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Schutzhund is a German word meaning “protection dog”, but there’s a lot more to it than that. Originally developed in Germany over a century ago as a means of testing potential breeding stock, it has evolved into a sport that can be enjoyed on a variety of levels from hobby to international competition. As dog sports go, Schutzhund is without a doubt one of the most exciting and challenging. When done well, it is beautiful to watch and the bond between dog and handler is clear for all to see and many to envy.
Schutzhund training involves three phases: tracking, obedience and protection. When put together, the great effort involved in obtaining a Schutzhund title, and the challenges which accompany this training, make for an obedient, stable, useful and well rounded companion and create an incredible bond between dog and handler. Schutzhund by necessity involves stringent tests of the dog’s temperament, nerve, and overall willingness to work, and by any definition a Schutzhund trained dog is a well trained dog. As such, these dogs are safe, happy, and obedient with great self confidence, mental stability and a willingness to please the handler. These are the traits which make the German Shepherd Dog one of the most versatile breeds in existence, and which are still highly valued by professional trainers, law enforcement officers and families wanting an outstanding companion.
If you are interested in learning more about the sport of IGP (formerly known and often referred to as Schutzhund), meeting the dogs and seeing what it’s all about, the best way to start is to find a local club and ask to come observe an upcoming trial or training session.
IGP dog sport requires a tremendous amount of time, energy and dedication. This is far more than an eight-week obedience class. The dog and handler team must train and practice regularly, in all types of weather, at all three phases in order to succeed. Even with diligent efforts, it can take 2-3 years, sometimes longer, before dog and handler are ready to enter their first trial. At the start, this can seem like a tremendous amount of work for little return, but for those with the interest and dedication to stick it out, the rewards are phenomenal and the bond between handler and dog is almost tangible.
If you decide that this sport is definitely something that you want to pursue farther, make sure to visit several clubs in your area. IGP is something that requires a club or training group to train properly, particularly for the protection work as skilled, safe helpers who are also talented and experienced with regard to developing beginner dogs in protection are a must. Each club is different, with its own different “culture”. Look for a club that utilizes training methods you can support, has a track record of success not just in titling dogs but also in mentoring novices, and whose membership is comprised of people you will enjoy spending lots of time with. Consider carefully what your goals for IGP are. Do you want to go all the way and become a national level competitor? Or are you more interested in an enjoyable pastime for you and your dog? Some clubs are for serious competitors only and don’t want to waste time on people who just want to have fun. Other clubs are more geared toward the weekend hobbyist, and may have neither the knowledge, experience nor desire to work with a member who has more lofty goals. And many clubs have a mix of both and are equally supportive of competitors and hobbyists alike. Look for a club that has the same goals and people with the appropriate experience to get you where you want to go and, just as importantly, make sure that they are willing and able to help teach a novice. Meet the members and their dogs, watch the training, and ask lots of questions.
In Germany, every town typically has at least one IGP (Schutzhund) club, many of which have been operation for decades. IGP is very much a family affair and social outlet as well, and some of the clubhouses and training grounds are so extravagant they are more like a country club than a dog training group. So fanciers have literally dozens of clubs to choose from, and many belong to more than one club and can train at any time, any day of the week. Not so here in North America. IGP clubs are still relatively few and spread out over a huge goegraphical area. This means that it is not uncommon for IGP enthusiasts drive a couple of hours or more each way to meet for training. So while location is a factor in club selection, it is worth the effort to visit as many clubs as you can find within a reasonable distance, and pick the one that best fits your personality and goals. This is far more important than which club is the cheapest or closest.
If you have a dog already that you think may make a good IGP prospect, take your dog to the club and have it evaluated. The Training Director and other members will have the experience and objectivity to give you an accurate evaluation of your dog’s IGP potential. If you don’t have a dog for the sport, but would like to get one, start first with visiting local clubs and finding one to join. Watch the club dogs carefully, and when you seen ones that you especially like inquire as to the dog’s bloodlines and from whence the dog came. Your IGP club members are a great resource to help you to locate the right dog. They can also give you advice based on your skills and experience as to what mix of characteristics to look for in your first IGP dog. They may even know someone who has a good dog for you, recommend a breeder, or at the very least can help you sort out bloodlines and other information to help in your search for your future IGP star.