I knew that my girl Kira needed a job as soon as I adopted her in 2010, as a two-year-old. A Placerville family had surrendered her because of her high drive, a factor I believe caused them to give her up. On the first day I brought her home, Kira jumped out of our second-floor window going after a squirrel. The next day, I heard her up on the roof and ran outside to spot her, again chasing a squirrel. “Now that’s prey drive,” I concluded.
I knew people who competed in Internationale Gebrauchshunde Prüfungsordnung, IGA, formerly Schutzhund, and I watched a few trials. The tracking element is what appealed to me for Kira. I wanted her to be able to bundle up all of that hyper-drive for prey and use it to perform a focused and precise tracking exercise. In Schutzhund, unlike AKC tracking, the dog must keep its nose on the track, just above the ground, at all times, filtering out all other distractions.
What is now a sport started at the turn of the 20th Century with the German Shepherd Dog breeds’ founder, Max von Stephanitz. He insisted that no German Shepherds could be bred or considered for the breed unless each passed his three-part test designed to prove the dog’s: stamina and endurance; agility; temperament and nerve (ability to handle stress); courage; intelligence, handler loyalty; and desire to work. The German SV (Verein für deutsche Schäferhunde) maintains the practice today.
The part of IGA that stands out for most is protection. The breed founder wanted a dog that would work on its own and for its owner, even under stress. Protection tests the dog’s ability to have its handler decide when it can bite and when it must stop. In fact, vom Stephanitz believed that, without protection screening, the dogs would be more dangerous.
Obedience demonstrates both the dog’s unwavering attention to its handler and to its ability to work independently from the handler. In AKC obedience, you won’t see sits, downs, and stands while the handle continues jogging. In the long down with distraction, the dog must maintain its down, without becoming restless, as a nearby dog and handler perform the first seven obedience exercises. Just becoming eligible, we have to pass a Begleithund (traffic steady companion dog test), or BH. It is an AKC temperament test on steroids.
Kira and I have worked with several dog trainers in obedience, tracking, and protection, and have done so since I adopted. She loves the work, I like my improved handling skills and confidence, and IGAhas helped the two of us build a closer relationship.
Andrea Bishop adopted Zach and Kira as young dogs, at ages 8 months and two years old. Both dogs are from working lines. Zach is a calm companion dog with a sense of humor. Kira is a “tweener” dog – too much drive to be a companion dog but not enough defensive drive to be a working dog. Andrea enjoys training Kira because she can see how happy she is when focused. Andrea has been a member of the Diablo Valley German Shepherd Dog Club for more than a decade.