The most well known type of competition that was created exclusively for the German Shepherd Dog is known as Schutzhund competitions. While there are other breeds that are now allowed into this type of competition, few are as naturally gifted in all the components of this grueling type of event. Schutzhund combines obedience, athletic ability with guard and protection types of training and was the original test designed to grade police dogs in Germany.
The first Schutzhund trials were completed in Germany in the early 1900's. Schutzhund is actually German for protection dog, so the trial is really meant to incorporate all the necessary characteristics of a good potential police dog. Designed by the founder of the German Shepherd breed, Captain Max von Stephanitz, the test was meant to highlight and evaluate each individual GSD that may be considered as a possible police dog. The original tests were restricted only to the GSD breed and for use in police training programs, but now others use the competition with different breeds.
Schutzhund competitions have three distinct and separate parts. A dog has to pass all three parts to complete the competition and judging is rigorous and very specific. Although actually both a physical and mental test, the course and competition also highlights a dog's personality, and a poor attitude or any signs of uncontrolled aggression or timid behavior can result in disqualification just as a poor performance can.
There are three different levels of Schutzhund training, ranging from a Schutzhund 1 to Schutzhund 3. Each requires additional control, ability by the dog as well as willingness to work with the handler following the requirements of the test. Even at these levels the dog must first complete a pass a behavioral test that examines the dog's ability to cope with traffic, strangers, noises and unusual events. Unless the dog passes this behavioral component it cannot proceed through the Schutzhund training and competition.
The three phases of all levels of Schutzhund training include tracking, obedience and protection. In the tracking phase a human walks a specific, set pattern across an open field. He or she places objects at set locations along the track. After a specific length of time the dog and the handler move to the course and the dog is put on the track. The handler has the dog on a long leash, 33 feet to be exact, and follows but may not direct the dog in any fashion. The dog is scored on how closely he or she follows the original pattern and if he or she finds and alerts on each object. Typically alerting is done by the dog sitting or lying down behind the object with the front paws on either side. At each level the course is different as well as the number of objects to find.
The obedience phase of the test there are two dogs and handles on the field. One dog is put in the down position and must stay put while the other dog performs the pattern. The pattern will include heeling, walking through a group of people, jumps, recalls and running away from the handler and then dropping to the down position on command away from the handler. Each part of the obedience is scored based on performance and attitude of the dog to the hander. Gunshots are also fired during this part of the competition to test for fear in the dog.
The protection part is the most complex and involves an other person, known as a decoy, which the dog will have to locate, hold and prevent from attacking the handler. This is done like a typically police search and arrest, and the dog has to instantaneously work to protect the handler by controlling the decoy, but also disengage on command when the handler is again in control. During this phase the dog's temperament and natural intelligence is tested in several ways.
Of course the GSD is also idea at less intense types of competitions and events. They make outstanding obedience dogs and are typically seen as top of the competition in multi-breed or open types of obedience classes. In addition to obedience work, agility classes are a natural for the German Shepherd Dog. They will quickly learn to go over jumps, handle bridges and walk-overs as well as handled the A-frames and the tunnels. The GSD is great both on and off-leash and their willingness to work with the handler makes them ideal for these events.
Although not commonly seen in herding events some German Shepherd Dogs are outstanding at working with livestock. They herd differently from Border Collies or other heelers; rather they patrol around the sheep to keep them within one confined area and to move them towards a desired location. This patrolling action also makes them excellent flock guardians as other predators cannot approach the herd without attracting the attention of the GSD.
Flyball, an event that combines speed and athletic ability is a great match for GSDs although they are not as common as some of the smaller herding and working dogs. In this event the dogs have to complete a series of small jumps to a box, jump on the box to release a ball, and then return with the ball over the jumps so the next dog on the relay team can go. Often German Shepherd crosses are used in this event.
Many GSDs are used in Hollywood and in movies because they are so easy to work with and train. Famous dog shows such as Rin Tin Tin and Strongheart, who also starred in White Fang, are examples of how these dogs are used in film and television. More recently K-9, featuring a police dog German Shepherd by the name of Jerry Lee, became a box office hit largely due to the outstanding personality of the leading canine star.
Since the GSD has really be bred to be highly trainable and also highly attuned to the people in the dog's family it only stands to reason that these dogs would excel at most types of events and competitions. They are often used in demonstrations of scent discrimination and due to their ability to learn human words they can be trained to retrieve by both scent and name.