A Quick Guide to Protection Dog Sports
Sports for protection dogs can be grueling for both the dog and the handler. They require not only athleticism but also mental and emotional toughness. Few other activities demand such complete dedication and willingness to push past self-imposed limits than the protection dog sports. Most societies and kennel clubs that offer protection sports have minimum ages for participating dogs and handlers due to the physical and psychological rigors of training.
In protection sports, a dog's size is not as important as his drive, prey drive, courage, and hardness. The better balanced each of these attributes is, the better the dog will be in protection work.
There are several different types of protection sports, including:
- Belgian Ring Sport
- French Ring Sport
- KNPV (Koninklijke Nederlands Politiehond Vereniging)
What is Belgian Ring Sport?
Belgian Ring Sport is an endurance trial that tests a dog's courage, trainability, and willingness to work. The test involves a decoy or agitator wearing a full-body protective suit. It is slightly less popular than French Ring Sport (discussed below). It is also slightly less formal and more accessible to casual dog owners.
How Does the Test Work?
There are commonly three groups of exercises that can change depending on the whims of the judge. However, the consistent themes across the trials are:
- Obedience - For obedience, handlers will often test the dog's ability to stay, send forward, follow with and without a leash, and throw/fetch. Points are awarded for the flawless execution of each command.
- Bursting (Jumping) - Obstacles of varying heights and lengths are placed on the course. These obstacles may be fences, hedges, canals, or a combination thereof. Points are given for how well the dog jumps over each one.
- Biting Work - This is the most important and prestigious section of an endurance trial. The dog must show courage, hardness (resistance to shock), and fullness (meaning speed and drive) during his attack on the decoy. The dog will be tested in several ways: the continuity of an attack on the decoy/agitator, defense of an object or handler in different ways, and finding the decoy/agitator.
Finally, there is also an aspect of this trial where the dog is tempted with some sort of high-value rewards, such as raw meat, and the dog must refuse to be distracted or tempted by the decoy's advances. The dog and handler work as a team and the trial is designed to test both of them. The majority of cases where dogs fail protection tests due to temperament problems are in this phase of the test, especially with regards to barking and biting.
What is French Ring Sport?
Like Belgian Ring Sport, French Ring Sport has three primary components: obedience, defense of an object or handler, and biting work against a decoy. However, before a dog can compete in this type of sporting event, it must obtain certain preliminary certifications. The most advanced dogs are adept in the following skills:
- Attack with Gun - The dog must demonstrate that it can attack a decoy in the presence of a gun. The loud sounds of the gun being fired must not deter the dog. The decoy fires the gun twice during the attack and once more after the bite. The decoy then stops for a few moments and stays still while the dog guards the decoy. After a few moments, the decoy attempts to escape twice, the dog should bite each time and stop the decoy. Finally, the handler comes over and disarms the decoy before heeling the dog away.
- Defense of Handler - The dog must demonstrate its courage, hardness, and composure against the agitator/decoy. The handler and dog approach the decoy who is approaching from the opposite direction. The decoy and handler engage in a short conversation, then continue walking away from one another. The decoy then turns around and comes up to the handler from behind and makes threatening motions. The dog is then supposed to bite and guard the decoy until being released. Some handlers will train their dog to heel backward for this exercise.
- Face Attack - The dog must attack the decoy on command from about 40 meters away. The decoy behaves in a threatening manner, the handler then commands the dog to attack but doesn't recall.
- Fleeing Attack - The dog is commanded to attack a fleeing decoy to subdue and stop them. There is no recall after the attack.
- Food Refusal - The dog must demonstrate that it does not take food from strangers, including the decoy. First, the dog is placed in a down-stay and the handler moves out of sight. The food is thrown toward the dog, who must resist the temptation. If the food somehow lands in the dog's mouth, the dog must immediately spit it out. A variation of this test is to hide food in strategic and highly tempting areas along the field.
- Guarding of Object - The handler instructs the dog to guard an object, after which the handler leaves the area. The decoy comes up and tries three times to steal the object. To stop the decoy, the dog should bite the decoy each time. When the dog bites, the decoy lets go of the object, then pauses for 5 seconds. When the decoy moves away from the object, the dog should let go of the decoy and continue to guard the object.
- Heel on a Leash - The dog must demonstrate its ability to heel on a leash, even when there are numerous types of distractions, starts/stops, and turns.
- Heel with Muzzle - The dog must demonstrate his ability to heel with the muzzle and off-leash, maneuvering through a predetermined course.
- High Jump - The dog must demonstrate his ability to jump over an obstacle, perform a return jump, and come to a heeling rest next to its handler.
- Long Jump - The dog must demonstrate his ability to jump a long distance on command.
- Long Sit/Down - The dog must stay in a location approximate to the decoy/agitator for one minute without crawling or moving.
- Palisade - The dog must jump and climb over a wall in one direction, then do the same on a return jump, ultimately ending up back at the side of its handler.
- Positions - The dog must demonstrate his ability to make movements in different positions such as down, sit, and stand in a predetermined order. The handler must stay at a distance of 18m from the dog and the dog must not creep or move from the position.
- Search, Hold, and Bark with Escort - The dog must demonstrate its ability to search an area, hold the agitator/decoy at bay (without touching him), and bark loudly to alert the handler of the decoy's location. The decoy then attempts to escape while firing a gun. Undeterred by the gun, the dog bites the decoy to stop them. The decoy tries to escape several times, even after the handler disarms the decoy, and the dog bites to stop them each time. Additionally, the dog is tasked with escorting the decoy to a predetermined spot.
- Seen Retrieve - The handler walks with the dog and drops an object on the same side the dog is on. The dog immediately picks the item up and runs ahead of the handler. The handler stops and the dog returns to the handler to return the item.
- Send Away - The dog must demonstrate his ability to send away from the handler in a straight, continuous line until commanded to return to the handler.
- Stopped Attack - Similar to the face attack, except that the dog is approximately 1 to 4 meters ahead of the handler. The handler then recalls the dog who returns without biting the decoy. The handler is supposed to act in the same way as the face attack up until the point of recall and calling off the face attack.
- Thrown Retrieve - The handler throws an object at least 5m away and commands the dog to retrieve it and bring it back to the handler.
- Unseen Retrieve - Similar to the seen retrieve exercise, an object is dropped as the dog and handler walk together. However, this time it is on the opposite side of the dog and handler. Additionally, there is a second object dropped along with the target object. The handler then commands the dog to go back and retrieve the object. Points are lost if the dog retrieves the wrong object.
What is KNPV (Koninklijke Nederlands Politiehond Vereniging)?
The KNPV trial is one of the most rigorous and tough types of training/sports for dogs. There truly is no comparison between this sport and other canine sporting events. KNPV is a sport that focuses on police work and the duties of a police dog. Very few dogs and handlers will be able to pass all the phases in the trial. It takes a very special dog and handler team to be able to accomplish all the phases of this trial.
What is Mondioring?
Like other protection sports mentioned above, Mondioring involved a series of athletic and mental challenges for the dog to pass. These include basic obedience, jumps, tracking, and protection phases. There are 17 exercises the dog must complete ceaselessly in approximately 45 minutes.
Mondioring analyzes the dog's ability to perform the tasks with varied types of distractions. The dog must demonstrate powerful defense and fight drives. When the judge feels the dog has reached a complete understanding of his job, Mondioring is completed and both handler and dog receive their diplomas.
What is Schutzhund/IPO/IGP?
Schutzhund (German for "protection dog") is known as IGP competitively. It was formerly known as IPO, so you may hear this term, but it is outdated. Schutzhund tests the dog's mental abilities to work with its handler as well as physical ability. The dog must be highly obedient and perfectly controlled under strenuous circumstances. Originally, it was developed to test the viability of working German Shepherds, and as such is dominated by the breed. However, any dog can participate, though many of them will not be well-suited for the strenuous training regimen. The best dog breeds for protection sports have distinctive characteristics that give them the power needed to achieve the goals of the trials.
The trials are, again, very similar to the French Ring Sport. Dogs are tested in a wide range of disciplines. A dog must make it through all the phases of the trial without earning any negative points to pass and achieve a Schutzhund title. These trials are grueling and like most protection sports, require a high level of obedience from both dog and handler. Repetitive training is necessary to build up the stamina required for these trials.