Every dog owner wants a well-behaved dog, but the members of the Yukon Schutzhund Association take obedience to a new level.
Schutzhund is a three-event dog sport that originated in Germany as a way to test the worthiness of the German shepherd dog.
Over the years, the sport has grown to accommodate other breeds. The dogs are tested in tracking, obedience and protection.
“It’s a little bit more challenging,” said Nancy Steffen, who had two dogs registered in the trial. “Things like getting the dog to get down in motion and sit, while the handler keeps walking.”
On the weekend, the group held the second trial of its four-year existence.
“We’re a very young club; our first trial was two years ago,” said Erika Rosza-Atkinson, the association’s vice-president.
Six dogs tried for the BH title, which is the initial level in the sport. (B.H. stands for begliethund pruefung, which translated from German means, traffic sure companion dog test.)
Once that is completed, they can begin training in the three events.
Tracking took place early Saturday at Rivendell Farms; the dogs had to find objects placed by the judge along a specified route within a certain time limit.
Obedience, held in the afternoon, tested the dogs off leash, amid distractions like groups of people and the firing of a starter’s pistol.
The dogs are expected to remain focused on their handler and to respond with enthusiasm to commands.
Advanced dogs are required to retrieve a dumbbell while jumping a metre-high fence and two-metre angle-board.
The protection trial is the most controversial aspect of the sport, as dogs are trained to find and corner a helper, and bite the helper under command of the handler.
“Dogs with a protective instinct are often called dangerous breeds … but the best way is to explore their power, and channel it in a way that they understand there’s an end to it. You turn them on, you turn them off,” said Rozsa-Atkinson, a professional dog-trainer.
“A schutzhund dog is a very balanced dog, they are very social; they aren’t a threat to the community or other animals … what you see in protection work is not less than simple obedience.”
Just one team tried for a Schutzhund-One title — Terri Inglis and her boxer Higgins — although Higgins didn’t pass because of problems in the tracking exercise.
He did well in the obedience and protection work.
The club brought in Doug Deacon, a judge with the German Shepard Schutzhund Club of Canada to test the teams and offer constructive criticism.
“These people have such a short season and are so isolated,” said Deacon, after the obedience trial on Saturday at the model airplane field.
Deacon has participated in the sport for more than 30 years and has competed for Canada at the world-championship level.
“I try to give them as much information as possible, work with them as closely as possible within the rules. I was just in Newfoundland last week and it was very similar.”
With such a limited time frame for instruction, Deacon used the trial to try to help all the club members. “I tell everybody what I see, unfortunately, we dwell on the negatives, what the dogs didn’t do right.” After we finish the trial we’ll sit down and talk about how to improve.”
The 10 members of the Whitehorse-based YSA all have dogs at the beginning stages of their schutzhund training. But the club is hoping to have a trial every year in the future.
Rozsa-Atkinson has been involved in the schutzhund for more than 25 years, starting in her youth in Hungary.
She’s dedicated to helping the sport develop here.
“It’s a passion for both the dog and the handler,” she said. “But you’ve got to have a lifestyle that fits with it.”
“Most of these dogs were bred for work, and with modern technology, they’re put in a position that they have nothing to do, so the dog sports — agility, obedience, flyball, schutzhund, field trial, herding — these are all implemented so these dogs can remain true to their nature, without being harmful to the environment.”
Deacon, who in October will again head to the World Championships, this time as a judge, sums it up:
“When you work with these dogs, you’re developing their brain power and they’re happier because of that – just like a person who’s working, compared to not working.
“These are wonderful dogs, if they don’t have a good temperament, they won’t pass.”