This post is reprinted with permission from a friend of mine, "SchutzhundGirl".
Black Schutzhund Shepherds
Recently, I had the privilege of attending a veterinary conference in Toronto. I attended the lecture of one of the speakers whose topic was canine behaviour. This person, who is an active member of the GSD community here in Ontario, and has been for many years, had many good points about canine behaviour. She spoke about positive training methods, understanding your dog's behaviour and motivation, responsible pet ownership, and emphasized responsible breeding and temperament testing for all pet dogs. This person is extremely knowledgeable, has an obvious passion for the GSD, and appears to be well educated in many aspects of current dog affairs, positive training techniques, and behaviour modification in all breeds of dogs. She is what I would consider to be quite an asset to the GSD community, and the community as a whole.
Imagine my shock and disappointment when she openly bashed the sport of schutzhund in front of a room full of conference delegates. From her comments, it was quite clear to me she has a deep misunderstanding of the sport. How this could happen to someone who has been involved in the GSD breed for almost 30 years is astonishing. The sport has a hard enough time trying to change the negative public image it has incurred without someone such as this openly making false statements about it. The public's gross misunderstanding of this challenging and dynamic sport fuels negative feelings about it. I find it shocking and disheartening to learn that someone who has such a passion and love for the GSD, someone who goes to great pains to ensure the breed is viewed in a positive way, would not take the time to learn about schutzhund and the inherent goals and motivations behind the sport. The GSD and schutzhund evolved together. The breed's ability to work was the first and foremost concern of the breed founder. Discrediting this desire and functionality of the breed is a direct insult to the founder.
I will be the first to admit that there are many schutzhund trainers out there who use what could be called "old school" methods of training, relying heavily on compulsion and dominance styles. This could be the root of all the negative images the sport. People that use force, compulsion, deprivation, and fear and call it "dog training" should not even be permitted to own any animals in my opinion. Had I had my first introduction to the sport with people such as this, I definitely would not be involved in it today!!!! Perhaps this is the speaker's only observation of the sport, and hence the reason for such negative statements.
Fortunately for dogs, many schutzhund clubs have adopted more modern and more kind training methods, much like what was discussed by the speaker in the lecture at the conference. Many clubs train using purely motivational techniques, and many top trainers who give seminars world wide demonstrate their use of motivational training styles. In essence, these dogs are having fun! These dogs work for many reasons. For the dog, there is ALWAYS a reward of some kind for doing what we want him to do. This is the heart and soul of schutzhund training as I know it and live it. I cannot speak for other clubs or trainers.
I would encourage the speaker to attend to some training sessions that use motivational methods. I would wish for her to attend to a seminar of a world class trainer who consistently demonstrates that motivational training works using dogs that are for the most part, unfamiliar to him or her.
Finally, I must discuss the issue of aggression. To my horror, this speaker said something even more damaging to the sport than the issue of training styles. She insisted that schutzhund people want aggressive dogs. She said that schutzhund trained dogs are a menace to society, a danger to the public, little children, and other animals. This is where she is MOST wrong. The one main consistency in the sport is the emphasis of control and temperament. Dogs must be under control, and must not display faulty temperament. At each and every trial, a dog's temperament is tested. The judges are continuously looking for faulty temperament, and dogs displaying outward aggression are disqualified immediately. The sport tests a dog's temperament in so many ways, a dog with faulty temperament would not be successful, save for only in the hands of an extremely skillful trainer. One could easily argue that this same dog at some point in it's career will fold under the pressure.
I will be the first to point out that my schutzhund dogs are not aggressive in any way, nor do I do ANYTHING that promotes aggression. My German working bloodline GSDs display the most stable temperament I have ever seen in any GSDs. Schutzhund dogs are so skillfully trained that many of them WILL NOT bite a person who does not have the bite sleeve on. These dogs are social, friendly, stable in temperament, and are no way a danger to the community or other animals. This same thing can be said for the MAJORITY of schutzhund dogs. The majority of schutzhund trainers that I have met are also some of the most responsible dog owners in the community. They have their dogs under control when out in public, do not allow their dogs to run around off leash harassing other dogs, are careful about who they allow to approach their dogs, and generally know a lot more about dog behaviour than the pet owing public. Many, many of these dogs are family dogs, living in the house with small children, and other pets. Schutzhund dogs are not a danger to the community. The real danger is from the pet owning population who do not understand dog behaviour or what motivates their dogs. These people often have a false sense of control of their dogs, hence the reason for so many bite wounds to other dogs and people. Schutzhund trainers are unlikely to have a false sense of control, as their control over their dog in many different situations is tested again and again at every training session. These people often know exactly what type of control they have, and take precautionary measures (such as the simple thing of walking the dog on a leash!!!) to ensure safety. Schutzhund trainers know their dog's temperament far better than most of the pet owning population, and thus would not put their dogs in situations that could end in someone getting bitten.
Dogs with aggression issues have either been raised inappropriately, or have faulty temperament. Neither belongs in the sport of schutzhund. Schutzhund trainers DO NOT want aggressive dogs. These dogs are difficult to work with, and eventually will get washed out. They do not work for the sheer love of it.
Yesterday was a dark day for the sport of schutzhund. If we could get people like this speaker to truly understand our sport and promote it in a positive way, it would go a long way to dispelling some of the popular myths that cloud the image of a "happy, willing worker" ---- the ultimate schutzhund dog.