Schutzhund is a popular sport in the United States and around the world that people participate in with their dogs. “Schutzhund” is German for “protection dog”. It was first introduced to military buyers and police departments by working dog breeders in Germany in the early 1900’s to display the potential their dogs had to be trained for use as working dogs. The operative word here is “potential”. The dogs displayed through the Schutzhund sport that their breeding made it likely they could be trained as protection or patrol dogs, not that they were protection or patrol dogs.
Today few breeders or kennels, if any, use Schutzhund as a means of displaying their dogs to the military or law enforcement. These days it is simply a sport participated in by many on the weekends as recreation by likeminded dog owners of one of the protection breeds. Schutzhund trained dogs participate in obedience, tracking, and protection judged events. Schutzhund dogs can attain titles (IPO 1, 2, 3) which will generally bring a higher price if sold. These dogs are skilled but they are not protection dogs.
What Does a Schutzhund Dog Do?
Remember that a Schutzhund trained dog only shows the potential of a dog to be trained as a protection dog. So what is the difference between a Schutzhund trained dog and a trained protection dog? There are many differences but possibly the most significant one is that a protection trained dog has been exposed to far more different and realistic scenarios that would likely occur in an actual protection event.
The Schutzhund dog receives training as we mentioned in obedience, tracking, and protection. However the protection training is very limited in scope and diversity. The Schutzhund dog most often receives his training at the same training area every day he is trained. Most of the trials the dog attends are held at the same place. The dog may see the same decoy every day he trains. The decoy usually wears the same sleeve on the same arm and dresses in the exact same clothes every day he trains. Every Schutzhund held event is nearly identical to the dog as the last one he attended. This sets the dog up to perform in the same way every time. This may be good for trials but not good for a protection dog that could encounter an array of different situations with different people, most the dog will have never seen before.
The protection phase of Schutzhund uses a decoy that hides behind a blind on the training field. He wears the familiar training sleeve on his arm and stands perfectly still. The dog is trained to find the decoy behind the blind and NOT bite him but bark until the decoy makes a move. At that point the dog is allowed to bite. Knowing this, the dog inches in closer and goads the decoy into moving to get the bite. This is known as “bark and hold”. There are a few more things he is trained to do during the protection phase but this is the basis of skills the dog possess that relate to the protection of his handler/owner.
Why Doesn’t This Make A Good Protection Dog?
We don’t teach dogs. We train them. What do I mean by this? Dogs are creatures of habit. If you have him repeat the exact same response to a command time and time again, he will start giving the desired response consistently. He does not think about it, he simply responds appropriately because he has been conditioned to. You have “trained” him.
How does this relate to a protection event performed by a Schutzhund dog? Let’s say you are walking your dog down the street one night when an attacker approaches you from behind without warning. He grabs you around the neck and demands money. Has your Schutzhund trained dog ever encountered this scenario? Most likely not, at least not from any Schutzhund training. The mugger doesn’t have the familiar training sleeve on. Would your dog respond appropriately? Maybe not. After all, it’s not the situation he has been conditioned to respond to. Muggers don’t wear training sleeves! In Afghanistan we were aware of Schutzhund trained dogs that had been brought over by companies posing as patrol dogs. When sent after a fleeing suspect that was not dressed in the usual Schutzhund training gear the dog didn’t know what to do. He gave up and was unable to apprehend the suspect.
There’s a saying, “once a sleeve dog, always a sleeve dog”. We’ve seen Schutzhund trained dogs unable to take a bite because the decoy simply held his arms above his head. The dog wouldn’t take a leg or back bite. That is hardly a protection dog. Schutzhund dogs are trained nearly exclusively with sleeves. Watch the videos, if provided, by those selling Schutzhund dogs as protection dogs. You will nearly always see the training sleeve being used.
Bark and Hold
As noted earlier, “bark and hold” is a big part of Schutzhund training. In the real world of protection and patrol dog training it is a technique that’s not useful and is rarely, if ever trained. Why? In bark and hold the handler is leaving the decision to bite the suspect or not up to the dog. We want to make that decision as the handler, not the dog. Remember, in bark and hold training the dog can’t bite the suspect as long as he stands perfectly still. Do you think someone fleeing your home at night being chased by a dog is going to stand still? Of course not! He will be fighting and trying to get away. If you don’t want the dog to bite and hold the suspect then you shouldn’t send the dog in the first place.
What Different Techniques Are Used to Train Protection Dogs
In training of protection dogs we dispense with the sleeve after the dog has learned to bite deep and hold it. If not then you are training your dog to exclusively go for an arm bite every time. Have you seen trainers in videos wear a bite suit coat but not the pants? That’s because their dog is a reliable sleeve biter. A properly trained dog will take a bite anywhere he can get one, arm, back, leg, doesn’t matter. The following video shows this. Wearing the coat without the pants is a possible ticket to the ER when encountering a properly trained protection dog.
The properly trained protection dog should see a variety of decoys in a variety of different locations. On jogging paths, parking lots, neighborhood walkways. Anywhere but the same grounds the dog is accustomed to. After the dog will take a bite on any area he has access to and the sleeve has been dispensed with, the scenario training should advance to the hidden sleeve. Muzzle fighting should be a given part of his training, muzzle fighting allows the decoy to wear only street clothes because the dog has a properly secured fighting muzzle on and can’t bite. This allows the dog to “attack” the decoy wearing only street clothes where no external equipment cues can be seen.
Just remember, Schutzhund is a sport not actual protection training although some people will try to tell you the two are the same. Not so. Know the difference. Ask questions about any perspective dog you are buying and its training. Ask if the trainer has ever had one of his dogs actually protect someone in a real event. It could be the difference in getting home safely or not. Just remember! A Schutzhund dog IS NOT a protection dog. It's only a dog that has shown some traits required to POSSIBLY be trained as a protection dog.