Schutzhund is a sport whose purpose is to evaluate a dog's character, by giving it work to do, then comparing its performance to certain guidelines as well as the performance of other working dogs. Schutzhund evolved around the turn of the twentieth century as a means of testing and preserving the character and the utility of German military and police dogs under extreme conditions.
In 1899, a young German cavalry officer named Max von Stephanitz founded the German Shepherd Dog Club of Germany (Verein fur Deutsche Shaefhunde - SV). He presided over the club, began the stud book, wrote the breed standard, and organized training contests for the SV. He was possessed by the idea that the German Shepherd Dog should have "a highly developed sense of smell, enormous courage, intrepidness, agility, and despite its aggressiveness, great obedience". Von Stephanitz also put in place a strict system of controls that guided the breeding of the German Shepherd Dog for the first half of the twentieth century. He wrote the first breed standard for the German Shepherd Dog with emphasis on "utility and intelligence". It contained the sentence, "A pleasing appearance is desirable, but it can NOT put the dog’s working ability into question!" To be certain he wouldn’t be misunderstood, von Stephanitz coined the phrase: "German Shepherd breeding is a Working Dog breeding, or it is not German Shepherd breeding", which became world famous.
To this day, the SV is the largest and most influential breed organization in the world, and still observes the standards which von Stephanitz implemented to preserve and develop the best physical and temperamental attributes of the German Shepherd Dog. Schutzhund is an integral part of this. The Schutzhund examination is the most basic requirement of the SV for breeding.
Many organizations which use working dogs, such as law enforcement agencies, do not maintain their own breeding stock. These agencies obtain working dogs from Schutzhund-proven lines. Without Schutzhund, the working ability of GSDs and other working breeds would quickly deteriorate and it would be difficult to find suitable dogs for police work, bomb detection, or search and rescue.
The Schutzhund test is a day-long event which tests each dog's mental stability, drive, concentration, ability to scent, courage, and willingness to work. In one day it must compete successfully in three entirely different phases: tracking, obedience, and protection.
Dog/handler teams from all over the world compete for degrees. Each level is increasingly more difficult to earn (SchH1 to SchH2 then to SchH3 degree). Available also are an Endurance certificate (AD), advanced Tracking Degree (FH1 and FH2), and Police Dog degrees for service handlers and others.
Schutzhund training is a sport open to dogs of all working breeds, including mixed breeds if they can do the work. Traditionally, German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois, Boxers, Dobermans, Rottweilers, Airedales, Bouviers, and Giant Schnauzers have been the most common, with the German Shepherd Dogs outnumbering them all.
By scenting, the dog must retrace a path of a tracklayer which is anywhere from 400 yards (Schutzhund I) to 1500+ yards (Schutzhund III), 20 minutes (Schutzhund I) to 60 minutes (Schutzhund III) after the track has been laid , and be able to find 2-3 lost articles along the track, regardless of climatic conditions.
The dog must follow the handler's orders to heel off leash, heel through a crowd of people, perform a long down, a send away, a recall, be indifferent to and undistracted by a gunshot, perform a long down under distraction, retrieve on flat ground, retrieve over a 1metre jump, and retrieve over a 6 foot wall.
The dog must search a series of blinds under the handler's direction to find a hidden stranger, then without assistance, alert the handler to the presence of the stranger, guard the handler from a stranger, prevent an escape by the stranger, defend against an attack by the stranger on the handler, and safely transport the stranger.
People do not wish to share their house or community with a potentially dangerous dog. ANY large dog is potentially dangerous. The large dog needs to be handled by a responsible, knowledgeable person who will give a lot of understanding, affection, love, attention, and MOST IMPORTANT of all, TRAINING to the dog. Anyone who lacks these basics should not even consider owning a dog, and definitely not one of the working breeds.
For the responsible, private working dog owner, the Schutzhund sport has proven to be an ideal program. Training can be done in very small groups, training locations are readily available, time requirements are reasonable, and benefits are obvious. Knowing how a dog behaves in critical situations is reassuring and provides better control over the animal, eliminating in fact, so-called viciousness. The result is a happy, friendly but alert, controllable family dog that becomes an asset, not a nuisance or even a danger to society.