A great way for a Doberman owner to train, socialize, and bond with their dog is to imitate the hard work their dog was built for by participation in sporting events. There are many different sporting events popular with Dobermans at many different levels of involvement. In this article, I plan to deal with the ones that I know to be the most popular including: obedience trials, scent tracking, agility, Schutzhund, and fly ball.

Obedience Trials

Obedience is a wonderful place to start becoming involved in canine sports. It serves as a firm foundation for any activity and is necessary for every dog to at least be trained in the basics. Obedience itself is also a great activity as obedience trials. Obedience trials are competitions where handler and dog perform certain tasks together, are graded, and then awarded titles. Obedience trials are often a very pleasant and rewarding experience for both handler and dog. Unlike other events that are based on head to head competition, obedience trials are about how well handler and dog do according to standards. The atmosphere is filled more with encouragement than competition. However, for the more experienced handler and dog, there is the High in Trial awards and placings in upper level obedience trials, which count toward an Obedience Trial Championship (OTCh). Additionally, there are breed and national top 10s and top 20s, including the top 20 Dobermans, which holds its finals at the Doberman Pinscher Club of America National Specialty every October.

AKC obedience trials are split into two groups. Group A is for dogs with no titles and B is for dogs with one or more titles. There are three levels of competition for which titles are received: Novice, Open, and Utility. To receive a title, the dog must earn three "legs", each at a different trial from a different judge. A leg is earned at a trial when the dog receives more than half of the possible points in each exercise and receives 170 points out of the possible 200. Once a title is received, the dog may go onto the next level.

In the Novice trial, the Novice title of Companion Dog (CD) is pursued. The trial consists of walking in different directions, at different speeds, with the dog at the heel position, both on and off leash. The dog must stand for inspection and let a stranger feel it all over. The dog must also do a recall from the other side of the ring and finish in the heel position. The final exercise is the one minute sit-stay and three minute down-stay that all the novice dogs do as a group, with their handlers at the other side of the ring.

The Open trials are very similar to the Novice trials. The difficulty is increased by working only off leash and for longer periods. There are also broad and high jumps, and retrieval exercises. The Utility trials consist of all of these exercises but at a higher level of precision, with hand signals only, and a scent discrimination exercise where the dog must pick an object, scented by the handler, out of ten identical objects.

The best way to get started in dog obedience is to enroll in a dog obedience training class. It is important to find a reputable training class with knowledgeable instructors who can guide you with proper training and advice. These classes can also be a great way to make new friends and helpful contacts in the dog world. Also, you can see the upcoming obedience trials on the AKC events calendar. I have also found that when starting anything new it can be a great help to read a couple books on the subject.

Scent Tracking

In the sport of scent tracking, the dog is trained to keep its nose close to the ground and follow a pre laid scent trail, as if following a long piece of string, to find an object. A harness and very long lead, between 20 and 40 feet, is usually implemented to keep the dog free to move about less restricted. The skills learned while training for these tracking tests are the same skills used in canine search and rescue. Dogs with this training are the dogs used to finding lost children, escaped criminals, people trapped under rubble, or any other job where scent is the only clue. Not only does the dog possess a sense of smell much more powerful than a human's, but it also perceives that sense much more accurately. A dog is capable of identifying a particular scent among thousands of other scents. Instead of smelling someone eating lunch, for example, the dog can tell exactly what is being eaten. A good human nose might be able to identify where it came from, such as Taco Bell or Wendy's but a dog's nose, however, can identify a hamburger with tomato, lettuce, cheese, and catsup, with some fries. At the AKC tracking trials, there are three titles available.

Tracking Dog (TD)

A dog earns a TD by following a track 440 to 500 yards long with three to five changes of direction. The track is laid by a tracklayer and is "aged" 30 minutes to two hours before the dog begins scenting. The goal is to use the scented track to locate an article left at the end of the trail by the tracklayer. The owner follows the dog on a long leash and can encourage the dog during the tracking test.

Tracking Dog Excellent (TDX)

The TDX is earned by following an "older" track (three to five hours) that is also longer (800 to 1,000 yard) and has five to seven directional changes with the additional challenge of human cross tracks.

Variable Surface Tracking (VST)

In the real world, dogs track through urban settings, as well as through wilderness. A VST dog has demonstrated this ability by following a three- to five-hour-old track that may take him down a street, through a building and other areas devoid of vegetation.

Champion Tracker (CT)

A dog that has successfully completed all three tracking titles (TD, TDX and VST) earns the prestigious title of Champion Tracker.

Agility

The first AKC Agility trial was held in 1994 and is currently the fastest growing AKC dog sport. It is also a very exciting and popular spectator sport. In agility the dog shows its amazing athleticism by following cues from its handler through a timed obstacle course.

The AKC offers two types of agility classes. The first is the Standard Class, which includes obstacles such as the dog walk, the A-frame, and seesaw. The second is Jumpers with Weaves. This class only has jumps, tunnels, and weave poles. Both classes offer increasing levels of difficulty to earn Novice, Open, Excellent and Master titles. After completing both an Excellent Standard title and Excellent Jumpers title, a dog and handler team can compete for the Master Agility Champion title (MACH).

Schutzhund

Schutzhund is the German word for "protection dog". In 1901 the Schutzhund test was developed in Germany to regulate the breeding of German Shepherds. The sport of Schutzhund grew out of the activities of the German Shepherd Dog Club also in Germany. It consists of three parts: obedience, tracking, and protection. The titles offered are simply Schutzhund I, II, and III. Schutzhund has become very important in maintaining the working ability of many working breeds including the Doberman Pinscher. In Germany and much of Europe before a Doberman is allowed to compete in the confirmation ring it must earn a title in Schutzhund. Additionally, a title is also required before a Doberman's offspring may be registered.

Obedience

The obedience phase includes a series of heeling exercises, some of which are performed closely in and around a group of people. During the heeling, there is a gun shot test to assure that the dog does not openly react to such sharp noises. There are also a series of field exercises in which the dog is commanded to sit, lie down, and stand while the handler continues to move. From these various positions, the dog is recalled to the handler. With dumbbells of various weights, the dog is required to retrieve on a flat surface, over a one-meter hurdle, and over a six-foot slanted wall. The dog is also asked to run in a straight direction from its handler on command and lie down on a second command. Finally, each dog is expected to stay in a lying down position away from its handler, despite distractions, at the other end of the obedience field, while another dog completes the above exercises. All of the obedience exercises are tests of the dog's temperament, structural efficiencies, and, very importantly, its willingness to serve its owner.

Tracking

The tracking phase includes a temperament test by the overseeing judge to assure the dog's mental soundness. When approached closely on a loose leash, the dog should not act shyly or aggressively. The track is laid earlier by a person walking normally on a natural surface such as dirt or grass. The track includes a number of turns and a number of small, manmade objects left by this person on the track itself. At the end of a 33 foot leash, the handler follows the dog, which is expected to scent the track and indicate the location of the objects, usually by lying down with it between its front paws. The tracking phase is intended to test the dog's trainability and ability to scent, as well as its mental and physical endurance.

Protection

The protection phase tests the dog's courage, physical strength, and agility. In this phase, the handler's control of the dog is absolutely essential. The exercises include a search of hiding places, finding a hidden person (the 'decoy'), and guarding that decoy while the handler approaches. The dog is expected to pursue the decoy when it attempts and escape and to hold the grip firmly (bite and hold the arm, wearing a bite guard). The decoy is searched and transported to the judge with the handler and dog walking behind, and later at the decoy's right side. When the decoy attempts to attack the handler, the dog is expected to stop the attack with a firm grip with no hesitation. The final test of courage occurs when the decoy is asked to come out of a hiding place near the dog's handler, from the opposite end of the trial field, using a stick to threaten the dog while rushing aggressively toward the handler. The dog is expected to intercept the decoy and grip him firmly. All grips during the protection phase are expected to be firmly placed on the padded sleeve and release on command or when the decoy discontinues the fight. The protection tests are intended to assure that the dog possesses the proper temperament for breeding.

Schutzhund is intended to demonstrate the dog's intelligence and utility. As a working trial, Schutzhund measures the dog's mental stability, endurance, structural efficiencies, ability to scent, willingness to work, courage, and trainability. The sport has become popular in the United States and many Dobermans and their owners participate. The overall popularity in the United States however, is not so great in comparison to Europe. Much of this has to do with the litigious attitude in the US and misconceptions of the working breeds, causing the AKC to disallow its member clubs from sponsoring events that include bite work. This decision then caused the breakaway national Doberman club, the United Doberman Club, which conducts Schutzhund trials under the auspices of the American Working Dog Federation.

Flyball

Flyball is a wonderful sport that, like agility, is becoming very popular, is good exercise, and really fun to watch. It started in the 1970s when someone built a device that enabled a dog to trigger a tennis ball to be shot into the air. These early devices ended up shooting the ball ten feet into the air and the dog would fly up after it, hence the name. Since then, the device has become precise enough that the dog is able to trigger it and catch it on its way up.

Flyball competitions consist of two teams. Each team has four dogs. The four dogs run a relay race down a 51-foot course with four hurdles, with the height set at 4 inches below the shortest dog's shoulder. At the end of this course is the ball-shooting device. The dog hits this device with its paws triggering the ball to shoot. The dog immediately catches the ball in its mouth and runs back down to the starting point.

The North American Flyball Association (NAFA) offers a points system. Dogs who earn 20,000 flyball points are awarded the Onyx award. Onyx was the first dog to reach 20,000 and happens to have been a Doberman. People interested in having their dog's points counted, only need to sign up with the NAFA by purchasing a CRN number for $15. The NAFA web site makes available a database with seeding and rankings of all the dogs participating in flyball. There is also a wealth of flyball information at flyballdogs.com.