The Realities of IPO ®
Schutzhund/IPO can be a very fun and rewarding adventure for both you and your dog. Many are drawn to the sport because either they like the idea of doing "protection" work with their dogs or because they have read about the history of the GSD and/or Schutzhund so get a rather romanticized idea that they would also like to try this with their dogs. I am writing this article to give people a much better feel for the realities of training and titling in IPO (formally also known as schutzhund). For a basic understanding of IPO please see our article What is schutzhund/IPO?
IPO training requires two things; the right dog and a dedicated handler. There are other things needed too, but without these, one's hopes of being successful are very limited.
First we will discuss the dog.
The main breeds found in IPO are the German Shepherd Dog and the Belgian Malinois. These dogs, except in a few rather rare and exceptional cases, will be from European bloodlines. There are other breeds out there more than capable of titling and competing but IPO is dominated by the breeds that have been historically bred for police, military, protection and other working endeavors of a similar nature. The dogs must have the ability to run long intense tracks, fast correct obedience and then work in protection where aggression and power are highly desired in a dog that is also very obedient. The dogs must have the mental soundness to withstand the pressure and intensity needed in training and trialing; athleticism to deal with the jump, wall and protection work; and physical soundness to hold up for years of training in a sport that really is the triathlon of dog sports. While we want aggression, the dogs must also be approachable and accepting of contact since the judge may touch them. Dog aggression is severely penalized as is any aggression towards the judge, another competitor or spectator.
Finding the right GSD, in particular, can be frustrating, especially in the USA, and often comes at a price. A working line puppy will generally average $1500 with show lines (of European descent) averaging $2000-$2500. This frustration can be true, and is often worse, for many of the working breeds in the USA where a large percentage of the breeders have not prioritized working ability in their breeding programs.
And now for the reason I say IPO requires a dedicated handler.
IPO is not an easy sport and can be down right frustrating and discouraging. It can take years to title a dog. We train in all types of weather from pouring rain, to freezing cold temps and snow, miserable heat, wind and bugs. Tracking means early mornings as do trials. Most clubs also meet early in the mornings especially in the summers. Club days are usually very long going from 7 or 8 AM until 3 or 4 in the afternoon. Night training can often run late. Most clubs meet once a week formally and then another 1-2 days per week in small groups. To title a dog one can plan on needing to train with the club a minimum of 2 times per week and then at least 3 other days per week at home. That means finding places to track 3 or more times per week, doing protection at least 2 times per week and obedience 4-5 times per week. If one is a novice this can also mean finding some outside help or paying a club member for private training. If you want to title your dog you must accept that there will be a huge time commitment required on your part.
Finding clubs close by can be difficult which may mean a lot of driving. There are people who drive up to 3 hours each way to a club 1-2 days per week. Finding the right club can also be difficult. Some places there are few clubs and many people pay for training and helper work.
Finding a good helper, the person that wears the sleeve in protection, can also be a challenge. Unfortunately IPO training needs a helper for the protection work and not just any old person can put on the sleeve and work your dog. There are both physical and mental skills involved to become a good helper for training. They must not only have the skills to catch and work the dogs safely, but they must have the ability to read the minute details and changes in the dog's behavior while reacting accordingly to develop and reinforce the dog's natural abilities. The best training helpers have worked many different dogs over many years to develop these skills along with having a natural instinct in being able to "read" dogs.
Club dues can vary from $300-$1000 per year with some clubs also requiring the helper be paid. These helper fees generally run around $25/round. On top of the club fees are the membership fee to belong to the United Schutzhund Clubs of America, trial fees, seminar fees, rule books and score books.
Equipment is also needed and this can run into hundreds of dollars. Significantly more if a person strives to become a helper. There are multiple collars needed, dumbbells, leashes, balls, tugs, long lines, tracking lines, tracking articles, correct waterproof footwear, rain gear ..you get the picture. Most clubs also require dogs to be crated while not working and most standard cars are not designed to fit a large crate in the back seat. This can mean a dog vehicle to haul your dogs and all of your equipment. If you want to be a helper you will also have a sleeve, helper pants, seminars to become classified to work trials, helper book, jacket, and the correct footwear. Though the clubs usually supply blinds, jumps, the different sleeves and tugs often individual members end up buying these things for themselves too. This is not an inexpensive sport.
I am not trying to discourage people from getting involved in IPO. I love this sport and can't imagine doing anything else. I just want people to not be surprised when they face the realities of what it means to train and title dogs in IPO.
All rights reserved by the author of this article, Lisa H. Clark. Reprinting without permission is strictly forbidden.