Frequently Asked Questions

What is Schutzhund?

Schutzhund is a three-phase sport, based on the tests designed to prove the breed-worthiness of the German Shepherd Dog. The three phases are a tracking phase, where the dog learns to follow a trail left by a person and to indicate article dropped by that person; an obedience phase, which is generally considered to be more demanding and animated than the obedience routines normally seen by the general dog fancier, and a protection phase, in which the dog demonstrates his or her courage. The tracking phase demonstrates the dog’s ability to independently problem-solve, and the obedience phase demonstrates the dog’s trainability and ability to work with the handler. The word "Schutzhund" actually means "protection dog" or "guardian dog".

What is the tracking?

The dog follows a scent trail made by a person walking through a field or across grass. At some point, they drop something on the track, something like a glove or a wallet. The dog must then follow the exact trail that they left, without getting distracted, turning all the same corners, and indicate where the items were dropped. At the most advanced levels, the track is laid by a stranger and is several hours old.

Is this sport a good idea? Why should I teach my dog to bite?

Your dog already knows how to bite. We are teaching our dogs when not to bite, and when biting is appropriate. You will notice that schutzhund dogs are well under control and many of them can come off the field after doing protection and go right out and be a loving house pet.

Can any dog do this?

No, not all dogs are cut out to do schutzhund. A dog needs to be stable, sane and "clear in the head". In addition, the dog needs to be confident and self-assured. A dog that is vicious, fearful, or out-of-control is particularly inappropriate. In addition, dogs must not be aggressive toward other dogs, as they are expected to be under control and ignoring the other dogs around them. This is specifically tested for in the pre-qualifying test.

Do I have to have a German Shepherd to do this?

No, many other working breeds are involved in schutzhund, such as Rottweilers, Dobermans, Giant Schnauzers, Boxers, Bouviers, Belgian Sheepdogs and others. There are some practical limitations, such as size. While the occasional Jack Russell Terrier has been trained for the sport, they have a hard time jumping the 1-meter hurdle with a 650 gram dumbbell. However, this is the GSSCC, the German Shepherd Schutzhund Club of Canada, and so our focus is on the German Shepherd Dog. That said, members of the GSSCC may participate with non-GSDs at official matches.

This sport looks dangerous. Does anyone ever get hurt?

Accidents can happen anywhere. Every effort is made to ensure that accidents are minimized. There are probably more accidents involving handlers tripping over their own leashes than anything else.

Can my dog get hurt doing this?

Every effort is made to ensure the safety of the dog. It is up to the trainer, of course, to understand the dog’s limitations and not permit the dog to work beyond his or her capabilities.

I am not comfortable with the "protection work" Is there still a way for me to participate?

The GSSCC offers obedience and tracking titles seperately.
Tracking level 1, 2 and 3 and Obedience Level 1, 2 and 3 are offered.

Why don’t I hear more about this sport?

Because the sport usually requires some explanation, it does not fit well into the "sound-bite" popular media coverage. There are also some misconceptions about the sport that cause many participants to adopt a low-profile.

What are drives? What is drive?

Drives are the motivational forces that "drive" a dog to any given behavior. This is a deeply complex subject and deserves to be understood in depth. In a nutshell, the theory is that dogs are motivated by inherent "drives" that as a wild animal, would ensure their survival. While there are different schools of thought as to the number of drives, most agree that two critical drives are "food" and "survival": the dog’s desire to find food and eat, and the dog’s desire to survive by exercising either the flight or fight instinct. Drives are used in training, such as using food to teach tracking, or in understanding whether the dog is reacting to the helper in a prey-based frame of reference, or as a defensive reaction.

What is a helper?

The helper is the "bad guy" in the protection phase of schutzhund.

I hear the term "hard dog" and "soft dog." What does this mean?

This is another complex term that deserves to be understood. There are a number of schools of thought as to how to define "hardness" in a dog. It is frequently described as the degree of courage that the dog demonstrates, but in terms of training, can also be described as the degree to which the dog will go in order to get his or her own way.

Are GSDs less sensitive to pain? My puppy was out running in the backyard and ran smack into a stump. She just picked herself up and carried on as if nothing had happened.

What you saw is an example of your dog being "in drive." She was enjoying running, and the temporary set-back of running into a stump was meaningless to her. Just as the person why truly enjoys cross-country skiing doesn’t mind that they get a little cold in the pursuit of their favorite sport, but to the person who hates skiing, being cold is just that much more misery. Many people use this principle in training to help motivate the dog and to help the dog work through a problem.

What are working lines?

There is a great deal of controversy regarding breeding for show versus breeding for working ability. Some breeders have concentrated on one field more than the other. Working lines refers to dog that come from a background where the dogs have been principally bred for schutzhund, and all the dogs in the pedigree have advanced schutzhund titles. Often, the term implies that dog’s are from German or other European bloodlines as well.

Do I need to spend a lot to get a good dog?

You can, but you don’t need to. There are many dogs in schutzhund that were bought as pets or rescued from shelters that have gone on to compete successfully.

How long does it take to get a title?

It takes the longest to get your first title. By the time you get your first title, you are, generally speaking, three-quarters of the way on to your next. A lot also depends on the dog and your experience. It can take a year or more to get your first title. But, as with much in life, the journey is the reward.

What are the titles available?

To start, you need to get your "BH" - which is a preliminary title and involves a basic obedience routine and some temperament testing. After that, you can get a schutzhund 1, 2 or 3, (SchH I, SchH II, SchH III), and or a FH and a FH II. (Tracking titles).

Do I have to compete? Can I do this to just have fun?

You don’t have to compete - you can do this as a way to just do something with your dog. But you might want to try competing anyway.

Can I do this on my own?

Certainly you can train on your own, but some aspects you will find easier if you find someone to train with. Obedience training benefits from having someone else watch you to point out things you might have missed. Tracking can be a challenge for the novice trainer and it can be very helpful to have some experienced mentoring. Some aspects of the training, such as the protection work, are impossible to teach without help.

How far can I go as a competitor?

The GSSCC sanctions competitions on a regional and national level, and annually sends a pre-qualified team to the world competition - so, in theory, you can advance to representing Canada at the world level.

Different people tell me different things about how to train my dog? What is right?

There are as many theories of training as there are people, and even you will develop your own. Bear in mind that the training methods are entirely dependent on the dog that you are currently working with and what worked fabulously for every other dog you or someone else has trained, may not work at all. Failure to communicate is not the fault of the dog.

I’m new to this. Should I start with a young dog and do all the training myself, or should a buy a dog that is already trained?

There is a great deal of satisfaction to be had from training a dog right from scratch, but it is also a long road, and can be discouraging. It can also be doubly difficult to train both a green dog and yourself from scratch. That said, there are not very many trained dogs available for sale, and they tend to be expensive. 

I have an older dog? Can I use him?

Depends on the dog. How old is he? Is he in good health? Does he have an aptitude for the work? Certainly dogs have been started training for schutzhund from an older age. I personally know of a dog that didn’t start training until he was four years old. Before that, he was an average couch potato house dog.

How do I select a good puppy for the sport?

Another very complex subject. Best to do a lot of research and connect with some breeders who can coach you on selecting a puppy. But in essence, if you want a dog to be specifically good at the sport, you are looking for an outgoing and pushy puppy, the opposite of the one the popular dog books suggest that you get as a pet. This is, of course, a huge simplification. Looks for tons of ball drive (desire to chase a ball), food drive (keenness to find food and eat), confidence with strangers and strange situations. 

Does anyone use clicker training in schutzhund?

Yes, it is being used by some people. Some people train exclusively with positive motivational techniques, some blend positive/negative reinforcement techniques to get their desired results.

How do I pick a club to train with?

Do some research (like you are right now), find some clubs, give their contact people a call, and go out and visit them. Watch them train, talk to them, and pick a group that you are comfortable with.

How much does it cost to join a club?

It varies widely depending on the facilities offered by the club. It can cost as low as $50 a year to over $200 a year.

Is this an expensive sport?

Like anything, you can spend a lot of money on it, but by and large, it is not terribly expensive. There are some pieces of equipment that you will probably need to purchase, such as :

- a 30 foot tracking line, (required to be official length for competing)
- a good leather obedience leash
- a strong, heavy-duty leash for the protection work
- a fur-saver collar (mandatory for competing)
- possibly a selection of tugs or similar toys for training (you may go through a variety while finding one you dog really goes for)
- wooden regulation sized dumbbells
- a crate so that you can crate your dog when you are not actually working with him or her (it rapidly becomes impractical to simply leave your dog in the car without a crate as in the summer the car will overheat without all the windows wide open.)

You don’t need to buy the protective gear that the helper wears, or the blinds, jump or a-frame, as that is the reason you join a club. A club can also help you find good places to buy equipment. You also can acquire the equipment as you need it without buying it all at once. In addition, you will require a certain amount of foul-weather gear for yourself, as schutzhund is an outdoor sport and stops for nothing short of direct lightening strikes or oncoming tornadoes.