Schutzhund and Ring

UMES

Schutzhund (which is the German word for “protection dog”) and Ring are a series of training trials used to evaluate the dog’s natural aptitudes in clearing obstacles, obedience, combativeness and tracking. They can be used as a basis of selection for the essential qualities of athleticism, dynamism, obedience, steady character and bravery in sheepdogs and watchdogs.

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Origins

Schutzhund was developed in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century for the purposes of selecting the best German Shepherds. Today it is open to many other breeds of dog.

A Mr Moucheron was the first person to exhibit the discipline known as Ring, perhaps appropriately in a circus ring, in Belgium in 1885. He used some muzzled Groenendaels to perform attack and defence exercises. The decoy’s characteristic gear first appeared in 1906, as customs and police started to get more and more interested in the use of dogs. At the end of the Second World War two distinct disciplines emerged:

- In the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Switzerland, Ring developed into its present form.

- In Germany, Schutzhund developed, which retains a tracking component.

Other countries later became interested in Ring. The North American Ring Association was established in the United States in 1986 and it has also made inroads in Mexico and Canada. The Société Centrale Canine in France continues to control the sport’s code.

Schutzhund has also spread to new territories, including the United States, where the United Schutzhund Clubs of America works as a steward of the German Shepherd working dog in the New World.

Hundreds of thousands of dogs now take part in these two disciplines. Dogs first have to earn their licence before being allowed to participate in category 1 competitions. They can then progress to categories 2 and 3. Category 3 dogs must amass a certain number of points in pre-qualification trials to win a place at one of the three qualification trials for the French championship, which is open to just the 26 best dogs, compared with the 250 dogs which compete at national level. The system is more or less the same in Schutzhund and the closely related discipline IPO.

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List of breeds authorised to participate in biting exercises (FCI)

Airedale Terrier
Australian Cattle Dog
Australian Kelpie
Beauceron
Belgian Shepherd Dog (Groendael)
Belgian Shepherd Dog (Laekenois)
Belgian Shepherd Dog (Malinois)
Belgian Shepherd Dog (Tervueren)
Berger Blanc Suisse
Berger Picard
Black Russian Terrier
Border Collie
Bouvier des Ardennes
Bouvier des Flandres
Boxer (brindle)
Boxer (fauve)
Briard (black, slate, grey)
Briard (fauve)
Cane Corso
Dobermann (black and tan)
Dobermann (brown and tan)
Dogo Canario
Dutch Shepherd Dog (long-haired)
Dutch Shepherd Dog (short-haired)
Dutch Shepherd Dog (wire-haired)
Fila de Saint Miguel
German Shepherd
Hovawart
Perro de Presa Mallorquin
Puli (black-grey/ light fauve)
Puli (white)
Pyrenean Shepherd (long-haired)
Pyrenean Shepherd (smooth-haired)
Rottweiler
Rough Collie
Schnauzer (giant, black)
Schnauzer (giant, salt and pepper)
Smooth Collie

Differences between Ring and Schutzhund/IPO

In Ring, the decoy the dog will attack when commanded to do so by the handler is completely covered by a protective suit, whereas in Schutzhund (or IPO) this person wears lightweight trousers and a heavily padded sleeve. That means that in Schutzhund, the dog must only bite the arm covered in the sleeve.

In Ring, the decoy has a bamboo cane, although a flexible rod may also be used. The duration of the grip and the way the decoy responds are different in the two disciplines.

Schutzhund and IPO also include a tracking component, which is not included in Ring.

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Competitions

Ring, Schutzhund and IPO competitions are held in a closed area measuring around 2500 square metres (3200 sq m in Schutzhund), although the playing field can be much smaller depending on the occasion. All three are strictly regulated and dogs are scored in accordance with a very precise system by a specialised judge, who is responsible for deciding the final positions and awarding any titles.

Preferred breeds

While many breeds are eligible to take part, the Belgian Shepherd Dog (Malinois) is far and away the most common breed in Ring. Dogs must be very well balanced, lively, not frightened of anything (for example they must not loosen their grip in response to a gunshot or a swing of the bamboo cane), docile and willing.

Schutzhund was originally designed for German Shepherds, although it is gradually opening up to other breeds that are authorised to bite in sporting competitions.

Training

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Dogs need to be well balanced. Even before training, they need to become used to gunshots and other sounds. Prospective owners need to become skilled at identifying timorous or overexcited puppies and puppies that are not interested in biting games, so that they can be avoided.

Dogs commence training around three months of age. It is important to note that training continues all through the dog’s active life, which is up to eight or nine years on average. Dogs start earning their licence around twelve months of age.

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Participating in category 3 competitions requires four one-hour training sessions a week on average. More than 500 hours of training will be needed to make a talented dog – which will typically be from a long line of such dogs, sometimes going back over a century – competitive at this level. Category 3 involves a programme lasting between about 45 minutes and an hour of intense effort in various situations that test the senses, athleticism, obedience, initiative and combativeness of these exceptional dogs.

Puppies must be introduced to tracking and jaw holds between three and six months of age. They need to be taught the basics of practical obedience, including come, sit, lie, stand and stay. Puppies should be acquainted with lots of different situations (crowds, traffic) and other dogs to ensure they are properly socialised. Exercises should be kept short to ensure the dog remains fully motivated.

Dogs are introduced to the exercises in the programme between six and nine months, when they learn to bite a tube, a leg pad and finally the padded trousers worn by the decoy. They learn to react fast and change holds on either leg, as well as the holding technique. They learn to deal with the threat of the cane and not to fear gunshots.

Specific exercise training starts around nine months and continues until the dog is anywhere between two and two-and-a-half years old. The final months before competition are used to harden the animal to the speedy, selective work of high-quality decoys.

Dogs are not trained in jumping until the end of the growth phase to avoid orthopaedic problems.

Basic training begins once the dog has stopped growing, at around 12-14 months, with the objective of getting the dog up to an optimal performance level. Ring and Schutzhund dogs are elite athletes, so a single training session a week will not do. Jaw holds and obedience are not the only aspects that require training – dogs also need to follow a physical training programme to ensure they are in perfect condition. In competition, dogs have to be in tip-top shape, because they need to clear obstacles and deal with attacks at a fast pace.

The physical training programme is based on two long-distance courses a week, gradually increasing from 4 km to 12 km, alternating with short courses. Speed work with tennis balls thrown from a launcher is incorporated as a warm-up or instead of the short courses. Natural obstacle courses are then also incorporated, including swimming sessions if suitable water is available nearby.

As contrary as it may seem bearing in mind their physique, Boxers, Dobermanns, Rottweilers and Giant Schnauzers need this training more than other breeds. On the whole, sheepdogs are hardy animals, but they are not all able to withstand such bracing work, especially in strong heat. Briards and Bouviers des Flandres can experience difficulties due to their dense coat. In general, dogs standing no higher than 65 cm and weighing no more than 35 kg will find Ring or Schutzhund tough-going.

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Boxers, Dobermanns, Rottweilers and Giant Schnauzers need this training more than other breeds.

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Bending and stretching exercises

These obedience-based exercises are a good way of assessing the dog’s learning capacities. Different types of tests can be strung together in any order. The number and difficulty will depend on the competition standard.

In competition, dogs are asked to retrieve an object – glove, sock, spectacle case – belonging to the handler and to present it sitting down in front of the handler. The handler will also throw an object for the dog to retrieve. The object can also “fall out” of the handler’s pocket in full view of the dog. The dog is then expected to pick it up and return it to the handler. In another test, the dog has to retrieve a hidden object using its nose. These tasks should be completed rapidly without the handler having to repeat the command or make gestures.

The dog will also have to learn to ignore treats. The way they are presented (placed on the ground or thrown at the dog from behind a screen while it is lying down) and the number of treats used depends on the dog’s training level. The dog must neither touch nor lick them. At higher levels, treats are placed around the playing field and the dog must ignore them.

Walking to heel shows how well the dog follows its handler. The dog’s shoulder must never be in front of the handler’s leg. It must stop when the handler stops without being commanded to do so and move on when the handler moves on. This section includes a lot of changes of direction. The dog must never pull on the lead. No commands are allowed.

The dog must also be able to adopt various positions twenty metres away from the handler on the handler’s command. Each position (sitting, lying, standing) must be adopted twice. Commands must never be repeated. Errors are penalised.

The dog must also be able to stay where it is when the handler goes away. The dog is commanded to stay in the same position until the handler reappears and gives it a new command.

Another test assesses the dog’s ability to move away from the handler in a straight line (the distance will depend on the level) before returning to heel on command.

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The dog must also be able to adopt various positions twenty metres away from the handler on the handler’s command. Each position (sitting, lying, standing) must be adopted twice.

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Jumping exercises

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There are three different types of jump: high jumps, long jumps and fencing. Every obstacle must be cleared twice, once on the way out and once on the way back.

Obstacles can be up to 120 centimetres high and up to almost 7 metres long (at least 4.5 metres according to the rules) while fencing can be up to 230 centimetres high.

Combat and attack work

Once basic training has been completed, the dog will be started on a programme of different exercises to develop its combativeness and attack technique. The typical sheepdog qualities of initiative, control, mobility and decision-making – the same qualities sought in search and rescue dogs – are required here.

Search and bark

The dog must identify the decoy’s position in one of the six hides on the playing field as quickly as possible, barking to alert the handler. When the handler arrives at the spot, the decoy runs off firing two blanks with a .9 calibre revolver. The dog follows the decoy for a few dozen metres, during which time the decoy will try to escape twice again to test the dog’s vigilance and speed of intervention. In Schutzhund, the search takes a lot longer and the dog has to explore an area covering several hundred metres with its nose.

Defence of the handler

The handler approaches the decoy with the dog at heel, shakes hands and starts a conversation. The decoy then walks away before attacking the handler. When this happens, the dog must defend the handler energetically, keeping the decoy at bay until it is commanded to heel.

The test is repeated with the dog muzzled and the decoy in regular clothes, as some dogs will only attack if the decoy is wearing the padded suit, which makes them useless in real-life situations.

Attacks

There are many types of attack. The decoy may be approaching or running away, carrying a gun or a bamboo cane, which makes a threatening noise but is not used to hurt the dog. At the end of the exercise the dog returns to heel or retains its hold on the decoy. It must stop the decoy from escaping twice.

The attack technique is a complex one which comprises decision-making, impact and hold.

The dog is taught to make decisions during gradual, methodological training in which it learns to bite the decoy’s standing leg and the other leg if the decoy manages to pull free. The dog then learns to take hold of the decoy’s arm if the stick is swung in front of the legs, then the inside of the arm close to the body if the decoy tries to slip away. This is the same training as used in martial arts. The dog goes for the vulnerable part of the decoy. This enables the dog to dodge a forceful attack.

The jaw hold is worked on during basic training, using extensive padding to ensure a strong, firm hold on the protective clothing.

Only well-balanced, gentle dogs with nerves of steel are able to learn these techniques. Aggressive dogs will not be able to withstand the pressure and will seldom be able to pass the tests in which a cane is used.

Stopped attacks

These spectacular tests demonstrate the handler’s full control of the dog, which will throw itself on its side within a metre of the decoy without making contact when the handler blows a whistle. During training, the handler stands next to the decoy with the dog at a distance of twenty metres from the two. The handler then commands the dog to attack, calling it off when it is as near to the decoy as possible. It is hard for the dog to understand that it should not go through with its attack, so this particular exercise should be reserved until the end of its training.

Guard of object

This is certainly the most complicated exercise in guard and police dog tests. The dog will guard an object, such as a basket, that the decoy will try to steal while walking by two or three times.

Tracking in Schutzhund and IPO

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In this test, the dog has to search for personal objects and ultimately the person in question by following a human trail. The trail is shown on a map given to the judges and the course setters, who try to introduce some difficulties, such as acute turns, asphalted sections and water sections over longer than expected distances, unavoidable obstacles greater than 1.5 metres high, sections running over main roads or through villages and even courses that turn back on themselves so that the start is also the finish.

Everyday objects such as wallets, gloves, pens, scarves and handkerchiefs are dropped on the course as if they have been lost.

The handler is free to guide and even help the dog during the test. The dog may be let off the lead when it comes to an obstacle or when it loses the trail so that it can try to find it again. Handlers are allowed to pick up the objects, approach anyone that happens to be on the course with questions and let the dog rest when they feel they need to.

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