This article is published with the kind permission of


The text is authored by Antje Grzeschizek, Johanna Murawski, Ursula Zabel, Dr. Helmut Raiser, Dr. Franz Killmann, Uwe Junker, Dieter Klein, Hans-Heinrich Lohmann, Reinhard Wissmann, Werner Zabel und Juergen Rixen.

Translated into English by Jens Kollenberg

Some 150.000 members in different working dog clubs (in Germany alone, and many more thousand enthusiasts in other countries, including Australia) are training their dogs to Schutzhund.  This brochure will give you an interesting insight into better understanding the dogs’ drives and instincts utilised in the training, and it explains why educated Schutzhund dogs show a much greater self-control in conflict situations.

The working dog is a highly trainable utility dog. Its pronounced, inherited drives, paired with its strong constitution, makes it well equipped to be trained to serve man in many important areas. The working dog per se has its own value, and to preserve it and its genetic resources belong to the preservation of our cultural inheritance.

Especially the Schutzhund training with its three disciplines of tracking, obedience and protection work, is excellently suited through training, survey, selection and breeding to preserve the type of dog, which possesses all the hallmarks of a working dog.  Dogs, which are sociable, intelligent, possessing strong nerves and well developed drives, will best serve as sport dogs (Schutzhund dogs), and/or as service dogs for border protection, as search & rescue dogs, guide dogs for handicapped people, or for police work or in the armed forces.

Clearly then, in addition to the personal satisfaction of training ones own dog, and contribute to the continuation of the thousand year old symbiosis between man and dog, the training and trialing in the Schutzhund sport offers an obvious advantage to the wider community.

The tracking, at which the dog has to follow a person’s trail, tests the ability of the dog’s sense of smell as well as the dog’s ability to remain focused.  In the obedience work, dog and owner have to show a high level of harmony and team spirit.  The dog’s trainability, its intelligence, its ability to concentrate, as well as its social skills, are all put to test.

From what you have read so far, you will most likely agree that Schutzhund training has a lot to offer all of us.  In the third discipline, during the so-called protection work, where a dog bites a human being, it will possibly cause general calls for a ban, we presume. A dog, which puts its teeth to use against its own “social group” must be aggressive!  But is this activity a cause for putting the animal to sleep and to severely punish the owner?

Firstly, take a good, objective look at a dog before we continue.  It has four legs, which enables it to move, that is obvious.  But it’s also obvious that it has no arms and no hands – the tools of the primates, which includes us. You have of course already concluded that the only tools a dog has to its disposal are its jaws and its teeth.  With these tools it cuts the naval cord of its new born puppies, cares for them, transports food to them, yes, will even carry them away to a safe place if danger should occur.  With its teeth the dog catches its prey, protect itself and its progeny if necessary.

Before we then make a judgement over a dog, which uses its teeth, it’s both logical and necessary that we use our knowledge and experience to try to understand what “went through the dog’s head” before and during its cause of action. 

A dog’s predominant behaviour, and also that of human beings, can be attributed to the four main motivations, and in accordance with the classical drives, they are:  Nourishment, reproduction, attack and flight.   

In the training and trialing of Schutzhund, other, more appropriate definitions are commonly used, namely:

Nourishment (including hunt) = Prey drive

Attack = Aggression

Flight = Avoidance

Reproduction related motivation is not (and cannot be used) in purposeful dog training.

All of these four different areas of motivation have specific triggers, specific behavioural actions and drive satisfaction. In the protection work, these motivational drives (except for the reproductive motivation) are deliberately  called for, controlled and satisfied in the training.

The specific trigger for the prey drive – think for a moment of the fleeing rabbit – is a movement away from the dog. In reality, if the prey object is a real rabbit, or a ball, a stick, which is fetched by the dog, or it is the so called protective sleeve, doesn’t make an ounce of difference to the dog at all in the end. A fleeing object will be pursued.  That is pre-programmed in the canine repertoire of behaviour in all dogs, and as we all understand, this drive is a part of the dog’s natural way of living out its normal instincts. Should it be denied its natural needs, we would actually rob the species of an important part of its natural life.           

These realisations demand specific training methods. For the Schutzhund trained dog, the padded sleeve is its prey, its toy, which regularly is rewarded (given) to the dog by the helper, and which it is encouraged to carry off the field at the end of the training session to satisfy its drive goal.

Some people might get the idea that this play/prey work involving the dog’s prey drive (instinct) is dangerous, because the dog is taught to pursue a moving object.  The uninformed observer could possibly argue that the dog would equate the padded sleeve with for example a jogger or a child running around.  However, this presumption has been proven completely unjustified during many decades of practical work and training.  This is also simple to explain and show, because during the training, only very specific behavioural triggers instigated by the helper, will motivate the dog to engage himself.  In no other situation in the daily life is the specific “dummy” in the form of the padded sleeve being used.  Therefore, a well bred sport dog being educated would never bite, for example a running child or a child waving its arms out of happiness.  As one can well understand, the sport (or Schutzhund) trained dog is, like all other dogs in our society, strongly discouraged from pestering our fellow man. And in addition, as you have noticed already, the sport (Schutzhund) dog is actually educated to only engage its prey drive at a training field towards a toy in the form of a padded sleeve, a dumb-bell, etc.

In addition, we hope it might be of interest to you to know a couple of other interesting facts about our four-legged friends in other situations where the prey/play drive is actively used in the training. The activation of, and the use of the prey drive in training our sport (Schutzhund) dogs, doesn’t hinder or limit the dog’s natural restraint from biting in any way.  The well socialised dog does not normally harm (bite) its own fellow dogs... even during a serious argument.  It would probably also be news to many to know that the handlers of our Search & Rescue dogs, and also the Police dog handlers with their sniffer dogs, actively use the dog’s natural prey drive in their training and in their work.  The sniffer dog, for example, searches for his prey object, which during training is always filled with some kind of drug.  The dog being lead to its prey object by sniffing for the smell of the drug, is always strongly rewarded (drive satisfaction) when it finds the object by either food or a game of tug of war with the object and allowed to carry it away.  

During a Sport Dog (Schutzhund) trial the dog will be confronted with resistance from the helper.  The pursuit of the helper and the gripping of the padded sleeve is a prey exercise, and as we have seen, this exercise is trained already with the young animal, where the dog is rewarded for a correct behaviour by being allowed to carry the sleeve off the field.  In a trial situation, the educated dog is not given the sleeve but he has instead to release its grip on a single command. A normal biological course of action would be that the dog, confronted with this frustrating situation of conflict, would react with “aggression”.  In human terms we would have said, that: he gets annoyed; he gets frustrated.

The aim of meaningful biological aggression is, as we know, not to “kill” or harm an opponent or rival – in this case, the helper with the padded sleeve.  Every creature has a whole repertoire of inherited behavioural conduct, which regulate aggressive conduct with the clear aim of limiting or avoiding harm to the rival. Similarly is the weaker given the opportunity to either flee or to back down.  The defeated will signal passivity and submission, which, by normal instinctive behaviour displayed by the stronger, will call forth an end to its active aggression.

The ritualised fight between two near equal opponents has, above all, taught us that, during the evolution a necessary selection has taken place, which was aimed at limiting/avoiding damage to its own social group. The winner is selected through intimidating threats, imposing behaviour and strict fighting rules.

In the Schutzhund sport it is easy also to see when the dog is intimidating and imposing: The Hold & Bark exercise is for example a strictly regulated aggressive behaviour. The whole protection work is really nothing else but a ritual display/game between the dog and the helper over the padded sleeve.

The cultural evolution of man has copied the biological one – in the form of ritualised martial arts.  The experience shows us, however, that the kind of people, who in their spare time chose an aggressive sport art as their hobby, like for example, boxing, karate, and even tennis, are normally not just better suited to control their aggression in every day situations but predominantly stand out with their above average friendly and sociable manners. In the controlled training of Schutzhund dogs we are able to observe the exact same phenomenon of both man and dog.

However, Schutzhund training requests further demands on the dog.  It still remains coping with the third drive in the motivational system, namely the “flight”, which we are calling the “avoidance”.  During the Schutzhund trial the owner will approach his barking dog, and with one single command, bring the dog out of an aggressive behaviour and into an avoidance behaviour, which is a behaviour strictly belonging to the classical  flight behaviour. In the dog sport terminology we do not mean that the dog actually will flee away but that the dog subordinates into an obedient behaviour.  In this situation it is demanded that the dog willingly changes from the joyful aggressive (prey) behaviour into the less joyful obedient behaviour; meaning, the well bred, good working dog shows obedience (full control) in a conflict situation, too! 

Summing it up, it’s fair to say that, most time consuming training going into a sport (Schutzhund) dog, goes into teaching it to change from one drive into another one. During a trial though, it’s still not hard to see if a dog in reality has more than just sufficient prey drive and fighting drive (active aggression). However, first of all, during a trial, the dog’s obedience, nerve costume and self-control (self-confidence) in conflict situations are tested.

This is also the reason why trained Schutzhund dogs aren’t on the lists of dogs involved in biting accidents in the wider community.  Dogs lacking in self-control haven’t got a chance in the Schutzhund sport, and in closing the circle, they will therefore not be qualified to be used in a breeding programme*.

Selected progeny from dogs, which have successfully passed a Schutzhund trial, are the real working dogs, and they can be utilised in a number of areas to help serve man: as Search & Rescue Dogs, as Customs & Police Sniffer Dogs, as Cadaver Dogs, or Service Dogs for the Police and the Armed Forces.   Worth noting today is that the word “Schutzhund” is a remainder from  the early days (over 100 years ago) when testing dogs were first started in Germany.  Today, no dog is trained by ordinary citizen to become a so-called “Schutzhund” in the real meaning of the word.

Worth noting, too, is that no dog is permitted to be trained/trialed in the Sport of Schutzhund before it has proven its open, free and uncomplicated social character, its good nerves and obedient nature, by first passing a so called BH (an obedience & traffic-steady companion dog test).  The test consists of a number of pure obedience exercises and a traffic-steady examination, during which the dog has to show complete neutrality towards ordinary people, joggers, bicyclists and cars.

Of course, to give our dogs a fair opportunity to pass future tests like BH and Schutzhund sportdog trials, the real work already starts with planned breeding programmes and responsible socialising of the puppies and the young dogs:  Because, what “little Tommy” doesn’t know, he can’t show!


*The denote refers to the compulsory demand from VDH (German Kennel Club), its affiliated working dog clubs, and other European kennel clubs  that, only dogs having passed a Schutzhund or IPO trial can be used for breeding. Without such qualifications, the progeny of unqualified parents will not receive pedigrees.  The ANKC (Australian National Kennel Clubs) and their affiliated working dog breed clubs (like for example the German Shepherd Dog Council of Australia) do not demand any proof of working dog abilities or a sound character before the animals are used for breeding purposes.