Schutzhund is a German word meaning "protection dog", but there's a lot more to it than that. Originally developed as a means of testing potential breeding stock, it has evolved into a sport now called "IPO" that can be enjoyed on a variety of levels from hobby to international competition. As dog sports go, IPO is without a doubt one of the most exciting and challenging. It is also one of the most rewarding. Above all, it is a team sport - the team of dog and handler. The two must work together, and perform in harmony. When done well, it is beautiful to watch and the bond between dog and handler is clear for all to see… and many to envy.
IPO training involves three phases: tracking, obedience and protection. When put together, the great effort involved in obtaining an IPO title, and the challenges which accompany this training, make for an obedient, stable, useful and well rounded companion and create an incredible bond between dog and handler. IPO by necessity involves stringent tests of the dog's temperament, nerve, and overall willingness to work, and by any definition an IPO trained dog is a well trained dog. As such, these dogs are safe, happy, and obedient with great self confidence, mental stability and a willingness to please the handler. These are the traits which make the German Shepherd Dog one of the most versatile breeds in existence, and which are still highly valued by professional trainers, law enforcement officers and families wanting an outstanding companion.
A Brief History of Schutzhund
Schutzhund had its beginnings with the very origin of the German Shepherd Dog as a breed, and the two cannot be separated. The founders of the German Shepherd Dog began with herding stock and sought to create a versatile, utilitarian animal that was a canine 'Jack-of-all-trades'. With the industrialization of Europe, herding dogs, while still a valuable part of life in many areas, were becoming less common. However, there was huge interest in dogs for military and law enforcement work. The German Shepherd was ideal for this type of endeavor but, wisely so, the founders of the breed saw potential trouble on the horizon. They felt that breeding of dogs specifically for police and military work by less knowledgeable individuals and without a set of standards for quality control could take the dogs to the extreme, and create unstable, dangerous animals. So they designed the Schutzhund test.
The first Schutzhund trial was held in Germany in 1901. The purpose of this trial was to emphasize the correct working temperament and ability in the German Shepherd Dog breed, and to evaluate potential breeding stock to ensure that they possessed, and thus were most likely to pass on, the traits that make the German Shepherd Dog the incredible breed that it is. Good nerves, sound temperament, self confidence, utility, courage, willingness to work, scenting ability, physical soundness, trainability - all of these are characteristics which the breed's founders strove to develop and wanted to maintain, and all are tested by the Schutzhund exam.
The German Shepherd Dog club of Germany, the Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde (SV) was founded by the breed's creator, and adopted the Schutzhund exam as a required evaluation for breeding stock. Even today in Germany only puppies from breedings in which both the sire and the dam have passed the tests and achieved a Schutzhund / IPO title, in addition to passing an endurance test and receiving a conformation rating and breed survey, can be registered with the SV, and be truly considered German Shepherd Dogs. Over the years, much of Europe adopted these same standards, which are still in place today and are probably the single greatest contributor to the high quality of the German Shepherd Dogs from Europe.
When the German Shepherd Dog first came to North America after World War I, Schutzhund did not come with it. It was not introduced on this side of the ocean until the 1970s, when a German immigrant set up the first Schutzhund club in the United States. It did not take long for Schutzhund to spread across North America. Today, IPO is enjoyed by millions of people from all walks of life across the world. It is a fun and rewarding activity for dog and handler to enjoy together, and offers dog owners the opportunity to train their dogs and compete with each other for recognition of their ability to train and their dog's ability and willingness to learn. While Schutzhund has evolved into a highly competitive international sport, with local, regional, national and international level competitions held every year throughout the world, most people involved in the sport do so on a hobby level. They enjoy training and building a strong bond with their dog as well as the company of fellow dog fanciers with similar interests.
Today, dogs of various breeds compete in IPO and many other breed clubs have since adopted standards similar to the SV for evaluating breed worthiness in their dogs. It is not uncommon to see Dobermans, Rottweilers, Giant Schnauzers, Boxers, Belgian Malinios, Bouviers, Dutch Shepherds, American Staffordshire Terriers and many other working and herding breeds at IPO competitions. However, German Shepherd Dogs remain by far the most common breed involved in IPO and the sport remains an important part of the breed's heritage and future.
Schutzhund / IPO Titles
Schutzhund / IPO involves three phases: Tracking, Obedience and Protection. Each phase has specific tasks or exercises that the dog and handler must accomplish and is graded on a point system. A dog and handler team must score a minimum number of points in each phase, usually all in the same trial on the same day, to achieve a title. There are 3 levels of titles, IPO1, IPO2 and IPO3. Each title is progressively more difficult to accomplish as the individual exercises become harder and the overall level of accuracy required increases. The IPO3 is the highest level. More recently single phase titles have been added for tracking and obedience and an additional title between the BH and IPO1 called the IPO-VT
Prior to trailing for an IPO title, all dogs must pass the BH, or companion dog test. The BH is graded pass/fail and includes an obedience test as well as a temperament test. The obedience exam covers the same exercises as the IPO1 obedience routine, with the exceptions of the retrieves and send away. The temperament portion of the exam evaluates the dog's traffic sureness, and general approachability and safety. The dog must not show nervousness, fear, shyness or aggression when approached by friendly strangers, other dogs, bicyclists, joggers and the like. Nor may the dog exhibit insecurity or anxiety when left alone in the presence of strangers when the handler goes out of sight for a few minutes. All of these tests are designed to ensure that the dog is safe and reliable and has the proper basic temperament for work, prior to continuing training and trialing for IPO titles.
The Three Phases of a Schutzhund /IPO Trial
The tracking phase begins with a temperament test during which the judge evaluates the dog's general temperament, including his reaction to the judge and bystanders. A shy or aggressive dog is dismissed from the field, and is unable to proceed and attempt to achieve a title at that trial.
Tracks are laid at the very start of the trial, under the careful supervision of the judge. In the IPO1 level, the dog's handler lays the track, and at the IPO2 and IPO3 levels the tracks are laid by a stranger. Tracks are normally laid on a natural surface, such as dirt or grass, and the tracklayer is to walk at a normal pace. The tracks must age for a specified period of time, before the handler brings out the dog to run the track.
The tracking itself involves the handler following behind the dog at the end of a 10-meter line, as the dog scents and follows the track. The track includes several turns, as well as man-made articles left on the track by the tracklayer. The length of the track, number of articles and turns, and the amount of time the track must age before the dog runs it, increases at the higher titles.
The dog must scent out and follow the track from start to finish on his own. Help from the handler after the initial command to track at the beginning of the track and after each article indication, is faulty and results in a point deduction. The dog must be methodical and accurate in his work, remaining on the track during both turns and straights, and must indicate the articles dropped by the tracklayer, usually by lying down with the article between his front paws.
The tracking phase is designed to test the dog's trainability and ability to scent, his mental focus and concentration, his problem solving skills, and his ability to work independently for a prolonged period of time at a very specific and detailed task without frequent direction and reassurance by his handler.
The obedience phase is very similar to AKC obedience trials, but on a much larger field, and includes a variety of heeling and field exercises. IPO obedience also includes a gun shot test to evaluate the dog's nerves and sound sensitivity. Dogs that demonstrate gun-shyness, a good indicator of weak character and nerves, are dismissed from the trial.
Heeling is done both on and off leash, both in the open field and in a group of people. The dog must also perform "out of motion" exercises, in which the heeling dog is commanded to sit, down, and stand while the handler continues to move. Recalls are performed as well, and the dog must return to the handler quickly and happily and sit in front, and then to return to heel position at the handler's left upon command.
The dog must perform a series of retrieves, using dumbbells of various weights. A retrieve on flat ground, over a 1-meter hurdle and over a 6-foot climbing wall are required for all 3 levels. The dog is also required to, upon command, run quickly straight away from the handler in the direction the handler indicates, and then lie down immediately with a second command from the handler. Each dog must do a long down at one end of the field, with the handler several meters away or, in the case of IPO3, out of sight. The dog must remain in the down position for several minutes, despite distractions, while another dog and handler team performs their heeling and field exercises not far away.
The obedience tests evaluate the dog's temperament, nerves, drive, control, trainability and willingness to work with and take direction from the handler, as well as structural soundness and overall athleticism.
The protection test of IPO is a stylized version of police work. All bites are on a padded sleeve worn by a specially trained person, called the helper or decoy. In all exercises, the handler's control of the dog is absolutely essential and is judged mercilessly.
The protection phase begins with the dog performing a search, directed by the handler, of several hiding places looking for the decoy. When the dog finds the decoy he must guard, but not touch, until the handler arrives. When the decoy attempts to escape, the dog must pursue, catch and hold firmly. The dog is expected to protect the handler when the decoy attempts to attack the handler, and to engage without hesitation when sent across the field to apprehend the decoy that is charging and threatening the handler and dog with a stick.
Just as the dog must respond to threat or when sent by the handler, the dog must let go and disengage the fight upon the handler's command. During guards, and the transport exercises where handler and dog escort the decoy to the judge, the dog is to remain focused on the decoy and ready to react, but must not bother the decoy in any way.
When required, the dog must engage without pause. Bites must be full and firm and the grip on the sleeve must be calm. The dog must not show any fear, nervousness or hesitation at any time, including when the decoy counterattacks and fights the dog, hitting the dog with a padded stick. During the entire protection phase, the dog must remain in the handler's control, respond quickly and correctly to commands, and disengage immediately when the decoy ceases to resist, or the dog is commanded to do so by the handler.
The protection phase evaluates the dog's physical prowess and agility, as well as his courage, nerve, fighting instinct and willingness to engage a human when required. Even more importantly it tests the dog's self control, overall temperament and willingness to take direction and follow the handler's commands. Dogs that are dangerously aggressive, out of control, or are lacking in nerve, courage and self confidence do not do well in the protection phase.
Are IPO dogs and personal protection dogs the same thing?
The fact that IPO training involves bite work leads to the common misconception that an IPO dog is a protection dog. In truth, IPO is first and foremost a sport. It is not meant to be personal protection dog training. IPO can lay excellent groundwork for dogs to be later utilized as security, military, police and protection dogs, but additional training is needed to turn an IPO sport dog into a real protection dog. Unfortunately, the general public is uneducated about working dog sport. Many people actually fear IPO dogs because they believe that they are aggressive and have been taught to enjoy biting people and many IPO enthusiasts have been asked why we want to make our dogs "mean and dangerous".
IPO and other sport dogs are trained with a decoy wearing a padded protection sleeve, or occasionally a bite suit. To the dog, the decoy is a sparing partner. Few sport dogs have any desire to truly harm the decoy, or if they do it is only because he is an opponent that must be defeated, not because they are vicious.
While the skills taught in IPO are similar to those used for personal protection, security and police K9 work, and many IPO dogs are later converted to such uses, additional training is required. True protection training involves situational training, in strange areas with strange decoys unknown to the dog, and simulating real life scenarios. When the dog is ready, the decoy will begin wearing a hidden sleeve under clothing. With no sleeve visible, the dog is not relying on this cue and can no longer view it as a game. Instead he believes that he is truly biting and hurting the decoy, and that doing so is the only way to eliminate the threat that the decoy poses.
To use a commonly referenced analogy, IPO training is like boxing or martial arts for dogs. A person taking karate classes learns self-discipline and control, in addition to learning all the moves and how to fight. But this training all takes place in a safe, familiar environment. It is in this same manner that a sport dog learns protection work. On the IPO field, as in the karate classroom, there are rules of conduct, the scenarios are pre-planned, and no one is truly trying to hurt each other. Just because someone has an advanced degree in martial arts and has maybe won a tournament or two, does not mean that he would be able to successfully defend himself in a street fight where there are no rules and the threat of both inflicting and incurring physical damage is very real. He might, but additional training in more "real life" scenarios would significantly improve his chances of success. The same holds true with IPO and protection dogs.
The IPO Trained Dog in the Home
By design, an IPO dog is an outstanding companion. There do exist some dogs who are extreme in drive and aggression and do not settle well into family life, and occasionally a dog with faulty temperament and nerves who never should have been bred or titled in the first place can slip through the cracks. But as a general rule IPO dogs make great pets, particularly for active people who enjoy going out and doing things with their dogs.
Every dog owner, whether they are interested in a dog for sport, work, or family companionship, values the characteristics that are present in a IPO dog; mental stability, physical soundness, confidence, fearlessness and a high willingness to work for and please the handler. Likewise, an IPO dog has been well socialized and well trained, making them safe, reliable and obedient companions who can accompany their family anywhere.
A well bred and trained IPO dog is approachable and excellent with children, while being courageous and protective. They are alert and aware of their surroundings, yet are unbothered by unusual sights and sounds. They are neither fearful and timid, nor inappropriately aggressive, standing their ground calmly and confidently without backing down, but not looking for a fight. They are willing to spring into action and work or play at a moment's notice, but in the interim are content to enjoy quiet time with the family. The control that IPO training gives the handler, and the good overall temperament that an IPO dog possesses, allows the handler to take the dog more places and do more things with the dog, increasing their bond and having more fun together.
Even if one is not interested in having a dog for work or sport competition, but instead for family companionship, careful research of breeders and dogs is critical. Most problems that pet owners encounter with their dogs are due to lack of socialization, lack of training or poor genetic temperaments. Socialization and training are the responsibility of the dog's owner, but a good dog starts with good breeding.
Most dogs that are fearful, skittish and timid are this way because of genetics. Many times, such dogs that are spooky and easily threatened become dangerous fear biters. In fact, most dogs that are dangerous and unsafe are so because of an underlying fear of strange people, objects and events. Fearful dogs commonly react aggressively in an attempt to scare away the threat. Proper socialization and training can improve the situation greatly, but the underlying genetics cannot be changed and the truth is that such dogs are never as stable and reliable as a dog that does not have genetically weak nerve and temperament to begin with. The IPO exam does not allow for a dog that shows nervousness and fear, or reacts in a timid and skittish manner. Such dogs are quickly weeded out.
Many people are fearful of "protection" dogs and question how such animals can be safe around children. While protection work is a part of IPO training, it is done in a very careful manner with the utmost emphasis on the handler's control of the dog. Not only do IPO dogs possess the proper nerve and temperament to make them safe around children, they have been well socialized and their training stresses proper control. While IPO dogs are supposed to be willing to defend the handler when required, more importantly they must be willing to trust and obey the handler's judgment and direction.
How to Get Started in IPO
If you are interested in learning more about IPO, meeting the dogs and seeing what its all about, the best way to start is to find a local club. Contact the club's Training Director, and ask to come observe an upcoming trial or training session in order to see more of what it is really about and what the dogs are truly like.
IPO requires a tremendous amount of time, energy and dedication. This is far more than an eight-week obedience class. The dog and handler team must train and practice regularly, in all types of weather, at all three phases in order to succeed. Even with diligent efforts, the average age of dogs attaining a IPO1 title is around 2 ½ years old. Very dedicated teams may be able to then get the IPO3 by the time the dog is three years old, but it is not uncommon with people just starting out in the sport with their first dog to take significantly longer to attain their titles. Sometimes, this can seem like a depressingly long road. However for those with the interest and dedication to stick it out, the rewards are phenomenal and the bond between handler and dog, almost tangible.
If you decide that the sport is definitely something that you want to pursue farther, make sure to visit several clubs in your area. IPO is something that requires a club or training group to train properly, particularly for the protection work as athletic decoys who are good at reading and judging dogs are a must.
Each club is different, with it's own unique "culture". Look for a club whose members you can get along with, because you'll be spending a lot of time with these people. Talk with them and ask a lot of questions. Consider what your goals for IPO are. Look for a club that has the same goals and people with the appropriate experience to get you where you want to go. Do you want to go all the way and become a national level competitor? Or are you more interested in an enjoyable pastime for you and your dog? And just as importantly, make sure that they are willing and able to help teach a novice. Meet their dogs and watch the training to see whose dogs you like and whose training methods and overall philosophy is something that you agree with.
In Germany, every town generally has several IPO clubs, many of which have been operation for decades. So fanciers have literally dozens of clubs to choose from, and many belong to more than one club and can train at any time, any day of the week. In North America, IPO clubs are still relatively few and far between. Many enthusiasts drive a couple of hours or more each way to meet for training, and most clubs only meet once or twice a week. It is worth the effort to visit as many clubs as are a within a reasonable distance, and pick the one that best fits your personality and goals. This is far more important than which club is the cheapest or closest.
If you have a dog already that may make a good IPO prospect, take your dog to the club and have it evaluated. Evaluations with DFW Working Dogs are $40. The Training Director and other members will have the experience and objectivity to give you an accurate evaluation of your dog's IPO potential. If you don't have a dog for the sport, but would like to get one, start first with visiting local clubs and finding one to join. Watch the club dogs carefully, and when you see ones that you especially like inquire as to the dog's bloodlines and from whence the dog came. Your IPO club members are a great resource to help you to locate the right dog. They can also give you advice based on your skills and experience as to whether you would be better to start with a puppy, green dog, or already trained and titled dog. They may know someone who has a good dog for you, recommend a breeder, or at the very least can help you sort out bloodlines and other information to help in your search for your future IPO star.
Taken from an original article from Wildhaus Kennels - http://wildhauskennels.com/schutzhund01.htm