What is Schutzhund and How Do You Train Your Dog for it?

German Shepherd with Pointed Ears

What is Schutzhund? Anyone who has seen a police dog in action, whether they were searching for something with their nose, or bringing down an assailant has had a glimpse into this interesting dog sport.

Created in 1900’s as a means for testing German Shepherd’s working ability and drive, this sport has withstood the test of time.

In the 1900’s, and even today in Germany, all German Shepherds were required to title in Schutzhund before they can be bred. Requiring all dogs to pass the test ensures only dogs of sound temperament and drive will reproduce.

So What is Schutzhund Exactly?

It is a rigorous sport that requires dogs be proficiently trained in three subjects: obedience, tracking, and protection work.

However, before they can start training for the sport itself, dogs must first pass a temperament test called a B or BH (Begleithundprüfung which translates to “traffic-sure companion dog test”). This test was designed to ensure that dogs are calm and obedient around strangers, traffic, loud noises, dogs, and other stressors.

If a dog exhibits any fear or aggression during the B test they will be disqualified and asked to leave. If a dog passes the B test, they are then free to move on to the more intense training for Schutzhund.

The first stage of the sport is tracking. During the tracking portion of the test dogs are required to follow a scent trail laid beforehand by a person. The person who laid the trail drops items along the way and the dog is required to stop and indicate each item as he comes across them.

The most common way for a dog to indicate it has found something is by laying down with the item between their front legs and barking.

Rottweiler in the Forest Sitting on a Rock

The second stage is obedience. During this trial, the dog is worked as part of a duo.

One dog is commanded to stay down at the edge of the course, while the other dog performs obedience commands such as heeling, recalls, retrieving, and an exercise where the handler has the dog run away from them and then drops to a down on command.

After completion, the dogs switch places and the other dog completes the course.

German Shepherds Training in Schutzhund Obstacle Course

The third stage is the most challenging and the one that most dogs have trouble with: protection work.

While this seems like it would be the most fun of the three stages, many dogs are either overly aggressive or fearful during this stage and disqualified. The assistant during this stage is called the “helper” and he wears a heavily padded sleeve on one arm.

The helper will hide in a blind on the field and the owner will send the dog out to find him. Once he has been found it is the dog’s job to detain him. The helper will either run or attack the owner or dog during the exercise and that is when the dog must grab the padded arm and pull the helper down.

It is imperative that when the owner commands the dog to release the helper, the dog does.

While this sounds easy enough, many high prey-driven dogs can become so aroused during the exercise they start acting on instinct and block out all noises around them. This can be dangerous and will immediately get the dog disqualified.

German Shepherds Practicing Protection Work in Schutzhund

So there you are, those are the three levels of Schutzhund, each more challenging than the last.

If your dog passes all three you will be a very proud owner. While originally Schutzhund dogs were trained with a lot of force, it is better to use a balanced method of training. Forceful methods can cause the dog to become either fearful or aggressive and neither is a good outcome for Schutzhund work.

The best method to train your dog is to seek a club in your area. They are few and far between, but they are out there so don’t give up. If you are having trouble finding a Schutzhund club, a good place to start in the meantime is with a nose work class to train your dog tracking, or an obedience class.

These classes will help prepare the dogs for the first two stages of the trials, and they will cement your bond so you are ready for the protection portion when you find a club.

Rottweiler in the Kitchen

Some of the most common breeds to perform Schutzhund are German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois, Doberman Pinschers, Rottweilers, Boxers, Cane Corsos, Bouvier des Flanders, Giant Schnauzers, American Bulldogs, Australian Cattle Dogs, and Dutch Shepherds.

Although, all breeds and mixes are welcome to compete.

If you are getting a puppy specifically to compete in Schutzhund, try to find a breeder that has breeding stock with titles in the sport. Not only will your dog have strong working lines and drive in their family tree, but your breeder could be an invaluable resource for your dog’s future training.

Schutzhund is a fun, invigorating sport that has been strengthening bonds between owners and dogs for hundreds of years.

If you think that you and your dog would make a good team be sure to do your research and keep things fun. You will both enjoy things a lot more if you keep training light hearted. Your bond is sure to grow the more you work together. Be safe and enjoy your new hobby.

BONUS: Check out this article on the Top 10 most protective dog breeds, the breeds on this list would all make great candidates for Schutzhund

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