Schutzhund (Protection Dog)

A Test of Character

The Doberman was originally bred as a personal protector and for police and soldier work. These stressful and difficult tasks require a dog with a sure temperament and possessing a high level of bravery and drive. When Schutzhund began development in Germany in the early 1900’s, his purpose was to test for these characteristics in a dog, often referred to as workability.

In order to maintain the working traits in the working breeds such as the Doberman Pinscher, Germany and other European countries required and still require a Doberman to achieve a Schutzhund title before becoming a confirmation champion and before the dog’s offspring can be registered.

Besides serving as a test for workability, Schutzhund has also become a popular sport. There are three levels at which a protection dog can title:

Schutzhund 1 (SchH1)
Schutzhund 2 (SchH2)
Schutzhund 3 (SchH3)

Each level is progressively more challenging and complex, starting with level 1. However, before competing for a SchH1 title, a dog must first pass a temperament test called the B or BH (Begleithundprüfung which translates to "traffic-sure companion dog test"). This test assesses basic obedience and sureness around unfamiliar people, dogs, smells, and noises. The dog must show that it is obedient, steady, and unafraid or it will be dismissed and not be allowed to compete in Schutzhund. This test is important in order to protect dogs unable or unwilling to perform these challenging tasks, who would not only frustrate the handler and waste his time, but who would also suffer needless stress from the intense training.

Schutzhund competitions have three phases: Obedience, Tracking, and Protection.

The obedience phase is performed in a large field. Done in pairs, one dog is placed by its handler in the down position, who then leaves him while the other dog works in the field, then the dogs switch. While working in the field the dog performs several heeling exercises including heeling through a group of people.

Two or three times throughout the heeling exercise a gunshot is fired, testing the dog’s reaction for sureness. Also performed are one or two recalls, two or three retrieves, and a send where the dog is commanded to run away from the handler, then on command quickly lie down. Judgment on the obedience phase is scored based on the dog’s accuracy and attitude.

For the tracking phase of the Schutzhund trial, a track layer walks a track in an open field placing several small articles along the way. After a period of time the dog is commanded to follow the track, stopping at each article and signaling (indicating) that it is found, usually by lying down with the article between its paws.

In this phase judgment is scored on how intently the dog follows the track and indicates the articles. Length, complexity, and age of the track increase with each level of Schutzhund.

The protection phase is the most intense phase and tests the dog’s control under stress and his ability to protect himself and his handler. In this phase the judge has an assistant called the ‘helper’ or ‘agitator’ who wears a heavy padded glove.

On the field there are several blinds were the helper can hide. The dog is commanded to search these blinds. When the helper is found the dog indicates this by barking and guards the helper, not letting him move until his handler arrives. At this point, the handler performs a few exercises such as imitating a police search of the helper. Then the helper is transported by the handler and dog to the judge.

At specified points, the helper will either simulate an attack on the dog or handler, or attempt an escape. The dog must then aggressively stop the helper by firmly biting down on the helper’s padded sleeve and pulling him to the ground. When the helper stops the attack or escape, the handler will give the ‘out’ command, directing the dog to release the helper. The dog must immediately release or be dismissed.

The judge scores this phase based on the dog’s control under the handler and courage overall.

Schutzhund is popular throughout Europe especially in Germany where it was developed. The first Schutzhund trial in the United States was held in California in 1963 and since has maintained a devoted group of handlers, trainers, and dogs. Popularity in the US is limited, likely due to the different cultural approach Americans have toward dogs as well as litigation. Additionally, the American Kennel Club (AKC) does not allow its member clubs to sponsor Schutzhund events because the protection phase includes bite work.

The decision to disallow bite work under the AKC caused a breakaway national club, the United Doberman Club (UDC), which conducts Schutzhund trials under the auspices of the American Working Dog Federation (AWDF).