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What Is Schutzhund? A Comprehensive Guide to the Incredible Dog Sport

Written by: Matt Jackson

Last Updated on May 23, 2024 by Dogster Team

Doberman dog training for schutzhund

What Is Schutzhund? A Comprehensive Guide to the Incredible Dog Sport

Originally introduced as a means of testing the working capabilities and, therefore, breeding eligibility of German Shepherds, Schutzhund has developed into a canine sport. The German Shepherd remains the most popular breed for the sport, although other breeds can and do take part.

Schutzhund translates as “protection dog” and it is meant as a test of a dog’s protection dog skills. It involves three parts: tracking, obedience, and protection. It is common for all three elements to be tested in a single day’s event, although it does vary from one competition to another.

Although not typically used to determine a dog’s eligibility for breeding anymore, it closely follows the patterns of police dog training and tests all of the abilities that would be required of this type of service dog.

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How Does It Work?

Although classified as a sport, Schutzhund is more of a training program. Dog owners and handlers can find local groups that run events, as well as train dogs to perform different tasks. An official club will also be able to identify those dogs they believe will do well in the event, as well as those they do not believe to be suitable for Schutzhund. Although the events traditionally include three different elements, many modern clubs are not willing to teach the protection element.

Dogs participate in one, two, or three of the different elements of the sport, depending on the event as well as the choice of the handler. Points are awarded for the dog’s performance and the one that achieves the highest points total at the end of the event is considered the winner.

However, before dogs can compete in main events, they must complete a temperament test, which ensures that it is safe to proceed with the elements of the sport. If the dog fails this test, it will not be permitted to continue with the event.

Schutzhund German shepherd dog barking
Image Credit: DoberNut, Shutterstock

What Are the Different Types of Schutzhund?

There are three main elements to a Schutzhund event, as well as a preliminary test to ensure a dog’s suitability. These stages are:

  • Temperament Test – Some elements of the event, especially the protection stage, require that a dog show aggression but in a controlled manner. The dog needs to be under control at all times and should not pose any danger to the handler, judge, or anybody in the arena. The temperament test, called the BH-VT or BH test assesses a dog’s eligibility, and the dog must pass this preliminary stage to be allowed to enter the main event. The dog will usually be tested around joggers and cyclists, and while tethered alone.
  • Tracking – A track is laid across a field, consisting of several small objects. The dog walks down the track and identifies each object, usually by lying next to it. The handler, who is at the other end of a 10-meter lead, collects the objects. The dog is judged on how many objects it finds as well as how quickly it identifies them and how well it marks each item. The difficulty of the course is determined by the number, type, and placement of objects, and can vary from competition to competition.
  • Obedience – Obedience testing requires the dog to take part in several heeling events, as well as recall and retrieval. While one dog is performing these tests, another lies nearby and waits. The dogs swap once the first dog completes the test.
  • Protection – During the protection test, the dog will need to locate and identify a hiding helper. When the helper has been located, the dog will need to protect them from an attacker who is wearing a thick arm protector. The dog will usually subdue the attacker by biting the sleeve.

Where Is It Used?

Schutzhund events take place around the world, although they are not as common as a lot of other sports and activities. They were traditionally used to assess the intelligence, work ethic, and eligibility of German Shepherds for certain tasks. The event was also used to ascertain a GSD’s temperament and its suitability for breeding.

Today, the event is not used in this way, but because it is close to the style of training that police dogs and close protection dogs go through, it is common for police handlers to take part in the events. The German Shepherd is the most common breed used for this sport, but it is open to any breed that can pass the suitability test. Boxers and Malinois are commonly seen in the Schutzhund ring.

Advantages of Schutzhund
  • Physical and Mental Stimulation – Schutzhund is an intensive sport that requires a lot of training and practice. It is physically intense, and the dogs need to pay attention and learn a lot of new and varied skills. It is an effective way of providing physical exercise and mental stimulation for a dog.
  • Bond Building – You need a very close bond with a Schutzhund dog, if you want to compete in events. Participating in and training in these events will help develop a stronger bond between you and your four-legged friend.

Disadvantages of Schutzhund
  • Not Commonplace – Schutzhund is not as commonplace as other canine sports like agility or flyball. You might find it easier to sign up for agility, obedience, and tracking events, rather than Schutzhund.
  • Not All Dogs Are Suitable – Some elements of Schutzhund are not suitable for all dogs. In particular, the close protection element of the event requires that a dog attack and disarm an attacker. All dogs need to pass a preliminary test before they are allowed to compete, and reputable clubs will ensure the suitability of a dog before they start formal training.

Doberman dog doing schutzhund training
Image Credit: Marijke van Endhoven, Shutterstock

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What Does Schutzhund Mean?

Schutzhund is a German word that means “protection dog”, which gives an idea of what kind of work participating dogs will need to undertake. It got this name because the event was used as a means to determine the suitability of German Shepherds for protection work. Today, it is more commonly used as a training technique and event.

What Breeds Do Best at Schutzhund?

The event was originally designed for German Shepherds, and it closely matches the typical traits of the breed. However, other breeds like Malinois and Boxers can also do very well in Schutzhund events, and there are not usually any restrictions placed on which breeds can enter.

What Equipment Do You Need?

Initially, it is worth going to a local club where you can give the event a go and see if you and your dog are suitable for Schutzhund. If you do enjoy it and want to continue, you will need rugged dog collars, long leads, harnesses, and vests. You will also need items like tug pillows to help with the protection training, and even a bite sleeve to get your dog prepared for this specific element.

Scaling walls, hurdles, and tracking gear will prove useful if you intend to train outside Schutzhund classes.

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Schutzhund is an intense dog sport that was originally developed as a means to determine whether German Shepherds, in particular, were capable of close protection work. It has evolved over time and is now considered a sporting event, and it has opened its doors to other breeds.

There are elements of the event that mean it is not suited to all individual dogs because they require some level of aggression, but that aggression must be controlled. Other elements like tracking and obedience are suitable for most dogs, but they can be practiced individually.

Featured Image Credit: Marijke van Endhoven, Shutterstock

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