Jim Engel 1985

Authorís notes: This article first appeared, in Dog Sports magazine and other places in the middle 1980ís. In general  there has been steady improvement in the quality of our dogs, our trials and particularly in our American judges.



From the very beginning men made dogs part of their lives in order to take advantage of their natural protective potential. Although the motivation for this was no doubt practical, individual men likely took great pride in a good dog. Affection between man and beast was a natural part of the life of the lonely shepherd and hard working farmer, who often had to struggle to hold onto what little material security they were able to accumulate.

But today the use of dogs for guard and protection work has become perhaps the most emotion laden and controversial aspect of the canine world. There are many who could never question that in our modern, civilized society there is no need nor place for the protective dog, that the human race has advanced beyond such things. The people who breed and train aggressive dogs are seen as uncouth degenerates, throwbacks to an older time before the purification of mankind.

Indeed, we are from time to time warned by one or another of our betters that the "civil authorities" are about to pass laws and make regulations that will render the population safe from savage attack dogs in the hands of reckless perverts, just as they once sought to make us safe from drinking beer and consuming even stronger spirits. It seems that the advance of civilization has to be inflicted on the lower classes from time to time, for their own good of course.

The pacifist philosophy behind all of this extends to many aspects of human affairs beyond the dog sports, is fundamentally related to the kind of thinking that led fools to believe that World War One was the war to end all wars, and that Neville Chamberlain had won peace for his time by capitulating to Adlof Hitler in 1938. Among the more refined and gentle elements of the canine world there are many who believe without question that all aggressive tendencies should be suppressed; both in training, so that the dogs of today will be docile and gentle, and most particularly in breeding, so that those of tomorrow will be even more so. I have known people, for instance, who deny the protective heritage of the German Shepherd, claim that he evolved as a friend of the sheep and their gentle benefactor. Their vision is of frolicking in a green meadow with the lambs - all sunny, warm and sweet.

A fundamental reason for the pacifist character of the American canine establishment is that they are in large measure the last bastion of the eastern, white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant social class that for much of our history has had a predominant influence on American culture and customs. The Board of Directors of the American Kennel Club is not elected by the people involved in canine affairs, or even by representatives of a diverse set of local clubs, but rather by the delegates of carefully selected "member" clubs. (God forbid that the individual people breeding and training dogs ever be allowed to elect members of the board, thus allowing the great unwashed a say in American canine affairs.)

But in spite of all this there are also among us a growing number who believe that there is and always will be a place for strong, protective dogs. We know that among dogs as among men strength and courage will always be essential attributes that make the freedom to enjoy our civilization possible, that the price of domestic tranquillity will always be the willingness to stand up to those who would have for themselves the fruit of our labor. We do not look upon the aggressive and protective potential of a good dog as a necessary evil, but essential attributes of the species, things that are fundamental to the nature of the beast. Civilization is perceived as a thin veneer, and ample evidence for this point of view exists in the failure of the criminal element to wither away in the face of the cultural advance of mankind.

Thus a deep and fundamental ambivalence in our attitudes toward aggression is central to European and American culture. On the one hand we are all taught from the very earliest age to admire the strong man who uses his power to "right wrongs", as in taking from the rich to give to the poor. Saturday morning television and our movies glorify violence and the men who are proficient in using it for the "right" reasons.

But on the other hand there is a strong "turn the other cheek" element in our religious teachings. Indeed, most of us come to share to some extent a deeply ingrained belief that violence is essentially futile, that it creates nothing, that a violent solution to a dispute produces no real victors but only determines who loses the most. Even the most casual perception of modern history lends powerful credibility to this point of view, for who really benefited from the first world war, or the war in Vietnam? I think all of us share the fear that our macho heritage may some day push us over the brink of nuclear annihilation, that a high technology, real life version of High Noon might lead to the eradication of the human race. It may very well be that the aggressive capability of primitive man, which enabled him to survive (and which was also a fundamental feature of the social structure of the wolf pack) may in the end be the cause of the demise of our species.

Thus the conflicting attitudes toward our protective heritage breeds is but one facet of a deep and ironic contradiction in our culture, our shared admiration for strength and violent potential which coexists with an equally deep and instinctive desire to create a world in which each of us could live out his life in the private pursuit of happiness, without fear.

It is not my purpose to explain these fundamental contradictions in our western heritage as a foot note in a book about dogs, but rather hopefully to provide the reader an opportunity to look at our protective breeds from a new and broader perspective. I believe that an understanding of the conflicting attitudes toward aggressiveness prevalent in our culture, indeed, in each of our hearts, is essential to an understanding of the deep conflicts among the breeders and fanciers of our protective heritage breeds. Perhaps by exploring the source of the conflicts the extremes in attitude can be better understood. It is hoped that this brief introduction will serve to help those with an open mind have a little better understanding, know what it is that the protective breeds are capable of doing and how they are trained, used and - unfortunately - sometimes abused.

American attitudes toward the proper place of dogs in society, and the conflicts among those with differing beliefs, are deeply rooted in the diverse attitudes toward the canine species existent in Europe. As we shall see, the British as a whole have a canine tradition vastly different from that which prevails in central Europe, which does much to explain the conflicts among American fanciers of the various European protective heritage working breeds.

The character of the British dog fancy is deeply and fundamentally pacifist. Just as private ownership of hand guns has been severely restricted, the British have historically regarded aggressive dogs as perhaps useful and necessary, but a rather unpleasant activity that should only be engaged in by military and police trainers, who are obligated to keep their methods secret so that civilian perverts will not be tempted to train dogs to bite. It is regarded as perhaps necessary that such dogs exist, but that such breeding should certainly be separate and apart from the ordinary amateur dog world. Such dogs are not really acceptable in a show ring or polite society. Their protection text books emphasize that the methods discussed should never be used outside of an official training program, and there is virtually no civilian protection work or sport. These attitudes and practices are consistent with the fact that there are no native protective breeds, comparable to the Bouvier des Flandres or German Shepherd, in the British Isles.

Things are much different in central Europe, that is in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and much of France. Each of these nations has its native protective breeds, drawn mostly from the indigenous farm and herding dogs. These include the Shepherd, Giant Schnauzer and Doberman in Germany, the Bouvier des Flandres in Holland and Belgium, the Tervueren, Groenendael and Malinois in Belgium and the others.

Differences in the function and nature of the working farm dogs naturally tended to produce fundamentally different relationships between men and dogs, which persist to this day. The continental working breeds have tended to remain in the hands of the farmer and the working man rather than becoming the possessions of the more affluent, as have most of the hunting breeds. Among such a down to earth canine community there tends to be deep admiration for a strong protective dog, and the breeder or trainer of such a beast enjoys the admiration and even the envy of his peers. For many men (and more recently women) to have one's dog fail to respond to provocation with a hard, strong attack is a matter of great personal shame, a public humiliation. When one's dog exhibits inadequate protective instinct his friends will offer help in training or advice on where to get a better dog, and his adversaries are quick to snicker and make jokes.

Since the American "dog establishment" is so closely patterned after the British model it is not the least bit surprising that fitting in the protective breeds from the Continent has presented some problems. For many years the solution was whacking the corners off the square peg of the protective breeds in order to fit them into the round holes provided in America. Thus German Shepherds, Dobermans and Bouviers have only been really acceptable after being emasculated, stripped of their age old heritage and made into surrogate Teddy bears.

Although on the surface this emasculation program has been successful, every utility breed has had its hold outs, those who in spite of the propaganda and pressure understood and remained faithful to the heritage of their breed. True, their numbers have historically been small and the breed establishments have on the whole been successful in ignoring them, or passing them off as the lunatic fringe.

But while the flame has flickered low, it has never quite flickered out. There have been and always will be men and women who admire and desire true protective dogs in the Continental tradition. The appeal of a real working dog is so strong that there will always be advocates and protectors, men who could never accept Dobermans who hide behind their master and piddle on themselves when a stranger shakes a stick, Shepherds good for nothing but slinking around the show ring or Bouviers amounting to little more than dog meat in a furry package.

I find words that express the deep pleasure one can find in living with and training truly strong working dogs difficult to find. There is an almost undefinable quality in such an animal, regardless of breed. Words such as courage, drive, initiative, hardness and responsibility are relevant, but inadequate to fully express the essence of a truly fine working dog. Such a passion seems to be something one either shares instinctively or is totally incapable of comprehending. I remember well seeing the great Dutch Working Champion Donar in action for the first time, and swearing that someday I would possess such a dog, and more importantly, breed such dogs.

Working dog people share all of the venality of the human race - greed, pride and selfishness - perhaps in even a greater measure than humanity as a whole. But we have a bond, share a deeply instinctive love of a good working dog which perhaps may overcome our individual interests and pride and enable us to build a viable American working dog heritage. In the beginning we tend to be regarded with mild amusement by the various breed establishments, but as we have become more influential and powerful, and as the price people are willing to pay for pups out of proven working stock surpasses that of the offspring of even the most illustrious conformation "champions", fear begins to replace the patronizing disdain in the hearts of our betters.

Perhaps the deepest division exists in the German Shepherd, which is in America today for all practical purposes two breeds. On the one hand, there are the show dogs, as exhibited predominantly in specialty shows. The other faction consists of the fanciers of the "German Style German Shepherd." These people are breeding mostly imported Schutzhund stock and are in the process of setting up their own registration, evaluation and show system, with significant support from the German parent club. This has been tried before, but never with such determination and with such a strong organization. I think they have a good chance of pulling it of, and then the fat is really going to be in the fire! This is a direct and purposeful challenge to the American Kennel Club, and I for one believe that working dogs of every breed will in the long run be better off if they succeed in this bold venture.

Thus the German Shepherd and the Doberman represent the culmination of the process, for the "exhibitionists" believe that they have performed a great service to mankind by "civilizing" these breeds, creating a race of docile show dogs suitable for the most inept owner. The situation in the Rottweiler is much more encouraging, for the regional breed clubs have exhibited a much more even handed attitude, and while not directly challenging the AKC have taken much more guidance and leadership from the German tradition. Rather than creating an artificial "show type" as we see in the German Shepherd, the Rottweiler in the ring today seems to me to be moving toward a more medium size, short coupled, moderate animal, one suited by type at least for his work. I think that this trend (at least I hope it's a trend) is due to the influence of the long term breeders, rather than the exhibitionists and professional handlers, who have had such strong and destructive influence over the American evolution of the German Shepherd.

Some of the problems encountered by those of us who favor increased use of protective dogs have unfortunately been caused by improper use. In particular, police canine programs suffered grievously as a consequence of irresponsible use by a handful of departments during the civil rights strife in the early sixties. In Birmingham, Alabama in April of 1963 Police Commissioner "Bull" Connor is alleged to have shouted to newsmen, "I want them to see the dogs work - look at those niggers run" as he sent the dogs against the crowd. Dramatic photos of dogs attacking demonstrators received world wide attention and the long term negative effect on police use was tremendous. A number of police canine units disbanded within the next few months and many others were no doubt substantially reduced in funding and effectiveness. In cities without canine units, it would be an up hill struggle to start one for many years to come.

It is true that there are among us those whose pride and joy is in the viciousness of their dogs, and for whom getting ripped up once in a while is a matter of perverse personal pride, taken as a badge of their courage and their animal's merit. Sure these people are simple degenerates rather than the core of the working dog movement, and certainly their strutting and pretense is held in universal disdain by the true working breeder and trainer. But they are nevertheless a serious liability for all working dog proponents.

In spite of all of this, and while it remains true that America is still by and large the land of "exhibition only" working dogs, a small but growing faction, corresponding very roughly with the Schutzhund community, believe that a dog must be capable of his work to be worthy of the name "German Shepherd" or "Bouvier des Flandres." We believe that while a handsome animal is certainly something to warm the heart of his owner, a working dog that is not courageous, willing to work and faithful is ugly beyond description regardless of his external appearance. But most of all we believe that the concept of our working breeds as serious working dogs, as envisioned by our European founders, is an idea whose time has finally come in America.


Much of the recent public attention on protection training has focused on the Schutzhund sport, and it is perhaps worth a few moments to discuss the relationship of this with the training of police service or personal protection dogs. The reader must be aware that much of what follows is generalization, and that there are significant variations in the approach of individuals and the general attitudes predominant in specific clubs.

I personally regard my protection work as a process of evaluation and training intending to do three things:

Different people participate for different reasons. The competitive trainer is typically interested mostly in high scores and consistent good performances. He is often not particularly concerned about how attractive his dog is or whether it is suitable for breeding. He may not even have a particularly strong breed preference. This type of person will typically go through a lot of candidates, quickly discarding those that show weakness in any area.

The breeder on the other hand will not be so quick to discard a dog if its conformation, good hips and pedigree make it an important part in his breeding program. He will tend to title more dogs but compete with fewer, that is, only work an outstanding dog after obtaining a title.

The genius of the Schutzhund sport is that it is adapted to these diverse interests and purposes, for it tends to provide a common ground for the competition oriented trainer, the breeder and those people who are not especially active breeders or competitive exhibitors but rather interested in training and titling their family dogs and enjoying the social aspects of the sport.

There are those who believe, or profess to believe, that a Schutzhund dog should not be a "serious" protection dog, that he should be trained to bite only a sleeve and that anyone not wearing a sleeve should be perfectly safe in all circumstances. As you can well imagine, neither these people nor their dogs are taken very seriously, and a reasonable proportion of Schutzhund dogs are in fact good or at least adequate practical protection dogs.

Although Schutzhund is a three part sport, with tracking and obedience tests coming prior to the protection examination in every trial, the protection work is the focus for the enthusiast and the critic alike. It is perhaps worthwhile to examine what attributes make a dog a good Schutzhund dog, a good practical protection dog, and what commonality and/or conflict exists between the two.

The beginning dog, if he is any good at all, will quickly become very enthusiastic, and if the agitator should happen to expose his arm or leg the dog is likely to bite him there. The agitation process serves to overcome the innate and trained inhibitions against aggression, which are natural and necessary attributes of the canine character. The purpose of the training is to direct and/or reinforce the protective instincts so that the dog responds aggressively in specific circumstances and can be inhibited or encouraged by his handler.

Thus the beginning and intermediate level dog is in many ways the most dangerous, since his willingness to bite is being enhanced and the dog is, at this stage, likely to regard the agitator as a real enemy, at least during the training process. Often a session will be ended with the agitator letting the dog take the sleeve while he runs off and hides; the only thing preventing a bite being that the dog is on lead. Also, if the agitator stands still the desired action is for the dog to guard and bark.

As the training progresses most strong dogs come to regard the exercises as exactly what they are - games. Fun games, and serious games, but games nevertheless. Thus in a club situation the agitator, whom the dog knows well, can usually just throw his sleeve on the ground, stand still and be perfectly safe from the mature, well trained dog. This should not be misinterpreted, for a good many of these dogs are capable of a devastating attack should a serious adversary present himself.

There is a general tendency to underestimate the dog, for I am convinced that most of them come to understand that biting the sleeve does not hurt the man as biting a bare arm would. There is a lot of talk about the "sleeve happy" dog, that is, one who is more interested in the sleeve as an object of play than in getting at the man. I don't see anything wrong with this as a training device and for the development of a confident, high scoring sport dog. But the breeder and trainer who intends dogs for serious work is well advised to on occasion put some real pressure on the dog, put him in a threatening situation and see what he is truly made of.

We have seen that the good, strong dog comes to regard his protection training as something of a game as he becomes more confident and mature. What of the weak and inadequate dog? Many of these will seem to do well and (in the eyes of the novice) seem to be impressive. But they never really progress, are always more driven by fear than by confidence, in many instances true "fear biters." While the good dog comes to respond without elaborate agitation, and learns to release on command and guard, the weak dog continues to need extensive agitation to get him "up." Efforts to teach the dog the "out" tend to reveal the basic "fight" or "flight" syndrome that is the basis of the animal's character. Even though they may be very impressive to the unknowledgeable, these dogs are neither effective protection dogs, because they are apt to break and run when the handler rather than themselves is threatened, nor good sport candidates because they lack the confidence to do a clean out and guard routine.

Many owners, particularly breeders, are given to creating elaborate fairy tails to explain away the inadequacy of their favorite beast. They will say that, while their dog is not too hot on that sissy Schutzhund stuff, like the "out" and the guard routine, and while they are not too eager to go after the bad guy when he is at the other end of the field, they have "true protection dogs" who will "respond when the chips are down." This is 99 percent bull.

Everyone involved in the Schutzhund sport from time to time runs across the participant who, even after four or five years, has never titled a dog, or even taken one in a trial. He always has a great dog who barks and lunges on the end of the lead, and bites good in close, but never seems to be able to progress beyond this. Sometimes he has the same old dog, stuck at the same juvenile level as if in a time trap, and sometimes he is out every few months with the latest eight month old wonder dog. Neither the dogs nor the people seem capable of progressing.

As a sport competitor I am interested in how well my dog can perform the exercises, even though I realize that they do not always totally test the dog. But as a breeder I use such things as the hidden sleeve and an occasional surprise attack away from the training field to find out for sure what the beast is made of, although by now I am very seldom surprised.

With my more advanced dogs I train a call off, that is regularly have the agitator suddenly halt and then order the dog to "Down!" This is one feature that I would very much like to see included in the Schutzhund protection test, and is among the reasons I consider the Dutch police trial a much more demanding and thus revealing test.

Schutzhund is a social activity as much as a training sport, and we tend to spend as much time talking about dogs and training as actually doing it. Topics include working character, blood lines, training technique and simple gossip. There is endless discussion and debate about the various words describing canine characteristics such as courage, hardness and the like. This is a great year around indoor sport and in general the talk need not be taken all that seriously.

There is, however, a fundamental and very important aspect to the division of the canine protective motivation into the "prey drive" and the defensive instinct. Prey drive is what makes a terrier kill a rat, a fox run down a rabbit and a wolf pack run the deer or the moose. Almost any dog will chase a cat that runs, and if he catches him, kill him. But if the cat stops and takes a stand he can often back the dog down even though he is much smaller. And just as the dog chases the cat, the cat naturally hunts the rat and the mouse. There is such a strong element of play in this that "cat and mouse" has become a descriptive phrase for many of the games that human beings engage in. As the phrase implies, there can be a great deal of maliciousness in game playing at any level.

The "defensive instinct" is what makes the wolf defend the cubs and a cornered rat fight - every creature has a line which must not be crossed, else it will overcome its natural and necessary fear and fight, irregardless of the consequences.

In canine protection training these most primitive chase and fight instincts play fundamental but constantly changing roles. I believe that most of the training should focus on building up the prey instinct, just as the mother cat teaches the kitten to hunt by injuring a mouse and encouraging him to play with it.

It is true that such "prey" training can on occasion produce a dog capable of passing a trial even though he is not truly adequate in fundamental, genetically determined attributes such as courage and aggressiveness. But this is not really the fault of the dog or his trainer, but rather always the fault of the judge and the organization that selects him and establishes the rules under which he can conduct the trial.

In Germany there is from time to time talk of suppressing the "prey training" because it is allowing inadequate dogs to pass the trial, negating a fundamental purpose of the sport. I don't think anybody really knows to what extent this is going on, but the only solution is to tighten up the trial so that the dog receives a truly adequate test of the protective capability. Dog sport judging always tends toward rewarding the servile and precise dog because it is so much easier to evaluate in terms of superficialities than to discern the true character of the animal in question.

The bottom line is that if the trial is adequate then the breeder must produce sufficient dogs and the trainer must prepare them to deal with the surprise situation where the dog must rely on his innate courage and confidence as well as his training in order to deal with a truly stressful test. Many feel that the Schutzhund trial as it is conducted today has become too stylized, that rather than tracking, obedience and protection it tests tracking obedience, trick obedience and protection obedience. I believe that there may be an element of truth in this point of view, and that it is perhaps time for renewal, a fresh commitment to the original principles of the sport as a true breeding test. Our German friends would do well to take a serious look at the Dutch Police Trials.

There are of course those who belittle Schutzhund training on the ground that it is "play" training and imply that they are into "real" protection dogs, presumably meaning that they don't have any time to deal with such niceties as control and discipline. If these people were subjecting their dogs to a truly more demanding test, on the order of the Dutch Police Trials for instance, than I would say well and good, and admit that they indeed have the dogs to back up their words.

But the reality is that most of these people are involved in a quick and dirty process of turning marginal or flat out inadequate dogs, often their successful "show" stock, into unstable fear biters. In many instances this is a puppy selling charade, the sales pitch being something to the effect that "No, I haven't managed to Schutzhund title anything yet, but I got really tough personal protection dogs and you ought to come over and see these suckers bite."

The truly frightening aspect of this is that in many instances these people really believe their own bull. A few years ago there was a Bouvier kennel which had managed, by heavy advertising and a few carefully staged demonstrations, to build itself quite a reputation for producing tough protection dogs. This probably could have gone on forever, but the man, apparently having been taken in by his own propaganda, brought three of his dogs to a Schutzhund trial and a temperament test. The man's words were to the effect that we were all in for a real treat, that while his dogs were not apt to do much in the niceties of the obedience we were going to see some real dogs work. He was right about the obedience, at least up until the gun test at which point the first dog bolted and hid in the van. In the protection work not a single dog would bite the sleeve, and two out of three failed the temperament test, the one being totally gun shy and the other backing up and hiding in the protection test. The flamboyant ads disappeared shortly thereafter.

One lesson of this strange little scenario is that to be a good con man one has to come to believe his own fairy tales, which can be dangerous if it causes him to become overconfident and allow his product to be subjected in public to a real test. But the most important lesson is that one should believe very little of what he hears, and only believe his eyes when a dog is tested off his home ground by an impartial stranger according to a specified set of rules.

While the police training is in many ways more advanced than the Schutzhund work we have been discussing, this is mostly a matter of intensity and the natural differences between an amateur, part time activity and full time training and work. Many Schutzhund trained dogs are able to go into police service with relatively little additional training. (It is also a fact that many Schutzhund dogs could never make a really good Police dog, but that just means that there is room for improvement in the sport.) There are general similarities in functional requirement and training methodology among police, personal protection and sport dogs. There are also tremendous variations in the quality of training within each of these categories.

The terminology is in and of itself often somewhat confusing. Many opposed to the whole idea talk about "vicious attack dogs" and some participants are always very careful to point out that they are doing "protection training" as if the words themselves would lend an aura of legitimacy and prevent the hostile reactions from the more sensitive and refined elements of the canine establishment. The fact is that there is an attack on a remote agitator in every Schutzhund trial. It is strongly believed that a good dog must be able to go out away from the psychological protection of his handler and face the adversary on his own. If, in training for and conducting such tests, we are deemed to be engaged in "attack training" then I will not quibble. So be it.

When discussing protection training one must be constantly mindful that generalities are very dangerous, that there are significant differences within general categories. Not every police officer's dog, for instance, is identical in training or function. There are important variations in acceptable breed, structure, behavior and temperament according to the purpose of the dog and the policy of the department. The suburban officer requires a well controlled, responsible animal that he can take to a school or dog show for publicity. The military police on the other hand require perimeter protection or sentry dogs that have the somewhat simpler function of providing warning in the event of an intruder and protection of the handler long enough for him to pass on the information. The only people he normally comes into contact with are trained military personnel aware of what they are dealing with.

Unfortunately, there are poor and/or badly trained "police dogs" on the street as well as some inadequate handlers and trainers. The primary reason for this is that such programs are relatively new in America, and there is very little of the cooperation among breeder and sport trainer on the one hand and the police trainers and leaders on the other that are behind the success and effectiveness of such programs in Europe. Police dogs are often donated - I recall one radio spot for the Chicago Police asking for dogs "weighing at least 50 pounds, looking like Shepherds and with two ears standing." This is a little like issuing zip guns taken off of high school kids as side arms!

Hopefully this situation will gradually improve, with breeders increasingly producing dogs well suited to the police function and the police in turn becoming knowledgeable enough to understand the long term economy of seeking out and cultivating sources of good working stock.


There are diverse protection training methodologies according to local custom and the desired reaction of the trained dog in sport competition or an actual working situation. Although the training described here is essentially that done in my Schutzhund training, it is typical of most sport training and the methodology of those preparing police and personal protection dogs in North America. I believe it to be a reasonably typical example of the mainstream of protection training as practiced in this country today.

Some comparisons will also be made with Dutch and Belgian procedures that traditionally have used a full body suit and allowed, or in the case of some Belgian training, encouraged the dog to go to the body or leg rather than the arm.

At seven to ten months the pup may be allowed to watch older dogs being worked in order to become accustomed to the barking and excitement, to learn that aggression is sometimes allowed and rewarded. At perhaps a year actual direct participation becomes appropriate. Usually the young dog is equipped with a thick leather collar and a strong leash, and there is sometimes a chain or cable used to tie the dog to a fence or secure stake. A spring is usually used in the chain to prevent undue shock as the dog lunges at the agitator.

There seems to be a trend, especially when working with powerful dogs such as Bouviers and Rottweilers, to use a harness rather than a collar in the initial training where the emphasis is on building the dog up rather than control. This does not seem to be necessary with the Shepherds and Dobes.

Depending on the relative size and experience of the dog and handler, the dog is either worked on a hand held lead or, in the case of a big dog and small handler, there is often a stout line in addition to the lead and a third person provides a back up. Even a relatively small female Bouvier can pull incredibly hard when wearing a harness, and as a general rule the person must outweigh the animal at least two to one in order to not lose control.

The "agitator" is perhaps best thought of as an actor who portrays the adversaries the dog may face in service or competition. Initially he approaches the dog in a tentative, furtive manner and mildly threatens by gesture and voice. The dog's handler responds by yelling back - when the dog barks, growls or lunges at the agitator, he immediately runs away showing as much fear as possible, and the handler praises the dog. The dog always wins, drives off the agitator and later defeats him.

As the dog gains confidence, the pressure is increased. A burlap sack is introduced to provide something to grab. At this point, much of the training is directed at frustrating the dog, building up the desire to get at the agitator, who should be careful not to inadvertently intimidate the dog, or to allow him to bite so often that it becomes common place and boring. Once the dog will grab the sack and give a good "fight", a soft fabric "puppy sleeve" is worn on the arm and the dog bites this rather than the sack. Again, the primary objective at this stage is to build up the dogs aggressiveness and confidence. When the agitator drops the sack or sleeve and runs away the most desirable reaction for the dog is to immediately drop his end and lunge at the fleeing agitator, indicating his desire to get the man rather than play with the object.

Continuous attempts are made to acclimate the dog to threatening noises and gestures. A stick is waved, tentatively at first and later threateningly over the head. Eventually there will be sharp blows across the back with a bamboo stick. The dog will be expected to persist in the attack in spite of the blows. In order to build the hardness and determination of the bite, the frequency of allowing the dog to bite is reduced and any time he loosens his grip so that the sleeve can be pulled away the agitator will go away and work another dog or rest rather than giving an immediate opportunity to bite again. This frustrates the dog and teaches him to hang on.

As maturity and confidence builds, and the arm in the sleeve begins to suffer pain, an adult sleeve is introduced. This is constructed mostly of leather and provides a great deal more protection appropriate to the increasingly hard bite of the maturing dog. A burlap like cover goes over the sleeve itself and is replaced when it becomes worn. When sufficiently advanced the dog is " taken off the fence", which can be likened to graduating from grade school. At this point the padded leather pants are normally worn by the agitator, since the dog has much more opportunity to bite a leg or a thigh rather than the sleeve. This provides only limited protection against pain and injury, as the design of the pants is a compromise between the thickness conductive to effective protection and the lightness that enhances agitator mobility.

There are other styles of training and competition where the helper wears the full body suit, which is loose enough to allow shifting of an arm or leg and thus avoidance of an injury. Such work requires very capable and well trained agitators! The dog is encouraged to bite any place he can get a good grip on the pants or jacket. Many European Malinois and Bouviers are trained in this style, since it is the customary procedure in both the Ring Sport of Belgium and France (named for the circle on the ground in the guard of object exercise) and the KNPV competition, that is, the Dutch Police Trials.

Although it is not easy, dogs can be converted from one style to the other. On one occasion, I worked Erik Houttuin's Wilson numerous times without the padded pants with no difficulty. The first time I wore the pants, in a pretrial run though, he stuck his head around the blind, took one look at the padded leg and grabbed hold. This was no doubt a reflex reaction to his former training. It was somewhat painful but no serious injury resulted. (An interesting sidelight to this is that Wilson van Pleinzicht was apparently the first Bouvier, or perhaps dog of any breed, to hold both the KNPV certificate and the Schutzhund III.)

In the initial phases of training, the emphasis is entirely on building up a hard, aggressive attitude and the dog's self confidence. As the dog advances, he should be worked by different agitators using varying techniques. It is desirable that the dog bite hard in the face of persistently increasing pressure; and there is no attempt at control and restraint on the training field, although good behavior and a lack of inappropriate aggression must be insisted on off the field. I make it a particular point to approach the dogs I am agitating during obedience training and shake hands with the handler. This is of course to make certain that the dog understands the rules, and the dog showing inappropriate reactions is reprimanded. It is also common practice to occasionally have an agitator walk quietly through the obedience class with a sleeve on to make sure that no dog takes its presence as justification for an attack.

As the dog begins to demonstrate the requisite courage and hardness, restraint and control are introduced into the training methodology. The agitator, first with bare arm and then with a sleeve, will approach the dog and handler in a passive manner. The dog will quite naturally assume that he is to be aggressive, but the handler gently restrains him and insists on a passive though watchful demeanor. The rule becomes "Watch if you are suspicious, but only threaten or attack if there is a direct aggressive action or on the command of your leader."

In one elementary exercise, the agitator will walk up to within perhaps ten feet of the dog and handler, who will tell the beast to "Watch him!" as the agitator makes very slight threatening motions. The dog is restrained on the lead but encouraged to bark. Gradually the lead is loosened, but the dog is jerked back when he advances. It is intended that he learn that "Watch him!" means just that, to bark but to stay by his leader in a guard posture. If the agitator makes an overtly aggressive move then the dog is naturally expected to attack.

In the Schutzhund protection test, the dog is never to attack a stationary, passive adversary but rather only the active aggressor. Police dogs are sometimes trained to attack even a passive person. A good example is a search exercise or an actual building search; where the Schutzhund dog, upon finding the hidden adversary, is to stand and bark while most police dogs are expected to attack. In a real situation the standing dog is of course vulnerable and the bad guy was after all given his chance to surrender. Sometimes just a casual "Should we send the dogs?" is enough to cause the fugitive to surrender.

Many dogs tend to become overly sensitive, to interpret even the slightest motion as reason for an attack. To counter this, it is common to introduce shoulder motion, movement of the hands or body and/or slight stick motions; and then reprimand the dog that lunges. The bad guy has to really move out before the attack can commence. Some dogs will become frustrated in attempts to induce the motion that justifies grabbing the sleeve. They will jump up and down and bark with their fangs inches from the agitator's face; and on one occasion a dog grabbed me by the belt and pulled me out of the blind.

Most dogs most of the time perceive the protection training as a game, albeit a very serious one. Just as students of the martial arts engage in very impressive practice sessions without using their skills to injure each other, protection training is conducted so as to minimize the expectation of injury to the man or the dog. The man will on occasion fall down because of irregularity in the field or simply because he has lost his balance. In such instances it often would be relatively easy for a dog to inflict a serious bite, but he normally does not.

Much of the time (more often than is really wise, if the truth were told) an agitator works dogs without the padded leather pants normally worn when the dog is off lead or the handler inexperienced. The dogs could very easily bite the man in the thigh or leg and in fact sometimes do although serious injuries are surprisingly infrequent and usually the result of an accident rather than the intention of the dog to inflict injury. A dog will catch himself at the last moment and 'pull his punch', for I have several times been merely bruised by a dog who could have seriously hurt me had he wanted to. (I have in fact been much more seriously hurt jogging than serving as agitator.)

Note that these comments apply to the active police dogs as well as sport dogs, for the good canine protector fully understands the differences between training and the serious incident that calls for inflicting as much damage as possible on his adversary. The ability to make the distinction is in fact one of the greatest factors in the utility of dogs for protective purposes.

There are naturally significant variations among the dogs in service and on the sport field. Most police canine units are made up of dogs that can be used for publicity, taken to a school or dog show for a demonstration. There are also sometimes dogs that would not make that particular team but are nevertheless useful in other situations. And there are dogs on Schutzhund fields that would like nothing better than an unrestricted go at the agitator without the hindrance of the rules!

Just as in a football game or wrestling match where sometimes an actual or perceived offense causes deliberate attempts to injure an opponent, 'unsportsmanlike conduct' occasionally occurs on the dog sport field. A dog will become angry and attempt to make a serious bite; or the agitator will become aroused and come down more heavily than usual with the stick. A dog may bite the thigh or leg because he missed the sleeve or because the agitator made a poor sleeve presentation. Such things do not reflect badly on the dog but rather indicate the need for better execution on the part of the agitator. The dog is perfectly entitled to bite whatever he can get. Note that there is no specific requirement in the Schutzhund rules that a dog bite the sleeve.

The dog who persistently avoids the sleeve even when properly presented is usually exhibiting either a history of poor training or a fundamentally flawed character. It is very important in the training process to always make the sleeve the easiest thing to bite if that is the normally desirable reaction in a trial, as it is in the Schutzhund sport. (Tom Rose refers to this as "targeting.")

Many European Bouviers are specifically trained to go to the thigh or leg - I have in fact seen photos of Belgian training where the agitator uses a large, padded "shield" to keep the dog away from his upper body, so the only place he can bite is in the thigh or leg.

Once the dog is sure and hard in close and the control aspects of the training are sufficiently advanced, building up the confidence necessary to work away from his handler is begun. This is often done on a fifteen to thirty foot line, with the handler restraining the dog while the agitator works him up. He will then come in close and when he turns and runs the handler, at an agreed upon time, will run after the agitator and encourage the dog to go out and take the sleeve. The handler stays further and further behind as the dog gains the confidence to go out and make a remote attack. Some weak dogs fail at this point, while willing to defend themselves and to some extent the human partner, they are unwilling or unable to go on the offensive, to attack a remote adversary. As the training progresses, the agitator becomes more assertive, at first stopping and facing the dog and then turning and coming back at the advancing dog. This is the Schutzhund 'courage test' and in fact some dogs are never able to pass it. A skilled agitator with a great deal of timing and ability to read the dog's body language is necessary both to build up the dog and avoid an injury to either party.

In training a strong, mature dog I am not particularly demonstrative or intense; the approach is mostly matter of fact with the emphasis on procedure and control. In a trial or when intending to impress a guest, I will at the appropriate moment act out extreme anger at the agitator in order to build up the intensity of the dog's performance. During the courage test, where the dog is sent after the fleeing agitator, I normally yell my encouragement as the man turns and charges the dog. This sometimes can be overdone, which results in the dog taking an extra bite after being given the 'out' command, but most of us would rather lose the points to intensity rather than weakness, there being a great deal of pride at stake.

When working with a familiar agitator many dogs do well and enjoy their work but do not put on an especially impressive show. This is because most really confident, strong dogs fully understand the difference between training, competition and a real life incident. Such things can be compared to a football scrimmage, where the intensity is much less than in a game, the emphasis being on the development of technical skills and timing. As an even more extreme case, most of us will on occasion put on a sleeve and work our own dogs or those in the family. The dogs do not normally react very aggressively and the purpose is to teach control and procedure rather than to build up intensity. The situation can be likened to the middle aged college football coach stepping in to take a turn at quarterback: any of the players could easily flatten him but understand that doing so would mean attending class and studying for examinations like a normal student. Biting the old man is like kissing your sister, something sometimes appropriate but not calling for much real passion.

The agitator's art is complex and demanding. In the ideal he is an agile, strong athlete, a consummate actor, able to read every dog's mind by a mere glance and prescribing the correct training procedures. Most of us fall somewhat short of this ideal, but are always trying to improve our skills. In the final analysis, the agitator is the key element in the training program, only he can make the instinctive, split second decisions on when the dog is ready for more pressure and when to back off and allow the dog to win with a lesser effort.

The good agitator is not only physically skilled and knowledgeable, but also unselfish enough to put the advancement of the dog above the desire to put on a macho show to prove what a virile man he is. It has been said that "weak agitators make strong dogs and strong agitators make weak dogs." Much of the agitator's function is to portray a weak and indecisive person so as to build up the dog's self confidence. This is particularly important with the young and inexperienced dog so that he always perceives himself as the winner. To achieve this end, the agitator must be a very good actor and put on a convincing show of fear and submissiveness, which requires a great deal of control and confidence.


The consequence of poor training or an inadequate dog for the sport trainer are failure in a trial and a little embarrassment in front of his friends and fellow club members. But for those training actual service dogs the consequences of a failure can be much more serious.

Just as a man with a gun he does not know to be jammed is in much more danger than one with no gun at all, many dogs are inadequate, and when relied upon for protection become serious liabilities, placing their human partners in jeopardy because of the false sense of security. The man who does not adequately train and test his dog simply does not know what he can and will do when the chips are down. Many dogs of every breed will fail to respond in a crisis because they are insufficient in courage or intelligence and because their training has not revealed this and eliminated them.

Also, in spite of what some would have you believe, no dog, Bouvier or otherwise, is a panacea, a global solution to the problems of our increasingly insecure society. Dogs, even very good dogs, can be thwarted in any number of ways: by a gun, a stick in hands knowing its use and by poison to name only a few. One must understand and prepare in order to realize the full measure of the protective potential the Bouvier and other breeds have to offer, for unless both the man and the dog have been trained to take immediate, correct action when the time comes injury and even death are distinct possibilities.

There are significant variations in the purpose, philosophy and methodology of those training dogs for direct, aggressive use against human beings. The 'protection' or 'attack' dog can be a superbly trained partner of the police officer, capable of providing real protection on a dark, rainy night from the human creatures that crawl out of the urban woodwork and at the same time capable of going to a grade school for 'public relations' duty. Such dogs of course do much more than attack; for they can seek out lost persons, track a felon and detect narcotics. There are on the other hand simple hunt and destroy machines -- 'junk yard dogs' whose only purpose in life is to attack any human being they can get at, perhaps including the handler if given the opportunity.

Much of the practical utility of a dog is in the psychological effect, for a couple of dogs can back off a crowd without any real contact where many more officers with batons would have to crack heads in order to accomplish the same thing. Similarly, one seeking a business to break into is likely to move on the one next door when faced with a dog. The principal is quite simple: an up front show of force and the obvious willingness to use it can head off an actual need for violence. Up close most people will be inhibited by the presence of an obviously willing dog. Although most dogs are well trained, not apt to bite a passive person unless commanded to do so, most potential trouble makers are not apt to try them, not apt to expect the dog to understand the esoteric rights that our courts have seen fit to grant to the common criminal.

One could perhaps depreciate the effectiveness of a dog, argue that a man with a cheap gun is more than a match for any dog. Being shot is indeed a real hazard. But to do it the man must see the dog coming and then have the skill and nerve to get an effective shot off, a nontrivial task under the best of circumstances, in that the profile of a charging dog is not all that large. In the daylight and on open ground many men are no doubt capable of the feat. But it is not a dog that must be faced, it is a team of a man with a gun and a trained dog. The man will not expose his dog needlessly, send him when he will obviously face extraordinary danger. He will seek a better way, one that is of less jeopardy to the dog.

A significant advantage of a dog is that he represents less than deadly force, for being grabbed in the arm by a police dog is not intended to be pleasant but is much preferable to being shot. It is better to send the dog after a fleeing suspect, who may turn out to be innocent, than taking a shot at him. And often the mere threat of sending the dog is sufficient to stop the man.

Another advantage of the dog is his relative expendability; his life is often put in jeopardy in the place of that of a man. This may seem hard and even cruel, but the police function is often dangerous, hard and cruel for the officer as well as his dog. And the life of a policeman's dog is not regarded lightly, on the contrary the dog and man are in most instances very close, spending long hours in training and at work and then living together when off duty.

The canine officer is a volunteer who has made a significant extra commitment; a man who knows, respects and enjoys working with dogs. Shooting his dog would have a similar effect to assaulting his child or shooting a human partner: one doing so should be prepared to face an extremely angry man who has had the moment necessary to draw his gun and the most powerful motivation on earth to use it effectively.

There is an aura of the mystic surrounding protection dog training, much of it purposefully propagated by those involved as a business tactic or a means of building up their own sense of importance. What you think you are seeing is often not what is in fact going on an there are numerous means of staging realistic scenarios that give a totally false impression of the capabilities of a dog.

The experienced, capable agitator can easily make weak dogs appear to be strong and courageous. And almost any dog can be made to look unsure by a skilled agitator, by overt actions such as surreptitiously jabbing the dog with the end of the stick or stepping on him with the cleated shoes, or by more subtle psychological means.

The reasons for deception are as numerous as the interests of the people involved. Those engaged in professional training, that is the training of protection dogs for the public and the sale of such dogs, are naturally interested in demonstrating their product in the best possible light. On the other hand, a person bringing a dog to such a person to be trained may be shown how bad it is, and the trainer may just happened to have a very fine personal protection dog for sale (at a very handsome price, to be sure) that very day.

In a Schutzhund trial, agitators have been known to insure that the correct dog wins, both by easing off on a favored dog known to be weak in some area as well as sabotage of competitors. When well done, such things are very difficult to detect and virtually impossible to prove. (There is likely to be good reason when, as sometimes happens, spectators are not allowed to photograph or take movies at a trial, something going on that is not intended for leisurely scrutiny.)

Thus the man who stages a demonstration with his own dog and agitator may put on an extremely impressive show with a dog that in actual fact is mediocre or worse. Inexperienced people considering the acquisition of a 'personal protection dog' are particularly susceptible to such a ruse, for in most instances they are wholly incapable of really knowing how effective the dog they are being shown is.

The dog that goes berserk at the end of the lead when approached may in fact be weak rather than strong, desperately trying to compensate for his insecurity with the hysterically aggressive facade. The dog that shows only mild interest in a slightly suspicious situation may be perceived by the novice as not being particularly strong but may in fact be totally confident that he can handle any situation that might arise and thus not feel the need to put up an impressive front. In both men and dogs, true strength, confidence and courage render pretense and a bullying manner unnecessary.

It should be noted that a dog can appear indifferent when working an inept agitator as well as a dishonest one. When the novice puts on a sleeve and walks up to a well trained and hard dog, he may well stand there with a quizzical expression. Were God to grant the gift of speech he would no doubt inquire "Bite this insipid creature? Why not just let him die of fright? If you can't find somebody who knows what he's doing, I am going to crawl under a bush and take a nap. What a bore!" The agitator is essentially an actor, and if he is not good enough to play his role effectively then the dog can't play his either.

Although there are those who would debate the proposition, there is clear justification for the use of protection enhanced dogs as an adjunct to the police function and by the individual citizen for the preservation of person and property. As with any right, there are corresponding obligations to guarantee that the execution of the privilege does not interfere with the rights of others. While the prerogative of the individual to breed, train and sell such dogs is inherent, the responsibility for the consequences cannot be avoided.

It is thus essential that those in the possession of such animals understand what they are dealing with and be able to control them. The selling of trained dogs to the public at large as a commercial venture is thus a very complex subject, for the provision of a protection enhanced dog to an unknowledgeable person can lead to a number of serious problems.

It is to be fully understood that there are very conscientious and well qualified professional trainers, many of which are most deserving of respect and have made important contributions in numerous aspects of the working dog world. The potential for abuse, however, is tremendous. When the leash of the protection enhanced dog is handed over to the client, he in many instances has very little real conception of what it is that he is receiving. The dog may be a carefully selected and fully trained canine protector, in which case the price has to be several thousand dollars in order to cover the base cost of the dog and pay for the substantial amount of training necessary. But on the other hand there is a real possibility that he was literally picked up at the pound the week before and taught to sort of heel and to lunge and bark at anybody that walks up and waves his arms.

The fact that it is possible to sell a dog with literally an hour or two of actual training time to those who will never know the difference or will be too embarrassed to do anything about it guarantees that there will be those in the business of selling such dogs. A protection trained dog is among the most difficult of things for the inexperienced person to buy without being taken advantage of.

The mediocre dog that has been given a quick, superficial series of lessons is essentially a placebo, the client may think he has an invincible canine protector and enjoy showing it off to his friends, but a year later the dog may well be essentially no different from one purchased as a pup and given no training at all. The customer has been cheated, but the public is in no particular extra danger.

In the ideal situation, the client would go to a trainer who would help in the selection of the dog and then fully participate in all aspects of the training, for the handler is as much or more in need of instruction than is the dog. This can be a lengthy process, particularly if the first dog turns out to be unsuitable and has to be replaced part way through the training program, which is by no means an unusual occurrence -- it is normal to have to discard dogs as simply inadequate, that is soft or lacking in courage and hardness or not sufficiently obedient and stable. The man who claims to be able to train every dog, to succeed each time in producing a good and reliable protector, is either woefully inept or grossly dishonest, for some dogs are inevitably found wanting.

Overall, the use of dogs by police agencies in America has been only marginally successful. Many programs have come and gone according to the whim of politics or the preferences of those holding power in police agencies. Private guard dog trainers have been of varying quality, with many instances of inadequate and/or unreliable dogs being provided to those who are not knowledgeable enough to understand that they are being cheated.

Thus while the application of dogs such as the Bouvier to guard and protection work can be and in many instances is a very effective and worthwhile use, there are significant opportunities for abuse. The best remedy for this is systematic cooperative efforts among national breed clubs, individual breeders, public safety agencies, Schutzhund organizations and serious professional trainers to produce an ample supply of sound, well trained dogs and the means of learning to use them effectively. In this way those with a serious application will become much more discriminating, come to understand what such dogs are capable of and better able to identify and utilize quality dogs. In this way the incompetent trainers and inadequate dogs will become much less numerous because they can not compete with the quality animals available elsewhere.

And this is not idle speculation, as we have an example of such a system in operation across the Atlantic. Indeed, much of continental Europe has a long history of successful police canine programs and the effective use of working dogs by other public service agencies. In addition to this, there is a strong history of relatively vigorous breeding programs for the working breeds and serious sport participation by nonprofessionals. These are not isolated phenomena but rather different facets of the same over all process, for in fact much of the success among both groups is due to the long term relationships that exist between police agencies and sport trainers.

In Holland the KNPV (Royal Dutch Police) training and competition is under the auspices of police authorities. Much of the training takes place on public land available because of the official connection, even though most of the individuals participating are not police officers or paid professional trainers but rather private citizens interested in the sporting aspects of the training. Because of the quasi official nature of the relationship, individuals with certain kinds of criminal records are precluded from participating. This close and cooperative relationship between public service agencies and the sport training enthusiasts, which also exists in Germany and elsewhere, is largely responsible for the successful use of dogs in public service and the relatively strong state of the breeding programs in Europe.


The selection of the dogs to be trained and the evaluation of their progress is among the most critical and important aspects of protection dog training. For the professional trainer, the selection process has significant financial consequences, for success depends on a high rate of correctly predicting which dogs he will be able to bring to a serviceable level of training in a reasonable amount of time. Since each dog that must be discarded represents a substantial investment in time and cash, the professional can't afford to be wrong very often. Those that do not discard inadequate dogs, but rather palm them off on the gullible, are largely responsible for the bad reputation protection dog training enjoys in some quarters.

Much has been written on the selection of dogs as candidates for protection training and the manner in which the pup should be raised. While any dog of suitable size could conceivably be successful, and many cross breed dogs have been, the vast majority of such dogs are from among the traditional protective breeds. The German Shepherd is by far the most numerous, and recent imports and the immediate progeny thereof predominate. To a lesser extent, the Rottweiler and Doberman are used and the utilization of the Bouvier, while numerically small at the moment, seems to be increasing. (The Bouvier is, of course, trained extensively in the Netherlands, Belgium and France for protection work.)

The males are most often used in protection work, and are strongly predominant among the more competitive Schutzhund dogs. To some extent this is due to the fact that they tend to be bigger, stronger and more aggressive. They are also more head strong and difficult to control as a general rule. Another factor is that many trainers are not willing to work with a bitch, often for reasons that have more to do with their own self image than inherent differences in the animals.

As for myself, I particularly enjoy working with a good, strong bitch and recommend that one looking for a reliable, steady sport dog or home protector not overlook the advantages of the female. This is particularly good advice for the breeder, for he can take his bitch to a strong stud, but breeding even the best male to a mediocre bitch is not apt to produce much. To some extent the decision depends on the long term objectives, with one seeking to make his mark as a trainer probably better off, all in all, with a male, but one beginning a working dog breeding program being well advised to begin by training the best bitch he can find.

Generalizations are of course treacherous, but I think most trainers would agree that the female requires a lighter hand, and that the experience of doing a really good job on a bitch can do a lot to make one a better all around trainer. The man who tends to be heavy handed might give serious consideration to training a bitch or two for just this reason.

Whether it is better to start with a pup or an older dog depends on many factors. A police department will usually look for an older dog, since they generally don't have a convenient means of properly raising pups, and since, if they have good trainers, they can reliably identify a good candidate. Similar considerations apply to a person looking for a personal or property protection dog. On the other hand, those seeking a family companion also capable of serving the protective role should give serious consideration to a pup out of strong, proven working stock of which ever breed they prefer.

Every once in a while there is discussion of whether the newcomer to Schutzhund is better advised to start with a pup or by importing a titled dog. For me this is like the young man wanting to get married trying to decide whether to seek an inexperienced girl or one who has already been impregnated by someone else so he won't have to bother with it, and so that his friends will not snicker and make jokes if he can't get the job done.

As for myself, I have always felt that starting with a pup, particularly one bred and raised in the home, is the essence of the sport. It has always been something of a mystery to me what satisfaction is to be had in spending big money importing a highly trained, successful European dog and then exhibiting it in Schutzhund trials. I suppose that there is the expectation of instant credibility, but in reality the new owner with a dog who obviously knows a lot more than his handler is much more likely to make a laughingstock of himself as he stumbles through a trial.

There is a certain entertainment value in watching the know it all novice with an expensive dog make a fool of himself, or listen to him pontificate on things he really knows very little about and in general make an ass of himself. This is in fact one of the more entertaining long running side shows of the Schutzhund world. But for me it is sad to see a really good dog who has been sold by his European trainer spend his declining years being made a mockery in the hands of an inept and vain American, slowly deteriorating because of a lack of conditioning and proper training. It's a little like watching the old boxer who doesn't know when to quit gradually getting his brains beaten out.

There are of course good reasons for importing European dogs with outstanding working records. One of these is that such an animal, if he is reasonably well conformed and has a decent pedigree, can be a valuable breeding resource. Also, it can be useful to bring over and exhibit a good worker so that Americans can be exposed to a really high quality working dogs. This is particularly true when the dog is of a breed not often trained in this country.

One of the difficulties involved in importing dogs is that it is very easy to be cheated if one does not know what he is doing, and sometimes even if he is relatively experienced. Lots of imported dogs are simply European trash which would have been put down otherwise. The "Ugly American" may be a national embarrassment, but the "Stupid American, with cash" is welcome everywhere.

All in all, the beginner is probably best off starting with a pup bred in this country out of proven working stock. While some selection can be done by observing the actions of the young pup as he interacts with his litter mates and numerous puppy temperament tests are described in the literature, perhaps the best predictor of the potential of the pup is the temperament and trainability of the parents. In addition to courage, the good candidate is sensitive to his chosen people so that control as well as the aggressive capability can be developed.

In evaluating an older dog, the process should begin with a thorough medical examination of the candidate, including an X-ray of the hips to make sure that the dog is not dysplastic. The next step is a complete temperament evaluation, including a gun shot response test and close exposure to a number of people. Any dog that is either shy or indiscriminately aggressive toward the stranger must be suspect, such things must be resolved before serious consideration can be given. The ideal candidate is thus young, healthy, confident, responsive and inherently aggressive. (Young is essentially an economic requirement -- old dogs can learn but the return on investment will be substantially reduced by the shortened service life.)

It is perhaps necessary to give a reasonably precise definition of what is meant by 'aggressive' and contrast it with 'vicious'. An aggressive dog is one with enthusiasm, who acts with energy, desire and courage. If the task at hand is to put an intruder in his place then the job is done so as not to require a repeat performance. If a knowledgeable friend should comment that my new pup seems particularly aggressive then I am naturally quite pleased.

The vicious dog on the other hand is the one who simply enjoys inflicting pain and doesn't much give a damn who his victim is or whether provocation exists. He is often a very tentative, inherently weak animal who when stressed must either work himself into a frenzy in order to attack or break and run. The fear biter is a good example of this kind of dog. Inherently vicious dogs should in many instances be put down, because they are dangerous and because they may lack the real courage and dependability necessary in a useful protection dog.

Such things are of course not black and white, for dogs are not neatly divided into the vicious and correctly aggressive; identifiable by a quick, sure test that even the novice can apply. Some vicious dogs are found to have specific, causative physical defects such as brain tumors or severely dysplastic hips that explain deviant behavior. Any dog who exhibits sudden changes in personality and behavior should be immediately taken to a vet, who should be told exactly what is going on. While rabies is not common, it is a definite possibility, even when a dog is up to date on his inoculations.

Dogs are very sensitive to their early relationships with human beings. Those that fail to have contact with a reasonable number of people may have tendencies toward instability greatly amplified, will perhaps become overly suspicious of people and perhaps less than predictable in behavior. This is just one of the many forms of abuse that can render a dog unstable, unfit for exposure to the public at large. Finally, there are some dogs that are vicious for no discernible reason, no detectable physical cause and no know abuse. Just as there are inherently evil men, there would appear to be a very small number of essentially evil dogs.


As in any sport, there are some things the novice is better off understanding right up front. In Schutzhund the strong predominance of the German Shepherd is a fundamental fact of life and many of the national entities are in reality German Shepherd breed organizations. There are fundamental reasons for this in that the sport was created by the originators of that breed early in this century as a means of enhancing the working quality of their stock. The Shepherd has been bred in Germany specifically as a Schutzhund for over seventy years, and for all those decades it evolved under the influence of the sport and the sport was fine tuned to suit the nature of the Shepherd. The rules, procedures and traditions are attuned to the Shepherd body and soul in a thousand subtle details.

This is not meant to imply criticism of the breed or its sport, for indeed the Shepherd is a truly fine general purpose working dog by any standard, a most worthy competitor. This is of course a tribute to the wisdom and dedication of the Shepherd people in Germany, for they have by example shown the way in which a working breed can be preserved and protected for future generations. Because of the long history of success in a working test - the Schutzhund trial - as a prerequisite to the propagation of the Shepherd virtually every other breed is in the position of playing catch up and in this regard the Shepherds of long term American breeding, particularly the prominent show ring lines, are for all practical purposes another breed, and one in very serious trouble at that. Thus the man who would participate in the sport with his Bouvier or his Doberman must understand that he is in many ways intruding upon his opponent's home ground. This should not be overly emphasized, or used as an excuse, but merely understood as the nature of the sport.

The judge is in many ways the key element, for a Schutzhund trial is largely what he makes of it in that he has tremendous latitude in interpreting the rules and when it gets right down to it his word is law. With a capable and honest judge this is to the good, for then each dog can be tested to the fullest and when a degree is granted the dog and his leader can go home with head high. But there are, as in any facet of human affairs, bad as well as good individuals, men serving as judge that are dishonest and/or inept. The fact that a great deal of money is often involved tends to bring out the worst in some men.

It is common knowledge that Schutzhund trials are conducted in Germany without anybody walking a dog onto a field, the paper work simply being processed and the dogs in question having false titles appear on their papers, as if by magic. Since a local person with any sense at all would check around and find somebody who had seen a dog he was interested in work, it seems fairly obvious that these phony trials are to a large extent "export specials!"

I have seen judges sent over by the Shepherd club in Germany cheat, give unearned titles to dogs who - by obvious prearrangement - were not subjected to the stick in the protection test. The dogs involved were obviously not sound enough to pass an honest trial. The fact that the owner of the club, a German over here to live off the stupidity of Americans, was the breeder of the dogs in question and the agitator just compounded the farce. On a different occasion I saw a man, another German dog merchandiser, beat a bitch unmercifully in full view of an American judge and then walk the thirty feet that separated them to report for the obedience exercises. The judge pretended that he just didn't see, for the man's place in the Schutzhund world was such that he was afraid to challenge him.

For too many years most of the people at a Schutzhund trial have not really understood what was going on, and the temptation to take advantage of this has often been given in to. Such things, while no longer predominant practices, are not especially unusual either. Human failings know no international boundaries, for there are grossly incompetent and totally dishonest people serving as conformation and working trial judge in every nation, and anybody who does not perceive this or cannot face these realities is in imminent danger of being taken advantage of.

But in general the judges on our Schutzhund fields today are honest, objective and competent, certainly on the whole better qualified than our American conformation judges. To a large extent the spirit of sportsmanlike behavior and fair play predominates, and the situation can be expected to improve as the organizations involved mature and stabilize. Also, as the people in the sport and in attendance at trials become more knowledgeable and experienced judges will hesitate before allowing some of the more blatant offenses of the past years to be repeated. And the judge essentially the paid flunkey of the importer who has brought him over to help sell dogs, along with the "Schutzhund trial" conducted as a private individual's promotional stunt, should become things of the past, an ugly but finished chapter of the American Schutzhund story.

The practical consequence of all this is that just as the AKC conformation championship may mean nothing at all, the real significance of the Schutzhund title is heavily dependent on the judge granting it. The essential fact of the matter is that there are good and poor judges with licenses from every nation. Although some would have you believe that only a man born and certified in Germany can be a good judge and everybody born in America is incompetent, the truth is that some sent over from Europe are grossly dishonest or inept, and there are some damn good American judges.

Jim Engel    © Copyright 1985

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