Over 24 years Alison Kollenberg has trained and trialled numerous dogs from three different working dog breeds (GSD, Doberman, and Rottweiler). She has earned many SchH High In Trial awards in Germany and Australia. Alison is an AUSC Gold Medal holder, and she is the current secretary of the Australian United Sportdog Clubs, the Gold Coast Sportdog Club Secretary, editor of Dogsport Australia, and she was the National Co-ordinator for the 2004 Schutzhund National event in June. She and her husband breed under the ANKC/FCI registered kennel "Norden Stamm". Dogs from their kennel are found in 27 countries on all five continents, amongst them countless conformation champions as well as High In Trial working dogs, German State (and Reserve) Working Champions, German Police commended, active SAR dogs, not to mention numerous Schutzhund & IPO 3 titled. The kennel self-titles all their own brood bitches and the last decade has imported several GSDs into Australia, of which a number were (&/or became) VA and V rated. The self-bred Amida v. Norden Stamm SchH3, Kkl 1 VA5 (SV Sieger Schau 2001) and the imported Fax v. Grenzgaenger SchH3, Kkl 1 (12th place at the 2000 SV Meisterschaft) of a standard of animal they feel reflects their personal commitment to excellence in both mind and body.
People don't miss what they never use, so when the German Shepherd Council of Australia has an Executive that does not train and trial their dogs (or any dog), it is difficult for a club to have a hands-on appreciation, or even a concept, about what is necessary and required in the character blueprint of a good working dog. The background necessary to achieve any realistic understanding of how to go about testing, recognizing, evaluating, and then selecting for specific working traits is just not there. This is not a criticism of what I am sure is a genuine interest the leaders have set for themselves and the breed in Australia. However, establishing an effective maintenance program to preserve what is a quintessential part of the breed is not a job that people with little or no experience in performance dogs can take on lightly, because the integrity of a working test is only as good as the experience and knowledge of the evaluators doing the testing.
What then when the powers-that-be in the GSDCA do not have the people with the suitable background and experience to service such a programme, yet resist delegating the overseeing of credible performance testing to another independent organization with the competence to do so?
Instead of seeking to improve the big holes in their own educations, the strategy to date has been to level the playing field down to the lowest common denominator. Putting up policies and promotions aimed to keep the rest of the membership like mushrooms; namely, in the dark, and fed on bullshit. Both misinforming and all the while restraining the wider membership from using other available ways and means to better educate themselves about the type of working animal they are so actively engaged in breeding. Schutzhund may not be a sport for everybody, but it is certainly not a sport for nobody, as the GSDC of Australia would have it.
An interesting example of the mind-set governing the GSDCA Executive's attitudes towards the sport is aptly demonstrated when, little over a year ago, I, as Secretary of the Australian United Sportdog (aká Schutzhund) Clubs, wrote to the German Shepherd Council of Australia offering a friendly and co-operative relationship between our organizations. The essence of our letter was, that although we appreciated that the GSDCA itself might not wish to involve itself in Schutzhund activities, that we concentrate on our similarities rather than our differences and pool our common interests in the breed in seeking its improvement and engaging mainstream owners of GSDs in a great social and sporting activity with their dogs. After all, our respective organizations did share many members, today and in the past.
We did not try to impose values or ask to make Schutzhund a compulsory requirement. Nor did we expect GSDCA to adopt running a Schutzhund organization themselves. All we asked was they not put obstacles in the path of the sport in the country and those GSD owners who may have an interest in this important aspect of the dogs. The AUSC proposal specifically asked the GSDCA for permission to invite SV Schutzhund judges to officiate at our trials, where the Germans could share their vast cultural inheritance of experience with our Australian trainers. We asked GSDCA not to use their position in WUSV to actively block our invitations to SV judges, as the current GSDCA Executive has been doing.
The GSDCA Secretary replied, informing us our request would be taken to their membership for their consideration. This did not happen. Instead our simple request was buried within the upper hierarchy and was never brought to the grass roots membership's attention. At the AGM, the only mention of Schutzhund came at the very end of the meeting, when the President moved a motion to, "continue the club's current policy on Schutzhund". All in favour. Of course - like I said, people don't miss what they never use.
Soon after this meeting I received a second letter from the GSDCA Secretary, blithely informing me that our proposal had been rejected by the GSDCA membership! What can one say? It was a shameless deceit on both our organization and upon their own membership. It also demonstrated a clear failure on the GSDCA Executive's part to understand their responsibilities towards their office and their membership on one hand, and towards the breed on the other.
But the deceit went wider than just within our own shores. In order to avoid meeting their obligations under the WUSV Charter (namely that all member clubs must provide access to shows, breed surveys and Schutzhund trials to their membership) the GSDCA had concocted a greater international lie, telling SV that Schutzhund was "banned" in Australia, and therefore (supposedly according to Australian law), the GSDCA was unable to meet their obligations.
Via different forums they perpetrated this deliberate misinformation, not only to SV but also to their own membership. And through that ploy, they allowed themselves to be absolved of any responsibility towards providing access to a proven programme that can guarantee buyers of GSDs an appropriate testing platform is in place for the maintenance of those performance qualities that the German Shepherd Dog has built its reputation on; a reputation as "The King of Working Dogs", which all breeders value and trade-on, both internationally and in Australia. I have seen at our breed events how proudly the GSDCA administration display videos of the protection work (Schutzdienst) at SV events. They must be labouring under a real dilemma; while clearly proud of what the breed represents, yet unwilling to do what it takes to achieve it themselves.
It's all about perceptions. The facts are, the Australian Government and the Australian National Kennel Club have NO legislation or bans enacted against a person or a dog's participation in Schutzhund in this country. There is NO hindrance to any person joining a Schutzhund club and training their dog at the sport. Which means the GSDCA has NO excuse to say to SV they should be absolved of their responsibilities under the WUSV Charter. Look around and see how there are Schutzhund clubs training every week in all the eastern states of Australia. Five in Victoria alone. If Schutzhund is "banned" in Victoria, as claimed by the GSDCA, how come the 2003 Australian Schutzhund National was held in that state? It was a well publicised event, one that could hardly be done behind the dunny door in fear of retribution from local Government authorities.
Last year while attending the WUSV, the GSDCA Executive's duplicity was brought out into the cold light of day. And confirmed when the GSDCA President was challenged directly by the SV Chief Breed Warden, where he had to acknowledge that Schutzhund was not illegal in Australia. Later, at the WUSV meeting itself, the SV President made special mention of their concerns that "some" member clubs were failing to meet their obligations concerning Schutzhund. Although Australia was not specifically named, it was Australia that was being referred to. The GSDCA is currently in breach of the charter obligations, and the SV has put them on notice.
Which explains all the Chicken-Little hysteria observed the last months within GSDCA, with officials running around in circles trying to come up with their own alternative Clayton's breed test, which they hope against hope will satisfy SV and thus letting themselves off the hook by necessitating they engage in some constructive dialogue about the dreaded Schutzhund. It's those bloody comfort zones getting in the way again.
There is no other working or character test that has proven it can provide a valid, credible substitute for Schutzhund. The incredible thing about the GSDCA's resistance to accepting this fact of life is that they are not being asked to make the test compulsory in their ranks, or to provide the infrastructure and administration for such a programme. Clearly, the GSDCA currently does not have the people (or the interest) to properly oversee an internationally credible Schutzhund programme. But all GSDCA is being asked to do is to get out of the way. Cease their active lobbying to deny the sport in Australia and cease blocking SV Schutzhund judges from judging Australian trials. Do support and encourage interested members that may wish to train and trial their GSDs at Schutzhund clubs within Australia.
In a Victorian court a couple of years back, AUSC challenged a local council's attempt to have a dog owned by a member declared "dangerous" due to its engagement in Schutzhund work. The judgement found in favour of AUSC. A weakly phrased legislation was later pushed through local council, making a vague reference to dogs that bite on objects. The ruling is indefensible in court - if ever would come to a court. The outcome is already pre-decided by the earlier precedent where the judge's ruling has already declared dogs engaged in the sport of Schutzhund are NOT "dangerous dogs". Furthermore, the judgement went on to allow that Schutzhund had proven to produce safe dogs, dogs that were good canine citizens.
I have spoken to many obedience interested people looking for something "more" to do with their dogs. Mainstream handlers who would come over to Schutzhund in a flash if the GSDCA would only stop with their false propaganda. GSDCA anti-Schutzhund policy has proven extremely short-sighted in meeting these "market" demands. As Herman Martin said, this is a big breed and there is enough room in it for many interests. It is only in the best interests of the breed, and the club, if as wide a variety of activities as possible are catered for. German Shepherd Dog breeding is working dog breeding. It is not only about show breeding. There is an enormous untapped market out there for our sporting GSDs, both within Australia and worldwide.
In the USA, the American Kennel Club's German Shepherd Dog Club of America is also in the throes dealing with similar growing pains. After 9.11 the US Government formed a new Homeland Security department. The American Kennel Club asked what could they do for their country. They visited air service bases and discovered the American armed forces used only imported dogs. Asking what was wrong with their American-bred dogs, they had to be drawn a picture. Now, after decades of resistance, the American Kennel Club has read the writing on the wall and adopted Schutzhund as their new "Masters Level" test for their working dog breeds. Like the GSDCA, the American German Shepherd Dog Club is also basically a show-based organization. Albeit reluctantly, they have adopted a "working arm" for their club through an affiliation with the WDA (Working Dog Association). This is the Schutzhund organization the GSDCAmerica draws upon to provide their membership with the training grounds, licensed judges, helper programmes and Schutzhund trials and titles required under their WUSV Charter and driven by their own home security needs. Out of Evil can come Good.
Australia, on the other hand, continues to engage in its head-in-the-sand behaviours. When a GSDCQueensland member (and AUSC member) won National Champion Schutzhund 3 at the 2003 trial in Melbourne with her Australian-bred GSD, the team achieved excellent scores under a USA (and SV recognized) judge which qualified them to participate at the WUSV trial in Austria that year. As member of WUSV, the GSDCA are fully entitled to send an Australian team to the World Schutzhund Championships. But they refused the team permission to attend. Why?
Was it the Australian Kennel Club blocking them from taking part? Was it the Australian Government standing in the way of an Australian-bred and trained dog? No, no - surprise, surprise, it was the Board of the German Shepherd Dog Council of Australia itself standing in the way of Australia being represented at the WUSV Championships! Imagine, the so-called protectors of a "working breed" blocking one of their own members from competing at the highest level of performance a breed animal can aspire to in its class. Go figure what such people really stand for.
The most hypocritical thing is that in the past the same GSDCA Executive previously gave permission for a German with a German-bred and trained dog, living in Germany, to represent Australia at the WUSV. This person was not a member of any Australian Schutzhund organization, did not trial in Australia, his performance standard was unqualified against his peers, and his character was unknown to the GSDCA Board. Knowing the GSDCA Executive's total apathy towards Schutzhund, one can only assume it was another political ploy, perhaps aimed at making a show of pretending to overseas observers (SV) that they were doing their bit to support the sport. WUSV finally found out and put an end to it.
We can't "teach" dogs how to bite. They bite all on their own. How and when and why they bite is what we need to understand and make ourselves responsible for knowing. Putting our heads in the sand and hoping we won't be held responsible at some later date, when we knowingly breed these large predators without any credible controls or proper, internationally accredited testing programme in place to evaluate their substance and essence, is not going to hold water in the public domain when push comes to shove. A Schutzhund test is sort of like a car crash testing programme. An outsider looking at one might think it isn't very safe to get into a motor vehicle. But the object of the test is to prove the capability of the car to stand up safely to the task it has been built for. The same in a Schutzhund test. We subject our dogs to the full range of pressures and stresses and ask them to work through it alone and under controlled guidance. It takes steady nerves, robustness, an ability to focus mind and energy to do the job ... and the engine that provides the power for it all is the dog's very real inheritable working "drives", of a type and structure that can enable a dog to properly pass a Schutzhund test in all three phases.
Why reinvent the wheel when history proves there is no other working test coming anywhere near to meeting these standards? It is no coincidence that the Australian and the USA's Armed Services find they need to import dogs at great expense from those countries that DO test their breeding stock appropriately. Local breeders that cannot readily provide a reliable standard of dog capable of working honestly and effectively under pressure are simply not reading the writing on the wall. No Function... no Type, no Type... no Breed.
Paying shallow lip service by enacting ineffective Clayton's tests only underlines the lack of real commitment towards installing a credible framework from which breeders and owners can test dogs within. Is it any wonder then that actual function is made redundant by such shallow policies, and then when leaders fall off the rails, that breeders lose their way too? As any child knows, the most beautiful dog in the world with a bad character is a bad dog. People can only make educated breeding decisions when they have the relevant information from which to form a basis for making capable decisions upon. In my opinion, the biggest favour the GSDCA can do itself and the breed is to quit running with their anti-Schutzhund stance and rather accept and encourage the sport.
Schutzhund is the best friend the German Shepherd has ever had. Yes, life style-wise and intellectually it is a highly demanding sport. But you don't need to be an Einstein to just enjoy this most wonderful, exciting fun and hobby for dogs, competitors and spectators alike. Go and join a Schutzhund club today.
For Australians, please view our Schutzhund website for a club near you: