Within each specific type of working dog group, be it the hunting dogs, herding dogs or true working group, there are different and specialized competitions. Generally within the true working group the most common competitions are agility and obedience events, however there is also the very specialized schutzhund training that is considered to be the Olympics for dogs of this particular group.
Schutzhund training originated in Germany and is actually the German term for protection dog. Although originally developed to identify good candidate dogs for police work and weed out dogs that were less suited, modern day Schutzhund events are not restricted to police and military dogs. Historically the training and competition was restricted to German Shepherd Dogs, but with more and more schutzhund events and associations now up and running around the workld, any dog that qualifies can train and compete.
In reality there are not that many breeds that actually can perform all the tasks necessary to perform in schutzhund training and events. Dogs have to have several characteristics including a very high level of trainability, natural intelligence and problem solving ability, a very strong bond with their handler and be in outstanding physical condition. Since there is a protection element of the training, these dogs have to have a natural instinct to protect, which does limit what type of dog would be suitable for the training.
Generally the breeds that are most commonly seen in schutzhund competitions include German Shepherd Dogs, any of the Belgian Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers, Rottweilers, Boxes, Bouvier des Flanders, Giant Schnauzers and the less well known Dutch Shepherd. It is not necessary for a dog to be purebred or even be registered to compete in these events. Many mixed breed dogs make terrific schutzhund dogs, however they are generally of at least one the breeds listed above or other naturally protective types of dogs. This event is solely based on ability, temperament and intelligence and physical appearance is not a consideration.
During a schutzhund event dogs will actually compete in three different events in order to receive a title. Titles range from Schutzhund 1 to 3, based on the dog's level of performance and experience. Before even competing at the title 1 level the dogs have to pass basic obedience, which is actually what most trainers would consider an advanced level obedience trial. The basic level test includes temperament testing and any dog that is aggressive or timid will not pass to move on to further training and competition.
The rest of the schutzhund training and events are completed in the three phases of tracking, obedience and protection. For the tracking component a designated person walks around a designated field area, dropping specific items as he or she moves over the pre-set and unique pathway. The dog is then placed on a long leash and the handler puts the dog on the scent. The dog, without cues or help from the handler, is required to move about the field following the trail, stopping to alert on each of the dropped items. Judges score the tracking phase based on how accurately the dog follows the path of the individual as well as how accurately he or she alerts on the dropped items. The handler cannot provide any assistance to the dog and through each title level the pattern becomes more complex and challenging. The title three component is on an old track, testing the dog's scenting abilities to the extreme.
The obedience component is incredibly difficult for the dog and requires that he or she have outstanding physical ability and trainability. In these events two dogs are taken to the field or judging area and one is put in a down position and told to stay and judged on not moving from the position while the other dog competes. The dog that is being tested has to complete a set pattern of exercises with the handlers giving commands. These exercises include having the dog run in a straight line away from the handler, then immediately assuming the down position on a verbal command. The dog also has to go over several jumps, heeling off a leash through a variety of obstacles and even a group of moving people, and retrieve items as commanded. During this test there are at least one or two gunshots and perhaps other sudden noises, all designed to test the dog's focus and attention.
The final test is the protection test. This test is unique to schutzhund and requires the dog to protect the handler on command and by instinct. The dog also has to disengage from the protective stance and return to the handler in a calm and obedient manner. There is a decoy or "attacker" on the field, heavily padded in protective clothing and equipment. The decoy person hides behind a series of blinds and the dog has to, on command of the handler, locate the decoy and hold and bark, not attacking the decoy but keeping him or her from escaping.
The next part of the protection test involves the decoy walking with the handler, just like a police officer and a criminal. The dog walks beside as well and the decoy will randomly move to either attack the dog or handler or attempt to escape. The dog has to respond to either the escape or the attack by grabbing the pads on the decoy's arms and restraining or preventing the escape. The decoy will complete different movements to test the dog's ability to problem solve and respond in these situations. At all times the dog has to disengage from the bite or restraint as soon as the handler commands and return to the guard or hold position, or back to the side of the handler.
Dogs in these events are judged on more than just their actual behavior. Their attitude and aptitude is also tested, with points given based on each component. Dogs have to pass all three sections of each level to earn the title and to take home the prize in the competition. While there are several police and military dogs that have earned the highest level, Schutzhund 3 title, there are relative few privately owned dogs that have done the same.