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Preserving the Fundamentals of Schutzhund

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Preserving the Fundamentals of Schutzhund

I recently read an online discussion about the growth, or lack thereof, of the United Schutzhund Clubs of America and the IPO sport in general.  As is typical in life, different people have different opinions on the issue. Some people said they believe that the organization is doing well and even showing improvement, while others wrote that not enough is being done to promote and preserve the sport.

IMG_7259bIf you step back and think about it, it’s easy to see why people disagree. Like with everything else in life, people form opinions based on their own personal experiences. To someone just starting out in IPO, there are new and fun things around every corner, so many undiscovered possibilities. With so much to learn and to do, it’s easy for a new competitor to become excited about their personal future within the sport. That excitement drives the newcomers to seek out better coaches, better helpers, better clubs, and more effective training methods. When you’re going through this process, it’s easy to think that things are getting better all the time, that the sport is improving. But the reality is that the only thing improving is you. The knowledge and methods that you are learning, these things that are helping you to improve, have always been there.

I went through this process myself about 35 years ago. If someone would have asked me, say, six years into my Schutzhund experience if I thought the sport was growing, my answer would have been, “Hell, yes. One day, this is going to be the most popular dog sport ever.” But my thinking was wrong – the sport it is at the same level today as it was when I started all those years ago. Personally, I have seen no substantial growth. The first national event I attended in the early 1980’s was as big a deal, if not more so, than this year’s event. In fact, I would say that the sport, or at least the organization, has been regressing in recent years. The new magazines have a quarter of the content that they used to. Many of my fellow trainers that have been involved in Schutzhund for decades are no longer members of USCA, or of a local club.


I may not think that the sport is improving, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been evolving. There have definitely been lots of changes over the years; even the name has changed. Unfortunately, the evolution hasn’t been a positive one. Not only have we failed to promote the test of Schutzhund, but we haven’t even managed to preserve it. The fundamentals of the past, courage and hardness, are rarely considered in IPO today. The focus is all on procedure and points – everyone wants to win a big event, even if that means sacrificing those fundamentals to create a competitive dog. Because of this, to me the average IPO III title doesn’t carry the weight it used to. Twenty years ago, if a dog achieved Schutzhund III, you could trust that it was a quality dog.  At that time, the helpers had a real stick and a real sense of testing the dogs. As competitors, we hoped for judges and helpers that would separate the strong from the weak. The goal was to have a dog that was obviously tough and full of fight. The points were little more than an afterthought.

IMG_7615bDuring a recent discussion with a young handler, I asked her what she thought this sport was about. Why do we train? After a moment, she replied, “Well, for the points.” I started to explain to her why her thinking was wrong, but then I realized that from her perspective, she was probably right, because that’s all she knows of the sport: the competition and the scores. To her, trying to win is all there is to this. And unfortunately, she’s no different than a lot of others out there. Not that I agree with this attitude, but I might at least be able to understand it if there was really something worth winning – prize money or serious notoriety. But let’s face it, IPO isn’t the NFL. Winning a trial is never going to make anyone rich and famous. So what’s so important about winning that is worth sacrificing the fundamentals that made Schutzhund great?

I feel that most of the training methods that have become popular in the last few years have all been geared toward creating competitive sport dogs. I’ve seen very few advancements that could help a beginner train a real protection dog that will also be a trusted family member, which should be our goal. In my experience, this is what most newcomers are looking for. If we don’t start doing a better job of teaching people the fundamentals, I don’t see how Schutzhund can survive without morphing into something that I, and most of my clients, no longer want to be a part of. I think this evolution, and our lack of growth as an organization, is a result of not doing justice to our novice members. We need to be doing more to help these people achieve their personal goals. They don’t want to win the National, they just want a stable, obedient protection dog. If they can make a hobby of being competitive in the sport, that’s just icing on the cake. We need to start growing from the bottom up, not from the top down.


Now, I know that most people doing IPO today would say that the sport has nothing to do with creating real protection dogs, and as things stand now, I would have to agree. It has definitely become more about competition and scores and less about training and promoting real protection dogs. That’s what some people are considering growth. In my opinion, our “growth” is only leading to our downfall.

6 thoughts on “Preserving the Fundamentals of Schutzhund

  1. Excellent and unfortunately accurate article. I myself, while not new to the sport nor to real protection dogs, have in recent times experienced confusion and dismay regarding the circus type gimicky training methodolgy being presented as gospel. This type of points only based training , while preaching against realistic tough protection work which can illicit civil behavior from the dog , instead puts hellacious and punishing pressure to heel with exaggerated and engineered false precision. This is creating the dog that presents a broadway jazz routine on field and has minimal.comprehension of follow through off of the field, hence function lags far behind form. I do not want nor have a need to own a dog that will run around looking for a sleeve or god forbid a ball, if I as a person, am ever faced with iminent real danger to my safety and well being. Unfortunately many novice handlers do not realize that that is exactly where their training is taking them. Even only” point based” handlers are being routinely shocked by their dogs offering unrelated and unmanageable behaviors during a trial…not the least of which include “running off field”. The trainers then resort to the famous excuse of “first time handler” as a disguise for truly poor training with inappropriately placed harsh and unfair pressure for trivial reasons rather than using any real pressure at all necessary to train a real and functional dog and partner. This type of gimicky points training fosters insecurity and fear in dog and handler alike.

    I am both fortunate and proud to own real dogs and have access to a true trainer like Brian Harvey. He is a critical and huge element in the process of the education of my life partners, that happen to sucessfully compete as well.
    Eva Fojudzki and the Bouviers (ipo and ring)

  2. Well said Brian. And I agree with you Eva.

    The fundamentals of Schutzhund must begin with an understanding of the concept of the sport. Schutzhund means Protection Dog. A dog that will protect master and property defensively.

    I would consider myself new in the sport. My first priority is to educate my dogs in a way that will translate on and OFF the field. I am not interested in a flashy performance dog. I want my dogs to be obedient and serious with a clear understanding of what’s required of them no matter where we are.

    Performance and purpose are inevitably blurred with constant rule changing and judging inconsistencies on the part of the national organization. This only serves to challenge it’s integrity and consequently, in my opinion, it’s relevance.

  3. I’m in basic agreement ….but . How many of even us “reality based” trainers really know if our dogs and our training are going to translate into the real world. Some yes, but many people assume that sleeve work or giant fat body suit work translates to the real world…it does not always do so. How many of us use hidden sleeve , some muzzle (not too much) and a light, tactical body suit ? Not too many. Some do yes, but as I mentioned above many people assume too much based on sleeve or big fat body suit work only. I , like Brian thought that the sport would really grow 30 years ago…but it really hasn’t other than to be more sport oriented.

    1. I agree, however with the way Brian trains I have had zero problem competing in ring and ipo with the same dog and he does not train “equipment” dogs. My dogs will proceed without equipment…hence the balancing of the civil quadrant

  4. No reason to preach to the choir about the direction we would like to see Schutzhund develop. The problem is how to get there. I have worked in another discipline that went through a similar loss of focus on performance, so that more could be successful with higher percentages passing the evaluation.
    The biggest problem is how to fairly, consistently, and accurately evaluate intensity, power, heart, and strength of character. The complaint will always be that in lieu of an accurate criteria, there can be favoritism and politics. Even now we hear stories of favoritism and politics affecting scores.
    The other gap that concerns me is the devised between “sport dogs” and “working dogs”. I feel the influence the two have on the other has been good. But, if the divide is too great, one will disregard what they learn from the other concerning control and realness.
    Maybe the return of a “Police Dog” trial that civilians could compete in?
    How do we score them fairly and consistently between multiple judges and organizations?

    Thank you.

  5. To quote a Top National Competitor ” There is no more Schutzhund it,s dead and gone it,s IPO” From a sporting stand point he is correct! But i look at Schutzhund as more then just the training of the dog I believe the founder wanted it to be a complete cycle of the dog from birth to death. The breeding of dogs to compliment the sport has given us today’s German Shepherd for the good or bad of it. Top competitors breeding the guts out of there trial dogs make literally hundreds of breeding’s making thousands of puppies but when it comes to there next trial dog nary a one uses there own stock! with thousands of puppies being created it makes one wonder why are there dogs so good to breed and sell to others but they won,t use them there self’s to compete with?

    My mother land (Germany) is where the problem clearly lies, lowered standards for passing and removing of all stressors that really make this a test! It starts at home. More dogs trialed and added to the titles equals more money in the coffers. USCA is too beholding to Germany to buck the system and design a breed worthy test that draws a line that says the fundamentals of this breed are sound, Big Breeders in the organization won,t test there dogs in such a test because many would not pass! again Money runs and ruins the breed. The best that can be done is to train and breed your dogs for the temperament and ability that once a sound working dog.

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