The protection test of schutzhund is very similar to that used for police dogs. All bites are on a padded sleeve worn by a specially trained person called the “Decoy” or “Helper”. Contrary to what many people believe, a SchH dog is not merely playing a game of tug-of-of war with the Helper, using the sleeve as a toy. In correct SchH training and competition the dog views the helper as a threat and opponent, and the sleeve an extension of the Helper. The sleeve is simply a necessary piece of protective gear and biting only the sleeve is one of the rules of combat. Dogs will be disqualified for biting the Helper anywhere but on the sleeve. In all exercises, the handler’s control of the dog is absolutely essential and is judged mercilessly…. so much so that many seasoned schutzhund enthusiasts jokingly refer to protection as “obedience under extreme stress”.
The protection phase begins with the dog performing a search, directed by the handler, of several hiding places looking for the Helper. When the dog finds the Helper he must guard the Helper by barking until the handler arrives. Here the dog is not permitted to bite or touch the Helper, as the Helper is behaving in a neutral, unthreatening manner. When the Helper attempts to escape, the dog must pursue, catch and hold firmly. The dog is expected to protect the handler when the Helper attempts to attack the handler, and to engage without hesitation when sent across the field to apprehend the Helper that is charging and threatening the handler and dog with a stick. When the dog engages the Helper, the Helper fights back against the dog, including hitting the dog with a padded stick.
When required, the dog must engage without pause. Bites must be full and firm and the grip on the sleeve must be calm. The dog must not show any fear, nervousness or hesitation at any time, including when the Helper counterattacks and fights the dog, hitting the dog with a padded stick. During the entire protection phase, the dog must remain in the handler’s control, respond quickly and correctly to commands, and disengage immediately when the Helper ceases to resist, or the dog is commanded to do so by the handler. Just as the dog must respond to threat or when sent by the handler, the dog must let go and disengage the fight upon the handler’s command. During guards, and the transport exercises where handler and dog escort the Helper to the judge, the dog is to remain focused on the Helper and ready to react, but must not bother the Helper in any way.
The protection phase evaluates the dog’s physical prowess and agility, as well as his courage, nerve, fighting instinct and willingness to attack a human when the situation calls for it. Even more importantly it tests the dog’s self control, overall temperament, willingness to take direction and follow the handler’s commands, and his ability to remain clear headed and obedient even under extreme stress. When appropriate, the dog must engage his opponent with strength, determination and aggression, but he must also refrain from engaging when inappropriate, and must disengage immediately at his handler’s command. Dogs that are dangerously aggressive, out of control, or are lacking in nerve, courage and self confidence do not do well in the protection phase.
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