When Judges Get LostBreeders Will Too

Denny Kodner has unfortunately given us cause for using mixed metaphors: she has not only missed the boat, but she has gone off the deep end in doing so. She should have learned better after 50 years of exposure to the breed, but her dedication (some would say prostitution) to the not-that-lofty goal of becoming an all-breed AKC judge apparently got in the way of her education. Toward the beginning of her career in GSDs, and even into the 1970s, she was exposed to good dogs, both born in the U.S. and imported from the country-of-origin. She even handled one of the best imports. But when you sleep with dogs, you rise with fleas. Immersion in the GSDCA and AKC world has led hundreds of judges and thousands of exhibitors astray; it has caused to believe that the typical grotesque caricature we see in the typical AKC ring today is correct, or at least to be tolerated.

But her diatribe this time (February 2002 column in Dog News: Attack Dog Events — Do We Need Them?) was regarding the use more than the beauty of the German Shepherd Dog. And here is where she has even far less insight or experience. It is obvious she has no understanding of the sport of schutzhund, much less any experience in it. It is not so much that we are merely teaching a game when we teach a dog to bite the sleeve; rather we are doing two things: building confidence and training in one small part of protection utility.

Any normal dog, and most soft non-confident dogs, can improve in its confidence if it learns that more boldness and obedience will earn more praise. I have yet to see any dog with normal temperament (either soft or hard) that cannot become a better canine citizen through proper training in schutzhund. The other useful aspect of such training is in perfecting or improving the natural protective instincts that should be evident in any decent specimen of this breed.

Schutzhund is a stylized sport in which elements of protection are added to other useful endeavors such as tracking and performance-obedience routines. The schutzhund protection-phase exercise shows us a choreographed picture of a dog searching for a criminal in hiding places, reacting protectively to an attack on its companion, escorting the arrested bad guy to the Polizei, guarding and holding by barking until the arresting officer reaches them, and being under control when told to release the bite.

In this day of anti-gun hysteria that has infiltrated the U.S. from Canada and parts of Europe, it is easy to fall for the propaganda and mistakenly blame children’s games like cowboys-and-Indians for the school massacres. I played cops-and-robbers, and I don’t go berserk in a sniper attack, or blow up airplanes. I train my dogs in schutzhund, and they can go immediately from the protection field into a sandbox full of toddlers with everyone’s complete confidence (including their own). To say It is all too easy for a well trained dog to become a lethal weapon in the hands of a misguided child or disguised terrorist is ridiculous and only exposes the lady’s ignorance of canine psyche as well as the sport. A well-trained dog is not going to perform the way a misguided child wants it to. A child (and I have seen schutzhund competitors as young as 12 and 13 doing well on the field at the German Bundessiegerprüfung!) who has been able to train and manage a GSD will have put in many, many hours of dedicated, hard work, and absolutely none of these teenagers will be characterized as misguided. These are kids who associate as much or more with adults than with the empty-headed peers in their high schools. These are kids with different motivations, manners, and abilities than you find with the stereotypical teenage brat. These are children who have been brought up thus far to be pleasant, earnest, responsible youngsters. They are not the same kids that are being arrested for drugs and violence or flying airplanes into Miami office buildings. And their dogs are also responsible and dependable. They are not weapons!

Denny Kodner worried about how many weapons would be around when the [owners of] Rottweilers, Dobes, Akitas, and Bull Mastiffs decide they want to get in the act. Dear lady, they are already in the act! There is an active coterie of people with Airedales, American Pit Bull Terriers (Amstaffs included), Dobes, Rotties, Schnauzers, Bouviers, Beaucerons, American Bulldogs, Belgian Shepherds (all 4 varieties), and Boxers, doing schutzhund. To call these companions, canine children, and family members weapons is a mark of irresponsibility and ignorance that ill befits a woman of her long exposure and experience. She says, I want my breed to be recognized as SAR dogs, therapy dogs, guide dogs, army dogs, land mine dogs, anything but attack dog showing off at dog shows. Well, her breed (the usual AKC-type, American-lines example) does not perform in those arenas. Her breed is more often the fearful, undependable, snipey-nosed, overangulated-in-rear, vertical-fronted AKC Champion that has driven untold thousands to either switch breeds or go German. If you look at the pedigrees of those working dogs she lists, you will find the overwhelming majority are either imports or first-generation American-bred dogs.

The attack dog is an unfair characterization, as is the claim that we are just showing off. In all three (equal) phases of schutzhund, obedience is paramount. In tracking, the dog must perform the way he has been trained; in the difficult and demanding obedience phase the training is obvious; in the protection phase there is very much obedience required, with far more heeling, reacting to commands, and dependability than the uninitiated could ever suspect. The schutzhund dog is not an attack dog, but a sport dog. Some of them are, or would actually be, real street dogs (personal protection or guard dogs) with a little more specialized training. Quoting now from the purposes of the GSDCA: …to do all in its power to protect and advance the interests of the breed … encouraging the development of working qualities and … to promote its most conspicuous characteristics as Police Dog, War Dog, Red Cross Dog, and Herding Dog; to encourage therefore all trial and demonstrations in which those qualities may be shown… Of course, we who are in both fields, who try to preserve body type while developing the dogs’ working abilities and true character, believe that schutzhund training is one of the best ways to accomplish much of our goals.

Fred Lanting

Fred Lanting is an internationally respected show judge, approved by many registries as an all-breed judge, has judged numerous countries’ Sieger Shows and Landesgruppen events, and has many years experience as one of only two SV breed judges in the US. He presents seminars and consults worldwide on such topics as Gait-&-Structure, HD and Other Orthopedic Disorders, and The GSD. He conducts annual non-profit sightseeing tours of Europe, centered on the Sieger Show (biggest breed show in the world) and BSP.

Books by Fred Lanting