Is Schutzhund right for my dog & me?
I’ve been thinking about joining the local club for a few months now. This past weekend the club had a trial. I thought it would be a great way to spend a day with my daughter and Ava. I also thought it was an opportunity to meet some of the members, see their dogs in action and get a feeling for culture of the club. I asked for permission to bring Ava and she was welcomed. This was the first trial I ever attended and it was a great day with good people.
I am concerned though… I don’t want to join a club and quit because it’s not right for me or my dog is not right for the work. I am really more concerned about me and want a better understanding of what I’d be getting myself into. Once I commit to something, I generally stay committed but I also have a solid understanding of what’s to be expected beforehand. I know there are many members here doing Schutzhund or have in the past. So, I am hoping some of you can challenge me with some things that have led to other people or dogs failing, quitting etc. Please, put me (and my dog) through a difficult interview if you will.
I wrote about Ava below and realized how long it is and made a short version for those that hate long posts.
About Ava (short version)
· 10 month old from WGSL, pedigree in sig
· Heavily socialized (dogs, people, environments), friendly but aloof, loves kids
· No resource guarding
· No dominate or aggressive behaviors, but plays rough and will stand up for herself
· Appears to have high thresholds, except for prey drive
· No fear of noises – guns, thunder etc.
· High ball / prey drive
· Very quick recoveries from surprises, corrections
· Very confident and curious
· Not fearless – fear brings out cautiousness but she investigates scary things
· No skittish or submissive behavior since 4 to 5 months old (only a few times then)
· Low food drive, moderate “willingness to please” levels, does not like over the top praise
· Smart, thoughtful dog
· I have done all her training, no classes. Knows basic commands.
About Ava (long version)
She’s a 10 month old from WGSL, pedigree in sig. We got her at 13 wks. We have 4 kids from 7 to 14 that are very active and social. We have multiple kids and their parent to the house almost every day – and we have an open door policy, most just walk right in. Hardly a day goes by that Ava does not go somewhere with me or the family – pet store, Lowes, Tractor Supply, C-store, ball game, festival, park etc.
She is aloof with unknown adults. She will keep her ears up and accept a quick pat of the head from a stranger without really acknowledging them and go about her business. She’ll drop her ears to greet a known adult for 5 to 10 seconds, and then go about her business. Any kid under 10 is greeted with ears down and she’ll wash their face.
I worked hard with the kids when Ava was young to build her trust and treat her with respect. Nothing was ever taken away without her getting something better in return. I also had many kids from outside the family from 3 to 15 years old help with this. I encouraged non-intrusive contact when she was eating, sleeping, chewing on a bone etc. Through conditioning or genetics she has displayed zero resource guarding.
She seems to have high thresholds primarily observed with interactions with other dogs. She has some dominate/aggressive buddies and they play ROUGH. In the past couple months Ava has clearly stepped out of play mode a couple times to issue a FIRM correction that things were getting too rough or her buddy crossed the line with her. The offending dogs froze and backed up and Ava immediately recovered back into play mode. She has encountered a few non-aggressive but clearly dominate dogs trying to push her around at the dog park. She really just ignored them, never showed any submissive behavior and just went about her business.
In the spring and summer we had some CRAZY thunderstorms here. As the storms were approaching we would go outside to play ball or train. The thunder, lightning and wind gusts had no effect on her. I have a picture of her sleeping on her back oblivious while the tornados were rolling through here. A few months ago we were at a friend’s cabin. I fired my 45 (very loud gun) with Ava about 30 feet away, she did not flinch a bit, but ran to me. No fear, just curiosity. She was in the garage with me last week while I was making her a perch. While cutting the first board with a circular saw, she calmly approached and put her nose on the saw when I was halfway through the first board. The vacuum drives her crazy though – lots of front end bouncing, high pitched barks, fast approaches and retreats.
Prey drive is high. She’ll play ball all day. We live on a small lake and have seen just about every type of common wild animal in AL in our yard at one time or another, except alligator. They all drive her crazy.
She will aggressively play / tug but has shown no aggression towards people or dogs other than what was mentioned above. Zero protective behavior has been displayed either, but she’s never been exposed to any real or perceived threat (probably still too young anyway). If she’s up when the doorbell rings she will quietly prance to the door to see who it is. If she’s asleep when it rings, she’ll give a low woof or two and go see who it is. She’s never barked at anyone standing on the other side of the door (glass panes).
I’ve always thought she was a confident pup. With new stuff she has been cautious on occasion, but nothing has ever caused her to back away, cower or hide behind me. A local pet store has an employee with a 2 yo male GSD Ava loves. I stop in for Ava to visit whenever I see her car and know she’s there. Going into this store is one of the few times she pulls with excitement. We walked in, she rushed around the corner expecting to see her boyfriend and ran smack into the chest of a MONSTER Great Dane – she took it in stride, did not back up and she has a new buddy. I was as surprised as she was and glad I didn’t react by pulling her back.
At the trial we attended she stayed alert and excited the entire time. All the dogs and open space amped her up, lots of quiet whines, she was dying to meet, greet, play and run. But, she contained herself. No pulling or lunging to get to anything, even while dancing with excitement at times. My 7 yo was able to walk her and keep control. A member offered to handle her while I ate lunch, she did great. At the trial I got many compliments on her confidence and behavior - much more than her looks, which was nice.
Food is not a great motivator for her. She like treats, but it does not get her highly amped up for training. She likes to please, but this is not super strong either. Not a love bug, always in your face for attention kind of dog. She seems to have the most fun executing commands while playing, wrestling etc. I have done little to no training with her in any kind of drive.
Training has been all me. She knows the basics - sit, stand, heel on leash, stay, back, off, wait, come etc. as well as good basic manners. I couldn’t ask anymore of her as a family pet, especially at 10 months old.
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