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Twenty-five years ago, I was at a Bay Area park participating in obedience training when I saw K-9 officers working their dogs in protection. Intrigued, I went over to talk with them about what they were doing and learned about IGP, then known as Schutzhund. I’ve been training and competing in the sport ever since. In Germany, any dog intended for breeding must have an IGP title, demonstrating that, in addition to meeting the breed standard for structure, it has the requisite physical, mental and instinctual traits that set the breed apart.

My current dog, Django (V Django von der Pflochsbacher Schmiede V IGP3,KKL lbz), came to me from Germany as have many of my IGP dogs. When I imported him, he already has his first IGP title and full health screening. A testament to his character, not long after he arrived, I took him to a memory care facility where he adjusted immediately to the slippery floors, wheelchairs, new odors, and odd human behaviors. Last year, he and I traveled 23 hours to Lerma, Spain to compete in the international WUSV World Championship where we learned a lot together. I was very proud of him taking high in obedience as the youngest dog competing. We passed protection but need much work in that area. Tracking, unfortunately, we failed under some very trying conditions. Django is a well-balanced, biddable dog who is my hiking partner, protector, and most enjoyable dog to work that I’ve ever had.

IGP is a very challenging sport for any dog and handler team. We compete in tracking, obedience, and protection, and progress through ever-more difficult levels to achieve the ultimate IGP3 title. Among the traits tested are the dog’s stability (especially to sound – in obedience, guns are fired to test their reaction and a dog who panics is disqualified), scenting ability and focus, desire to work with the handler, courage, and endurance. For me, it is also critically important that the dog be a companion, willing and able to be social and friendly with children as well as adults, and animals. While drive is clearly desired in an IGP dog, I won’t work with one that is unpredictable and potentially dangerous.

For anyone interested in pursuing IGP, I can’t emphasize strongly enough the importance of finding a good club. It’s best if the club has training sessions multiple times each week. Your trainer should encourage you to, “train the dog in front of you,” that is to recognize its strengths and set reasonable expectations in each element of the sport. I’ve also found that it is best not to take yourself too seriously and to know that there will be times you’ll cry - but keep at it, it will come. I enjoy the sport, my fellow competitors, the oh-so-important helpers. Mostly, I love the teamwork with Django that allows us to succeed.

Claudia Howard is a friend of DVGSDC. You can reach her at

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