What Is Schutzhund “Culture”? Or, What Was It?

Posted: April 10, 2017 in Uncategorized

Not long ago I wrote a post discussing the seeming lack of Mentors in the sport called Schutzhund.  (And for future reference, I will not use the politically correct term now in use, “IPO”.  The term lessens the history and intent of what schutzhund meant.  Since I, and others beside me, seek to make the sport answer honestly to its’ heritage, I will use the term “Schutzhund”)  As is our wont, the editorial board of GSA, sat down to commiserate over foamy topped steins of der Materlands finest, and eventually, over what we recently  published.  It seems that there may be more soil to till on this subject, and notes were hastily scribbled on napkins and pizza boxes by all in attendance.  So it was all hands on deck, and hie thee off to the research library in the Research Wing of German Shepherd Adventures.  I’m still sitting here. The information that I’m seeking doesn’t seem to exist in written form.  There’s a positive dirth of source material…almost nothing of worth has been laid to the written page about the Schutzhund “culture” that I imagined to have existed in early 20th century Germany.  My hope was to find something from those formative and heady years that we in 2016 had lost.  Something retrievable, and in turn, beneficial to our sport.  So many have opined that the schutzhund of vom Stephanitz and his cohorts is fading into history, being eroded by society, political correctness, or a generation more drawn to sedentary, electronic, diversions.  I wondered if the past could provide us with solutions, encouragement, or at least, direction.

I was in search of descriptions of crisp, autumn gatherings of families in a common pursuit.   Legendary German Shepherd’s dogs, proving themselves worthy of procreation.  Venerable Bavarian toughguys, training and handling the dogs with skill and single-mindedness.  Younger men, doing all they could to earn their place in the local verein, demonstrating to their elders and betters that they could carry on the traditions and standards being set into place for schutzhund.  The Frau’s and Frauleins gathered together, gossiping, watching over younger ones, and keeping the men from taking in one too many steins of Bier.  There would have been food aplenty, laughter, and probably no small amount of scheming between the dogmen.  The Vereins (or Associations) of all sorts are important in Germany, whether they be for shooting,(Schutzenverein) singing (Sangerverein), or the local Volunteer Fire Fighters (freiwillige Feuerwehr).  Statistics show the German people to be “joiners”, seeking the comradery   (kameradschaft) of their peers in many pastimes.  One source states that 1 in 3 residents belong to some local club.  Those clubs provide activity, socialization, and good food, as well as identity.  My research lead me thru every book on the German Shepherd, and der schutzhund that I have collected over a decade of serious acquisition.  And there are many of them.  Packed with pedigree’s, breeding strategies, and personal backbiting on the part of the schutzhund “powers that were”, there was NO mention of club activities.  Zero.  Zip. Nil.  Clubs and personal allegiances were given some attention, but no idyllic descriptions of summer days at the training field.

And maybe that’s part of schutzhunds problem.  The “culture” never existed, or was taken for granted by those too busy to stay attached to it.  Maybe the culture was poisoned by the addition of people with very different goals and schemes.  Ego and competitive spirits with singular intent tainted something grand, and inclusive.  When money, greed, and exclusivity become the norm, a large portion of the community will be excluded, dismissed, and disenfranchised.

When one observes the current situation of our “national” organizations that administrate our sport, (try the Facebook postings on any of them) there seems to be one fracas after another, many of a personal nature.  People end up calling for the leaders to abdicate for the good of the sport.  Leaders strike back at individuals for negative or subversive posts of personal opinions, and even taking away privileges of their voluntary services.  We just cannot get along in a spirit of cooperation and innovation, and we are chasing away those who could conceivably preserve schutzhund for future generations.  We MUST create a “Culture” around schutzhund that invites new people, encourages more experienced ones to share knowledge, and build a wider interest base.  If we don’t, we can kiss it all goodbye.

Now let me give credit where it is due.  I have been investigating and learning from a unique group of individuals that have produced my feelings of late.  I was first exposed to this line of thought by Meagan Karnes of The Collared-Scholar blog     http://www.collared-scholar.com/lessons-learned-from-my-dog/when-the-collars-come-off-dog-sports-egos-and-the-struggle-for-power/.

Karnes is also involved with an organization known as The Sealed Mindset Leaders.  Lots of thought-provoking reading there, and programs for learning Leadership.  There, I noted a quote that really struck intellectual  “oil”.  I’m going to quote it here.

“…the Suffocating of Innovation that occurs in a ‘Control Centric’ environment.  In such settings, ‘Power’ resides with a “Manager”, and the manager does everything he can to protect that power.  As a result, mistakes are frowned upon and punished, fingers are pointed and blame is placed.  As a result, Innovation is suppressed.” –  Sealed Mindset    http://smleaders.com/

The organizations controlling and ostensibly guiding schutzhund are headed up by venerable names and imposing dog-world politicians.   It seems an obvious truth that some of them are very concerned about Keeping their positions of power and influence.  Negative comments or perceived slights of opinion are quickly suppressed.  Some of those in disagreement are put out of commission as fast as possible.

On the other hand, there are those of the rank and file members that think nothing of bashing those in positions of responsibility.  Maybe even slandering them.  Those individuals are often desirous of having control themselves.   Wanting to Control is poison to the whole community we seek to preserve.

Schutzhund has been, and  is currently mired in a “Control-centric” environment.    (But let me say up front, that there ARE clubs AND Leaders of those clubs that are already working beyond this crippling mindset.  More about them later…)  Not  to place too fine a point on the blame, but much of the problem seems to focus on the European source of the original discipline.  Men that should have the thinking of their forebears, have allowed, or encouraged a more passive thinking to take over.  The insistence on making earning titles easier for dogs unable to perform up to original standards, has watered down (or even completely flooded) the original intent.  One well-known contemporary observer and editorial author, Jim Engle, has used the word, “Pussification” to describe what has happened in the mother land of schutzhund.  Here’s Mr. Engle’s website at Angels Lair. http://www.angelplace.net/usca/DayOfReckoning.htm.   My goal here is not to rewrite what others have so well reported on as far as “who’s who” in the debate, or to blame.  My intent with this subject is to encourage a re-building of “Culture”.

Please keep three operative words in mind:  Recovering, Restoring, and Re-building.

The record of how Schutzhund culture existed is nearly lost in history, at least editorially.  Pedigrees and breeding records are the remainders of that time, and while valuable, do not give a full story of how a local club operated.  People were not the important part of the recorded history.  Call it an historical oversight, call it a Germanic culture norm.  It doesn’t matter.  Written records of the personalities and pleasures of der Hundeverein were simply not commonly written.  Maybe the people then couldn’t imagine that the culture would eventually fade away, a way of life forgotten.  Politics would always hold sway.   Politics held great influence in the early days of Germany, when schutzhund was born.  And now, politics continues to hold influence an unbalanced and militant role in our society, during what may well be the demise of schutzhund.  A potent mix indeed.

But lets talk about positive things that will help.

RECOVERING:  Whether it is recorded or not, there was a culture built around schutzhund.  Families gathered, worked dogs, discussed breeding, discussed their lives, played with the children, drank beer, grilled weiner-schnitzel, and formed a collective around something of common interest.  Wise, experienced members taught and teased.  Younger, eager members strove to learn and join the discipline.  Families supported their club in various ways.  Were they perfect?  No, but they managed.  Times were simpler, though the spectre of war was ever present.  But those people found a way to work their way through what life threw at them.  Their Dog Club provided at least something to distract them in difficult times.  Money was scarce, but their association wasn’t built on what members cash flow provided.  Status wasn’t the guiding force either, as everyone could take part, from Haus Frau to Reitmiester…  THIS is what will help us RECOVER the culture of schutzhund.

RESTORING:  This change of attitudes will require leadership.  Restoring schutzhund clubs to something worthy will not be simple, but it can be accomplished.  There are clubs and groups that have the right mix of experience and attitude.  Restore clubs, and we will restore “culture”.  These clubs must want to teach new people, young people, and be willing to create an atmosphere of welcoming.  An elitist attitude must be not be allowed.  Not everyone is going to have a puppy that will be able to reach the high echelons of competition, but if they can try hard, they should be allowed to try.  In such an environment, individuals can be taught the knowledge that will help them save both schutzhund, and the breeds that make it what it is.  Why did the German Shepherd deteriorate to the state it is in today?  Clubs weren’t around to teach what needed to be taught.  The German Shepherd suffers because a culture died.

REBUILDING:  It is clear that the politics of “schutzhund” has torn down what was once an honorable and strong house.  IPO is decidedly NOT schutzhund.  The powers- that- be within the current organizations no longer care to preserve what was.  It’s time to free ourselves of their influence and restore what was.  That will require separating from the organizations that seek only to “evolve” into something “modern”, something “progressive.”  Starting over, free of such influence, will bring back a culture that can encourage, include, and ultimately, save what schutzhund was, and can be.

You will notice that I have avoided specifics in mentioning organizations either International, or National.  I have also avoided mentioning individuals that are either working for, or against, schutzhund “culture”.  Each of us needs to do our research if we want to restore the discipline of schutzhund.  There are notable individuals out there, such as Ivan Balabanov, Jim Alloway, Brian Harvey, Deb Zappia, Meagan Kearnes, and Jim Engle, that are working in the right direction.  They may not always agree totally, but they are at least working at something.  If the rest of us want to save schutzhund, and indeed Dog-Training as an industry, we must find a way to support them.  Find a way…








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