What is Schutzhund?

A. The literal translation from German to English of the word “Schutzhund” is “protection” or “guardian” dog, but that’s really quite misleading.

Schutzhund originated in Germany as a breeding suitability test for the German Shepherd Dog and was quickly adopted for use by other working breeds, like the Malinois, Rottweiler, Dobermans, Bouviers, and Schnauzers. It provides breeders with a method to evaluate temperament, character, trainability, willingness, as well as mental and physical soundness.  It’s used to help select and breed only the highest quality dogs.

Today, German Shepherd Dogs in Germany may not be bred without acquiring Schutzhund titles, a breed survey, a conformation rating, hip (spine and elbow) x-rays and a certificate of endurance. Schutzhund offers the introductory title of a BH (Begleithund), and three levels of titles, which all consist of three phases of work. One must obtain a passing score in all three phases at one trial in order to obtain a title and to be able to advance to the next training level.

The titles are:
IGP1 (novice)
IGP2 (intermediate)
IGP3 (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.


IMG_3825In 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.


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.


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 70 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 temperaments.

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, gun shyness 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 that comes out strong and full of himself, shows joy in the work yet is still controlled and precise… its awesome. That’s working temperament.How do I go about joining your club? potential new members should come out and watch club several times, work their dogs, or be actively getting working instruction with our trainers before considering becoming a member of the maine schutzhund club. Be sure that you are committed to the sport as well as our training program.

Q. How is Schutzhund different from other dog trainingIMG_0288

A. Schutzhund is a very precise sport and the dogs learn their sit, stand, and down in a very unique way. The trainers build a foundation for fast and precise behaviors that eventually are part of a trial routine. Because the trials are graded by points, we train with points in mind to get the the most points possible for the behaviors that our dogs display.


Q. How old should my dog be to start Schutzhund TrainingIMG_8996

A. Puppies start as early as 8 weeks with short and positive reinforcement for all learning phases. Foundational training is very important for success as the puppy becomes a dog. We recommend starting training as soon as possible.

Q. Should I take Private Training Sessions?

A. Most of our new members come to group training once or twice a week and take private sessions with trainers based around their work schedules. This is a great way to work on specific issues that your dog may have and also to teach you to work with your dog at home with exercises that will coincide with the training and help you dog excel at the sport.

Q. What is the benefit of joining a Schutzhund Club?

A. Being a member of a club provides you with support from other members as well as professional trainers that come and train at the club. Additionally, the sport provides workshops and seminars and trials that you can enter for titles. The club also provides an experienced and safe helper so you and your dog are kept safe, and your dog is constantly progressing.

Q. How do I know that my dog has the temperment for Schutzhund Training?

A. This Dog Sport does require a specific temperament to do the work that Schutzhund requires. The more energetic and motivated the dog is to do the exercises, the better the dog will do. Lack of enthusiasm could be a big part of the genetic makeup of a dog, but there are exercises that can build your dog’s drive and enthusiasm. You could have a great dog who just might not have what it takes to excel in the sport.  There are some dogs that show lack of excitement simply because they have been trained differently, and not reinforced the right way. These dogs can improve once they start doing Schutzhund Training. If you bring your dog to the club our trainers and handlers can evaluate your dog. We look at the stability of the dog’s temperament, and specific qualities for the sport. Some of these are gripping behavior, energy and focus, enthusiasm to work for food, tug, and ball.

Q. If my dog is older and has been trained differently, can I still try Schutzhund?

A. As long as your dog has the temperament for the work and is motivated by food, toy, tug or ball our trainers will work to switch your dog to Schutzhund Sport. It may take a bit more time to fix other behaviors that your dog has learned along the way but it may be well worth it to both the dog and the handler.

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