The American Kennel Club has a new program called Working Dog Sport, modeled after the very old sport of Schutzhund.
This statement is from the AKC web site: “The Working Dog Sport is a competitive AKC Performance Event designed to demonstrate the progress that has been made in breeding for the physical and mental abilities necessary for performing scent and protection work, while maintaining a high level of control and a strong degree of obedience.”
AKC has been diametrically opposed to any activity involving biting until now. The recent shift in thinking might be attributed to several things: (I was not a part of the development of the program within AKC, so I can only make an educated guess). The early published reports about the AKC WDS program mention a post 9/11 commitment to the working dogs who serve mankind. Well thank goodness AKC sees the importance of service dogs of all disciplines, and honors their courage and skill.
Another possible driving force in the development of the WDS program could relate to the positions of other countries, their registries, and their dog sport activities. AKC is the registry in the US which is recognized by the Federation Cynologique Internationale (FCI). The breeds of working heritage were put at odds with their countries of origin because of the AKC´s stance on biting. I place no fault on the AKC for this position. The United States of America is a very different place than Germany, Belgium, or any other country. Our legal system and our rights and freedoms, create complicated situations and liabilities.
Geography and politics aside, the “new” Working Dog Sport program is modeled after Schutzhund, which is known as the triathalon of dog sports. In order to earn a title at each of the three levels, dog and handler must pass tracking, obedience and protection – all on the same day. The difficulty increases with each level. The track is longer and older; the obedience phase adds more exercises; and the protection phase requires more control and intensity, and adds more exercises. It requires a huge time commitment from the handler, and great deal of drive and willingness from the dog. Most participants find the sport addictive, so the commitment is not a problem.
In order to compete, each dog must first earn a Begleithund (Bh). In WDS, this test is referred to as the Temperament Test. It is also known as the traffic-safe companion. Dogs must be 15 months old and are required to heel on and off-lead, under gun-fire, and through a group. The test also requires a sit in motion, and a down in motion with a recall. The temperament portion of the test can involve many things, all at the judge´s discretion. Generally, the dog and handler walk down a road while being passed by a jogger, a bicyclist and a car honking its horn. Another element is the dog being tethered to a post with the handler out of sight, while another dog and handler walk past. Judges will always put the dog and handler in a tight crowd and observe the dog´s reactions. The judge may ask the handler to have the dog do a sit, down and possibly a recall out of the crowd. Judges may be somewhat lenient with precision in the Bh, but the dog´s temperament is of the utmost importance.
The Philosophy of the three phases
Tracking: An ideal performance in Schutzhund tracking is one where the dog puts his nose deep into the track, works slowly and methodically, and with great intensity. Tracking is not so much about scent as it is the Zen of quiet, strong obedience to the track.
Obedience: Precision is not as coveted as enthusiasm. Above all, dogs must be happy working. The Schutzhund trainer will make a complete fool of himself, and often endure many injuries along the road to creating the desired performance. The basic pattern is the same from Bh to Sch3, with each level becoming increasingly more difficult. Teams work in pairs, with one doing the honor down on the edge of the field while the other works.
Protection: Intensity and control must be balanced. The dog must be committed to the tasks, and he must also be enthusiastic in them. However, he must have the control to play by the rules. This is the phase that most dogs enjoy more. For the dog to have high scores in protection, his grip must be full, firm, and calm. When he engages the helper´s arm in the sleeve, his mouth should maintain the same position until he is told to release. This phase tests control and the working relationship of dog and handler. Dogs are tremendously empowered and it can be extremely difficult for them to remain biddable to their handlers.
The requirements at each level:
The dog must be at least 18 months old to compete at this level.
Tracking – The track is laid by the handler. There are 2 articles, 3 legs, and 2 turns. Each leg of the track is at least 100 paces long. The turns are 90 degrees. The articles are no larger than 1 inch by 4 inches, and must be approved by the judge. The terrain may be dirt or grass. The track is aged 20 to 45 minutes. After laying the track, the handler must prepare his dog and equipment to report in to the judge. The judge will assess the dog´s temperament, check his tattoo, and ensure that the tracking line is 33 feet long.
Obedience – The Obedience phase involves heeling, gunfire, group, sit in motion, down in motion with recall, retrieve on the flat, retrieve of the high jump, retrieve over the scaling wall, send away, and an honor down. At the 1 level, all retrieves are done with the same dumbbell.
Protection – The protection phase includes a search two blinds (5 and 6), a hold and bark, a call out or a pick up from the blind, an escape bite with the dog being attacked by the helper after the out, a transport to the judge, and a courage test followed by an out and a transport to the judge.
The dog must be at least 19 months old to compete at this level.
Tracking – The track is laid by a tracklayer (not the handler) and is a minimum of 400 paces long. It has 3 legs and 2 corners. The track is aged 30 to 60 minutes. There are 2 articles.
Obedience – The basic heeling pattern remains the same. The added exercise in this level is the stand out of motion. It is performed from a walk. The retrieve on the flat has a heavier dumbbell. The other retrieves remain the same. The last exercise is the send away.
Protection – Four blinds are searched (3, 4, 5 & 6) prior to the hold and bark. The handler must call the dog out of the blind prior to the escape. The protection phase is very similar to the Sch1/WDS1, with the addition of transport from behind (back transport). The dog is attacked by the helper from the back transport. The handler commands the dog to out, and then handler, dog and helper perfo
rm a side transport to the judge before going down the field for the courage test. The handler outs his dog after the engagement with the helper and the dog should continue to guard the helper until the handler arrives for the transport to the judge
The dog must be at least 20 months old to compete at this level.
Tracking – The schutzhund 3 track is laid by a tracklayer (not the handler), and is a minimum of 600 paces long. There are 5 legs and 4 corners. The track is aged 60 to 90 minutes, and there are 3 articles.
Obedience – The basic pattern remains the same. A running down with recall is added, and a running stand out of motion replaces the walking stand out of motion. The retrieve on the flat is performed with the larger, heavier dumbbell, while the other retrieves remain the same. The last exercise is the send away.
Protection – All six blinds are searched prior to the hold and bark. The dog must be called out of the blind by the handler prior to the escape. There is a slightly longer back transport, with a re-attack of the dog by the helper after the out. The dog is also attacked after the out on the courage test. Again, the handler outs the dog and comes to the dog and helper to perform the transport to the judge.
If you have a chance, go watch a trial. A WDS trial will be held again next month at the GSDCA National. Even without a helper to prepare you for the protection phase, there are ways to become involved in the sport. The Bh is a fun and easy way to participate. You can also earn individual phase titles (example: Tracking 1, Obedience 1, etc.). You and your dog will have a great time, and develop a stronger relationship.
For more information, check out the following websites:
Linda Booker is a contributing writer for The German Shepherd by Design. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.