Here's the perspective of someone just one year in.
1. While I was reading a hopeful link in the Archives about Shutzhund training, something the writer said made me stop and think for a moment.
How do you boost a dog's confidence? It's gotta be more than just showering them with affection and praises, right? Is there anything else in particular that you should do to raise their self confidence?
I will leave the actual training methods to the more experienced handlers, but I got some good advice about day to day stuff in raising a puppy. A lot of people, make the mistake of coddling their puppies and trying to shield them from anything that they are unsure of. For example, if the puppy if a household noise makes them cower or act unsure, the owner will pick them up and pet them and speak softly too them. What that teaches the puppy is that they have a reason to be afraid. Instead, help the puppy confront the sound. So, if it is the dishwasher, you act confident. Speak with a regular tone and have the puppy approach the dishwasher WITH you. Let him smell the dishwasher, give him some treats. Show him that there is nothing to be afraid of. As he continues to experience and conquers fears, he will become more confident.
The other way you can build confidence is during play. When you play tug, let the puppy win the majority of the time. Just make sure that you control when the game starts and stops.
I checked that one out of the library. It was informative, but outdated. The book I learned the most from is Training the Behavior by Gary Patterson
3. How long does it normally take for a dog to complete their Shutzhund trial? From the tracking all the way to the protection part of it.
Dogs don't compete all phases back to back. The phases are scheduled at different times during the day, or even on different days. I have never timed it, and am not good at estimating time, so I will let someone else jump in on the time for each phase.
4. Has anyone -gulp- failed a Shutzhund trial before?
Yes! Even the best handlers and dogs have things happen that cause them to not get passing scores. I haven't participated in a trial yet, but I know that there will be times that we don't get good scores even if we are really well prepared. I think of it like an figure skater. You can be the best out there and still fall on your butt in the Olympics.
5. Shutzhund seems like it could be both the most exciting and the most frightening part of owning a GSD. Did anyone have trouble working up the courage to go to their first Shutzhund club or trial?
I wouldn't say that SchH itself is "frightening", but trying anything new can be. If you are interested, go check it out. What do you have to lose.
6. I'm a little apprehensive to jump into Shutzhund right away, but I WOULD like to try it. Is there something a little less demanding that I could try, just to gain more self confidence in myself and my dog?
If you decide that you want to participate in SchH, get involved now. Get plugged in to a good club where people can help you. It is possible to mess up your training enough that your dog that your dog will not be successful. I've owned and trained 3 dogs prior to starting SchH and nothing could give me enough confidence. It is so different, you just have to get out there and do it.
7. The obedience part of the training seems particularly hard. I watched a few Shutzhund videos, and noticed it contains lost of turns and keeping track of paces, as well as keeping the dog on the proper side of you at all times. For those of you who have experience in Schutzhund, on a scale of 1-10, how would you rank the Obedience portion on difficulty?
I think it is hard to rate. Performing after training is not difficult. Training the mechanics is not particularly difficult. What I find difficult is addressing the drive levels, attitude, and precision. This is something that is not usually address in other types of obedience training. But, again, if you are in a good club, people will help you.
8. I keep hearing that raising a Shutzhund puppy is 'a nightmare', but having a Shutzhund dog is fantastic. Is this because there are special rules or guidelines you have to follow when raising a puppy for Shutzhund? If you haven't raised a puppy for Shutzhund, and your dog is already full grown, does that make it more difficult for the dog to be trained in Shutzhund?
There are a few threads about raising a puppy for SchH, read them. You will see that not everyone agrees on how to raise a puppy. IMO the reason people say that is the notion that SchH puppies shouldn't have rules or be corrected. People fall in different places on the continuum of how many or what type of rules and corrections. From the perspective of someone who started with an older dog, for my next pup, I will actually have more discipline (mostly in the area of drive containment). None of the house rules that I taught Bison have interfered with his training so far. But, I understand that the methods used for house training can make a difference. When you are looking for training resources, look specifically for advice on training a "working" dog. Ask questions on the forum, and get in a good club. (I am starting to sound like a broken record here)
9. What's it like your first day at a Shutzhund club? Was there anything that was particularly difficult or scary for you?
I read the club rules before going. I met the group at the tracking site. I was greeted warmly by the club president who explained the plan for the day. I mostly observed and asked a lot of questions. The club members introduced themselves and talked to me about my dog. At the end of the day, my dog was evaluated for protection work and I was invited to visit again.
10. Anything simple that I could try with my dog to prepare
for Shutzhund training? Any advice over all on how to get started with this? Any helpful websites would be great! Thanks to everyone in advance!
This is one of the best sites I can think of, but it would also be helpful to read the rules so you have a good understanding of what is required for the different routines. I wish I would have read them earlier in the process because it would have put things I was learning in perspective.