My Begleithunde Experience

by Christine Lietzau

Reprinted from Giant Steps © Nov.-Dec. 1993

As a seasoned exhibitor in both AKC conformation and obedience trials for the past 25 years, I was getting bored. Nothing seemed new and exciting anymore. As I was lamenting my fate to Ed Weiss (St. Louis, Missouri) last fall he started talking to me about the world of Schutzhund and how much fun it was. “Yea, sure.”,  I said. “I'm not sure I want to train my dog to bite someone.” Especially since the trainers that I had observed seemed to employ methods that left me uncomfortable and were almost obsessed with showing off their dogs fighting instincts. Ed assured me that not all Schutzhund enthusiasts were like this. As with every sport including AKC events, there are individuals that present a bad image and that the sport should not be judged by the actions of those individuals alone. Schutzhund is a three phase “sport”. Tracking, obedience and protection must all be successfully performed at a trial and in that order, to earn a title. No one phase must be stressed over the other.

Ed was right. He started me on a search that led me to meet my current trainer, Gustavo Sanchez. Being the cautious person I am, I went to watch his training sessions for several weeks before I brought my dog. I firmly believe that you alone are responsible for your dog. Your Giant does not select a bad trainer or bad methods, you do. Don't be to eager to get involved in any activity until you feel comfortable with the person and their program. Ask questions, determine their methods, discuss your goals and expect a good trainer to explain each step of the program or exercise to you before beginning. If they dislike or dismiss your questions, then move on to another trainer. Two‑way communication is essential. Everything must feel right. For me it did and it was.

It was only at that point that my Giant was tested to determine its potential for Schutzhund. Gustavo described to me how the test would be performed, what behaviors he was looking for and what were his criteria for selection. Since Lizzie was only 10 months old at the time, performance expectations were modified for her age group and breed. He assured me that whatever the outcome, the test itself would be a positive experience. What followed was a modification of the American Temperament Test Associations exercises that eliminated the threatening stranger component. That portion was replaced with a “prey instinct” test. Would she chase a ball or play tug‑of‑war with a puppy tug with an unknown person? This was coupled with a tracking aptitude test. Afterward we discussed her performance and how they related to my goal of obtaining a Schutzhund title. I learned that Lizzie still retained an inherent instinct for the work as well as exhibiting a strong desire to work. She was on her way!

Over the months that followed we embarked on a rigorous training schedule that involved a formal training session in all three phases twice a week (outside regardless of the weather), three separate days of tracking, and two days of conditioning. It turned out to be a 7 day a week job for up to three hours a night after work. Anything less than a total commitment from me was not accepted nor tolerated by Gustavo, It was great fun and my Giant loved every minute of the work. So strong is her love of the work that she regularly wake me up at two or three in the morning from a sound sleep. Standing over me on the bed, there she is with her tug or ball in her mouth, wagging her tail furiously, inviting me to “play” even after a workout earlier in the evening. What has evolved by channeling her instincts with the proper training is a Giant that tracks calmly and accurately, does obedience with intense focus and spirit, and performs protection work that reflects a balance of prey and defense drives.

We were making steady progress and by early summer we began to target our training sessions to ready ourselves for the required Begleithunde or Companion Dog title. This title is required before entry into Schutzhund I is permitted. Dogs of all sizes and breeds are eligible. The minimum age for entry is 12 months. A passing score of 70 percent is required in the Companion Dog Exercises before passing on the dog to the Traffic Security in Practical Application portion of the test. This test is required to ensure that all dogs that are permitted into further Schutzhund trials are under the complete control of the handler, have sound temperament and are not a potential problem to the community. It is important to note that no dogs are permitted to perform bite work in a trial situation until this title is obtained.

The first part, Part A, are the Companion Dog Exercises performed either on a training field or in a natural environment. The following exercises must be passed:

  1. Heeling on Leash. Performing a predetermined heeling pattern that contains a normal, fast, and slow change of pace; right turn, left turn, left about turn, and heeling through a group of milling people (similar to a Figure 8).
  2. Heeling Off Leash. Same pattern as heeling on leash although a gun is fired twice while heeling outside the group. Dogs are dismissed from the trial if it shows weakness during the gun shots.
  3. Sit in Motion. While heeling off leash the dog is told to sit in motion while the handler continues forward.
  4. Down With Recall. While heeling off leash the dog is downed in motion while the handler continues forward. When advised by the judge the dog is called in to front and then directed into heel position.
  5. Long Down Under Distraction. Prior to the start of the obedience exercises of another dog, the handler removes the leash, places their dog into the down position on the field and walks at least 40 paces from the dog and remains quietly with their back to the dog. The dog should remain in this position while the other exhibiting dog performs exercises 1‑4.

Only if sufficient points are earned by the team they are permitted to continue to the traffic sureness portion (Part B) of the trial. The following exercises are conducted in the open and in areas where a certain amount of traffic exists such as park, shopping center etc. The overall impression of the dogs performance in these types of traffic situations will be the deciding factor on whether to pass the dog.

  1. Ability to Perform in Traffic. Dog should follow the handler in heel position on a loose lead along a roadway, walkway, street, etc. A jogger passes by. A bicyclist will pass very closely from the rear. The team will then walk up to the judge, stop and shake hands and engage in conversation. The dog is expected to follow willingly, not forge or move to the side, and act with indifference towards pedestrians or traffic.
  2. Behavior of the Dog Under Extreme Traffic Conditions. The dog and handler moves forward through heavy pedestrian traffic. Twice the handler must stop. The first time the dog is instructed to sit and the second time the dog is instructed to lie down. Dog should be obedient, calm and undisturbed.
  3. Behavior of the Dog Left Alone During Traffic Conditions. Dog is secured to a suitable tie out and the handler moves out of sight. During the two minutes or so the dog is left alone, a stranger and their dog will pass closely by the dog. The dog should remain calm and not be dog aggressive.
  4. Obedience Under Traffic Conditions. In a suitable place the dog is taken off leash and allowed to move about freely. At the judges instruction the handler must call the dog back to them. The dog must come willingly and quickly.

It is entirely up to the judge's discretion whether to pass the dog in Part B. Successful completion of both portions awards the title of BH after the dog's name.

The first trial we entered was on October 2, 1993 and was hosted by the Northern Indiana Schutzhund Club. We turned in a spirited performance and judge John Mulligan awarded Lizzie (Ch. Bluechip Showphisticate) her BH! With the BH marked PASSED in her scorebook we are now targeting for our Schutzhund I this winter. We still need to learn to retrieve in obedience while the tracking and protection phases will continue to be polished.

The weeks have turned into months but it seems only yesterday that we started down this road. With the knowledge that I now have I am convinced that AKC people and Schutzhund people have common goals and concerns. Both sides have a lot to gain from each other. For example, motivational training techniques used to teach foundation work have long been used in Schutzhund are now the “new” technique for AKC obedience. Similarly, the proofing methods long used in AKC obedience are finding acceptance in the Schutzhund community. I strongly encourage cross communication wherever possible. If you are strongly opposed to involving yourself in the protection phase either from a philosophical point of view or because of the lack of a good trainer, you can still earn the BH (Companion Dog) and go on to the FH (Advanced Tracking) and AD (Endurance Test). I am finding a whole new world out there which parallels AKC. Both have much to offer the person who is seeking additional activities for their Giant Schnauzer.

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