To some dog owners the attainment of a BH title is an end in itself. True, it entitles one to compete for an ‘Excellent’ rating in the show ring and in addition to clinical certification for hips and elbows it may be used to bolster dogs attractiveness in terms of its breeding profile and achievement claims. It should be, and rightly so, used to acclaim the dogs adaptability, its obedience, trainability and general sociability. It is an earned title achieved with considerable application, perseverance and dedication.

However, the prospects offered by the achievement of a Companion Dog (BH) title gives (it is really only the first rung on the trials programme ladder) rise to many exciting possibilities well beyond the advantages previously described. With a BH title inscribed in the dog’s performance record book the opportunities to go onwards and upwards in the performance dog sport programme stakes are numerous and varied. There is really something for everyone and their dog. To ignore or overlook the possibilities and advantages of selecting a career for the dog - of taking the dog further along the training route and of developing its instincts and skills further is not only to do a disservice to the essential nature of the dog itself but to ones own integrity and proficiency as a dog trainer. Only when we begin to work with the dog and investigate its potential to fulfil the purposes of one on the primary service roles intended for the working breed do we begin to understand and appreciate the complexity and true worth of the dog. Without some degree of an understanding of the true values and innate drives of the animal we are charged with looking after we can not honestly nor realistically discharge our duty properly.

When we embark on the task of training our dog for the rudimentary aspects of control and obedience we are in essence taking a first step towards understanding the animal – albeit in a constrained way. And while some are owners are content to proceed only to the point of obtaining a basic training degree, others continue on and make aspects of the dog performance sport a lifetime pursuit. The initial developmental training and the ever evolving techniques which can be learned and applied to generate a response, get attention and establish compliance from the dog is, or should be, looked upon by the dog owner/handler as an essential learning experience. The experience to be learned from understanding the component parts of the dogs temperament, its character, drives and abilities so fundamentally more important than being able to recite the physical features pertaining to show/beauty exhibition. In a nutshell – the dog is a working animal and therefore that which is vital to that purpose must be given precedence above everything else.

It’s perhaps simplest and best if we think of the BH title as a starting point – for both dog and handler. Remember that all National and World Schutzhund Champions began their involvement in dog sport with this simple yet important enunciation of ability test. It has also been the very first formal introduction to training augmentation for many other canines adapted for all kinds of service, for rescue, blind and other aid work. The BH has a significant place in the order of selection for suitability, and its importance is well proven.

With a verifiable earned BH title the dog owner should – regardless of the role for which the dog was obtained or intended – look to all the available options. A studied examination of the GSA domestic trial programme will divulge many interesting and worthwhile training options and opportunities which carry certified degrees. The syllabus to the activities involved provide for all levels of interest and commitment on the part of the handler – allowing participation in test and trials on a chosen basis. In addition to the rewarding sense of achievement of having brought a dog to some measure of competitive competence there is the additional incentives of certification at all levels, trophies and special awards.

The training degrees which are immediately available to the dog with a BH title are – Obedience Dog 1 – Tracking Dog 1 – Search and Rescue Dog 1 – and of course the fundamentally most exciting and challenging of all trial disciplines – Schutzhund ‘A’ (Obedience + Protection) or the first step towards the International competitive programme which could potentially lead to a place on a World Championships team –Schutzhund 1 (Tracking + Obedience + Protection). All these categories of sport have several degree levels through which the contestant can rise as titles are added. Teams are not confined to any particular category and are free to enter for different titles at successive trials. A more extensive elucidation as to how the system is structured and operated is best learned on a one-to-one basis with a Group Training Warden or a GSA Performance Trials Judge.

The most frequently pursued working degree qualification immediately attempted by BH qualifiers is the basic tracking degree – Tracking Dog 1- abbreviated to - TD 1. Providing the dog has had the proper initial training for the test requirements on the field the obedience and control aspects of the BH should prove more than adequate preparation for the formal presentations, the regulated behaviour, and the indication of the articles. All in all, the tracking disciplines provide a very satisfying extension of the positive work that can be carried out with the dog. The tracking degree programme allows for regular participation at several levels in trials and also gives the trainer a fantastic opportunity to try for a national title each year. All dogs with Tracking Degrees are automatically eligible to participate at their own level in the National tracking Championships held in October each year. Tracking is also a mandatory feature in the Search and Rescue Dog qualification examinations. The tracking tests are regulated according to the rules and regulations of the International Schutzhund/VPG/IPO directives. A total of 100 points are allocated to be earned in tracking – with a minimum of 70 points necessary to obtain a qualifying title.

The BH obedience and traffic sureness tests are a very sound preparatory work for a future career or pastime in Obedience Dog 1 (OD 1) beginner’s competition category. The basic foundation training and several important exercises is already in place – those  for the heelwork, for the sit in motion, the down in motion with recall, and of course the long down under distraction. The additional training to be undertaken for this new degree essentially centres on the retrieve exercises – on the flat – over the one meter hurdle – and over the climbing wall. There is also of course the send away exercise to be trained for. With these additional exercises successfully completed the dog can be progressed through the various degree levels and receive appropriate titles along the way. The dog has the possibility to earn 100 points in the obedience tests – but it is necessary to achieve 70 in order to receive the minimum qualification title.

With titles for Tracking 1 and Obedience 1 – the groundwork is firmly in place to proceed to other challenges and the dog should be sufficiently prepared and primed for a further challenges. This next important career step should, we suggest, be the appropriately titled Utility Dog Degree 1. This category of trial requires the dog to participate in and qualify in two separate disciplines at the same trial – Tracking and Obedience. The requirements are as per the International Schutzhund/VPG/IPO rules. This important degree is regularly mistakenly overlooked by trainers ascending the Schutzhund ladder. It should realistically be thought of as an opportune way of testing the dogs training without the attendant stresses of the protection work. Its value could also be considered in terms of the opportunity it affords the handler to acclimatise the dog to the trial environment and proof it against the distractions of the competition arena. For the novice or intermediate handler it is a chance to learn the ropes in low-key terms and develop a trial wisdom that ensures that mistakes on the trial field are confined only to the dog.

The Utility Dog title positions the dog ideally for the attempt at the Search and Rescue Degree 1.  With UD 1 the dog should have the essential abilities to meet the requirements. What is however additionally required is some new aspects of agility and social training – particularly in relation to the dog being handled, lifted and carried by strangers. This prestigious title also carries with it the opportunity to participate in practical call-out SRD units attached to local area training organisations.

Titles accumulated in performance tests and competitions sometimes add greatly to the dog’s status, and serves to further emphasis that the animals working characteristics are on parity with the desired abilities articulated in the breed standard. Of course, the more important the title the greater the dogs appeal can be to the breeder. And every new puppy owner is enamoured with the idea that their ‘special’ dog is from the best – and what better way to announce that fact than to show evidence of the sires listed titles and achievements. When claimed achievements or titles are other than the show kind – that is, those obtained in performance sport then they  take-on a much more realistic and significance dimension.

Working and performance trial degrees have an enormous credibility attached to them and are reasonable evidence of the existence of ability.

By drawing attention to the various training degrees and qualification titles that can be built upon the foundations of the BH (Companion Dog) work we have shown how a pet can be appropriately advanced to being a purpousful asset – a real source of enjoyment - and a reliable resource that has the potential for great things including saving lives.

Think about it – you know it makes sense – there is a life for the dog after BH.