Schutzhund is a sport whose purpose is to evaluate a dog’s character by giving it work to do and then comparing its performance with that of other working dogs. In German, the word Schutzhund means literally protection dog, for that is what a Shutzhund is meant to be, useful and happier companions to their owners. The sport evolved in Germany as a means of testing and preserving the character and utility of working dogs.

During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Western Europe was well populated with many types of rural shepherd dogs. These animals herded sheep, cattle and other livestock for their masters. They also guarded livestock at night and gave warning of the approach of strangers to many small farms and hamlets. Shepherd dogs were an indispensable part of the farm economy.

These dogs did not belong to specific breeds but their size, build, coat and colour blended smoothly from one region to the next. At this time, ownership of actual breeds of pedigreed dogs was primarily a privilege of the noble and the wealthy that had as little regard for peasant dogs as they did for peasants.

It was not until sometime later that some members of the leisure class who had both the time and money became interested in the common farm dogs of the country side. For the very first time these animals were viewed as altogether more valuable than the livestock they were guarding, and in various areas of Europe certain unusual men began to take steps to preserve and protect them.

One of these was an aristocratic young German cavalry officer named Max von Stephanitz who in 1899 founded the “Deutsches Shaeferhund Verein” (German Shepherd Dog Club) called the SV. Almost singlehandedly he built the breed. He presided over the club, began the stud book, wrote the standard of the breed and appointed the judges who would select the most worthy specimens. He also organized training contests for the SV.

Long before von Stephanitz’s time, numerous informal contests were conducted in small villages all over Europe, but it was he who formalized these competitions under the auspices of the SV and structured them to include equal tests of performance in tracking, obedience and protection. He was totally committed to the idea that the German shepherd is, and must stay, a working animal. He strongly encouraged the use of dogs by the German police and the military.

Today the SV is the largest and most influential breed organization in the world. The first Schutzhund trial was held in Germany in 1901 to emphasize the correct working temperament and ability in the German shepherd breed. SV, the parent club of the breed, developed the Schutzhund test as a way of maintaining reliable dogs with traits suitable for breeding.

A German shepherd dog in Germany cannot receive official registration papers unless both of its parents have passed a Schutzhund trial. Furthermore, unless the dog itself also passes a Schutzhund examination it cannot be exhibited in shows, it is not eligible for the coveted V rating (Excellent) in beauty and structure and may not compete for the title of Champion and will not be recommended for breeding.

The Schutzhund trial is a day- long test of character and trainability. It is an evaluation of the dog’s stability, drive and willingness. The animal must be a multitalented generalist that can, in the space of a day, compete successfully in three different phases of participation: tracking, obedience and protection. Schutzhund I is the most elementary title awarded while Schutzhund III demands the most challenging level of ability.

The tracking test assesses the dog’s perseverance and concentration, its scenting ability and willingness to work for its handler. The animal must follow the footsteps of a tracklayer, finding and indicating to its handler objects, called articles that the tracklayer had left on the track.With each category (Shutzhund I, II or III) the length and age of the track are increased.

Obedience evaluates the dog’s responsiveness to its handler. The obedience test involves a number of different situations in which the dog must eagerly and precisely carry out the handler’s orders. It must be proficient at heeling at the handler’s side, retrieving, jumping and performing a variety of skills.

The protection phase gauges the dog’s courage, desire for combat, self reliance and obedience to the handler under very exciting and difficult circumstances. This phase involves searching for and warning its handler of a hidden ”villain,” aggressively stopping an assault on its handler and preventing the escape of the villain, amongst other skills.

The trial is presided over by a recognized judge (mostly from Germany). He must have  “feeling” for the animals and be able to look at the whole picture of what a working dog represents. The judge must have the ability to watch a dog work for a little while and then know what is in its heart – what it has inside.

The judge’s job is to determine a winner but possibly more important is to promote those animals that display outstanding quality of character so that they will be used for breeding and to weed out those animals that are deficient or unsound in character. The traits that make for a good Schutzhund candidate mostly are innate characteristics that must be bred for. Even among dogs bred out of Schutzhund bitches and dogs, a minority have the ability to reach even SchH I and a small percentage will have the necessary drive, intelligence and hardness to achieve a SchH III title.

Early development is important. The young pup should not be subjected to strong corrections or experience being dominated by another dog, and all training and play should end with the pup “winning.”

A dog that is unreliable around people will have a difficult time passing a SchH I title. In order to enter for a SchH I title, the dog must have passed the BH Begleithund test, which is a combination of a CD Companion dog and Canine Good Citizen tests.

Protection work in itself does not make a dog mean. In order to do protection work you must have a temperamentally strong dog. An aggressive dog is not a good candidate for this work. You need a dog with confidence and good nerves. A nervous or shy dog is a poor candidate because it can’t take the stress of training. A protection dog needs both prey and defensive drives. An unbalanced dog is very difficult to train because protection work is the blending of both these drives to produce a calm, reliable dog that understands the work. Not every dog has what it takes to do protection work. This is why a Schutzhund degree is required in Germany to breed a German shepherd.

At all three stages SchH I, II & III: Obedience, Tracking and Protection are worth 100 points for a total of 300 points. If a dog does not receive at least 70% in each of the three phases or if the dog fails the pretrial temperament test, it is not awarded a degree that day and must repeat the entire test, passing all three phases at a later trial.

Through its commitment to Schutzhund and its uncompromising insistence on strictly controlled breeding practices, the SV has succeeded in producing the best German Shepherds in the world. As a result, GSD’s are exported by the thousands all over the world. In many countries stadiums fill with people and brim with excited anticipation when Schutzhund contest take place. In Europe, for example, approximately 40 000 German Shepherds participate in 10 000 trials each year.

Besides German Shepherds, many other breeds of dogs now also compete such as the Belgian Malinoir, Doberman Pincher, Bouvier des Flanders, Rottweiler, Boxers, Giant Schnauzer, etc. Generally, these are larger working breeds with strong prey and defense drives and temperament suitable for the tasks of training. 

There are a variety of reasons that account for the rapid growth of Schutzhund in America and over the world. Many dogs trained in Schutzhund are now used by the police and the military, as search and rescue dogs, as personal protection dogs and as companions in private homes. Growing fear of personal assault and the need to protect property, as well as the desire for a trustworthy, outgoing family pet, have all contributed to the popularity of the Schutzhund concept.

With acknowledgement to: Haus Promenthaus Kennels and “Schutzhund” by Susan Barwig & Stewart Hilliard.