Thursday, January 17, 2008

Book review: The Sport of Schutzhund: a Photographic Essay by BJ and Peter Spanos

I have a dog. Her particular skill set includes inhaling her food, sleeping on the couch, sleeping on the bed, sleeping under the bed (in the event of thunderstorms) and begging. The gorgeous dogs portrayed in the coffee table book, The Sport of Schutzhund: A Photographic Essay, are slightly more ambitious than that.

Schutzhund, from the German for “protection dog” is an international competition by which working dogs prove that they are worthy of the group. As herding trials show what border collies can do, Schutzhund trials put German Shepherds (and, to a lesser extent, Doberman Pinschers, Rottweilers, Giant Schnauzers, Belgian Malinois and other large, protective breeds) through their paces. The trials seek out dogs with courage, intelligence and a drive to serve.

There are three parts to a Schutzhund trial: tracking, obedience and protection. Tracking utilizes the dog’s expert nose as a track is laid out with turns over grass, dirt or brush and then “aged” for at least twenty minutes. The dog must – on its own as the handler follows the dog from a specified distance – follow the track and find the target articles that have been hidden along it. Obedience skills include heeling, lying down out of a run, jumping hurdles, scaling walls, retrieving dumbbells and coming when called. The protection test is the most dramatic: the dog must search for and find the hidden target (a person wearing plenty of padding and body armor); hold the target in place by a menacing bark only; and, in various intensities, catching and releasing the target upon command.

The Sport of Schutzhund: A Photographic Essay is a large soft-cover book filled with glossy color photographs, some professionally taken but most, it seems, submitted by Schutzhund enthusiasts who are also amateur photographers. It has some text, enough to explain the sport in broad strokes and to introduce the next group of photographs, which include images of the three trial stages (both training sessions and competition), dogs at play and some wonderful puppy pictures. This is not meant to be a history book or a training manual: the authors are simply hoping to introduce the sport to a broader audience.

A hardcover book would be easier to handle – the large size of the pages makes it a little unwieldy – but since the authors are donating the net proceeds, after expenses, to benefit Schutzhund organizations, I understand the need to keep costs down. The hundreds of photographs are largely wonderful, showing the strength and skill of these animal athletes; the few pictures that are obviously taken by amateurs more than compensate for lack of photographic experience by an abundance of love for their subjects.

Schutzhund trials were introduced to the United States thirty-seven years ago and seems to be slowly gaining ground. This book is an excellent introduction to the sport and will hopefully serve to garner more interest in and accolades for these hard-working canines and the people they protect and serve.

Updated 11/11/09: now available at - click through to buy!

No comments:

Post a Comment