhund 2 routine, but also includes a re-attack after the courage test, and a second escort back to the judge after the completion of the re-attack.

After attaining a Schutzhund 3 title, there are two higher level tracking titles available to dogs that excel at tracking, and those are the FH1 and FH2 titles. The FH1 track is 1400 paces long with seven right-angle turns, cross tracks which are laid 30 minutes after the actual track is laid, must go over terrain changes such as a road, is aged at least 3 hours and has four articles that must be indicated. The FH2 is the most difficult of any track, averaging between 2,000 and 3,000 paces long. Unlike all other Schutzhund tacks, in which the starting point is indicated by a flag, the dog must find the start of the FH2 track within a 3 minute window of time. The FH2 track also consists of terrain changes and a cross track which is laid 30 minutes prior to the dog running the track.

Schutzhund: The dog sport of masochists


Masochists? Really? Well, the definition of masochism is the condition in which gratification depends on one’s suffering physical pain or humiliation. Switch that to pain AND humiliation and it would fit like a glove (or like a crisp new Schweikert trial arm). It is easy to torture oneself with trying for the perfect obedience round. It is all good fun to try for that better tracking score. It is absolutely a good time to train your dog to go after a guy dressed in an almost spot on Stay-Puffed Marshmallow Man get up. Sure, it all makes perfect sense. Do any one of those things and have fun. Do all three together? Welcome to my insanity. Welcome to my addiction. Welcome to my sport.

Schutzhund was developed and molded to be the triathlon of the dog world. 3 events, one dog, one handler, one day. What it has evolved into is a highly specialized sport requiring almost Herculean effort and extreme dedication (much to the dismay of close friends and relatives). Tracking. Obedience. Protection. They bill it as the T.O.P. Dog sport. They lure you in with training vests, tracking lines, balls on a string and new jute covers for that shiny new sleeve that you will convince yourself you and your dog cannot live without. Then there is the fourth aspect of the sport, the one that you will hear loudly and proudly discussed in the clubhouse, but hushed in the presence of the “newbs”: the handler injury. If you want to play protection dog, you’re going to have to be willing to bleed.

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