In the last issue, we gave a general overview of Schutzhund, a dog-training versatile sport, which is equally loved by both handler as well as the pooch. It tests his various traits including physical capabilities, such as strength, endurance, agility and scenting ability. Here’s more on the three phases of the Schutzhund competition.
What are the three phases of Schutzhund Competition?
Obedience Phase: This test includes heeling on leash and off leash. The dog shows his ability to heel with
the handler holding him on the leash or without the leash. This phase tests the obedience of the dog. Remember a dog due to his genetic makeup may not exhibit strong capabilities in all three phases. A lot depends on the breeding of the dog, his genetic makeup, training he receives and most of all the capability of the handler, trainer and helpers with which the dog gets trained. During the heeling exercises, the dog’s mental stability and nerve sureness is tested in and around a group of strangers.
Another test for the sureness of the nerves and test of stability of the dog in face of sudden noises is the Gun shot test conducted during the obedience phase. Next is the field exercises which includes making the dog sit and stay and lie down on command and then come to the handler on command. The dog is also required to retrieve dumbbells of various weights and sizes over flat ground and over a six-foot slanted inverted V-shaped wall.
All this is done amid various distractions of other dogs performing their respective exercises on the same field at other corners. All that the obedience test of a dog is the willingness of the dog to serve his master and the sureness of the temperament as well as the structure.
Tracking Phase: The tracking phase tests the basic trait in a dog to hunt down his prey in the wild. The track is of a specifi c length and has its turns and twists. Two articles are placed on the track and the track itself is laid by using scent pad of a stranger person.
The track may be old in order to make it tough for the dog. A strong external factor in the tracking phase is the direction of the wind current which has an effect on how easily the dog is able to cover the track and identify the article. The dog is tied to a 10-m leash and the handler walks behind the dog at the end of full 10-m leash played out. The dog should track on command and should have a known way of when he fi nds an article lying on the track. The tracking phase tests the dog’s trainability, ability to sniff out, and also mental and physical endurance.
Protection Phase: This phase tests the dog’s courage, his physical strength, his genetic makeup and his agility on the fi eld. A dog’s very primordial trait is to bite. What we as trainers do is to channelize this trait in such a way that the dog learns when NOT to bite. The dog need not be taught to bite.
What he needs to learn is when not to bite. This demonstrates the ultimate control of the handler over his canine partner. The dog is made to hunt out a hidden man (The helper in training terms) and when he fi nds him in a canopy blind then the dog holds on to his prey with a hold and bark activity.
The dog has to demonstrate that he has in him what he takes to intimidate the human helper and make him stand his ground. This also is a true test of the fighting drive in a dog. The dog is also expected to pursue the helper or the decoy when he tries to make an escape. What we often see in Schutzhund videos is that the dog bites on the hard jute sleeve worn by the helper on the arm. This sleeve is actually the prey item in the dog’s head and hence he learns to bite on the sleeve from his primordial instinct of catching a sleeve.
Dogs who are potential Schutzhund prospects MUST have this prey drive in them in order for the trainer to mould this drive into making the dog bite on the sleeve of the helper. When the decoy is arrested by the dog, the handler must come over and de-arm the helper or the decoy and then the dog escorts the decoy to the judge. The protection tests are intended to assure that the dog is a fi ghter and will not run away in event of a threat to his master or to himself.
What is the ultimate critique on the dog?
Schutzhund is a sport of team effort of the dog and his handler/trainer. What the handler does is to bring out the true spirit of a mentally sound and sure nerved dog to show his true capability as the member of a human family as well as on the fi eld. If at all the dog falters in this test, it is purely because of mistakes of the trainer and NOT the dog, as the father of modern day dog training Konrad Most said, “We are in Luck if, in training a dog, we can use his instincts as a basis for what we require. For, the more instinctive an action is the more reliable it will be.”
All the three stages, Schutzhund I, II, III, is worth 100 points each for a total of 300 points. The dog must receive 70 points each in tracking and obedience and 80 points in the protection phase. So clearly the emphasis is on the protection phase of the sport. A good Schutzhund dog must have strong courage and strong nerves.
If the dog is not able to achieve this minimal score in each phase, then the dog fails the trail test and must make a fresh appointment with the judge to reappear in the trial and pass all the three phases again. The judge is basically looking for strong control, accurate focus and workability in the dog and of course high endurance levels.
(An engineer by profession, Bikram Suri is deeply involved in anything related to canine evolution and loves to see serious dog sports become popular in India. He has undergone mentoring and training from some of the fi nest kennels in Europe in the sport of Schutzhund and keeps visiting these kennels to understand their breeding programmes and the sport of Schutzhund.)