Well, I took Lizzie to a working dog club to see what it was all about. I had no real idea what to expect; I just looked them up on the internet and followed my GPS out to a remote location where I found a lot of German Shepherds congregating. First, these clubs are not for the casual pet owner. These people take their sport seriously and spend hours and hours perfecting their skills. I found they are nice people, but they certainly will not have patience for someone coming out and fooling around. Some of these people have been in the Schutzhund sport for 20 years or more and really know their stuff. They are excellent handlers and I have never seen such disciplined dogs in my life. It’s very different from dog club AKC obedience. This is for working dogs and people who really work with them, every day, rain or shine, sleet or snow. Hard core!
I have been joining these guys every weekend for the last two months now. The veterans train together multiple times a week, but I try to at least go to one or two. There are three parts to Schutzhund: tracking, obedience, and protection. It’s like a triathalon for dogs and only the best dogs and most dedicated handlers actually can get titled. There are three titles, Sch1, Sch2, Sch3 and there’s a lot more detail in there that I don’t grasp yet.
The first thing I learned is that Schutzhund not only is not for every person, it’s not for every dog. It doesn’t mean you have a bad dog, but even for dogs specifically bred for Schutzhund, up to 90% will not make it all the way through. The dogs have to have natural drive for the sport and the MUST enjoy it. You can’t force a dog to participate in something it doesn’t want to do or enjoy. That’s not fair to the dog.
With that preface, I don’t think Lizzie has what it takes to get a Sch1. She is a very mellow, chill, puppy, which makes her a fabulous companion dog, but unlikely to excel in the protection aspect of Schutzhund. The Schutzhund dogs have a practically unbreakable toy drive. As I watched them, the dogs are so focused on earning a quick bite on their toy, they’ll work for it tirelessly. Lizzie, well, she’ll get excited about the toy then a moth will fly by and…”MOTH!” or “LEAF!” She just doesn’t see the point it going insane over a toy. Why bother?
Despite the fact that Lizzie is not quite a star Schutzhund prospect, the club members are still willing to teach me as long as I show up and am interested in learning. There is still tracking and obedience which she is perfectly capable of doing. So, I continue to show up at daybreak in rubber boots to slog through the black gumbo muck to learn to track. Lesson one, I was informed, is to forget having a clean truck ever again. This I have found to be very true. Lesson two, leave your ego at home. Check. And expect to feel like a bit of an idiot greenhorn.
These are some pics one of the club members took of a training session last month. It is highly unlikely Lizzie will ever compete in this aspect of Schutzhund unless she unexpectedly shows interest in it as she gets older…but again, highly unlikely. The dogs in the pics cannot wait to get onto the field. It’s like the ultimate game for them and they just LOVE it.
I’ll keep updating my progress with the working dog club and my associated daily training sessions at home. I am really curious to see how this goes.
If you want to read more about Schutzhund, the United Schutzhund Clubs of America has a lot of information.