Schutzhund (more commonly known now as “IGP”, and formerly as “IPO”) is a dog sport dating back to the early 1900’s that tests a dogs ability to track, obey, and protect. It was originally developed as a breed test for the German Shepherd Dog, but quickly became the standard for evaluating all five German working breeds, which at the time included the Boxer, Giant Schnauzer, Doberman Pinscher, Rottweiler and of course, the German Shepherd Dog.
In Germany, German Shepherd Dogs are not eligible to breed and have their offspring officially registered unless they have passed at least the level one trials and obtained a title.
Today the sport is open to dogs of all breeds and sizes, and many other breeds can achieve champion-level titles, including the Belgian Malinois, Beauceron, and Dutch Shepherd, which are all very popular. Howeve, due to the extremely demanding nature of the sport, the time required for training, and the relatively high costs, individual success will vary.
As a beginner, Schutzhund can seem overwhelming at first, but fortunately the journey into dog sports it not usually one taken alone. Finding a good Schutzhund club in your area will be a critical part of your success in the sport.
A Schutzhund club is a group of dog owners, usually under 20 members in size (but this varies quite a bit by area) who are all actively training their dogs together. A good club will have at least one “helper”, and often many skilled members that have already titled their dogs and can give you training advice, or even recommendations on where to find a dog for sale, or reputable working dog breeder.
Schutzhund clubs will usually meet several times a week to practice tracking, obedience, and protection training, and the frequency that you attend these meetings with your dog will be crucial to your success in the sport. This is because there are many training exercises that require a minimum of two people (such as any kind of bitework, and many of the obedience exercises that involve distractions) and the more practice you get, the better prepared you and your dog will be.
You can find registered Schutzhund clubs in your area by browsing the official club websites, which include:
Finding the right fit for you in a Schutzhund club can take some time and trial and error. For example, if you have a German Shepherd you might easily find a club that can accomodate you, but if you have a less common breed, you might look for a club with a higher density of those types of dogs to get more tailored training. What the "right" club is will ultimately depend on you, your dog, your goals, and your training style, so it helps to reach out to more than one club when you are just getting started to get a feel for whats out there.
As a breed test, Schutzhund is designed to find only the dogs with the best working abilities. So, although your existing dog or puppy might be able to compete in the sport, many people wind up purchasing a separate dog specifically for competition. To this end, Schutzhund can be a very expensive and time-consuming sport, often taking months or years to achieve your very first title if you start from puppyhood and work your way up.
There’s no best gender or breed of dog for Schutzhund, but most successful competitors use working and herding breeds because of their stamina, intelligence, and willingness to learn. Dogs in Schutzhund can have careers of varying lengths, but due to the sports demanding nature, most dogs compete for only around 6 to 8 years before being retired.
Most long-term competitors describe Schutzhund as more of a "lifestyle" than a hobby. It is ofen made up of a group of tight-knit people that train together and travel together, and can be an incredibly rewarding journey to undertake with your dog. But those curious about the sport should be aware of many of the additional costs and the massive time commitment (typically several hours, several days a week, indefinitely) before they go out and buy a new dog!