Protection sport dogs are taught to use components of several specialized skills to demonstrate excellence in overall ability while working with a handler — creating a very demanding test for the working dog-human team. Indeed, one of the key issues for high arousal sports like protection (oragility) is how to keep a dog “in their brain” and working in a “thinking and learning” zone versus not being “in the game” or being so over-aroused that the demands made on them cause fear, anxiety and stress.
This is not the same as teaching a dog to protect their territory and bite. In fact, most dogs will naturally monitor their living area for strangers, and that is more than sufficient as a deterrent to crime in the vast majority of situations. Teaching a dog to be aggressive and to bite when in protecting their territory is both unnecessary and a significant legal liability… and it is definitely NOT a sport!
Schutzhund (German for “protection dog”) may have been the original dog sport in the protection area. It was developed in Germany in the early 1900s as a breed suitability test for the German Shepherd Dog and appears to have been named for the German policeman (Schutzmann or “protection man”), their police dog was called the Schutzhund (protection dog).
Initially, the protection sport of Schutzhund was a test to determine if a dog displayed the appropriate traits and characteristics of a proper working German Shepherd Dog (Schäferhunde in German) or GSD for short. This included showing good obedience skills and knowing when to bite for protection while under control AND when not to bite. The opponent being bitten has been called several names – Apache”, “Malfaiteur” (lawbreaker), “Mannequin”, “Paillasse” (strawman) or the current North American terms of “Decoy” (lure) or “Helper” (assistant).Several other European countries also developed protection sports around the same time – French Ring Sport, Belgian Ring Sport and Dutch KNPV.
Today, the sport is managed by international organizations – the World Canine Organization (FCI – Federation Cyanologique Internationale) for pedigree breeds offers Internationale Gebrauchshunde Prüfungsordnung (IGP) rules and international competition, and many countries have their own protection sports associations.
The largest North American groups are the:
- German Shepherd Schutzhund Club of Canada (GSSCC)
- Canadian Ringsport Association (CRA)
while America offers the:
- United Schutzhund Clubs of America (USCA)
- Protection Sports Association (PSA – of which Canadian clubs are members) which is twinned with the American Shutzhund Association, and
- North American Ringsports Association (NARA) which focuses on French Ring.
Schutzhund and IGP (to be even more confusing IGP was previously known as IPO) now have some events open to a variety of dogs to compete besides the GSD (who is the main and sometimes the only dog permitted at many events). Rottweilers, Dobermans, Giant Schnauzers, Boxers, Bouvier des Flandres, Belgian Sheepdogs and other similar working breeds have competed. Although the rules set out some practical limitations (the dog must be able to carry the 650 gram standard dumbbell and jump a meter-high hurdle), there have even been some hardy Jack Russell Terriers who have participated. By now, it should be clear that protection sports have a variety of acronyms and their own unique language, here’s a Canadian glossary that might be helpful.
The three phases of IGP, eloquently described in this video, are a tracking phase, where the dog learns to follow a trail left by a person and to indicate article dropped by that person; an obedience phase, which is generally considered to be more demanding and animated than the obedience routines normally done in obedience-specific shows, and a protection phase, in which the dog demonstrates their courage against an opponent. The tracking phase demonstrates the dog’s ability to independently problem-solve, and the obedience phase demonstrates the dog’s ability to perform and work with the handler around a variety of obstacles. In all three phases, the exercises follow the same general pattern and are done under strict rules that have strong penalties against uncalled-for aggression.
French Ring includes various exercises in both obedience and protection. It consists of an initial temperament test that shows the dog has the correct mind and body to work through the rest of the sport. After this test, dogs can advance three levels as in this overview from the CRA and compete in an annual Canada Cup. In Canada, French Ring is open to any handler, male or female, over the age of 16 years. For dogs, there are 2 categories to compete in. The “Standard” category is the international standard for French Ring, and includes any dog from a list of “authorized breeds” which is sexually intact and is purebred and registered with a nationally accepted registry (eg – CKC, AKC, SCC, etc). The second category is called a “Blue Dog” category and is only accepted in Canada and the United States. The Blue Dog category is open to any dog – mixed breeds, unregistered dogs, or neutered males. The blue dog may compete in regular competitions but cannot earn the title of “Champion” and may not compete internationally.
PSA consists of an obedience phase and a protection phase that follows this rulebook. Any dog over 14 months old can compete but must pass an entry level pass-fail test called the PDC to ensure they perform well in obedience and with a protection decoy, before going on to the competitive levels of PSA1 through PSA3. Each level of the sport increases in complexity in pressure on the dog from decoys and environmental distractions as well as the handler must navigate scenarios involving risk-reward tradeoffs.
Mondioring is an F.C.I. authorized international dog sport developed in the late 1980’s by representatives from every major country that has a competition dog sport. It was created in hopes of utilizing different portions of already existing national dog sports to provide a new sport that is entertaining for spectators, a game of progressive difficulties for the participants, and a competitive sport for the training enthusiasts. It is a combination of French Ring Sport, the Belgian Ring Sport, Dutch KNPV, and German Schutzhund. The sport consists of obedience, jumping and biting exercises and is shown in this video. Unlike IPG, Mondioring situations are less typical, and dogs are expected to work in situations that vary from show to show AND in what is put in front of them (from fields of stuffed animals to people who create chaos in the ring by, for example, carrying multiple rattling one-litre empty pop bottles). The objects they retrieve in obedience always vary (although it can never be made of metal).