What is Schutzhund?

The literal translation from German to English of the word “Schutzhund” is “protection” or “guardian” dog, but that’s really quite misleading. To help acquaint you with this complicated, three level, three phase dog sport, we offer the following simple and condensed explanation of Schutzhund rules, regulations, and the point system used.

Schutzhund originated in Germany as a breeding suitability test for the German shepherd dog and was quickly adopted for use by other working breeds such as the Malinois and Rottweiler. It provided breeders with a method to evaluate temperament, character, trainability, willingness and mental and physical soundness and to select and use only the highest quality dogs for breeding programs. Today, German shepherd dogs in Germany may not be bred without aquiring Schutzhund titles, a breed survey, a conformation rating, hip (spine and elbow) xrays and a certificate of endurance.

In response to political forces in Germany, in 2004 the Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde (SV) and the Deutscher Hundesportverein (DHV) made substantial changes to Schutzhund. The DHV adopted the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI) rules that govern IPO titles, so that at least on paper the SV and DHV gave up control of the sport to the FCI. The DHV changed the name of the titles from “SchH” (Schutzhund) to “VPG” (Vielseitigkeitsprüfung für Gebrauchshunde which roughly translates Versatility examination for working dogs). The SV has retained the “SchH” title names, but otherwise conforms to the DHV/FCI rules.

In addition to its value as a breeding tool, Schutzhund is also an exciting sport and training challenge. It can be described as “stylized police dog training” and is the foundation training many of the imported police dogs receive before they go on to specialized training for the street.

Schutzhund Titles

Schutzhund offers three levels of titles, and there are three phases to each title. One must obtain a passing score in all three phases at one trial in order to obtain a title and be able to advance to the next training level. The titles are:

  • SchH 1 (novice)
  • SchH 2 (intermediate)
  • SchH 3 (advanced)

Two advanced tracking degrees are also offered: FH and FH2.

To obtain a title, the dog and handler must pass three distinct phases at a trial: tracking, obedience, and protection.

Phase A: Tracking

In this phase, the dog must draw from inherited abilities by using his nose to find a person’s track and discover articles that have been dropped along the way. Unlike search & rescue where the dog relies primarily on “air-scenting”, Schutzhund tracking is very focused on the footsteps, and is scored largely on the precision of the dog’s performance. Depending upon the title sought, tracks will vary in length, shape and age. Tracking is usually done in dirt or on grass. A perfect score is 100 points, with a minimum of 70 needed to pass.

Phase B: Obedience

The obedience phase showcases the dog’s inherent joy in the work balanced with precision and control. The exercises include heeling on and off leash, walking through a group of people, sit, down and/or stand while moving, recall, a 10+ minute long down while another dog is working on the field, retrieving, and jumping. Two shots are fired from a blank gun during the heeling and long down, and the dog must not react adversely. A set pattern is demonstrated by the handler from memory (unlike AKC obedience, where the judge calls the pattern for you). A perfect score is 100 points, with 70 needed to pass.

Phase C: Protection

This phase of Schutzhund training is the strongest test of the dog’s basic temperament and character, with the emphasis on control. It should not be confused with guard or “attack” dog or personal protection training. A dog competing in the sport of Schutzhund must show courage without viciousness. He is rated on self-confidence, ability to work under pressure, toughness and resilience, steadfast nerves, well-balanced drives and willingness to take directions and be responsive to the handler. Obedience and control are demonstrated throughout the protection phase through off-lead exercises and through guarding without biting. The “bad guy” or “helper” as he is known in the sport always wears protective pants and a special sleeve with a burlap cover. The dog is allowed to bite this sleeve and he must bite this in the correct manner. On command, the dog MUST release the bite — the ultimate in control criteria. A dog will fail if it does not release the bite when commanded to do so. A perfect score is 100 points, with 80 points needed to pass.

Throughout all three phases the dog’s temperament is constantly being evaluated by the judge. Aggressive dogs and those that lack obedience and control will be failed for faulty temperament.

Putting it all together

Schutzhund is a wonderful sport. It is fun for the dog and trainer, it’s challenging and it’s rewarding. Where else in the dog sport world must the dog prove himself in three dramatically different phases in one day?

But more than a sport, the schutzhund evaluation is the best way we have of testing a dog’s temperament. There’s plenty else we can tell about a dog off the trial field too — for instance, aversion to slick surfaces, dog aggression, gunshyness and other temperament and character faults that degrade working ability — but it’s the best tool we have to evaluate breeding stock if we’re honest with ourselves about what we see.

The true temperament test of Schutzhund isn’t (or shouldn’t be) about points or how tough or extreme the dog is — it’s about how well the dog puts it all together.

On trial day, the dog (theoretically) will demonstrate his level of training, his guideablity, self-confidence, courage, sovereignty, nerve soundness, etc., to an impartial evaluator on a strange field with a strange helper. He should be committed to the track (which is a highly stylized exercise); he should be joyful but precise and controlled in the obedience; and he should be confident, active, powerful yet obedient in the protection.

By the time the dog gets to the trial field, especially by SchH3, there have been countless hours of training, repetition, stress, problem solving, handler mistakes, etc. The dog has had to learn to control his drives and urges through obedience. A dog who comes out strong and full of himself, shows joy in the work yet is still controlled and precise… is awesome. That’s working temperament.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Do I have to have a German shepherd or Rottweiler to participate in Schutzhund?

A. The sport is designed for all athletic dogs with correct working abilities and is not restricted to a particular group or breed of dog. The dog must be physically able to jump the one-meter jump holding a dumbbell, but there’s a lot about what is in the dog’s head, too.

Q. I have a German shepherd I bought. Can it do Schutzhund?

A. Many factors — one of which can be breed — determine what makes a successful Schutzhund dog. Stable temperament, desire for play, physical soundness, confidence, and many other characteristics must be considered. We would be happy to help you evaluate your dog for the sport if you’re interested.

Q. Is it true that training my dog in Schutzhund will make it want to bite people or that the dog will be unreliable around children, visitors, etc?

A. Absolutely not! Many of our club members have small children, and all of us have our Schutzhund dogs in the house all the time. We have found that the dog’s basic temperament has much more to do with his manners around strangers than any training. If anything, the training we do makes most dogs that are suited to the work more confident and secure, and less bothered by unusual circumstances.

Q. My dog has bitten several people and I think he’d make a great Schutzhund dog.

A. The polite answer is that it depends a lot on the circumstances that induced him to bite. The direct answer is that your dog almost certainly has temperament flaws that make the dog totally unsuitable for Schutzhund. The rude answer is that if your dog bites people and you LIKE that, then YOU have temperament flaws that make YOU unsuitable for Schutzhund.

Q. My dog loves to play tug, has a lot of energy, and I want to do more with him than just throw the ball once in a while. How do I find out whether my dog and I should try this?

A. Training for Schutzhund is a lot of fun, and tremendously rewarding, but it is also very time-consuming. Our club has no particular breed prejudices — even mutts are welcome! — but the time commitment can be daunting. To find a club in your area where you can visit and see if this sport appeals to you and your dog, click here.

Q. What age can I start training my dog?

We start training puppies as soon as they come home. There is a lot you can teach a baby puppy: targeting helps with go-outs and blind searches later. You can teach sit, down, stand, sit in front, come fast, attention and focus and lots more with a baby puppy. Tracking can also be started at 8 weeks old, and tug play mdash; learning that a quick out leads to more of the tug game — is also important for a youngster. (Don’t play too much rough tug while the puppy is teething.)

Socialisation with people (some are tall, some are small, some have loud voices, some come in wheel chairs), other puppies (take a puppy class for its socialisation opportunities), and exposure to the big wide world with different places, slick floors, noise, etc. are all important.

Q. How do I get started?

The first thing you need to do is locate the Schutzhund clubs in your area. It is very difficult to advance in Schutzhund without training with a club. You can find lists of clubs by state at the USA site and the DVG site and by province at German Shepherd Schutzhund Clubs of Canada.

Visit the clubs in your area to see where you feel most comfortable and how you like the people training there and their training methods. Find the best fit for you and your dog. There are many different training styles and hopefully you’ll find a club that uses methods you like.

Q. How do I find out what the requirements are for each level, including the BH?

Both USA and DVG have rule books which describe all exercises and explain what is needed for all titles. The DVG rulebook is also available on their website. In addition, there are several articles written by Big Sky Schutzhund club members that detail the requirements for the BH.

New Titles Available!

The United Schutzhund Clubs of America is now offering six new titles at all USA sanctioned Schutzhund trials. These titles are TRACKING 1, 2 and 3 and OBEDIENCE 1, 2 and 3. While they do not count towards the requirements for breed surveys or conformation shows, these sport titles provide an additional way for members to become involved in trials, gain experience and enjoy the sport.

The “BH” (Begleithunde), which demonstrates that the dog has basic obedience and a sound temperament, is required prior to entering tracking or obedience. A scorebook is required for all dogs attempting the BH. Click germanshepherddog.com to order a scorebook or rulebook from USA.

The TRACKING 1, 2 and 3 and the OBEDIENCE 1, 2 and 3 will be judged by the same rules and regulations that apply to these phases in the Schutzhund 1, 2 and 3 degrees. Dogs may compete at any level of these titles regardless of their current, if any, schutzhund degree.

The sports medal point total for these titles will be 1 point for the TRACKING and OBEDIENCE 1 level, 2 points for the TRACKING and OBEDIENCE 2 level and 3 points for the TRACKING and OBEDIENCE 3 level. Qualification for the points only applies to a passing score.

The United Schutzhund Clubs of America hopes that by offering these new titles, more people will have the opportunity to trial their dogs, gain handling experience in a trial situation and participate in the USA sports medal program in a wider range of activities.

I have found portions of this article on websites throughout the web, used without permission. This is an original article written by the Big Sky Schutzhund Club. Please, if you want to use it on your site, ask for permission first!, use an author citation and link back to this site.