WHAT IS SCHUTZHUND / IPO?
Schutzhund was a test developed in Germany in the early 1900s to identify and validate the qualities necessary for a successful working dog. Over time it became a sport in many countries meant to develop and evaluate a dog’s mental stability, endurance, strength, courage, willingness to work, ability to scent, and ability to be trained – all considered the legendary traits in German Shepherds.
IPO (pronounced as the initials, I.P.O.) stands for Internationale Prüfungs-Ordnung (German for “international testing standards”). This refers to the international rules for the sport that have been established.
To acknowledge its international standards, the sport in North America recently changed its official name from Schutzhund to IPO. You’ll find the two terms are often still used interchangeably (this site is no exception) ; however, we all now compete for IPO titles.
As a working dog sport, Schutzhund/IPO offers an opportunity for dog owners to train their dog and compete with each other for recognition of both the handler’s ability to train and the dog’s ability to perform as required.
The Trials and Training
IPO competitions are called 'trials,' and they consist of three phases: Tracking, Obedience and Protection. Similar to a triathlon, the dog must participate in and pass all three phases in a trial to reach the next level (Levels are BH, IPO 1, IPO 2 and IPO 3). Trials for all levels are held regionally, nationally and internationally each year.
Tracking, obedience and protection each test a variety of skills, genetic traits, and overall versatility of a dog. In order to be successful at the various trials, dogs and their handlers train throughout the year in specific skills necessary for the three phases. Training often starts when the puppy first comes home and can continue throughout the dog's life.
IPO is truly a team sport that requires people in various roles to train each dog. These roles are generally broken into two groups: handlers and helpers.
Handler: This is the dog's primary trainer and often (but not always) the owner. They work at developing their dog training skills and their understanding and relationship with their own dog.
Helpers: Helper work is fun and exciting. Helpers help develop our dogs natural fighting and guarding abilities. The helper, wears the protective sleeve and learns how to teach the dog the skill and timing necessary to be successful, powerful and confident. At our club, we work with keen new helpers to show them how to be an actor and communicator. Able to read the dogs and also to emit emotion. As with any type of dog training timing and an instinctive feel for dogs goes a long way. If you are adventurous, in good physical condition and love dogs, helper work might be just what you are looking for!
IPO clubs emphasize education and training for their members. This sport is relatively new in North America so we're always keen to introduce new handlers to it and encourage potential helpers. Whether you're new to training dogs, already hold a few IPO titles, or are anywhere in between, Schutzhund clubs have a wealth of information and a variety of levels of expertise that can help you, your dog, and your training. Plus IPO is such an amazing learning and bonding experience between you and your dog
Schutzhund/IPO was initially developed for the German Shepherd dog, but many other breeds can show an aptitude for it, including Beauceron, Belgian Malinois, Belgian Tervueren, Bouvier de Flandres, Boxers, Briards, Dobermans, Dutch Shepherds, Giant Schnauzers, Rottweilers and more. Several unconventional IPO breeds include the Airedale Terrier, American Bulldog, American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Cane Corso Italiano and Hovawart. Some mixed breeds can and do compete in IPO as well.
All that said, the four most popular breeds for Schutzhund/IPO are: German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois, Rottweilers and Dobermans.
It’s important to note that the working representatives of these breeds differ from those found in the pet home. The working dogs have a more athletic conformation, a stronger temperament with natural aggression, and better energy and enthusiasm for the work. The individual dogs that excel in IPO typically come from bloodlines with a history of performance, and descend back to dogs bred to the European standards, even if bred in North America. These standards require that numerous criteria be met before the dogs are bred, such as achieving a conformation rating, working title, breed survey, and standard health tests for the breed.
Regardless of the breed, there are general characteristics that are considered ideal in a Schutzhund/IPO dog:
a stable character
a desire to work with and for the handler (biddability)
drive and desire for the work (work ethic)
some level of natural aggression and protective instinct
Additionally, they should be relatively easy to motivate, with an interest in food (food drive), interest in playing with and chasing toys and ball (prey drive), and a natural desire to bite their "prey" with a full, strong grip. Most importantly, however, the dog should show a courageous and resilient character, with an ability to cope with and think clearly under stress, as Schutzhund/IPO is designed to test the dog’s temperament under different scenarios and pressures. If you are interested in IPO, having the right dog is an important beginning step.